ctrl alt delete Interview: Roni Geva & Margaret Katch
“We think that as filmmakers and storytellers, it is our responsibility to intersect art and activism.”
Hello, person who’s had an abortion here. On the one hand, my medical history is personal and quite frankly none of your damn business but on the other hand, I think the more we talk about abortion as something typical the more we can chip away at the taboo.
And that is what drew me to ctrl alt delete. A funny web-series about abortion? Yes, please! I sat down to watch the first episode of season one and binged the entire first and recently premiered second season in one sitting. It’s absolutely hilarious—and even more so when I found out that a lot of the “this absolutely can’t be real life” moments are based on creator Roni’s personal experience.
Season one focuses on individual abortion stories: seven in total and each more normal and typical than the last. Nothing sensational, just… real life. Typical. Season two shifts focus to the abortion clinic itself and it plays out over one day at the clinic, complete with great dad jokes (what is a pirate’s favourite letter?) and a mysterious pizza box that may or may not be a pizza box.
As abortion and reproductive health access is being stripped away in the United States and women are finding themselves with little to no rights to their own bodies, stories like this are more important than ever. I had the pleasure of chatting with ctrl alt delete creators Roni Geva and Margaret Katch about the series, which you can read below, but of course you’re going to watch ctrl alt delete first.
Roni Geva is an actor, sketch-comedienne and writer, born and raised in Tel Aviv, Israel. Her sketch comedy show The Arab Israeli Comedy Hour (Second City, ioWest, UCB) garnered great acclaim and led her to work as a writer on the 2015 CBS Diversity Showcase. Margaret Katch is a Chicago-born actor, director, and writer, working on stage, film, and commercials. She has directed the two short films To Fall in Love With Anyone, Play This Game and Take With Water, and the award-winning short form series CTRL ALT DELETE.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got involved with filmmaking.
We both came up in the theatre world as actors. Margaret had also done some directing and Roni had done a lot of writing (she came up in improv/sketch comedy in Chicago)… and we knew each other from our side-hustle job and from sitting in the same audition rooms. Then, when we moved to LA almost 6 years ago (separately, not together), we decided to make a quick cheap short film just for our reels as actors. It was just gonna be a quick afternoon (and it was)… but the process of it made us fall in love with filmmaking.
Then, to our delight and surprise, the short got into a nice film festival. Emboldened by that quick success, we decided to make the very rookie mistake of starting to work on a feature <insert face palm here>. Lucky for us, we quickly recognized our own idiotic move (features can sometimes take 10 years to get made) and conferred:
“What should we do next?”
Margaret immediately knew, “A web series! About abortion!”
Roni quickly added, “But only if it’s funny!”
Since then we have both worked on other films (together and separately) and have become obsessed with the power of storytelling through media.
Tell us about CTRL ALT DELETE. Where did the idea come from?
We both had abortions at the same clinic back in Chicago (separately, not together) and at the time, we both (separately, not together) looked to the media to find stories of women like us. Stories to relate to of women who were NOT fraught, NOT frightened, TOTALLY relieved, and in Roni’s case, who had a legitimately funny experience. We found nothing of the sort.
For Roni, this meant, “Oh! Maybe having a funny abortion story is not okay…” And she didn’t talk about it for a long time.
For Margaret, this meant, “Oh! The world needs me!” And she started an anonymous blog about her whole experience.
And so when we decided to make work together, it was easy to leap and embrace “becoming the change we want to see in [entertainment]”, as it were.
So we mined our own stories (Roni’s especially — the characters of Lorna, Dr. Rosenblatt and Ellen the zero-population growth counsellor were all based on Roni’s abortion). Then we knew we needed to take it a step further and so we interviewed women and men about their experiences as well as clinics. We took all of those stories, fictionalized them, mined the funny and BIRTHED (by choice) ctrl alt delete.
Pulling off the combination of comedy and abortions is quite the feat. What was your approach to finding the perfect balance?
The truth is that Roni’s abortion story is just funny. Objectively, it was a ridiculous and funny day. So it was a very easy jumping off point into the series. In fact, it was so ridiculous that we ended up taking chunks of her story and putting them into other people’s stories (because we didn’t think an audience would believe that all of that truly happened to just one person… [it did].
Ultimately, we believe that comedy is incredibly humanizing and that the very best comedy comes from a real and deep place. We’ve all been in an awful or uncomfortable situation where we made a joke to cope with the moment. It’s a very human response. And that’s the perfect balance — the fart joke in the middle of the saddest day.
Did you always know S1 would focus on personal stories and S2 would focus on the clinic itself?
Season 1 came as to us a universal download in Margaret’s brain. She just KNEW it had to be a character anthology. And as we interviewed people for each story, we knew that this was exactly what we wanted to make.
Then, as we were editing it (season 1), we realized how much we loved the the arc of the clinic’s employees. As we approached season 2, we knew that we wanted to focus on interviewing clinics and telling their stories. We really wanted to bring to life a day at an independent abortion clinic — which, turns out, is just the same as any other workplace.
So we decided to create what was basically a pilot for a half-hour workplace comedy. We are still telling individual patients’ stories (this season’s primary patient story is based on our friend’s second trimester abortion), but we mostly follow the people who work at the clinic, from the doctor who tells knock knock jokes to the counsellor with a passion for the zero population growth movement, to the intern who thinks there’s a bomb in a pizza box.
Is Lorna based on a real person? She is extraordinary!
Yes! She is based on a woman Roni met at her abortion. She BURST into the clinic, saying “I’m on Zoloft. Is that gonna be a problem??” And then sat next to Roni, who had inadvertently made eye contact, telling her about her 5 abortions. In fact, Roni had so many moments with Lorna that we had to sprinkle them throughout the series. Otherwise no one would believe that she was real!
What’s amazing is that we have now had 2 different women write to us to tell us that they had a “Lorna” at their abortion and “how did we know!?”
Can you tell us about some/all of the other amazing women who worked on this web series?
We’d love to! We are so incredibly proud of our all female crew!
With us at the helm, we had two extraordinary producers (Allison Powell and Lola Noh) who worked so hard to make magic happen. Magic like having a robot show up on set or locations secured at the last minute.
And we must shout from the rooftops our love and gratitude for our incredible DP, Tiffany Murray. We are so so lucky to be working with her. She is collaborative, has an incredible eye for comedy, and together we found the visual voice of the season.
Next we have to shout out our art director Adrian Wittenberg. She built a magical wall to match a different location, turned the same location into two different places, created comic books from scratch, invented a social media page for Ellen to stalk Malcolm on, and generally made every space look as real as humanly possible.
Amy Kersten, our editor, also made this show what it is. Her timing is impeccable and she was able to truly make miracles happen. Anytime someone asks if we know a badass editor, we immediately scream, “WORK WITH AMY!” She’s phenomenal.
There are so many more women on our crew that we need to shout out — but what we would love to add is that every department worked on our show as if their department was the most important… which meant that everyone’s work was impeccable. AND STILL, every department also worked together in a beautiful and collaborative manner that put story above ego and story above job-title every time. And that, to us, was the best part.
Tell us about why you are a feminist and why it’s important to your filmmaking.
We think everyone who believes that women are entitled to equal rights is a feminist. So since we fervently believe in equal rights, we can’t help but write from that perspective. We think that everyone should be writing from the perspective that all genders are equal.
We also think that as filmmakers and storytellers, it is our responsibility to intersect art and activism. And that’s what we get to do with our show or with our hires or with our storylines.
Who are your favourite women working in the film industry?
We love Megan Ellison, Rachel Morrison, Miranda July, Greta Gerwig, Shonda Rhimes, Maya Erskine/Anna Konkle.
What’s the best advice about filmmaking you’ve ever received?
To just jump and figure out how to do it on the way down.
What are you working on next?
We are developing a few stories that we’re really excited about, as well as looking to make season 3 of ctrl alt delete.
If you were reincarnated as an ice cream flavour, what would it be?
Margaret: Phish Food
Roni: Half Baked
What mythical creature do you wish actually existed?
Margaret thinks Centaurs are sexy. Roni is a unicorn.
Finally, recommend one #MUFFApproved film for our blog readers!
Obvious Child! (or can we do TV? Pen15!)