It’s been a promising week for diversity on TV. While ABC was premiering new shows like Black-ish and How to Get Away with Murder, the new media world saw the launch of Issa Rae’s ColorCreativeTV and the Amazon Original Series Transparent. Hopefully these new ventures will launch even more stories about folks that look a little less like the Friends cast (which also got a lotoflove this week on the 20th Anniversary of its premiere).
More Good Reads for the week of September 22, 2014
What’s Behind the Rise of Transgender TV (via Natalie Jarvey for The Hollywood Reporter)
In the wake of Transparent and Orange is the New Black MTV, HBO, and AOL add trans-themed programming to their schedules.
It’s Still the Era of White Television (via Kellie Carter Jackson for The Atlantic)
Before we start celebrating that TV’s diversity problems are solved, there’s still a lot of work to be done.
This week, SAGindie co-sponsored a special screening of three comedy pilots from Issa Rae Productions’ Color Creative. This new venture from Issa Rae and Deniese Davis produces TV pilots from underrepresented writers, shepherding these projects from development through production and release.
ColorCreative.TV launches today, where you can watch each of the three pilots: Bleach (written by Shawn Boxe and directed by Victoria Mahoney); Words With Girls (written by Brittani Nichols and directed by Tessa Blake); and So Jaded (written by Syreeta Singleton and directed by Daven Baptiste). And if you’re a female writer or writer of color, you can inquire about submitting for the next development process (which will focus on drama pilots).
Today Indiewire published an in-depth story that goes behind-the-scenes at Issa Rae Productions and looks at the process of launching Color Creative, and the struggle to increase opportunities for diverse voices in the TV industry. You’ll definitely want to check out the story, watch the pilots, and support this new endeavor. Get on board now, because it’s only a matter of time before Issa Rae takes over the world.
This week, a large bulk of the independent film world was occupied with IFP Independent Film Week in New York. And there was a lot of good stuff happening there (including an appearance by SAGindie’s own Darrien Gipson). Luckily for those of us that couldn’t attend, we’ll kick off this week’s must-reads with Indiewire‘s recap of the event, which you can read here. Boom, consider yourself educated.
More Good Reads for the week of September 15, 2014
SAGindie was lucky enough to attend the premiere of the new Amazon Original Series TRANSPARENT at the Ace Hotel Los Angeles, where we got a chance to talk to some of the stars of the show. (Be sure to read our previous interview with Transparent creator and all-around awesome lady JILL SOLOWAY). All 10 episodes of Transparent will release on Amazon Prime on September 26, which happens to be Soloway’s birthday. So what will she be doing to celebrate? “Staying away from social media,” she said. “I’ll try to be somewhere where my WiFi doesn’t work, so I can remain calm and let the show find its audience without freaking out.”
Before Soloway introduced the show’s first two episodes to the packed (and enthusiastically vocal!) crowd, I channeled my best Giuliana Rancic and hit the red carpet to chat up some of the actors who attended.
We were on the set one day filming a scene for the pilot, and a whole bunch of [Amazon executives] came over to see us, and those of us who have been on network television said, “Oh dear God, now what? What’s happening?” And they just said, “Hey you guys, we just came over to see you because we love you so much! We just wanted to hang out!” What world does that happen in?… I really think the creativity that happens out of that connection and relationship makes all the difference in the world.
The thing about Amazon and streaming is you go from shooting to premiere to release within less than a month. That’s insane!… And then you just immediately start going [crosses her fingers], “When are they greenlighting season two?”
[Amazon feels like] the small indie studio world. A lot of support, a lot of love. They take care of you, but you’re still able to go out and do your thing and explore. It’s kind of the sweet spot to be in.
The great thing about Amazon right now is they’re hiring auteurs who write and direct, and they want a very personal vision. And they’re eager not to be your classic television studio in terms of how much they meddle. When I went to go make this pilot [for Really], I called them up and said, “Any last words?” And they said, “Take chances.”
I love putting my faith in someone else’s work, especially when it’s the work of Jill Soloway, who I think is very brilliant, has such a strong point of view, and is such a good storyteller. It was nice to let go and get out of my head a little bit. I think when you’re playing multiple roles and wearing multiple hats [on Portlandia], there’s an element of control that you can never quite let go of. But when you’re stepping into a role that someone else created for you, you can really let go and dive in.
I was so blown away by Jill’s film Afternoon Delight, and as soon as I watched it I literally got chills and I knew I wanted to work with this woman. She has a real vision and voice, and that’s what drew me in. I wanted to be a part of that vision and a part of that voice.
I’m going to quote my brother right now… “When you’re writing, producing, and directing, you’re raising a child to fruition; and when you’re an actor, you’re a drunk uncle who shows up at Christmas.” It’s really fun [to be an actor] when your writer/director/creator is Jill Soloway… You know you’re in good hands. That makes it really easy.
On the Transparent cast and crew…
We’re all nauseatingly in love with each other. It’s gross. [Laughs] I’m not as experienced as some of the other actors in the on-camera world, and they tell me that this [bond] is very very rare… I’m completely spoiled now. I won the lottery right out of the gate.
It was an amazing group with so much heart. As Jill says, [there's] a “feminine approach,” in other words a very all-inclusive, warm [feeling]. She made a speech at the last scene of the finale episode, saying, “Thank you all for being here and participating in this very important thing we’re doing… It’s making the world a safer place for transgender people and for LGBTQ people.” And she actually turned and directed it to all the background folks, and that was just like [puts her hand to her heart], that’s why I’m doing this show. This is the kind of person I want to work with, who really gets that we’re all here making something, and everyone is just as important as everybody else. It was a beautiful experience creatively and personally.
This week brought us much ballyhoo from the Toronto International Film Festival (or “TIFF” as the kids say). Films premiered. Rights were sold. Actors were acclaimed. Festival employees were (no doubt) polite. But what else was happening in the film world this week? Drop on by and have your way with these links.
JILL SOLOWAY has had an enviable career: Nominated for three Emmys as writer/executive producer of HBO’s Six Feet Under; a writer/producer on the ABC smash Grey’s Anatomy; showrunner of Showtime’s The United States of Tara; and winner of the 2013 Sundance Film Festival’s Best Director Award for her feature film debut Afternoon Delight. And now this month, Soloway returns to TV… or more precisely, to TVs, Rokus, tablets, laptops, or on whichever device you choose to conduct your binge-watching.
Soloway’s Amazon Original SeriesTRANSPARENT premiered its pilot in February to rave reviews, and the series kicks off (with an oh-so-bingeable 10-episode release) on September 26. Transparent revolves around a Los Angeles family and how their lives are affected by patriarch Mort (Jeffrey Tambor) coming out as transgender. The series co-stars Gaby Hoffmann, Jay Duplass, Amy Landecker, and Judith Light, with recurring appearances by Carrie Brownstein, Kathryn Hahn, Melora Hardin, and Rob Huebel.
Transparent creator Jill Soloway was kind enough to answer some questions for us about her new series, its stellar cast, and why TV seems to be a more welcoming place for women.
COLIN McCORMACK: You’ve had experience working in film, network TV, cable, and now at Amazon. What do you notice is the most distinct difference between these mediums?
JILL SOLOWAY: Amazon has the most amount of creative freedom that I’ve ever experienced in this business. Even including when I was making my independent film, because when you make an independent film you have to be so careful. There is a person who invested [every] dollar, you raised it on Kickstarter, and it’s dollar-to-dollar trying to make sure everybody gets paid back. Whereas it feels with Amazon that they’re in their own transformation and expansiveness and it allows them to give me the kind of budget and space that I never thought I would be able to get unless I was making international big-budget movies. To have the kind of space to really breathe and invest our craft into something so deeply, and to have it be about family and emotion, feels brand new. Even HBO, which is an amazing place, it has levels of development that make things happen slowly. Amazon just pulled the trigger and went big, and it’s been an amazing experience.
CM: Amazon releases their pilots early to get feedback from viewers, which helps them decide which shows to pick up. So during that “test drive” period, did you feel like you had more pull than you would in a traditional pilot process? You could go to Twitter, you could do a sort of lobbying or promotional tour to help get the word out and encourage people to watch the pilot and support the series.
JS: I was prepared to do some lobbying; I had activated all of the writers and the actors to get the word out. But the internet moved things so quickly that there were so many people with huge Twitter followings that said they loved it, that it was just happening. The critical masses came toward us, and it was super exciting to see that there was a mandate for the show.
CM: So where were you when you got the news that Amazon had picked it up, and how did you celebrate?
JS: I was walking on De Longpre and Western, and had just taken my kid to an open house at his new Kindergarten and I was in “mom mode” and I couldn’t even celebrate. And then a few minutes later my husband was driving and he pulled over and [said], “I want you to get out of the car and I want you to do a happy dance right now. Because you said that when you got the news you wanted to do a happy dance and you haven’t done it yet.” So I got out of the car and did a very anticlimactic, bad happy dance. You can’t really be as happy as you want to be the moment you’re supposed to be happy. I keep finding that the happy moments really come when you’re doing the work, when you’re on the set, when you’re engaged in this joyful, free-flowing creativity that we get to do. The moments that are supposed to be “happy moments” – the red carpet or the big announcements – somehow never register the way you want them to.
CM: So in terms of happy moments, I’m sure there is a filmmaker fantasy of going to Sundance, winning an award, and then every door in Hollywood is opened and you’re approached with tons of offers. So what was it like following the Afternoon Delight Sundance premiere? Were you approached with a lot of offers for more films?
JS: I’ve never been looking for those assignments or directorial offers. I think of myself more as a writer/director. It was more about, would I be able to find the kinds of investors who would allow me to keep doing the work I was doing, which is an inward-facing personal exploration of how to get performances to feel real. Whenever I am tempted by conversations that make me think about going out into the universe – “How high can I get? How much money can I get? How famous can my work be?” – I remind myself that I’m much more interested in going inside. And I feel much better when I travel inside and think about how it feels to be on a set with an actor, going to a place where the performance can feel unlike anything they’ve ever done before or anybody’s ever seen before.
CM: Your cast is so phenomenal and they feel so natural and authentic, like real family members. How did you nurture that chemistry? Is that something you can really plan for or was it just all in the casting?
JS: It was casting and very much a feeling of receptivity. I have been touting this feminine style of leadership that I like to engage in where I feel like I’m receptive much of the time. I’m not imposing, “This person must play this role and this person must say this line this way.” I sit at a welcoming, open place and particularly for the five family members it just was the right person. There was no question that Jeffrey Tambor was going to play [Mort/Maura]; there was no question that Amy Landecker was Sarah; that Gaby was Ali; Judith was the only right choice for Shelly. And I met Jay Duplass [who plays Josh] at a party and I was instantly like, “Are you an actor?” And he [said], “No, I’m a director.” [I told him], “You look exactly like the guy I’m trying to find for my show!” And fifteen minutes later, he had agreed to come in and read the next day.
CM: Was there any difference you noticed with Jay in directing a fellow filmmaker?
JS: Jay knows he can see the editing, so he’ll give me things that he’ll know I’ll need in the edit. He really enjoys the process of coming to work and being an actor– sometimes it’s so much easier to just worry about your character. And he and I have a lot in common right now. He just delivered I think somewhere between eight and ten episodes of a half-hour series, similarly-themed – not with trans people, but certainly about family in LA – to HBO. So we both are two people in the world who feel like we’re experiencing much of the same thing: writing, directing, getting it done quickly, trying to get this naturalistic style. I really relate to him in a big way – like a little brother to me. Because Jay and his brother [Mark Duplass] have always worked together, the Duplass Brothers have always been an inspiration for me and my sister [Faith Soloway]. We used to be branded as “the Soloway Sisters.” We were a writing and producing team and then she went to Boston to become a teacher, and now she’s back. She’s working on the show– she’s a writer on the show, so there’s a lot of Soloway Sisters/Duplass Brothers connectivity about what it feels like to have your best friend and sibling next to you, and how much more confidence that gives you.
CM: Speaking of siblings, the sibling bond in the show feels so real, and one thing I noticed is that the characters – especially Josh and Ali – make each other laugh. And I feel like you don’t see that often, even in comedies, where characters make each other laugh. And that just really amped up the realness between them and their bond. Were there improvised scenes or was everything scripted? How did that bonding come about?
JS: Yeah, making each other laugh is the secret sauce of the entire set and the whole family. I write things that I can’t wait to see Jeffrey, Judith, Jay, Amy, and Gaby say. Then when they’re performing they’re trying to make each other and me laugh. And then when I’m giving notes I’m going up to them and going, “What if you said this?” We’re also trying to make each other feel things. The center is about the meaning and the authenticity, as opposed to the product. There’s nobody marching around the set going, “This better be good. This better make money. This better come in under budget.” We hold the space on the set for authentic process, and it’s honestly about feeling safe and being open. And it’s my belief that that kind of process does make money. It does get attention. It does make the work good. But we are never consciously talking about money or attention or the better version of something. We’re always focused on the atmosphere of play and fun-making.
CM: I’ve heard you refer to the series as “10 episodes of a 5-hour movie.” Were the episodes filmed in chronological order outside of the pilot?
JS: We did a little bit of cross-boarding, a little bit more film-style. Sometimes we were shooting from the last episode early. For the most part we stuck to episode cross-boarding, so [episodes] two and three were shot together, and four and five, and six and seven. But there would certainly be moments from other episodes thrown in when we would get to a particular location. So all in all it did feel much more like a movie schedule when all was said and done.
CM: A couple weeks ago were the Emmys, and Julianna Marguiles mentioned in her speech what a wonderful time it was for women in TV. Winners that night also included some female writers (Moira Walley-Beckett and Sarah Silverman) and a female director (Gail Mancuso). Do you think that there are more opportunities for women in TV than in the film world?
JS: Yeah, I do. I definitely do. If you look at Steven Soderbergh‘s State of the Union about the film industry I think he gave at the [San Francisco] International Film Festival a couple years ago, the long story short was: If you’re not doing content that can be replaced with voices that can be subtitled, aka violence, fantasy, action – the kind of thing that can be appreciated by an international audience – if you’re not doing that, you have no budget to work with. You can’t expect any kind of real distribution. And I think women are drawn to stories about humans and less interested in the kinds of big action sequences and the big explosions. They really like to do the explosions of the heart and the action of emotions. So it’s still action, it’s still explosive, but it’s also about humans. And there really isn’t room for that in the film industry right now. The distinction between film and TV is getting less and less, particularly now that a lot of the people that make films are looking at their biggest distribution to happen on iTunes, and a lot of people who make TV are finding that Hulu or Amazon or Netflix is able to buy ten episodes and pay for it as if they were paying for a big-budget movie. It’s all coming together now and the fact that you can get the money spent and the distribution effort for stories that are about human beings is absolutely something that I think opens the door for more women to very easily and very naturally translate their skill sets to those kinds of stories.
What’s the first movie you remember seeing in theaters?
Hm… I think it was Sounder.
What’s your go-to drink order at a bar?
Kettle One dirty martini. Extra dirty, extra olives, on the rocks.
Recommend a movie or TV show you love that most people haven’t heard of.
I love Fish Tank, the movie by Andrea Arnold. That was a huge influence on me. She’s the person who I’m always trying to imitate with the camera and with the emotion.
What’s an interview question you never want to hear again?
Hm… that’s a good one. (Pause) I would like to never have to answer the question again about opportunities for women, not because I’m sick of people asking it, but I would like for the world to shift so that there’s gender parities in all of these roles as director, as writer, as producer; that women can have as much access to all of this as I seem to right now.
Finally, where and when can people see Transparent?
September 26, all ten episodes on Amazon Prime. The reason I can remember it is because it’s my birthday. The 26th is your birthday? Well that’s a good way to celebrate. Are you going to have a viewing party?
Yeah, for sure!
Coming off a holiday weekend, maybe you were in too much of a hungover haze to do some deep reading on the film industry. Not to worry, because we’ve compiled some of the week’s most interesting reads for you to peruse at your alcoholic convenience.
Ah, September movies. Too late for summer blockbusters, too early for prestige awards bait. A weird mishmash of genres that nobody knows what to do with. A month where films as varied as Crocodile Dundee, The Good Son, The River Wild, Once Upon a Time in Mexico, and Hotel Transylvania can all hold the #1 box office slot. So with superheroes in hibernation until spring, and the Weinstein Oscar machine idle until November, the SAGindie staff looks ahead at our most anticipated movies coming out this September.
I don’t know if I’m coming down from my Guardians of the Galaxy summer high, but the films opening in September evoke within me emotions that range from “huh?” to “meh.” I am giving best wishes for The Equalizer because it’s always fun to see Denzel get his swagger on. And Jimi: All Is by My Side has a LOT to live up to. There are two more relationship-y (I may have made that word up) movies that have promise: The Skeleton Twins by our SAGindie favs the Duplass Bros. and This Is Where I Leave You. Either seems possible to break out as an indie(ish) hit. Both have casts of which I hold great appreciation, so there’s hope for September.
BUT, the film that evokes the greatest emotion from me is The Maze Runner. Not in a good way. I haven’t been so tense and claustrophobic watching a trailer since Gravity. And the cast is a plethora of young performers looking to make a name for themselves. That seems like a great indication, right? Maybe it should be, but to me it combines the intense discomfort of claustrophobia with my basic disdain for young adult television. A Gravity as performed by the Fresh Beat Band. I’m not saying this is fair… I’m just saying.
I second Darrien’s choice of The Skeleton Twins. I am sort of an SNL junkie, so seeing Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig in a weird indie dramedy is exactly what I’m looking for in my life (I could probably watch them lip-sync to Starship all day). More than a few September flicks have me intrigued based solely on their casts: The Drop (containing two power duos: Tom Hardy & James Gandolfini and Tom Hardy & a pitbull puppy); Kelly & Cal (we’re overdue for a Juliette Lewis renaissance); and This Is Where I Leave You (that whole cast should definitely come to my birthday party). I’m hoping Two Night Stand turns out to be a better-than-expected rom-com (Miles Teller has been on a hot streak lately, so hopefully this one continues it). And I don’t know what the hell a Boxtroll is, but I think I want one.
Although Superhero Ensemble 5 and Michael Bay Explosion Fest 17 were fun to see this summer, my mind and my wallet are ready to take a month to mellow out before Oscar season starts. At the top of my watch list this September is The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby. It’s rare that Hollywood tries something new, so when you say “a love story in three movies from three different perspectives” I say “take my money.” But the month won’t be complete without a comedy and a thriller in the mix too, so for the former, I can’t wait to see my future wife Tina Fey (yes, I know she’s already married) in This Is Where I Leave You; and for the latter, The Two Faces of January, because Viggo Mortensen is finally back on the silver screen! Ow ow!
WHAT MOVIES ARE YOU LOOKING FORWARD TO SEEING THIS SEPTEMBER?
If you’re an independent filmmaker or know of an independent film-related topic we should write about, email email@example.com for consideration.
Personally, I thought (from a quality standpoint) this summer movie season was pretty excellent. The blockbusters were a little less dumb, the indies a little more thought-provoking. Not that it apparently mattered, since nobody went to the theaters. But don’t take my word for it. For your (holiday) weekend reads, it’s…
During the week we often get so preoccupied with our real lives that we sometimes neglect our internet browsing. With the weekend ahead of us, we’ve compiled some of our favorite film-related reads from this past week: See what some industry heavyweights including Ted Hope (Martha Marcy May Marlene), Jim Jarmusch (Only Lovers Left Alive), and Mark Duplass (The One I Love) have to say about the state of independent cinema. So snuggle up on the toilet couch and get to browsin’!
Good Reads for the week of August 18, 2014
Does indie film have a future? (via Ted Hope with Anthony Kaufman for Salon)
Producer and indie film champion Ted Hope writes about the future of the industry in this excerpt from his book Hope For Film.