12 AprRaphael Sbarge: Jane Espenson Q&A Part 3

Raphael Sbarge (Archie/Jiminy, Once Upon a Time) concludes his conversation with writer Jane Espenson (Once Upon a Time, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Husbands).

Learn how Husbands came to be, and gain more insights into Once Upon a Time. (If you missed them, catch up on part 1 and part 2!

Raphael: Well, let’s talk about then, Husbands. What was your inspiration for this? How did you come upon this?

Jane: Well, there I was, on Twitter – I was actually on YouTube, and I found these very funny comedy videos that were done by a young man named Brad Bell, who created this YouTube persona of Cheeks. So it was sort of, you know, “Watch Cheeks express an opinion! Live his life. Do a funny thing.” And I thought these videos were so funny, so I found him on Twitter, and reached out to him, and we became friends. We write with a very similar joke voice, and we started talking about what could we do together? And he had an idea for an Internet show that he was playing with. And I just felt like, that is so close to being brilliant. What could you do to that to make that feel like, absolutely, of the moment, there’s a reason to tell this story, which is something that comes out of the Joss writers’ room: There’s a reason to tell the story. And he said, “Well, what if this is about a young, gay, married couple?” And I was like, “Yes. That’s fresh, it’s new. TV will be doing that show in five years; let’s get there first and do it right.”

And so we created the show Husbands, that we then wrote and shot, and put online, and it got this huge, this tremendous response, way beyond what we expected. So now we’re gonna do season two. So this is, I adore Once Upon a Time. During the season, Once Upon a Time has my full heart and focus. And then, during the hiatus I go and I work on this other show, called Husbands, where I’m the showrunner. Cheeks and I run it together, and we’re the creators and co-writers and showrunners of this little show. And it’s very, very fulfilling. It’s fun to have a thing where you’re the boss.

Raphael: I bet, I bet! It’s so hands on. It’s so, where you’re literally in every little nook and cranny of what you’re making, aren’t you?

Jane: Absolutely! And I’ve got a feeling that your work at the Begley show is very similar, and perhaps even more so. I’ve got a line producer doing a lot of stuff for me; I’ve got a feeling you may be even more hands on than I am.

Raphael: You know, we’re working sort of from a reality format? And then really finding stories as we go, against the building of this house. But it makes me think sometimes, with new media, what it must have been like when people got off at the end of the train line and came to Hollywood. You know, and said, “Oh yeah, it’s pretty here. Let’s set up shop here. Let’s put on a show, essentially. I got a barn.” And that it sort of began from there. It really … it is as big as your imagination. Clearly, it keeps changing – the ground under your feet changes as you go. That’s sort of what I find so, a little thrilling, and at times makes you gasp.

Jane: Absolutely! Just a week will go by, and suddenly the rules are different. Yeah, I think that analogy to early Hollywood is very apt, that there was no system in place. They had to figure out what they were doing, and how it was going to work. And then, “Oh, suddenly, sound’s coming in! Well now all of the soundstages have to be soundproof. What are we going to do? OK, staple mattresses to the walls! Look, it’s a soundstage, not just a stage!” I feel like we spend a lot of our time stapling mattresses to the wall. “OK, this is how it works now!”

Raphael: Do you find that it’s overwhelming at times, in terms of trying to keep all the bits together, in terms of launching a show and also producing the show, being as that you’re essentially network, and also showrunner/producer/creator?

Jane: Yes, it is hard keeping it all straight, but I actually find it’s a lot easier than being the showrunner on a broadcast TV show. I ran Caprica and found it incredibly difficult. There was no way to see the whole monster; all you could see was the little bit of the monster that was biting you that day. With Husbands, there’s that same sense that, “There’s no way to delegate this. I’m going to have to figure this out. And I have no idea what the answer is. I have no idea how to start figuring this out.” That same awful sense when you go to bed at night, with all of the problems unsolved. But at least, I really actually grasp the problem. On big TV, so often I was dealing with things that I had no experience with. And I couldn’t tell what the implications were going to be of any decision. Here, I feel like I understand the implications of the decision: “If I decide this wrong, it’ll cost this much, and here’s why.” Whereas, on TV, I was like, “If I decide this wrong, what will that look like? How will I know it was wrong?” There was something I love about the size of being on – piloting a speedboat, versus piloting a cruise ship.

Raphael: That’s a great analogy. That’s really great. You’re preparing the launch for season two. Have you begun shooting season two? Where are you in that process now?

Jane: Our Kickstarter is actually still up. We’re still raising money for season two. So we don’t even know how much …

Raphael: Yes, and you’ve done so well. You’re at 117% or something, so you’ve done …

Jane: It’s more like 104! But yeah, we are very pleased with how the Kickstarter is going. And we won’t know until that’s done how much money we have in our budget. A certain amount right off the top goes to the lovely people at Kickstarter. And then we’ve got to send all the great incentives – we’ve got great swag that we’re offering. So if there’s people who still want some goodies, we may be putting up some new, fresh goodies, should go – Google Kickstarter Husbands, you should find it. And so that’s still up, so we are still figuring out what we have to spend.

But we are writing the script, sort of with our dream budget in mind. And going after, we’re starting to think guest stars, we’re starting to think locations. We’re still actively scouting. We haven’t found our home base yet: If anyone out there has a furnished mansion in the greater Los Angeles area that’s available for about, I don’t know, about a week in May? We’re going to be shooting in May, and then we will be editing with the notion of having it ready to premiere along about July-ish? Along about maybe Comic-Con time?

Raphael: Very exciting! Very exciting. And no rest for the wicked, I guess, obviously?

Jane: No, every stage is a process. There is something that means you can’t sleep. Yeah, Brad and I – Cheeks and I – were awake in the middle of the night last night, reading and re-reading a particular email that we needed to send out, and was just like, “Is it ready to go? Should we send it? What about this? Have we thought about that? Wait! Double check this! Should we say this?”

Like, the duties of a producer – and I think Felicia Day would second this – it is, it’s a heck of a big job, and there’s a lot of moving parts you don’t even think about when it comes down to, like, just styling, seating, cameras. Stuff that one is not used to thinking of when you’ve spent a lot of years as a writer, where the machine is surrounding you and you can sort of count on certain things to happen. When it’s an online show, you have to make those things happen.

Raphael: It’s all you! Right, exactly. There’s no one to blame but yourself, right!

Jane: Yeah! If there is no food, there are no chairs on the set, or whatever. It’s like, oh, well! Chairs! Right! Chairs.

Raphael: That’s awesome. Well, just for those people who follow your other hat, essentially, and that’s where you are also, sort of a supervising producer, as well on Once Upon a Time. The season is done, do you have any, as far as the writing is concerned, obviously, I guess there’s the last four episodes have yet to premiere. Are there any impressions or the highlights of the year? What an enormous wave we’ve been on. What do you make of it?

Jane: Oh, my goodness. Could you just plotz? That we’ve got a network hit on our hands is crazy. People point at this career I’ve had. This lovely, amazing happenstance, where I’ve sort of had a lot of luck with my projects. But I haven’t really had a network hit. I mean, it’s not my hit. I’m just along to enjoy this glorious ride, and write as many episodes as they’ll let me write. But network hit? That’s something quite new for me, and to sort of see the big, glorious Disney machine so happy and so supportive, and to get to play with these amazing Disney characters. I mean, I get to write lines for Jiminy Cricket. You get to be Jiminy Cricket. Who gets to do that?

Raphael: What’s so incredible, is, I mean, yes, of course. It’s a funny thing to be a part of a hit show – it’s what everyone wants, right? But the thing that I keep sort of pinching myself about is, it’s such a good show!

Jane: Yeah!

Raphael: I mean, I’m such a … I’m a fan of the show. Like, the episode that was on last week? God! What a great episode! And I find myself thinking about it, and thinking about the characters. And they’re in me, living in me, breathing in me. As an audience member! I’ve never been on a show that I’ve actually so looked forward to watching, as much as, obviously, also working on it. It’s a funny thing. It’s sort of lightning in a bottle, isn’t it?

Jane: I agree, and I think what you’re saying is very powerful, and potent. I think sometimes we fall into the trap of thinking that commercial is schlocky, or something. That you’re either on a network hit, or you’re on a critical hit. Who likes it: Is it the audience, or the critics? We’ve got a show that’s getting both. Which is remarkable. That it’s quality, at the same time that it’s popular. I mean, when you think about it, those things should go together.

Raphael: They should, but they almost never do. They almost never do.

Jane: Human beings should like good things. So, yeah, I could not be more delighted that we are making a thing that is a crowd pleaser, but also something that the critics enjoy, that we all enjoy, that gets in your head. I agree, I also find these characters to be very alive, even when they’re not onscreen. Yeah, and thank you so much for your work as Archie, and as Jiminy. You know! Excellent, excellent cricket work.

Raphael: Oh, and thank you, for everything you do. I mean, just the breadth, and the range, and the depth and the emotion, and the surprise and the intelligence is just searing. Searing. So, anyway, Jane, thank you so much for spending this time, and I’m sure everyone will be so excited to hear you talk about what you’re doing, in your own words, and all the things you said for aspiring writers, as well as also fans of both Once Upon a Time, and then Husbands, and all your other work. So, thank you for all you do, and looking forward to both of our next writing sprints.

Jane: That’s right! And anyone who’s curious about Husbands should go to husbandstheseries.com, and they can watch all of season one. And might as well fasten your seatbelts now and just sit there and wait for season two.

Raphael: Fantastic. Fantastic. Well, well done. Well done. We’ll be talking soon. We’ll revisit again, around the premiere.

Jane: All right, thank you Raphael.

Raphael: Perfect, thank you.

Both: Bye.

One Response so far.

  1. Lyriel says:

    Thank you so much for these blogs – it’s fascinating for us as fans to see not only your finished work, but how you look at/into the process, and your own fascination with how others work as well. It’s all so interesting to look at from the outside, where we wonder about all this stuff. Truly a generous gift on your part to let us inside all of this!

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