An intelligent and enjoyable new show has been creating buzz within the lesbian community lately and it’s not just the stellar acting, writing, and producing that has it gaining so much positive attention. Anyone But Me, a new series brought to us by one of the writers and producers of The L Word and Thirtysomething, Susan Miller, has gone the unique route of airing online, and after two episodes (with the third airing tomorrow), has found its way into the lives of excited fans across the country.
The webseries focuses on a group of New York teens coming of age in a post-9/11 world and stars Rachael-Hip Flores as 16-year-old Vivian McMillan – who has moved from New York City to the suburbs, leaving her girlfriend, Aster (Nicole Pacent) behind. Vivian’s relationships, past and present, are tested as she adjusts to her new life. Cherry Grrl recently had the chance to discuss the webseries with Miller and filmmaker and creator of the series, Tina Cesa Ward – who together write and executive produce the show.
Cherry Grrl (CG): Where did the idea for the series come from and how long was it in development?
Susan Miller (SM): Tina brought the idea to me. I was drawn to concept of young people coming of age in a post 9/11 world. It was something I felt I could put my own stamp on and give voice to, as well. I’d worked as a Consulting Producer/writer on The L Word and Thirtysomething, I was also the head writer/producer for a Fox series, Urban Anxiety, so I had a lot of experience bringing an idea to life collaboratively. Tina had written some scripts, but was completely open to my input as a writer. So, we began working together to revise and shape the characters and story arcs, and give the dialogue authenticity. We started around this time a year ago, and shot our first two episodes in May, 2008. That includes casting, location scouting, setting up a website, working out contracts, getting a crew, all the pre-production planning you have with any shoot.
Tina Cesa Ward (TCW): I had been working in independent film for some time and in the summer of 2007 I wanted to try something new and doing a series online was certainly a change. The thought of kids growing up post 9/11 was a big part of my idea. The other was the need to explore some issues in the lives of lesbians and gays as well as African Americans that I felt weren’t being explored fully in the media. I worked on the characters and then wrote some episodes with Steven Alexander’s input, who was the producer on our first two episodes. Steven helped me understand the life of a young African American male, which certainly helped in Archibald’s development. But I still felt that working on a series was new territory for me and that I needed to bring someone else in whose wisdom was far above my own. Someone who had great credentials but also whose work I admired. I contacted Susan Miller and thank goodness she responded because her work on this has really helped to shape the series into something vastly better than we had in our early drafts.
CG: What is the basic overall description of the series and the story being told?
SM: Anyone But Me introduces a new generation of gay, straight, and ethnically diverse youth struggling to find love and belonging in a complicated world. The relationships are ones you don’t often see in mainstream media. We want to open things up and explore the possibilities. Two of our main characters, Vivian and Archibald, (a lesbian and a straight black guy) may seem an unlikely pair of friends, but we want to address that. We want to show the dynamics of two girls in love. And a father who knows about it. We are telling stories of modern youth and the adults entrusted to care for them. Some people are going to make mistakes. Fall. Get up again. Long for what they can’t have. Come to terms (or not) with their identities. We want to show what’s really going on. This is a ripe, difficult, poignant time of life and everyone who’s still here has gone through it – we can all relate.
CG: Why did you decide to make it a webseries as opposed to something for TV?
SM: It’s a new form. It kind of beckons creative people to venture into it. I’m excited by the concept of being your own boss. To put it out there, without a committee. I mean, it’s a challenge to compete, to find sponsors, to get the word out. But, in commercial TV, there’s so much on the line that it’s almost impossible for people at the top to be decisive or say yes – all the more so to something innovative. I love television. I think the best of television is unmatched in the way it’s shot, cast, written. So, we’re open to any venue for Anyone But Me. But we didn’t want to wait. We saw a door. And took the first step.
TCW: For me, which goes along with what Susan is saying, is that if you can create it then it’s up to you to make it a success. Because you’re your own boss, you’re success and failure is often in your own hands. And I love that about it. We are so involved from mass marketing the series to answering friend requests on MySpace. It’s great.
CG: What was the idea behind keeping the episodes so short?
SM: The web sort of dictates the time limitations. At least for now. When we started out, I called Marshall Herskovitz, with whom I’d worked on Thirtysomething, because he had a hit webseries, Quarterlife. And he gave me a lot of good advice and feedback. One thing he said he learned was to keep the episodes short – somewhere between six to nine minutes. Which, Tina instinctively knew. It just felt right for this medium. People want to come back for more. And there’s something pretty cool about having to be economical while at the same time, still developing the characters and their situations in a satisfying way.
CG: Who is your target audience with the series?
TCW: I think it’s easy to say that our target audience is a young audience mostly from the GLBT community. But we’ve never gone into this series thinking we’re only going to make a series for that group or this group. We’re hoping everyone can find something to relate to. You don’t need to be a teen lesbian to understand what a struggle life can be at times. But of course having said all that, we do understand who our core audience is and have no intentions of letting them down.
SM: I’m really heartened by the universal interest we’ve generated from men, women, straight and gay, all ages, too. If you tell compelling stories and deal with characters honestly, that goes a long way to pull everyone in.
CG: What has been the viewer reaction so far?
TCW: The reaction has been great. I don’t think Susan and I could be happier with how well we’ve already been embraced. Now we’re just hoping more and more people learn of the series. The more people watch of course the more episodes we can produce.
CG: What makes this series and its story unique?
TCW: I think what makes the series different has a lot to do with the times we live in now. It’s a different time in America and the stories we tell should start to reflect that. And the changes really have the biggest impact on the kids growing up in these times. I also hope what people recognize about the series are the challenges that come with being a lesbian or an African American male without the fantastic circumstances or punch lines.
CG: Rachael-Hip Flores is terrific in the role of Vivian. What were you looking for when you cast your lead and how has she fulfilled that for you?
TCW: Besides physicality, it’s hard to vocalize what you’re looking for in an actor to bring the character to life for you. You create and develop these characters so you have a feeling for them so you’re looking for specific things but it’s often a moment in the audition that really brings it all together for you. That’s one of the great things about actors, they bring something to you in a character that you didn’t know you wanted but realize you have to have. Because of Vivian’s circumstances she can be pretty guarded a lot of the time. She has had a lot of adult problems dumped on her at a very young age but she’s not one to sit around and bitch about it. And Rachael has the tough job of bringing that to us without having really big actions to play off of. And because Rachael does that so well she’s very relatable, which is certainly what you want your lead character to be.
SM: She’s amazing. And the girl can eat. She eats more than the crew!
CG: What can fans expect to see in the upcoming episodes?
SM: Our characters and the actors who play them are great to write for. Which inspires us to give them more to grow with, more to discover. We’re always thinking about what life might have in store for them.
TCW: You’ll certainly learn more about all the characters as they continue to find their way and also go through the ups and downs of falling in love and staying in love.
CG: Where do you hope to take the series next?
TCW: Above all we hope the series has a long life ahead of it. We have a lot of ideas for all our characters and we can’t wait to explore them.
SM: We’re in this for the long haul, kids.
For more about Anyone But Me visit http://www.anyonebutmeseries.com. Episode #3 begins airing tomorrow, Tuesday, January 6th and Episode #4 airs next week, January 13th, on Strike TV at http://www.strike.tv.