People You Know, set to debut online in conjunction with New York City's Pride celebration, is an impressively produced low budget web soap. The series co-stars John Dylan DeLaTorre and Baltimore Russell, who are a real life gay couple.
They play Lucas and Monty, a gay couple in turmoil. DeLaTorre and Russell, who've been married for seven years, are also the writers. And the producers.
“People You Know” is the first production of Orchard Winfield Productions, their recently formed production company. At it's website, Orchard Winfield states that it's mission is to "Address contemporary issues such as gender, race, sexuality, religion, and nationality. By working with new media it will allow us to connect with our audience without restriction."
Six twenty-minute episodes are being produced for “People You Know's” freshman season. Web produced content is known for being produced on shoestring budgets, yet the premiere episode, made available to SFGN for viewing, is quite impressive.
“People You Know” boasts strong acting and elegant production values — what viewers will see on screen is comparable to any major network offering.
Some may feel that these aren't people we know. Everyone in the thirtyish cast, without exception, is drop dead gorgeous. The characters are upscale. We don't all get to live as they do, but there's an enormous amount of pleasure to be found in tuning in to shows like this and pretending that we do.
As the story begins, Lucas (DeLaTorre) and Monty (Russell) have just broken up, but they're going to pretend to be together for one more day. This brave front is so they can attend a close friend's wedding without putting a damper on the other couple's nuptials. Best man Lucas is the best friend — and ex — of one of the grooms.
Sounds complicated. Tune in tomorrow after a word from our sponsor.....
DeLaTorre and Russell chatted with SFGN from their home in New York City, where “People You Know” is filmed.
Tell us who you guys are.
DeLaTorre: I'm a Jersey boy through and through. Since I was a kid I was very dramatic and loved being in school plays in grammar school and I found myself recreating iconic scenes in the living room. Because I had a strict Latin father, my creative dream wasn't supported. So I shut down my hopes and whatever gay feelings I may have had were deeply suppressed. I was in my mid-20s when I finally came out. After I finished my school training — during that first year of training I was really broken down emotionally and began to confront my own personal inner demons and allowed myself to accept who I was — I got involved with quite a few theater productions, started working on some TV shows and soaps, and teamed up with Baltimore to produce an original play I had written called Endgames. From there, while auditioning and booking gigs, we developed one of our ideas and formed our own production company.
Russell: I'm originally from a small town in Texas and always knew that the small town life wasn't for me. I knew that I was not quite like the other boys I grew up with and while I did play soccer and T-ball, I also took dance and drama classes. I went to a Catholic school and was teased and bullied for my perceived differences. I had no idea of what being gay meant until I was made fun of at school. The hardest part was having no one to look up to. There were no positive, out gay role models around. The rest of my school years were spent hiding who I was and just trying to make it out. That being said, my family and friends have always been very loving and supportive of my dreams. Without them I know I wouldn't be where I am today.
Tell us about the creation of Orchard Winfield. Any significance to the name?
DeLaTorre: Orchard is the name of the street I grew up on and Winfield is the name of the street Baltimore grew up on. We started the company to introduce new and creative ways of storytelling.
What's it's like to be both the stars and producers of your own series?
Russell: When we are on camera we are in full-on actor mode. Nothing else exists. It was challenging in the pilot because we were constantly being pulled and involved in every decision. By episode two we had brought on some great people who were lifesavers so we didn't need to worry about every little detail and trusted them to stay within our vision and get things done the way we wanted. That allowed us more time to enjoy the moment and not have everything be such a whirlwind.
Describe the premise of the series and what you're trying to convey to your audience?
DeLaTorre: The show is a prime time drama where the seven deadly sins corrupt a group of thirtysometing urbanites, destroying their chances for happiness as they strive to discover love and achieve their dreams while surviving the drama in New York City.
We envision the series as five seasons, where each season deals with a certain theme. The first season is the idea of family, whether it's the family you're born into or the family you create within your circle of friends. We also wanted to steer away from the stereotypical portrayals of gay characters in the media. So we set out to make their orientation the third or fourth most interesting thing about them. We want to realistically represent the LGBT community truthfully, with all the good and the bad, while keeping the viewers captivated with good old sinful drama. The other thing that is very important to us is to provide visibility for out characters in media so that kids growing up in small towns will know that there is hope for them.
The characters are upscale. How might blue-collar types relate to this series?
Russell: We are acutely aware of how the characters might be perceived and have a few storylines coming up that talk about just this.
Is there crossover appeal to straights? Will there be trans characters?
DeLaTorre: There is crossover appeal to straight fans. By now, everyone knows someone who is gay, whether it's their brother, cousin, aunt, doctor, lawyer, friend and so on. The story we are telling is universal and everyone can find something relatable in each of the characters, no matter their orientation.
Russell: We do plan on having trans characters appear as series regulars, but there are ten main series cast members so far. We have to let their stories play out before we bring on any new characters. And we want to find the right way to bring them into the show, not have a trans character just to have one. Each character has a full story we can tell, we don't want to just have a background of the alphabet (LGBTQI, etc).
How difficult is it to fund a web series and earn your budget back?
DeLaTorre: We pursue all avenues to bring in funding. We are not a non-profit, though sometimes it feels that way. But every dollar we earn goes directly in the series. We are very fortunate so far with all the support we have received.
When/where will “People You Know” Be available?
Russell: After the two part pilot premiere on June 23, we will release the episodes starting Sunday June 29th on the series website. Each episode will be available to buy, including the entire season.
DeLaTorre: We are looking into a possible DVD release later this year, we just want to make sure we have everything right before releasing it.
Russell: We are working on getting some famous guest stars, but we don't want to speak to early on any of them. We do have Pandora Boxx of RuPaul's Drag Race play a twisted drag bartending version of herself, which is as hilarious as it sounds!
You can find People You Know here: http://www.owproductions.com