Alisha Ketry is as versatile as they come, whether it's behind the scenes or performing in front of the camera. As a seasoned writer of the TBS animated comedy American Dad! since 2019, she decided to take a bold step in writing her first feature in the Decal indie sci-fi comedy I'm Totally Fine. The film follows Vanessa (Jillian Bell), who's in mourning after the sudden death of her best friend and business partner, Jennifer (Natalie Morales). She decides to take a solo trip to clear her head from the party arrangements she was too late to cancel when an unexpected extraterrestrial decides to take Jennifer's form and visit her. Ketry spoke to Bleeding Cool on how the pandemic helped drive the story, Morales' character, expanding her TV writing into a feature, casting, and more.
How I'm Totally Fine Became an Alien Buddy Comedy
Bleeding Cool: What is the inspiration behind 'I'm Totally Fine?'
Ketry: It came about during COVID. [director] Brandon [Dermer] came to me, and we talked about grieving, the loss of projects, and things we had huge plans for. Everything shut down, and we treated it. It almost felt like you were in mourning and going through the grieving process of all these plans you had. We've been meaning to write. I wanted to do a feature, and he had this idea about losing or mourning something and putting it into this friendship aspect. Not only are [Vanessa and Jennifer] friends, but they have a business together and lose out on it because of the death of [Vanessa's] friend, Jennifer. Not only does Vanessa lose her friend, but she also loses all these plans for the future. Everything comes crumbling down, and you don't know what your future will look like.
When you conceived Natalie [Morales] as alien Jennifer, was it always planned to be extraterrestrial, or were there other plans like making her hallucination or ghost?
Brandon and I love sci-fi. One of my favorite movies is 'Mars Attacks,' so we loved that idea, but we also wanted it to ride the line of having the audience question, "Is this real? Is this happening? Is this a hallucination?" We wanted to take them through what Vanessa feels in the questioning she feels in the moment and be able to be on that journey with her. Knowing that on the offset would take you out of the seat with her if it had been a ghost or an actual hallucination.
How has your TV experience helped you develop the feature, and what differences did you find?
There are a lot of differences, but similarities, too. My goal has always been to write TV. I grew up on TV and falling asleep while leaving it on all night. I am always a TV person more than a feature person. Being able to start writing a feature and dive into that world was really scary and also exciting. The three-act structure within 30 pages of comedy, like on an episode of 'American Dad,' you have to expand those acts. Figuring out the places to take breaths and let things like life in those extra pages was the most challenging but just as rewarding for me. That was the big difference between elongating and finding those moments.
Were Jillian and Natalie penciled in from the get-go, or did they happen to fit Vanessa and Jennifer the best?
We wrote the script without them attached, but we were hoping Kyle Knewacheck worked with Jillian on 'Workaholics,' and Jillian wanted to do something with Natalie. We wrote it with them in mind, hoping they would say yes, and we got lucky.
Now that you got your first feature out of the way, do you feel it will get easier to do again on your next film?
Yes, and it's addicting because now I want to keep writing features. I loved being on set, the process of writing a feature, and being able to tell a story in one sitting and have it live in that. That one experience was indescribable. It's so different from television, where you're telling one story, and you get to continue with that family on their journeys, and you feel a special connection with these characters. You are living in this plexiglass of a moment in time. I just want to keep doing it, and I'm so excited.
I'm Totally Fine, which also stars Newacheck, Harvey Guillén, Blake Anderson, Cyrina Fiallo, and Karen Maruyama, is in theaters, digital, and on-demand.