WE THREE QUEENS of (dis)Orient Are
A broke writer and his rent-boy lover move in with a scrappy old widow and discover that inter-generational living is anything but easy. Based on the article in GUTS Magazine, We Three Queens show creator’s Michael Young and Tom Cable Rees were inspired to turn their story into a web series and share the eccentricities of such a living arrangement. I caught up with Michael and Tom to get the low-down the show’s evolution from concept to video series.
What was the moment when you knew you wanted this to be a video series?
MICHAEL: I had spent three years working on a TV pilot script. I had a few really exciting meetings and placed as a finalist in a couple competitions, but I realized that I was ultimately pouring myself into a project that would require a lucky break to go anywhere. Meanwhile, my partner, Gary, and I had just published an article called We Three Queens, which was getting circulated within our communities. Then a friend of mine… sort of a mentor figure in the film world… wrote me and was like, “THAT is your story. You should write THAT into something.” So, I started researching a lot about how web series get made, because I really love the long-form storytelling of series over film. I then started sketching out episodes of We Three Queens as a web series. Then I heard that Tom, a director friend of mine, also thought the article should be made into a show, so I wrote him and we just really clicked on the creative. He has such incredible vision, and with his help the whole thing just started to lift up and feel real.
TOM: At first, after reading the original GUTS article, I thought this would have made a captivating documentary about these three people’s lives. How interesting and fun would it be to get to be a fly on that wall? But once I read Michael’s first fictionalized script, I realized it was a better fit as a series. It’s not often a story comes along that is rich with such well-rounded characters with a strong queer voice. As a series there’s more stories to tell with Michael controlling the narrative.
If you could set-up this living arrangement all over again, what would you change or do differently?
MICHAEL: Oh, God. So many things. I think I would come into the living situation with more humility and a better sense of humour. I had underestimated how challenging it would be for my grandmother to open up the space she had kept to herself for twenty years. I didn’t appreciate that while she needed us there, what she really wanted was to be able to continue living alone. So, while we offered her company and help, we also came in with our own lives and baggage, and way more houseplants than she cared for. So, I probably would have been more considerate of her position at the beginning. As someone who needs help, but doesn’t necessarily want it to need it. Does that make sense?
What has been the most challenging part of the process of creating a series
MICHAEL: For me, the hardest part of creating a series is nailing down the concept. I love living in a zone where there are endless possibilities for where a story can go, or what it can mean or be about. Really, at some point, you have to start saying no. Saying no to characters, saying no to story-lines, saying no to themes. If you don’t, the story becomes muddy and unpitchable. I tend to write the way I would improvise. I like getting characters talking and then I see where scenes lead, but eventually,I have to put on my analytical cap and figure out what this is all going to be. In specific terms.
TOM: The most challenging part of creating a series is the waiting and uncertainty. Whether it’s waiting to hear back about a funding application or a meeting with potential partners. It’s frustrating as impatient creatives!
MICHAEL: Amen to that.
The most rewarding?
MICHAEL: The most rewarding part is getting to see the story come to life, particularly with a creative partner who is so on the same page as you. And because you’re on the same page, that partner offers a new layer to the vision that feels constructive and inspiring.
TOM: The most rewarding thing is when you find a partner that you can collaborate with and you begin to feel like what you’re creating is something special.
What has working on this show taught you anything new about humanity?
MICHAEL: It’s taught me that everyone has a project, and that many of those projects are good. When I started to realize that a) everyone and their grandma is writing a web series and b) many of those web series are really smart, it forced me to get more competitive in the way I create. Not in terms of trying to take anything from anyone else, but in terms of really taking myself seriously, really pushing myself to create a refined idea that embodies my perspective.
What can we expect from the first season?
MICHAEL: The first season is all about the boys getting adjusted to living with Delores, and about Ian trying to maintain the lie that he’s Delores’ grandson. It’s also about Ian starting to wonder why he’s living with an old woman, pretending to be her grandson. He’s frustrated, as Delores is always on his case, his sex life with Lamar is going downhill and he’s no closer to being a screenwriter. Meanwhile, Lamar’s sex work is threatening his academic life but he’s bonding with Delores at home, which feels really good for him. Delores finally has the family she wants but finds that being top queen takes a lot more work than expected. All the while Maggie (the hoarder next door) has been watching everyone closely. And she’s starting to get the boys figured out. Maggie is very much the foyle character in season one, though Delores is the daily antagonist.
Can you walk me through your process of collaborating, specifically how do you decide on which stories to tell, and do you share the writing?
TOM: My process of collaborating with Michael came fairly easy. He’s someone who is completely open to ideas and criticism and isn’t precious on making changes that best serve the story. Michael has a very clear vision on where he wants to take these characters, and I work better as a story editor than writer, so if I feel something doesn’t work then it becomes a creative discussion.
MICHAEL: I come to Tom with episode scripts that we work on together to refine. He’s got a keen eye for specificity, and so he helps me edit the work down to the bare essence of what’s needed. Even when we’re working on pitch packages, he really takes on a directorial role, editing it and putting it all together in a way that I couldn’t fully visualize. He also makes things look really pretty. Also, none of this would be happening without my partner, Gary Lee Pelletier, who is very much a silent co-creator of We Three Queens, having co-written the original article and, dare I admit, come up with the name.
About the Author
Raymond Helkio is an author, director filmmaker, and graduate of Ontario College of Art & Design. He currently lives in both Toronto and New York. His most recent play, LEDUC, is now available in paperback. www.raymondhelkio.com