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GIRLS ON FILM #lesbians #comedy #andersonville #queertv

HashtagBy Jennifer Boeder

“Two best friends write a TV show about their lives and then get the chance to star in it…” No, it’s not a rom-com plot: it’s the real-life story of Caitlin Bergh and Laura Zak, one a stand-up comic, the other a writer, both gay girls who found their adventures in Andersonville so weird, fascinating, and hilarious they were compelled to write a show about it. Bergh and Zak play Skylar and Liv, 20-something Chicagoans whose friendships and love lives are increasingly driven by social media: from OkCupid and Instagram to Vine, Twitter, and Facebook. Inappropriate selfies, oversharing, and tons of texting abound: hence the title of the series, #Hashtag. Imagine the French novel “Dangerous Liaisons” set in modern-day Andersonville instead of feudal France, with lesbians instead of nobility, and posts, shares, texts and the like driving the plot instead of passionate, angry letters flying back and forth, and you’ve got #Hashtag.

The first season of #Hashtag was picked up and produced by tello films and shot on location in Andersonville. Initial response to the series has been so positive that tello has already commissioned a second season. Bergh and Zak have since relocated to Los Angeles, where they are writing Season 2, which will be shot on location in Chicago later this year..I caught up with the ladies and their dogs on a recent visit to the Hollywood Hills and, in an evening filled with hikes, hot tubs, and ample vodka, learned how #Hashtag came to be, why the ladies still feel such strong ties to Chicago, why social media can be such an emotional minefield, and what lies ahead for #Hashtag, Season 2.

Hashtag2How did you two meet and become friends?

CB: We actually met at a dog photo shoot.

LZ: Where I was wearing a wolf head.

CB: I was making posters for a show I had started, and envisioned this photo of myself surrounded by dogs and a wolf. I got this wolf head, and I made Laura wear it, which she did happily.

LZ: We were like an interspecies family.

How did #Hashtag come to be?

CB: It started with our blog actually (http://femmesdelaville.tumblr.com). Laura and I were writing about living in Andersonville and it was our first attempt to document the uniqueness ofthis experience and this place. There are so many Boystowns, but Andersonville was the onlyGirlstown we knew of. One day we were at Hamburger Mary’s, Laura had all of these weird Internet romance things happening, and we were talking about writing a screenplay. And as it turned out, a lot of what went down during that conversation ended up in the opening scene of #Hashtag.

LZ: There’s a beautiful trans waitress at Hamburger Mary’s who I had a total crush on—that ended up in the first episode of the show.

When you were writing the show, did you know you are going to play the lead roles?

CB: Yes.

LZ: Caitlin had much more experience with acting than I did, having already been on a web series. I had less experience, but I couldn’t imagine handing over a script that was literally about my life to somebody else to act.

CB: I had a really hard time writing stand-up for my character. I’d like to think that I’m good at doing stand-up, but it was so hard to write jokes for someone who wasn’t me, that I basically just had to make my character bomb. She’s really bad at comedy, which is pretty funny. I think she’s going to get better in Season 2.

Did you know from beginning that a lot of the show’s shenanigans would revolve around social media?

LZ: Well, one of the major things that was happening to me at the time was that I was in the midst of a flirtation that began on Instagram. Beyond that, we really didn’t realize how much the phones were going to play a part.

The phones?

LZ: Oh yeah, the phones are like characters in the show. They get close-ups. They practically had their own wardrobe. Technology in general has its own role on the show.

Hashtag3Do you think that’s good or bad?

CB: It’s definitely obnoxious, for sure. We wrote these characters based on ourselves, as we would be without the restraints of niceness and society. And it turns out we’re kind of assholes!

Social media contributes to a lot of over sharing, misunderstandings, bad boundaries, and hurt feelings. Are the events of the show based on real life social media mishaps?

LZ: Many of the events on the show did really happen to us, but the characters are very exaggerated versions of ourselves. I don’t think I have ever had a fight with Caitlin but in the show, Liv and Skylar are sometimes at each other’s throats.

CB: In the show, and in real life, I’m in a long-term relationship. And let’s face it: everyone in an LTR fantasizes about NOT being in it sometimes. So while I would never in real life do the things that my character does, the show was a fun chance for me to act on those impulses.

LZ: The characters and their behaviors are often us, just without social filters.

CB: We actually originally titled the show “No Filter.”

It seems like the social media aspect of the show is really relatable to young people in general, especially the ways in which technology has changed the dating scene.

CB: Oh yeah. I’ve ONLY dated on the Internet. I stalked my fiancé online for awhile before I even met her.

LZ: I can remember going to queer dance parties in Chicago and recognizing people’s faces from their OkCupid profiles. That’s not something that might have happened to an older generation.

Could this show take place in Park Slope? Or Silverlake? Or any other urban neighborhood with a surplus of hip young lesbians? What about #Hashtag makes it Chicago-centric?

CB: When I picture the gay scene in Brooklyn or Silverlake, I picture a kind of coolness or taking-
yourself-really-seriously that I think Chicago lacks. In a beautiful way.

LZ: My friends in New York and LA seem a lot more distant from a close-knit community.

CB. There’s something very special about the Midwest. Something very special about the people. They’re more willing to make fun of themselves and more willing to be silly. Which is important to us because we are very silly people and so is our show. It’s ridiculous.

You two live in Echo Park and West Hollywood, respectively. What’s the lesbian neighborhood in LA?

CB: The dog parks.

What shows are you two currently watching?

LZ: As far as web series like ours, “Broad City” was the first one where I was like oh shit, this is super good and also maybe something I could do. “High Maintenance” I love. “The Slope”.“Looking” on HBO I’ve liked so far. I love “New Girl,”“Parks and Rec”… I really like that there is TV now that is so fucking hilarious but yet also evolved and kind of sweet.

CB: I love “Community.” I love the premise of a community college as the setting. I love “The Kroll Show” on Comedy Central. I would want to be on that show. I used to work for a PR firm so the “PubLIZity” sketch brings me so much joy.

LZ: Caitlin also did for a while get me really into “Sister Wives.”

You’re in the middle of writing Season 2. What can you tell me about what’s going to happen?

CB: It’s chaos

LZ: Fucking chaos.

CB: Siri actually plays a major role in helping a character make some really crucial romantic decisions. It gets so silly.

LZ: More feuding friends, messy boundaries, online seductions, and lots of making out.

You’ve been in Los Angeles for about six months now. What do you miss most about Chicago?

CB: Being somebody who anyone gives a shit about. It took me like two years to be “famous” in Chicago (even if I was delusional). And now I live next door to a guy that produces the Oscars.

LZ: The Hopleaf. And of course my friends. It felt easier to be part of the community there than it does here, although I know it takes time.

CB: I’m so glad i don’t have to date here, because that would be disgusting. No offense to everyone.

#Hashtag premieres on Sunday, March 16. Check it out (along with lots of other quality queer programming) at tello films http://www.onemorelesbian.com/tello/

Jennifer Boeder is a Chicago-based writer and editor. She can be reached at http://jboeditorial.com/

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