South, North, East, West :: Following the Directions of Kit
Kit Williamson is a busy man, with a recurring role on the hit show "Mad Men," a film released this month called "Best Friends Forever," one full season completed on his web series "EastSiders," in which he writes, directs, and acts, and another set in Silverlake called "Hipsterhood" in process.
A solid, affable man, he was generous with his time, and the 45 minute conversation transcribed here is testimony to that. No complaints though; it was a delight for me to learn about his process, what he thinks about his roles on and off the camera, the new horizons in the web series movement and to be schooled in the way writing, acting and financing are changing the entertainment model.
Pay close attention folks: This is the future you are seeing and reading about. It’s bright, interesting and breaks established rules. The thing about something broken: You either get out your glue and spend copious amounts of time trying to stick what you knew back together, or you let it go and move forward into the unknown. A blind future can be terrifying for some and exciting to others, propelling new ideas and innovations.
I for one am looking forward to more invention from this one...
So tell me a little bit about where you got your start. From what I have read, it seems like you’ve been involved in arts programs since you were very young.
I was born and raised in Mississippi, and there weren’t really a lot of opportunities there for actors. There was only one repertory theatre in the entire state if you want to become an equity actor called New Stage. I was fortunate to find my way there and take classes studying Shakespeare and Moliere as a kid. From there I went up to Interlochen Arts Academy in Northern Michigan to study acting for High School.
What was it like growing up in Mississippi? Has it changed much since you were young?
I grew up in the largest city in Mississippi, in the capitol, Jackson. I felt very isolated there as a kid, there was nobody in my community or high school who was out. That definitely formed my decision to "get out of Dodge" at 16 years old. I was passionate about acting, but I was also very passionate about not being 16 in Mississippi! So those two things really went hand in hand.
It’s so interesting how common that story is for us in the LGBT community, the need to escape from that isolation.
To a certain extent it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, because nobody stays in the communities where they grew up. So in a way, there is no hope for that community to evolve and change. Most people I know who have overcome bigotry in their lives, have done it because of a personal connection they have with a gay person; or for that matter an African American, a female in the workplace or whatever their individual bigotry might be. The only road to salvation is to start to think about people who are different from you as fellow human beings. It’s a great deal easier to do that if you are faced with the reality of it, rather than an abstract concept.
It’s really the only way to change someone’s perspective, if you challenge what they know. That’s pretty much impossible if you aren’t there to do it!
It’s one of the reasons that I am out professionally. It’s just another part of me, and it’s not anything that I feel the need to hide, or deliver in a palatable way. It’s just who I am and people can take it or leave it. And if it means that I might miss out on some opportunities, then so be it. What someone thinks is really not my concern.
I am curious, since we’ve been talking about both -- do you have a preference for acting or writing?
I am really enjoying the combination of the two skill sets right now. I have kept them separate up until this point in my life. I’m in an MFA program where I focus solely on writing, but professionally I am focused on acting right now. Bringing the two skills together on something like "EastSiders" was so creatively fulfilling for me, and I would definitely like to keep doing that.
Do you think that the web series concept is the entertainment future?
Absolutely. I don’t know that what it’s going to become, or if it will even be something we’re going to call a "web series," I think we’ll just call it TV. But for the time being it’s one of the few bastions of innovation and creative freedom out there. The fact that content generators are really able to create their own format for their shows and explore subject matter as they see fit is extraordinary - it reminds me of when cable first came out.
It truly is a paradigm shift, to not necessarily have the backing of a major network in order to have success - that’s mind-blowing.
The ownership that audiences have over the content is incredible as well. Take "EastSiders," for example: It exists because fans of the show insisted that it be so. Our Kickstarter campaign reached its goal in four days. People wanted to see the show, and they made it happen. The fact is, crowd funding and creative content are running hand in hand, and hopefully traditional forms of financing are paying attention to what people want to see.
To tell you the truth, I think it has them shaking in their shoes. I’m curious, how does the Kickstarter process work?
We shot the first two episodes of "EastSiders" independently, I financed them myself. We did it on a shoestring budget, and pretty much everybody volunteered his or her time and talents. We put the episodes on YouTube in December, and were so overwhelmed and exited by the response. We launched our Kickstarter campaign in January, and the way that works is that it’s an all-or-nothing process. You have 30 days to reach your fundraising goal, and if you don’t, you don’t get to keep a penny of the donations.