HUSBANDS THE SERIES began life in 2011 as eleven two-minute episodes for the Internet, chronicling the early days of the marriage between performer Cheeks (Brad “Cheeks” Bell) and star baseball player Brady (Sean Hemeon). Created by Bell and Jane Espenson and directed by Jeff Greenstein, HUSBANDS promptly became a phenomenon. When a Kickstarter campaign was launched in 2012 to fund a second season, the goal was surpassed so quickly that the production was able to become more elaborate.
Now Season 3 and 3.5 are here. CWSeed.com is running HUSBANDS, which is available worldwide. HUSBANDS fans have launched the website husbandstvnow.com to encourage CWSeed.com to produce more seasons.
The Writers Guild of America has nominated Bell and Espenson for two awards for their script for Season 3, “I Do Over,” also directed by Greenstein. The three-segment story follows what happens when Cheeks and Brady decide to renew their vows in front of family and friends. Like the rest of HUSBANDS, it costars Alessandra Torresani; guest stars include Amy Acker as Brady’s ex-fiancée and Michael Hogan and Beth Grant as Brady’s parents.
Greenstein is a prolific television director/producer/writer whose credits include DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES and who is now directing on CBS’ MOM. At a William S. Paley Center event honoring HUSBANDS, he takes time to discuss his work on the show.
ASSIGNMENT X: How far into the life of HUSBANDS Season 1 did you realize you had helped create a phenomenon?
JEFF GREENSTEIN: Almost right away. It was really eye-opening for me, because for a Web show to get the kind of attention we got, the reviews we got, not to mention the hundreds of thousands of hits we got – the reviews in the New Yorker – it was just astounding. And it was very clear that we had made something really special, and people really took to it. And what was interesting also is that it wasn’t just that the gay news outlets were interested in us – everybody was interested in us. It reminded me of like the point where WILL & GRACE crossed over and became a mainstream hit. And that’s what happened for us.
This was a little thing we did as a kick. That’s why it’s good. We were only making a show to please ourselves, so Season 1 and really even Season 2 and half of Season 3 were made as the show that Brad and Jane and I wanted to make. We were just really making it for an audience of three. And the fact people came to it and embraced it and that Kickstarter people volunteered their money for it and CW Seed came along and picked it up, that’s amazing. But I think it’s because there’s a singular vision behind the series. It’s entirely its own thing.
AX: There are two different stories in Season 3, but there are six segments. Is that two episodes in three segments, or six episodes?
GREENSTEIN: Six episodes. Season 3, Parts One through Three, were shot concurrently with Season 2. I think you can tell, because it’s the same location. And so those were shot [early in 2013], and then Season 3, Parts Four, Five and Six, which Eli Gonda directed, were shot [later in 2013].
AX: Why didn’t you direct Season 3, Parts Four through Six?
GREENSTEIN: I was on something else. This is Brad and Jane’s creation. The idea is that a director should be able to step in and direct any episode, like a [television] sitcom. And so that’s what we did. Eli stepped in for me. In the early going, I helped Jane and Brad sort of shape the look of the series. And so when I stepped away, I said, “You know what? That’s yours, take it and run.” It should be a legacy. The show should be able to go forward without me. The show is a Brad and Jane Joint. I feel like what I helped to do was sort of create the vernacular of the show, the visual style of the show, the rhythm of the show, the performance energy of the show – those are the things I tried to bring to the early seasons. And now it’s okay for everyone to go forward with that. I come from a world in television, as you know – it’s very rare for a director to stay with a series for its entire run. Jimmy Burrows doing every episode of WILL & GRACE, that’s an anomaly. What usually happens is, the director launches the show and then once the look is kind of encoded, other directors can come in and bring their own creativity to it. And one thing I noticed that Eli did – Eli uses cutting a lot more than I do. My style is more sustained takes, longer takes, moving the camera, more sweeping, moving, room to room. His is more this [taps]. And I like that – I like the ping-pong. He brought his own energy and style to the show, and that’s part of what’s fun about making television comedy, is that every director can bring their own style to the series. I think it’s good for the long-term viability of HUSBANDS.
AX: What were the challenges of Season 2 and 3, as opposed to Season 1? You got more money, but did that make it easier?
GREENSTEIN: It’s like your sophomore album. You’ve had a big hit debut album, and then the second time around, you want to top what you did the first time, but you want to be true to the tone and respect the fans that got you there. We do the show that we want to do, so more than anything, it’s like, let’s make ourselves laugh, let’s do something we’re proud of, let’s make it look better and sound better than it did last time around. If there was one challenge, it was, we were trying to top ourselves. We always said, “If the first one’s STAR WARS, this should be THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK.”
AX: What did you do with the additional budget funds?
GREENSTEIN: The first season was shot on digital SLRs. [Second] season was shot on RED cameras, Scarlet cameras, which is a big upgrade in picture quality. It’s incredibly good-looking. Steadicam rigs for both cameras, so we have real camera mounts, so I could do really ambitious camera moves, which was just great from a making-pretty-camera-moves standpoint. Bigger cast, and a great location in Hollywood. We rented this house in Hollywood for almost three weeks, where we were able to rehearse and block the whole show. I was able to go through it with our d.p. Benjamin Kantor and work out all the shots and then shoot there for almost three weeks. It was great.
AX: Season Two and the first half of Season Three were made in almost three weeks, so how many pages per day?
GREENSTEIN: Oh, about eight. We were pretty fast. There were some things – we had the benefit of a lot of rehearsal time and I had blocked every scene and worked out a shot list for every scene with the d.p., so once we started shooting, we were able to move very quickly. But when you’re shooting episodes like this, things with a lot of characters, a lot of moves, there’s a lot of technical wizardry in this. You see TVs in the background of shots and a lot of moving parts, but we were able to move quickly. It was more intricate than [first season].
AX: How have Brad Bell as Cheeks and Sean Hemeon as Brady progressed in their roles since HUSBANDS started?
GREENSTEIN: I think the chemistry between them has always been there, but I think the more time they’ve spent together, the more believable they are as a married couple. I think the way they sort of banter, they way that they finish each other’s sentences, the shorthand between them, has just deepened. I think what you see is a genuine affection. These are two guys who really like each other, and they enjoy each other’s company. And so I think the more we do it, the more that that relationship comes to life. Beyond that, I think that one of the principal differences between Seasons 2 and 3 and Season 1 is, Season 1 was written before we cast Sean. Season 2 and Season 3 were written after we knew we had Sean, and so it’s tuned more to what he does as an actor. I always compare him to Dick Van Dyke, because I think he has this wonderfully winning, all-American boy quality, coupled with a guy who’s not sure of himself, which is really adorable for a guy that handsome. And so they write to that. The writing for Cheeks has always been sharp because it’s Brad writing for Brad, but I think that the writing for Brady has gotten a lot sharper.
AX: With the guest-star casting, were they brought in and you all said, “Okay, we need to write something for them,” or was it, “We have this part, who do we know that would be right?”
GREENSTEIN: Both. Some of the parts were custom-written for actors we knew were interested in doing it, and some were, “We have this really interesting part, who do we know that we can call?” So it worked both ways.
Can I talk about Amy Acker for a minute? I didn’t know Amy and I’d never met her, and I didn’t know her work that well coming into this. I had seen a couple episodes of DOLLHOUSE, I think CABIN IN THE WOODS had just come out. She showed up in my pool house, where we had the table read for this, and she was completely off book and completely dialed into the character, and she gave basically the performance you just saw. And I was like, “This is going to be easy!” She was so good and the world’s loveliest, nicest person and so unpretentious and generous as an actress. That big scene with her and Cheeks – the head on the shoulder, the whimper – it’s one of my favorite things I’ve ever done. It was terrific.
AX: Michael Hogan plays Brady’s father. Did Jane Espenson reach out to him, as they’d worked together on BATTLESTAR GALACTICA?
AX: How did you get Beth Grant to play Brady’s mother?
GREENSTEIN: That was Elizabeth Hughes, our producer, who did all the seasons of HUSBANDS and also did MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING. I [Hughes and Grant[ are family friends from Georgia, and Elizabeth called in a favor, just asked Beth if she wanted to do it, and Beth read the script and loved it. And for me, getting to direct Beth Grant – I mean, one of the great American actresses. She’s been in everything. I actually just watched the first-season FRIENDS episode she was in. She’s amazing. And working with the two of them couldn’t have been more wonderful. They were just great to me.
AX: Were the Kickstarter investors cast as guests at the wedding?
GREENSTEIN: I think there were a couple in the crowd, but mostly it was just friends of the production and anybody we could get to show up. [The size of the crowd] was dictated by the size of the space. Basically, we had that backyard, how many chairs can we put here? And we thought, for it to look reasonable, e had about seventy-five or eighty guests. So we called everybody we knew – all our friends, because we couldn’t pay any extras. A lot of friends of the production were in the crowd.
AX: Can you talk about the flashback structure of “I Do Over”?
GREENSTEIN: We talked about it a lot, whether that wraparound was a good idea. I think there was a certain point where I was lobbying for, let’s tell the story in order. But Jane and Brad liked the idea of starting in a crisis. And having seen it just now, I think they were right – to start in a moment of crisis, a moment of, we’re getting our bearings inside the episode, and all of a sudden, both guys are running out on their wedding, what the hell’s going on? And I think that really helped the drama of the story. So I think it was ultimately a good move.
AX: It seems like HUSBANDS is one of the first shows where there is a main-character gay couple who are sexy, as opposed to, for instance, MODERN FAMILY, where the gay couple is depicted as a normal middle-class couple, but HUSBANDS is one of the first times it’s okay, even integral, for them to be sexy.
GREENSTEIN: Yeah. I think gay couples should act less like Niles in FRASIER, and more like the guys on QUEER AS FOLK [laughs], you know? And I think one of the things that’s nice about this show is, you see two guys in bed together, two guys kissing. It’s not totally chaste, like they’re just roommates. And again, I feel that’s a way that HUSBANDS builds on the successes of the past. It took a couple of years on WILL & GRACE before we could have Will kiss a guy and actually fall in love with a guy. We earned our way into that, by earning the viewers’ trust, earning the network’s trust, and we got to the point where people were open to that and we were able to build on it. Will fell in love and he got serious about a guy who he ended up with at the end of the show. And now I think because we’re not a network show, we can be a little edgier, which I’m grateful for.
AX: Do you think the mainstream networks are aware at all of, “Well, this is workin’”?
GREENSTEIN: Yeah, let’s say they are. Listen, I was privileged enough to work on a show, WILL & GRACE, that helped open some doors at the networks for a different portrayal of gay characters and lesbian characters and gay and lesbian relationships. We felt we were following in the footsteps of ELLEN and we have looked at shows like GLEE that follow in our footsteps. So I think we’re in the slipstream of all that.
AX: You also went to England to make a series over there …
GREENSTEIN: My friend Bob Kushell, who is a longtime friend of mine and a veteran comedy writer, who ran 3RD ROCK FROM THE SUN, worked on THE SIMPSONS, wrote a pilot that got picked up by BBC3 called WAY TO GO, and it’s a dark half-hour comedy about three slacker friends who start a home euthanasia business. Really funny. Really funny. I hope they get to see it here, too. It was produced by John Plowman, who did ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS and the original British THE OFFICE and 2012, which is a wonderful show. John produced it, and they ordered six episodes, which aired in January and February in Britain, and we’re still hoping maybe there’s a chance for a Season 2. I got to write and direct the season finale, which was amazing.
AX: Is there a difference between working in the U.K. and working in L.A?
GREENSTEIN: The interesting thing about it was, because BBC3 is low-budget, making this show for BBC3 was much more like doing HUSBANDS than it was like doing DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES. It was a very small, very nimble crew, very fast-paced, very fast-paced days, so in a way, HUSBANDS was good boot camp for going and shooting a show for the BBC.
AX: What would you most like people to know about HUSBANDS going forward?
GREENSTEIN: That I am a brilliant director [laughs]. No, that if you like Season 1, like I said, Season 1 is STAR WARS, this is THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. We’re going to give you a lot of the juice that you loved before, but it’s going to be a bigger canvas – even bigger, better, funnier, prettier. That’s what they should tune in for. And my brilliant direction. The continuing life of this show, the continuing viability of this show, the vibrancy of Brad and Jane as creators – I am delighted and thrilled to have been a part of this thing, and I’m excited for it to continue to live.
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Article Source: Assignment X
Article: Exclusive Interview with director Jeff Greenstein on HUSBANDS THE SERIES Season 3