Sundance: ‘Bootstrapped’ pulls a Kansas City shuffle on tech sitcoms
“Bootstrapped” wouldn’t be the first television series to tackle the stranger-than-fiction absurdity of the tech industry — but it would be the first in that genre to be set in Kansas City, Missouri.
The sitcom pilot screening at the Sundance Film Festival directed by Stephanie Laing and starring Maribeth Monroe, Danielle Uhlarik, Sam Richardson and Kezii Curtis follows best friends Madeline (Monroe) and Aimee (Uhlarik) as they try to grow a fashion-tech startup nearly 2,000 miles inland from the Bay Area and Brooklyn. Along for the ride are engineers Ben (Richardson) and teenage Little Ben (Curtis). Their magnum opus: BitchThatWouldLookBetterOnMe.com, an app that tells users what others are wearing by analyzing photos.
Uhlarik, who also wrote the screenplay, is relating the story from experience. In the past, she’s worked for small divisions inside Silicon Valley heavyweights Google and Twitter as well as writing sketches for comedy website Funny or Die. Originally, her concept for “Bootstrapped” was a tale set in the familiar environs of California; only later did she move the setting to a landlocked region of two million people known more for producing improv jazz, Janelle Monae and molasses-based barbecue sauce than killer smartphone apps.
“I wanted these girls to feel like outsiders,” Uhlarik said. “It is harder to get investments and be taken seriously by venture capitalists; I didn’t want to set it in some place like Chicago because it still felt like too big of a city.”
True to the story’s setting, the production itself is shot through with Midwestern flavor. Uhlarik hails from Chicago, while Monroe (“Workaholics”) and Richardson (“Veep,” “Detroiters”) are native Michiganders. Uhlarik’s husband grew up in the two-state KC metro, providing the inspiration for the location. Sprawling corporate campuses are swapped out for suburban garages; cafeterias for a selection of beef jerky bags pinned to the wall.
Tuesday, Jan. 29 2:30 p.m., Prospector Square Theatre
Wednesday, Jan. 30 3:00 p.m., Broadway Centre Cinema 6 Salt Lake City
Thursday, Jan. 31, 7:00 p.m., Holiday Village Cinema 4
While “Bootstrapped” merges two subjects with which Uhlarik is intimately familiar — high tech and the urban Midwest — she embraces the challenge of depicting the quirks of Kansas Citians as well as that of making Madeline and Aimee’s outsider status a two-way boulevard.
“I love the Midwest culture,” Uhlarik said. “In series, we’re going to see how their Midwest friends and Midwest families judge the practicality of doing this startup out of half of a garage, because it’s not a steady 9 to 5 job.”
That includes the characters’ undying love for Royals baseball, spa days in (an SUV parked at) the Plaza shopping district and the all-important distinction between Kansas City, Kansas, and Kansas City, Missouri.
The latter part wasn’t a concept she had thought about until asking locals, who made the difference very clear, very quickly.
“Because there aren’t a ton of shows about Kansas City, we really got to explore a lot of things,” she said.
Uhlarik, Monroe and Richardson’s similarities in background go further than their shared home region, however. The trio are also alumni of the influential Second City improv comedy troupe in Chicago, which Uhlarik said helps the characters’ chemistry on-screen as well as contributing to her vision of a sitcom where characters’ relationships don’t need to be strained in service of a punchline.
“It’s a buddy comedy at the heart of it,” Uhlarik said. “Throughout the series their challenges will not come with fighting each other because they’re friends, their challenges will come because of their work.”
In fact, that the pilot came to fruition at all is what’s driving Uhlarik as she makes the rounds in Park City – not her first rodeo at Sundance, but her first with a project she calls “hers.”
“It was fun to actually make this,” she said. “Not only did we get the chance to make it, which was already a dream, and I got to make it with friends … it’s so unique and special in that way.”
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Sundance schedules 11 screenings for its 2019 summer series, and the public can vote on one.