Unflattering selfie angles, men posing with freshly caught fish and an abundance of "Rick and Morty" references are just some of the horrors one might encounter while swiping for their next Tinder match.
These dating app faux pas and the quest to end them set the premise for new Chicago-based web series "The Right Swipe," a romantic comedy about two women who start a business fixing men's dating app profiles. Love coaches India and Margo, played by real-life best friends and series co-writers Kyra Jones and Juli Del Prete, take on a diverse group of clients, including a transgender man and a queer, Asian poet, to help them find love. Eventually, they find their business endeavors entangled in their own romantic lives.
"We wanted to tell a story that explores the challenges of dating at various intersections of marginalized identity," Jones said. "So many romantic comedies are told through the perspective of straight, white people, but we wanted to uplift people of a myriad of races, genders, abilities and sexualities, and present them as beautiful or desirable."
The pilot episode premiered April 12 on Open Television | OTV, an online streaming platform for intersectional shows. The episode features India, a rising screenwriter, and Margo, a photographer studying for law school, as they launch their business.
India and Margo set three ground rules for them to follow: They must use their powers for good; clients will be charged on a sliding scale; and they're not allowed to sleep with, date or flirt with any of their clients. This last rule proves difficult for India when one of their first customers is a smart, attractive and single filmmaker. Their connection is instantaneous.
Jones and Del Prete came up with the idea for "The Right Swipe" while hanging out in January 2018. They were swiping through people on Jones' Bumble account when they realized that most men didn't seem to know how to make an effective dating app profile.
"It's sort of like walking through a hellscape of men with underwritten bios, gym photos and unflattering selfies taken from below the chin," Del Prete said. "We joked about actually starting a business to fix men's profiles, but then we realized we'd have to actually interact with these men. We decided to make a web series instead."
Del Prete said the series shifts the romantic comedy genre to an intersectional feminist perspective by centering women, people of color and queer people both on-screen and behind the camera. With the help of producers Sarah Minnie and Sarah Conley, Del Prete and Jones hired a production team including only four men, none of whom are cisgender, straight white men.
The result was inclusive set that allowed cast and crew members to easily communicate their point of views without fear of being misunderstood or invalidated, Del Prete said. Everyone on set truly believed in the show's message, she said.
"We flip the script on traditional romantic, matchmaker comedies by having women act as the coaches when usually it's another straight man," Jones said. "Women are the people who are most affected by these behaviors, so we wanted to show femmes and women in control of that narrative."
Director Justin Casselle, who got involved with the series after Jones reached out with the script, said what stood out to him was the script's focus on centering people who live in intersections of identity. He said he immediately believed in their vision and wanted to support it.
"Usually in these kinds of romantic comedies, the matchmaker is teaching the man how to cheat the game to land the woman he wants, but this story isn't like that," Casselle said. "Kyra and Juli wrote a beautiful script challenging these norms, and I wanted to elevate it."
Del Prete said "The Right Swipe" explores traditional and nontraditional forms of masculinity through its diverse characters. One client is a transgender man who's returning to dating apps since transitioning. Other characters include an Asian, queer poet, a male film director and a designer creating an agender clothing line.
According to Jones, who also works as a sexual violence and health educator at Northwestern University, the series also prioritizes consent, both on- and off-screen. The team worked with intimacy coordinator Rachel Flesher to make sure all intimate scenes were safe and consensual for crew members, Jones said. They also ensured that explicit consent was written into every sex scene.
"We wanted to show one way that consent can look, because it usually isn't shown in romantic comedies," Jones said. "Hopefully we portrayed consent in a way that people will find really hot and realize that expressing consent can be sexy and enjoyable."
Funding for "The Right Swipe" came from a $25,000 crowdfunding campaign, as well as an additional $18,500 in grants from the Chicago Digital Media Production Fund and the city's Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events.
So far, just the series' pilot and some additional footage has been shot and edited, according to Jones. The creators are crowdfunding for additional money to support filming and editing the rest of the series, which they hope to release in the summer or fall of this year.
People can support "The Right Swipe" by donating to its GoFundMe campaign at https://www.gofundme.com/fund-the-right-swipe.
The series' pilot can be viewed online at www.weareo.tv/originals/therightswipe .