Local webseries Kissing Walls has continued to challenge television's traditional boundaries in its second season with its upfront depiction of the lives of twentysomething gay men living on the North Side.
Windy City Times sat down with showrunners Zak Payne and Nathaniel Tenenbaum to talk about their take on Chicago's LGBTQ scene.
Windy City Times: Where did the idea for Kissing Walls come from?
Zak Payne: I had just moved to Chicago, and I was having a great time living here with the friends that I was making, a lot of people in the queer community. I hadn't really seen a show that really portrayed a world like that, where queer communities are prevalent. I brought Nathaniel into the fold, and the story became very much about our real-life friendship.
WCT: Nathaniel, what sold you on the project?
Nathaniel Tenenbaum: Zak and I met in a production of "Rent" at community college. In that production, he made a feature-length documentary of the entire process. I saw that documentary and it turned out being unbelievably compelling and really well-edited. So I had a lot of faith in his ability to tell a story really well, and once he presented me with the idea of the show I was all on board.
WCT: And the show continued to develop as a collaboration between the two of you?
ZP: Nathan was solely an actor in the first season, but there was the story of one of Nathaniel's, um, gay…
NT: You can say hookup.
ZP: …hookups involving a ladder that became an impetus scene in season one. [Note: The scene featured Tenenbaum's character humoring a casual partner's sexual fantasy.]
WCT: That happened?
ZP: Yeah [laughter from Zak and Nathaniel]. It was stuff like that, like, "Huh. Why is no one telling stories like these that are actually pretty real and common?"
In the beginning, I imagined it as a much larger ensemble story, and then I quickly realized that having the two of us in the room and on screen is what people wanted to see.
NT: The true essence of what makes it so special and so sincere and earnest is the fact that it is us, through and through.
WCT: What sort of shows or movies influenced Kissing Walls?
NT: It's hard to say artistically, because there's not a lot of that with people of color to draw from.
ZP: We weren't really drawing from TV as much as we were from film. I think we were very much looking at classic romantic comedies like When Harry Met Sally. We were looking at The Apartment.
NT: Drew Barrymore's entire catalogue. Never Been Kissed, Legally Blonde, all of that.
WCT: What's it like playing characters who are very similar to yourselves, especially in emotionally intense or raunchy sceneslike the ladder scene?
NT: There's an element of disbelief that it's happening again. Zach got it very close to the original experience. It was kind of liberating in that we told the story in a way that didn't kinkshame. But my adopted parents are LDS [Latter Day Saints], so there's always this element of, "Dear Godnow they know what their son is into."
ZP: It goes through the wash a few times so that you're distanced from it. It's a retelling of a retelling that goes into a script and is then rehearsed and then its edited. So it goes through so many washes that you're so far removed from what actually happened and it has a nice glow to the memory.
WCT: Many scenes in the show deal with the anatomical realities of gay sex. What sort of mindset do you bring when shooting those scenes?
ZP: We always went at it with a level of professionalism and respect. It was always off-frame: it's raunchy, but in a PG way. I didn't want to do the explicit, full-frontal nudity, because that isn't what the story is about.
NT: And we had a predominantly queer team. I don't think we're necessarily pushing any boundaries in the realm of us being queer people. These occurrences happen every day. It's a part of, as queer men and queer people, our day to day; we're just shedding a light on it artistically. Sleepless in Seattle had that whole thing where they're talking about cunnilingus and how women look at butts now.
Sex and the City constantly pushed the boundary of heteronormative sex. What we try and take on and champion is when it transitions from heterosexual engagement over to anything other than that. There shouldn't be, "well, this is an extra-deviant situation that we have to carefully navigate." That's not the narrative we're trying to promote. It's no different than when fucking Meg Ryan faked an orgasm in the middle of a restaurant. This is it, this is our day to day, and we're inviting you to see what happens in that situation.
WCT: Talk to me about how Chicago factors into the story.
ZP: Moving to Chicago was an awakening for me. I just fell in love with the architecture; I would see a new place every time I left my house, and I was like, "why is no one shooting this?" I wanted to show the Chicago that I was seeing. I think the show resonates with people that live in Chicago, and people that aren't are like, "that's so beautiful." People constantly throw around the term "love letter," but I don't know what else to refer to it.
WCT: Is there gonna be a season three; if so, what's it gonna look like?
ZP: There is gonna be a season three. We've begun the pre-production process and we're writing it. I'm really proud of what we were able to do between season one and season two, and I love this idea of independent television, that there's no studio that cancel us. It's up to Nathan and I to create this series, and find whomever wants to support that.
Watch Kissing Walls on OPEN TV here: www.weareo.tv/represents/kissing-walls .