Times may change, but so too do people. While America has undergone an otherwise regressive political shift, acceptance of individuals from different racial, ethnic and sexual backgrounds has grown. However, as the new comedy series STRAY shows, coming to grips with change can be quite a difficult task for some people – even if it involves those they’ve known all along.
Created by Pablo Andreu, and with its 9 episode first season currently streaming on its official Youtube page (see link below), STRAY revolves around two reunited pals whose lives have taken different paths since their college years: the well-meaning yet awkward Rich (Cameron Clarke), and the decidedly bold Jay (Sha James Beamon). Things start to get amusing when Rich, who is straight, is surprised to learn that Jay is openly gay – and has been for years.
Once its debut season concludes, STRAY will also feature Rich and Jay in a special episode that’s centered around our highly volatile Commander-in-Chief. Before that, and before both characters hit the screen, the concept for STRAY itself was inspired by one of Andreu’s own real life friendships.
“The idea is loosely based on the dynamic between my friend, Chris Bell (who assisted in several capacities on STRAY’S production) and me, even though we’re nothing like the main characters,” says Andreu, who adds that STRAY’s character chemistry is complimented by the show’s coarse comedy style.
“It occurred to me that I hadn’t really seen characters with different sexual orientations using the kind of blue humor you see straight guys use with each other, like in Judd Apatow’s movies, for example. In some ways, it’s your standard buddy comedy utilizing some absurdist elements, a little like BROAD CITY.”
Despite the potential that Andreu found in STRAY, he found himself facing a big problem once he attempted to get the series started. “The idea had been rolling around in my head for a while, but I didn’t know how to see it to fruition. I’m not a filmmaker. I’m a writer. I knew the idea was right for a series, however,” he adds. From there, Andreu constructed STRAY the only way he knew how: “Eventually, I decided to write a few scripts, not expecting to actually shoot them.”
The success of every creative endeavor is determined not just by the people who make that success possible, but by how well they achieve it. Luckily, Andreu didn’t have to go far to find the team that would finally get STRAY on camera. “I didn’t have the skill set to bring the scripts to life, but I worked with people who did,” he recalls. “Through my day job (advertising), I knew artists, editors, filmmakers, photographers and actors. Over time, I realized that if I could get a few of them bought into the project, I could actually create this thing.”
Although the look of STRAY’s production is, at first glance, simple – most of the scenes feature Clarke and Beamon’s characters in one setting – Andreu found out that looks can often be deceiving in the world of filmmaking. “I didn’t know how much goes into making even a super low-budget web series,” he says. “Creators (of web series) know that, but most viewers don’t know that. The majority of season one takes place in an apartment, and it was still a challenge.”
Just how challenging? Let Andreu count the ways: “Most people think (of making a web series), ‘oh, sit in a room, point and shoot.’ We (STRAY’s production unit) had to lug all this equipment – camera, tripod, cables, light kit, sand bags, boom, mic, set decoration, etc. – across town and then carry all that stuff up to the third floor of the Airbnb I had rented. Then, set up. Check the sound. Set up the lights. Lighting is tricky. There’s a lot of trial and error. Sound is tough in New York. Sirens, yelling, construction work, etc. ruined a bunch of takes.”
Andreu’s lack of filmmaking experience was an obvious stumbling block during filming. “There was a long learning curve for me,” he explains. “I didn’t even know all the tech we needed when we started out. I didn’t know what a light meter was. I didn’t know what a shotgun mic was. I didn’t know how to set up lights or a tripod. I didn’t know any of the terms. I’m still a baby in this regard, but I can at least hold my head up by myself.”
Thankfully, Andreu’s on-set efforts were blessed by the presences of several key production specialists. “…There is no chance I would have gotten the show off the ground without Alison Bourdon. She directed several episodes, consistently loaned me her impressive personal cache of equipment, and did some editing.” Dane Benko took over as director and also hooked me up with our editor Hans Leuders and our sound designer Michael Eichstedt.”
Off-camera, Andreu also received equally beneficial assists from other members of STRAY’s behind-the-scenes team. “Friends and colleagues like Will Schmincke, Chris Bell and Jon Meyer pitched in operating the boom, helping on set and acting. Bri Castellini, the creator of BRAINS, also jumped in late in the game. She’s been super helpful, and hopefully (she) will be even more involved for season two.”
After building the foundation for STRAY’s first season, Andreu hopes to fortify and improve it through crowd funding for its second series. “I want to build enough of an audience and have enough content after completing the first season to raise enough money to make season two how I originally wanted to make the show,” he says. “Many of the original scripts had to be tabled because we didn’t have the budget to shoot the more involved episodes. Then, (I want to) shoot a badass season two and (to) pitch (STRAY) to some of the digital networks out there.”
Now more than ever, shows like STRAY demonstrate to viewers that laughter can go a long way towards helping people understand and overcome their differences. “Twenty years ago, there still was a strong homophobic streak in America. That’s changed quite a bit (although the current tenor is swinging the pendulum back in the other direction), but that doesn’t mean straight guys know what it’s like to be a gay guy,” Andreu says of his series. “Ignorance can be well-intentioned. The show finds humor in that well-meaning cluelessness.”
(NOTE: The series is not currently closed-captioned or subtitled, but Andreu says he is considering adding those features to STRAY’s episodes in the future.)