Mind Fudge: Interview With Series Co-Creator Justine Nelson

Mind Fudge is back and bigger than ever — literally!

Before landing on CBC Gem last Friday, Mind Fudge premiered on Instagram back in 2017. Series creators Justine Nelson and Jon Simo quickly found an audience for their short-form comedy series about a 20-something and the way she sees the world through her overactive, very cinematic imagination. The series’ first season ran for ten episodes, each episode running only one-minute in length.

Mind Fudge’s second season is streaming now on CBC Gem.

In addition to being one of the series’ co-creators, Nelson is also the lead actor, playing the character of Justine.

Originally from Hamilton, Ontario, the 27-year-old actress studied Acting for Film and Television at Niagara College. Mind Fudge is the first series Nelson has created.

Joyful Magpies spoke with Nelson to learn more about Mind Fudge.

Let’s go back to the first season on Instagram. I think this is the first time I have seen short form comedy done in this way before. Where did the idea to create these minute-long episodes come from?

It all started when Jon and I became friends a little over three years ago. When we met, we really clicked. We had very similar tastes in art. We wanted to work together. He was a cinematographer. I was an actor. We wanted to create a short film. We decided that It was quite the ambitious short that we were trying to make. In the meantime, Jon came up with this idea of: why don’t we make something really, really small just to get something out there and test the waters? We couldn’t really get our feet with the grander concept we were trying to get off the ground. He said: why don’t we use the platforms we have and make something short-form for Instagram?

We came up with this idea of someone’s imagination because then it was limitless. We wouldn’t have any rules to play by. We could just create anything. We did three of them. They were the coffee one, the firework one, and the heart rip one. We didn’t know what we had. We hadn’t even called it Mind Fudge yet. (Mind Fudge was the only name that stuck.) We just had these three little shorts. We were having so much fun making these bite-sized stories but with high production value. It was quite the challenge.

At the time, no one was really making high production value content for Instagram. I mean people are doing it now, but we hit a pocket where it just hadn’t really been done mainstream yet. Because we were so excited by the response, we decided to keep doing it. We made another and another and another. We kind of set up ourselves for a lot of hard work, because we wanted to put one out every week. We would write one, shoot one, edit one, and put it out every single week until we had ten episodes. It kept growing and growing.

Because it was so shareable and bite-sized and people could digest it so quick, it was being watched. It really catered to people’s attention spans. We hit a convenient pocket of people’s interest. It took on a life of its own.

That’s something I was going to ask you about. I think it’s really cool how you integrated the series right into the platform, instead of telling people “Hey, we made a thing. Click this YouTube link to watch it.” That must have really helped you grow your viewership.

That’s exactly right. I think that’s why it did so well. We made it specifically for Instagram. We shot it with the size of framing in mind so that it would fit on a phone screen. We knew we had a minute maximum to tell our story. We didn’t want to put it into two videos. We wanted it to be you scroll and don’t realize that you just watched the whole thing. It’s so easy, you scroll and don’t have to click another link. We were really experimenting and learned how beneficial it is if it’s right there. You don’t have to go somewhere else.

It’s wild how people won’t click another link. They will sometimes. But if it’s right there on Instagram, it’s the most digestible way to get content out there. I think that’s why it did so well.

You mentioned how the concept is this person’s imagination, giving you endless possibilities, but you were also working within a strict time limitation. Did the time limitation cause you frustration, or was it in some ways freeing for you?

It was definitely frustrating.

I think at first, it felt freeing because it meant we didn’t have to make something very long. We were like this will be super quick, and it won’t be that hard. Little did we know. Each and every week, we wanted to do something greater and greater, and then it got harder and harder to make it a minute. By the end, we had a whole entire life flashing before my character’s eyes. We shot in over five locations. We had three days of filming for something that was going to be crammed down into a minute.

It really helped us as storytellers. What is important? What is the message we are trying to get across? What do we need to tell the story? It became very challenging, but it was a great learning process to really get down to what is the story and what is necessary. It was really hard to shave things down, but when we got down to it, it was so strong because we didn’t have any frivolous stuff in there.

What was the transition like from creating those one-minute shorts to these longer episodes in season two? Were you worried at all that some of the elements of Mind Fudge wouldn’t translate over to a longer format?

No, we were actually excited that we didn’t have to limit ourselves to the one-minute format anymore. By the end, it was getting really tricky. We knew we had to let the hyperreals breathe, and it would easily take up more time. We got to explore the story more outside of the hyperreals. Who are these other characters in Justine’s life? Who is Justine outside of her hyperreal? We were excited to start exploring the best friend character and any love interests. Then, really dive into the hyperreals. We knew had a lot more ideas and content. It was quite the seamless transition to stretch it out.

One of the things I really like about Mind Fudge is how the series pays tribute to a lot of different films and filmmakers. In season two, we see references to 500 Days of Summer, Cast Away, and Kill Bill. How did Mind Fudge become this loving tribute to film?

I think it all started because Jon and I are huge films buffs ourselves. I really liked the concept of “if my life were a movie.” It’s a line that we all tell ourselves.

We wanted to pick different genres to explore. We didn’t want to limit ourselves to just doing comedy or just doing drama. We wanted to do it all. With this plane of imagination, we got to because it’s Justine’s movie moments in her mind. 

Despite all the wackiness, Mind Fudge doesn’t stray too far from its emotional core. Things get pretty real. Was it hard finding a balance between comedy and drama?

I don’t know if it was hard, but it was definitely a challenge we were happy to take on. We really wanted to tread that line. We also have another co-writer on it. Her name is Robby Hoffman. She’s talented and wonderful. She helped us weave in the storylines within the hyperreal and to stay focused on that as well. It was a joy to find those moments within the hyperreal where they would click and realize they go together. In the shorter episodes, the hyperreals serve a comedic purpose. In the longer episodes, we wanted them to be really smart and thought out and not just there for the sake of it. It was an exciting challenge to find a balance between them.

Mind Fudge really moves. It’s a very physical series. Season two features a boxing match and back in season one there’s a training montage. Do you have a background in fight choreography?

I don’t, but physical fitness is something I have always enjoyed. It’s a huge aspect of my life.

It was definitely a fast-paced set. I had very little time to learn the choreography. My co-star Katelyn McCulloch has a lot of training in movement and stunts. I was very lucky that I had her opposite me. She really helped guide me. Our stunt choreographer [Anita Nittoly] was so great. They came very prepared with the choreography to teach me. Thankfully they had time beforehand to work on it whereas I was on set with other episodes. It went really smoothly. 

The queer representation in Mind Fudge is really cool.

For us, it was just a no-brainer. We decided that the character was a queer character. It wasn’t even really a conversation. It started from the beginning when we made the heart rip episode. We just made it with another woman. What I appreciate about Jon and I was it was never a big conversation about if we should make the character gay. Is this going to be a very gay show? It’s an element of it, but it’s not her hardship. We didn’t want to focus on the struggles of being gay. We wanted to present a sometimes light-hearted show where the girl happens to be gay. All the things she struggles is everything else. We wanted to make sure we did it accurately. I like to think that we did a good job of not making it the main focus but also not doing it a disservice either.

Looking at the series as a whole, I am wondering how much of the character Justine you are. How much of your personal life is in the series?

Originally we named the character Justine because the Instagram page was under my name. There were logistics that made us keep it that way. A lot of it started off based on things we knew about me. I can’t cook. I’m scared of camping. Scary movies genuinely keep me up for days. Little things like that we took and amplified. It’s my life, but a more exaggerated version. We are not identical. There are definitely things the character does that I like to think I wouldn’t do. We draw upon aspects from my life, Jon’s life, and friends of ours. I would be lying if I said there were no commonalities between Justine in real life and Justine in Mind Fudge.

What can we expect from you next?

I think more Mind Fudge is the plan. We are looking to take it and grow it out. We want to continue making more.


Where to Watch Mind Fudge

Season One | Instagram
Season Two | CBC Gem

Meet Nora, One of Canada’s Most Creative ASMRtists

Although you may have never heard of ASMR before, it’s possible you have experienced it at some point in your life. ASMR stands for autonomous sensory meridian response, and it’s often explained as a tingling sensation caused by specific sounds and visuals. Some common ASMR triggers include page-turning, soft speaking, and tapping. One important thing to know about ASMR is triggers are not universal, meaning what may trigger ASMR for you may not do the same for someone else.

In recent years, ASMR has become an internet phenomenon. Search ‘ASMR’ on YouTube and you’ll find a lot of people, known as ASMRtists, creating ASMR videos. And it’s not just individual creators producing ASMR content, but also major businesses like IKEA and W Magazine. Since 2016, W Magazine has been inviting celebrities like Alessia Cara and Salma Hayek to experiment with ASMR on their YouTube channel. Yes, ASMR has come a long way from the small corner of YouTube it once occupied.

Even if you don’t experience ASMR, watching ASMR videos on YouTube is still really interesting. ASMRtists regularly find new creative ways to create ASMR videos. One such way is the integration of ASMR with storytelling.

Which is something that Seafoam Kitten’s ASMR does very well.

“I was a viewer myself for years,” says Nora, the Nova Scotian ASMRtist behind Seafoam Kitten’s ASMR. “I would watch it every night before bed and sometimes just during the day to chill out.”

“I’ve always been someone who is super shy and I was embarrassed by my own voice too, but by 2016 I had grown a lot more confident and I realized those ASMR people are just like me. I could totally try doing it too!”

The positive feedback Nora received on her first video made her feel “really excited” and motivated to continue making videos. Since uploading her first video in 2016, Nora’s YouTube channel has garnered almost 100 thousand subscribers and nearly 20 million total views.

“I’m so happy my viewership has grown and people actually like my content,” Nora says. “It feels so good to know that I’m helping people. It gives me something to look forward to every day and I’ve made so many amazing friends through this. I love it!”

For people unfamiliar with ASMR, Nora explains it as “a lovely feeling that induces relaxation.”

“ASMR videos can make you really sleepy and it also helps to reduce stress, anxiety, insomnia, or just get a nice tingly feeling!”

Nora’s character roleplay videos are popular with viewers. In these videos, Nora plays different characters  — which have so far included an alien, a dragon, a vampire, and even the viewer’s phone — in a variety of situations. “A big inspiration for my characters is just character tropes in anime.”

“So basically take a monster/animal/object, turn it into a girl and hurray you have a weird and interesting (and sometimes funny) character,” Nora says. “I’m also really inspired by internet culture, memes, and the horror/mystery genre.”

To help bring her characters to life, Nora spends time “[messing] around with makeup and props.”

“I just do what I think will suit the character,” Nora says. “The great thing about YouTube is that you don’t have to buy or make a full costume because it’s mostly just your shoulders and face that are shown!”

Among the things Nora has learned since she began creating ASMR videos has been managing her taxes as a full-time, self-employed ASMRtist. “It’s more complicated than when you work for a company.”

“Also since I do character roleplays and stuff, I learned SO much about video editing and filming/audio equipment, it’s always so fun to try new things,” says Nora.

And while the work that goes on behind the scenes can be “time consuming,” Nora says none of that matters when “it’s something you love to do.”

“I guess one thing about making ASMR videos,” Nora says, “is that it’s a very personal and intimate experience so it’s really common to get viewers who become a little too involved.”

“I’ve…learned that there are a LOT of troubled people out there, and they choose to express themselves in different ways. Some just watch and let it make them feel better, some message me about all their troubles like a diary, some become too emotionally attached and say gross creepy things, some express anger and resentment.”

“Most are good people though, so if you can give them some patience and kindness it will likely be worth it in the end,” Nora says. “I learned patience, understanding and keeping a cool head is one of the most important things in the world, to me at least.”

When Nora is not creating ASMR videos, she can be found making digital art for fun and taking her dog to the park.


Seafoam Kitten’s ASMR YouTube

Interview with Rakhee Morzaria, Creator of Web Series Note to Self

Last July, Rakhee Morzaria’s debut web series Note to Self premiered on CBC Comedy. Note to Self sees Morzaria — playing a heightened version of herself — living and learning in Toronto. Learning what? How trying to tweet while walking down the sidewalk is a bad idea, sending positive vibes into the world isn’t always enough, and the importance of bike safety. Eight episodes were released on a biweekly schedule, with the last episode airing in October.

In January, Morzaria’s Note to Self received a Canadian Screen Award nomination (“Best Web Program or Series, Fiction”).

From the writing to the diversity of its cast, there’s a lot to like in Note to Self. Morzaria is hilarious as she runs into situations with full confidence, only for it to backfire on her. 

What stands out most for me about Morzaria’s web series is its fresh perspective. How often do I get to watch comedy that really gets me? Not often enough. In fact, rarely. In under three minutes, episode four of Note to Self captures one of my biggest insecurities as someone born to immigrants. That is, I’m not really Latino. Sure, I’m brown, speak the language (mostly), and like eating spicy foods, but I am and will always be seen as the Canadian boy. This line of dialogue from Morzaria, who’s upset with an Indian employee of a pizza shop for misspelling her name, made me both laugh and reflect on my own life experiences.

RAKHEE — Is it me? Is it, you saw me and you thought, oh this is just some white-washed millennial who grew up in Canada not India. She’s not really Indian. I bet she can’t even speak the language! Because I can. I know words. I know plenty of words.


Note to Self
returns with five new episodes starting Monday, June 11th. Episodes will be released every other week on CBC Comedy and Morzaria’s Facebook page.

Here, Morzaria talks about starring in her debut web series, writing inspiration, and being nominated for a CSA.

Did you know from the start you wanted to play a version of yourself? Why was it important for you to approach the project this way?

Rakhee Morzaria: I knew I would be playing a heightened version of myself because it’s written through my perspective and because so many of the episodes are based on my real-life experiences. As a comedienne, my name is my brand so it made sense to keep the character’s name as my own.

Tell me about the inspiration behind episode four.

Morzaria: This episode is based on an experience I had at a chain pizza joint. Everyone working was East Indian and they were having so much fun, speaking Gujarati, making pizzas and hanging out. Part of me thought, maybe I should apply to work here? It looked so fun! When I saw my name come up on that screen – completely misspelled – I realized that, though I felt a strong connection to them, they felt and/or saw no connection to me.  Ha – that sounds quite sad! Though I didn’t actually confront anyone (like I do in the episode), I tried to capture that feeling as best as possible while adding some comic relief.

What has the response been like to that episode? I know one of the reasons I enjoyed it was how much I could relate to the insecurity over identity and belonging. I imagine others, who are the children of immigrants, saw themselves in it, too. Have people told you that?

Morzaria: I’m sure this is true. Many people have told me they like that episode the best because they relate to it. As a first-generation Canadian I spent so much of my early life trying to fit in. Only when I got older did I feel comfortable truly embracing my culture and exploring it. I believe everyone’s experiences are different but I’ve noticed a unique commonality of “where do I fit” felt among other first-generation Canadians that I know.

Note to Self was nominated for a Canadian Screen Award earlier this year. What did that recognition mean for you?

Morzaria: I was humbled to be nominated.  I still am. When we began filming the videos I had planned on releasing them myself! I was thrilled when CBC Comedy came on board to help produce them and being recognized by the Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television was like a cherry on top.

Lastly, anything you would like to share about Note to Self returning on June 11th?

Morzaria: Creating the series has been such an incredible experience. I’m very pleased with the new episodes… there’s one in particular that’s a snapshot into my family life and culture and I’m excited to share it.  I’m so grateful to our director, cast, crew and CBC for helping bring this project into fruition. I truly hope people like the new episodes, and [if] they don’t…I truly hope they share them anyways.


Rakhee Morzaria’s Note to Self
Created / Produced / Starring: Rakhee Morzaria

To learn more about Rakhee, visit: http://www.rakheemorzaria.com/

Interview with Sharon Belle and Maddy Foley, Creators of Web Series Step Sisters

Created by Sharon Belle and Maddy Foley, Step Sisters is a non-autobiographical web series about two women who sit and talk on the front steps of their house. Sounds simple enough, right? Well, in the world of Step Sisters nothing is ever simple. Conversations spiral out of control as Belle and Foley — who play roommates — deal with getting fired, escalating lies, and dating in Toronto.

What makes Step Sisters stand out is the way Belle and Foley manage to surprise their audience with every new episode — 16 episodes to date on YouTube. It’s hilarious to see how far Belle and Foley push their characters to get out of awkward situations and misunderstandings. And everything plays out in this often frenetic, yet well-timed, unfiltered dialogue that makes the friendship feel so much more genuine.

I had the chance to chat with Belle and Foley ahead of the season finale — airing Tuesday, May 29th. Here, Belle and Foley talk about filming during winter, the inspiration behind Step Sisters, and the future of the web series.

The chemistry between you two in this series is excellent. Your dialogue is just so funny. How long had you known each other before working on Step Sisters?

Maddy: We met about a year ago on the set of Allie and Lara Make a Horror Movie and became fast friends. We had a comedic chemistry immediately and just kept making off-handed jokes and one-liners that didn’t quite make sense… sometimes even to each other.  But we would still laugh.  Basically, what you see in Step Sisters is an exaggeration of our rapport.

Sharon: The funny thing is we didn’t even see it at first. I wish teaming up was our idea, but it was other people telling us that we’re funny, or that we should write a show together that really got me thinking about it seriously.

When did filming for Step Sisters take place, and how long did you shoot? I dig the winter setting, especially those shots where we can see some snow falling (hopefully the weather cooperated!)

Maddy: Yeah! We got really lucky with the snow staying fairly consistent.  We also did everything in one take (as you see in the style of our show) which helped a lot with the continuity! We took 4 full days to shoot the entire series – it was a pretty quick turnover.  We aimed for 5 episodes a day and ended up cutting 3 for various reasons.  We had a pretty tight schedule but it was definitely manageable and still was a lot of fun and gave us the opportunity to try different bits out.

Sharon:  The winter setting was tricky at first. After writing episodes we would revisit them and constantly be asking ourselves “But WHY are they sitting outside!” Just like working with such a small budget ($500) I think the challenge definitely made the show better. It forced us to be more creative and weird. It got really unbearably cold at times, but yeah that snow was a literal gift from the heavens.

The audience doesn’t really know what to expect from episode to episode. We go from pink eye in the first episode to 2-for-1 cavity deals, pigeon murder, and a very drunk Groundhog Day. Did you know from the beginning that Step Sisters was going to be so wacky or was it something you came upon as you got further into developing the project?

Maddy: Our writing style sort of lends itself to some wacky outcomes.  We start with little bits or jokes and start bouncing stuff off each other and then try to expand it into something remotely narrative.  So the story arcs come from us extrapolating from these weird little jokes and finding ways to sew them together.  With that, things get real weird real quick because you’re trying to connect things that aren’t naturally connected.  But we found it hilarious and just hoped other people might too.

Sharon:  Yeah we honestly just kept discovering the project as it moved along. It wasn’t even until people started watching it and saying things like “It’s so weird” or “It’s completely insane” that we began to realize the monster we had created. We actually didn’t think we were making something that crazy. On paper, I promise you, the show actually looks pretty tame. All that being said, we’re really happy with how it turned out and how it’s being received.

Tell me about the inspiration behind some of the episodes. I’m eager to know what inspired the pigeon episode and the episode where your characters do extra work. Is the latter based on personal experience?

Maddy: The inspirations varied so much, again, from little off handed jokes to full scenarios or exaggerations of things that have happened to us or sometimes weird thoughts we would have or just happy accidents from our meetings.  It’s really just a jumble of things. The extra work is definitely based on real life experiences.  I think that was more of a quick joke we made that led itself to a full episode because there’s lots of material there.

Sharon: We went through the writing process together, but we did attempt to split up the work as far as episodes go. So I would say that approximately 50% are from my brain and 50% from Maddy’s. So yeah the pigeon thing, that was my brain fart. I actually did run over a pigeon one day on my bike and it was horrifying. But like…what if it wasn’t? Recently we described our characters as the Id’s to our Ego and I think that fits really well with how we spun our stories.

Are there any future plans for Step Sisters? Can we expect to see your characters sitting on steps elsewhere in Toronto?

Maddy:  We hope so! We’re going to keep working on some other projects we’ve been writing but we definitely love Step Sisters and want to keep it going. 

Sharon: If I could sit on those steps forever and make fart jokes with Maddy I would be a happy lady.