CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Appalachia, especially West Virginia, has a certain unflattering reputation.
Afsheen Misaghi, a native of West Virginia, laughed and said what he heard.
“We’re white.” We’re behind. We are poor. We are minded, “said the 25-year-old on the phone.
Fulbright’s scientist and filmmaker is none of that. His family comes from Turkey, India and Iran. He was born in Lewisburg, but grew up in Charleston and easily describes himself as a mountain man and a hill.
“That’s who I am,” he said.
His family has deep connections with the country and the people here, and Misaghi said West Virginias have a bad rap.
“West Virginia, which I know, has its problems, but it’s a very original, very loving and diverse place,” he said.
West Virginia is also more like the rest of America than not, as part of a report in “Normal for Now,” four episode streaming series currently available to watch on Amazon Prime.
Through these short stories, Misaghi and his co-producer Nate Cesco present a series of dramatic moments about life during the COVID-19 pandemic for a diverse cast of people living in Appalachia. The stories touch on familiar themes of isolation, loneliness and anxiety, but there is humor and even a sense of perseverance in the stories.
“We wanted to do something beyond the superficial things of the pandemic, such as whipped cream and all the TikTok videos,” he said. “We wanted to make stories like what happens after calling Happy Hour Zoom?” This is where the real challenges of the pandemic occur. “
Misaghi and Cesco wrote four performances in late summer, assembled a crew of five, and then assembled a cast of about 20 actors to shoot episodes.
“I’d say we had a small but incredibly talented group of people working with us,” he said.
They worked quickly and incorporated things like Zoom to help them tell their stories and keep a COVID-safe work environment for their actors and crew.
They let them work for them less than ideal circumstances and turned it into an opportunity to document place and time in the creation of art.
In addition, without the coronavirus pandemic, Misaghi probably would not have been in West Virginia.
An actor with a degree from West Virginia University and a Master of Fine Arts in Theater Acting at the University of Florida, George Washington High School graduate and Fulbright’s scientist have worked in Turkey and taught English at Ankara Yildirium Beyazit University.
It was a nine-month broadcast that was scheduled to last until June 2020, but then COVID-19 spread around the world.
In March, Misaghi was suddenly told that his scholarship program had ended. They sent him back to the United States
“Country roads will take me home,” he joked.
After returning to West Virginia, he teamed up with Cesc and the two began writing together. During the summer, they worked together on several projects before deciding to put together a series that landed on Amazon.
“To be very clear, this is not an Amazon show,” Misaghi said. “Amazon didn’t pay to do this show and we didn’t get paid or anything.” We did this show, but Amazon is our platform. “
Yet Amazon is picky about what they take. The media giant has strict rules regarding content and production values.
“It turns out you’re using a certain type of camera and you have the right kind of text in your video,” he said. “We did everything through Nate’s Lateland Media.”
The show is almost entirely a domestic product. This was recorded in Cabell County. Most of the actors and crews come from or live in West Virginia, and the show features several West Virginia musicians, including Hello June, Shelem and Brad Goodall.
Although its production values are very high, “Normal for Now” has an independent film aesthetic. There are honest depictions of drug and alcohol use (bordering on abuse) and some language, but Misaghi said they wanted something relative.
The creator stated that he believes that even people outside Appalachia will consider it relatable.
“At the moment, we’re trying to do everything that’s normal for now,” so that as many people as we can see him, “he said.
“Normal for Now” is currently available on Amazon Prime, so Amazon Prime subscribers can view it for free.
After completing four episodes of the show, he said that he and Cesc were working on other projects, including a late-night talk show called “15 Minutes Late,” which was recorded during the holidays by the Rock City Cake Company in Charleston.
He said the show would be similar to “Last Night with John Oliver” on HBO, with deep dives in problems such as media representation in the media and Appalachia.
Misaghi said he believes the show will be available for viewing by the end of the month.