TVO regular and sporadic Rich Fulcher collaborator Hayden Black is about to unleash a new animated show, Gen-Zed! - which is making headlines as the first ever animated show to feature a trans actress in a leading role.
Hayden took time out of his busy schedule to answer some questions about Gen Zed and the folk involved with it, and the resulting Q&A is below.
Where did you get the idea for the show?
I was wondering how younger people just emerging out of high school and college were going to handle life now they’d grown up immersed in tech and the bazillions of choices it gave you. It’s a double-edged sword, tech. These days you can find anything you want, download it, listen to it, play it, watch it – but it can also bury you alive. Plus I was hungry to tell a story with a Transgender woman in it. Transparent got there first and they did an absolutely magnificent job. Gen Zed is aimed at a much younger audience .
What were your main influences when writing Gen Zed?
First influence is “The Young Ones” – the anarchic, rebellious spirit that formed my childhood. I wanted to do a show that WASN’T for your parents. Something “the kids” (thanks, Rik) could own. The second is “Spaced”; specifically the flights of fancy that Edgar Wright did so brilliantly. I actually wrote the pilot as live-action but I always had animation in the back of my mind. I got talking to an animator who thought it was a great show to animate but her busy schedule prevented her from coming on board. And then the magnificent Alex Bradley showed up and BAM.
How did you come up with the characters?
Shona, the young Trans girl, is based on a Trans girl I know who’s hysterical, witty, beautiful, amazing and brilliant. I wanted to capture her; both her beauty and her pain. Living your life that way, the only way you can live if you’re born in the wrong body, takes such bravery because of how some shitty, ignorant people choose to live theirs. I always think that men who make fun of Trans women aren’t really men at all. Irony! The other characters were mixtures of various things; Cameron’s a shit poet which is based loosely on The Young Ones’ Rik. Living in LA, I know a few people like Betsy who are a little too dependent on prescription drugs but don’t think they have a problem. And Huey’s just a complicated nutter; sort of like The Young Ones’ Vyvyan but with a bit more depth.
Did you set out to write a Trans character, or did they naturally fit with the rest of the characters?
Yes, I did. Shona was the first character to emerge. The rest followed her lead.
And so is it true that this is the first-ever animated series to feature a Trans actress in a lead role?
Yes!! It’s astonishing that no one’s done it before. In fact, the only animated shows thus far to feature trans characters in lead roles are Anime series and so they’re all about magic turning boys into girls – nothing realistic that portrays Trans women as real people has ever been done in this format. Which is such bullshit. But as I’ve written and researched this show, I’ve come to realize that by creating a strong role model, Trans people might have something to help them realize that they’re NOT alone and that SHIT GETS BETTER! The tragic story of Leelah Alcorn the kind of things we want to stop from happening ever again.
How long did the scripts take to write?
I wrote a 28-page pilot in June 2014, in about 2 weeks. It sort of sat there while I worked on other things but Gen Zed began picking up steam around October. For the next few months, it became re-write city, involving table reads, etc., and it just got better and better. I also decided to change the pilot presentation into a web series so I let it grow from 28 pages to about 54, knowing I’d split it into roughly 7 x 5 minute webisodes.
How do differences in cultural references in Britain and America have an influence on your writing? Do you feel you can only use American ones?
I write for an American audience because that’s where I live. But at the end of the day, I can’t (and don’t want to) escape my mother culture, so both cultures go into my writing. I look at both styles of comedy – American and British – and try to use both. So there’s wit, intelligence and smarts along with bad puns, toilet humour, and physical comedy. Hopefully it’s a good mashup.
Do you use your British humour in your writing, and do the American audiences ‘get it’?
I always use some British humour but I’m all about writing a comedy that everyone can get. I won’t get too self-indulgent because what’s the point? I do like a handful of earned jokes though; something you don’t get at first but when you do, you go “Ah!” So I’ll pepper in a few jokes here and there that not everyone will get but if you’re one of the few who do, you’ll know I was writing specifically with you in mind.
Did you have actors in mind for the role or did you just see who turned up for auditions?
I had no actors in mind – I never do, to be honest. I just write it. Actors come to the table with their own talents; their take on their character can add something you didn’t realize was there. I got very lucky with Gen Zed because I cast it so quickly.
Julie Rei Goldstein was the first trans actress I auditioned and she just nailed it! She got the character, got my humour, and delivered Shona so quickly I was amazed. Shona is a complex character – they all are, really – but Julie knew just how to drive it. There are moments of snarkiness, moments of over the top silliness, and moments of sadness and horrible things and she knows when to put her foot on the pedal and when to hit the brakes.
John M. Keating was referred to me by America Young (of Goodnight Burbank) and he’s so talented and such a great bloke. Emily C. Chang I met a few years ago at a comedy festival here in LA. I watched a short of hers that she starred in and it was clear how talented she is. So I made sure to add her to Facebook in case there was ever a time when we could work together and I’m glad I did! She just batted it out of the park with her first read.
Kevyn Richmond was recommended to me by a producer friend and the moment I saw his reel I knew he was Cameron. And then there’s Marcelo Tubert who plays Miguel, their landlord. He’s a very established character actor so what you get with Marcelo is a huge talent and a man full of ideas that he brings to the table. I even sneaked in a line for the girl who Shona is based on! So she gets to cameo alongside the character based on her.
How did Jane Wiedlin become involved?
We follow each other on Twitter and so I sent her a DM asking if she’d like a cameo. She agreed to read the script then responded with an email that said she wouldn’t do a cameo. She’d only do a recurring character because she loved the script so much. I created a brand new character for her that wasn’t in the pilot; she plays the girl who works with Cameron in the video game store that he has a mad crush on. She even flew down from San Francisco just to record with us in person and she was SO lovely.
What about the music? Did you write your own theme tune again?
Yup! I co-wrote this with James Semple, a British composer. And I also wrote pretty much all of the incidental music that you hear in the show too. Have I made a stupid joke about playing with my organ in public yet? – because this would be the place to do it!
How long has it taken from when you first had the idea for the show to actually recording the voices for the first episode?
Really quickly – about 8 months. I wasn’t planning on shooting Gen Zed when I first wrote it so it’s all taking off rather fast. But that’s how these things usually happen. It’s the stuff you least expect.
How long does the animation take to complete?
Alex is telling me a month per episode, so all I can do is hold my breath. His preliminary artwork has been rather fantastic so I know I’m going to be gob-smacked when I see it all come together.
When will the episodes be available to watch?
I’m hoping it’s ready to go by late Autumn 2015. But we’ll have snippets and scenes to promote the show much sooner than that. If you follow the twitter @Gen_Zed and find us on Facebook, you can be up-to-the-minute and take place in competitions, win prizes like signed scripts, etc.
The Velvet Onion would like to thank Hayden for taking the time and trouble to answer our questions. If you’d like to know more about Hayden and his other work, please visit his Facebook page or follow him on Twitter.When Gen Zed is available to watch we’ll be the first to let you know!