People don’t care about people behind the scenes of their favorite media. They care about stars: star actors, star producers and star directors. If you’re an actor or director and not a star, it’s easy to feel invisible. Because you are.
That’s probably why shows about out-of-work actors and creatives trying to “make it” in Hollywood are so common.
While most of these shows aren’t very good, some recent web shows have been exceptions to the rule. Uncensored and independent, they sharply satirize the horrors and challenges of working in media. They are preceded by great shows about Hollywood stardom from last year – including The Unititled Webseries Morgan Evans Is Doing and Jenifer Lewis and Shangela – and others satirizing the worlds of theater (Jack in a Box), art (Whole Day Down), fashion (Model Files), comics (Mythomania and The Variants), and music (Melody Set Me Free.)
There are a lot of web series about working in Hollywood. Most of them are bad. These are not.
REALITY FAIL – “Whatever this is”
Do you hate reality television? These days there’s little point, since it makes up most of what’s on cable.
What makes reality TV bad isn’t its lack of reality, which is obvious, but it’s lack of money, which is less so. Reality is cheap. “Characters” take classes to train to be authentic but aren’t paid like actors. Editors who spend hours and hours sifting through footage aren’t paid like writers. And everyone else is making just enough to survive.
Three episodes in, “Whatever this is” drenches viewers in the melancholy of low-level TV workers. By wringing jokes from despair, it gets closer to the truth of reality television better than funny but empty “Burning Love.”
Sam (“The Outs”’ Hunter Canning) and Ari (Dylan Marron) are production assistants working on shows in styles of Real Housewives (in “Reality”), Rebecca Black-style cheap music videos (in “Westchester”) and cheap procedurals like “Ghost Hunters” and “Cheaters” (in “Ghost Cheaters”). Ari, Sam and his girlfriend Lisa (Madeline Wise) struggle to pay for rent and food, to go out and socialize, to sleep and even find love.
“It’s production work. They’re not in the blood diamond mines. It’s not life or death, but there are stakes,” Goldman said in an interview. “Sam is the one with the plan, and they followed him to New York. And the plan’s not working. Over the course of the season you start to see it take its toll on him, and on all three of them.”
Whatever this is finds humor and pain in the absurdities of reality TV production, where workers neglect real needs to make quasi-fictional stories for greedy media companies starving for ideas.
In the third episode released this month, Sam, Ari and coworker Dana (Sasha Winters) have to stay awake for over 48 hours to work enough jobs to make rent. On the set of “Ghost Cheaters,” the host, played by MTV VJ John Norris, consoles a distraught woman after the ghost of her dead boyfriend is caught cheating on camera.
“We’re never going to survive this,” Sam says as the three PAs sleep-watch the shot on a monitor.
For Goldman, both the story and the production of Whatever this is exposes the hidden pressures of making entertainment. While running a successful $165,000 Kickstarter campaign to finish the first season, Goldman realized he had to be clear about why they needed that much money for a six-episode season with 30-minute episodes, comparable to a full season of television in the UK.
“$165,000 is nothing. It’s less than one day on set for any TV show,” he said.
“People don’t understand the metrics of what they’re looking at.”
CINEMA FAIL – “Chloe and Zoë”
Characters Chloe and Zoë barely understand what it takes to make a film, but that doesn’t stop them from trying. “Chloe and Zoë” excels as a rare show about anti-heroines, a live-action Daria, if Daria and best-friend Jane never grew up and aspired to work as video artists.
In the second season, which concluded last month, the two ne’er-do-wells step up their efforts to make something lasting and meaningful.
Their project? A short film called “Killer GPS,” about a girl whose GPS is a killer.
After getting evicted from their apartment, Chloe and Zoë, played by creators Chloe Searcy and Zoë Worth, move in with Chloe’s ex-boyfriend Josh (Josh Margolin, co-creator of his own comedy, “Boychicks“).
Josh signs on as a cameraman for “Killer GPS,” and the two creators meet a producer, Charlie, in a coffee shop. But they are slow to write and develop the film, and it comes together haphazardly. Needless to say there are problems on and off set.
Most of those problems stem from Chloe and Zoë’s crippling co-dependence. They live to out-entertain one another, but making a film requires collaboration.
“We created these two characters who basically are just making each other laugh, and that’s kind of the basis of their existence,” Searcy said.
“They almost have this point system between the two of them about what carries weight everyday,” Worth joked.
“Like if you can make a joke at someone else’s expense, you get points for that,” Searcy said.
“Or expose someone as a sham,” Worth said.
“And there’s no one actually keeping track of the points. You’re just getting them for the sake of getting them,” Searcy said.
By the time Chloe and Zoë start shooting “Killer GPS” their dysfunctional dynamic derails the project, pushing them to ask their nemesis, Josh’s ex-girlfriend, Chloe 2, for help.
“Chloe and Zoë” stands out because it doesn’t ask viewers for empathy. It’s aware self-indulgent artists are unsympathetic and plays right into it. “I would hope that the audience feels bad for us but, like, every penalty we get from the world is completing self-imposed,” Searcy said.
ACTOR FAIL – “My Gimpy Life” and “The Actress”
Out-of-work actors probably receive the least sympathy. Acting looks too easy: learn lines, look pretty, live in trailer. The reality is not glamorous. There is craft, but the real challenge is maintaining a sense of self and resolve while waiting and begging for jobs.
“The Actress” and “My Gimpy Life” wring comedy out of the dull, sad life of actors.
“The Actress,” whose third season is in the works, follows Hannah as she tries to keep her dignity in the face of family, casting directors and other actors who, intentionally and not, pressure her. Ann Carr, known for roles on Louie as well as a bunch of great indie shows like “Jack in a Box,” “F to 7th” and “Little Horribles,” created and stars in the show.
Hannah is not entirely sympathetic. The show encourages you to laugh at her histrionics. In the pilot she has nervous breakdown, of sorts, in a Starbucks. Episodes later she is overpaying for bad acting lessons and resisting misogynist directors.
“My Gimpy Life” succeeds by representing a rare experience: working as a disabled artist. Created by Teal Sherer (“The Guild”), “My Gimpy Life” goes beyond well-known humiliations of auditions cut-short and directors without scruples to expose, with humor, how deeply the industry disrespects its most visible creative workers.
Throughout season one we see Teal try to succeed as an actor even when her auditions aren’t wheelchair accessible (leading to a back-alley audition) and when sent out to read for roles like “Running Woman.” We see how the burdens of being a minority artist get worse when the number of jobs is limited and you have to compete with your own type.
In episode guest-starring Felicia Day, Teal struggles with constant condescension from able-bodied casting directors, artists and an would-be paramours.
After raising $60,000 for a second season earlier this year, “My Gimpy Life” will be back soon with a second season.