In a pop culture where quality queer content can still be challenging to find, the rising popularity of the web series medium is offering a whole new bevy of options. In 2008, writer/director Tina Cesa Ward was a pioneer in bringing lesbian love and drama right to our laptops. Her series Anyone But Me, a post 9/11 love story between two teenage girls, garnered millions of views and numerous awards. Ward’s newest endeavor, Producing Juliet, premieres this fall and features fan favorite, Rachael Hip-Flores, as well as a brand new cast of actors. AfterEllen was thrilled to talk to Tina Cesa Ward recently and get the scoop on her new series.
AfterEllen: Your first webseries, Anyone But Me, really blew the doors off what a webseries could be like. Smart, funny, romantic all wrapped into a few minutes each week. Not an easy feat. What is it about the medium that attracts you?
Tina Cesa Ward: I’ve always liked the idea of saying something that means everything in as few words as possible, so I think the medium is fitting. I’ve never been a rambler. I try to clearly think of the importance of scene and if it’s telling us everything it can. I love language, and with this show more than any, I get to really play with language because of the characters that inhabit this world. I really start to move in this direction with Good People in Love and now I’m really excited to go further down that path.
AE: I’ve always loved your way with words, and that skill is particularly evident in Producing Juliet. One of your leads, Juliet (Rachael Hip-Flores) is a writer herself and at first blush seems to be very much in her own head. Does any of that stem from your own experience as a writer?
TCW: Yes, I would say so. I probably spend more time than not thinking of stories, characters, ideas to explore that interest me. I think most writers can’t help being in their own head a good chunk of their day. Although there are times you’d like to not have to carry the notebook around and just be.
AE: The lovely Rachael Hip-Flores has now been the star of all three of your web series. Is she the Diane Keaton to your Woody Allen? Tell us a little about working with her.
TCW: That’s awesome, who doesn’t want a question that mentions Keaton and Allen. It’s funny, before I even told people who I was casting in Producing Juliet I had some colleagues give the scripts a read for feedback and many said, “…Rachael is playing Juliet right?” so I figured I was stuck with her, again. But in seriousness, I think for directors it’s a great gift to find an actor that you click with on a personal and professional level, and that you also feel very strongly about what they can do if given the space to work. From ABM to Good People to Producing Juliet, the roles have been very different and Rachael has been very different in those roles and that for me has been a treat to witness. And Rachael is also a joy to work with because she looks like she’s having the most fun in the world on set but she takes what she’s doing very seriously. Mostly she just makes my job easier.
AE: The romances in Anyone But Me were so tenderhearted and sweet, whereas in Good People in Love, things turned quite dark. Where does Producing Juliet fall on the scale of relationship drama?
TCW: I really think Producing Juliet is going to fall somewhere in between. With Good People in Love, I knew exactly what I was writing from the get go and I knew that it was going to be dark and I just really needed to work on something in that head space at that time. Something about Producing Juliet has kept me from letting it go too dark not that it won’t have its moments, believe me it will. But I’ve also infused more humor within some of the characters. This series is a whole new challenge for me, and I’m excited about it.
AE: We don’t want to give too much away about Producing Juliet, but what would you like AfterEllen readers to know about your new endeavor?
TCW: I often like to dive into issues that affect our lives as gay and lesbians that no one really talks about. I’ve always been interested in going deeper into what this identification of gay or lesbian really means to who we are as people and one character in the show will really explore that. The show also explores the need we all have to connect with someone and how hard that is to let go of even if it’s the best thing to do. So, yeah, there’s some drama ahead.
AE: When will Producing Juliet premiere and where can people watch it?
TCW: Currently our plan is to release episode one on October 9 via YouTube and other free streaming sites. We are looking at funding sources to finish the first season that may lead to a different form of distribution but the bottom line is we’re hoping for big numbers for the first episode and the second to prove this is a series that people want to see. It’s a constant battle out there for funding stories with lesbian themes and/or characters. I’ve been told by many sources there are very few brands interested in backing lesbian content. I’m hoping that Producing Juliet (just as Anyone But Me did) and its fans can show how dedicated an audience can be and that we’re worth the investment.
TCW: I’ve been a comic book fan for a long time and I’ve written some here and there and never published anything. But with Guards of Dagmar it just seemed the time was right to do it. I developed it as a series and pitched it everywhere, from web series to TV, and although everyone was intrigued it was a hard sell. It’s a story that came from the idea that what if one event that seems easy to explain was actually the result of something unimaginable and what if you were the only one that could see it. It’s set in a residency for the intellectually and developmentally disabled with characters that we don’t get to see often in film or television. And I really get to explore that world which is fascinating and it’s a really fun story to write because I just think of whatever I want and I don’t have to worry about budget. My artist just draws it. It’s amazing. The first issue will be available on Comixology this fall and preview pages are up on GuardsofDagmar.com.