Former Communication professor creates web series on domestic violence

Maddy Ashmun, Reporter

After working at a domestic violence center for women and children, Mia McCullough realized it would be the right setting for her first TV show.

McCullough, a former Communication professor, started working at the shelter, now called Mary Lou’s Place, in 1999. She is now co-directing and co-producing a web series inspired by her experiences there.

“There’s moments of unbelievably moving, touching connection where people … connect over their common situation of domestic abuse,” McCullough said. “They’re trying to cohabitate, and they all have a different set of needs, and it just lends itself to complete absurdity and chaos.”

When McCullough first came up with the concept for “The Haven,” she wasn’t sure viewers would be ready for it. But with the release of the Netflix series “Orange is the New Black” in 2013, she said she realized the time was right for a show like “The Haven,” and started to develop it as a web series.

From her experience at Mary Lou’s Place, McCullough knew she wanted to convey the more joyful and comedic aspects of life in a domestic violence shelter in addition to the darker moments, she said.

Northwestern alumna Marion Hill (Communication ’16), who edited the pilot episode, said she tried to capture the complexity of the show through her work.

“(The) Haven has a really interesting tone — it’s both dark and kind of scary at times but then also a comedy,” Hill said. “I was excited to try and mirror that idea in the editing.”

McCullough said writing a series set in a domestic violence shelter presented some challenges, as she didn’t know how the stories of the women she met would end.

It was important while producing the pilot to find women of color to work both in front of and behind the camera, McCullough said. Communication senior Sophie Gordon worked as first assistant director on the pilot.

“It was really cool to be able to work with two female directors, a female producer, a female DP (Director of Photography),” Gordon said. “Those are really wonderful sets to work on, in my experience. They just run a little bit differently and they’re very respectful places.”

Now that the pilot has been released, McCullough said she is looking ahead to future episodes. On Saturday, she and her producing partner, Elizabeth Laidlaw, will host a stand-up comedy benefit to fund more episodes of the show.

McCullough said she’s currently planning production for three more episodes, but hopes to do more in the future.

“We decided to have a stand-up comedy benefit to be able to talk to people a little bit about the humor in the series,” McCullough said. “We’re going to have a couple of the more humorous scenes from upcoming episodes performed by the actors that we’ve cast.”

In the meantime, though, McCullough is excited to share “The Haven” with viewers, she said. McCullough said she hopes people are not just entertained, but also educated by the series.

“I think that people just see (domestic violence) as very cut-and-dry,” McCullough said. “I’d like people to walk away with a sense of what domestic violence and domestic abuse actually look like.”

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