Adapting their real-life online project into a web-series, writers Penelope Chai and Jane Dickenson are gearing up to tackle Other People’s Problems.

The 5 part series Other People’s Problems follows reluctant copywriter and aspiring eco-warrior Florence as she ghost-writes other people's letters in exchange for pre-loved clothing.

The online comedy is based on Jane and Penelope’s quirky e-initiative website Clothing for Correspondence and is already creating a buzz after its selection for Series Mania Melbourne. 

Penelope and Jane chat to us about the birth of their project, writing routines and an upcoming world premiere screening at Series Mania.

Where did the idea for this project come from?

Jane: Clothing for Correspondence was fuelled by our love of second-hand clothing. One day we were dreaming up ways to elicit pre-loved clothing from strangers. We knew we’d have to offer something in return and, being writers, we thought it’d be fun to offer a letter writing service.

We roped a friend into building a website and bizarrely, people actually started requesting letters. Strangers even. We were blown away! That was eight years ago and at some point we realised we’d inadvertently thrust ourselves into the middle of people’s dramas and created an archive of human interactions.

Can you talk us through the process of adapting a rather different genre, letters, into screenplays? Were there hiccups along the way?

Penelope: Sometimes it felt like there were only hiccups. It was really, really hard. Many people told us that letters on screen are the antithesis of drama but we knew that the letters, the letter requesters and their predicaments were the heart and soul of the concept. So we wanted to find a way to preserve them, dramatise them and link them together.

That's where our main characters Florence and Ann came into play, with a friendship that ebbs and flows and resonates with the problems that Florence is trying to solve with her letters. The development process was challenging, but we had a lot of support and tough love from our team, including script producer Mike Jones, story consultant Veronica Gleeson and director Erin White.

What was your reaction when you found out that Other People’s Problems would have its premiere at Series Mania?  

Jane: We were thrilled to hear that the series was launching at Series Mania. There’s so much happening in the world of television right now, particularly online, and the program looks incredible. When we were writing the series we imagined it sneaking into people’s lounge rooms via ABC iview so watching it on the big screen with an audience will be a little surreal.

Who was the most influential person in your career development and what did they do to assist you?

Penelope: There’s so many! The Catapult writers of 2012. We went through the Film Victoria program together five years ago and remain the best of friends. They’re talented, inspiring, supportive and amounts of fun.

Another person who deserves to be singled out is Sue Maslin. I was Sue’s assistant for several years and learnt a lot from her about the industry and how to work hard and love the job. She’s an incredible mentor, to me and many other emerging filmmakers, and her work for gender equality in the industry is an inspiration – she’s been fighting the good fight for many years. It was Sue who first saw the potential in Clothing for Correspondence as a screen story – she optioned it while I was still her assistant, encouraged Jane and I to develop it, hooked us up with our fab producer Charlotte Seymour and EP’d it to completion.

What’s on your writing radar?

Jane: We don’t feel like we’re finished with Florence and Ann yet so I’m jotting down ideas for future episodes of Other People’s Problems. I’m also in the early stages of a fiction project exploring the limitations of the nuclear family.

Penelope: I’m juggling a few feature film scripts at the moment: a whimsical comedy-drama set in an empty city in China, a feminist Dog Day Afternoon based on real events, a dystopian sci-fi about subservient female clones and a fairy tale action-adventure in which Cinderella is the villain and the Ugly Stepsisters are the misunderstood heroines.

Supported through our Assigned Production Investment Program, Other People’s Problems is a Seymour Films production in association with ABC TV and Screen Australia, distributed by Film Art Media.

It will premiere on 22 July at Series Mania Melbourne and screen on ABC iview later this year.