If you’ve ever felt like you have too many feelings, you’ll identify immediately with the protagonist of “the feels,” played by series co-creator Tim Manley. “the feels” showcases moments in the life of Charlie, a bisexual guy with stories and emotions to spare. Season 2 just premiered, with an unconventional release approach, with small vignette episodes released every day for the month of June 2017.
We spoke with Tim, the writer and lead actor, as well as his co-creator Naje Lataillade, who shoots and edits the series, about their process, their new season, and, of course, their feels.
STAREABLE: You met as NYC public school teachers- how soon afterwards did you realize you wanted to work together creatively?
TIM: We were friends for years, and had both left teaching, before we sat down with hot chocolates and decided it could be fun to make something together.
NAJE: We wanted to give ourselves some kind of structured routine by agreeing to meet once a month to do something creative. Tim originally wanted to shoot short videos with iPhones. Then he wrote these long scenes and I brought nice lenses and lighting equipment, and we accidentally made a web series.
Was the transition from coworkers to creative collaborators difficult?
NAJE: Nah, we both really really liked what the other person was already doing — I liked Tim’s writing/illustration/storytelling, and he liked my stills and film work — so we genuinely appreciated what the other brought to the table.
TIM: In most cases, the responsibilities split up naturally based on our skill sets. I have no idea how to use a camera, and I don’t think Naje really enjoys being in front of a camera. Sometimes who’s taking the lead was unclear on set, but we intuitively felt it out.
What is the development and partnership process like when writing and planning the show?
TIM: The first season was much messier. Sometimes Naje would show up on location and it was the first time I’d tell him what we were shooting. Sometimes we’d be brainstorming ideas with the actors on the spot. This was a little too spontaneous, and with the second season we planned more deliberately — with lots of help from our producer, Bonnie Blue Edwards.
NAJE: In most cases — especially in the second season — Tim would come up with an idea. I might provide input on how I feel about the strength of the episode or what elements might make it stronger. Once we decide to move forward with it, then I would pitch a few ideas for how to stage it — setting, location, camera style, etc — and that would start another round of conversation. We also ran a lot of ideas by our creative consultant, Esther de Rothschild.
Where did this moment-by-moment structure for the show come from?
TIM: Initially it was just a practical choice. We wanted to shoot things that were actually achievable. That meant favoring small moments over big narrative arcs. Single takes over complex edits. Still camera over moving shots.
NAJE: After shooting about eight episodes, I pitched to Tim the idea of making enough to release one a day, every day, for a month. He thought that was insane at first. But there was a Passover rental special at Adorama, so we were able to get a ten-day rental for the price of two days. We shot twenty-three episodes in that time, and there was our first season.
How many of the vignettes are true, or are any of them totally nonfiction?
TIM: The core of everything feels very true to me. The stories I tell are from my life, but characters may be combined, or the events adjusted to better fit the show. Inevitably, the real-life people and experiences are more complex and layered than I’d be able to get across. I wouldn’t know how to begin to communicate my love and appreciation for the actual people in my life.
Was there a particular pattern you wanted to make with the themes of each episode or were the topics and ordering completely random?
NAJE: We were interested in making something non-narrative, but we knew it still needed structure.
TIM: In this season, about half the episodes fit a loose arc. We determined after shooting where might be the best spots for the rest of the episodes, tonally, timewise, and maybe narratively. As far as themes, there’s no set of rules. I gravitate toward thoughts or experiences I’m not sure anyone else has had or would find interesting, as they might actually be things many of us have felt but never said.
Do you have a favorite episode or episodes? Or a favorite type of episode to film?
NAJE: My favorites episode is probably “Chandelier” from Season 1 or “Sunshine” from Season 2. There is something so beautiful and raw and powerful about the way those very real scenes play out. I feel like these scenes truly captured the essence of the people in them. That said, my favorite types of episodes are the brief, subtle, slightly awkward ones, like “Consensus” from Season 1 or “White” from Season 2. The kinds where there are so many layers going on underneath the sparse dialogue and action, that it’s easy to miss but great to catch.
TIM: The ones with my family in them make me happy. I think “Liminal,” in Season 2, is one of the best examples of what we’re trying to do. “Subway,” “Shadowboxing,” “Vision,” and “Responsibility” all make me cry.
What were the challenges of making this show?
NAJE: The biggest challenge for me came with our episodes being so short: making sure we struck the right balance of saying enough in that time to give value to an audience, without feeling like we were cramming too much in, all while maintaining the tone and spirit of the series. We had an intense debate over one word of dialogue that lasted a few weeks. Working in such a short space, and without the benefit of a running narrative to fill in gaps in prior or future episodes, it was critical that we extracted everything we needed from each moment in each episode.
You had a successful Kickstarter for your first season — can you talk about that process and what you think led to that success? Any advice for other creators?
TIM: I think the best advice is to imagine yourself on the receiving end of that request to donate to a project. What are projects you’ve actually supported, and why? When have you not supported one? It’s a lot to ask someone not only for their time but for their money. What is a way that you’d like to be asked, and what might actually get you to say yes?
What, if anything, changed between Seasons 1 and 2, from the writing, the actual production, to all the other aspects of making and distributing the series?
NAJE: We didn’t go into Season 1 planning to make a web series, so there were so many things we didn’t anticipate that we tried to better plan for in Season 2. Most importantly, we brought on a producer to organize everything. Bonnie provided structure, benchmark goals, pro crew, amazing production opportunities through her contacts. She was a total game changer.
Are you planning on making additional seasons? What are your goals for them?
NAJE: Right now we’re just trying to expand our audience so that whoever might benefit from the show can have access to it.
TIM: I have a secret dream to do twelve seasons over the course of our entire lives.
What are some of your favorite web series?
TIM: The first web series I ever followed closely was Issa Rae’s The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl. I really loved F to 7th. The Outs. Brown Girls. And I’m very excited about Gente-Fied and 195 Lewis.
NAJE: High Maintenance was a fave. The disjointed storylines really appealed to us. Period Piece is great. I also liked The Slope. And a series I used to really dig back in the early day of YouTube was Chad Vader: Day Shift Manager, which featured Darth Vader’s less successful brother Chad, who ran a supermarket and often clashed with his customers.