Geeks and The Outs

A formidable librarian friend of mine, while blogging about a favorite childhood book, observed:

"[A]s many people reading this can surely relate, I lost myself in books. (It wouldn’t be until I was older that I actually started to find myself in books, but that’s a different subject altogether.) Books were an escape, a refuge, a cloak of invisibility. And when I found a book that featured characters to which I could relate in “strangeness,” I became dedicated to these books like, well, like those “Children of the Corn” kids did to their sinister little leader – fanatically, blindly, and without question." 

This distinction struck me. Nerds are all about stories, and especially “What if?” stories, speculative fiction that challenges us to reimagine the world and our place in it. We love to explore alternate realities and live lives we never could outside the story. But then at some point, we begin to recognize ourselves in the stories we read, see, and share, and that’s very powerful. Geeks OUT exists, in part, to keep the queer, nerdy voice present and relevant in the great, nonsensical pop culture “conversation,” which makes seeing ourselves in the stories we devour a very important issue in the art we enjoy and support.

So where are the grown-up, sophisticated “What if?” stories with us in them? Where do we go to see characters whose lives reflect our own, whose troubles are universally relatable but specific enough that we queer nerds can invest, whose joys are ones we can understand and share, and that feels like it just might have been made FOR US?

You know The Outs by now. It’s this great, smart, funny, web series created, developed, and executed right’chere in Brooklyn, New York by some awesome nerds. Creator and director Adam Goldman and co-writer Sasha Winters have created a captivating, sexy, sometimes painfully accurate “What if?” story for us (queer) geeks. Eschewing the genre trappings of sci-fi and fantasy, The Outs is about “How people deal with it when big relationships, relationships that really define people, stop or change and what that means.” In place of a zombie apocalypse or time-travel snafu, the bloody aftermath our characters have to find a way to live in is the emotional wreckage left behind when a relationship ends. And like the best “What if? / What happened then?” fiction, The Outs really shows you. 

There is a lot for nerds to love in The Outs. There’s a lot for everyone to love, it’s a good story well told; but for us, it’s especially energizing to see the queer nerdy perspective front-and-center in something new that’s both wildly successful and really good art. Who reading this DOESN’T have a party cardigan?

The Outs creator Adam Goldman was patient enough to play geeky Q&A with Geeks OUT while shooting, editing, and debuting the smash-hit, supersized third episode, “Moon River” and launching the show’s second Kickstarter campaign to fund the second half of the series. By now, they’ve blown the doors off of their second $8,000 campaign, raising more than $19,000 from more than 400 backers (up impressively from an original $1,000 goal and 49 backers). The nerds have spoken.

GO: Hi Adam! Thanks for making time for us (again!). Can I ask you a few things about the story behind and in The Outs? In your Kickstarter videos, you say that you’re making the show you’d want to watch because no one else is making it. What’s that story?

AG: When I talk to people about the show, inevitably I end up asking "What's your favorite TV show about gay men?" And nobody has had an answer yet. You've got your Queer as Folk, your Dante's Cove, your Noah's Ark, but those shows are either not on the air anymore or they're softcore porn. I've heard good things about Happy Endings, but always with the caveat that the gay character is not the focus of the show.

I'm embarrassed, culturally, that nobody can name me a good show—any show—about gay people. I guess there's that sitcom coming out about two guys and their surrogate? How many Madonna jokes are going to be in that pilot? When do we get to stop being the joke?

I'm not saying that The Outs is that show—we're not on TV, for one thing (call me)—but if the show can serve to highlight the total dearth of compelling content featuring engaging, flawed homos then I will sleep a little bit better at night.

GO: Can you tell us more about what inspired The Outs in terms of story? The things your characters say to each other—both loving and venomous—are very raw and real. Have you ever had to tell someone he’s “poison?”

AG: I've never had to tell someone he's poison, no. I've certainly thought it, but not about anyone I've dated, luckily. I think everyone has an ex who they'd like to see drawn and quartered, but I've been pretty fortunate on that front.

When the shape of the story began to form, I realized we were focusing on this relationship that exists between people who have been involved romantically or sexually—not exclusively between gay men but I've seen it between gay men a lot personally. They meet and they're friends or sometimes they hate each other, and then they get involved romantically, and then they fall out terribly, and sometimes they're able to find an equilibrium and sort of appreciate what they bring out in each other. There's an interesting kinship because we're all part of a minority, and to me personally having history with someone is hugely important: you can get away with a lot if I've known you for five or ten years.

Of course I'm speaking for myself and not for Mitchell or Jack, so I can't say where they're going to end up. They have unfinished business, and some people really know how to hold a grudge.

GO: Even more than place, Time feels like a huge presence in The Outs. From the tagline “Just because it’s over doesn’t mean you’re over it,” the relentless passage of time is everywhere. There’s a sickening sense that the characters are feeling the pressure of being “young but not that young anymore”—the third episode’s title is even “Moon River”!

As a person who’s not in his late-twenties, my experience of a lot of The Outs is Yes, (and, ouch!) that’s exactly what happens in your late twenties—your first big relationship ends and you learn, you throw yourself up against the Wall of Having a Career and slide down and you learn. Jack’s needing an “escape plan” because things with Scruffy are getting too real feels very ...young and dumb, but no less real for being such, maybe even moreso. True to twentysomething form, the characters are acting perfectly as though none of this has ever happened to anyone before.

Can you speak to the presence and passage of time for these characters as a theme in the story?

Tommy Heleringer

AG: I think drama comes from people doing dumb things, basically. It's easy to say that Jack is stupid to push Scruffy away (who would push Scruffy away, honestly?), but I understand where he's coming from, and if I've done my job right then the audience will, too. He's not in a great place at the beginning of the show. Sometimes you need someone to grab you by the shoulders and shake you out of that moment, and sometimes you're not ready to be grabbed quite yet.

I guess I would object to the notion that this has all happened before and will happen again, even if it didn't remind me of the abominable Battlestar Galactica finale. The things that are driving Jack, Mitchell and Oona are the same romantic and professional issues that gay and straight people of all ages have had to deal with. Certainly some themes (joblessness, finding romance in a cultural moment during which you meet someone weeks before you ever see them in person) are more prevalent because this is Brooklyn in 2012, but with the possible exception of Jack sitting in his window listening to Satie and smoking a joint, I think these characters understand that their problems are the problems of Young People in America.

GO: “Moon River” leaves us with a number of cliffhangers. Whereas Mitch started out battered-but-emboldened and even romantic after an unseen, messy break-up with Jack, he ends it alone, embarrassed, and indulging in the same vices for which he’d harshly judged Jack in the first episode. And Jack, from the self-destructive spiral in “State of the Union” to potentially (and foolishly) kamikaze’ing a real relationship with Scruffy; Oona, the too-smart-for-the-wine-shop writer has no more book and endured a humiliating interview, but she’s on the road to getting a man. That’s a lot of arc for a little web series!

Since you have the whole series scripted, but without spoiling too much, what can we expect / look forward to in the later episodes?

AG: I don't want to say Shawn Frank [Russel, Oona’s would-be paramour] in his underwear, but I seem to have just said it.

Shawn Frank

“A lot of arc” could maybe go on the back of our DVD set (which will never exist). This is something we had to overcome, initially: people aren't expecting a web show to be written at all, never mind plotted out beforehand with an ending in mind. Once you've seen all six episodes (or seven, depending how our Kickstarter winds up), you're going to be able to go back and watch the show again and hopefully see how the arc of the show has been in its DNA from the get-go.

GO: Sasha Winters is hilarious as Mitchell's snarly Girl Friday, Oona. She's your co-writer, correct? Your chemistry is great, where'd you find her?

AG: Sasha and I write the show together, and also we live together and studied theater upstate together. She's the best. She is not a lot like Oona at all.

What can I say about Sasha? She delivers. She is acting the pants off of the part, you don't even know. Oona is important both to the narrative and thematically: we're not Girls (despite what you may have read on the internet), but it was important to have that voice in there. And we wanted that voice to be confused, too: she's not looking for the same things Mitchell and Jack are. Oona doesn't apologize for how much she likes sex, but she's also not Samantha Jones - she can go four hours without bringing up her labia in conversation (although I reserve the right to have her do that).

Sasha Winters

GO: The Outs explores what happens when important relationships end. Do we need to worry about Mitchell & Oona?

AG: What an excellent question!

GO: In terms of the other actors, especially Hunter Canning as Mitchell's spiraling ex Jack and Tommy Heleringer as "Scruffy," introduced in Whiskey Dick, what a challenge for you as director to work with such a homely and un-charismatic cast! Did you lose a bet or something? How'd you get stuck with these albatrosses?

AG: It's horrible, right? The trick with Tommy and Hunter is to not look directly at them.

The Internet loves Tommy Heleringer: I think we're going to distribute locks of his hair as backer rewards on Kickstarter. He doesn't know this yet.

Those guys are a pleasure to direct because they're just stone cold fucking professionals. I'm lucky because I studied directing for theater so we share a vocabulary, and I just love watching actors act. We got to have an honest-to-god rehearsal the other day for a big scene in our third episode, Moon River, and on the way there I just felt like the luckiest boy in the world. Watching two talented actors bounce ideas and energy off of each other is a drug.

Also, if I'm going to write and direct something I am going to fill it with hot dudes. Because what is the point, otherwise?

GO: I’d like to ask about another character, introduced in “Moon River,” Mitchell’s co-worker, Ty. “Fairs are for the fall, Mitchell” is my new favorite line, but I can’t quite figure Ty out. 

On the one hand, he “smells like roses,” hates “girl” but calls Mitchell “faggot,” and can’t work the fax machine; but on the other hand he turns homophobia into something empowering with Julia Sugarbaker-esque wordplay and seems so much more confident and comfortable with himself than Mitchell is. Some might say that he represents the “Gay Clown,” a hilarious, oversized, flamboyant queen who’s either feminized or oversexualized to an absurd degree and operates as a vaudevillian foil to butch up the lead—Jack from Will & Grace, Cameron from Modern Family, Nathan Lane just throughout life, et al. 

(This is nothing against the very talented actor Phillip Taratula, whom I thought really nailed it.)

AG: First let me tell you that there's more to come from Ty. Second, I adore Ty, and Phillip Taratula is a being of pure light. He brought so much of that character to set with him—I think you can see in the episode how much fun we're having.

I'm sensitive to the idea that he's a clown, but also: on a fabulousness scale of 1-10, I am perhaps a 4 on a good day. In my life as a gay man, I am frequently meeting other homos who can fab me under the table basically without lifting a finger. In a way, that's what Ty is about: communicating the idea that we are not all the same—we're not all Mitchell or Jack—that our community contains multitudes.

Because, again (and with thanks to Alison Bechdel): when was the last time you saw two gay men on screen talking about something other than sucking dick or getting concert tickets or going to a drag show or adopting a baby or dying of AIDS? I know that's a wide net, but you see what I'm saying.

Also this language issue is a real thing; taking negative language and powering it up by reclaiming it for the community. Some people believe in that and some don't, and Ty presents an opportunity to make that conversation a public one. I talk about that with friends, and you do, too, and probably most of your readers do, but a lot of people (breeders, for example) have probably never thought of it before.

GO: Clearly, The Outs is thinly-veiled pro-Brooklyn propaganda. What particular character does the borough bring? You are real locavores, consciously using local businesses and bands. Why is that important to you?

And the music is fantastic, especially being local. Are you a music scenester, where did you find the bands?

AG: It's hard to balance the Brooklyn-ness of the show with the other things that it's about. I want to say it's a setting and not a character, but it certainly lends a lot of character to the show: shooting at these awesome local places like Pete Zaaz and Wino(t) and Glass Shop that are all exquisitely decorated and have so much personality, it's a little nuts. And they just want to collaborate, and they understand what we're doing. And those places, incidentally, are places that I go several times a week, so I love supporting them however possible.

Also once I was out with a friend and Pete Zaaz gave me a free pizza and I felt like a badass in the vein of that horrible mob boss who DeNiro shoots in the hallway. The Bird, or something? He says something about his beak. Anyway, they make really good pizza.

I'm not a music scenester—at all. It's criminal how little I get out to shows given how much is going on on a nightly basis. We sort of hooked ourselves into a little community of Brooklyn musicians and it grew from there—at this point we're excited to feature awesome indie acts. Being local is a huge bonus, obviously, but I just heard a band from Tacoma the other night that I've got on a loop now and it seems foolish to not include them in the show just because they're in Tacoma.

GO: The Outs is not only a good “What if?” story, it’s a great success story for queer nerds and inspiring as all hell. First, they blew past an initial Kickstarter goal of $1,000 to shoot the second and third episodes. Even raising more than $1,600, the creative team had to self-fund much of “Whiskey Dick” and “Moon River” and as of yet none of the crew or actors are getting paid. “Moon River” debuted just as The Outs’ second Kickstarter campaign went live, this time for a much higher (and more realistic) goal of $8,000, which they’ve beaten by more than $10,000.

Critical buzz predated the overwhelming crowdsource support, and for a whole day “Whiskey Dick” was even bigger than Sharon Needles peeing on a police station on!

AG: was a big thing for us—Towleroad picked us up first and then the blog coverage sort of snowballed. We bounced from Towleroad to Homorazzi to Out to BuzzFeed to Huffington Post—it was a pretty cool week.

I love the work we've done, and the whole team is really proud of the show, but the outpouring of support has taken us all completely by surprise. Obviously this is what we want—we want the show to get its hooks in people and make the audience care—but certain things seem to have really struck a chord. I've gotten e-mails from Australia, France, Germany, Canada, and India from people just gushing about the work. It's unreal.

People are particularly fond of the last scene of "Whiskey Dick," with Jack and Scruffy in bed. That's really satisfying because it looks exactly the way it's written, and as soon as we shot it I thought "Thank god: if nothing else goes right with this whole episode, at least the last moment is going to be really beautiful."

And (sorry, it just keeps coming) I have to give props to the insanely talented Christopher Rubeo, whose cover of Broken Social Scene's Lover's Spit plays over that sequence. I love his music and asked him if we could use some of it, and he sent me a demo of that song, assuring me that it was an early draft and it sounds different from his other stuff, and within the first five seconds I knew it was just an exquisitely beautiful piece of music. I could gush about that track all day.

Tommy Heleringer and Hunter Canning

GO: In both of your phenomenally successful Kickstarter campaigns, you’ve gone after The Good Wife (thank you!), hilariously, and low-quality, high-intake TV in general. How does it feel to have sounded a call like that and have it answered to the degree it was, both personally and as a media professional?

With the overage, you should be able not only to keep The Outs’ production quality high (it looks and sounds beautiful), but now you might also be able to compensate the passionate cast and crew. Since they initially all volunteered, how does it feel as a filmmaker to be able to share The Outs’ fundraising success with them in this way?

AG: Let me get back to you about tech-nerd stuff, but generally speaking, when you're working on a shoestring, one extra centimeter of shoestring goes a long way. $50 or $100 for us is the difference between using audio equipment that works and audio equipment that rocks—and while that's not a lot to raise through Kickstarter, it is a lot if you're a writer who's temping to pay rent.

On our most recent shoot we were able to rent a 17'' Panasonic monitor thanks to a PayPal donation. That sounds insane—to be fair, it is a little insane—but when you're trying to compose a shot and make sure everything looks right and the colors work and the lighting is exactly what you want it to be, it's an unbelievable asset. Because without that, you're either looking at the screen on the camera (a Canon 7D), which is something like two or three inches, or a much smaller attached monitor, something like five inches.

To be frank (but still boring), $1,000 was a pretty naïve estimate for our budget for two episodes. We raised $1,600 and still ended up spending quite a bit more than that, so we're readjusting our expectations as we move into the second Kickstarter campaign. And after that campaign I can tell you how it feels to sound a call and have people respond; the first campaign succeeded due to the support of about 49 people, so it's not like people were breaking down the door to hand over their checkbooks.

And the thing about The Good Wife, about which I hear exclusively great things, is that I can't get through the premise of the show without falling asleep. "It's about a politician's wife and she" no, I don't care.

GO: In The Outs you're rocking more cardigans than a field has clover, you and a date unison-quote Ghostbusters, there are smart writer and publishing-industry jokes throughout, and you crush hard on the hot dork delivery boy. You yourself went to Bard, so you're serving total hot gay nerd. Do you identify as a "geek"?

AG: If my life were a book I'd put "Adam Goldman serves total hot gay nerd." on the back. It would be the only blurb on there.

I've been playing videogames forever, and I gave about a month of my life to Skyrim and Mass Effect 3 most recently. I would get really upset if you asked me to choose between Full Throttle and Day of the Tentacle. Or Earthbound and Chrono Trigger. I won't go on.

Oh, also: Fire and blood, y'all. It is known.

GO: As if you needed to further your geek cred, you actually contacted Geeks OUT after our post on Ender's Game, where we asked our queer geek community to reconsider buying a ticket to the movie so as not to support Orson Scott Card's anti-gay activities with our dollars. Now that the film has wrapped and soon we’ll begin to see advanced press for it, what's your personal take on this?

AG: To be as brief as I can possibly be: I loved Ender's Game for a long time. I felt extremely betrayed when I learned that Orson Scott Card isn't just a crazy asshole, he's like the crazy asshole: he's on the board of the National Organization for Marriage, the clowns behind that 'There's a storm brewing' ad from a few years back, and he believes in a violent overthrow of the government if gay marriage becomes legal.

Some people are like "But hey, Wagner was kind of a dick and you don't mind listening to his music!" Sure, but Wagner is dead, and Orson Scott Card is a living Mormon who tithes a portion of his income to his right-wing church that wants you to not have rights or exist, OK? When you buy Shadow of the Giant, you'd better go make a donation to NOH8 while you're at it.

The Outs creator Adam Goldman

The Outs’ success is worth celebrating and worth supporting—the Kickstarter’s still going! If the second campaign hits the eye-crossing total of $20,000, there could be more The Outs to enjoyafter the sixth episode, possibly even a Chanukah Special, a smartypants homage to great British television series that have influenced the The Outs, and judging by their fundraising, an effective bribe!

Clearly, Goldman and company have struck a nerve. The love for The Outs is everywhere—Goldman was a recent “celebrity judge” for the NYC Gay Pride Parade. In telling Mitchell’s and Oona’s and Jack’s and Scruffy’s—and even Ty’s—stories, The Outs is giving starved audiences, especially smart, queer audiences, something very important and valuable beyond good entertainment. Instead of parsing together relatable clues coded throughout the background or telegraphed by one-note, token characters, we can find ourselves in The Outs, and what’s more, we want to.