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It’s not THAT Shades of Grey, but a new online sitcom bearing a similar name — about the ups and downs of interracial relationships — is currently being filmed throughout Herndon.

“We came up with the name almost a year ago, before the book ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ became so wildly popular,” said sitcom co-writer and co-director Yvette Saunders. “Our Shades of Gray has nothing to do with the book. It is about the keys to lasting relationships and about the challenges of bi-racial dating.”

Saunders, an African American, and her caucasian husband Michael Herl, both of Herndon, are the real-life inspiration for the new series which hopes to debut its first 20-minute episode on Youtube.com on Valentine’s Day.

“We met through Yahoo personals in 2005 after I moved here from Arizona,” recalls Herl. “This March we will have been married for five years. This series is our story. It’s a situation comedy set in the town of Herndon about a bi-racial couple that meets online and ultimately gets married. It looks at relationships through various lenses; male vs. female, black vs. white, young vs. old, etc., using flash backs of the two main characters. ”

Herl and Saunders’ production company, NICMIC, Inc. plans to shoot seven episodes of the series, which Herl estimates cost about $2,000 each. “We are not a one-episode wonder. We are in this for the long haul,” he said.

The series uses local professional actors as well as professional makeup and film crews.

Herl, a government contractor by day, said it has always been a dream of his to make movies.

About a year ago he decided to write the script to Shades of Gray. “It is primarily about relationships, cultural differences and the male/female dynamic,” he said.

The series is based entirely in Herndon and takes place at several popular Herndon locales.

“This is where it all really happened, so we want to promote Herndon as well as local actors and even local musicians for the production,” Herl said.

On Jan. 26, Herl and Saunders directed a scene for the series’ second episode at Worldgate Centre Theatre in Herndon, where the real-life couple went on a date to the movies for the first time.

Reston actress Laura Muschelli, 25, a South Lakes High School graduate, plays Saunders’ best friend, Hira. “I think this is a great idea,” she said. “I am really enjoying shooting this series locally.”

Herl and Saunders will air the entire series online on YouTube but hope eventually to be able to sell it, potentially to a television studio.

“The future of all content delivery is on the web, and we plan to take advantage of that,” said Herl. “The future is now.”

NicMic, Inc. will advertise via social media, using Facebook, Twitter, Tumble, Reddit and other social media sites to drive people to their content online. “We want to produce enough episodes, about two seasons worth, to allow people to fall in love with these characters,” Saunders said. “We hope to retain creative control of them and have them portrayed by the original cast. In the end, this series is about us, so I don’t think anyone can tell our story better.”

gmacdonald@fairfaxtimes.com