Katrina Smith-Jackson talks About Her New Web Series, Shrink

Katrina Smith Jackson is the creator of new webs series, Shrink a drama which looks at the stigma of mental illness within the black community; following a therapist who has to juggle dealing with her personal mental issues and her patients.

The series which recently launched isn’t the only project Katrina has been a part of, she is also the founder of Boardwalk Bridge Arts & Auteur Vision Films. We caught up with her to discuss her latest venture and how to navigate the creative industry successfully…

From a young age you’ve had a passion for film and TV to which you achieved a BA Hons in Film Studies and you’re now pursuing a career in writing, directing and producing. During the journey have you faced any setbacks or challenges being a black woman trying to break into the creative industry?

Of course. My first major realisation that being a black woman filmmaker would be a struggle and a battle, was back at school during my A-Level media studies. A friend of mine told me that I could never be a director because I don’t look like how a director is supposed to look like. So I asked her what a director is supposed to look like, and her words were, “you know…like Steven Spielberg”. So forget my talent or abilities, my skin colour and gender equated to whether I can make films. Since then, I was adamant on proving anyone with that mindset wrong.

You’ve created the new web series, Shrink which deals with mental health difficulties within the British African Caribbean community, what is the objective and key aspect behind the making of Shrink?

I always talk about how strongly I believe that film and TV saves lives. Not everyone reads newspapers or watches the news, but nearly everyone watches films and television. Having the ability to talk to people right there in their living room; through the screen, being able to share thoughts, opinions, news and information, is an incredible thought. Think about the stories you hear of people contacting the helplines of stories they’ve been affected by in their favourite soaps. That episode has just saved lives! That is so powerful, perhaps more so than the moral panic of television news. These shows are representing and documenting themes and storylines on abuse, violence, drugs, sex, politics, etc. But very rarely do we see organic and truthful representations of mental health. These reasons are my objective behind creating a show like Shrink. Society needs to be a lot more tolerable towards the credibility of mental illness. With the news only comprehending it when the media dresses it as a privilege only white ‘lone wolf’ criminals can afford, it infuriates me. That is what I want Shrink to battle against.

Why did you choose to call the drama series Shrink?

shrink-s01-poster_400It derives from a few things. Firstly, this idea of mental health having a shrunken identity and being a stigmatised illness. Secondly, the feeling many people who suffer from depression get — of feeling worthless, invisible, and how their personality and hobbies have diminished along with their mood; thirdly, we all know that psychotherapists and psychiatrists are often insensitively referred to as Shrinks.

In the series, the main character is Natasha Charlton a black, professional, middle class woman, which challenges the usual stereotypes we see of African Caribbean women in mainstream British film and TV projects. What makes this character so powerful?

Alongside the fact that we are fighting a fight against the lack of diversity in film & TV, of positive representations of race on screen, the character of Natasha embodies the fact that mental health can affect anyone! Shrink is an example of the media recognising and comprehending it as an illness that can and does affect anyone, no matter your age, gender, class or race. It does not discriminate. Natasha is a black woman, she’s middle class (if you believe in class structures), she’s highly educated, she’s an independent working professional who is financially stable. She is everything people think is well and good in the world. But 1 in 4 people will suffer from some sort of mental health condition in their lifetime. That is a massive statistic. My message is that mental health conditions are so common, and so it’s time to highlight this deadly illness and stop the stigma. Depression doesn’t discriminate! Anyone and everyone can be affected by it.

Were there any challenges that arose when combining real life situations with fiction? How were you able to maintain authenticity when dealing topics of depression and keep things visually entertaining?

I draw from my own experiences with depression, and those of other people I know, that have been poured into Shrink. Staying authentic came pretty naturally because I knew what to draw from. The biggest obstacle I had to face was keeping the dialogue in the therapy scenes as natural as possible. From my experience with therapy, sometimes it is just a session to ramble, sometimes you shout, you cry, or you silently nod or shake your head for an hour. How can the characters get their feelings, emotions and stories off their chest organically, but make it compelling to watch? That is the question I had to ask myself throughout.

Is the African Caribbean community less open to understanding the various forms of depression and how they manifest? Do you think people from our community with depression / mental illnesses are stigmatised and do you feel there is much help for people from these particular backgrounds who suffer these conditions and do you think people are aware of them?

Depression is depression. I think people can get too wrapped up in trying to categorise it into different forms, when truly the differences are only how severe it is. No matter if it is mild, moderate or severe, it is still depression. The person suffering from mild depression is just as entitled to help and understanding as the one with severe depression. I believe the problem with the African Caribbean community being less understanding derives from the lack of information about mental illness, and the support our parents and the older generation got. Without a doubt, many experienced mental health issues, but the idea of mental health awareness was almost unheard of. I feel that the change in thought by the younger generations and the advocating for more support systems in place to take all mental health conditions as credible illnesses has led to the growing (but slow) acceptance which has led to an increase in the number of men and women stepping forward to say ‘I have a mental health condition’.

What are you hoping the reaction will be towards Shrink?

I’ve always dreamed of having a cult TV show, where people are arguing over social media over the characters and storylines, hating on this character, fancying that one, so maybe Shrink can serve my dream by becoming a cult web show…

How did you choose your cast?

I put castings up on social media and casting sites, and had people send in audition tapes. Some characters I cast actor friends of mine who I have worked with before because I wanted to give them a platform. It’s hard out there as an actor, believe me, I know. I occasionally act myself. I make a couple of cameos in Shrink.

What was the most important lesson you had to learn when creating this series that has had a positive effect on you, the cast or the series?

To leave myself enough time to create something well. It has taken me a whole year to write and produce Season 1. Essentially a 6-part web series is like making 6 short films, you don’t realise just what that means until you’re half way through and tearing your hair out.

Is there any advice you would give to someone who wanted to pursue a career in the British Film and TV?

Don’t be idle. Get making things. It’s all about experience and getting your foot into the door, and you can’t do that without having an in-depth knowledge and experience in creating content.

Where does Shrink want to go from here? Are you thinking about working on season 2 if you haven’t already started?

I already have my storyline for Season 2 I’m just waiting to release Season 1 and enjoy the holidays before I get writing in the New Year. I dream to see Shrink on mainstream television or a streaming service platform.

Find out more on Katrina’s projects Boardwalk Bridge Arts |@AuteurVision
Shrink will be released on Sunday 20th December at 8pm, and people can find the link to the first episode via Twitter, Facebook,  or subscribe to the YouTube page.


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