In a pleasant one-story house on a quiet street in North Hollywood, two handsome young men walk down a hallway, have a friendly argument, then get into bed together. Then they do it again, and again. This is because this is a scene from HUSBANDS, the first known Marriage Equality sitcom for the Web.
Produced and written by Jane Espenson, who also financed, and Brad Bell, HUSBANDS is the story of what can happen when marriage equality has passed in the U.S. at the federal level. All over the country, same-sex couples now have the same rights as opposite-sex pairs. This means that when performer Cheeks (also the performing name of writer/producer Bell, who plays the role) and professional baseball player Brady Kelly (Sean Hemeon) get together, they can – and do – spend a wild night in Vegas and wake up married without having planned it.
The Web series, broken into eleven segments of approximately two minutes each, premieres Tuesday, September 13, at husbandstheseries.com.
Although most viewers associate Espenson with fantasy/science-fiction fare – her writing/producing credits include BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, ANGEL, FIREFLY, DOLLHOUSE, BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, GAME OF THRONES and TORCHWOOD – she notes that she started out in comedy.
“Andy Richter [ANDY BARKER, P.I.], JAKE IN PROGRESS, where [HUSBANDS director] Jeff [Greenstein] was my show runner, and before then I was on ELLEN, I was on a bunch of sitcoms, DINOSAURS, the one with the puppets. I did five seasons of comedy before I got to BUFFY. And then you could argue BUFFY is [somewhat comedic].”
In the vicinity of the video village set up in the living room, Espenson and Bell go back and forth to explain how they teamed up to write HUSBANDS.
“Cheeks does videos [that can be found at] GoCheeksGo on YouTube,” says Espenson. “I found him there, and not only do I think this guy is hilarious and a fantastic performer, but I loved the writing. He writes very similar to the way that I write,” says Espenson. “There’s a lot of overlap in our voice, so I set out to meet him, and we clicked and it took a surprisingly long time to figure out we should write together, because my first thought was, ‘I’ll write things for you to perform,’ and then it turned into, ‘Oh, no, we should write together.’”
“That was the power of social media,”Bell laughs, telling his side of the tale. “We Tweeted at each other and the conversation we had and proposed lunch and said ‘Sure’ and we had a few lunches, and a few lunches turned into a few more lunches, and emails, and we were pals for awhile and then had a great idea and said, ‘Hey, let’s do that!’”
“Cheeks and I were talking about a project that he was doing that was going to be a two-person Web series comedy, called SO L.A.,” Espenson relates. “I loved the script, and I said, ‘Maybe I could help you with a little of the writing.’”
Bell recalls, “It was an original concept I had that was life in L.A.and what it’s like to function in Hollywood. It was more about Hollywood stereotypes, with a gay guy and his girl friend and being single specifically and dating, going out and partying and trying to grow up and not really being able to.”
“It was great and it was tight,” Espenson adds, “but it didn’t have that, ‘This is something new.’ It felt like a really good version of parts of things we’d seen. And it deserved to have an extra spark.” She turns to Bell. “You said, ‘What if it was a marriage?’ and I said, ‘What if they accidentally got married?’, I think.”
“It was very conversational,”Bell notes. “Whatever it was we said, I remember looking at each other at the same time and saying, ‘Ah! That’s it!’”
Espenson picks up the narrative. “And then we started talking about the concept and it morphed into the idea of doing a marriage equality comedy,” she adds. “Instead of a guy and his gal pal having fun around L.A., what if it was a young married couple, and we do MAD ABOUT YOU, but with two guys? In a way, it’s almost DHARMA AND GREG with two guys, because the premise is that these are two famous guys, a famous athlete and a famous actor, get drunk one night in Vegas, because in our world, that’s legal, and they don’t want to have a big, high-profile gay divorce, so even though they’ve only been dating for six weeks, they’re like, ‘Let’s see if this works.’ As the story continues, it’s all the travails that any ordinary married couple goes through. Some of them will hinge on being a same-sex couple and some won’t. And it’s very comedic and it’s funny and it’s young and it’s bright and it will look like any single-camera comedy on the air.”
Director Greenstein initially came to HUSBANDS simply because Espenson wanted his advice: “She initially asked for input as a writer,” Greenstein explains. “I gave her a couple of thoughts. And then, over barbeque, Jane said, ‘Do you want to direct it?’”
“And he said yes, he said yes!” Espenson exclaims, in the manner of someone who has just made a successful proposal.
“I impulsively said ‘Yes,’ in keeping with the theme of the piece,” Greenstein laughs. “And I’ve had no regrets. It has been a wonderful marriage.”
A full crew, including hair, makeup and wardrobe – this last headed up by another frequent Joss Whedon colleague, Shawna Trpcic (FIREFLY, DOLLHOUSE, DR. HORRIBLE’S SING-ALONG BLOG and CABIN IN THE WOODS) – is bustling throughout the house and both front and back yards, either working on the shot at hand or preparing for the next one.
The visual concept, everyone agrees, is to keep the focus on the dialogue and the performers. Hairdresser Kay Sarazin says her job was to make a separation between the two gentlemen. “One was a baseball player and one was an actor, so to make some kind of differentiation between the two,” Sarazin says. “They’ve both been [hair] cut, one [Cheeks] is [hair] colored.”
Likewise, says makeup artist Jenna Tucker, her primary task is, “just differentiating between the two ‘men] and just making Cheeks obviously a little bit more glowy and dewy, but not makeup-y. So that he glows on camera. [Brady is] very matte, just like what you would want your guy next door to look like.”
Makeup and hair is located in the kitchen, where a built-in counter provides space for their tools. It is just beneath a huge window that looks out over the back yard. “It lends us great light,” Sarazin says, “which is what you really want to have. The whole production has taken beautiful care of us, from the very beginning and brought us absolutely everything that we need to allow us to do our work properly.”
Today’s location, Espenson explains, is the home of some friends, “who gave us the use of their home for two days, which is incredibly generous of them, and we’re trying very hard not to break all of their nice stuff.”
Production designer Greg Aronowitz, a veteran of several hundred film and TV productions, says that part of his job is figuring out where equipment and personnel can be placed out of camera range, which is a bit of a challenge.
“I have to work with [line producer M.] Elizabeth [Hughes] to figure it out,” he says. “We’re a small crew, but we’re still a crew. There are probably thirty people here and this is a house made for two people, maybe four at the most, and having all those bodies, having everything, all the equipment, so it’s definitely – all those years playing Tetris definitely helps,” he laughs.
Previously, Espenson adds, “We shot in four locations. We shot in a limo in a soundstage. We shot in the Palomar Hotel in West L.A., which doubled for a Las Vegas hotel very ably, and we did one night exterior shoot downtown here in L.A.at L.A. Live, doubling as the Vegas strip. And that was the scariest thing. That was our first night of filming and we had to worry about the security guards kicking us out. Here, obviously, we have the homeowners’ permission, we didn’t just break in,” she laughs, “and the hotel knew we were shooting there.”
Line producer Hughes says that the production techniques on HUSBANDS are “actually pretty normal for a Web series,” Hughes opines. “It’s being financed in a normal way, it’s being shot on a DSLR, which is a normal camera to use on a Web series. The crews are small, because locations are our friends’ homes.
Director of photography Benjamin Kantor says that it is being shot somewhat like a television sitcom. “We’re using multiple cameras, but it’s not like one of these stagy sitcoms where you look in one direction,” explains Kantor. “But lighting-wise, I would maybe compare it to COMMUNITY, where they go the extra lighting set-ups and things like that.”
The shoot has two cameras. Hughes observes. “I would say that’s actually abnormal for a Web series,” he adds. “Because that increases your crew size, and it also increases just having people who know how to do that.”
Kantor explains, “We have two cameras because this Web series is about the dialogue and the script and the characters, it’s not really about the shots. I’m not trying to do anything especially visual, so it’s more about just getting the maximum amount of coverage time for what we’re doing.”
Watching the scene play out over a camera monitor in the living room, Espenson has an idea: what if Cheeks has his eyes closed and then opens them when Brady says a particular line? Unlike many sets, where writers are generally not seen, much less heard, here director Jeff Greenstein (currently an executive producer on DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES) and the actors welcome Espenson’s input.
During CAPRICA’s pre-production and production period, Espenson had been a show runner on the series, but made the unusual move of stepping down from the position while continuing to write on the series. Was one of her motives in making HUSBANDS to try to go about running a show in a different way? Espenson laughs.
“It turned out that way, but my intent was not, ‘Let’s try show-running,’” says Espenson. “[Originally], show-running did not allow me to do the things that I really love doing in television, which is mostly the writing. [HUSBANDS] came more grassroots-y, like, ‘Oh, my God, I want to be involved with this, I want to work on this, I want to see what happens,’ and I backed back into show-running, but what I’m finding is, this kind of show-running feels much better than CAPRICA did, because this is real. I love the hands-on, I love that it still feels like it’s about the writing. I have fallen in love with show-running here in a way that I didn’t with CAPRICA. This feels very much like the writing ideas and the cast are sort of propelling us, and I feel like I’m more connected [to the fleshing out of the material].”
HUSBANDS is financed by Espenson, who unlike most executive producers will go on record with an approximate budget. “It’s between one and two script fees, so what I would get paid for between one and two episodes of something like BATTLESTAR or TORCHWOOD is buying this.”
The primary purpose of doing HUSBANDS, Espenson says, is not to create a political statement, though that’s a happy bonus.
“This isn’t made with the purpose of, let’s further our agenda,” says Espenson. “That’s a nice side effect of doing entertainment based on a [premise]] that makes sense. And it’s a fun agenda to have. I personally have no problem with doing a show where that is the agenda. But like I said, this started as a show where that wasn’t even a part of it. It was, ‘Let’s be funny.’”
Click on link: For HUSBANDS sneak peak trailer
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