With the closure of cinemas, stadiums, clubs, theaters, and all other forms of live entertainment, Americans have become a nation of streaming connoisseurs. One of the shows that we just binged is “Amsterdam Ave.”, a new web series that premiered at the end of 2019.
The show was produced by Dionne van den Berg and Pooja Tripathi, who also play series leads Maya and Kyran. Together, they serve as the CEO & Founder and Executive Producer of Fountain Avenue Productions, which produced this show, and works to provide ongoing opportunities to women both behind and in front of the camera.
About “Amsterdam Ave.”
The Dutch-American dramedy follows two young women of color living in very different worlds — one in Amsterdam, and one in New York City. When they are both offered opportunities they can’t pass up, they switch places and take a chance in each other’s worlds to see whether there’s more to life than following in their parents’ footsteps.
The show was shot in both the United States and the Netherlands, and after it premiered, it was screened all over the world. SEEMA was fortunate to have the opportunity to speak with Tripathi and van den Berg, and asked them some questions about their different-yet-similar upbringings, the creation of their show, and what their lives have been like during quarantine.
Can you tell me about each of your upbringings?
Pooja Tripathi: I grew up between Pittsburgh and New York City. My most significant involvement with the arts growing up was definitely the violin, which I started studying when I was three. I minored in violin performance at Carnegie Mellon, and majored in business. I’m a first generation Indian American, and being the child of immigrants, education was extremely important in my family.
Initially, I was mostly interested in escaping the fate of medical school, so I thought business would be a nice general field of study that would allow me to take some time to figure out what I wanted to do. I initially went into the world of corporate fashion, but ultimately left my job to work with Dionne and become a filmmaker – a job I truly did not realize existed growing up!
Dionne van den Berg: I grew up in a small town in the Netherlands, with four brothers, my parents, cats, rabbits, and horses. After I finished high school, I moved to Amsterdam to study Media & Culture, but later dropped out. That year, I took up lots of different jobs, and took tons of singing, dance, and drama classes. My parents wanted me to get a more secure undergraduate degree before going after what I wanted, so I enrolled in International Business Administration. During those studies I continued my creative passions, and after I graduated I moved to New York to attend acting school.
PT: We met eight years ago in Saint Tropez, on a hot summer night, in a club. This was very coincidental as Dionne was only there for one night. When Dionne moved to New York for acting school, we became friends.
What was the filming process for Amsterdam Ave. like?
PT: It was quite hectic and challenging as we shot in two different countries with two sets of cast and crew on a limited budget. We only had eight days to shoot in the Netherlands, and nine days in New York.
How did it feel to perform a script that you wrote?
PT: It was really fun and surreal to see the characters we made come to life. Since we were also the producers, we were quite stressed at all times to make sure everything was going well. This made it a challenge to concentrate when we had to act!
Sometimes, we would have moments where we could take a step back and realize what was going on and how amazing it was to be on set doing what we had dreamt of doing for so long.
How has Indian or South Asian culture informed your journey or experience, Pooja?
PT: Growing up as a child of immigrants, my focus was finding a good job with benefits that I could rely on. It never occurred to me that a creative job was a real possibility for me, but as time went on, I started to realize how important it was to be passionate about what you do. There’s quite a strong pressure to succeed in the Indian community, which can be a double-edged sword. On one hand, it pushed me to use the skills I learned in my corporate jobs and the strategy and hardworking attitude I had cultivated in school to pour all my energy into this project. On the other hand, it made me very nervous to fail, which can be an impediment when learning new skills.
Additionally, I grew up seeing very few Indian actors on American television. Master of None was truly the first time I realized how much South Asian Americans have in common. The increasing representation we see in the industry (while still not nearly enough) is very impactful. Growing up, if I’d seen other options for Indian girls other than becoming a doctor, lawyer, or engineer, that would’ve definitely impacted my self-confidence and perception of what’s possible.
PT: My advice is to remember that your own story is unique, and to remember to be genuine, authentic, and truthful in your work. I would also say to be resourceful and use all the skills you have. I didn’t think being at a corporate job would help me later on in filmmaking, but I was able to use many elements of my experience to go the extra mile while producing and marketing this show. No matter what your background is, you definitely have transferable skills!
DVDB: My advice would be to start with whatever you have around you, and work with that to train your creative muscles. I got into filmmaking because I wrote a script for a short film that I could shoot with no budget with some friends in my parents’ hometown. With that film, I learned so much about the process of making a film. Believe that you have a story to tell, and follow your gut instinct.
PT + DVDB: Our goal is for our show to be picked up by a streaming platform for season two, so we’ve been working towards that. We’ve been quarantining together in the mountains of Virginia, and when we’re together we do a lot of creative thinking. We’ve written a five-song EP that we’re working on recording soon, and we’ve also helped each other with lots of self-tape auditions!