By Brandy Black, The Next Family
I caught up with Faith Soloway, one of the writers of Amazon’s Transparent, a beautifully written, directed, and acted show on Amazon TV. It follows a quirky Los Angeles family as they learn that their father, played by Jeffrey Tambor, is transgender. Jill Soloway (Faith’s sister) is the creator and director of the show. I caught up with Faith, at home in Boston, on Googlechat.
Brandy: Tell me about your collaboration with Jill. How did working together on Transparent come about?
Faith: Well it’s a personal story, based on our family; that’s number one. I’m the root of that family, a part of that family. Jill and I treasure our creative working relationship, which we really hadn’t had in a good 20 years. There have been little things here and there –our theater stuff, that’s really when we discovered the joy of our collaboration. We did the Real Live Brady Bunch, and a lot of fun things in Chicago, and that took us to LA and New York, which was really the first time we came together and worked on something big. So I was really jones-ing for something this whole time, and I’d been watching Jill rise in LA …yet at the same time, knowing I’m not a television writer –that’s Jill’s thing. We were always sharing notes in our different projects. When she won Best Director at Sundance in 2013, I remember watching her and the feeling I had when she won. This was a huge moment for her and she was going to be able to do what she wants. Jill and I had been dealing with our parent coming out the year before and we had been talking about doing a comedy/musical/documentary together about dealing with it, being children of a trans parent, that was supposed to be our collaboration. We were dealing with it and then she won at Sundance and I told her, “You need to do this. You need to write the pilot about our experience.” And she said “I’ve done it.” I told her that if this happened, I wanted to write with her. It went way quicker than either of us thought.
Brandy: How quick of a turnaround was it between the time you said, “You should do this” and it getting picked up?
Faith: Amazon said yes pretty quickly, and was the only studio that wanted to do it right away, without development. That’s why Jill went with Amazon. The feeling she got from them was we’re going to give you your voice, your freedom. That’s why it happened so quickly. She took the pilot to different places and Amazon wanted to do this now and Jill was smart about it. I even suggested waiting for HBO, but HBO wanted to develop it and she knew that it could take years. She wrote it about a month after she won the award. She was moved on it and THEY moved on it. And then I literally had to move, to Los Angeles, to write for the show. I left everything that I was doing here in Boston. It was very challenging…but it was amazing.
Brandy: How long did you stay here and did you bring your 12-year-old?
Faith: It was 10 weeks. Amazon gave us five episodes to write, 10 weeks of work. All I knew was that we were taking it a little at a time. I didn’t know once it was green lit what that actually meant. So I just kept dealing with the project as little bites. It was hard because I couldn’t do this with my daughter. Jill was great and it worked out that I could get whole weekends with Betsy. I ended up traveling back and forth to Boston about twice a month. She was in school, in 6th grade. She’s more with Harley, my ex-partner, in the custody arrangement. She came out to visit me on the set. And now she’s really happy I’m doing this. Before, it was a lot harder than it is now. Now she has a reference of how this is working in her life. It was a combination of one of the most amazing things and one of the hardest.
Brandy: Did you let her watch it?
Faith: No way! She can watch pieces of it. I could go episode through episode and she might be able to watch one fully from beginning to end, but it’s just tricky with the subject matter, the language, and the sex.
(Speaking of that, I asked her if she thinks Amazon allowed her to delve deeper into the subject matter. Here’s a video clip of what she had to say …)
Brandy: Is there any one particular character you like to write for?
Faith: I thought going in that I wanted to write Sarah –being a lesbian, being a parent, falling in love with another woman. I thought that would be my voice. But you quickly learn that you become everybody. Jill works her magic so that all the writers are all of the characters. You kind of fool yourself that you can’t write for a certain character and you kind of prove yourself wrong over and over and you write all of them. We improvised all of them too, some of us have acting experience and we would throw ourselves into different characters and improvise the scenes.
Brandy: It feels that way. The writing is a stand-out in the show, and so is the casting. How did you guys go through the casting process?
Faith: Well Jill took care of the pilot, that was all her and Amazon. I was so crazy for Judith Light when she told me all the different actors she was considering. “God you got to get this out for Judith, go to her; see if you like her!” Once Jeffrey Tambor signed on, and Judith Light…it was great to have them at the head. She found Jay [Duplass] and Amy [Landecker] just through scouting.
Brandy: How did you guys engage the transgender community and how important was that for you guys?
Faith: From the beginning Jill reached out to the transgender community. She wrote the pilot and she made the phone calls. It was her and the transgender community, as represented by Rhys [Ernst] and Zackary [Drucker], who were our main consultants and main producers. And that went down to everything, to our workspaces having gender-neutral bathrooms to our language. It was very educating to the writers for sure. We also engaged Jenny Boylan, who has written several books on her experiences. She’s an amazing activist for the transgender community.
Brandy: What’s the response been from the community and from your parent?
Faith: My parent loves it and has visited the set, and, as my sister likes to say, was treated like a “QueenG” (Queen with hard G sound, Queen + King). I think it’s great for my parent to see what this is doing to the television landscape and what this is doing to society, or what kind of movement this could potentially make. Transgender individuals or my own friends who are transgender or just transitioning have written to tell me how this is for them. That’s amazing and that’s what you want to hear. We didn’t do it with that causality, but knew it could have that strength.
Brandy: You guys have been picked up for another season! Congratulations! Have you already started working on that?
Faith: We have a teeny writers’ retreat that happens in December. Jill’s actually in the process of hiring another writer who is a trans woman, which is important. We had our trans producers working with us in the writers’ room, but to actually have a trans writer is important. We have writers who are gender queer –there are different stops along the trans experience– but it was important to Jill to have the full understanding when writing Maura (Jeffrey Tambor’s character).
Brandy: Any idea of when it’s coming out?
Faith: We start writing in January, but because of actors’ schedules, it’s probably going to come out around the same time as first season did, maybe a little earlier. The shooting schedule is going to be relatively the same, so probably around September.
Brandy: I know you have a history of being improvisational and putting together songs. Do you feel up to doing that for us?
Faith: What should it be about, Brandy?
Brandy: Hmmm…it could be about family, that’s our hot topic.
Faith: It’s gonna be a Capella and sound like a children’s song:
(This would have been better on video but due to poor delay quality you will get the transcribed version.)
“Family, Family, come along on a ride with me, Transparent is what you’ll be, if you look at your family, cause we’re constantly transitioning every day, today I feel like my man power, tomorrow I might feel more feminine, family should embrace within, FAMILY!”
Brandy: Do you have anything more you’d like to tell us?
Faith: I don’t. I think what you have going on with the Internet and embracing families –trans/lesbian/gay/queer– I think is just amazing because that’s where it’s going. I am very humbled and proud to be a part of this for you guys as well. It goes hand-in-hand.
Photos courtesy of Faith Soloway and Amazon TV.