MD: Welcome to Episode 2 (who knew we’d make it this far?!) of Art Collision. I am your host Michael Doshier a.k.a. Johnny Darlin in musical land. And in this episode of Art Collision, I sit down with Julia Pugachevsky, creator of the web series "Life After Fat," and Kaela Garvin, co-creator of the web-series "2 Girls 1 Asian." Julia and Kaela are both friends of mine from college, but their creation and release of these series’ came as a shock to me as a friend and fan. Somehow, despite just graduating school and carrying demanding day jobs and pursuing other artistic endeavors that I did know about, these two friends of mine were suddenly releasing these seemingly massive, highly collaborative, sleek-as-hell projects that I’ve always been deeply intrigued with. Where did they find the time and the funding and the casts and the inspiration? How personal were these projects to each of them, and what were the themes they were trying to explore? I couldn’t wait to find out the answers to these questions, but even more importantly, to see what happened when placing two strangers in a room together who had undergone similar processes to deliver very different, yet equally stunning, results. With, of course, some free-flowing Blue Moon, as always.
This is Art Collision: Kaela Garvin in Conversation with Julia Pugachevsky.
MD: Today I am here with Kaela Garvin of “2 Girls 1 Asian” and Julia Pugachevsky of “Life After Fat.” Thank you both very much for joining me today. In both of your series, you’re very much exploring the idea of identity. That’s evident from just the title of either of them. I’m curious why you chose that particular identity to explore and where that came from in your psyches and minds.
JP: For me, “Life After Fat” came from – I haven’t personally lost a lot of weight, but I’ve had friends who have, and who had sort of similar experiences where it’s sort of… adjusting to this new body, and feeling like there’s this definitive “new you”, which I strongly disagree with. I think as a society we teach women especially (but men as well) that once you transform into a new person, your life will be so much better and work out. That’s sort of the core of the show – exploring that aspect of it, and finding out who you really are in this way that isn’t being perfect all the time, or being thinner or having better skin or whatever it is. It’s a matter of finding that original person in all their new forms and tying them together.
KG: That was something I really liked about your series – and it was so subtle and cool – was that, it’s not just people who are overweight or underweight or going through weight change that face body image issues. It’s everybody. You see that in all the characters in their relationships, so I thought that was really subtle and cool. We chose to focus on racial identity because me and my friend Kelly who created it, it’s something we always talk about. We’re both half-Asian and we’re usually the two People of Color in the room – if not the only ones, there may be someone else of a different race. But we are usually the only Asian people in the room. So there are a lot of micro-aggressions that go on all the time. There’s this persistent American idea that being Asian is “other” and “foreign” no matter how long you’ve been in the country. There’s also all these other crazy things that men say to Asian women online, in-person, on the street. The other day in Chelsea, there was this guy just yelling “Ni hao” at me for forever. Twice in one day! I walked past him two times and maybe he was yelling “Ni hao” at everybody, but I don’t think so! So, yeah, for us it was the obvious thing that if we’re creating avatars of ourselves going through the world, something that we connect to as friends and artists when we’re working in a room as diverse as they get, race is a thing that comes up a lot for us. So we took that and ran with it, and took it up to 100 in the series, but it was something that was real in our lives.
MD: Both shows are based in New York City – you both live in New York City and they feel like New York shows. What does that backdrop add to the show?
JP: When I started “Life After Fat,” I was around 21 so I was super into Girls. I still am; I still watch it with a more critical eye now (especially when it comes to race and inclusivity, although I think Lena Dunham has grown a lot as an artist) but when I first saw it, I was so amazed. I think because I had never seen someone who looks like Lena Dunham portrayed in a sexual way. Or, a way that’s earnest and not the punch line of a joke. And I just love the style of it – they had these friendships that were not always perfect and even catty sometimes, which I think can happen in your 20s. The people you think are your friends are perhaps your friends for the wrong reason. There was something about the grittiness of it I loved and I found kind of real at that time. During the first season of “Life After Fat,” that’s definitely true where there’s a little bit of jealousy and cattiness and everyone’s struggling to find a job. Coming out of college, in addition to any weight transformations or personal changes, you also have the change of not being supported by your parents anymore and having to make a name for yourself, having to make a life for yourself. All of that combined, being 20 in New York is maddening; it really is. It’s a struggle.
KG: Both of our series look at being a woman in New York City, going through daily life, interacting with this crazy huge metropolis which is the best place in the world but at times super “other” and scary and isolating. For us at least, it was an obvious choice – we met here, we live here. The filming it, perhaps, in one of our hometowns (Kelly is from Maryland, I’m the from San Francisco Bay Area) – we’re both from total suburbia. So the situations we find ourselves in may even be more aggravated because they’re less frequent. I think here, there’s a fast-paced thing that makes every event seem both more significant and less, depending on how your day’s been.
JP: That’s very real. I also like that you gave that nod to Hannah Horvath in your pilot. That was so good, and I was thinking the same thing. It reminds me of the opening scene of Girls where the parents are like, “We’re actually cutting you off.” It reminded me of both Girls and Broad City – in Broad City, you have them both skyping each other, and you’re both having these Skype conversations with your parents at the same time. It’s like, surreal and hilarious but also feels so, so real at the same time. Your friends are just with you in these very strange times.
KG: With our real parents messing up their lines!
MD: That was one of my questions! Those were your real parents?
KG: Yeah, we did it before Aziz! (laughs) No, we skyped both of our parents in their houses in Maryland and California to film that scene and my dad was reading a paper and you can see it! You can see that he’s doing it. And one of my friends messaged me and was like, “So your dad hasn’t memorized, huh?” Sorry!
MD: Dad was not off-book. Do your parents watch the whole series?
KG: They did! Actually in the mid-season, it starts with an episode where we have period shits and we’re in the bathroom and Kelly’s farting a lot. My dad, when I went home for Christmas, he was really mad. He was like, “We only watched two minutes then we turned it off. You should really think before making material like that.” But then he was like, “Yeah, well, I don’t know, it’d be easier for me to swallow if it was like a dude doing it.” And I was like, “That’s why we’re doing it!”
JP: I so agree with that too. In the pilot of “Life After Fat” there was a joke that people always comment on. One of the girls talks about sneezing and her tampon falling out. I don’t know, it’s something that I’m so excited about when I see female web series creators, because I think that’s something we need to tackle. You know, like, why is it only in Judd Apatow movies you have guys doing gross stuff or being weird? I feel like Broad City is something that I’m very, very excited about for that reason too. Women being kind of like the guys, cause we are. There’s no rule that we can’t be this way. I think showing that vulnerability, both series’ have that in common where you’re showing women being themselves and fucking up and it’s okay and it can be cute, even.
MD: I wanted to talk about my favorite episode of each one. I’ll start with you, Julia. My favorite episode was “Brunch” largely because of the interaction between Lauren and Ellen. To me, it speaks to the existential dread most artists – at least myself – have which is worry that I’m not doing enough. In that scene, she was literally told she wasn’t doing enough. It was poignant and hard to watch, and weirdly inspiring because you could tell she was going to go out and do more.
JP: Yeah, originally Ellen was supposed to be Russian, like an Olga or something. My parents are from the Former Soviet Union. I used to take music classes at this Russian Music Academy. There’s such a difference and it can be a lot harsher. I think having parents that are Ukrainian and not American – they would always criticize other parents of my American friends, like, “What is it with this country where we tell everyone they’re good all the time. That’s sick, that’s bad.” It’s weird; I sort of grew up in between that, being a kid of immigrants. It’s always like, “if you want to do something artistic,” and my parents have always been supportive of that, but they’d say, “You have to work for it. We won’t support you if you’re going to drink and fuck around and say you’re an artist.” So, I think that’s the message with that. Lauren is someone who wants to be an actor as so many people do, but her perception of what is trying hard is not actually trying hard. This woman, she’s older and more experienced, looks at her like, “You have everything. You have all this privilege, this time, this money to actually put into something. Why aren’t you doing every tiny thing that you can when you’ve been given so much?”
MD: My favorite episode of “2 Girls 1 Asian” was the Super Musical Episode.
KG: We sort of came up with the idea while driving around in her car when she had a car in the city. She’s now in grad school back at home in Maryland, but we’d drive around and toss around ideas, which is where we came up with the whole season. We were super excited about the musical episode. For the first season, I’d churn out a draft based on an outline Kelly would give me and then we’d outline what each scene might look like. Then I’d go back and write it and she’d give me notes and we’d go back and forth and then our director and D.P. Dorian and Tyler would give us notes and rewrites. So it was very a collaborative process. The first draft of the script, though, the lyrics were not that super different. Then we realized if you want to use that music, it has to be a parody legally. So I went back and really hacked at the songs and most of those lyrics stayed which is what you hear. Then we brought on board a couple of great musicians – one is Lance Jabr, who I went to High School with. He’s back in the Bay Area now but at the time he was at NYU for grad school. And a guy I went to class with, John Franco, who is an amazing pianist. So we recorded it all in one of the actress’s apartments, actually, cause she at the time had a sound studio set up. So it was a lot of moving parts, but I loved recording it, I loved doing all the music, and Kelly and I both come from a Musical Theatre background so it was fun to be total dorks about that. It was a lot of fun to shoot, but it definitely sucked up the most budget and time out of any episode because we had to do so much for it.
MD: I want to talk about the ending of each season one of your series, how I interpreted it, allow you to expand on that or correct me if I’m wrong, and talk about the future of what these characters are going to go through in the upcoming seasons, as much as you want to say about that. I’ll start with you, Julia, the last scene of “Life After Fat” read to me as this amazing moment where our protagonist made a decision to change her life in a radical way. In her decision to approach this group of artists that inspire and challenge her and leave this guy behind that she is hanging out with – which is not something she had done at that point, she seemed very apt to hook up or date whoever made themselves available to her. It seems like her friendship drama with her roommate is out of her mind at this point and she’s committed to going to something new in her life.
JP: She’s sort of this character that has this new body but doesn’t feel attached to it yet. Partially because she never felt people liked her or accepted her for who she was before this change. She’s bouncing from guy to guy – you never know if the sex is good for her. She hooks up and does these things because she feels like they’ll validate her in some way. Regardless of if you have this backstory or not, I feel like that’s something a lot of women – myself included – go through. I’d say the early years of my 20’s were like, getting drunk and hooking up and pretending to have this emotional barrier of “I don’t care! It’s fine!” And pretending to always be the chill girl. Her exterior is that she’s not very emotional unless she’s pushed. Her brother sort of pushes her a lot and that’s the first time you see her break, really. She’s almost like, disturbingly calm. You can see it drives her friends crazy and they all worry about her. So I think this is a chance of her – seeing this beautiful thing, this Burlesque dancer, and deciding to take this chance and try it. It’s showing more vulnerability, it’s healthier, and it’s something that could promote actual self-love, which is something I want to explore. In season 2, not to spoil too much, it’ll be the first time she actually falls in love with someone and I think that will be something where she’s really exploring these emotions for the first time and allowing herself to be vulnerable in this very, very real way. That’s sort of where I want to see her character grow and really challenge her. It’s easy to be this, I don’t know, sort of like you’re floating above your body the whole time and not really interacting or reacting to things.
MD: That’s beautiful. (laughs) I was just really moved by that! I feel the need to take a risk in my life and totally shake things up! And then, for you, Kaela, I felt that the ending of “2 Girls 1 Asian” was kind of the opposite, but just as inspiring and moving. For me, it read that they had this moment where they could radically change their lives by taking a break from their friendship, but instead the moment they decide to give that a shot, they realize they are each other’s partners.
KG: We actually rewrote most of the last episode. We shot it all in a car on the road in Sleepy Hollow, New York. We scouted out the location the night before. We were like, “Eh, this script isn’t doing it for me,” so as we were talking we started to improve a scene until we thought we had it right for the end. It was always going to be that ending, though, of them trying to walk into the wilderness with their dead car by the side of the road. But looking forward, we did three more episodes as a mid-season that aren’t tied down to any storyline. They’re basically back in Brooklyn up to their normal antics. Friends are really your lifeline, especially in New York City, so in season 2 we’re trying to figure out some of our ideas, especially now that we’re physically separated. Our series has always been ludicrously autobiographical – we’ll take what’s going on in our real lives and totally explode that into something we think is funny, I don’t know if it’s actually funny, it’s funny-ish. But we’re hoping to look into what happens – and this was an idea pitched to us in a writer’s room for the midseries – what if one of the girls goes to grad school? How do they deal with each other gaining success without the other one? Maybe not even without, but separate. And that’s something that actually happened in our real lives, and I think we’re interested in looking into that and what that means for the fictional Kaela and Kelly.
JP: Something I love about your series and am almost jealous of in a way is that they have this beautiful friendship and it’s a love story. It’s platonic, but I think you’re seeing them overcome these things together and they have conflicts within that friendship, but you can’t see one without the other. I think seeing one person succeed, especially with acting where it’s so…it can be so raw, all the emotions of pursuing an artistic career in general. Seeing one friend succeed without the other is hard, because success is so rare in general. I don’t know. I’m so moved by the friendship and I love shows where there are two women where they are so close, nice, and real with each other. They have a real genuine friendship.
KG: I think that’s why it’s so cool to see so many lady web series popping up. Institutionally, there’s not funding for women’s’ projects. I feel that in this independent arts community is where women get to shine because nobody’s giving us money.
JP: Or a chance. Women are half the population if not more, in this country at least. TV and playwriting have more space for women, but even playwriting, on Broadway you see a bunch of old white guy stuff rehashed a lot. With TV, you have Amy Schumer, you have Samantha B, you have Broad City, and you have Shonda Rhimes. You have all these women in power doing these cool things and it becomes this thing where webseries’ are getting picked up. If you are good enough, they will notice you. And I don’t feel the same way about Hollywood. And I think even where I work – I work at Buzzfeed – I love that we have so many strong women and I’m allowed to do stuff that’s content for women. I think the Internet web series realm is a really great place for female creators to thrive. For female filmmakers or aspiring filmmakers and writers – make something, put it on there, and be so good that they can’t not notice you.
KG: I think in general, artists, self-production is the way to go. It’s great that the Internet is around to publicize it. But it’s such a weird time to be an artist cause there’s so little real public funding and private funding is, you have to be commercially viable which translates into white, straight, and a dude. Which is like, so weird, that that’s…most of the world is not a straight white dude so why is that the entertainment they think makes money? They’ve shown if you make a series for Asian people or Black people or women, it’s going to do well. If it’s good.
JP: Tons of admiration for you cause you’ve done so many episodes. I was going through YouTube for "2 Girls 1 Asian", I was like “Holy shit!” They’re so long, too, with so much footage! It’s so much work, I was like, “Holy fuck, I have to get my life together!” It was so impressive and so great. I love your friendship with Kelly. It’s so cute and real.
KG: Yeah, I loved your series as well and I can’t wait to see more of it! I’m excited for season number 2!
JP: We’ve been so delayed…
KG: I feel like that’s Rule #2 of working in film. If Rule #1 is “Be Organized,” Rule #2 is “It’s fine if you’re not, cause no one else is!” Well, not really, but –
JP: It’s a beautiful mess. You have to fuck up a lot to get better. That’s the number one thing I’ve learned – you’re going to mess up two hundred times then maybe start getting a little bit better.
Thank you so much to both Julia Pugachevsky and Kaela Garvin for joining me for a cross-web-series discussion on Things Created By People’s Art Collision. Season 1 of Julia’s “Life After Fat” can be viewed in its entirety at lifeafterfatseries.com. Season 1 and the mid-season episode-thruple of Kaela Garvin and Kelly Colburn’s “2 Girls 1 Asian” is at 2girls1asian.com.
Both are moving forward with their second seasons in 2016 and have laid the groundwork – available right now for you to watch - to be exploring very enticing territory this year. Both shows come highly recommended from your loyal host here at Art Collision who would never steer you wrong.
As always, please hit me up if you are interested in being paired up with another artist and coming over to share a few drinks with me and another artist. It would truly be my pleasure and just an FYI – I ALWAYS provide the drinks, so you get to drink for free and talk about your own shit!
All original music featured in this episode - outside of the music in the web series clips - was by the amazing JULIAN, and you can find JULIAN’s work at soundcloud.com/jalapeno_boi.
Until next time.