Jay: Here we are with Jill Soloway, my boss my mentor my friend.
I wanted to start by asking you how this whole thing started? I think it started with you and Faith, your sister.
Jill: Which whole thing, you mean my gender queer sassy clown look?
Jay: That’s right! This whole thing this whole getup.
Jill: What exactly do you mean?
Jay: I guess the entertainment bizz, the bizz of entertaining people with you stories and your magic.
Jill: My magica.
Jay: Casting spells!
Jill: Casting spells.
Jay: Casting spells!
Jill: Well I think that would be my sister Faith’s responsibility. She and I hung out on the floor of our living room entertaining each other, listening to Jesus Christ Superstar. Also Hair and Fiddler on the Roof. Putting on records, dancing, and singing. My sisters an amazing pianist, so we would make up songs and just create little entertaining musicals to make each other laugh. In our neighborhood in South Commons in Chicago we had a musical theater company in the neighborhood that was like of the trinity church down the street. My parents were part of the musical theater company, the whole neighborhood was part of it so we put on Gilbert and Solomon plays like once a year, there was a different play each year. Like Carousel and Pirates and my mom produced. My Moppa formerly known as my dad, my current transparent – that’s a lot of things to say! Was often the lead, like playing the macatto for example in the macatto.
Jill: Yeah, and I met somebody recently who was there at the time and they were like “Your mother was a FIRE STORM of energy! She could do so much!” I was like oh I got it from her. My mom Elaine Soloway in Chicago she was just producing her ass off, making her programs and she ran a newsletter in the neighborhood, and making advertisements. Just promoting the hell out of things, so that’s where I think I get my P.T. Barnum, I come by my PT Barnum naturally. That was amazing ya know we performed together and then at the same time my sister and I would gather the neighborhood children and put on plays within the quadrangle of our sort of, it was a develop in South Commons it was built in the late sixties as an attempt to integrate people. We were all believing that the civil rights movement was going to change the world and there were townhouses and low rises, apartment buildings and it was connected to Michael Reese hospital and Mercy Hospital. My parent was a psychiatrist at the hospital. So everybody was kind of living and everybody was mixing and we put on these plays my sister and I. In the courtyard and that was great, one of my big memories we put on was Wizard of Oz and there was a neighbor I think her name was Mrs. Rickabeanie, and she wouldn’t pay the five cents. She would watch it from her front porch for free! Wasn’t gonna pay!
Jay: That sounds like my people!
Jill: I can see it from here for free no I will not give you children five cents for a production of The Wizard of Oz. I will not do that! So we had a love of theater and a love of show and opening night. We would order pizza afterwards at the cast party and that was just our childhood. That was like zero to ten.
Jay: Where they good?
Jill: The plays?
Jill: I think they were great, I mean Faith and I were producing them!
Jay; Yeah I bet they were great.
Jill: I wish that those days we would have recorded things like that, but I think it was really fun.
Jay: Did you do theater in high school?
Jill: I didn’t do theater in high school. So high school I think I sort of went undercover and sort of went into the business of being adorable. I stopped being an artist and I was like I’m gonna be cute girl for the next fifteen years. And that kept me very busy! It really did! It was my main thing, and that’s what I spend a lot of time thinking about.
Jay: How was that show, was that good?
Jill: It was great! That’s amazing because you know, what you do when you’re in that business is you try to have access to famous men with your cute girlness. We did a lot of that, we stalked rockstars we stood outside of hotels and I met The Cars and Cheptrick and Van Halen. We stalked rockstars!
Jay: Oh my god!
Jill: We had a method, because there was no Internet. So I would open a record and look on the back, see who was the tour manager, get their name. I would call like the five hotels in Chicago where somebody famous might stay. The White Hall, The Ritz-Carlton, The Drake. I would ask for the tour manager’s room, and if they put me through we would hang up and then head down to the hotel!
Jay: That’s how you het shit done!
Jill: That worked! We brought everybody, and nothing bad ever happened nothing untoward with David Lee Roth although he did sign his name on my arm. And said when your name asks you what that means you tell her sex and drugs. I was like okay! I think I was twelve. Then we graduated from rock stars to actors, we began stalking people like Christopher Atkins, Matt Dillon, Brooke Shields. All of who were in town to make movies like Taps. There was a burgeoning, are you from Chicago? You remember this feeling right? The movies were coming! Johnny Hughes was there and they were making movies in the suburbs and ordinary people and you felt in my teenage years, like I could get in on this! I was doing the cute girl way.
Jay: Yeah, like hanging out in the corner.
Jill: I was an extra sometimes. Yeah! I remember we were trying to meet Matt Dillon I think and we were in the laundry room of a hotel and there was another kid there who was very attractive. We said to him are you in Taps, he said yes I have a very small part. I said well can I get your autograph and your phone number just in case one day you’re famous! He said sure and he wrote it down and it was Tom Cruise.
Jill: I had Tom Cruise’s phone number for like the first three years of him fame.
Jay: Did you call?
Jay: Never called!
Jill: Yeah. So that was sort of what I was thinking about those days. Was how to meet those people, don’t know why. Why did I wanna meet Brooke Shields? I don’t know but I did.
Jay: You know whatever you crushed it! You crushed it.
Jill: Yeah we did it. We got all that done!
Jay: Okay and what about college?
Jill: So I went to Madison and I was involved in the cute girl pursuit for the first three years. I had a very traumatic experience surrounding sorority rush and being a little sis at Sigma Alpha Epsilon. It was all awful. Greek system guys they did not like Jill Soloway, it did not go well. But like I had seen all these movies like you see Porkies, and fun means I have to put on a red sweater and get black out drunk at a football game. This is what we’re taught, from watching television and movies. So I did that for the first three years. Tried to be cute, tried to make guys like me and all that stuff. Then I somehow discovered the film department. In my senior year finally I met the artists. There was a guy named JJ Murphy and he was a professor in the film school there. He had a program that was like a film class where we all made a film together. There was maybe 15 or 20 of us, everyone got a different role, someone would write the script someone would be the ad someone would be the producer, all that shit. To compete for whose script we were gonna make we all wrote scripts and I actually wrote one about me and Faith. But I lost, and it was some other dudes script and I had to be the AD.
Jay: Oh! You went from like the highest to the lowest.
Jill: It was fine I didn’t think to even be mad or protest at that point, because I wasn’t really aware of how hard it was for women to find their voice. I’ve since gone back and told JJ Murphy that he crushed my dreams and my voice very early on.
Jay: What did he say?
Jill: He gave me very negative feedback about everything I made, and I really wanted to impress him. He kind of yeah knocked the wind out of my sails creatively for sure for years. You just assume if your professor is telling you there’s a problem with your work that you’re bad. I don’t think white cis men realize how much shame women people of color and queer people have to get over to simply even write to simply even say I am. I am the subject not the object. There’s such an enormous amount of shame when you remove yourself from the position of object. If anyone says to you this sucks you kind of believe it. That happened a lot of the next ten or fifteen years. I would get excited about something that somebody wouldn’t think it was great so I wouldn’t pursue it. Working as part of a group and seeing what it was like on a film set, at Madison it was amazing. I loved it we had so much fun, the movie was called ring of fire. I think I have it on YouTube it was beautiful and you know we got a bunch of people. I was like getting the punk rock kids in Madison to be extras in the movie scene. It was really fun, I think I had that feeling of what it means to put on a show. It was again that feeling of the neighborhood, like okay this is what it’s like to get a group of 15 20 people together and just go yes lets have fun. I came out of Madison thinking I wanted to go into advertising and I was working as a producer on commercials at an advertisement agency. Enjoying it but then really getting interested in the crew, we would go to shoot commercials and I would just talk to all the people who were on the crew and think okay these are my people. I want to be on the crew. I became a production assistant, and I was great at that.
Jay: Oh yeah I’m sure.
Jill: I would get up at four in the morning and go get the tomatoes and slice them for the bagels and the cream cheese and the lox. I was great at getting PA work, I made a business card then I got the creative directory and I sent it to every single person in the directory. It was a really cute business card, then I would call each person and say hey my name is Jill Soloway, I just sent you my business card and I’m interested in being a PA. I’m in the neighborhood would you mind if I stopped by so you can connect the name with a face.
Jay: That’s how you get a job guys! That is how you get jobs!
Jill: I did that about a hundred times, three people said yes. I started working as a PA, loving it. I met on one of the shoots a guy named Jerry Blumenthal, not the late Jerry Blumenthal, he was one of the founding members of documentary production company in Chicago called Kartemquin and they were in the middle of making a documentary called Hoop Dreams. I was like I wanna come work on Hoop Dreams, he brought me over there. I worked in documentary for a couple years with the most amazing prolific people. They had the same feeling of that home feeling like everybody’s working. There’s bagels in the kitchen, there’s coffee and we’re all making art together and life is fun. I started thinking about making my own documentary, strangely I attempted, here’s what I mean by I had ideas and then I didn’t get good feedback so I would just give them up. I was working at Kartmequin I recently found this proposal that I wrote and I was 21 years old, it was a documentary called She Wants It, it was about consent and desire. Now she wants I think is probably gonna be the name of my memoir, but I was thinking about the exact same things. I wrote up a whole thing trying to get money to make a documentary about desire, and consent and wrote to some of like my heroes. Nobody wrote back, I wasn’t involved in the world of documentaries so I didn’t get the grant. I was like, oh I just thought my proposal sucked. I didn’t think I need to meet different people or reframe my ideas or figure out who is funding documentaries I just turned that rejection into you know a plan to try something different. I don’t know what it is, the rejections I think when you don’t have any faith in yourself you just take them. Like okay I suck this is what I always thought, it’s fine. I suck. I don’t have to try anymore. So then I was thinking okay I don’t wanna make a documentary I guess that documentary is not gonna work, what else do I want to make a documentary about? The answer was what do I care about? Besides consent and desire. The answer was the Brady Bunch. I wanted to make a doc about the Brady Bunch. I was obsessed with this question of meeting Eve Plum and I wanted to ask her what is it like to be Jan. How do people treat you is it weird for people to think you’re Jan? I wanted to interview all of the Bradys a lot about fame. About how it felt to be that person to so many people. Faith and I were obsessed with the Brady Bunch. We would play a game every night as fell asleep where one of us would say the first line of the episode, and the other one had to name the episode.
Jill: We just knew every episode detail.
Jay: Oh my god.
Jill: Around this time, I was living in Chicago with a bunch of great actresses and my best friend Becky was just perfecting her Jan Brady imitation to entertain me and Faith. One day she was like, I don’t know if you guys remember the episode where Jan thought she won an essay contest but then she didn’t and Jan said I didn’t win! Nora Koos did. My essay on Americanism you know how I thought that I won the essay on Americanism. I didn’t win Nora Koos did. Does anyone remember this? Some people. Faith and I were cracking up so hard. We were like, we have to make the Brady Bunch a play. We went to the thrift store and bought a bunch of seventies clothes. I listened to the Brady Bunch and I had headphones on a tape recorder where you would press the buttons. I transcribed a Brady Brunch episode, and we got like ten of our friends together. The girls the boys, Alice, Mike and Carol. Carol was played by Jane Lynch.
Jay: I saw that.
Jill: Mike was Andy Richter.
Jay: I saw that!
Jill: Melanie Hutsul ended up being Jan. Becky became Marsha. An amazing comedian named Susan Messing was Cindy. A comedian named Mary Weiss was Alice, a guy named Pat Town who is in the I Love Dick pilot played Greg. We’re still all friends. Ben Zec played Peter and a guy named Tom Booker played Bobby. We just literally out the episode up as theater onstage in Chicago. At the Annoyance Theater in Chicago, and it fucking took off it was craziness.
Jay: You can see this episode on YouTube I saw it. The episode is straight dialogue and it plays like a raunchy comedy. There are more laughs in this than like the original premier of Dumb and Dumber. It is obscene.
Jill: it’s obscene it’s absurd.
Jay: People are like losing their minds and their bowels in the audience. So you should definitely watch.
Jill: It was sort of like this where we had couches and we had pillows in the front, so people were really cozy. We had chairs, couches and pillows. It was in Chicago at the Annoyance Theater. We tried it for one week, then the second week I was taking a taxi to the theater and I was like oh shit there’s something going on there but be like a fire. The streets are like filled with people I wonder what’s going on I hope people can get to our show. I hope our audience is able to get to the show. We get out of the taxi and there is a line around the block of like three of four hundred people to get into like a little tiny space like this size. We were just like, what the fuck? We went on the roof of the Annoyance Theater and we just looked. So then the next week we made it two shows, and then we felt really bad about the line cause it was chaos who was going to get in. We put the tickets on sale at about noon on that Tuesday. We did it on Tuesday nights, two shows. At 12:00 noon, hundreds of people would be lining around the block and like people were sending their assistants to get tickets it was insane! Because of my PT Barnum esque genetic legacy, I alerted the press. Made a few phone calls, called somebody at the Sun Times. Called somebody at Chicago Magazine and then stuff started happening we started getting “incoming” as Donald Trump calls it. Suddenly we were in People magazine we were everywhere, all the famous people were coming. Each week was like Madonna is in the audience tonight, Tom Hanks is in the audience tonight. It was just like that feeling of holy shit every body is coming and we have something. I was 25, so that was kind of an addictive thing. It was me and Faith, Faith was on piano I was on the laugh track. I was operating the laugh track.
Jay: That’s so perfect!
Jill: Had so much fun. I was overdoing the laugh track, horrible joke? Play the laugh track really loud! Really long! Way too long. Like a full minute for a joke that’s not a joke, then we would get the laugh. It was so fun.
Jay: Did you travel with that show?
Jill: So then what happened? Yeah more producers came, Ron Delsner who is a producer in New York and he hired Jeffrey Seller, who’s now producing Hamilton, to put on a touring show of it. We toured. We started in Rhode Island, New York and LA. And everywhere! Australia. All over.
Jay: What’s interesting to me is I was thinking a lot about that, that beginning. Just there are also interviews of you walking in the street.
Jill: Oh of me and Faith. And I had my dreadlocks made with wood glue.
Jay: You wanted it so bad!
Jill: I was like putting wood glue in my hair.
Jay: That expedited dreadlocks I tried that.
Jill: It’s just not where you cannot expedite it. They will not be expedited.
Jay: Oh no no, they will not be. They will come in their own time.
Jill: Yes if they will come at all.
Jay: But I was thinking about how that was really, I guess like a comedic lampoon of like family representation. Lovingly! Lovingly but a definite comedic lampoon. I was thinking it’s very much you saying, is this how we’re saying families are? I was thinking, you know we talk about the word family all the time on set on Transparent. I was just thinking Transparent feels like this is the real deal. Almost like you came full circle like no this is what a family is, so personal to you. I’m just kind of curious what that through line is for you in terms of families, family representation, obviously all the individuals in the family. Specifically elevating female perspective but just that family concept is pretty powerful. When I was watching the real-life Brady Bunchy there was weirdly some things in common to what we do. The style is totally different, but I’m kind of curious what you’re feelings are about that.
Jill: I think the thing that’s cool about a family or any kind of group process is that it has that circle where every body is vibing off some central idea of what is fun and every body is playing in a group. There isn’t that feeling of hierarchy, you know on certain shows or in certain plays it’s like the person who is supposedly the most important person. Whether that’s the director or an actor then everybody tries to sort of stay in line and make sure that person is happy. So a family and the Pfeffermans and the yes and feeling of a theater like the Annoyance where did the show, that feeling in college of all of us making a film together, it’s a kind of leaderless feeling. Everybody is sort of vibing around goodness, and goodness meaning productivity, great process, respecting the process the product will follow that you just respect the process and you have a lot of respect for coming with love and sharing and having an openness, that you can’t make mistakes. Then I think it was taking that, those dreams about the Brady Bunch and family, and I think over the next maybe 10 or 20 years between that and now there were shows like Eight Is Enough, Family, All in the Family, even shows like Thirty Something where I think tonally like Jason Katims and tonally I was sort of dreaming about a kind of world a kind of show that I wanted to make. Just kind of a homey show, a show that feels homey that you want to be in.
Jay: I think it’s fascinating the sort of long build of potential energy that you carried for so long without the approval that you at that time you felt you needed. Everything including the show of Transparent, but for your own personal life was explosive at that point but I don’t want to jump to that just yet. I guess I want to get to, did the Real-Life Brady bunch lead to anything?
Jill: Yeah, well we also sort of created a play that was running I think on Saturday nights called the Miss Vagina Pageant. I think the Miss Vagina Pageant is to the Brady Bunch as I Love Dick is to Transparent. It’s this kind of receptacle for all of the fury that accrued, the fury and the confidence that accrued from the success. Like okay now we’re gonna take this tension and go BLERRGHH! The Miss Vagina Pageant was amazing and it had Becky Thayer and Melanie Hustle and Beth Cahill and Susan Messing and Kate Flannery. It was a parody of beauty pageants, it had little video segments where we took the Miss Vagina contestants around Chicago on the tourist trip Meghan in a boat. Becky was just reminding me that we took the Miss Vagina Contestants to Grant Park where they came up a slain woman. It was like those videos, a woman dead on the ground.
Jay: Did they give speeches over the body?
Jill: So at the end they give speeches and when they come out to give their speech a giant photograph of their Bush is projected behind them. So it’s like Miss Tennessee how do you think you’d like to change the world? Well my thoughts on changing the world… and then a picture of her vagina would come up behind her. The thing that we did, because who wants to really show the world what their vagina looks like, is somebody is raising her hand like that. We all took pictures of our vaginas, we took anonymous bush photos and we mixed them up so nobody knew whose is whose. We put ours in there too. It was kind of a revolving every night, you could be giving your speech in front of anybody’s pussy. You might be giving your how to change the world speech in front of your own pussy but nobody knows except for you. So it worked! The show was a huge success, then there was that thing. Where some people from SNL came and Robert Smigel came and Bob Odenkirk and they were like this show is great, and then a week later Lauren Michaels is coming. It became a real pageant. Then the next week two limos pulled up in front of the theater and it was Lauren Michaels and also Quincy Jones who’s just coming for fun. Just like hanging out with Lauren, Lauren’s like you wanna go to this thing with me? Quincy’s like alright if I have my own car. So they came in and they hired three women right off the show right for SNL.
Was it three or two? It was two. It was Beth and Melanie, but it was weird because it was a pageant and it was suddenly who’s gonna win? Two people won. Then that was around the same time the Brady Bunch was going on tour and we were in the Annoyance and it became just a dreadful political split of who was going to New York and who loved the Brady Bunch and who thought that the Brady Bunch wasn’t actual art because we were just doing TV shows. Who was gonna stay behind in Chicago and do the real art. Who were the assholes who were gonna go to New York with the Brady Bunch cause it was fake art. It was forty people and we split. I think as a group we came to this place where it was just too big. Half the people left and followed me and Faith, half the people stayed behind and followed McNaype who I still love but at the time it was like you had to pick McNaype or Jill Soloway. It was, friendships ended. It took us to New York we did the Real-Life Brady Bunch at the village gate. We did crazy things like put 17 people in one apartment at some point for living conditions. What happened from there? We did a sketch show for MTV called Head Cheese that no one has ever seen but it has Andy Richter in it and it’s really fun and dark and sad. It was happening at the same time The State was happening and they were like The State, not these people, not Head Cheese. The State. And off The State went to have their huge career and Head Cheese just went bleeggghhh.
Jay: Were you always earning money or were you doing side jobs too?
Jill: Yeah we were just kind of hustling you know whatever!
Jay: Living cheap.
Jill: Yeah what else would we do, we would sometimes go be guests on talk shows for money. Like I was on Jenny Jones for one hundred dollars, do you remember that? When you could be on Jenny Jones for one hundred dollars?
Jay: What did you do?
Jill: You make up a whole thing, you make up a story a personality or something.
Jay: Who were you?
Jill: I can’t remember I need to find that. We just hustled, ya know? However you’re gonna make a couple hundred bucks. My fucking rent back in LA was like 425 dollars a month. So yeah you gotta come up with just four of those hundreds.
Jay: Then you can do whatever you want!
Jill: Yeah! Then you can do whatever you want. All you need is four of them. A month! That was easy! Then I got pregnant, with you my wonderful son Isaac who is here. I think I was like, I got to stop fucking around, gotta get Jewish real quick and make some money. Gonna be a mom I wrote a spec script strangely of the Larry Sanders show and it was about Hank Kingsley.
Jay: Wow, that’s amazing!
Jill: Isn’t that crazy?
He was the lead in my spec script and it was about Hank Kingsley doing a multi-level marketing thing and selling lotion. Just trying to get everybody to buy his thing, so I was writing for Jeffrey Tambor and there was the first thing I wrote. So crazy. I got hired on The Steve Harvey Show that was my first TV job.
Jay: That was here in LA?
Jill: Yeah I was back here in LA at this point.
Jay: So how close is this to Six Feet Under?
Jill: This is maybe five years out from Six Feet Under.
Jay: What kind of writing did you do before Six Feet Under?
Jill: Again terrified, sure that my voice was awful. Maybe writing in my journal, writing like in high school writing to entertain my friends. But never really believing that I had a professional path for my writing. Wanting to believe but again every time something bad would happen I would just assume that was the truth and not keep pushing. Not even bad would happen, people wouldn’t write back. Which people don’t do, like I don’t write back all the time to people. It’s only because I get, people will send me somewhere around 50 emails a week where people are pitching me ideas. I don’t have time to write back to everybody sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t. But I had written a movie and I remember I printed up 20 copies of screenplay and I put them in envelops, I sent one to Ben Stiller! I just like got peoples addresses and sent them out and nobody wrote back. But why would they? To me I was like, oh my movie must suck! Because nobody has responded, I must be a horrible writer. I bet Ben Stiller read it and was embarrassed. And didn’t know how to tell me. I met him once he came to the Brady Bunch. You take those rejections and you just pile them on yourselves as shame confirmations, I just kept doing that. Isn’t that sad?
Jay: It’s super sad. It’s scary to think you almost didn’t climb out of that.
Jill: I know, I somehow was still believing I had something to offer.
Jay: So how did Six Feet Under happen? Jill was a writer on Six Feet Under.
Jill: From Steve Harvey show I was in sitcom land for a couple of years. I worked on a show called Oblongs, the Nikki Cox Show, I was sort of in those half hour rooms learning what it means to pitch jokes during a live show all that fun. I was for sure the only woman in the room or one of few women in the room, but it was always really fun. I loved it. I never had any issues with feeling bad at that time about the lack of representation of female voices. I was just enjoying being in the writers room. When I was working on Nikki it was like so tack way. You guys remember Nikki Cox was a female wrestler? Nobody. Bruce Helford, this was his Miss Vagina pageant after Drew Carey. We were just kind of sad, great writers! It was Scott Buck who ended up working on Dexter and Ben Wexler, just a bunch of great writers were all working on Nikki, and Ron Zimmerman. We were all in Helford land and we just decided to put on a show. Oh no I think I created a show called Box, I have not been afraid of the scatological box. It was an all woman show and it was women reading monologues. It was on the Comedy Central stage, and then two weeks later we did another one. It was monologues and people reading stories about their lives, fiction or nonfiction. I wrote something for Becky to read called Courteney Cox’s Asshole. Becky was Marsha and it’s about reclaiming your creativity by thinking about that you want to pimp your friends into doing. What would be the stupidest thing I could get my friend to say on stage? I will sit in the audience and watch her. With that notion I wrote this monologue called Courteney Cox’s Asshole where Becky was Courteney Cox’s personal assistant. It was about how hard that was. There was asshole bleaching involved, not that she had to do it but that there was a rumor about Courteney Cox having bleached her anus and it was this assistant’s job to quash the rumors. I wrote it to be like, what can I make Becky say knowing that the very last line of the monologue would be “and I realized I am Courteney Cox’s asshole”. You guys it was a huge success! It’s that essay that got me the job on Six Feet Under. So I do want to just say that I never was satisfied. I didn’t believe in myself, but I always was willing to put myself in the uncomfortable place of risk. I don’t have that fear that nobody will show. I have the feeling of if I’m just having fun and there is nobody in the audience but me and I’m watching Becky say this monologue on stage it will be very sad but it will still be very funny. You have to have that whimsical feeling of, Becky is my best friend we will remember this night forever if nobody shows. It’s that kind of feeling of surfing on possibility, on whimsy. Somebody heard her do that, my agent used that as a writing sample, Alan Ball read it. I got on Six Feet Under from that. It was great. I was frustrated; I was working on bad sitcoms. I was writing this thing for my own personal delight. Thinking what is the thing that I want to see?
Jay: What season was it that you got brought in on?
Jill: I was hired for the second season. I didn’t know what it was because it wasn’t out yet. Scott Buck was also hired, because he was part of like I guess people had to come to see. We changed we went from Box, then we called it Blow then we called it Sit and Spin, it was any gender. Sit and Spin is still going on actually, every other Thursday at the Comedy Central stage people are reading monologues and it’s amazing. Some of the best comedy writers in town go and there’s a real feeling of community around finding your voice. It’s like standup but you have your paper in front of you, you can read the thing that you wrote without the feeling of what did I forget. It’s a great place for people finding their voice. I guess Alan Ball maybe heard about it and came, so I went to meet him. It was like, have you heard of American Beauty? Yes! The director of American Beauty has a TV show about a funeral home. Cool! He would like to meet you. Great! They’re gonna send you over the first season to watch, it hasn’t aired yet but you can watch it so you can be ready for the meeting. That was ten VHS tapes in a day, sat on my floor in front of the TV and popped in the first one. I saw it before the world saw it, and I think I was just crying by the end of the first or second episode. I was like this is gonna be my job to write for these people. I couldn’t believe that I was gonna get to write on this show, I was just sobbing. I mean I guess they called me and told me that I got the job and then I watched it. That’s what happened. I just felt a major life beat change. It was the first time I was gonna get paid to do something that I had a huge amount of respect for. I had been getting paid to write but it was on shows that I wasn’t proud of.
Jay: So you knew, when you saw it that this show was a huge hit?
Jay: What was that show like culturally? Was that a change for you? What was the room like and what was the process of making the show?
Jill: The room was great! It’s the same process we do on Transparent and Dick where it’s just fun. It’s really reducing the anxiety nobody is in trouble, you sit in a room, you put the white board up and you just enjoy each others company. Talk about the characters by sharing what’s happening in your real life. Those stories end up in the characters stories. It really is like if you protect the process the product is pretty great. If the process has integrity, which for me is we’re gonna have fun and I’m going to protect the having fun part I’m going to protect the part where everybody feels like they can be free to take risk and the product will take care of itself. I’m just trying to, my job if I’m directing or producing or show running I’m just trying to keep the fire going underneath the hot air balloon so it will rise. That’s what Alan Ball did. The center of the room were the Fishers, he was so sweet he was never like no Claire wouldn’t do that. He was never like this is my show! No, that’s not the show. He just was like oh! And open, and wow and yes and how about that? He taught me that feeling of allowing the conversation to flow naturally. Really low impact work; we started at ten we left at four. Total respect, if you ever said to him I have a dentist appointment he’d be like this is just a fucking TV show go to the dentist. It was so chill, it was Kate Robin, Bruce Eric Kaplan, Scott Buck, Craig Wright, me, Rick Cleveland, Kara DiPaolo. Fantastic writers, yeah we had the time of our lives. We laughed our asses off and had a room of jokes, laughed till we cried, people fell in love and got married and broke up and went through deaths. It was beautiful, the gold standard of TV writers room experience.
Jay: Did you have a feeling when you hit that point where you thought to yourself, this is a new plane now? Did you decide like I’m in higher energy and I’m going to stay here?
Jill: My first episode was in season two and it was called Back To the garden. I started to realize how writing was creating a reality you wanted to live in. So I wrote the episode where Claire went to visit her aunt in Topanga. I created that whole world of the sister and Topanga and that world for her. It was like Claire has a relationship with a boy in a treehouse, and I was walking around Sunset Gower like they’re building the treehouse! I saw people building the treehouse, it was really happening they’re building the world. We went out to the land and the people were there, I was like oh my god this is the funnest thing in the world. You write things you want to experience, then one hundred people make it for you! Then you go and you watch the actors do the thing that you wrote! It’s the best. It’s the most amazing thing. That’s what I’m always reminding people, it’s privilege. The reason that white cis guys who have had control of this business for years don’t give it up is because it’s the fucking funnest thing in the world. You write reality, people build it, you have feelings about people and you create fake versions of them, you cast people that you have crushes on! You tell them what to do.
Jay: yeah, and then they have to do it!
Jill: Then they have to do it! It’s the best job. On I Love Dick and directing that scene with Kathryn Hahn and Kevin Bacon and she gets her period. You come up with jokes from your life. I remember that scene, I had this joke in my head that I wanted to use my whole life which is when a really tender man thinks a woman is beautiful and he wants to tell her gently that she has very beautiful breasts, but sometimes the word breasts just keeps going. The man is trying to be sweet but he’s finding himself going breastsss. You get a funny idea, you give it to Kevin Bacon, he says it. It’s the best job!
Jay: You’ve been waiting twenty years to put that little moment into Kevin Bacon’s mouth. He has to do it!
Jill: He has to do it, and he kills it, Kathryn laughs her head off and I laugh my head off. We have to be careful not to ruin the take it’s so fun! It wasn’t quite that yet with Six Feet Under, I was really enjoying seeing my words come to life. The night that I turned in the script, this is I think a big turning point, I had my assignment it was called Back To the Garden. We broke the script to the room, it involved a Jewish funeral, so it was a whole Jewish thing. I turned in my script, my first draft. Alan Ball wrote me an email the next morning that said something like “fucking incredible”. Like that, just two words. I became a hundred times better writer in that moment because somebody said I was great. So from there on I was like, I’m great! I felt so much more comfortable writing, I didn’t’ hate myself. Even now I’m struggling with I have an idea. The first thought I have is it’s the wrong idea it’s a bad idea. I still have that all the time. I’m still struggling with how to get that first thought, like if I’m editing right now, if I’m watching a cut and I’m watching a scene and I want to shape it. I think okay another beat before Josh says this line, I have the thought another beat here then I have the thought don’t say it it’s a stupid thought. Then I have to go past that and go, can you put another beat in here right before Josh? My brain still tells me I don’t know what I’m doing and I suck all the time. Still. It’s crazy. So I’m having to do a work around that. I think because, this is going to sound crazy, but because Alan Ball is gay and he was my first gay boss I wasn’t using my cute girl thing I wasn’t flirting or in love with my boss. All those bad shows that I worked on I was also maybe having an affair with somebody at work. I just kept it interesting you guys cause it’s boring! This was the first time where somebody was telling me I was great and it wasn’t because he was trying to sleep with me.
Jay: You knew for a fact.
Jill: I knew that Alan Ball did not want to have sex with me. Yes. It really gave me a lot of confidence, then one of the things I started to do on that show was we would rehearse and then the crew would light it. I would go sit with the actors, with Rachel Griffiths and Peter Kraus and I would be like let’s figure out the beats. I was looking for the beats even then, because I would want to get rid of lines that were unnecessary. They would do it a few times to get it up on it’s feet, they would start to move around and I would be able to see these lines are nonsense they need to go. I started to see that purpose of what it meant to work with the actors to find the beats in a scene, which is my favorite thing to do. I will be selling my master class in beats blocking at the LAX Hilton.
Jay: I’ll be there. I will be there! You should be there. Jill is the least precious writer-director that I’ve ever been around. She’s brilliant, you’re all here, you know but you would be so surprised to know how un-precious she is about her dialogue. What she is precious about are beats, and these are the moments where things chance in scenes, which is a whole other master class.
Jill: Beat changes are where plot and story high five. That’s what I figured out; you just kind of are constantly doing that in a scene.
Jay: One thing I wanted to ask you about, this is the stuff that I really wanna ask. I wanna do this whole history thing.
Jill: Are you guys getting bored yet?
Jay: We’re gonna show our vaginas later so we’re gonna spice it up.
Jill: The vagina slides are coming!
Jay: They’re coming!
Jill: Jay and I will both show our vaginas and you’ll have to guess who is who. I think it’s vulvas actually it was our vulvas. Or not our vulvas guys it was our pubic mound. It wasn’t our vaginas. We weren’t, you guys get the idea right?
Jay: The mound. There was nothing under!
Jill: No it was nothing under it was very frontal.
Jay: Frontal! In terms of your process one thing that you were talking about which relates to this bigger idea that I brought up earlier about this enormous potential energy that you carried with you. In terms of really breaking and releasing, I guess what it is that you uniquely have, the most you thing. I sense in you, in working with you, you have an enormous patience. You have a patience for allowing, I’m sure you guys can even feel it talking to Jill. She has a patience for allowing ideas to arrive in their own time. It is insanely rare. It is, I don’t think I’ve ever felt that as strongly as with you. It puts everyone at ease; it puts the writers at ease, the actors at ease. Because when we get there it’s one thing to say anything can happen and that is wonderful and we are free to do what we want to do. But there is an energy in you which transmits the feeling that it’s going to happen. We don’t know what it is. When I here of how hard it is for you to trust your instincts even in that split second..
Jill: My instinct is good about that I’m good at the like creating space for everybody. I don’t have any fear about going it’s gonna happen we know it’s gonna happen. It’s gonna get silly, we’re gonna have fun. My instincts are about my own personal it’s more about when I’m shaping something small or my own voice. My art gathering that I don’t have any insecurity about. I have a strange lack of insecurity about that. I’ll throw a party or put on a show and make a flyer before I have any idea what the show is going to be. Faith has that too where we just love to make the flyer before the shows here. It’s so fun. Like six weeks out, make the flyer, promote it and then start writing. You get the brand first. That part I don’t have insecurity about for some reason.
Jill: I don’t know I think that might be just like my strange, I could be on the spectrum a little bit? I don’t have that kind of fear. There’s like a sort of social disease where people are too nice. Have you heard of that?
Jay: Everyone has it!
Jill: Yeah, I do have a strange belief in the larger things somehow. It’s a totally different thing; it’s a totally different muscle. The belief that like a party can happen or an event could happen and it’s gonna be fine and fun I got. The part where I’m trying to connect to my own ideas and voice that is constantly assaulted.
Jay: You do also have the commitment to do the work, whatever it may be. Whether it’s slicing tomatoes, or you will slice tomatoes if literally if the family cause our family on television we’re a mess as people and as the characters. We have become the family and we’re like hard to manage. Sometimes she has to slice tomatoes as opposed to, literally you have to make us soup sometimes to het us through moments or whatever. That is one thing, is your relentless commitment to it. Another thing that I’ve observed about you is you are relentless about how hard you will work and not let yourself off the hook until that thing arrives. I think a lot of people who are as successful as you, most people, let go of that. I think that also relates to this thing where you have been carrying your potential for a long time and you’ve arrived and now you have a platform. We’ve talked about this, so can you talk about that a little bit?
Jill: So awesome I feel like you’re the best psychiatrist I’ve had. He has a beard, and he sees me in ways that I haven’t thought about.
Jay: Well you did that for me so. I talked about that a week and a half ago.
Jill: I think, well so my parent came out as trans about four years ago or five years ago. Phone call, Sunday morning hanging around with my kid. My parent they were like, “can I talk to you about something important?” I thought uh oh! I moved Felix into the other room, and they came out. It was a memorable beautiful, vulnerable conversation. The tiny voice in the back of my mind was like, this is your TV show! This shit’s gonna happen. It was unquestioning. It was so clear, oh this is your thing. I just started writing. I had just made my first short I had just got into Sundance with my short film. I took it in it was a lot obviously. It’s a lot for a whole family. Fast forward over a couple years, I wrote a script. First I went to Sundance with my short, then I made a whole feature to distract myself from the reality of my own life and that was called Afternoon Delight.
Jay: If you haven’t seen it you’re lucky because now you have a good movie you get to watch.
Jill: Yeah it’s very Transparent actually. Raquel, and Jeff. Rache and Jeff were the characters names, it’s very precursor of Transparent and Dick. When that was done I went to Sundance, same thing keeps happening. Big night at Sundance, huge opening all kinds of amazing buyers came to the opening and the party afterwards. Focus and Searchlight were like don’t you dare sell it to anyone else. The next morning a critic savaged it in the Reporter. What’s his name? I would love to call him out. Chris McCarthy? Savaged it! Bidding war went away, nobody cared anymore. It keeps happening guys you have to keep fucking fighting. Nobody cares about it except for you and the disappointments just get bigger, one thing was Ben Stiller didn’t open it, and this is like a critic hates you. It keeps happening and you have to be ready to keep fighting back. So I won the directing award after that at Sundance, which felt better. A little bit. I was so upset and I was gonna go home, I was gonna leave early and everybody was saying there’s a storm coming. I was like I’ve been at Sundance too long! That feeling everybody has.
Jay: One and a half days!
Jill: Yes, and I called my friend who worked at Sundance. I said I’m going home there’s a storm coming I gotta get out of here. She says you might wanna go to the awards. I was like, ohhh. Went to the awards, won the directing award and was happy again. Ed Burns handed me the award and I went up to him and said I just got the most horrible review awful review I can’t believe I’m winning this. He says welcome to adulthood, this is it, you are now an artist this is how it goes. You have to be ready to be in that dryer with a gym shoe, getting hit in the head. Over and over again. It just keeps happening. That’s just not going anywhere. I finished Afternoon Delight, and then was really realizing it’s time for me to make Transparent. I started writing it. Little known fact, I met Gabby Hoffman when I was doing Afternoon Delight and loved Gabby. Immediately talked to her about being the younger sister, and I asked Kathryn to be Sara. Did you know that? So Kathryn was supposed to be Sara, and we were gonna make it happen and right around the same time that happened the show with Philip Seymour Hoffman happened, Happy-ish. So she got pulled away, painful, ripped away. But I thought it’s fine we’ll figure it out, then we cast Amy Landecker, who I couldn’t imagine any other Sara. Then Gabby and Amy and I found you, we have our special love story. Do you guys know our story?
Jay: Well without going into too many details, it was very, well oh yeah. Jill and I were at a party for directors together. Jill was the only woman.
Jill: I was the only woman and there were about 50 men. Or like 20 men.
Jay: And I was ALL over her because I had just seen Afternoon Delight. We start talking about TV shows that we were about to make, we were both about to make a TV show. I had this Togetherness on HBO, and Jill had Transparent. She was telling me how she had the story essentially a story about her family, and she had the whole thing cast but she didn’t have the son. You were looking for like a wildly insecure/charismatic mid-thirties Jewish man. I said I know all of them!
Jill: You did! You gave me names.
Jay: I was like you know, that’s what directors do.
Jill: You gave me like the David Krumholtz!
Jay: I was pushing Krumholtz hard! Krumholtz is a secret gem guys. He’s not that secret but he’s got the juice. We talked about it and it went away for a little while but we just got along. I think we talked about our unusually close marriages with our siblings. We just wrapped.
Jill: Talked about which kind of cameras we used.
Jay: Just the process cause we both have similar process of freedom onset and allowing. Then we were in mid conversation, you turned to me and you said, “it’s you. He’s you. You’re him” I said, WHAT. You said I think you could be incredible for the son. And I fought you! I said no. I’m not really an actor, I’m doing my own show. I’m only an eighth Jewish. I don’t, I, no no no no no no. Then I came in the next morning because Jill is Jill, I came in the next morning and you were casting with Eyde and we did scenes together. Eyde and I did scenes together and it was very in flow.
Jill: And didn’t I act with you a little bit?
Jill: That’s another thing I did when I auditioned people. I would always improvise with actors, I was always just doing the scene with them. It’s so fun.
Jay: it got better! It was amazing too.
Jill: That’s a great tip for anybody who is auditioning. You don’t have to sit across from the person you can just improvise with them.
Jay: Then eventually I did a scene with Gabby and Amy. It was the barbecue scene from the pilot, and we finished it and I looked at Jill and you kind of had this look. Like who are you to deny what is happening here? That was still just like no it’s fine!
Jill: Well then we had the whole legal drama!
Jay: We had a whole thing because I was gonna make Togetherness.
Jill: He was about to start making Togetherness for HBO and this was Amazon! They were like hell no you’re not taking our creator and casting him in your show.
Jay: Jill kept holding me to this point, and I was weak! I was like, I can’t! I can’t do it guys it’s too much! But Jill just kept saying, this is what we want. We just need to trust that we’re gonna find it somehow. We did it, and we just held together in sort of a loving formation and the gates opened. Now I’m an actor. So let me, jump ship again and say let’s talk about something bigger than this timeline. You have a knack for finding people’s unique talents as well as your own. You found it for me, I’m the person who is the main writer director but I’m the person in my family where everybody’s like stop having so many feelings you’re making us uncomfortable. You turned me into an actor, and that’s really more of who I am than the other things that I was doing because I thought when I was growing I thought theater people were annoying and loud! You have to be loud to be an actor, and I’m not loud and I’m shy and you turned that into an asset. I want you to also talk about your cultivation and curation of what I view as magical beings specifically like your muses that you have used. You talked about it a little bit when you said you like to take your friends and make them do crazy shit. But I think there’s more to it, it’s like when you saw Gabby in that movie at Sundance you saw something.
Jill: I saw her on Louie first and I was like who is this person I love her.
Jay: Yes, so it’s specifically like Gabby and Kathryn Hahn and Amy and Michaela, you seem to like see people and show them in a new light. I would like you to talk about that a little bit.
Jill: I mean it’s totally unconscious I just cast people that I’m a little bit in love with. I just always want to cast people who I feel excited to see, and I can’t wait to see and I’m too nervous to see and that I can’t wait to spend time with. Like Carrie Brownstein I mean, I just all I wanted to do was make her laugh. So I acted in that scene where she came her first day to work and I was playing the teacher, and my goal was to make Carrie Brownstein laugh. I’m using the production as a permission structure to spend time with people I’m excited to meet. That’s just art. Tat’s your voice, that’s desire. You don’t overthink it, when people ask me sometimes should I cast somebody who is great for the role but not funny? I’m like no! You have to cast somebody who is going to fucking kill you, every line! Where you just have to pee because of the thing they just said. Only those people, only those people where you feel that excitement. I sometimes make the joke of all of those years where I was doing the cute girl thing and dating and thinking about men I was dating, I had a sort of promiscuous energy, that is all now my art. That’s my directing; I can love one hundred people in a month. I can cast them and hire them and I can just take all that energy that would have gotten wasted especially for women about manipulating situations to make the guy do something. Long conversations about getting men to do whatever. Whoever it was proposing, dates it involved blow outs it involved clothes it involved a huge game that was never ending and all of that energy is now my directing energy my producing energy my writing energy. It all shifted over to work and monetization.
Jay: And you get paid for that shit!
Jill: I get paid for it. Yeah! That’s mine now. That’s what I do, I never thing about anything except for I love Kathryn I can’t wait to see her. I love Michaela Watkins of course I’m gonna cast her, she’s my friend. I just try to do the things that I see Judd Apatow doing and Seth Rogan and Jack Black and Zac Galifenakis. Get your funniest friends, put them in a room, crack the fuck up and turn the camera on. It’s pretty simple all the other stuff is hard. When you’re like let’s have an audition now there’s ten people talking about whether or not somebody is appropriate or enough of a name or sexy enough or the things that happen when a group of people decide that people need to comment on our making.
Jay: Let’s talk a little bit about the other side of ,
Jill: The other side of fame!
Jay: the other side of fame.
Jill: The drugs, the Ambien addiction!
Jay: VH1 returns!
Jill: The other side of gender!
Jay: I guess we’re understanding the interior process of you making the shows can you talk a little bit about, I feel like Transparent and I Love Dick right now are tools in the world and we’ve talked before about how of course this is a playground for you to do the things you want to do. But you’re also from what I understand about you and where you’re going these shows are tools to create change in the world, I’d love to hear you talk about that in your perspective. And how you manage the enormous amount of work that is coming at you. Questions, there’s a billion jobs you could be doing how do you parse it out and more specifically.. I think the big notions that you are carrying you are having so much fun in the moment, but lots of people are having fun in the moment and they’re doing shows with six people in the audience. You are reaching peoples hearts but you’re also creating social change with you’re shows, can you talk a little bit about that?
Jill: Well when we lived in South Commons it was a moment when the Civil Rights movement was happening, the equal rights amendment, my mom was a feminist the neighborhood was all about integration. We had a Bicentennial parade in our neighborhood and the Black Panthers were there. We were just all about revolution as children, it wasn’t a question it just was. That was our neighborhood in Chicago. That was what I was born into, that was the background. That’s really what I always dreamed of, I dreamed when I was a little girl about being the first woman president. It was gonna be Sarah Palin for a second that was concerning. It still could be! But that was my dream, then that same feeling of oh I’m not smart enough to go to Law School. I would never be able to pass the bar exam I can’t be president. People who are politicians are like lawyers and I’m not smart enough, all that self-hatred. Bad self talk. I did want to change the world I really did believe that was the anti depressant of the Soloway family. Of like we’re gonna change the world, we’re getting up every morning we can make the world a better place. That’s what gets me out of bed in the morning. TV became this other thing, which was super fun but when Transparent revealed itself to be a holder for a movement it kind of makes it more fun. Now we get to go to work and pretend like we’re not narcissists. Every other TV show they have to go this is a really important TV show, and it’s like Two and a Half Men. They’re like it’s important because we’re making people laugh! Laughter is great medicine! So they have to come up with reasons to act like TV matters, where we really do feel like we can go to work everyday and be like we’re changing the world. The world changing is more important than the money, the world changing is more important than the getting it right. There’s this pose you’ll see a lot on a TV set which is this. Sometimes the director will have it, sometimes the network studio certain peoples managers will stand at the monitor like this. Many of them sometimes, five to ten and they’ll be like this shit better be good. We can all tell here cause we’re standing near the monitor if it’s good. We’re gonna look at each other, and besides it being good it better be fast. If these people aren’t doing this quickly we’re gonna call another guy in to come here and stand here like this. This is what’s happening! It better be cheap! Cause if this shits going over budget, another guy is gonna come down and he’s gonna have folded arms and then you know we’re all gonna be in trouble. This is the vibe on most television shows. You’re doing your art and there are these people standing there and they have their arms folded and they’re making sure you’re doing everything fast enough that it’s “good” according to them, whatever that means. What an awful feeling! All we do is remove that cause we’re like we don’t care if it’s good we’re changing the world. This is a social justice movement. Good, fast, cheap we don’t give a fuck. We’re changing the world so hahaha let’s have fun. It became this added gift of like lightness it really is lightness. We understand that if we are a product we’re in service of something bigger, it’s sort of connecting to the soul of something that matters. We all get to be connected to that instead of coming to work and connecting to the hierarchy of the show runner who has a lot of power and everyone is kissing his ass and they’re afraid they’re doing something wrong and are gonna get fired. We have this don’t throw anyone under the buss rule. Treat the background artists like the best people treat them great. We just reverse, at every turn I am reversing the things the patriarchy put in place. It’s pretty easy, you start to see the pattern. You start to see the pattern and you realize, oh this was put in place by the patriarchy, oh TV shows have to take all night so men can hang out with their friends and do cocaine and not have to go home. Every single thing that you think a TV show is, that you have to yell action! Worst idea ever! Every idea is bad! That you yell action, at the moment before people are supposed to be in feeling and be feeling real? You yell action? A prioritization of cranes and equipment and crossing the line, it’s all bullshit. It’s these things that everybody is standing around watching, this is like stuff that Cassavetes said this is all straight from Cassavetes where he says if anybody is noticing that you crossed the line you didn’t do a very good job. If people are noticing the lamp is over here, you’re not making your art. The art is alive in the bodies and the stories of the people. A lot of the stuff I do came from a piece I read by Cassavetes that he wrote in 1967, it just talks about how the artists must be responsible for the art. That’s an artist’s job, nobody is going to say to you here’s how you can make the art more artsy. They’re gonna say to you less money, less time, get a hotter actress, they’re gonna say everything other than the art. Your job as an artist is to say art, over and over again. Besides saying art over and over and over again, your job is also to convince people to pay for it. When somebody is like my money fell apart, the investor pulled out, that’s the artist’s fault for not being able to speak the vision of their product, in a beautiful enough way to create a political system behind it. Being a director is a politician, being a producer is a politician; you must be able to speak the vision of your project over and over and over again in a way that inspires people to work with you to give you money. That affected me a lot when I read that, that’s part of the job is leading in a way where the money follows. It’s your responsibility as the artist.
Jay: One thing that I would say that I’ve observed is that Jill guides all of us from that perspective regularly on set whether it’s a table read or on set or when there’s a particularly rough time she owns that mantle of we are all in service of something bigger, we are here in gratitude. We are here and we’re lucky to be here, but she really carries that mantle in every way and I think that makes such a huge difference. It’s hard work, and people forget sometimes what the unified vision is. I think the truth is on most projects there isn’t a unified vision, to have a unified vision and then to have it stated regularly I think for me at least is what keeps that thing going.
Jill: I think we brought cards. Did we bring Topple principle cards? We have our Topple Principles with our six principles that we use, we’re gonna hand out to you guys. We do abide by six principles as we create. You guys can take them with you. Can we hand them out is that okay?
Jay: Alright I think I want to ask one more question, then we’re gonna open to questions from the audience. The last one I have for you is what’s next? Where are you going? Not project, but what are you doing next?
Jill: What’s next.. Not projects?
Jay: Not necessarily, it can be projects but you’ve talked to me a lot about public speaking and carrying this mantle forward. I mean I don’t see you being bound by TV, or we don’t even make TV the way we regard it but I’m just kind of curious, where are you going? What are you doing in the world?
Jill: So I think in the past year I decided I want to get more comfortable with public speaking. To accept more public speaking gigs, and do the thing where I write something really important to me, I memorize and then I try to relax enough to say it conversationally on stage. I did that a few times, and I love it! I just love it! It’s so fun it’s sort of like half standup special, half Tedx half like thing at the LAX Hilton for $150. It’s so fun for me. It allows me to believe that what I’m doing matters, it allows me to feel like I’m part of a movement. I’m really interested in movement building and creating right now. I think a lot about the resistance, and how the Democratic Party isn’t necessarily catalyzing resistance into an overthrow. I would like to see an overthrow. Full overthrow I’m pushing for full overthrow in this country, in Israel and everywhere that there is war I’m imagining gender non-conforming, female and queer leadership, POC leadership on the entire planet. That’s how I get up in the morning. Like you know it may not happen in the next five years but it could happen in the next twenty years. Trump is president anything is possible. You know. There’s an accelarationism that’s going on right now where things are happening so quickly. The Cubs won the World Series, and things are happening that seem unbelievable. Somebody told me there is a trickster in the matrix. Shit’s crazy as you guys can all feel, and I believe that there is something about the potential of social media and the way in which it’s a sort of constantly iterating sphere-shaped language that holds space. Just like we hold space at work. It holds space for the possibility for the organism to right itself and as we all begin to respond to this huge threat we are righting ourselves by making a whole bunch of pink pussy hats and wearing them in a march for example. You look at that from the sky and you’re like that is an organism that self generated, a large pink thing that is a bunch of women who knitted a bunch of hats in five days and got on a plane and went to DC. I believe in us, I believe in the natural nature of us as a people to overcome. I think a lot about movements and whether a movement can be created like as a product the way TV shows and movies are. What it would take to create that as a product, so I’m just talking to people about it all the time. With thought leaders and tech leaders, and historians and brand experts and America Ferrara. You always need her if you’re gonna start a movement! She’s amazing, I think she could be the leader but I’m not sure. Yeah that’s my interest besides TV is like, I may not be able to make it happen for my lifetime but I can make it for my kids lifetime and that takes the constant belief that anything is possible. The idea I think of resistance is a tough one because it’s hard to keep people going when they’re fighting against something instead of fighting for something. I believe it’s as simple as the word love, no hashtag before it, just the word love. No website, there’s no domain to buy. There is not a thing that needs to happen but I sort of try to spread the gossip that there is a love movement starting. So I ask you guys to spread that gossip with me, if you run into people be like oh! It’s going to be okay, there is a love movement starting. Just that would help if you spread that gossip with me. I think it’s gonna be for women and people of color and queer people and gender non-conforming people and everybody who feels otherized realizing what they have uncommon and without erasure of our personal histories and identities finding a way to come together in unity for equal access to power. That’s what’s gonna happen. That’s happening.
Jay: I’ll read some questions from you guys for Jill Soloway! This is from Alana Del Rey, any advice for actors on how to grow and get better and any acting coach referrals? This is a SAG event.
Jill: SAG event. Well Joan Scheckel is a guru here in Los Angeles who taught me my directing technique and she’s really intense and she’s amazing and brilliant and she will crack you open and bring you right to your core of why you matter as an artist. Joan Scheckel we found her online and she’s amazing. I would just say do the thing that I mentioned, get all your friends together the people that crack you up, your favorite people, the people you’re attracted to and bring them to a room, bring a camera. If you can write a script beforehand great, if not you can improvise. Make something together, then do the hard work of watching it afterwards. Deciding what you made, find an editor to edit it, if you can find a director if not then be self led. Look at what you made, figure out if it’s good, and be willing to be discerning about it instead of do what I did. Which was it sucks I’m done, I suck, this idea was bad. Just be willing to take in the feedback, allow yourself to be discerning about your work without the self-hatred. Allow people to give you work and feedback and not let it be so overwhelming that you don’t keep your own ambition going. You still have to let it in, that kind of iterative process of making work, showing work being willing to hear people’s perspective. Maybe not the night of the show but the next day you can say to somebody how did you like it? They’re gonna be like, you’re amazing!! Then you go, can you really actually tell me what didn’t work for you? Then you have to be willing to sit there and listen and say thank you, sir may I have another? You have to be willing to ask the question and hear the answer. Then be patient with yourself, you can wait a few weeks you don’t have to do anything right away. Then you can do the next phase, get the people together again, make the changes based on the feedback. Be willing to look at yourself without shame and not take rejection and pain as commands to stop.
Jay: Yeah. Good stuff.
Jill: Yeah, thanks!
Jay: Yeah not too, not too shabby.
Jill: Okay thanks!
Jay: Next question, from Bhatia, what advice for the actor-creators making their own content?
Jill: It’s kind of the same thing. It’s the exact same thing, get the people, get the camera. You know what don’t do it in your house. Just ask a friend if you can use their house. Before Afternoon Delight happened and when I was making my short I was rehearsing scenes with actors that I would write and I would shoot them and it helped for me to say to a friend, can I shoot something in our house? It was a lot less embarrassing than having actors over at your house. So you can be like, meet me at the location instead of going come to my house. It makes it easier! It’s less embarrassing, the shame the shame. One hundred and one ways to deal with shame, that is the name of the LAX Hilton class. One hundred and one ways to turn shame into money!
Jay: Package your shame into a hit TV show!
Jill: Your shame is your muse, by Jill Soloway.
Jay: Okay, this is from Senta. The tone of your shows is so natural, do you do anything like improve to facilitate that? Or is it just down to hiring actors with the right sensibility?
Jill; it’s all of it, again it’s like I don’t have them coming to the set thinking they better do this thing I imagine. I have them come to set and be like oh my gosh I can’t believe that Jay Duplass and Gabby Hoffmann are here and what’s gonna happen? So you hire funny people if it’s a comedy, if it’s a drama you hire people who are great actors and who are really willing to allow their bodies to communicate drama. Then you give them the script, you watch what happens, you don’t make any decisions about what you’re gonna do until after you see it. Then you watch what happens, willingness to be open enough to discern what are your instincts what are your impulses then shape it in real time using your ability to discern what’s going on. It is about holding space and seeing what happens and knowing that you’re gonna shape it. It’s a ride it feels like a ride. Make it fun, if it’s not feeling fun you have the wrong people, it should feel like the best part of your day and best part of your week. It’s joy and play, like a child, the word is play. Theater is a play. You should be playing the whole time, if you’re not playing something is wrong. Fix that so you can be playing.
Jay: The next question is from Jova, this might be a little..
Jill: Is it inappropriate?
Jay: It could be, I don’t know! Did you consider any other actors for Maura before Jeffrey Tambor?
Jill: No. No. Was listening to Jeffrey Tambor on WTF and Jeffery Tambor is so much like my parent, and it was always Jeffrey Tambor.
Jay: This is from India, two part question, we’re gonna do the second part we already answered the first part. Did your family have reservations about you writing about them, and if so how did you overcome this?
Jill: Yes, they definitely did. Well one of the things I found when I was writing things, I would be writing movies or TV shows and I would always be using people in my real life. I would write a pilot, it would be sort of stories that were sort of about real people then I would call that person and be like I just wanna let you know there’s a character based on you in my pilot. I just have to make sure you know that just in case, I turned it in today to Fox and I’m waiting to hear but I just wanted you to know. Then the pilot wouldn’t happen, and you’ve totally just ruined your relationship with this person who thinks they’ve been objectified or whatever it is. I think I got in a place where I was daring the world to make something happen, I would write about really personal things and dare the world to say yes but they never did and never did. When I wrote Transparent, at that time I was like it’s never gonna happen. I mean I knew, that was weird, because I knew it had a path I could see the path but I just knew it had to happen. It just had to be, I just knew, there was no thing other than it was. It just was, it had to be. It was a time. I knew how to write I knew how to make a TV show. I just made Afternoon Delight. Actually Diablo Cody told me this about Juno, she’s like there’s a thing that happens when you find the thing where you know that it’s the thing. You don’t have to do anything except for just ride it; if you’re pushing a snowball uphill it’s probably not working. If you’re fighting the thing that has the velocity is the thing and that doesn’t mean you should stop, but be willing to iterate until you find the thing. Don’t get stuck in something that, if you look around and pushing a snowball up a hill and there is nobody helping you, just stop. Let that snowball roll down the hill, you have to be able to look around for the feeling of rising. Oh this is working and people are coming and they want to come! My parent who is trans did not want at first there to be a TV show. I think I was like don’t worry it’s never gonna happen, none of my shows ever get made. I’ve been writing pilots in this town for ten years. Nobody gives a fuck about Jill Soloway I promise you! I think when I told my parent I was like, it’s an untitled show about a family! I wasn’t like it’s called Transparent. I don’t have the title yet! I haven’t thought of it, and it’s about the whole family. There is somebody like you in it. Then they saw the pilot, I shot the pilot and I brought it to Chicago and I showed it to my mom and my Moppa and my sister in my moms apartment. We all watched it. It was just so funny to show it to them. They were cool with it every body loved it. My Moppa asked the craziest questions afterwards. Do you remember where in the pilot Shelly talks about like, we bought the house. Oh! I don’t wanna talk about the divorce, and we bought the house in 1980 for forty-eight thousand dollars or for eighty-four thousand dollars, I don’t know if you remember that? So right after we finished watching the pilot we turned it off and my Moppas first question is what do they pay for the house in 1980? First question. Not like sobbing, you really see me. Not you’re an amazing artist! Jilly you’ve finally done it. What, so what did a house called in Pacific Palisades in 1984? Like it’s not real dad, it’s a script! They didn’t actually buy the house. Faith and I were crying, we were like oh my god this is so beautiful. My parents were just curious about the details, who are these phantom people who have a similar life to us because I don’t think that’s what I paid for this house. The details for it had to be answered first, then I think the world caught up with it enough that it was okay for my parent to be able to see. I remember that very first table read the notion of creating a show that would make the world safer for my parent was something I talked about. I think when I first had the phone call with my parent I did feel a lot of shame, this was five years ago. I kind of couldn’t imagine my parent transitioning, I kind of didn’t know what they were talking about because they had come from a cis white straight background. The short version is that people who came up through the gay world, straight trans women or trans women who date men came up through the gay world and up through the drag scene But if you are a lesbian trans woman there’s a lot of confusion because you’re attracted to women. You don’t actually identify as gay or queer you don’t find that queer community. So all those men identify as heterosexual cross-dressers they all came to their transness through cross-dressing. They have huge movements and clubs and we depicted it season one, there was that place called Camp Camelia it’s based on an organization called Triads. These are heterosexual white, often republican conservative men who cross dress part time, they have parties and a scene and clubs. They’re actually less and less so. But this is what my parent was coming out, for me to understand was they were part of this community. I really didn’t understand. I came from a world of queer people where there were very young trans people, people who were in their twenties and I knew young trans people. But I didn’t know any tans people in their seventies. I didn’t really understand what that meant. I felt a great deal of shame at the time, thinking how am I gonna tell my friends this? How am I going to tell my in laws this? Writing thepilot was creating a safe world for me to live in and to share with people. Literally change the temperature of the world around transness for my own benefit, for my parents benefit, for the people around me to feel okay. That was the sort of understory of writing the pilot. It was trying to heal the world so I could live in it, so my parent could live in it. At the time they didn’t think it was going to be safe to have a TV show about their own transness on television because it was so dangerous. To just walk out your door as a trans woman it still is incredibly dangerous. It’s still as dangerous. It’s impossible to walk down the street if you’re noticeably trans without fear of being harassed or worse. I was just trying to do something about that feeling in the world, and I think the fact that Transparent actually did that and now we live in this world. I remember getting a phone call from Caitlyn Jenner telling me thank you for your show it allowed me to feel like somebody can come out and everybody doesn’t die. The story before hand had been trans women as criminals, trans women as prostitutes, trans women as victims, trans women coming out and ruining the family. It just had this joyful show about a family with a trans woman at the center, she was like it made me feel like somebody can come out and not die. Then I remember three or four months later I was at an airport travelling somewhere, the security guard said what are you doing? I’m travelling for work, what’s your work? Transparent it’s a TV show, what’s your TV show about? And I was like it’s like the Kardashians, like you know how the Kardashians dad transitioned it’s like that. The culture had changed enough that I could so casually speak about my parent’s transness because it was in the context of the most famous family on the planet. It had spun the world around quickly enough that within a couple of years it was just a very casual thing for me to be able to say to a total stranger. I think that’s part of my problem, where I actually believe okay I can help make a movement that’s gonna save the world. I felt it I thought it, I felt it I wrote it, it happened. Shit changed, I was like, fuck! That was not that hard! That was great, so what a moment that I feel so lucky that at the moment my parent came out I knew exactly what to do. I had just made Afternoon Delight, oh I pitched it to all the networks and all the networks passed for whatever reason it wasn’t meant to be. That just goes to show you, why isn’t Showtime making a fucking offer what the fuck! You know just anger about these moments in my life where I was like things aren’t going my way. There was only one network left! And it was the shopping website. It had no TV shows. I was like okay I guess I’ll do it with these people. I don’t what this is gonna be like but they’re gonna give me the money. I had just come out of the indie film world so I was like it’s better than going out and raising money for an indie film. They’re gonna distribute it, let’s see what happens. The fact that the confluence of my parent coming out my ability to you know as Joe always tell people I can warranty the tone, I can guarantee the tone. Watch Afternoon Delight if you like the tone of this movie the TV show will be the same. I had figured my shit out I was like this is my cinematographer, this is my makeup artist, this is my production designer it’s all the same people. Marie was doing costumes, Emma was doing makeup, Jimmy was shooting. All the same family I had already found. Just, it’s a what was the question? It’s something. Are we done?
Jay: We’re out of time but I wanna just one quick final question I want to ask. How does your parent feel about their story being at the forefront of the civil rights movement?
Jill: I think they love it, I think the whole family loves it. Now we’re all kind of into it, my sister did a musical in New York a couple nights ago called “Should Transparent Be A Musical?” where she played all of the songs. Including the soon to be hit Your Boundary Is My Trigger. Yeah! My mom love sit, my Moppa loves it, everyone is a mini celebrity in their own world now. My mom does speaking engagements. Everybody is it’s great. It’s a beautiful thing. We all get to live in the world that this show created.
Jay: You did it!
Jill: It happened.