Out writer/director Kit Williamson’s webseries, “Eastsiders,” just began its second season on Vimeo. The show depicts the romantic trials and tribulations of a handful of GLBT characters in Los Angeles’ Silverlake district including: Cal (Willamson) and Thom (Van Hansis), a couple opening up their relationship to threesomes; Ian (John Halbach, Williamson’s real life fiancé), a straight guy throwing himself into a rebound relationship after breaking up with Kathy (Constance Wu); Quincy (a scene-stealing Stephen Guarino) who hangs out with drag diva Douglas (William Belli); as well as Jeremy (Matthew McKelligon) who is out of work and into a fuck-buddy; Cal’s sister Hillary (Brianna Brown), and a lesbian couple Bri (Brea Grant) and Vera (Vera Maio).
Williamson chatted via Skype with /bent about his webseries and “Eastsiders” often drunk and self-sabotaging characters.
What prompted you to come up with the show and the characters and their situations?
KW: Originally I had really modest goals. I wanted to create characters I could relate to. I was frustrated by how stock gay characters are. I wanted to afford Cal and Thom to have the same opportunities to fuck up their lives as straight characters do in their stories. I never had the opportunity to play a gay character. I was never cast as gay. As a birthday present to myself, I self-financed the first two episodes, and called in every favor I could call in. The cast and crew worked for free; through crowdfunding, it kept getting bigger and bigger.
The series has had a long, remarkable life, with Season One playing on LOGO, and coming out on DVD, and Season Two now premiering on Vimeo with DVD and VOD to follow. How do you adapt to changing trends in distribution?
KW: I think you have to pay close attention to what opportunities are out there for different distribution models and take advantage of as many of them as possible. To access those opportunities, you have to have an audience, a consumer base and a proven track record. You have to give out free samples and distribute free streaming at least the beginning of your series and then have secondary distribution. We started on Youtube then Kickstarter then LOGO online, then after the whole season came out we were on the LOGO cable channel, then DVD and VOD through Wolfe Releasing. You have so many different lives. People consume content differently. We all go to different distribution channels: Hulu, Netflix, Amazon, etc. You have your favorites so as people cross these different platforms they find it.
Season Two opens with Cal and Thom in a threesome, which is only one of several awkward personal connections depicted in the series. Why do you choose to explore relationships in the way you do?
KW: I am really fascinated by self-sabotage. I think that there’s not a person I know who doesn’t fall victim to it. It’s essential to the human condition, and relatable. You’ll be disappointed if you come to this show looking for anything other than flawed, fucked-up characters ruining their lives. If you don’t see yourself in Thom and Cal, or Bri and Vera, how you overcome self-sabotage, and conflict and miscommunication becomes the purpose of the show. It’s why the characters are drunk are all the time. Being drunk leads smart people to do stupid things, which is what is so interesting. I was really drunk in my early 20s, and profoundly unhappy. I found ways to express that unhappiness that were not the most self-loving, or kind to the people around me. I think that I wouldn’t want to glorify that behavior, or self-sabotage, but some of the most interesting people I know have gone through intense phases of being horrible to themselves and others. There is something at the core that makes them feel they don’t deserve love or happiness. Growing up in Mississippi, I had a lot of evidence that I should hate myself. Overcoming that has lead me to happiness in a way that I had no idea in my teen years that I would never be capable of being happy. It wasn’t an easy road. I still fall into old patterns and make mistakes and lash out.
Just like the characters! They are all figuring life out. What decisions did you (or the actors) make in developing the roles and their situations and relationships?
KW: I’m really interested in the ways in which the characters are grappling with their broader place in society. We explore masculinity and gender expression. Quincy wanting Douglas to tone down some of his self-expression, to [Bri and Vera] not really wanting to be the perfect lesbian married couple and the white wedding and vision of domestic life that people expect from a lesbian couple. All the characters are rubbing up against archetypes and stereotypes and rejecting them.
Do you think “Eastsiders” lacks a positive queer role model?
KW: The biggest backlash we have received about the characters being flawed, slutty, drunks has been from gay men. But everyone exists in a gray area. You don’t encounter anyone who is not hero or villain of their own story. If it’s man vs. self, you have to explore the ways each character is villainous and heroic. Let’s talk about Ian, who was a victim of circumstance in Season One. He stumbled into a relationship with an intense girl in Silverlake. In Season Two it’s how he can be hurtful to others and thoughtless and try on this cavalier persona who is the antithesis to who he is, maybe because he’s been trying to be so good for so long. Or Cal and Thom. Cal doesn’t know what he wants, so from situation to situation, his role in his own life changes. He acts like he’s been dragged into this [threesome]. He was dramatic about it, and yet no one made him.
Why did you feel you had to take a lead role in the series?
KW: It was largely that I’ve never been able to play gay before. I don’t think I’m really like Cal. He’s the most neurotic, anxious part of myself. He is profoundly negative person and works through his neuroses over the course of the show. He’s not a liberated free individual, which is where his self-destructiveness comes in. He needs to get drunk to express himself or have fun.
Do you feel gay filmmakers need to create their own opportunities?
KW: I made “Eastsiders” it because it’s my calling to tell stories. It’s the one thing that scratches the itch for me. There has been a renaissance for queer filmmakers. No one is fucking funding it. So if you’re not getting money from networks or oil barons, the answer to getting money is in crowdfunding. There’s proof that there is an audience for strange idiosyncratic series that are dialogue driven, with conversations between people in personal crisis, usually of their own construction. There’s not much commercial about this, but we found an audience. I can’t tell you the number of industry individuals who have told me that there is not a market for gay content on TV. “Looking” was cited as oversaturated. It was a show that was on for less than 20 episodes and cancelled! It’s interesting to hear the bullshit in development meetings from gay executives…. We are in an interesting place in the evolution in our community in the people want to be indistinguishable from heterosexuals. I love the individuality I see in our community. Expressing myself started a healing process for me. It’s part of a journey I’m still on that journey of acceptance.
Watch a clip from episode one below: