Art

The Not All Sunshine State: Inside Laura Chinn’s Florida Girls

We go behind the scenes with writer and actor Laura Chinn to discuss her new show, Florida Girls. Chinn pulls from hometown nostalgia to create a timely and hilarious show.

Lily Bradfield

LauraChinn_1558 (1) (1)
Laura Chinn by Kevin Scanlon.

The new show Florida Girls, which airs Wednesday nights at 10pm on Pop Network and stars the show’s writer, Laura Chinn, gives us a glimpse into a small town in Florida and the comically rich lives of its natives. When one of her girlfriends decides to leave Clearwater, Chinn’s character is inspired to get her GED, but soon finds out her environment is more of an obstacle than an asset. The show isn’t just your everyday comedy, though. Based off of Chinn’s own hometown experiences, the episodes dig deep into the complications of thriving faced by low-income women. “Even though it’s heightened and satirical, there are a lot of moments of truth,” says Chinn, who spoke with Cultured about finding the balance between raunchy satire and hard-hitting truth.

(L-R) Laci Mosely as ‘Jayla,’ Patty Guggenheim as ‘Erica,’ Melanie Field as ‘Kaitlin,’ and Laura Chinn as ‘Shelby.’ Courtesy of PopTV.

How did you get into acting and writing? It’s funny, I don’t remember ever getting into it because I’ve been saying I want to act since I was three. Everyone in my family, and family friends will tell me that when I was three years old I would talk about how important storytelling is and how I wanted to be an actor. In my fourth grade yearbook, when it asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I wrote actress. It’s always been a part of my identity. I was always writing plays, directing plays in my backyard, doing theater camp and all of that stuff.

Who are the writers or actors you look up to? There are so many. I’m a big fan of Tina Fey, and I’ve been talking about her a lot lately because she does acts and writes and it was such a breakthrough for me to see someone doing both. I was drawn to both of those things but I didn’t know you could make a career out of doing both of them. So that was big. Then every time somebody joins that group—the Broad City girls, anybody who started creating their own content and performing in it, I got very inspired by.

What inspired you to make Florida Girls right now? I’ve been wanting to make it for so long, for probably 10 years. I wrote a movie about high school girls in Florida right when I moved to LA and was just learning how to write. It was always in the back of my mind as an interesting place and the more I would tell stories about it and the reactions I would get, the more I felt that I should try and find a way to write about this. I think that right now we were able to sell the show because female content is in such high demand, and so many more different kinds of people are getting chances to have shows and tell stories so it was very good timing for us.

(L-R) Patty Guggenheim as ‘Erica,’ Laci Mosely as ‘Jayla,’ Melanie Field as ‘Kaitlin,’ and Laura Chinn as ‘Shelby.’ Courtesy of PopTV.

What was one of your favorite moments from shooting the first season? Favorite episode? “Chunky Sunday” was my most beloved couple of days of filming. It was freezing cold, like 40 degrees, and the extras were the most incredible, gracious, happy group. Everyone was down to work hard and be a part of it. It ended up being a very fun day that almost felt like we were at an actual barbecue even though we were there for 12 hours. There was dancing, and we had a local barbecue person come out and make ribs for everyone, and everyone was eating and dancing. As far as episodes go, I think there’s moments in each one where I really feel the nostalgia and moments from my childhood that touch my heart, so it’s hard to pick just one. I’m very delighted by my friends from back home on Facebook commenting and bringing up nostalgic things, like I remember that car, I remember that person! It’s been so rewarding to see how much everyone has enjoyed the show. Even though it’s heightened and satirical, there are still a lot of moments of truth.

How did you balance the enhanced comedic satire with the truth in the writing? I think naturally I’ve found comedy in tragedy my whole life. I’ve witnessed a lot of things that could’ve just been really bleak and bad, but my family has this capacity for humor that I was raised with and that saved my life on so many levels and so many occasions. It drew me to want to make a career in comedy because there is so much laughter in tragedy, and the more we can allow ourselves to tap into that, the more powerful everything can be. That’s the tone that I’m drawn toward, taking an inherently hard situation and then finding the humor in it. 

What do you hope people take away from the first season? I’m trying to show what women are up against in that income bracket, not having familial support in a smaller town where there’s not as much opportunity as there is in a bigger city. There are so many cards stacked against women, and diverse women, and all of that. So I poured a lot of that into each episode. My dream is to do many seasons and to have these women grow and make better choices, but this first season is showing and introducing everybody to what they’re up against and what they’ve come from. I hope that the takeaway is that you feel empathy for the characters and that their flaws are sympathetic.

(L-R) Laci Mosely as ‘Jayla,’ Laura Chinn as ‘Shelby,’ Patty Guggenheim as ‘Erica,’ and Melanie Field as ‘Kaitlin.’ Courtesy of PopTV.

What prepared you to create and star in your own show? So many things helped me prepare. Staffing on other people’s shows is something I’m incredibly grateful for. I’ve learned so much from watching other show runners. Just learning what to do and what not to do, and having that environment when it wasn’t my show and the stakes weren’t so high for me, I am incredibly thankful for. It’s hard to pick one show and say it taught me everything, because I’ve worked on seven or eight shows and each one taught me different things that I’m grateful for.

What did you learn from creating your own show partly based off of lived experience? It’s really healing. I think having to go back and dig up things that I haven’t thought about in a long time was cathartic—to think about them and talk about them with writers. It gave me an appreciation for where I came from. Even though it was not a traditional mother/father household, two-story house, white picket fence sort of thing, there was so much love there. There was so much personality, so much inspiration that I was able to absorb from having such a unique environment. There was so much love in my friend group and we all kind of raised each other. I was able to look back at that and have so much gratitude.

As a Florida native, did you feel a sense of responsibility when creating the show? Definitely. It’s challenging because the characters are flawed, and it couldn’t be a comedy unless they were flawed. But an important thing to me was having a character that constantly voiced how incredible Florida is and genuinely believes it, and giving her grounded reasons for believing it. There are so many amazing things about my hometown—it’s beautiful, and there’s boating, and island parties, and so many things about Florida that don’t happen anywhere else that are incredible and I highly recommend people experience them once in their life. Even though the character I play is always saying they have to get out of there, I wanted to have somebody who was calling her wrong because I dobelieve that sometimes people are wrong when they say you have to leave your hometown in order to find yourself. I think you can find yourself wherever you are.

What advice would you give people who also don’t want to be boxed into one career? My advice is not really about this business or about writing or directing. I was riddled with self-defeat, and I think most people are, riddled with self-hatred and the feeling that you’re not worth it. These are things that you absorb from childhood and your community growing up, and I think everybody struggles with those things. Tapping into things like finding a really good therapist, reading any self-help book I could get my hands on, and trying any modality I could find that would bring me a little more peace, a little more self-love, had a bigger impact on my career than anything else. As soon as I started to believe I could do something, everybody around me believed I could do it, too.