Looking for a female-driven crime drama with supernatural overtones and queer romance? Then check out Riley Parra from Tello Films. Detective Riley Parra (Marem Hassler) patrols the streets of No Man’s Land protecting those forgotten by the rest of society. Dr. Gillian Hunt (Liz Vassey) lends her support, with medical forensics, wry humor and a friendly ear. Together the crime-fighting duo uncovers a war between angels and demons raging in their city. Riley is drafted to fight as a champion for the angels and finds herself tested in ways she never imagined.
The show is a powerhouse of strong, sexy, intelligent women. In addition to the leads the series also stars South of Nowhere alum Maeve Quinlan as Nina Hathaway, Riley’s demanding police supervisor.
Recently, I had the opportunity to interview the team that brought Riley Parra to life. I have broken the interview into two parts. In part one, I chat with Christin Baker, the President and CEO of Tello Films who produced and directed the series. Plus Geonn Cannon the screen writer and author of the Riley Parra novels joins us. In part two of the interview, Marem Hassler the talented actress who plays Riley, talks with me in depth about the role. You can read part two here.
Listen to the interview or read the transcript below. It has been edited slightly for clarity.
|Delina:||Tello Films has become the go to destination for lesbian web series. Tello puts lesbians front and center, both in front of the camera and behind the camera. The company is owned and operated by queer women, and creates authentic entertainment for lesbian and bi ladies. Tello Films has launched its latest feature, called Riley Parra. Riley is a tough cop who patrols the roughest parts of town, because no-one else will. It’s a supernatural procedural drama based on a series of novels by the same name.
Today, I’m speaking with the talented team who brought Riley Parra to life. First, Christin Baker, the president and CEO of Tello Films, who produced and directed the show is here. Welcome, Christin.
|Delina:||Also, I have the author and screenwriter, Geonn Cannon, with us. Welcome, Geonn.
|Delina:||Geonn, let’s start with you, since Riley Parra was your creation. You wrote the books that this series is based on. Can you start off by giving us a synopsis of the show, please?
|Geonn:||Okay. Riley is a cop. She grew up in an area of town called No Man’s Land, which is the bad part of town. Nobody goes there, even the cops don’t want to go there, because there’s no point in trying to deal with the crime there. They just kind of let the crime run rampant there, but since Riley grew up there, she has a connection to it, and she goes, and she cares about the people who were left behind. Through the course of that, she gets involved in this whole war that’s going on between good and evil. The literal angels and demons are in her town manipulating people, and they choose human champions, and Riley discovers that she is the champion for good, but she was never told that, and the first episode is about that, her finding her place in this world.
|Delina:||Awesome. Sounds great. So, Christin, how did you connect with Geonn to bring this project into Tello Films?|
|Christin:||You know what, I’m actually going to toss that one to Geonn, and then I will tag in when he gets done. So Geonn, why don’t you tell them how we got connected?|
|Geonn:||We got connected because a fan of mine, named Lisa Yimm, who … She liked the books and she likes Tello Films, and she told me, “You know, you really should email Tello and tell them about Riley.” I don’t think she said specifically Riley, I think she just said something that you’ve written. “I think that it would be a really great fit, whatever you want to send them.” My philosophy has always been, not always, but recently, it’s been the worst thing they can do is say no, and they can only say no if you put yourself out there. So I said, “I’ll put together a pitch, I’ll send it to them. If nothing happens, then nothing happens.”
So I sent Christin an email, I told her all about the show, and what it was. Christin felt me out a little bit, because I was coming from nowhere, but she saw the potential in the show and she just jumped on it. And ever since, it’s just been … She’s been going full force on this.
|Christin:||Yeah. So, it started all via Twitter, and like Geonn said, I was really intrigued with the concept. Because, for me, I loved sci fi, I loved Buffy, I loved the procedurals, like Castle and Rizzoli and Isles. And this was like this stew of all of my favorite shows, and the things I like about them. I thought, “Well, let me see if this guy can write.” I was like, “Yeah, send me something,” and this was … I mean, Geonn, three, four years ago? Four years ago, I think?|
|Geonn:||It was something like that. I think it was four years.|
|Christin:||Yeah. So, I think this was four years ago, so we were still early in our, like, kind of accepting submissions. I will say it’s much harder today, for that to happen, because now we’re just inundated. At the time, we weren’t as inundated, so I could say yeah. I also feel like … I will, if someone pitches something good, I’ll say, “Send me a script,” because it takes a lot of time, energy and effort to sit down and write a 50, 60-page script. So if you’re going to put that kind of time and effort into it, I know you’re serious about your craft and about storytelling.
So, I will at times ask for a script. Again, like Geonn said, just to kind of feel them out to see, is this person legit? Are they a writer? And Geonn was unbelievably patient, because it took this long to get it made, but again, everything aligned for us.
|Delina:||Great. So, you’ve been working on this for about four years?|
|Geonn:||Christin keeps saying that I’ve been patient. Really, every step of the way, she made sure that I knew what she was doing and how she was …|
|Geonn:||And now that we’ve seen the final product, I know that all that time wasn’t wasted. She really dug in on it, and it doesn’t feel like four years, because I see where all that time went.|
|Delina:||Excellent. Well, you know, Geonn, you had written in your blog that you often kind of cast characters in your head, writing, and you have an idea of the actors that you would like to see play the characters. Can you take a little bit of time and tell us what you had in mind for Riley, and how Marem fits that role?|
|Geonn:||Well, it’s funny, because I do, do that with every novel. I’ve written five novels about Riley, but I never had anybody in my mind for her. There was a … I can’t remember the actresses name, but her name is Pepa on a Spanish show.|
|Geonn:||Pepa and Sylvia.|
|Christin:||Los hombres de … something.|
|Delina:||Oh yeah, yeah.|
|Geonn:||For a while it was her, and it just kept going back and forth and there was nobody that I really felt was … You know, nobody felt right enough to say this is the definitive idea of what Riley is. So I wrote five books, and she’s the first main character that I couldn’t lock down. Christin told me who was going to play Riley, and I was like, “I’ve never heard of her, but she looks right.” When we saw the table read, as soon as she started talking, I was like, “This is Riley, this has always been Riley,” and I didn’t know that, because I’d never found her before.|
|Geonn:||But Christin found her.|
|Geonn:||And everything I’ve seen since has confirmed that.|
|Delina:||Great. So Christin, in watching the series, I thought it was definitely very ambitious for a web series. You used a lot of different locations.|
|Delina:||You had a few action scenes. You threw in some special effects.|
|Christin:||I know, right?|
|Delina:||So, was this more challenging to create than some of your other projects?|
|Christin:||100%, and that’s why it did take so long, because I knew there were going to be more sets I needed. You know, at the time, it was a hotel, then we found a castle, and I remember the moment I knew that I could make it was when I was doing Skirtchasers, and that was in December of 2015, and we happened to find this studio that had pre-built sets, called Nvisionate in Burbank, it’s a great studio.
And I walked in, and we needed it for a hospital scene, and they have a pre-set hospital room. When I looked around the studio, they had cubicles, they had offices, they had an interrogation room, and they even have like a bar in the back corner. I looked around and I was like, “Oh my God, I can do Riley Parra here,” and it’s affordable, and that’s when it all was like … That’s when I knew I could afford to do it and figure out how to do it, and knew that it wouldn’t be as expensive. Because I feel like it was a million dollar project. I was lucky to get a DP, our locations are off the hook, we have an amazing cast, and so that was when I knew, okay, we can do this, I can do it on a budget, and I can kind of take Geonn’s written work and make it come to life in a way that’s going to honor it and not look kind of cheaply done.
So that was the moment I knew I could do it, when in this one location I had four or five sets.
|Delina:||That’s awesome. That’s a great idea, to have pre-built sets that people can use.|
|Christin:||Oh, yeah. It’s fantastic, yeah.|
|Delina:||That’s awesome. Sort of like stock photography for sets.|
|Christin:||A little bit, yeah. Totally, and it was kind of this amalgamation of what we needed. It was bizarre. It was almost like they built it for us to use.|
|Delina:||I love the castle set. I thought that that was really great. I was going to ask you where that came from.|
|Christin:||Oh my God, that’s an actual place, here in Hollywood!|
|Christin:||That whole thing, the exterior, the interior. Anything that is Marchosias’ demon headquarters, that is an actual place, here in LA, and I just negotiated the crap out of it, and was able to get it. In fact, daily, that wasn’t the most expensive set, interestingly enough. It was much more expensive to shoot at churches.|
|Christin:||The church day rate, yeah, was more expensive than the castle day rate. I had no clue. I had a location person helping me. When you have a small budget, your negotiating power is very simple. “Here is what I have, can you do this?” And when they go, “No, we need more money,” you go, “Okay, well, I have to go somewhere else.” Really, it’s like, “This is it, this is what I have. What can I do with this?”|
|Delina:||So Geonn, was this the first time that you turned one of your books into a script, then?|
|Geonn:||Yes, it was. When Christin said to show her a script, I was like, “Okay, I’m gonna learn how to write a script now.” I knew that … Well, it was sort of between I didn’t want to make them hire a scriptwriter to adapt it, and I also didn’t want to give it up.|
|Geonn:||So I was like, “I’m going to see what I can do,” and then that turned into me figuring out how to write a script and putting it together and all that. And Christin helped out. When we got the final script, that’s when she started giving me pointers and suggestions and all that. We went through a couple of drafts, back and forth.|
|Delina:||Great. Well, Christin had mentioned some of her favorite TV shows. What are your sort of favorite supernatural or procedural TV shows?|
|Geonn:||Oh, I like a lot of TV shows. Castle, Rizzoli and Isles, like she said. Procedural, it kind of came out after Riley finished, but Person of Interest is a great one.|
|Delina:||Yeah, I love Person of Interest.|
|Geonn:||I like shows like that. Stargate. And they’re usually shows that are based in reality, but kind of skewed toward something strange and another world. Like Stargate was humans from Earth right now who are fighting aliens, and Riley is just a cop who happens to fight demons, so that was fun. And of course, Buffy, everyone loves Buffy.|
|Delina:||Buffy is a classic. So Geonn, I’m kind of curious about your motivation behind writing Riley Parra, and I know you’ve done other work in this genre, but it is very unusual for men to write lesbian fiction. So I’m kind of curious what made you want to pursue this genre?|
|Geonn:||Well, Riley wasn’t my first novel in this genre. It was after I’d already gotten a little established, but my inspiration was really just when I started out writing, I preferred writing women characters, and I would write fanfic online and I would … I tried to write a couple stories, and they just didn’t work, and then I focused on the women, and I was like, “Oh, I actually finished a story,” and people liked the way I wrote women characters, and I was like, “I’m just going to keep writing this, and if I make them gay then I have double the women characters I can use. If I want to make it a romance, I can have two women instead of a guy,” So I kind of backed into it that way, and I just wanted to write women, not necessarily gay women, but that’s how it worked out.|
|Delina:||Interesting. Great. So, Christin, how do people get to see Riley Parra?|
|Christin:||Yeah, so they can go to tellofilms.com, and they can subscribe. There is a trailer and a sneak peak of episode one, so they can see if they like the vibe, they like the characters, they want to see more, and it’s $4.99 a month, if you use the code Riley, your first month is $3.99. You get 20% off. Then we have six episodes, and we have a new episode coming out each Sunday.|
|Delina:||Okay, excellent. Great. Was there anything else that you guys wanted to talk about in regards to the show before we wrap up?|
|Geonn:||I think I’m good.|
|Christin:||I also, I would love to give a shout out to my co-producer Kitty Swink, who is absolutely amazing and helped us get the incredible actors that we were able to use. She was just invaluable, as a co-producer, for this project.|
|Delina:||And you had worked with Liz Vassey before, right?|
|Christin:||Yeah, on Nikki and Nora. In fact, Kitty was also on Nikki and Nora. So yeah, I had worked with Liz before.|
|Delina:||Okay. Awesome. Well, thank you both so much for taking the time to talk to me.|
|Christin:||Thanks so much.|
Bring Riley Parra to Life – Part 2, my interview with leading lady Marem Hassler, is available here.