By: Daniela Franco
Looking for love in 2012 for the first time in over 20 years, Michelle Ortega decided to pack-up and move across the country from San Francisco to New York City.
Ortega found herself a recent divorcee from a 13-year marriage and decided that moving to New York City would be her perfect fresh start. Ortega says “I was simply talking to my friend and she pointed out that I had always wanted to live in New York, so I decided right there and then ‘I’m going to move to New York.’” But being single in an unknown place was more daunting than she could have ever imagined. When talking about how she felt Ortega said, “I didn’t even know how to be single, I hadn’t flirted in 13 years. What was I supposed to do? Was I supposed to go to a bar by myself? It was awful!”
Overwhelmed by the ever-changing dating scene in the 21st century, Ortega began to navigate through online dating and learning what it meant to be single over 40 in a city known for its youth.
“I talked to girlfriends and heard all these stories and disappointments, and frustrations and some joys. I decided we needed to figure this out. There has to be a better way, there has to be some inspiration. We can learn things from people. How do you put yourself out there and find a special someone?” said Ortega.
It was those dating challenges, hopes, and friendly gossiping with girlfriends that led to the concept of The Single Ladies of NY. Ortega said “I found myself getting more at peace with my situation the more I talked to people, and I said ‘I have to make a movie about this.’ I thought it was a good topic and something good to talk about.” The single life is something everyone around the world will, can or has related to because they are living it, have lived it, or will live it again.
Ortega herself did not have to live the single life in New York for too long. Introduced by a mutual friend, Ortega met David Tews at a Japanese restaurant called Kodama, and they connected instantly. Tews said, “There’s some disagreement as to whether I asked for her phone number or she said that I should take her out for a slice of pizza. Either way, she gave me her number.” Ortega and Tews moved in together in April 2014, just two years after she arrived to New York City.
Although no longer single herself, Ortega still pursued her dream of making a movie about the single life. The Single Ladies of NY will be a documentary that features women of different ages sharing their experiences of what happens when you go looking for love in New York. The film is going to look at the similarities and differences between the dating fields of women from various age groups. These stories will provide a unique insight in female perspectives, expectations, challenges, and unique benefits and obstacles that comes with New York City. It will look to entertain people by showcasing many different dating horror stories and Ortega assures that there are many of those stories out there.
“I think [the film will] help people realize that they’re not alone and that we all go through some challenging times with dating,” Tews said.
Ortega has already self-funded four main days of shooting with many women in Gramercy, Harlem, Midtown, and Williamsburg who have had insightful interviews but she seeks to have more. Ortega is looking to film interviews that she considers essential for the final film, which include women over the age of 60, members of the LGBT community and perhaps some single men.
Juggling her job as video producer at Google and filming her documentary has proven a challenge. By getting additional funding, Ortega hopes to be able to buy extra time for herself and her crew, whom have already donated time and personal equipment to make the past interviews possible. Ortega took a risk and asked for $25,000 on Kickstarter.com with the fundraising deadline of March 17th, 2014, and split the money in the following categories: $5,000 for four more days of shooting with key interview subjects listed above, $10,000 for Editing, $2,500 for Kickstarter reward designations, $2,000 for Graphics Animation and Archival footage usage, $2,500 for Marketing and Film Festival submissions, and $3,000 for Music Licensing and E&O Insurance.
KickStater is definitely not the traditional way of asking for contributions and for Ortega, a video producer that has been in the business for over 20 years, it is all new and scary. Ortega says, “Launching the Kickstarter was by far the most challenging for me because asking for money and marketing myself is not something I’m entirely comfortable or well-versed in. By comparison, the filmmaking itself is easy for me.”
Joining Kickstarter has definitely gotten Ortega support from those closest to her and those who were strangers.
“At first, I told her that I thought the subject had been “done” and asked how she could bring a unique voice or angle to the story. She saw that there were so many stories – sad, happy, funny and hopeful – to be told about this subject of trying to find love that it inspired her,” said Ortega’s best friend of over 30 years Christy Dobbs. “It wasn’t until I saw her Kickstarter pitch that I knew she was onto something along with the idea of traveling to different cities and telling stories as a series.”
As for strangers, The Single Ladies of NY has already gotten attention from cable TV shows, radio broadcasts, and Internet bloggers, even while it is still in the early development stages. It also got attention on Twitter from Sex and the City author, Candace Bushnell, which thrilled Ortega. By creating digital buzz, Ortega hopes to someday have the opportunity of expanding this project to different cities around the country and, perhaps someday, the world.
When the Kickstarter campaign ended, Ortega had achieved just a third of her funding goal. With only about 9,000 dollars raised, Ortega had to push back the original release date of her documentary from October 2014 to early 2015. Ortega has begun detailed plans strategizing how to have a more successful future campaign by building her digital fan base and getting people more excited about her film before it is released.
“The next step is that I have some more interviews scheduled at the end of June and then full fledge into editing and more fundraising,” Ortega said of her future plans.
After having a series of smaller fundraising campaigns to complete her budget, Ortega promises to have the project released within the year. Ortega has made it clear that by looking beyond her subject’s faces, the viewer will connect with their stories instead and on what lessons they are passing on.
Ortega hopes to capture the New York City environment within the interviews of the single ladies, trying to capture where they live and work, all while trying to find love. Ortega describes people in the New York dating field as fighters because they have to be strong and street smart all while risking their hearts. She also describes them as brave and not afraid of becoming vulnerable if the opportunity presented itself.
The final result will also provide dating do’s and don’ts while also providing an insight look of what it is that women are actually looking for in relationships.
“I don’t think Single Ladies of NY as being narrowly relevant to single women. It’s a story about relationships, how we treat each other (the best and worst comes out in dating), and how we handle what life throws our way. The stories are human stories and by sharing them, we know we are not alone”, best friend Dobbs said about her friend’s latest project.
After The Single Ladies of NY wraps up, Ortega will take her unique approach to San Francisco. Ortega says “I hope that people enjoy it, and hope they laugh, I hope they find comfort, I hope they find advice. I hope it gives them keys to happiness along the way and finding joy in the experience of being single.”