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.”