As star and creator of the dark comedy web series Eastsiders, Kit Williamson (Mad Men) has plenty to say about producing a wholly independent project and the divided tastes of gay audiences.
After the recent DVD release of the second season of Eastsiders, Out In SA spoke with Williamson about his creative process and what it takes to launch a successful web series.
Now available from Wolfe Video, the second season of Eastsiders features a barrage of talent including actors Van Hansis (As the World Turns), and Constance Wu (Fresh Off the Boat) who return in their starring roles. Also joining them for season two are Willam Belli (RuPaul’s Drag Race), Brianna Brown (Devious Maids), Brea Grant (Heroes) and Vera Miao (State of Affairs).
In March, the series was nominated for two Daytime Emmy Awards – one for Outstanding Digital Drama Series, and a second for Outstanding Actor in Digital Drama for Van Hansis’ performance.
Season one and two of Eastsiders was financed by a Kickstarter campaign. Is it also your experience that fans or viewers feel a sense of ownership over the series?
I think they definitely feel a sense of ownership over the project, and they should because they are the reason that the project happened. We had over a thousand Kickstarter backers coming together and putting a vote of confidence in the show. The show wouldn’t even exist. There is just no other way we could have finance something of this scope. Where its complicated, is that people don’t always understand everything that goes into making a project of this scope. It’s not like going on Amazon and ordering a DVD; you’re ordering a DVD a year and a half in advance. We took three months to shoot, six months in post-production, and three months to find the right distributor. It’s much more of a slower burn, but hopefully, you can start to foster a relationship with the project and filmmakers so that you can stay apart of the process.
What are some of the advantages of not being funded by a major network or studio?
Autonomy. There was nobody standing behind my shoulder telling me what to do, what stories I could tell or not tell. Those decisions were solely my own to make.
Aside from funding, what have been the biggest challenges in the creation of the series and being able to share it with audiences?
It’s truly an independent production so the amount of work is just phenomenal. You have to really brace yourself for working several full-time jobs for free. That’s also the joy of it: to be able to put your hands on so many different parts of the project from the social media campaign, to the color correction, and sound mix. I was there for every single part of it and it was a lot of responsibility but it was very rewarding.
With the Internet and various streaming services changing the way we watch television, what are some of the other outlets you’ve considered?
Well, season one is now available on Amazon, Hulu, iTunes, Wolfe on Demand, Vimeo of course, and DVD. And season two is just finishing up its exclusive run on Vimeo on Demand and will now be made available on other digital platforms and DVD. And were actually going to be a part of the launch of two new digital platforms in the coming months. What I love about being able to put the show in so many different places is that new audiences find it every time we go to a new platform, because everyone has their favorite ways of watching television. We don’t all watch television in the same place or the same ways anymore. That’s been a very exciting part of this process because you get the experience of having people discover the show as though you just launched it over and over again.
You recently spoke out against “slut shaming” and against a lot of the negative criticism that gay series receive when they openly explore sexuality or various sexual practices outside of monogamy. In season two of Eastsiders the two main characters experiment with an open relationship and have multiple sex partners. Do you feel that gay audiences have become increasingly conservative in recent years?
I definitely feel that gay audiences are divided at the moment. There are people who want to allow gay characters to just be characters, and be part of the story telling tradition that straight people are able to freely explore, and there are people who were very critical of the show, not just because of the promiscuity or open relationships, but for its depiction of drinking and smoking pot. I feel like there are people who view gay characters as role models because there is such little representation of our communities, and our stories that people want to place this pressure on gay characters to represent the movement. Unfortunately, I think that is just the death of interesting story telling. I don’t want to be part of a morality tale. I don’t want to write a bunch of role model kind of stuff with people walking around solving each other’s problems and patting each other on the back. I’d much rather write dramatically rich, conflicted characters that don’t necessarily know what they want. I think that’s much more human than somebody who doesn’t make any mistakes or somebody that doesn’t have any complexity…. The straight characters in Eastsiders are every bit as conflicted and flawed as the gay characters are. It’s a show about people who are doing their best to navigate difficult circumstances and don’t always make the best decisions
Is there a time frame for season three?
I don’t know what the future holds. I’m just putting one foot in front of the other and focusing on getting all of our Kickstarter backer rewards fulfilled and making sure that we promote season two fully, and make sure that it gets seen by as many people as possible, and then well recalibrate and see if we’ll do season three or not.