Aspiring actresses Kelly Colburn (@KellyColburn) and Kaela Mei-Shing Garvin (@KaeMeiShing) are burning up the internet right now with season one of their webseries “2 Girls | 1 Asian”, a semi-autobiographical dramedy following the romantic and professional trials of best friends and roommates, Caela and Kelliye as they navigate the “social muck of being ‘ethnically ambiguous’ in the arts”. Both Colburn and Garvin, along with their semi-eponymous alteregos, are biracial and Asian American.
Indeed, 2 Girls | 1 Asian has set their sights to the stars, and in so doing are pushing the boundaries of how the internet is advancing progressive independent media. They write:
2 Girls | 1 Asian is devoted to diversity, gender equality, and tackling topics that aren’t readily addressed in mainstream entertainment today. Our series passes the Bechdel test, presents characters outside of Asian-American stereotypes, and features young independent artists of all races, backgrounds and disciplines–including the musicians whose songs we showcase weekly on our soundtrack.
Between the series’ dedicated focus to elevating the stories of Asian American women (the show passes the Bechdel test in spades) and exploring biracial identity, the show is nothing if not courageous. Colburn and Garvin are pushing boundaries artistically as well as politically: the two have tackled all the steps from script to screen, and one recent episode was even an all-musical episode.
Recently, I had a chance to interview Colburn and Garvin about their 2 Girls | 1 Asian project. Check it out after the jump.
If you could describe yourself and/or your series’ character with only three words, what would those words be?
Kaela: Kelly’s character Kelliye is rational, reticent and realistic. My character, Caela, is dumb, entitled and charming (?)
Kelly: Really? I would say Kelliye is a little more reserved, logical, and maybe judgmental. Caela is opinionated, glib, but truthful.
You both have such a wonderful chemistry with each other on the series. How did you two meet and how long have you known each other?
Kaela: Thanks, Jenn! We met our first year at NYU (six years ago! ahhh!). We were both studying drama and had classes together and mutual friends, but when we started collaborating on projects later in college, we realized our friendship was meant to be.
Kelly: The moment I think really solidified our friendship was when we sang “A Boy Like That” in an acting class – I was Anita, Kaela was Maria. The first time around our acting teacher (Theresa McCarthy) made us stop because it was so terrible – we kept laughing, we were embarrassed, under-rehearsed. But she told us to really take time to get in character and take it seriously. So we did… and sobbed throughout the whole thing. I’m terrible at harmonies and when we got to the final one I just remember singing the wrong notes, sobbing, and shaking my head at Kaela thinking, “God, I’m sorry.” And she just smiled back at me half-laughing, half-smiling and it was the first time I felt taken care of as an actor by a fellow actor in a scene.
For me, the series is very reminiscent of HBO’s “Girls” – in terms of tone, pacing, and subject matter. Was this an inspiration for the series, and are there other shows that you draw inspiration from?
Kaela: Yes, we love “Girls!” We are also obsessed with “The Mindy Project”– Mindy Kaling is our hero, and I love her love for my other hero, Nora Ephron. We love shows that are filled with smart ladies– “Scandal” is great, and I think we’re both pretty obsessed with Shonda Rhimes in general. We also love the CW network (a lot of our off time during shooting was spent watching the latest season of America’s Next Top Model, which was actually really good). “Glee” and “Smash” were major inspirations for our musical episode.
Kelly: We binge watch those shows on repeat so the comparison is really flattering! Shows like GIRLS inspired us to do this series. We didn’t see ourselves (young, empowered, hotmess.com, aspiring, ethnic women in the arts) portrayed on TV so we decided to make it ourselves. We only just discovered Broad City after we were filming but I would say that’s definitely an inspiration for next season! Those girls are hilarious and brash in all the right ways. I want a little more Broad City inspired material next season.
“Girls” is semi-autobiographical. How auto-biographical do you think your series is, and what’s it like to explore and share tough subjects (e.g. break-ups) through the show?
Kaela: The most autobiographical episode is probably episode 2: “What Are You?”, when Caela and Kelliye get hit on by guys who are preoccupied with finding out what race they are. That episode practically wrote itself– it’s based on a night we had in real life. Our characters’ break ups, though, were very loosely rooted in personal experiences, then super heightened for comedic effect. That’s something that we worked on throughout the series– finding experiences that were inherently interesting, then looking at them through our characters’ point of view.
Kelly: The series is based on our lives, for sure, but as with anything artistic you have to make changes that will help you reach a wider audience and make the story work. I would say it’s more inspired by our friendship and the events in our lives than totally auto-biographical. It’s definitely been fun to pull out the elements in our selves as people, in our friendship, and in our shared experiences as hapa women in the arts and put it out there to the world. It’s also scary and challenging because we’re not trying to make these girls completely likable – we’re just trying to pave the way for the media to start casting more ethnically ambiguous people in lead roles. We’re capable of it, we’re American too. That’s fucking terrifying – trying to pave the way and basically telling the world, “We deserve this!” And we do, because we’ve worked hard for it – but waiting around for someone to notice gives me anxiety.
The series seems to be at least loosely based on your lives as aspiring actors. The first episode addresses a little bit the challenges that you appear to face as aspiring actors of colour. Talk a little bit about those challenges?
Kaela: Both of us went into NYU, where we met, as aspiring actors, and soon realized our talents and dreams lie more on the other side of the casting table. Kelly is a phenomenal director and creator, and I love writing, so we’ve not as of yet pursued our acting careers in a professional setting. There’s a phenomenon in the performing arts (whether it’s theater, TV, or movies) that “the norm,” the “most relatable” characters are white. If a part doesn’t explicitly call for a person of color, it will almost always be cast as white. Sometimes it’s cast as white regardless, like the recent production of The Mikado which got a lot of flak. The numbers for actors of color in theater and on film are pretty abysmal right now. That’s partly why we created this series–producers aren’t taking chances on casting nonwhite actors, so we thought we’d create opportunities ourselves.
Kelly: Both Kaela and I have since begun to pursue other ventures in our non-2G1A life. I’m a director, designer, and stage manager in the theater and Kaela is a writer and costume designer which quite honestly are a little more “color-blind” in terms of nabbing jobs. They want people who will do the job and do it well – they don’t care what you look like. We’re behind the scenes making the whole mechanism work. However, when I was an actor, I definitely felt like my looks worked as a disadvantage to me – Kaela and I have talked extensively about this in interviews and with each other. I could play a myriad of roles that were ethnic but could never be the lead because they couldn’t find people who could play my family or the people who were paying wouldn’t relate to someone “like me”. Being on stage, or on screen, there’s a look and a vision they see and if you don’t fit it you don’t get it. It’s sad, but it’s true. It gets you down and you either find something else to do or keep actively fighting it. Luckily, Kaela and I are able to do both! We pursue our own creative ventures and are still challenging the industry in our free time.
Each of the episodes features other characters, such as the trio of actresses in the first episode, and the recurring character of your bar manager / boss. One of the later episodes involves guest appearances by your characters’ cousins. Did you initially plan to have the series focus on a large or rotating cast of characters, or did that happen over time? Can we expect to see these characters again?
Kaela: Our large cast was something that came about after a few rounds of writing. We’d LOVE to bring back as many of the characters as possible for season two!
Kelly: We always knew that we wanted to show not just the friendship but put it in a greater context. Who are these girls in comparison to the “Mean Girls” (the 3 actresses)? Who are these girls with their ethnically ambiguous bar manager? Who are these girls with their cousins? Who are these girls with their boyfriends? It rounds the characters out and gives them a bit more complexity (even for a comedic webseries). For instance, in our 5th episode, the girls attend an “Asian Party” and in their attempt to embrace their roots end up making fools of themselves. Without the Cousins, you wouldn’t see just how ridiculous the two of them are – you only see it from the girls’ point of view. Also, all these people we worked with were friends or friends of friends and they are all ridiculously talented human beings. We wrote these characters for them and they bring a tremendous life and dimensionality that we couldn’t find anywhere else or from anyone else. We want them on every season! We want to see them change from episode to episode. Static characters are boring. See Glee for example: there was a macho football player who loved to bully Kurt because he was gay – turns out that football player was gay and had a lot of pent up aggression because he couldn’t be himself.
Can you chat a little bit about the process of making the series? How does the writing, shooting, editing process go for you? How long does it take to make each episode? Has it been what you expected?
Kaela: We came up with the idea for the series about a year and a half ago. We started writing in April or May of last year, and spent a lot of last summer drafting and re-drafting the scripts, driving around in Kelly’s car and picking up McDonald’s. We started our crowdfunding campaign via Indiegogo last August (a whole year ago!) and were fully funded by September, when we began shooting. We shot the first season all the way through December– there were so many roadblocks! At our very first shoot, our lights we bought off Amazon hadn’t come in yet, so our director Dorian Carli-Jones and director of photography Tyler Byrnes had to wing it. Tyler even said on multiple occasions, “This is the worst possible situation.” But we pulled through and wrapped the series just as the first snows of the year were coming. It’s definitely been more work than I would’ve thought, but totally worth it.
Kelly: I don’t think any of us (Dorian, Tyler, Kaela, or I) knew what a massive feat we had undertaken. We initially planned on releasing in January but had to keep pushing back because we essentially shot a short film. The boys had to go through all the footage, it took us a long time to get the Pilot “I Enjoy Being A Girl” just right, and in the end we settled on June 5th as a release date. So even after we had finished shooting in December, it took another 5 months to get everything together because it’s not just shooting and editing, there’s sound mixing, voice over, seeing a cut, giving notes, seeing more cuts, color correction, etc. Definitely not the journey we expected but we are ridiculously pleased with the product.
What do you hope to viewers will take away from watching your webseries?
Kaela: I hope they can get sucked in to having a good time, then realize by episode 5 or 6 that they are thinking about deeper issues. Cheesily, I hope they take away a lot of love. Our whole series is a major labor of love, and content-wise, it revolves around the love Caela and Kelliye find within their friendship.
Kelly: Aside from all the racial stuff – value your friends. They are the closest thing to family you have.
Any spoilers you want to leak for fans of the show?
Kaela: Expect shenanigans, hopefully some more great supporting characters, and maybe another musical episode in Season Two!
Kelly: For Season Two? Broad City but with Asians.
Take a minute to check out 2 Girls | 1 Asian to watch episodes, or on Facebook or Twitter to stay abreast with updates! To get yourself started, here is the trailer and episode 1; you can catch the rest through this link!