Now that your favourite shows such as ‘Parks and Rec’ and ’30 Rock’ are taking a break over Christmas, ‘The Hour’ has just wrapped its second series, and it will be a miracle if ‘Community’ ever comes back, it’s time to turn your attention to less traditional, alternative methods of beaming entertainment into your head.
So, the web – not just for porn, The Guardian and blogs about Star Jones in Hats – is quietly becoming the go-to place for the freshest talent in both comedy and drama. And you know how we love fresh talent here at Spindle.
One such web show that’s caught our attention is the brilliant The Outs. Set in Brooklyn and featuring some of the best gay characters we’ve seen onscreen, it’s hard to believe that the show was funded via Kickstarter and was written, produced and edited in everyone’s spare time. But this is the way forward; not just for funding up and coming talent, but for providing a platform for young people that could wipe the floor with Chuck Lorre (Two and a Half Men; Mike & Molly; you get the idea) in terms of creative energy.
With the tagline ‘Just because it’s over doesn’t mean you’re over it’, The Outs focuses on recently broken up boyfriends Jack (Hunter Canning), who’s going through his post-breakup slutty phase, and geeky Mitchell (Adam Goldman), who’s struggling with being newly single while trying to seduce the cute delivery guy. Rounding out the fun is a variety of offbeat characters; Mitchell’s needy best friend Oona (Sasha Winters), her too-nice new love interest Russell (Shawn Frank), as well as her sociopathic ex-boyfriend Drew (Sean Patrick McGowan); Ty (Phillip Taratula), Mitchell’s sassy gay boss; and sweet, generous Scruffy (Tommy Heleringer), who Jack unexpectedly starts to develop a relationship with.
The Outs is funny, moving, poignant and real; the characters are vivid, flawed yet endearing, and the soundtrack is FAB. Seemingly on an upward trajectory, the show has just been nominated for seven Indie Soap Awards. I was lucky enough to catch up with Adam Goldman, all-round bossman of The Outs, to quiz him on the realities of producing a web show, comparisons with Girls and the deal with bisexuals.
Here at Spindle, we’re all about unravelling creativity; did you conceive The Outs purely as a web series or was it a TV fantasy from the get-go that you realised could work as a web show?
Somewhere in between: I want to be writing television, but what television is right now is a pretty fluid idea. If you make something for television but the vast majority of viewers watch it on Hulu, what is that? We decided to make a TV show online since it’s substantially harder to make a TV show and get it on television by traditional means.
That said, I attribute the success of the show in large part to the fact that it was written for the medium as a web show (we avoid the term ‘web series’ because it tends to make people’s brains shut off, though this is slowly changing). Our episodes get longer as they go; they were envisioned as 15-minute affairs initially. As we went on and we found our audience and learned that we could hold people’s attention for longer (our third episode, Moon River, was a revelation in this respect), we got less scared of telling slightly longer stories.
I could talk about this for hours, but there are specific things you do when shooting stuff for the web – more close-ups than you might expect, for example – because you assume people are watching it on a laptop or, in a worst-case scenario, a phone. It’s a fascinating little form of its own, and I think that people frequently run into trouble writing/shooting a feature film or a “traditional” TV show for the web. It’s a slightly different form, and it’s important to know that going in.
What changed as you went through the devising process for the show?
The show, as originally conceived, was much broader with the comedy – similar to more traditional web series content in that sense. There are traces of this in the first episode, State of the Union, when Jack gives Mitchell’s number to his awful hookup. In one version of the story, it progressed like a gay version of Spy vs. Spy or The Prestige, with these two guys pranking each other in increasingly aggressive ways. Obviously that idea fell by the wayside, and the show is better for it.
Oona and Mitchell also have some Brooklyn rivals – Troy and Tina – who are more or less their Bizarro-selves. Jack mentions Troy and Tina in Fucking it Up, and they were in the script until pretty late in the game, but they never made it in. Maybe they’ll pop up someday; I really liked some of their dialogue. That was a situation where we decided to cut a scene or two before we shot because we felt that the episode was sufficiently long already – and we were right. At 25 minutes, it’s our second-longest, and I’m pretty proud of the way the pacing turned out in that episode.
Thinking about the production process, what was the average turnaround time between conception, writing and shooting an episode?
All of the scripts were in some state of completion when we started the project. That said, we didn’t know if we’d be shooting more than just the first one, and the tone of the show obviously evolved over time. We maintained roughly six weeks between episodes, though it slipped to seven weeks toward the end of the show.
People occasionally got a little grumpy with us about the time between episodes (though they generally remained polite). Occasionally we’d see blog posts that said “Here’s a great web series – they were supposed to shoot six episodes but I guess they gave up after four!” That was frustrating because all of the info on the show is readily available on our website; all you have to do is Google us and there it is.
There’s a sense with a lot of web content that since it’s online it’s really cheap and easy to produce and there should be a new episode every week. Or maybe people are just used to that from television? But for us, we were producing the episodes as fast as we possibly could: everyone involved has a day job, some of which have specific time requirements we were shooting around (every scene we ever shot with Hunter Canning (Jack) was shot on a Sunday night or a Monday). So we would shoot for three or four days, always on weekends and Mondays, which would happen in about a month. Then I’d get down to editing, which would take ten days or so, and then we’d polish it off.
We screened all of the episodes for fans in Brooklyn the night before they’d go online, and it was always a challenge to even have the DVD for the screening ready. With the fifth episode I was burning DVDs on my way out the door to the venue. People are like “It’s online – we’ll just shoot it on my phone and throw it on YouTube!” But if you want to make something that looks good and sounds good and is engaging to watch, that takes time and a lot of care.
Or I guess you can just be a genius and then it’s really easy and you do whatever you want, but for normal humans sometimes good work takes six weeks.
Let’s talk about the character of Drew for a second; he seems to be an extreme version of a person most gay men encounter at least once, and most come across many times – was he based on anyone in particular or was it an amalgamation? What do you think motivates guys like him?
There’s this trope in queer media – media in general? I don’t really know – about the Evil Bi Guy.™ People seem to have a lot of weird feelings about bi folks – they’re just horny, or they’re confused, or they’re gay and they don’t know it, whatever. Drew is a variation on that theme, but that’s not what he is.
He’s definitely an extreme version of someone a lot of us have met, though he’s not based on anyone in particular from my life (thankfully). The idea behind Drew is that he’s just gorgeous – Jack says he’s “chemically smitten” by him, and I’ve had that experience, I think everyone has, where you’re in a room with someone and for whatever reason, their physicality or the pheromones they’re giving off, you’re just on. On high alert. So Drew is beautiful – and fortunately the actor we found, Sean Patrick McGowen, is an exceptionally beautiful human – and we wanted to look at what that can do to a person. Though I should note that Sean is also a proper human being despite being a stud.
If you grow up from adolescence as just a total knock-out hottie, to such an extent that you’re basically always getting exactly what you want without asking, what does that do to your brain? Obviously Drew is also an extremely sexual guy – he’s more or less a satyr. I don’t know if drew is gay or bi, Drew just likes to fuck. He’s a sociopath who likes to fuck. And some people feel like “How could Oona possibly fall for this act?” But I think she’s sort of blindsided by the gorgeousness of this person, and that’s certainly something I’ve experienced. If you look good enough in boxer-briefs you can get away with a lot.
The Outs is a great showcase for up and coming musical talent – I loved the Lover’s Spit cover and I’ll Chill For Your Sins! Who gets final say in the musical direction of the show? That person deserves a Webby right now…
I’m pretty proud of the musical landscape of the show, and I make those decisions pretty much on my own, so thanks! That said, we did ask the Facebook community for musical suggestions and we used several of those. It’s just about what fits. I’d Chill For Your Sins was a situation where I heard the song and I saw that moment in my mind and it just made sense, and it was extremely exhilarating to plug the track into that moment and go, “Oh. There it is.”
It was a similar situation with the Lover’s Spit cover. A good friend of mine (and of the show), Chris Rubeo, has an album online called Ships of Sticks and Twine that’s just gorgeous, and I knew I wanted to include a track or two over the course of the show. He sent me the Lover’s Spit cover (I’d never heard the original) and it just stopped me in my tracks immediately. It’s perfect. And that, again, was a situation where I stuck it over the scene at the end of our second episode, Whiskey Dick, and it gave us (me and Sasha, my roommate who plays Oona) chills. For a lot of people, that moment is when the show really locks into place and people felt something and they decided to come along for the ride with us. And I can’t overstate how important the music is to that moment.
You’ve spoken about ‘Girls’ before and you do reference it in The Outs – I believe The Outs debuted before ‘Girls’, but I was wondering whether you were influenced by ‘Girls’ at all as you went along? What are your thoughts on the reasons why shows with a tone like Girls and The Outs are popular right now?
I didn’t watch Girls until we were pretty much done writing the show. The shout-out to the show – my character Mitchell mentions in Significant Others that Girls has been shooting on his front steps – is really only in there because it’s true. I woke up one day and there was a crane outside my window and they were shooting on my corner; I had to walk around the crew to get coffee.
There’s this Brooklyn thing in the zeitgeist right now because it’s become popular for young people and artists over the last decade (or two?); everybody’s got a Brooklyn show, it seems. I suppose tonally we inhabit a similar space – comedy that makes your heart hurt a bit – but I think over the run of The Outs we’ve established that we’re doing something different as far as the storytelling we’re trying to do. Perhaps what we have in common, in part, is that we’re telling stories about what it’s like to be young right now with a degree of honesty that you don’t see a lot. People in our age bracket are just coming to a point where we can express our stories articulately in a way that people want to see, and that’s something that’s been missing from mainstream culture.
Additionally, there’s a sense that we’re both making content that deals, at least partially with minority perspectives. Women are not a minority, obviously, but media from the perspective of a young woman who’s not out of her mind/fucking a vampire is hard to come by. And similarly there aren’t really any gay men in pop culture who aren’t in their 30s and adopting – and living in California, weirdly.
Why thank you! I think they’re pretty, too. But they look like humans, which I think is important – nobody on our cast is at the gym every day wailing on their pecs. Not to my knowledge, anyway.
We lucked out in the sense that we cast the right actors for the parts and they all happen to be fairly swoon-worthy.
Are you going to be submitting the show and touring the festival circuit? What about a DVD release?
The festival thing has never really been the goal of the show – in a few instances people have reached out to us to ask about screenings and we’re more than happy to set stuff up, but honestly I don’t have time. We’re also in a strange space as far as the size of the content: the show doesn’t cut together neatly into a two-hour feature, which was never the point anyway, and a lot of festivals haven’t quite figured out that episodic content is something to be celebrated when it’s executed well. We’re happy where we are.
As for a DVD, we’d love to do that. Unfortunately there are a few small instances where we bump up against copyright trouble – specifically the Pretty Woman footage and the amazing excerpt from Cher’s West Side Story - that would make this difficult to do legitimately. Both of those sequences were written before we knew the show was going to find an audience like it has.
Your upcoming Chanukah special is about to be shot – when can we hope to see that online?
Early next year – I can’t get too specific. The idea, though, is that we want there to be a little more room to breathe between the “end” of the show and the Chanukah Special, so it’s a few months down the line and you get to check back in with the characters and see what’s going on with them. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, after all.
That, and we want to give ourselves a little extra time to polish up the episode. Everybody’s running around with holiday plans and such, so we want to make sure we do the best job we can.
Who would your ideal fantasy guest stars be on ‘The Outs’?
I think there’s definitely room for Ian McKellen and Meryl Streep in an elaborate, ideally period (1700s, I’m thinking) dream sequence, no?
Who are you personal favourite gay characters from film and television? Which do you think are great role models? Which make you cringe? (I’m thinking of your ambivalence about Modern Family!) Are there any that inspired you?
This is a tough one! There just aren’t a lot of options, are there? I have affection for Mitch and Cam on Modern Family, though I think that relationship and the way it’s portrayed is ultimately pretty problematic.
I empathize with David from Six Feet Under, but that show has been off the air for a long time. Andrew Haigh’s Weekend resonates with me, as it does with a lot of young gay men. Xavier Dolan is an incredibly talented guy; I think it’s impossible to watch Heartbeats without being moved.
The question of a “good gay role model” is an interesting one, though ultimately maybe not productive. When dealing with the issue of representation of minorities in media, there’s an idea that any one gay man in a film or movie is meant to represent all of us, and that’s obviously impossible and fairly destructive as an idea. One of the things that I’m proud of about The Outs is that you have different gay men interacting and even engaging this conversation on the show: Mitchell is a hapless dweeb who can’t stand clubs or get laid to save his life, his boss Ty is significantly more fabulous and a bit more ‘fuck you’ in his attitude and the way he flaunts it. I’m sick to death of media that seems to take place in a universe where only one “type” of gay men exist.
What would it take for you guys to do a second season? Bearing in mind that we would do literally anything to see it get made! Is it more tempting to try to get a second season funded knowing now that you have a huge fanbase all around the world?
The business model would have to make sense. That’s the most boring sentence in the English language, isn’t it? But the truth is that everyone working on the show is working on it because we love the work and we’re proud of the product and it means something to people; nobody is getting paid the way they should be getting paid. And, again, this is part of the changing landscape of online video content or web TV or whatever you want to call it: there’s a notion that it can be made for free because it’s not getting beamed directly onto people’s televisions, but that’s just not true.
To make something that looks the way we want it to look, and sounds the way it needs to sound, and is written the way it’s written, that takes a lot of hours and a lot of equipment and a lot of really talented people. A second season online would cost a lot more than the $20,000 we raised on Kickstarter, and I think we would all rather leave a pleasant taste in people’s mouths than come back, hat in hand, asking for money that we may or may not be able to raise. Because then if the money doesn’t happen, people walk away going “Remember The Outs? So great, but then they tried to make more and they couldn’t!”
Thomas Dearnley-Davison is Spindle’s Canadian Correspondent. You can follow his insane trans-Atlantc ramblings on Twitter @ThomasDearnley