The eighth episode of the popular series We Need Girlfriends went live today and since the series is one of our favorite shows here at Tilzy, and we thought it’d be a good time to sit down with some of the creators from the show and find out how they got so funny.
If you’ve never heard of the show, check it out. It’s an Entourage-inspired, somewhat autobiographical all-male Astoria version of The Burg. The three protagonists–Tom, Henry, and Rob–had just graduated from college when the series began. Promptly after graduation, they were dumped. In the same week. Since all of them had been in relationships for years, adjusting to their new single lifestyles seemed like stupid when they could alternately send themselves on a rabid quest to find long-term girlfriends as quickly as possible.
A new episode gets tossed onto the site each month, each one pulling in hundreds of thousands of viewers. And it’s not hard to see why. It’s a funny show. Characters get trapped in all kinds of modern dating problems: MySpace ex-stalking, abnormal parties where people are only allowed to wear blue… bizarre things that anyone in their 20s who lives in an American city has experienced to a certain extent. Funny and realistic. What’s better than that?
So we talked with creators Steven Tsapelas and Brian Amyot, two of the three men behind the show’s production company Ragtag Films, to talk about what they’re doing, how they got here, their popularity and recent signing with United Talent Agency, and what they plan on doing next. (Teaser: In Episode 9 set to release next month, someone gets laid.)
Check out the interview after the jump.
### TILZY: Alright. You guys want to tell me a little bit about Ragtag? And where you all met? And how you came up with this idea?
STEVEN: Oh, Brian will tell you all about how we met.
BRIAN: Steven, Angel, and myself all went to college together at Hofstra University on Long Island and we were all film majors. And we kind of restarted a club there called the Hofstra Filmmakers’ Club. We really become fast friends and bonded together on film sets. We worked on all of each others’ films. We lived together for a while. But when we got out of school, we decided to start our own production company. And we called it Ragtag after one of our student films that we had made. For about the first year and a half or so after we got out of school, we did about six or seven short films and entered them in various festivals. We would play them in different places and, you know, we were lucky enough to win some awards when we did some competitions. And then we decided to look for something new to do—we kind of wanted to take a new direction. So we decided to do a web series, which is kind of a different attempt at something we couldn’t actually afford to do without doing it a little bit differently in short films.
TZ: So which one of you is the lovelorn creator who came up with the idea for “We Need Girlfriends”?
S: It was my idea, but it was based around what was going on in all of our lives at the time. You know, Brian and Angel and I had all been in long-term relationships for a while, most of which spanned all the way through college. And then about a year and a half after we’d been out of college, all of our girlfriends had dumped us. And, like, for the first time in years, we were all simultaneously single. And we were in this social scene that we never really fully understood because we never really had time to develop our romantic skills. It was around that time that Brian and Angel really got into the show “Entourage” and they wanted me to watch it. I thought it was funny, but I couldn’t relate to any of the characters because they were just walking around having like no trouble picking up girls. It was just as easy as could be and for us it was always a struggle. So I just wanted to make a show that was the anti-Entourage. I thought that would be a good pitch. So I pitched it to Brian and Angel and they liked it.
TZ: Yeah. It seems to have worked out well.
B: Yeah. We love watching the series too. When we come up with ideas for it, we’re having as much as the people who enjoy it have when they watch it.
TZ: It seems pretty tight too. I think your film experience definitely shows up in it. I think from the start, it was pretty well-done and put-together and it stayed that way consistently.
S: Thank you.
B: Yeah. When the three of us get together, we, you know, don’t try to pat each other on the back. We look at everything very critically and we’re not afraid to say something to the other person about how this scene should be cut or whatnot. So we really tried to get it tight and to be our best work. We want it to be the best for anyone who wants to see it.
TZ: So I can definitely relate to the stalking-ex-girlfriends-on-MySpace and those types of things. Are most of the situations autobiographical?
S: The characters are all kind of based on us. Each one is a variation on me, Brian, and Angel. That was kind of how it started out. And a few of the stories are a little bit true, I mean, I did go to a blue party—that was true. I did not think it was a sex party, though. It’s based on a lot of our experiences. We have had game nights and we do sexually harass each other a lot on game nights and it’s always very, very awkwardly for everyone else who’s in the room. It’s based on our lives and our experiences. It’s like an amalgamation of the things that we’ve done over the past couple of years.
TZ: Do you guys think that New York provides an especially good backdrop for what you guys are doing?
B: You know, definitely. I definitely think it does. Not that I’ve been all over because I certainly haven’t, but there’s really no place like New York. And I feel like even shooting in New York, even if it’s not something that you’re actually thinking about, I feel like the show takes on this sort of New York attitude that really works well with what we’re doing. We’re talking about the dating scene and meeting people and getting out there, which is something that’s so huge in New York and unlike anywhere else. Even without thinking about it or trying to do it, you pick up the attitude of New York.
S: As for set design and everything—there’s just so much to shoot and so much to shoot around, you know? We don’t even have to set anything up. Everything just looks great. The streets have so much character. It’s just a nice place to shoot. There’s also a lot of businesses that let us shoot there all the time on pretty short notice. It’s a pretty great town.
TZ: You’re in Astoria, right?
TZ: Do you think it would be any different if you were in Brooklyn or any place else?
S: Brooklyn’s a lot more industrial than Astoria. There’s a lot of factories and trailers, at least where we’ve shot in Brooklyn. We’ve shot there a couple times just because—well, there’s an upcoming episode where a character lives in Brooklyn. I mean, we like Astoria, it’s a really great place and a really great neighborhood. I think Brooklyn would be a little bit different. It has a different attitude than Queens.
TZ: Who’s your favorite character to write for?
S: You know, I would probably have to say Henry. Just because Henry is kind of says the things that are always in the back of my mind. He has completely no confidence in himself and we all feel that way sometimes, so it’s good to just express how little confidence he has in himself. Rob’s also very easy to write for. He can say whatever crazy thing that makes sense for his character.
TZ: Are we ever going to meet the girl that Rob “wasn’t dating” for two years?
S: It’s funny because we shot an episode—it was going to be our fourth episode called “Ex-Sex”—where you meet Rob’s girlfriend and you realize that they were still having sex with each other. Unfortunately, we had some technical problems that day. Like our mic was bent and we didn’t even realize it until later that day after we shot it. We did everything that we could, but we lost the sound off it, so we had to lose that episode.
TZ: Is that the piece that’s in your trailer?
S: Yeah, it’s in the trailers. In our first trailer, there’s a girl who’s holding up a condom—that was Rob’s ex-girlfriend. It also has a scene that looks like Henry and Tom were squaring off against Rob and this group of weirdoes. There is also a scene in the opening credits.
TZ: Is this going to be a standalone 10-episode series and then that’s it? Or do you guys plan to continue this once it’s done?
B: Well, what we did was we set a goal to tell a story and hope that people would watch and then we wanted to finish it so we could show it to as many people as we could. What we’ve been lucky about more than we ever thought is that a lot of people are seeing it now, you know, before it’s done. So we’ve gotten a lot of interest and we have ideas on top of ideas on top of ideas to continue this. And we would love to continue it as maybe a season two or maybe develop it for something long-form like a sitcom for television. We’re trying to maybe get some people behind the show only because me, Steven, and Angel fund everything independently and it’s only a matter of time until we can’t afford to keep doing it. If we can get someone behind it, we’re definitely going to keep doing it for as long as we can.
TZ: What are your dayjobs?
B: I work as an equipment room manager at the Art Institute at New York City.
S: I work in reality television. I transcribe dailies. And Angel is an avid techie. He works at an editing posthouse.
TZ: And so this is mostly done in your spare time?
S: Yeah. It’s after work and on weekends and we’re losing a lot of sleep because of it. We don’t have friends anymore, but it’s worth it. It’s all worth it.
B: It’s like our second job. We do it on weekends. We do pretty much all of our shooting on weekends and then we use our own computer to edit it. So we’ll be editing it at night or early in the morning or whenever we can get a couple hours of free time.
TZ: What are some of the other online shows out there that you guys watch?
B: I’ve watched several episodes of The Burg. And it takes place in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and it’s about a couple of Williamsburg hipsters and some other outsiders and their goings-on in Williamsburg. And I’ve watched several episodes of Chad Bater, which is pretty popular online.
S: I like some of the Black20 stuff. I like Net-work. That’s a pretty funny show. We think Smosh is great. I really like this one show that I don’t think is around anymore. It was called Sexual Intercourse American Style.
TZ: That used to be on Channel 102, right?
S: Yeah. Yeah. It was a funny show. They had all of those UCB guys. I thought it was really, really funny.
TZ: So what type of recognition or publicity exposure have you guys seen? Any types of deals in the works? I don’t know if you know, but The Burg signed a deal with Motorola recently. So they’re going to have Motorola product placement in their shows and they might possibly making a few shorts for Motorola mobile content.
B: Good for them. Wow.
TZ: Have you seen anything like that?
S: There have been things going on lately. We’ve been approached by people of late lately, but from different angles. People from advertising, people from production companies, websites… We just returned from a brief trip to Los Angeles. We signed with a talent agency and also with a manager. And we’re working potentially with a few ideas. The main focus for us right now is “We Need Girlfriends” and trying to get back to some of these companies that are interested and trying to develop it as a further online series if we can get some sort of deal with product placement, like what The Burg did, or even develop it for television.
TZ: What talent agency?
TZ: Awesome. Congrats.
S: Thank you very much. The ball is really rolling. So now it’s just going to be us working on perfecting what we want to do, where we see it going, and trying to see if these people who say that they’re interested really are interested. Hopefully, we can work something out.
TZ: Were you guys half-expecting this or did you make it just to make it and then figure out what happens later?
S: It kind of came as a surprise that it happened so early for us. All we wanted to do was make it and then shop it around to see what it could do for us. But, I mean, around the release of episode six, we started to get bigger on YouTube and we couldn’t believe some of the people that were contacting us. It was incredibly exciting for us and it was great to know that people liked it. It’s been very exciting. Very exciting. The positive response has been really great for us because it really validates what we’ve been doing.
TZ: Any funny anecdotes that happened during shooting?
B: This is an interesting thing that happened to us that goes along with people contacting us. And I hear this everyday. I was just talking with one of our actresses today and the show’s getting very popular and our actors and actresses are getting recognized on the subways and on the street and people approach them a lot. And Seth, the actor who plays Henry on the show, is a UCB guy and he does the UCB show and he has some people who showed up at his show because they wanted to meet Henry. So they’re always telling us that they’ve achieved some celebrity status because people are recognizing them.
S: I mean, we love the fans. It’s really what made us who we are—people are sitting down and they’re watching these sort of longer episodes and looking at more character development than most shows have and people have really responded to it and, like, passed it around. It’s great. People watch it and then tell their friends to watch it and it gets bigger and bigger every month.
TZ: I was looking at your YouTube numbers for, I think, last week. You guys have at least 100,000 on most of the episodes and half a million off you. Where did you guys find your actors?
B: From everywhere. We just put out sort of an open casting call online and backstage. Long before we even did “We Need Girlfriends”, we did casting for short films. So we took headshots of all shapes and sizes and we went through those and did some callbacks and auditions and we found Patrick Cohen, who plays Tom, through that and we found Olivia and Richie, who play Sarah and Lucy, and then Seth was someone that we had seen before at UCB and then it turned that we had a mutual friend, so we got connected to him through that. And Rob was the hardest part to cast. We read everyone we could find and we had cast all the other roles and we said to this guy, “Do you know anyone who might be good?” And Patrick had recommended a friend of his who he had gone on a lot of auditions with and he came in and just kind of nailed it. So we cast them and some of the future roles that you haven’t even seen yet. We’ve been using word of mouth and asking our actors to recommend people, so we created this network where we audition people who have auditioned with other people and it’s worked out really great for us. We’ve found some good, talented people.
TZ: Is everyone working for free right now?
B: Yeah. Everyone is working for free. We feed them and then that’s all. That’s all we can do right now.
TZ: Do you think that was difficult to do initially or do you think other shows were popular enough so that actors were willing to do this sort of episodic content for free?
B: It’s a little bit of both. I think everyone liked the opportunity to band together and do something good. Luckily, most of the actors and also the crew works for free and they’re willing to do this because they really like the concept, they like the script, and they’re really willing to do something that’s going to look quality and going to look good on their resume and their reels. So this is something where now we’re past the home stretch and we’ve been working for free for a long time, so it’s staring to wear some people down, I think, but everyone really responds well to it and everyone loves their job.
TZ: Any teasers for the next three episodes?
B: Next episode: someone will get laid. That’s the big teaser. One of the three will have sex with a girl. Finally. In episode nine, not episode eight. July 1. We can’t say who yet.
S: I guess that’s about it.
TZ: I think it’s pretty awesome. I’ve been looking a lot of stuff in the past year developing my site and this is by far some of the best stuff I’ve seen.
B: Wow. Thanks a lot.
S: Hey, thanks!