Looking for a Gay Series Alternative? Check out ’GAYS’ (On The Web)
The Internet has had a profound impact on the televisual arts. With the rise of streaming services such as Netflix, as well as video streaming websites such as YouTube and Vimeo, people are no longer relying on their television sets for access to high quality drama and entertainment. Indeed, the Internet has not only revolutionized the way we watch shows and movies, but it has also substantially increased the amount of filmic output. Fledgling show writers, directors and actors are now afforded the chance to get their work seen by mass audiences online -- an opportunity that simply didn’t exist before the internet age. In addition, the boom in online entertainment has engendered a new type of drama -- the online mini-series, or web series. A multitude of outstanding, well produced online dramas have debuted in recent years, and a notable amount has included LGBT themes.
A favorite of mine is the brand new ’indie series’ "GAYS: The Series," the brainchild of New York- based, freelance TV producer Peter Dunn. (Dunn writes, co-directs and has a featured role in the ensemble cast.) Set in modern day NYC, the show chronicles the lives of a group of twenty-something urbanites as they navigate the trials and tribulations of dating, friendships and careers in the Big Apple. It certainly sounds familiar -- you are probably thinking of "Girls" or "Looking" -- but this show offers something a little different. Sure, there is less sex and nudity, but it is edgy, witty and arguably more diverse in its representation (there is an African-American character in a lead role, a drag queen, and a sassy straight Russian roommate!)
I chatted with Dunn about the development and production of the show, and what fans can look forward to next. I also caught up Jay Thomas, a talented actor who plays the character of Jackson -- a young gay guy with a heart-breaking secret. He filled me in on the details of his acting career, his experience working on the show, and his future plans.
Following a dream
EDGE: Let’s start with some background -- what were you working on prior to ’GAYS: The Series’?
Peter Dunn: Before ’GAYS: The Series,’ I was working as a bartender at a gay bar in NYC, and working freelance in TV production, mostly in reality TV competition shows. (’The X Factor,’ ’America’s Got Talent,’ etc). Working freelance while working until 5 a.m. at the bar was quite exhausting, and I’d pretty much lost all time and energy to work on what I wanted to be doing in life. I remember there was a moment on ’The X Factor’ set at one of the audition days where I thought ’Wow, I’m working and watching other people’s dreams come true, but I’m not following my own.’ That really sucked.
EDGE: What inspired the creation of ’GAYS: The Series’?
Peter Dunn: ’GAYS: The Series’ started from a New Year’s resolution of my lack of having really written something in years. So on January 2nd, I got in my bathtub -- my favorite place to write! (Laughs) -- and literally just started writing. The idea originally stemmed from the character of Huxley and the opening subway scene, and then everything else just kind of poured out from there. It really just started as a writing exercise for myself on spontaneity. I never dreamed in a million years that anyone would read it, let alone WATCH it. Within a couple of hours, I’d written the pilot and decided to let my best friend, Eden, who ended up co-directing the show with me, read it. She said ’I think you’re on to something here.’ and I thought, ’Huh, maybe I am.’
Pounding the pavement
EDGE: How did the filming process come about?
Peter Dunn: At first we attempted crowd funding through Kickstarter, but that failed miserably, so I had to go the old fashioned way of just pounding the pavement, networking, attending events, talking to people about the project, and getting them to hopefully believe in it. After some successes, some loans, and using my savings that I’d been saving to move, we had enough to make the show. That was the hardest part, along with location scouting. I hadn’t really written the show with a producer’s mind, just a writer’s mind, probably because I never really thought it’d happen. So with an eight half-hour episode season, I’d written a lot of locations. I never knew it’d be possible to hear the word ’no’ so many times! (Laughs). We shot almost the entire first season through 70+ hour shoot weeks over the course of two months during the summer. It was insane to begin with, and when we started it was insanely hot so that didn’t help. By the time we were wrapping, it was much colder, but we were still outside in t -shirts and tank tops pretending like it was August. It was an experience like no other, but we survived, and I wouldn’t change it for the world.
EDGE: So why the web series format?
Peter Dunn: Online programming offers independent artists a real opportunity to get their work out there themselves, like we haven’t had before. Especially with Netflix recent monumental success, it really has gotten people to take online programming more seriously. I prefer the term ’indie series’ for ’GAYS: The Series’ and other shows, as web series has developed a slightly negative connotation. Most web series are 5-15 minute long episodes, and as a medium it’s deemed to not look or feel like a high quality production. Our show is full half-hour episodes, and I both think and hope that the quality is as high as the cable-quality programming you’d see on networks such as HBO, Showtime, Comedy Central and FX.
An extended family
EDGE: Have you enjoyed working with the cast and crew?
Peter Dunn: To say the cast and crew of this show have become my extended family would be an extreme understatement. I am forever indebted to these people who took a chance on a nobody, trusted him, believed in this project, and gave everything I asked from them and then some. With the cast, we had a lengthy rehearsal period that began almost two months before we started shooting. With the crew, we were spending 70+ hours a week together. That’s a LOT of time, and somehow we never grew tired of one another, and even on days that ended up going 14 hours, we were still laughing at the end of it. If there is one thing I feel most lucky about this experience it was the people I found who were a part of it.
EDGE: Do you have any other projects in the offing? Would you like to write and produce a show for TV someday, or do you think online shows are the way forward?
Peter Dunn: ’GAYS: The Series’ SEASON TWO!!! Making that happen is pretty much my main dream, as I already have the first couple of seasons outlined. Other than that, I have two feature film ideas I’m hoping to write this year. Of course, I would absolutely love to be writing and producing a show for cable television, but I think the world of online programming is going to continue to get bigger and bigger. Even most of my friends watch all of their TV shows, online. So I’m finding comfort in the path that that is taking. Right now, as a struggling independent artist, I’m up for anything and just curious and excited about the future. But it’d be great to work with a cable network. Or Netflix. I think I could write the shit out of a show for them. Hear that guys?! Call me! Please?
The aloof Jackson
Jay William Thomas talked to me about his involvement in Peter’s show, and his character, the mysteriously aloof Jackson....
EDGE: How did you become involved in this project?
Jay William Thomas: I applied on Backstage.com, was called in for an audition, called back for another, and the rest is history!
EDGE: Can you tell me more about your character and his background?
Jay William Thomas: Jackson comes from Southern money and is running from Southern society. Jackson sees himself as the apex of human evolution, is always in control, and wants nothing more than to win at everything.
EDGE: Without giving too much away, Jackson gets some life changing news in the first couple of episodes ... How is he feeling? And how do you think he’s going to cope?
Jay William Thomas: I don’t know if you can ’cope’ with what Jackson is going through. It becomes part of his definition and rather than coping, or wanting to be comforted, he’s learning to live with the suffering, and maybe find someone to suffer with.
EDGE: Can you give us some teasers or spoilers for what’s coming up for Jackson?
Jay William Thomas: Let’s just say Jackson loves, laughs, and suffers to the fullest.
EDGE: Any highlights from filming? Was it a fun cast and crew?
Jay William Thomas: This project has been a blast. From beginning to end there has been a definitive direction and fantastic energy. There’s no amount of praise worthy for what Peter has done for this project. He has gone above and beyond, and it is his dedication that helped us all to step up to the plate.
EDGE: In what ways is ’GAYS: The Series’ different from other LGBT serial dramas? -- What sets it apart?
Jay William Thomas: As is the case for any show of similar genre, the story sets it apart. We are all familiar with adversity and struggle. ’GAYS: The Series’ helps remind us that gay men are human. In my mind this show is a human drama in which we tell the story of four gay men, a story that is identified by everyone --the story of survival.
EDGE: How long have you been acting?
Jay William Thomas: When people ask me this question, I try and think back. It’s true that my first stage experience was in 5th grade, but I think you start acting long before that. I think it’s the brains ability to be unlimited with creative stimuli, or imagination, and I remember distinctly playing in the woods with my dog as a ’superhero’ creating scenarios, saving the princess, fighting the villain. And as far as I was concerned I really did those things. So I must have started acting as soon as I realized my imagination could make up stories.
EDGE: What is next for you? Any exciting projects in the offing?
Jay William Thomas: I will be performing this month in a devised Shakespeare piece called ’Something Wick’ produced by the Everyday Inferno Theatre at the NYC FRIGID festival (links are below.) After this completes, I am proud to say that I have been cast in Ripple Artists Effects production of ’Deathbed’ by Mark Shultz. http://www.everydayinferno.com/onstage.html http://www.rippleeffectartists.com/