In a small rural South Carolina town, Ferrari Thunderbird Taylor wakes up to a video message from her boyfriend Harry. It's not good. Harry calls Ferra a "cheatin' whore," and to pay her back he's left her and taken her wallet. Our white-trash Veronica Mars, Ferrari, a.k.a Ferra, looks directly at the camera. "I was gonna find Harry Shumway, but I wasn't goin' to apologize for shit. I was gonna kill the bastard," she says. Welcome to The Girl from Carolina, a new South Carolina-based web series about trailer-park livin', lovin', and, um, mystery solvin'. Filmed in Greenville, S.C. the show was created by Alex Wroten, Joe Worthen, and Breanna Foister. "The Girl from Carolina began as a short film that we described as 'redneck film noir' because of the plot's romance-related mystery, 'femme fatal' character Ferra," says Foister.
"The core team of Well Dang! Productions is all from the Upstate," she says. Foister helps produce the show and plays Ferrari. This homegrown web series started years ago in Travelers Rest, S.C. (a city just north of Greenville), when Foister, Wroten, and Worthen would work on film projects for fun in middle and high school. "I've known Joe since I was six. He was my neighbor across the street," says Wroten. "We met Bree in elementary school." After years of playing around, some ideas stuck.
"We drafted the idea for a show where there's a belligerent detective girl, who thinks things are important that most people probably wouldn't," says Foister. Each one of these "important" things takes the form of a mystery that Ferra solves in every episode. In addition to the aforementioned mystery involving the whereabouts of Ferra's boyfriend, there's an episode dedicated to finding out where Harry's Confederate grandfather's pipe may be, and another one featuring Ferra trying to claim the rights to a stranger's estate. "There is an inconsequential mystery that Ferra perceives as an intolerable personal injustice, and she sets out to right it — come hell or high water," says Foister. The episodes are short and sweet — between 10 and 20 minutes long.
Wroten says that he knew the main character had to be strong and persistent, and that Foister really took the character of Ferra and ran with her. "She's a busybody, someone who will knock on peoples' doors," says Wroten.
As for the fact that Ferra is characterized as a trash talkin', trailer livin' redneck? "We're all from South Carolina and we lived there for a long time, so we're not being judgemental," says Wroten, who currently lives in L.A. He emphasizes this point several times, making it clear that you can take the girl out of Carolina, but, you can't take Carolina out of the girl. "Travelers Rest is more rural than Greenville," he says. Wroten says that the crew had always filmed their short films and series in the South Carolina area, but that they'd never really acknowledged the actual locations. "We didn't want to regionally specify anything ... maybe we thought we were alienating a larger audience," says Wroten.
Wroten points to shows like Eastbound and Down and My Name is Earl as examples of what The Girl from Carolina is not. "We didn't want to present a low-brow way of making fun of characters," he says. They do want to be funny, though. "Our first goal is comedy. Most of the cast and all of the creative team grew up in South Carolina, and we wanted to make a show that Southerners would understand and find hilarious," says Foister.
Wroten says that comedian Jeff Foxworthy can say he's a redneck and get away with it — because he's a redneck. The Girl from Carolina aims to do the same sort of thing. "Redneck is a helpful term for some people," says Wroten. "And it's problematic for others."
Ferrari Taylor is not just a redneck — she's a drunk. In every episode she talks about the difficulties of maintaining her buzz, guzzling Miller Lites like they're water (close enough). Ferrari's drunkenness is highlighted by her tiny frame and high-heeled wedge shoes, making her a ticking time bomb. She's constantly cursing everyone and everything in a way that, surprisingly, makes her kind of lovable.
Ferra talks to the camera often, explaining what she's doing and why she's pissed off about whatever it is. It's effective in a way that even Frank Underwood couldn't pull off. Simply put, we're rooting for Ferra. "Other than being drunk all the time, she's good at her job, and she knows what's going on," says Worthen. Foister adds, "I've never played or even auditioned for a character who drives all of the action, is never weak, and is supremely vulgar and intelligent, like Ferra. There just aren't that many female characters written that way."
The Girl from Carolina was originally shot as a short film in 2011. Wroten and Worthen wrote the script quickly, asked Foister (who has a degree in acting from Rutgers University) if she was game, and created additional characters from whoever they could find. "It sat there forever," says Worthen, explaining that with Well Dang's other projects — including three series and seven short films like Doctor Mystery, Christopher Columbus Saves the World, and Kevin, Take Two — The Girl from Carolina kind of got lost in the shuffle. Fortunately, it resurfaced.
After submitting the film to a few festivals and re-visiting the script, the guys decided to reshoot the film as the first episode in a series. The series, comprised of 10 episodes (written by each of the producers, as well as by Wroten's wife Lindsay Wolfe and his sister Zoe Wroten-Heinzmann), will premiere on YouTube on Mon. June 15, with a new episode coming out each day until Friday, and then starting over again the next week.
Foister says that she and the gang were happy to film back home in the Upstate, and that the community there is excited about the show. "It's meaningful for people who live here," says Foister, who spends her summers in Greenville and the rest of the year as a theater actor in New York City. "There's interest and curiosity in the community and a willingness to help," she says.
Wroten and Foister point to the generosity of locals as a big part of their success while filming, especially that of Glynn Zeigler, who owns a large chunk of land in Greer, S.C., where the Albino Skunk Music Festival is held every year. Zeigler already had trailers on his property for musicians to use when they came through, so the crew just shot the trailer park scenes out there.
The trailer park plays a pivotal role in the series. Sitting in front of their trailer in episode seven, Ferra and Harry sip on Mich Ultras while filling up a baby pool. "Me and Harry was gettin' lit, waitin' for the pool to fill up," says Ferra. The camera zooms in on the hose, slowly filling up the inflatable pool. It pans to Harry, staring off into the distance, and Ferra staring quizzically at Harry. Harry ponders what it would be like to live before the Civil War. Ferra is quick to shut him down. "You're fuckin' racist. And you're a fuckin' idiot," she says.
No one in The Girl From Carolina is whistlin' Dixie, and the show makes sure to stick to the more conventional stereotypes of Southern rednecks — i.e. poking fun of characters for being ridiculous, not for being racist. As with each punch line woven throughout Ferra's adventures, the show maintains a fine line between satire and reality.
Like Sherlock Holmes before her, Ferra would not be fit to join the annals of pop culture detectives without a proper foil — in this case, her boyfriend Harry. "Harry's charismatic, a natural leader, and rarely successful," says Worthen. "He has good intentions." We see one of these good intentions gone bad in the same Civil War-themed episode in which Ferra and Harry track down Jefferson Davis' pipe, hoping to sell it for a lot of money. Harry ends up donating the pipe to a Civil War museum and Ferra threatens, as usual, to kill him.
The show's secondary characters include Tiffy, a DSS disaster of a mother who leaves her toddler behind to fend for herself. While meeting up with Harry and Ferra at Chick-fil-A Harry asks Tiffy where her baby is. "I left her in her crib. She ain't goin' nowhere," she says.
Then there's Carther, the bumbling idiot who can't remember which girl he slept with at any point in time.
What could be tasteless, shallow, and un-funny is effectively hilarious, subtle, and clever. The Girl from Carolina does what so many making-fun-of-redneck shows have failed to do in the past: It works.
Foister is excited to share Ferra with the rest of the world, but she doesn't have unreasonable expectations for the show's success. "The challenge with a web series is that anyone can put anything online for free. There's the danger of getting lost in mediocre content."
Working with what Foister affectionately calls a "budget of zero," Well Dang! Productions shot and produced the first season of The Girl from Carolina without paying anyone. A crowd funding effort earlier this year made a second season possible. It will be shot as a series of episodes that can exist on their own, or be combined to create a feature-length film, a medium that Well Dang thinks is most marketable.
Wroten says, "These are fundamental human problems that we've turned into entertainment. If the same people were wearing suits, you could say it's a soap opera — it depends what lens you're looking through."