This September, Love Is Rough!
Let’s face it: Life in the big city can be tough, and it’s even harder when you‘re a sensitive, single guy on the search for a hairy, beary guy to call your own. “BULK” is a new web series set in the Bear community of New York City. The much-anticipated Internet saga follows one character as he looks for love-- sometimes, as the song goes, “in all the wrong places“. Along the way, there’s drama, comedy, a cast of colorful characters, and some unapologetically hot sex. “BULK” will be available to viewers worldwide on the Internet… one of the benefits, you might have deduced, of being a web series. The man behind the groundbreaking new series is Award-winning writer/performer J. Julian Christopher. Raised on Long Island and now living in New York City, Christopher has written and produced the new series and will be playing the main character, Leo Duran. Christopher’s high school friend D.R. Knott has directed about half of the 10 episodes, and is also a Writer and Executive Producer of the series as well. Other episodes were directed by Michael O’Gorman and Merle Augustin.
J. Julian Christopher tells me about his long involvement with the Bear world: “I definitely have been a part of it since I came to New York. Ty‘s, The Dugout (now Rockbar), and The Eagle are the places I was going. I love the Bear community for so many reasons. It’s just like with any family: everyone has their own relationship with it. Sometimes you’re mad at them, but you still love them! This series to be is not necessarily a celebration of the Bear community, but a celebration of people’s lives, and people who I have known who have influenced some of these characters. And it’s nice to give representation to a community that has gotten very little representation. That’s why I am very thankful for ‘Bear City‘, and I am looking forward to ‘Bear City 2‘. It’s great to have all these different images of the Bear community. Many people see gay people as a certain type of person, and they don’t realize that there’s a whole different array. So, I think that representing the Bear community in the media is a great thing to do. Many times I’ve seen queer cinema and theater, and it’s just about ‘being gay‘. We are not really looking to cater to straight audiences. We love straight audiences, of course! (Laughs) But we are not looking to necessarily cater to them, or to introduce our audience members to what the Bear community is. This is FOR the gay and Bear communities, and if other people really get attached to these stories, then that’s great too… but we are not necessarily going to define what anything is for them. These characters are living in their world, and there’s no ‘explanation‘ needed for them.” Fans of will get a chance to get inside the world of J. Julian Christopher’s characters next month. The artist sat with Jed Ryan to talk about “BULK“:
JJC: Yes. We’re excited about it.
JR: Where did the idea for the series come from?
JJC: It came about a while ago. It’s been almost a three year process. It was early 2008. A friend of mine, (D.R. Knott) and I went to high school together. She went to Columbia for film, and I had been playwriting. We wanted to collaborate. She was asking me what story I wanted to tell. I was trying to think about under-represented stories. I mentioned the possibility of examining the bear community, and she automatically said, “Why don’t we do something in regards to the Bear community?” It’s not going to represent the entire Bear community, but rather it’s a story that takes place in that environment. Because, it’s imagery that you don’t usually see. The usual “gay stories” are of people of a certain stereotype, so we wanted to do something that was a little different. So, we thought that putting the story in the backdrop of the bear community would be an interesting way to do it. We got together, wrote the characters, and created a series from it.
JR: So, it’s been about a three year journey then?
JJC: Absolutely. We had it written for a long time, but we had to make sure we funded it correctly so that we could do it the right way… and then get the right actors. We had a bunch of readings before we went into production. We built up a crew… and we started filming in February.
JR: D R Knott, your friend and Director, is a woman… so where does her affinity for the Bear community come from?
JJC: She’s a really good storyteller, and she wanted to tell a really great story. We’ve been friends forever, and she’s been fantastic as far as supporting me and the community. She said, “We don’t really see a lot of this: men who are bigger, and gay, and have real lives with real stories." We are both dramatic writers, so we wanted it more in the vein of drama rather than comedy. There IS humor in it, but it’s definitely more dramatic. Interestingly enough, she was a big proponent of creating the sexual tension in the series. She’s been great, authentic… and just fantastic!
JR: Nice! Now, let‘s talk about the characters…
JJC: Leo Duran (played by myself) is the lead character. This is basically Leo’s story. He is getting over a breakup-- a bad breakup that ended about a year ago. His ex is named Guy. (played by Jim Noonan). He is trying to get over that relationship and trying to get back into the community. He has been kind of a hermit, and hasn‘t really gone out. He goes back to the bar scene, to Ty’s. Ty’s is where we filmed the bar scenes, by the way. They were great to work with. He gets back into the community and meets a guy, and then it’s his journey of getting into a new relationship-- running into his ex and all of that juicy drama that goes along with that.
JR: Now, it’s tempting to say that you might have based Leo a little on yourself. Is Leo based a little bit on yourself, or are any of these characters based upon real-life people you know in general?
JJC: I guess you can say that anything I write is somewhat based upon personal experience, but nothing is straight out of my life. It’s very different from the play I wrote and produced, “Man Boobs” (with Robert Valin, also in the series; and Jeffrey Marx). That was really semi-autobiographical, but this is fiction. But yeah, personal experiences with love and with break-ups and all that stuff: that definitely plays a part.
JR: I wanted to ask how the Bear community has reacted so far… but you wouldn’t know because the series is not out yet!
JJC: (Laughs) No one has seen anything except the trailer. To be quite honest, the series is not specifically “Bear” per se. There are Bear characters, and it does take place in the Bear community… but it’s pretty much just about relationships. It’s just real people, set in the backdrop of the Bear community. The characters in “BULK” are really comfortable with their bodies, some more than others-- like everyone else. They are really comfortable with who they are. They are just living their lives and then the drama unfolds… without revealing too much!
JR: Speaking about “revealing”… is “BULK” going to be, shall we say, “for adults only” in terms of language, sex, nudity, and all that?
JJC: Yes! There’s definitely R-rated language, and there may be some brief nudity here and there, but only tasteful of course (laughs). We wanted to make it a really raw exploration of theses people’s lives: their relationships and sexual prowess.
JR: Cool! The reason I ask is because I know that many artists have to “tone down“ the more risqué aspects of their work, either to secure funding or for other reasons…
JJC: That’s what‘s wonderful about the web. There are not many restrictions based on that… yet! So, we are able to do a little bit more rather than if we were under some blanket of censorship, from a network or something like that. We wanted each episode to be in the vicinity of four to six minutes or something like that, for the short attention spans of internet users! We wanted to keep it really simple. There will be ten episodes. So, yes, it is rather explicit, because we wanted to make it raw and make it as real as possible. The character’s truths are not to be censored. That’s the world that they live in… which is another reason why we picked that avenue of the web.
JR: The idea of watching a series on the web is becoming more and more popular, but for guys like us that grew up “watching TV” only on a TV-- not on a computer-- it’s still something of a revolutionary idea… kind of like the equivalent of getting your news on the web instead of from a newspaper, or reading a book on a Kindle instead of an actual book.
JJC: True! We wanted to use new technology and try to come out at the forefront of all that’s new, and go with it and see what happens. This is where entertainment is going right now, and so we really wanted to do that. It’s easier, with censorship and all that, to go in that vein. It’s still a new avenue to explore.
JR: As a Writer and Producer, who is one of your influences?
JJC: The theater is mostly my background-- so as a Writer, definitely Paddy Chayefsky. He wrote the screenplays for “Marty“ with Ernest Borgnine and “Network” with Faye Dunaway. He also wrote a brilliant play called “The Latent Heterosexual“. Someone like him tells these very interesting, intricate, and personal stories. His writing is very dialogue-based, and he plays with language. He’s definitely one of my all-time biggest influences, for the screen and for the theater. Definitely Paddy Chayefsky. He’d be the one!
JR: As Writer and Producer, as it difficult to be “just“ an Actor in the series without getting tempted to be “behind the camera” as well as in front of it?
JJC: D.R. and I handpicked the directors. I’ve worked with Mike (O’Gorman) many times, and D.R. worked with Merle (Augustin) over and over again, so we knew that we had a similar vision and aesthetic. We talked with them about the aesthetic that we were looking for. We trusted them implicitly. None of the episodes seem like they are done by different directors. They are all very linked; a shared vision, if you will. And, D.R. was always there on the days she wasn‘t directing, to also give input if she felt it was going in a different direction-- so that we could all “keep it together and make it as cohesive as possible.” In the series, I was just able to put on my “Actor Hat” when in front of the camera, rather than my “Producer Hat”. That way I could really do the best acting job as possible .
JJC: Ooh… I don’t know! Maybe John Goodman?!
JR: (Laughs) Well, maybe he’s available! It’s worth asking! How about Kevin Smith?
JJC: Yeah! Or Zach Galifianakis? That‘s like the “dream cast“!
JR: Sounds great! Now, a hard thing for a lot of artists is to balance your creative side with living day to day and having to make money. Do you think that managing that balance is the hardest part of being an independent artist?
JJC: It’s extremely hard. We filmed the series over 13 days, and only on weekends… because we knew that everyone had other jobs that they needed to do. So, with 10 episodes, it was a long shoot. They are short episodes, but since we since we were only doing it on weekends, we went over a few months shooting it. It was very hard to go back and forth between weekends after a long break and say, “OK. Where were we?” It’s always hard to juggle what you want to do with what you can get paid for-- actually, getting paid for what you don’t necessarily want to do! I’m fortunate enough that I teach at a college, and I love teaching. It’s one of my passions. So, I am fortunate enough t o be making money doing something that I love to do, as well as having this independent project that I also love. So, I am fortunate in that regard. But it‘s always a struggle. It‘s always hard working on a budget. A lot of stuff that we wanted to do in our dreams, we have had to scale back on. The best thing about working independently and working on a low budget is that it almost forces you to be more creative. If you have the money to do everything you want to do, it’s already there. With a budget, you have to think, “How can we make this just as good without having to blow our budget on a specific location?” We sometimes had to rewrite the script to make it work and to make it fit into our budget, and then it ended up being great. The Bear community was just so wonderful as far as helping us. Ty‘s was so great for letting us have their space for an entire weekend, from early in the until when they opened in the afternoon. They were so generous in lending us their space! Rockbar let us do a fundraiser there. The Boys of BEAR-lesque performed to raise money too. A lot of people from the community believed in the project and donated to it, and it was really nice to feel accepted and have everyone saying, “Great job!”
JR: Now, one last question: What makes “BULK: The Series” unique?
JJC: Aside from it being on the Web? (Laughs) What I would love people to walk away with is: (1) seeing representations of themselves physically, and (2) identifying with these characters. The show is about the search for love, which we can all identify with. Leo, the main character, is searching for love, and he sometimes makes a few wrong turns. How is he gonna handle that, and then correct that without making the same mistakes?
JR: Well, I for one look forward to finding out too! Thanks, Jules!
J. Julian Christopher concludes with, “We had a lot of fun writing it, and a lot of fun filming it. We hope people have as much of fun watching it. That’s really the ‘BULK’ of it!” Visit www.BulktheSeries.com for more, and follow “BULK” on Facebook at www.facebook.com/pages/BULK-The-Series/116965615020078.