Flavorwire Interview: ‘The Outs’ Director Adam Goldman on His New Series ‘Whatever This Is,’ Divisive Gay Characters, and Spike Lee Kickstarter Outrage

By
Share:

Last year, writer-director Adam Goldman introduced the world (by which I mean “the Internet”) to The Outs, a six-episode web series that followed the lives of young Brooklynites, particularly a pair of gay men who have recently broken up. Two successful Kickstarter campaigns funded the project, and The Outs clearly struck a nerve among its audience, simply because it offered realistic gay characters not normally seen on television or in film. Near universal praise (and the inevitable comparisons to Girls) ensued, and, keeping with the style of a British series, The Outs crew filmed a Hanukkah special last year. Now, a year later, Goldman has returned with an equally charming and emotionally effective series, Whatever This Is.

Following the lives of, again, young Brooklynites, Whatever This Is paints a broader picture of a group of young creatives trying to make ends meet and working disappointing jobs in what seems like an unending road to emotional and creative fulfillment. With a cast that includes faces recognizable from The Outs (although without Goldman in another starring role), Whatever This Is is larger in scope and, as Goldman reveals below, potentially a longer series. I spoke with Goldman yesterday about the premiere of the show’s first episode, expanding his creative comfort zone, and the experience of writing television for the Internet.

Flavorwire: I watched the first episode this morning. Have you gotten a good reaction to it so far?

Adam Goldman: Yeah. It’s been good. Not a lot of people have written about it. Part of the issue is that there is — I’d like to say that there’s no intelligent discourse about this sort of stuff, but there’s just no discourse at all. People go, “That was really cute,” and they respond to it in these sort of YouTube comment-sized bites, which is frustrating because we’re making a 25-minute episode of television, and as a writer, it’s written to reward and engage the audience, and part of that obviously won’t be clear until you’ve seen a couple of them and you look back at the first one and you go, “Oh, that’s cute how they set that up.” But I don’t want you to watch it on your phone. I don’t want to tell people not to watch it at lunch because that’s the only time that anybody watches anything [during the day], but for people to watch it and have that reaction of, “Neat! Thumbs up on Facebook!” I love to have the thumbs-up, but we designed it to be watched, not just viewed passively.

Did you have that experience with The Outs? People watch things on their computers a lot now via Hulu and Netflix. Do you think that because this is a web series, it’s something that people watch a little more casually?

Well, it can be one way or the other, right? Either you’re watching it in one tab while you’re checking your email and you’re looking at porn on Tumblr, or it can actually be an incredibly intimate experience if it’s on your knees and you’re watching it, right? I mean, that’s pretty direct, even more than television sometimes. But yeah, I think people don’t take it as seriously. With The Outs, people did pick up on it, and I think people got engaged, sort of slowly but surely, and now the thing that I hear from people who find The Outs is that they watch it all at once, which I’ve never done. They say, “I started and then I finished,” and I don’t know how it is to watch like that, but the fact that someone would do that, would choose to do that, that’s pretty cool.

Well, The Outs was different because it had such different running lengths for each episode. The first episode is 12 minutes, so it seemed easier to rationalize watching it at work. I think that sort of desire to put a show on a separate tab and multitask is the one downfall of the Internet’s easy availability for television. I wonder how distracted people are unless they have, like, a Roku and are watching it on their actual television.

Well, it’s like, how do you make people understand what they’re watching? Because again, we’re not House of Cards and I’m not David Fincher, but you look at House of Cards: people sat down and they watched it, right? What does it take? Does it take a David Fincher and a Kevin Spacey to make people turn off their phone and just sit there and fucking watch the thing? I don’t know. It’s an interesting sort of paradox. I don’t know what the answer is, but I genuinely think we’re doing something cool that not a lot of other people are doing, and I think we’re doing it better than a lot of people are doing it, so I hope that we’re moving the conversation in a direction… and y’know, I complain, but we’ve gotten 10,000 views and it hasn’t been up for a day, so I mean, that’s cool. People are watching. It’s just about hoping they like it. This all came out of the conversation about, “Did we get a good response?” We got a great response of the live thing. I’m sort of waiting for it to come in. There have been some GIFs on Tumblr — that’s how I measure success!

I think it’s interesting when you think about Nielsen ratings and how they’re such a small sample of a larger thing, and television companies haven’t really figured out how to gauge Internet audiences and their responses. I think doing a web series is nice because you know how many people are clicking, but you’re also not really doing it for advertising at all, obviously.

We don’t know who finishes it and it’s a tricky thing, so yeah, it is the social media, but it’s people saying on Twitter, “We loved it, do more of it.”

The Outs had such a huge, positive response — a lot of guys I know loved it. What I really loved about it is that it had relatable gay characters that seemed fully fleshed and realistic. I’m not at all trying to say that The Outs was a “gay series,” but did you want to step out of that label a bit by including more straight characters in this one?

It’s a “write what you know” thing. My whole life is not just gay men, so it wasn’t so much a conscious decision. It was just about, what is this story and who are these people? And I think it’s an interesting dynamic that those characters have living together where it’s a straight couple and a gay guy, and I’ve read a couple of things online already where one guy was like, “That guy is too gay for me. I can’t get into this show,” and someone else said, “The gay character seems completely like a sidekick to these great people who’s only there to entice The Outs fans.” And I’m like, blow me! To me, that’s some weird self-hatred shit, where he saw a gay character and he immediately said “sidekick” based on one episode. He also said, “Eventually it becomes clear that he’s got some emotional life.” But like, what do you mean eventually? It’s 15 minutes into the episode. People already come with pigeonholes and they’re looking, they’re really trying, to get those characters in there. But no, it wasn’t intentional, but it was just a different — I wanted to go into that dynamic. And The Outs is so small, which is why it’s strong. The Outs is about a very specific thing, and this one’s a little bit bigger.

It’s sort of a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation. I have this theory that Girls is popular because there’s a hate-watch element to it. I’ve heard a lot of young women saying, “That’s not realistic. That doesn’t seem right, so I have to write the whole thing off.” Well, it’s still fiction.

But again, this comes down to the fact that there’s not a lot of television or film being produced by people our age, by this age group, so the reason that Girls has had such a hard time and so much attention focused on it is because people go, “That’s life,” whereas I think Girls, at its best, to me, is when it’s a farce, when it’s really heightened and pretty transparently not about real life. We wanted to step in there and say, “Here’s just another side of that coin of these people without a safety net.” It’s not a lark for them, it’s like they actually have to be doing these things. And I think Girls is a really unique perspective and shouldn’t be discounted; it’s just there’s room for more, and that does not represent an entire generation of people.

Well, the first episode is called “Reality” because it’s set around a reality show shoot, which is interesting because a reality show isn’t necessarily real — there’s a lot of fictionalized writing that comes into it, so I think it playfully touches on that. What we think is realistic is not always absolutely true and honest.

Of course, and the show opens with this really long shot of this character Donna, this sort of dreadful “real housewife,” that’s too long. The shot is too long. By the end of the shot, you’re like, “What am I watching?” And to me, that’s how I feel when I watch any of those shows, and so it’s about just making people go, “What am I actually looking at?” Because you realize, when you think about it, how much of your life you spend watching other people in those confessional booths — it’s, like, hugely embarrassing. That’s why the show starts by asking, “How does that sausage get made and what does that cost? What is the cost for the people making it?” That’s only the first episode. Every episode takes place on a different set, so I think there was a perception initially that it was just that reality show. I think Donna might make it back, though.

So are you continually writing other episodes?

Sort of. It’s a six-episode season, and I’ve written four of them and I know what happens in five and six, but they’re not totally written yet. And then, hopefully, unlike The Outs, this show is built to move. We would really like to do another season of this. Because people wanted more of The Outs, but it was like, “We want to step away for a moment.”

Was there a particular reason you wanted to step away from it?

I just feel like good stories have endings, and if you look at the Hanukkah special, I think there really is room to grow — there’s a story there, and when I allowed myself to think about it, I got kind of excited about it. But it just felt like I knew where we were going and like, let’s not. There were two options: keep making them until everybody asks us to please stop, or just quit while everybody’s happy. We could revisit it. We toyed with the idea of doing like The Office did, like a couple years later, another holiday special, that sort of thing, but it’s just it was time to move on to something a little bit bigger.

I think that’s what’s so great about the British model — not just that it’s smaller and tighter, but that it doesn’t drag any stories out for money’s sake. It’s more about storytelling.

Well, it puts pressure on you to get your best ideas there, to not save anything for later. You just have to get the story done.

Do you feel like you’re in a more comfortable space with the content you’re creating, that you don’t need to just drag it on?

Yeah, exactly. So, for me, it’s this two- or three-season show — it’s not nine. It’s like, I know. I’m really excited about what the second season is about and I’m sort of thinking about that now. But we’re very much in production now, so it’s hard to think about the future.

The Outs seemed to be a part of a web series revolution. People started to create longer content for the Internet, and they realized that you could make things on your own and not go through all these traditional venues and channels.

Well, we take no responsibility for this, but if you look at the timeline of release on The Outs, it does chart kind of perfectly to the way that people were thinking about this web video content. When we released the first one and it was 12 minutes, people were like, “You’re out of your mind. No one’s going to watch something that’s 12 minutes long on the Internet.” By the time we got to the last episode, it was 43 minutes, and that was just not a big deal. I was talking to Derek Hartley, who hosts a radio show that I was on the other day, and he said part of what he liked about The Outs was that it grows; you start with this 12-minute thing and then you want more. And then, oh, there is more, and then it keeps going so that by the end, by the 43-minute one, there it is.

It’s a good experiment in gaining an audience and recognizing that an audience will give you the attention that you want because they’re actually interested in the story. That makes me feel warm and fuzzy about people and the amount of time they’ll spend to digest something online.

Well, you think about these episode lengths, and they’re completely arbitrary. At this point, it’s because people are used to them, so maybe that would’ve been really smart, actually. You could start a show and have the first one be five minutes, and the next one ten minutes, and then by the time you’re at the fourth one and you’re watching something 25 minutes, you’re just there with it.

The Kickstarter campaigns for The Outs were wildly successful. Have you had the same sort of success with the campaign for Whatever This Is?

Well, we’ve raised $70,000, which is basically $95,000 less than we need. We’ve got four days to go, and it’s possible, and I’m hopeful that people will see the first episode and they’ll go, “Oh, they’re serious,” and they’ll spread the word. I mean, there’s a lot to say here. People look at our budget, $165,000, and they go, “They don’t need that money.” And then someone on Reddit was like, “How does $165,000 for a season compare to the season costs of other TV shows?” An episode of a sitcom costs $1.7 million to make, so people just don’t know what they’re watching, and it’s not their job to know what they’re watching, but again, it’s a unique proposition for us to say we’re making a web series and it’s going to cost this much. Why’s it going to cost this much? Because it’s six half-hour episodes. People are expecting seven-minute episodes, and that’s not what we’re providing. We’re doing the real thing.

That said, we have 17,000 fans of The Outs on Facebook. If they all gave ten dollars, we’d be done, so it’s about messaging and getting that message out there. We don’t have a million Twitter followers like Zach Braff, or there’s this issue of press coverage of Kickstarters where people say, “We love your work, we love The Outs, this show looks great,” and then we say, “Great, we’re doing a Kickstarter,” and they go, “We’re not going to cover you.” The same day — literally the same day — Spike Lee does a Kickstarter and he gets coverage, and the coverage is, “Spike Lee doesn’t need your money, what a douchebag,” but it’s still coverage, and the only variable that matters with Kickstarter is how many people you can get your campaign in front of. I’m not yelling at Spike Lee, I’m just pointing out there’s this weird dichotomy where journalists don’t feel comfortable supporting artists whose work they like. They only feel comfortable doing the click-baity Spike Lee celebrity story, and that’s a shame.

It’s a lot easier to write something mean than it is to write something nice. That’s just how the Internet works.

Absolutely. How did you feel about our homo, by the way?

Oh, I liked him. He was fine. He’s a normal character!

Well, that’s the thing. I feel like I know that guy, and so maybe if you live in a universe where you don’t know that guy, you look at him and you go, “he’s a cartoon” or “he’s a sidekick” or whatever, but it just doesn’t seem out of universe to me, so it’s funny to get people’s reactions.

Yeah, I didn’t find anything wrong with him. But I know that every gay character is political because we make them political. The same with every female character and every African-American character.

Well, it’s funny, because when I started writing this show, I got, like, an episode and a half in and I was like… the straight white guy, I don’t know what to write for him. What’s his problem? And actually, at the end of the second episode, Ari, the gay character, says that to him. He’s like, “I look at you and I don’t know what your problems are.” And eventually, that sort of gets folded into the character, but yeah, I realized that I was having trouble writing the straight white guy, because who gives a fuck?

And also, you’re not a straight white guy, so there’s this idea that they’re different, and that’s the frustrating thing about gay literature and gay film. There’s this idea that a straight person can’t see that and identify with it because it’s outside of their experience, whereas we’re all sharing these different experiences — we just fuck different people, and we have other outside problems that are shaping our identities, but in general, we’re all kind of going through the same bullshit and pain and misery, and also the same joys and good times.

But mostly bullshit and pain.

Mostly, because everyone is having the worst time.

Exactly.

Everyone’s day is the worst day. It’s a lot easier to be outraged than to be…

Whatever the opposite of outraged is?

Yeah, whatever the fuck that is.

It’s been so long since we’ve been it that we don’t know.