A week ago, David Benjamin Tomlinson unleashed his latest project into the YouTube-osphere. The 10-part web series — The Writers’ Block — is punchy, clever and perfectly dosed. The three central characters, stuck in a tiny bland office, must follow through on an accidental, drunken TV series pitch. Hilarity ensues.
Xtra picks the brain of Tomlinson, the writer/co-producer, about the inspiration and execution of writing about not writing.
Xtra: The Writers’ Block was just released after what I can imagine was quite a bit of development. How much of this is based on real experiences?
David Benjamin Tomlinson: The idea for The Writers’ Block came out of a discussion I was having with my good friend Matt Watts in spring 2013. We were talking on the phone and feeling frustrated, and we wanted to do something, to make something happen for ourselves, something that didn’t depend on network approval or funding, a project we could pull off on our own. We started spitballing, and TWB was born.
It was inspired by our personal and professional experiences. Matt and I tend to have very amusing conversations, so a lot of our natural back-and-forth informed our relationship in the show. It was written over that spring and rewritten over the summer, and we shot the series in November 2013. The feeling in the room was incredible. We laughed a lot, and it felt like we were capturing something really special. Since that time, it’s been a challenging process of editing, setbacks, delays — you know, the things that make you stronger. Our director and editor, Steven Burley, has spent more hours than I can bring myself to count working on the series in his spare time. He’s a miracle man.
The chemistry among the cast is electric. Were you all friends before the shoot, or did you meet on set?
We have all known each other for years, so that brought a real sense of history and camaraderie to the shoot. We love each other and we crack each other up. But don’t get me wrong: there was no time for fucking around or goofing off. We shot the 10 episodes in four days. It was terrifying. We shot Episode 2 in 20 minutes at the very end of the shoot as the clock ticked down. There was always the pressure of having more to do, and you can see it in the outtakes, when we all fall apart and crack up. When the serious laughter fits start, everyone muscles through it as quickly as possible, because if we took our time, we would lose an episode. It certainly lent the energy of pressure to the shoot, which was helpful. Everyone is so great in the show, and I think we all had moments during the shoot: “Oh my God, the other two are so funny, so good, and I am sucking right now.” It wasn’t competition, it was just . . . trying to keep up with the Joneses.
I felt a little intimidated working with Aurora and Matt, because they have a lot more show experience than I do. I was terrified of being the weak link. As it turns out, I think we all had the same fear; Matt and I had a great moment in the car after the second day of shooting. He was like, “You and Aurora are so good in the show; I feel like I suck,” and I was like, “I feel like you and Aurora are amazing and I suck!” We had a great laugh, and it relieved some of the pressure.
I love how queer David is in TWB. Why was it important to have David’s gayness so prominently featured and so flippantly and hilariously addressed?
I’ve always been open about my sexuality, and it’s represented in my work in a number of different ways. I don’t know that I feel like David’s sexuality is prominently featured. He’s someone who is very comfortable with himself and who he is and talks openly about that. He’s shameless, for sure, and he’s in a room with people who accept him completely. It’s amazing the freedom that comes with that acceptance. He talks about everything. David is not a sidebar or a joke; he’s a professional, accomplished homo out in the world getting stuff done. He’s outspoken and he’s a little caustic.
He’s like — well, essentially, he’s a version of me who gets laid more often. I’ve seen enough best gay friends and stylists and waiter characters on TV, and I have auditioned for more than my fair share of all of them. A lot of those roles are empty, and it’s hugely important to me to write meaningful gay characters, because my world is full of them. It’s equally important to show the relationship between this strong gay character and these strong straight characters, because that’s the real world. We work alongside each other; we have to interact with each other.
What was your favourite moment in the series? In the shooting of the series?
My favourite moment is really hard to pin down. I’m going to pick an Aurora or Matt moment because it’s more difficult to find yourself hilarious. Aurora’s moment at the very end of Episode 6 is golden. Matt cracks me up every time I hear him mutter cinnamon in Episode 10. My absolute favourite moment — I think maybe Episode 5 as a moment is my favourite. It’s the first time we really get under the characters’ skin, when they break open for the first time. We get a sense of who they are and where they have been and the battles they are fighting. It was the first episode that really clicked in the editing process and was the guidepost for the rest. There is something really funny and moving about that episode, so I’d pick that.
What’s next? Does Somerset Isle make it to TV?
It’s interesting to think about doing more. A second series has already been roughed out. I think I can reveal that Somerset Isle goes into production. So there’s more going on the second time around. They’re in a nicer room; the problems and challenges are bigger. It would be great to do more and get paid for it. I mean, that’s the thing, isn’t it? It was created, written, shot and edited on a $0 budget. It was exhausting and an uphill battle, and that’s not a bad thing. It was a huge learning experience, and I’m incredibly proud for having gone through it. Getting a producer, getting some money and support — that’s the dream, I suppose. Given the strength of the first season, I feel like, “We did this, now help us make more.” People love the show. People are responding to the characters, and it touches on a lot of discussions that are being had right now about our television industry and the role of women. I love that Aurora is the character in charge on the show; she’s an extremely capable woman who acts from a place of confidence and savvy. Aurora took my breath away during filming. She fully committed. I sat there watching her work thinking, She is one of the most underrated actresses in the city.