Fan favorite writer and producer Jane Espenson (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Torchwood, Once Upon A Time) took some time out of her hectic Comic Con schedule to sit down and chat with Geekscape about her show, Husbands.
Espenson co-created Husbands with Brad Bell in 2011, solely for distribution on digital platforms such as Blip, YouTube and Roku. Husbands follows Cheeks (Bell) and Brady Kelly (Sean Hemeon) as a gay couple who drunkenly tie the knot in Vegas to celebrate the federal amendment for marriage equality, and stay married for fear that a divorce would devastate both the same-sex marriage cause and their careers.
The show quickly built up a large fan base, and for their second season, Epsenson and Bell ran a successful Kickstarter campaign, reaching 120% of their goal. The third season, and the upcoming fourth season, were produced in partnership with CW Seed.
Husbands is known for its send-up of sitcom tropes, its brilliant humor (which often is layered over biting social commentary), and its intelligent and sharp comedic style. Guest stars on the show are another draw; Joss Whedon appears in every episode in season two as Wes; other guest stars include Jon Cryer, Mekhi Phifer, Felicia Day, Amber Benson, Emma Caulfield, Dichon Lachman, Nathan Fillion, Amy Acker, Seth Green and Michael Hogan and Beth Grant as Brady’s parents.
So we were very excited to sit down and talk about the show, how it started, and where it’s going with Jane Espenson herself.
Q: So, did you work with Brad prior to Husbands? How did the show come to be?
A: This is the first thing we’ve done together, other than a little stage play we worked on together. He had developed the character of Cheeks online, on YouTube, and had a number of videos up there that I found and fell in love with, and I finally reached out to him over Twitter, and we became lunch friends. We started talking about what we could do together.
He had the idea of doing an online comedy, and he had an idea of him and Alessandra [Torresani] as young actors in LA, and I was like, ‘What’s more current events-y? What’s more, going on in LA? What’s a show you can only do now?’ and he said, “what if it’s a show about newlyweds?’ and I said ‘Yes, that show will exist in five years, and it will be on NBC, and it will be called Husbands.” And we were like, ‘Let’s just make it oursleves!’
Right away it was clear that this was something we were going to make ourselves, we weren’t going to go out and pitch it, we had a very clear vision for it. And that night, he did the first pass on the script that become our first story. And we filmed that, and we put it out there, and it got so much positive reception and made it so clear that there was an audience. So, we used that as part of a Kickstarter campaign for season two, and then the third and fourth stories were all through the CW Seed. And they’ve been amazing. It’s really the best way, I think, if you want creative control. We also realized how valuable it is to have good input from someone who has objectivity on the series, so we have readings and producers read the scripts, for the feedback.
Q. So the first episodes were really short, only two or three minutes each. Why did you decide to go with that format?
A. It was one sitcom length story, we just released it a scene at a time. In later seasons we released it an act at a time. But it’s the same number of scenes, and they add up to standard sitcom length.
Q. Did you know beforehand that you were going to release just short scenes?
A. We knew beforehand, because at the time no one would click on anything that was longer than three minutes. It was just how people used YouTube then. So we were like, let’s just make sure no scene is longer than two-and-a-half pages. And we were very strict about that. We’ve loosened up on that a little because we are releasing things of a longer length, but it’s still a standard sitcom length story.
Q. Did keeping the scenes so short affect the way you approached the writing?
A. A little bit, just because you had to be very draconian with yourself. You couldn’t indulge in a three page run of puns, it was like, no, this scene has to end now. So in that sense it tightened our writing up. But we both have very good instincts, about when a scene is over. If you look at our scripts now, it’s rare that a scene goes over three pages. We had a big exception, with the first scene of “I Dream of Cleaning” episode, was a really long scene, but it was really broken up into what we call French Scenes, where somebody exits and a new scene starts. So if you look at it that way, we still kept ourselves very strict. The scenes were still quite short.
Q. So the Kickstarter was very successful. What was it like using Crowd sourcing for your funding?
A. We knew it was going to be a certain amount of work. Tania del Rio, who’s an artist who works with us, she designs our T-shirts and our poster, and one of the stories in our comic book, she ran the Kickstarter campaign. Like, she ran the shipping, which is one of the bigger jobs. We already had content, since we had season one, so a lot of our work–those two difficult things–what do you present, and how do you get the rewards out–were already done. So we just sat back and watch the numbers roll. It was amazing. We knew, in just a few hours, that we were going to make our goal. I just kept texting Brad in the middle of the night ‘We just got $500 more dollars!”
But then it’s a little nerve wracking, because any one can take their money back. So we had one big donor, and for awhile, if he had backed out, we wouldn’t have made our goal. But once we had the cushion, then we started breathing.
Q. You have quite the list of guest stars in Husbands…
A. Yes. Jon Cryer, we were very happy to work in Jon Cryer. And Joss Whedon coming is as Wes was amazing. And there was Amy Acker, Michael Hogan…
Q. Including quite a few that also are on Thrilling Adventure Hour…
A. (laughs) That’s true. Nathan Fillion, Michael Hogan….I think Michael Hogan did Thrilling Adventure Hour because I recommended him, because I knew what a great sport he’d been on Husbands. I’d worked with him on Battlestar [Galactica], but with Husbands I got to hang out with Michael a lot more. Battlestar was in Vancouver, and I didn’t get up there much, so I never really hung out with Michael. Being here, on our set, what a fun guy Michael Hogan is. I would work with him anytime, any day. He’s a great guy. So different than Colonel Tigh.
I mean, I knew good people that I wanted to reach out to. And then to have all of them respond so positively to the material…and then to meet new people, like John Cryer, who Brad and I didn’t know, or Mikhi Phifer, who is just really, really great. And that was something that we wanted to do, we really wanted to have this be a part of the civil rights movement, and we wanted Brady to have a baseball friend.
Q. One of the things the series has been getting a lot of buzz about is the deftly it handles the social issues while still remaining a sitcom. Do you find that difficult?
A. That is all Brad. He is a very political animal, and a very socio-political animal. And he’s always got stuff, on any topic, and you’ll say ‘what about this? I haven’t really thought about this yet.’ and he’ll say, ‘oh, I have.’ He’s very well reasoned, and he has opinion that are the next opinion. He doesn’t go with the crowd, he’s always the guy going ‘Well, yeah, but…’