Tom Sykes: You’ve made a pilot for a drama series called SCISSR about the trials and tribulations of four lesbians living in New York City. How did you come up with the idea?
Lauren Augarten: I came out later in life and there wasn’t a lot of lesbian TV or film I could identify with at the time, apart from The L Word. In other shows, the characters were in their thirties and lived these charmed lives. I couldn’t relate to this, as a twenty something living in Brooklyn struggling to make ends meet.
I wanted to create something that reflected my community and that’s how SCISSR happened. I invented some characters but wasn’t sure how to connect them. Then Taylor Blakin – the actress who plays my best friend in the show – told me she had joined an online community of women and they all decided to meet up in real life. That inspired me to write about an iPhone app that would bring together my characters.
TS: What are your hopes for the pilot? Where would you like it to lead?
LA: The pilot we’ve made is for a web series and it’s nine minutes long. I’ve now written a half hour pilot which we’re pitching to networks in the hope they’ll produce a full-length TV show. If the networks aren’t ready for that then I’ll produce the rest of the web series myself.
TS: What advantages would an online show have over a TV show?
LA: When you work on the web you don’t have a network telling you what you can and can’t do. It doesn’t matter whether the actor is unknown or not, you can cast whoever you want to. My first job as a sixteen-year-old was assisting a casting director in Sydney. That experience has really informed my approach to acting and film-making – I think casting is vital to a successful production.
You get to pick your own team as well – director, cinematographer, editor etc. You have to be really lucky to be in that position when you’re employed by a network. That world is so much more business-oriented and you are answerable all kinds of people.
The downside of making a web series is that you have to do so much for yourself. Right now I’m not only writing the show but managing the publicity, while trying to hold down my day job. I’m working from six in the morning till midnight almost every day!
TS: Is your day job related to film-making?
LA: Yes. I’ve just moved to LA and am evaluating scripts for a couple of production companies. I’m also doing some acting.
I come from Australia originally and moved to New York to attend acting school. When I graduated I didn’t like the auditions I was getting. They were all essentially for a “hot brunette woman in her twenties, surprisingly intelligent”. I quickly got sick of roles like that!
I started volunteering at production companies. I’ve worked in almost every department imaginable and that wide experience has really helped with making SCISSR .
TS: You have promoted yourself widely through social media. What impact is it having?
LA: A web PR firm gave me advice about writing press releases and approaching the media. SCISSR now has 20,000 views and only 2 dislikes. I’ve been surprised at quite how positive the response has been. I didn’t think any of the lesbian media would be interested, but they have been. Later on I’m doing a live web-chat with the Huffington Post, a major news website.
I think my team has to take the credit for the success. At the time, some of them were based in Philadelphia, and during filming they all moved into my apartment in Brooklyn. We were like one big family!
TS: You’ve talked before about the lack of lesbian characters in popular film and TV. How can greater lesbian visibility in the media benefit society?
LA: I think there are two different phenomena: shows that are made for mainstream audiences that contain stereotypical lesbian characters (the ultra-femme or the ultra-butch, for example). They don’t necessarily show the full spectrum of people who identify as lesbians. Then you have shows that are aimed exclusively at lesbian audiences – a great example being Lip Service.
There hasn’t been a show yet that has covered both of these bases. I see SCISSR as a series about lesbians that can be enjoyed by lesbians and straight people because its cast of characters also include gay men, straight men and straight women.
My aim is to show this world that I know and am a part of. I’m not trying to reflect every lesbian in the universe, but the more voices out there from different walks of life, the better.
TS: You’ve said that ‘living in New York as a twenty-something is a daily struggle, sexuality aside’. New York is a very tolerant and diverse city, but is there still prejudice towards LGBT people there and if so is this an issue how does SCISSR tackle it?
LA: I want to tell stories, not to make some overarching statement about lesbianism. If there are prejudices within those stories, then yes we will tackle them.
For the most part New York is such a fantastic place. For the most part NY and LA LGBTs aren’t made to feel different or afraid.
Having said that, I do get sick of certain myths about my community. The mainstream media can overtly sexualise lesbianism, and telling stories about more than just this aspect of being gay is important to me. We tried to deal with this in the opening scene of SCISSR where these straight guys want to go into a lesbian bar. Of course they’re welcome to come in and have a look but it becomes problematic when they turn it into a raunchy, “how hot is this?” experience. I mean, none of the women in there are being intimate for their benefit!
A more diverse array of lesbians in the media helps mainstream society to become more tolerant. It’s always great when you see something on TV that you identify with. My aim with SCISSR is to try to tell my own story and the stories of the people around me in a way that is entertaining, realistic and honest.