Bertha Lee and Nemo Martin, who study Dramatic Writing at Central Saint Martins in London, are often faced with one of their lecturer’s favorite questions: “If you were run over by a bus, what would you want to be known for after you’re gone?” With this question in mind, they created their web series Man Friday and channeled the ideas they’re most passionate about into this project.
Man Friday, released on August 25, follows the story of three secret spies disguised as plumbers on their journey to recovery from traumatic pasts. As the protagonists Evelyn, Friday, and Matt discover how to heal themselves, they also learn how to help each other reach their full potential in life.
“Evelyn, who is our female lead, is still in the spy agency, but… is now trying to get Friday out of their hideout, and Friday obviously had something traumatic happen to them recently and is trying to continue with their life,” Lee said. “And Matt also was in… a military operation previously, and this is his way of turning things around.”
Lee sees the web series as character-driven, and she wanted to focus on the “personable aspects” of the characters rather than focusing just on the action and thriller aspect that is common in the spy genre.
Martin compares Man Friday to a British TV show called Rosemary & Thyme in terms of story structure. Rosemary & Thyme dealt with two gardeners who solved murder mysteries yet found that the real issue lied with underlying emotional problems, and this plotline served as an inspiration for both creators.
“We’ve kind of taken the same thing,” Martin said. “They have a case, we’ve obviously wrapped it up to be more spy-esque, but then they go and fix this person’s sink or whatever needs fixing, and then they realize that there’s an emotional problem underneath whether it’s to do with relationships or identity or anything like that.”
Besides dealing with human emotions, Lee and Martin focused on going against the tropes of the spy genre in several other ways. Man Friday questions traditional ideas of masculinity and the way women are typically written in thrillers. Each character, in their own way, challenges these tropes, along with the way different racial and ethnic groups are usually represented in the media.
“The fact that there are actors [of different marginalized groups] is the biggest problem. A lot of the time, especially recently, when people have said, ‘Oh, we just couldn’t find anyone to play the role!’” Martin said. “But there are so many actors… Even for our small, unpaid web series made by two students, we still found four for each… of these minority roles.”
“I think one of the issues that is industry professionals not always doing the groundwork because there’s a lot of unknown corridors… and you could find new talent.” Lee said. “And that’s something that we wanted to do because it’s under the Grey Paper Crane Network, which I had started in 2014, and that’s something that I have been passionate about since then. So, doing the groundwork and playing very open casting calls and finding new talent is something that we want to use as a tactic in order to create representation.”
Even when marginalized groups are represented in the media, Lee and Martin have noticed several issues with the way they’re portrayed.
“Before writing this and going through this progress, I had the general [idea] in my mind that people get typecast and they get put in these certain roles, but it wasn’t until we were auditioning people and talking about representation [when] the actors started being like, ‘Just as we have played Terrorist #3 or the Indian girl who has to get married to two boys she doesn’t love…’” Martin said. “It’s really disheartening to see how many of the small pool of actors we’ve talked to who are just forced into these same roles.”
“I think there’s a lot of these typecast categories that the industry has, but I think the problem is that they haven’t really created a category that’s the world that I personally belong into, Westernized East Asian,” Lee said. “That isn’t a category and so a lot of times, the people who look a certain way will get thrown into this or the other, but we’re actually in the middle. I think it’s about recognizing what the real communities are, and then talking to the communities to understand how they want to be represented.”
Martin mentioned the severe lack of non-binary people in the media, another topic they’re exploring through Man Friday.
“I am mixed-race and you don’t get mixed-race Asians a lot in media, [along with] non-binary people,” they said. Transgender [representation] is on the way up, which is good…but the more in the community you get, the more you understand that gender identity… is so much more complicated and, obviously, there isn’t that kind of representation. It’s still very binary.”
The creators also value Internet security and safety, which they incorporated into the series. They explained, without giving too much away, that issues with Internet security create impending danger in Man Friday, though it’s not very evident in Season Zero.
“We were playing with the concept of who is the ‘big bad’ in the story, and we just wanted to be current and think about what is currently happening,” Lee said. “And because our world is streamlining to a very digital age in which information is actually the largest bargaining tool, we wanted to see the dangers of that.”
The two writers told a story about the dangers of free Wi-Fi, emphasizing that even tech-smart people will easily allow their phones access to this service despite how easy it is for their information to be hacked in this way.
“It’s worth seeing it as a danger,” Lee said. “Your computer could actually be the most open access to all your private information more than an open front door nowadays.”
“We’re dealing a lot with identity. And I think a big thing with LGBTQIA people in general is feeling more comfortable online because you can craft your persona online a lot easier than you can in real life,” Martin said. “With Internet security and hacking and cybercrimes, it really deals with crafting Internet personas, but still taking care to make sure you have this line between what you reveal on the Internet and what you keep to yourself.”
Through their journey creating Man Friday, Lee and Martin learned to embrace their professor’s advice and made their voices heard. Creating a project of this magnitude from scratch was certainly not an easy task for two students both in terms of time and money, but they hope other students can follow their footsteps in creating their own passion projects. It’s worth it – both to yourself and to others – to fully realize the potential of your bright ideas.
“A lot of what made us go into writing was representation, not enough of it, and don’t just leave it for someone else,” Martin said. “Get this out there. Make it seem like you can do it.”
You can watch Man Friday on YouTube here.