Jane Espenson is a Hugo Award-winning writer and producer. She’s written episodes for shows including: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly, Battlestar Galactica, Game of Thrones, Torchwood: Miracle Day, and others. She’s currently co-executive producer of ABC’s Once Upon a Time. And she’s the creator (along with Brad “Cheeks” Bell) of the hilarious web series Husbands. Jane has taken time out of her busy schedule to answer my questions about Husbands, mimes, and other topics.
Jeremy C. Shipp: How did Husbands the Series come to fruition?
Jane Espenson: It began as an idea that my co-writer Brad Bell (Cheeks) had. We worked on it until it evolved into its current shape – this sweet and very funny story about a couple of accidental newlyweds who happen to be two guys. It was clear that we wanted to keep some control over it, so the web series form seemed like a natural fit. We’ve been really pleased with how it came out – the first three episodes are on line now at husbandstheseries.com and it’s getting big numbers, big response, so we’re thrilled. It came out just as we hoped!
Jeremy: If you were a supervillain, who would you want as your minions?
Jane: I don’t think I’d make a great supervillain since I need people to like me. But I guess that’s what the minions are for, right? Given that, I think I’d have a very open minion hiring policy – all are welcome!
Jeremy: In the world of entertainment, there are many gay characters who are nothing but two-dimensional caricatures. But one thing I love about Husbands the Series is that Cheeks and Brady are unique, imperfect individuals. For you, how important is it to portray your characters in this way?
Jane: Oh, yes, that’s very important. Brad Bell has developed the Cheeks persona over years – he’s got a lot of videos on YouTube on his own GoCheeksGo channel, that feature this somewhat heightened version of himself. So that was a fully developed character. Brady we made up, and we sort of shaped his personality around what we could infer about a pro ballplayer who has chosen to come out. And we also did some rewriting after we hired Sean Hemeon who plays the role – we realized he could handle a lot of the comedy, and we found a good flavor of comic exasperation for the character. So, yes, these are two very different guys. The humor relies on them being very different guys, in fact, so we were determined to treat them as real people.
Jeremy: If a mime falls in the forest, does he make a sound?
Jane: I really did go to high school with a mime. He was in my home room, in fact. He made sounds all the time. And fallen leaves are crunchy. So, yes. Yes. Don’t believe the hype.
Jeremy: How has your experience with Husbands differed from your television work? Have you found writing and creating a web series to be creatively freeing?
Jane: It’s different in almost every way. In some ways the differences are frustrating – so much happens automatically on TV because you’re part of a big studio machine. With a web series, everything has to be pushed along at every step. But you’ve hit on the compensating factor – it is VERY creatively freeing. I wasn’t second-guessing myself as I tried to work out what a boss or a studio or a network wanted. I, along with Cheeks and our partner, director Jeff Greenstein – we were able to decide what we wanted and just make it happen. It really felt like the pure creativity of the writing process was extended into production and post-production. The process was very satisfying.
Jeremy: In your work, your characters often maintain a sense of humor during the most difficult of situations. For me, this adds a sense of realism to your stories, as humor is a very human reaction to stress and tragedy. Are you the sort of person who copes with problems in this way?
Jane: I don’t think I’m a great coper, since I am a bit of a worrier, but yeah, in the middle of the worrying, I am joking. And I’m glad that you noticed that – I do love characters who react that way, since I think it’s very real. No one gets through the day without laughing, and yet fictional characters do so all the time and I think that’s wrong. Most people are wonderfully funny and resilient and I want to see that in them on screen. You see Cheeks and Brady both doing that in Husbands and I think it’s a big part of why they’re lovable – they’re not just being funny in their reactions to things, but they’re being purposefully funny in order to entertain or cheer up the other person. Lovable!
Jeremy: If your life was a video game, what would you collect to obtain points?
Jeremy: Which is your favorite hat? The writer hat, the producer hat, the top hat?
Jane: Writer! Writing is the best part.
Jeremy: How would you describe your writing process?
Jane: Self-entertaining. I always try to write what I would most want to see. I am my own target viewer, always. And that makes the writing process really fun, because I’m constantly watching a show I like.
Jeremy: How many episodes will there be for Husbands? And what’s the likelihood of a second season?
Jane: There are eleven episodes of Husbands that go together to make one pilot episode of standard sitcom length. We have no idea if there will be more! We love the show and the process – we just need the support to make more!
Jeremy: What makes a good story?
Jane: Oh, all the normal things. Characters who want things and who overcome obstacles to get them.
Jeremy: If you were trapped on a desert island, would you befriend an anthropomorphic volleyball, a mischievous monkey, or someone else entirely?
Jeremy: If you were a trapped on a dessert island, what would you eat first?
Jeremy: What advice would you give to those who want to create their own web series?
Jane: Figure out what your goals are, budget no more than you can afford to spend, and make exactly the show you want to make, because this is your chance to do that.
Want to watch Husbands the Series right now?
Here’s episode 1:
About the author: Jeremy C. Shipp is the Bram Stoker nominated author of Cursed, Sheep and Wolves, and Always Remember to Tip Your Ninja. Jeremy enjoys living in Southern California in a moderately haunted Victorian farmhouse called Rose Cottage. He lives there with his wife, Lisa, and a legion of yard gnomes. The gnomes like him. The clowns living in his attic – not so much. His twitter handle is @JeremyCShipp.