Web series have taught me that if you’ve got a great idea and some gumption, you can create something wonderful. Maddy Foley and Sharon Belle have gone one further, proving you don’t need a huge budget to create something wonderful.
The duo needed just $500 to write, direct and produce 17 episodes of Step Sisters, a raunchy, biting, hilarious and heartfelt sketch comedy web series—available now on YouTube—about two best friends, Maddy and Sharon, who discuss life while sitting on the steps outside a house. Belle and Foley met on the set of fellow web series Allie and Lara Make a Horror Movie and made offhand jokes during downtime in production. Belle says the idea of “Step Sisters … they sit on steps,” was laughed about and then dismissed. Three months later the pair reunited and decided to write something.
“We didn’t really know where to start and we were like, ‘What about Step Sisters? Was that a legit idea?” Belle recalls with a laugh. “Was that anything at all? We explored it and it turned into this world.” It’s an odd and realistic world. Sandwiched between an infectious musical theme written by Adam Parkinson, Maddy and Sharon analyze the minutiae of the world from the steps in front of their apartment.
In Episode 1, Maddy is shocked when Sharon emerges from their place wearing a patch over her right eye. When Maddy blurts out, “Oh my god!” Sharon waves a dismissive hand and thinks Maddy’s shock is at the ugly sweater she’s wearing. Nope, it’s the patch Maddy noticed. Turns out there is some major pink eye going on under there. Minutes are spent talking about the eye infection, and whether Sharon should be going to the party or a doctor before the patch is lifted and Maddy throws up. The five-minute instalment is simple, effective, funny and totally relatable.
Basic plot points served as outlines for each episode of Step Sisters, but everything else was almost completely improvised and delivered in a single take, giving the series—filmed over the course of four days in Toronto—a realistic and frenetic feel.
“Ever since we met, we realized that the best stuff that we got in a scene was always the improvised bits,” Belle says. “Going into this we said we needed to keep that freedom because that’s where the funny comes out.” There was no writer’s room for Belle and Foley; they met in the former’s living room to hash out initial ideas before taking advantage of common room space at the University of Toronto to talk about their lives and improvise scenes. Friends were called upon to help in the production of Step Sisters; the pair admits they owe a lot of favours.
And while the $500 budget was a challenge, it didn’t stop the pair from creating something great.
“I feel like the budget really helped,” Foley says. “We went into this project knowing we wouldn’t be spending any more than that. It clarified the vision and it put limits on what we could do that was almost freeing.”
Season 1 of Step Sisters is available on YouTube now.