“I like this place. It’s real.”
Danny Wascou utters the words, sipping from his cup. We sit tucked against a wall in the courtyard of a North Hollywood cafe, drinking in the warm brew to ward off the December chill. We are here to discuss Wascou’s debut Only Children, a web series for which he serves as writer, producer, and director.
Though he’s enjoyed a successful career as a producer on reality TV shows like Keeping up with the Kardashians and The Challenge, Only Children marks Wascou’s first solo creative endeavor.
A six-episode drama, Only Children follows a group of longtime friends dealing with the perils of adult life in Los Angeles. The diverse cast explores learning how their radically different identities bring them together, rather than tear them apart. Needless to say, the friends find themselves in some awkward–and sometimes steamy–situations. The cast includes Wayne Wilcox (Gilmore Girls), Keylor Leigh (Desert Shores), Tim Wardell (web series Stereotyped) and newcomer Ji Bak.
The season finale of Only Children streams December 17. (The full series is available at OnlyChildren.TV.)
So what made you want to do a drama series about a group of longtime friends moving into adulthood?
I think the real, honest answer to that question is…
As an LGBTQ writer, what we always do is search for identity. The time in my life where I really did that recently was a few years ago when my dad passed away. I was questioning my own identity. Then, as a writer, I was finding it hard to write something that didn’t feel pure to myself. I just couldn’t bulls**t.
I was looking at my own identity and at my own family, and I’m an only child. So I was really trying to think what on TV really represents that. I have other really close friends who are only children. But when you go through the loss of a parent, they’re not your brother and sister. You’re really kind of dealing with your own thing. I wanted to tell a story about these four people who have made their own family, but there’s still something so uniquely them that the others can’t recognize. So when we open the series, we’re with Daysha, and her father has just passed away. And that was my inception point.
Had you written the whole season at once?
I wrote a pilot. Often times I’m writing pilots and writing [unsolicited scripts] and I’m pitching them to fellowships [studio or network sponsored writer’s workshops] or contests or whatnot, so this was actually a pilot. And I didn’t know what to do with it. I was taking it out, sending it out, but it wasn’t really getting any traction. But I really believed in the story, and it kind of felt like, I should make something. I can’t write all this to have it live on a shelf. Around that same time, I met Wayne Wilcox who plays Ray, and he has an anchor tattoo. And it kind of sparked this idea of how these people are really grounded together.
So I showed him the pilot and he was really into it. And I was thinking, Is this a short, is it a series, what is it? And I’ve watched some web series that I really like, and I felt, I need to do something different, put some content out there. And it had been a while since I’d done that, so it was something I just decided to do, and it took a very long time to do it.
How long was the gap from inception to completion?
I wrote the pilot about three years ago. I completely pulled it apart and deconstructed it and reconstructed it for a six-episode web series. So that process took another six months. Then it was a lot of casting and going through preproduction. That took about a year. And we filmed two separate times: We filmed in October 2017 and then in January-February 2018. Then we had the editing process. So essentially from fingertip to keyboard to air–probably a good two and a half, three years.
That’s quite an odyssey.
A labor of love.
What advice can you give about securing a budget, getting everything shot when you have the actors available in order to get a full season release?
I wish I had the answer before I started because so much of it was made through mistake. As far as budget, I think anyone nowadays can do whatever they can afford. Depending on what kind of camera you’re using, what kind of equipment. I called in a lot of favors from friends, so I lucked out. And patience helps. A lot of people [want to shoot the next weekend]. When I set out to do this, I really wanted to finish something. So a lot of it was just being patient with myself and realizing OK, I’m not going to get that $10,000 Griffith Park location, but my friend has a coffee shop and she’ll let me use it. Just be realistic and be pragmatic about it.
How did you raise funds?
A lot of it was self-funded. A lot of it was really generous friends who let me use their location, or who didn’t work on their full rate. I think for me, it was a really personal project, so it was something that if I walked into a store and I saw ‘Completed Web Series’ with a price tag, I thought to myself, I’d buy that. A lot of dollars and a lot of cents, and if I do Season 2, I would know a lot of places to save money now. You make mistakes as you go. I don’t say that a lot about myself, but I’m proud of it. Maybe that’s an only child thing, but I’m proud of what I accomplished and my cast and crew accomplished as well.
How did you find your cast? Were they cast together or separately?
They were separate. I lucked out on them. They’re really phenomenal. I put up some ads on Actor’s Access and on Backstage [job sites for actors]. So, you know, you’d be surprised at the number of people who will come to the table. So it was just a process of narrowing it down. I think I approached my actors in a way of, not only can they read my work, but can I have a conversation with them? Can they talk back? Can we understand and just sit and talk about the character? So I found that the people that I cast I could just sit and talk about the character. I had a big table reading at my house, and Wayne Wilcox and Keylor Leigh [who plays Daysha]. I can’t remember the circumstances, but they both arrived sort of late. They didn’t have a chance to say hi to each other, but they happened to sit down next to each other when we started reading. The chemistry was just immediate and magical, and I realized at that moment I have something here. I think all of the actors were really happy to get these characters who are flawed and sort of messed up.
You use a lot of long takes. I’m thinking specifically of one scene with Daysha’s mother and Moe. It’s a five-minute scene and it’s just a slow push-in without any cuts. How do you prepare your actors?
We didn’t have a lot of rehearsal time, but I told them all that if they honored the writing and came to set prepared that I would make sure their best actor takes were used. We had, by the way, all the coverage on that scene. We had the close-ups. We had two shots. We had everything. I have an amazing editor, and he likes to go for the performance too. So it was just this is the great performance. It’s working. It feels real. It’s a testament to those two actors.
The central theme of this show seems to be how nobody is ever really grown-up, and that everyone is plagued by insecurity. A grown-up isn’t something you become, it’s a process that lasts throughout life. At one point Moe even starts adopting some of Ray’s awkwardness to seem normal.
I’ve never heard it put to me like that, and I really like that observation.
When you say that it kind of made me think about my dad. As an adult who lost his parent, you know, you feel two ways. You feel oh my God, I’ve never been more of an adult. But then you feel I’ve never felt more like a kid. You’re a little kid wanting for your dad. So yes, we’re grown-ups, and we’re in our 30s or 40s or whatever. Maybe 60s or 70s. But there are times when you just still feel like a little kid. And when does that go away? When should that go away?
So I wanted to explore that. Each character has issues, you know. You’re always going to be someone’s kid.
When you are doing a show that involves sex scenes, what obligation, if any, do you feel you have to the actors in terms of their privacy?
I’m glad you recognized that. If an actor isn’t comfortable with certain degrees of undress, and if it isn’t a vital story point to the scene, then I’m completely fine with it being avoided. I would never want an actor to do something that they regret and I would hope they would let me know if there is something the wouldn’t want to do. We have a few scenes where actors are shirtless and in bed, and a scene at the very top of the series with Daysha isn’t fully clothed, but those scenes serve a purpose, which is to express a “naked vulnerability” rather than to tantalize with sex. Despite that, or perhaps because of that, I think we have some very sexually raw moments. However, it’s in the way the actors look at each other or their incredibly nuanced performances that bring that chemistry to the surface.
You keep mentioning your dad. Was he omnipresent with you when you were working on this?
This was the first project I did after [his death]. I didn’t want to do something too literal, but he really was. There are lines…things he would say that I used. I don’t think anyone but my mom would recognize that, but it’s there.
I’m tempted to ask if this is autobiographical, but I know some people really hate the question because it cuts too deep. But the artist is always there in the art. With your father’s death inspired this, what demons do you feel like you exercised?
The work fills my paycheck. It’s a lot of fun and I meet great people that way. But [Only Children] has really allowed me to tap into a creative place that I get from writing, but writing is solitary. I was able to meet great actors and crew and bring a large number of people to the table. And it’s been a success. Just the personal feeling. You can’t buy that.
Do you have an arc for the series planned?
I’d love to do three seasons of it. I think that’d be fantastic to do. I’ve kind of started to sketch out what our second season would be. This season we did six episodes, and generally, each episode would focus on one of the adult characters, but I have these flashbacks with the younger versions of them. So next season I want to do eight episodes, four concentrating on the adults, and four from the P.O.V. of the teenage versions of those characters. So hopefully I can do that.
Only Children streams on OnlyChildren.Tv.