Now Entering Anytown, USA: Brave Actors Only!


(Darek Kowal) #1

Hi! I’m Darek Kowal, creator of the comedy/horror web series ANYTOWN, USA! My show tells the story of an every-day, All-American, modern family … of cannibals, living in suburbia and dealing with rude neighbors the best way they can … by eating them. Our first 10 episode season is available at www.anytownusaseries.com1 and season 2 is currently filming! Besides Anytown, I’ve been a professional writer for over 10 years, received a B.A. from Columbia College Chicago, and have written feature scripts for several independent production companies, including the producers of ABC’s Castle.

I’ll be doing a regular posting here at Stareable, in hopes of sharing my experiences with the filming of season 2 & any other thoughts and observations I can make about media and the creative process.

Today we’re talking about casting issues, and how far a creator should go to accommodate an actor. Let’s get started!

When I talk about actors, I use terms like ‘brave’ and ‘fearless’ a lot. I’m referring to their willingness to take on roles/material that many would find ‘challenging’ or ‘risqué’.

Case in point: Finding an actor to play a character who shoots paint out of his butt. Not an easy task! But, low and behold, Brock Ward emerged and gave the world the character ‘Poocasso’ (Season 1 Episode 4).

But, if I’m being honest, Brock wasn’t originally cast as Poocasso. I’d offered the role to another actor who was, at first, “very excited” to join the show.

Then, he read the script.

It’s funny how quickly “very excited” can change into “unfortunately passing” due to the polite but obviously fake excuse of “scheduling conflicts”.

The issue came up again for our eighth episode ‘Part One’. This time, the problem was a moral conundrum. The episode points out the inherent fascism of trigger warnings, and the guest actor for the episode disagreed with the stance. Of course, they didn’t say that was the reason. They again used “scheduling conflicts” as an excuse, only to later comment on the video and let their true feelings out.

In both cases, I had run into actors intimidated by challenging material and, in both cases, persisted until I found brave actors who nailed the roles in ways the others never could.

And here we are again.

I’ve had another actor turn down a role because of the material.

But here’s the twist:

The actor e-mailed me and asked if I would change the script, using their ideas to “tell the story in a different way”.

And here’s where I almost lost my mind.

For the sake of masochism, I read through the laundry list of suggestions he’d written down, each one removing another fang until the scenes were utterly toothless.

And the more I read, the more I fumed. I’ve written all 10 episodes of Anytown. I’ve directed/produced all 10 episodes of Anytown. I’ve spent the last 3 years thinking about my stories, the characters, the themes, and the trajectory of the series.

And a stranger was telling me how to run my show to better suit THEIR sensibilities.


But more importantly, I’ve chosen this topic because this is a creator community, filled with people using any and all resources available to tell stories that are important to them, and I wanted to ask a question:

Would any of you change your material at an actor’s request?

Spoiler Alert on my position: No. Chance. In. Hell.

I took a moment, gathered my thoughts, and calmly responded to the actor as follows:

Thanks [name redacted], I would never do that to accommodate any actor, it’s basically letting someone hold my show hostage.

And I truly believe that. The greatest benefit to YouTube is that I’m my own boss. I don’t answer to anybody when it comes to the stories I want to tell. I’d never let anyone take that away, and I’d never compromise a story or a message I believe in to cast a certain actor.

And neither should anyone else.

As young creators, we don’t have the credentials that more established names carry. We don’t have their success or their clout. Therefore, we will be challenged. We will be questioned. We will not be given the benefit of the doubt or just the respect an established writer/director and their material would receive. It comes with the territory of a saturated market of ‘artists’.

Here’s my plea. Don’t compromise because you’re desperate to cast someone. Stick to your convictions! Tell the story you want to tell! No matter how perfect an actor may seem, there is always another option.

(That’s two articles in a row where I’ve discussed/championed the ‘replacability’ ((not a word)) of actors, so I’ll take this opportunity to acknowledge how much I love my cast! )

(I just had an actor quit on my … oh, come on!)

(Jane) #2

What’s inherently fascist about trigger warnings? There’s a good video about what trigger warnings ACTUALLY are versus what people use them for:

Now I’m not on board with everything Laci Green has ever said/done but I think this video is a really good way to look at the concept.

I’ll watch your episode before saying anything else though- maybe we agree! :slight_smile:

(Darek Kowal) #3

Trying to control the way people think and speak is 100% fascism. Episode is linked below:

(Jane) #4

For the record, I don’t agree with that character’s petition in your episode- yeah that’s a little silly. But that’s also… not what freedom of speech means? If I’m understanding correctly, aside from him saying people can’t say certain words (I agree- that’s insane), saying “heads up- conversations gonna get a little intense today, talking about torture and [insert horrifying thing here]” isn’t controlling the way he talks- it’s just adding an introduction? Trigger/content warnings, when used correctly, aren’t meant to stop conversations. They’re meant to inform them. It’s not “leave the room if you’re uncomfortable” (although if someone has a mental illness or severe PTSD, they should be free to head home for the day and learn the material somehow else), it’s “be prepared- we’re talking about gnarly shit today, and I don’t want to blindside you. Now, on with the gnarly shit”

(Darek Kowal) #5

And that’s where I disagree. My stance (and the stance the character I play makes) is that:

The world is never going to slow down and make sure everyone has their safety glasses on before discussing adult issues. The world doesn’t take the time to make sure everyone has their seat belts on.

And college is meant to prepare people FOR THE REAL WORLD. And in that real world, people are going to say things you don’t like without warning. It’s vital to be able to function in that world and trigger warnings stifle that.

And as far as freedom of speech, training a person to preface their thoughts and opinions with somebody else’s prepared “introduction” is the definition of thought control. You’re training a person to think the way YOU prefer they think/speak. (YOU meaning the trigger warning advocate, not you personally)

(Jane) #6

But trigger warnings aren’t meant to be a part of every day conversation. Obviously we can’t all go around saying “trigger warning” before we say “fuck,” but that’s also not what I was saying. There are very specific instances where trigger warnings are meant to be used, and most of them (if not all) are specifically put in place for people with diagnosed PTSD. That’s not just for veterans, it’s also for survivors of other kinds of trauma and assault. It’s not people who think rape is scary not wanting to hear the word rape- it’s for people who were raped and want a heads up for if an academic or entertainment scenario is going to bring up their past trauma. Some may choose to leave said scenario, because of their afore-mentioned diagnosed PTSD, but others may choose to stay, now that they know they won’t have the topic sprung on them. It’s about being sensitive to people with trauma disorders, not about being PC.

(Darek Kowal) #7

I understand what you’re saying, but that’s clearly not the situation we’re talking about in the episode. We are talking about college campuses/real world situations, not support groups.

(Jane) #8

I’m also not talking about support groups. You can be sensitive to people with PTSD anywhere. Unless the kind of free speech you practice is wandering around explaining in detail what happened to Holocaust victims in internment camps in your every day life, most concentrated conversations or depictions about things that would hurt a person with PTSD occur in school or on screen. And saying “heads up we’re talking about X” or “heads up this movie has a graphic rape scene” does not change the content of that talk or rape scene. It’s just letting people know it’s happening. That’s not controlling free speech. That’s not making people change how they talk about stuff. It’s just letting people know they’re talking about that stuff.

(Jane) #9

Again, for the record, the situation in the episode is not what I’m defending at all. That kid is using trigger warnings patently wrong. But I also think using that character as a straw man to find all versions of trigger warnings “fascist” is in itself oversensitive.

(Darek Kowal) #10

You’re kind of proving my point … We’re discussing a piece of art and art doesn’t come with a warning. Telling someone “Hey heads up!” robs a work of its ability to surprise or, god forbid, make someone uncomfortable.

Art is meant to make people uncomfortable. Art isn’t meant to be safe.

(Jane) #11

Trust me, a graphic rape scene will still be graphic and surprising and uncomfortable if I know it’s somewhere in the movie.

Also, if you’re calling a person with PTSD’s traumatic reaction to a discussion or depiction of a trauma “discomfort,” you’re missing the point. Trigger warnings aren’t for people with sensitive stomachs. They’re for people with diagnosable trauma disorders.

My point is that you can have surprising and uncomfortable art all you want, and you don’t need to change the art itself. But I genuinely do not understand how adding a line in the video description (not for your show- your promotional material kind of acts as a trigger warning for people who are uncomfortable with gore haha) or saying before a lecture “we’re talking about this, this, and this” today is impeding on your freedom of speech. Your speech remains the same. You say edgy shit and talk about uncomfortable topics. Other people just know ahead of time so if they don’t want to engage, they don’t have to. No one owes it to you to watch something or listen to something that will make them uncomfortable, and that’s ok and also does not affect you at all.

(Darek Kowal) #12

If you don’t understand how telling someone what to say before they’re allowed to say what they actually want to say is censoring their free speech, then there’s nothing I can say that will get you to see my point.

I’ll add this: Altering speech because someone is offended is a slippery slope. Give an inch on one issue and, eventually, EVERYTHING will be off limits … because someone will always be offended by something.

(Jane) #13

You understand I’m not talking about offensive material, right? I’m talking about people with a trauma disorder? Being offended isn’t a diagnosable disorder.

(Jane) #14

Also, anyone imposing trigger warnings on someone who doesn’t want them is doing it wrong. You don’t have to use trigger warnings before something that has a decent chance of being seen or heard by somebody who has gone through something traumatic that might have a panic attack as a result of the thing you’ve made. But I’m still allowed, in my free speech bubble, to think you not wanting to give potentially PTSD audience members or students a heads up makes you a jerk. (not you, specifically- again, your promotional material speaks for itself and is sort of a trigger warning without being called that, so I would know going into your show what to expect. That’s all I’m saying.)

(Hailey Buck) #15

I think there is a difference between bravery and doing anything that comes your way even if betrays your values. I think it took a different type of bravery for that actor to stand up for what he believed in even though it could have hurt his career.

(Darek Kowal) #16

Considering the scene was 2 characters w/ differing opinions and the character he was going to be playing AGREED w/ his own opinion … I don’t think it came down to morals. I think it was more that the material hit too close to home for this particular actor.

Also, we were not debating the pros and cons of slavery for crying out loud. We were discussing trigger warnings, which in this episode were being used in a way that a lot of people use them: as a tool of privileged bubble children who don’t want to experience the real world because their delicate sensibilities might be offended.

(Bri Castellini) #17

Hey all- I can see this topic is starting to border on controversial in a bad way, so for the moment I’m going to turn off comments. If you’d all like to continue the debate, perhaps we’ll do a Teach Me Tuesday or talk to Snobby Robot about making it a #Webserieschat topic sometime, but for now, I think let’s leave it where it is. You can contact me directly if a trigger/content warning debate and discussion is something you’re interested in.

(Bri Castellini) #18