I know we're not supposed to say this in film or in social justice circles, but here it goes anyway.
--- Ahem ---
--- Usually there are really good reasons for the decisions we made.---
There. I said it. And it's true. We write politics in our show with an eye to detail that rivals how Tom Clancy writes airplanes. Every fucking line. And when something problematic comes up in editing, we go over it and fix it, even if it means cutting 'A' material.
I know this is a messed up industry but we really do put a lot of time, energy and knowledge into being better. It's not perfect. It means that everything takes longer and we operate on a tinier budget, but I think we get some good results. So please give us the benefit of the doubt.
But, in case you're curious, here are the questions we frequently receive, and here are my responses. Some questions are well-meant, well-thought-out and kind. Some are... not.
Q: Why is there so much bad stuff about being trans? Shouldn't this be more uplifting?
Q: Why is it so upbeat, don't you know that being trans is hard?
A: These are really, really good questions. To be responsible to both the good and bad aspects, the hope and the realism, we have to be somewhere in the middle.I wish that all of the questions we get could be this heartfelt.
Q: Why not cast a normal (i.e "cis") person in a trans role role?
A: This is a show about a marginalized group. It sends a pretty wretched message if we make a show about the a marginalized group in which we don't hire members of that group and instead put members of the majority in makeup.
Q: Why are you trying to cast people of colour?
A: Because this show is set in Vancouver which is a racially diverse city. And because the status quo methods of hiring actors are deeply, deeply racist. We need a change.
Q: Why are you open to all body types and accents?
A: Because this show is set in Vancouver. And because the status quo methods of hiring actors are deeply, deeply sizist and xenophobic. We need a change.
Q: Why does [this character] look like this?
A: We didn't have a lot of people to draw from, and we wanted to actually cast trans people. So if someone could pull off the role, they got it. For cis people, we went for those who could handle the Trans content well and who were available and willing to work on a independent shoot. (See below regarding The Union)
Q: You lead is very pretty. Why is she the central trans person?
A: See above. She was cast in a different role, but we had to re-cast the lead with less than a week to go before shooting and our options were to break the law by bringing in an American without papers (which didn't work last time and cause the shoot to be postponed), cast a cis person of colour in a trans role, cast a white trans person in a role for a person of colour, or cast her. We cast her. As a consequence, we're re-writing the series to reflect the change in power dynamics surrounding passability.
Q: Why are you erasing the experiences of non-hetero trans people?
A: Who said that anyone on this show was straight? There are heterogendered relationships involving trans people - subject to their own social pressures and risks of violence. There are gay relationships. There are non-binary genders that fall outisde of gay and straight, and the romantic life of one such person drives the plot of the first episode. And some characters' sexuality will change over time. It's all in there.
Q: But why did you cast that person from that particular demographic?
A: The characters are broken down by age. Other than that, some are trans-only and some need to look cis whether they are or not. The lead must be a trans woman of colour. Two non-central roles needed to look to look "like typical actors," but this refers to our deconstruction of looks-privilege in the show, not ethnicity or age. Other than the above, we're pretty open. If someone got a part, it usually means that they rocked the audition.
Q: But, for [this other role] do you think it's a stereotype if [this actor] plays it?
A: Might be. Not sure what to do about it other than make sure all the characters are fully fleshed out human(-ish) beings. It's a romantic comedy layered over an action-fantasy with the corresponding dangerous, unpleasant and/or magical character types. Can you think of what underrepresented ethnicity or body type should play a violent criminal? A witch? A controlling boyfriend? A helpful magical creature? A creep? A catty bastard? A corrupt cop? Or will it be slender photogenic white people all around?
Q: You didn't send me a breakdown. Why?
A1: Only people on the Hollywood 'A' list get sent breakdowns. We posted it on the company webpage, the series Facebook page, about 40 other groups, and internet forums. We paid people just to circulate it around the world. And of course we put the breakdown on the usual places where one posts acting breakdowns. Look there.
A2: Because you said you couldn't work here.
Q: Are you serious about casting trans people and actors of colour? Or are you just out to say that so that we can't sue you. I bet it's the latter. All you media types are the same.
A: Yes, we're serious - see our shows to date. No, we're doing it because it's smart and its just. Yes they're jerks. You have good reasons to be angry - this industry is horrible. Please send in an application because you actually seem to grasp what this show is about. And if you have any tips on how to do outreach to marginalized actors, we'd love to implement them. And if you tell us to fuck off and don't submit an application, then I guess there's not much more to do is there?
Q: Why are you asking for money? Shouldn't this be free and open source? Plenty of people make software for free. You're a bunch of greedy capitalists.
A: We need to feed and pay our crew, rent space, hire a lawyer just to put it on TV, pay an accountant to make this a legal film corporation, pay the city for permits, rent gear and buy things like tape and stationary. As for the analogy - people who write software for free fall into two categories: those who don't need the money, and those who really should be getting paid for their work. This whole "do intellectual work for free" thing only works for people who have enough economic privilege to work for free. Otherwise it impoverishes artists. It's apparently still illegal to print our own money, so we're trying to get people to send us some in exchange or a good or service. If it's any consolation, we're sure not making a profit.
Q: What the fuck is wrong with you? You're awful human beings. I can't believe how much you've sold out.
A: Please don't talk to our underpaid staff like that.
Q: How dare you criticize my tone? Don't you know that's a form of derailing social criticism?
A: Comrade, you're being such a giant jerk that we can't engage in dialogue with you. Actually, we're not even sure what you're angry about. No - that's not true. We're not sure what the thing that angers you has to do with us. We're actually sitting around, trying to figure out what exactly we did that led to this, but we can't make heads or tails of it.
Q: I can't believe that [this person] didn't wind up cast in [that role]. Why did that happen?
A1: Because ze had a contradictory commitment.
A2: Ze got sick.
A3: Because the role is for a trans person of colour and ze is not a trans or a person of colour or both.
A4: Because the conservative government and the union don't believe that low-budget films should be able to hire foreigners or non-landed immigrants. High-budget films can hire anyone they want.
A5: Because zer application got lost. I'm sorry. We've made changes to prevent this from happening again.
A6: Because ze wouldn't answer our attempts at communication.
A7: Because ze applied after we shot the show.
A8: Because ze kept spamming the office and wouldn't stop when we asked so we instructed our email program to filter out anything from zer address.
A9: Although zer breasts did look nice covered in racing stickers, we really need more to go on before we could cast.
A10: Because ze's in the union and won't suspend zer membership or leave. Three of the ten reoccuring cast including myself have left, declined or suspended union membership so this was not an obstacle for them. (See below on why this is not a union show.)
A11: Well, the breakdown says "trans-spectrum people only" and ze fits the definition of the word "trans" and they definitely fit the definition of the word "trans spectrum," and ze really is an excellent actor, and so if ze applied, ze probably would have landed the part. But ze didn't apply.
A12: Because ze didn't prepare. Ze had six months to get ready and didn't. Ze didn't read about acting. Ze didn't practice acting. Ze didn't watch movies and take notes. Ze didn't even come to free lessons.
A13: Because ze sent in a fine audition tape, except ze read it as a downer-drama when the show is a comedy. When we asked zer to spend five minutes to read it as a comedy, ze insisted that we pay zer to do that, and insisted that we contract with zer particular provincial actor association whether or not we hired zer. And we would be willing to do that paperwork if we cast her, but we won't spend a week of labour and a chunk of money so that we can see one person for five minutes.
A14: Because ze harassed other actors in a transphobic manner. At least we're pretty sure that ze did. One crew member said ze'd look into it and resolve it later changed his mind without telling anyone, and asked us if we'd hire the problem person anyway. We hired someone else.
A15: Because ze can't act. At all. When ze sends in a tape, ze really needs to watch it first. Or get a friend to watch it. All ze has to do is pretend they're an imaginary person and say the lines. Most kids can do this. I don't know why so many adults can't.
A16: Because ze showed up for a major part without having even read the lines.
A17: Because ze repeatedly engaged in some of the most egregiously unprofessional behaviour that I have ever heard of on a set. And I have heard of a lot. We let zer go quietly because we didn't want to ruin zer career. Someday ze might pull zer act together later and start treating other people and zer job with respect, and we don't want this one extended incident to prevent that.
Q: Why isn't this show union?
A: Actually, it has a lot of union crew. It's just not with the performers' or writers' unions.
There is exactly one out trans person in the provincial acting union. She put her membership on hold so she could work with us because despite having 20 years of experience, she has had no work since she came out. The union diversity body won't return my calls. The union's attempts to keep out Americans would also forbid us from working with anyone without Canadian Landed Immigrant Status, which would exclude a lot of the people I train with - people I'd like to hire. Further, as I found out recently, even when it approves scripts, the union seems fine with having cis people go out for trans roles. I don't feel that the union gives a damn about working with trans people or immigrants. Even were this not the case, while they have low-budget contracts for shorts, and some case-by-case exceptions for film, we were led to believe that getting a contract for a low-budget TV show would be impossible. So we're not on contract with them.
On a side note.
I had the opportunity to go out and produce an action movie, one that is now on the road to make *a lot* of money. And while I helped them revise the script to reduce imperialist and sexist overtones, I I turned it down because I didn't think it was sufficiently socially just. But had I taken them up on it, I'd have more cash than I know what to do with and I would never have to defend my political decisions even if we used the original script.
But is making a socially responsble show different? Isn't being responsible key to the support we receive?
We do have community support. Our crew has worked for wages that are barely enough to live on, and sometimes not even for that. There would be no show without this. And I am deeply grateful to them.
During Kicktstarter, some people gave us money, but most people looked at our resquest and didn't contribute the bargain price of eight dollars for their own DRM free copy of a full TV season. Some were broke - but they worked to give us us amazing social media reach. For them, I am grateful.
But many people's support seems to entail clicking "like" on an article and, I suppose, thinking good thoughts. It doesn't translate into anything tangible, anything we can use. It doesn't make a show. It's fandom, and fans can carry shows - but only when the fans can help the show get made. Usually this is because fans tune in to watch on ad-supported TV, but we are not on TV, so it doesn't translate over to new media.
The action movie, by contrast, gets support of millions of dollars, cheap gear, locations, and top-notch everything.
I don't regret this decision. But I'd like to put this work in perspective. As it explains why so many people elect to take the easier route.