How Do You Make a Hit Web Series? The Creators of One Portland Show Have Some Answers

The Benefits of Gusbandry is generating national buzz. Creator Alicia J. Rose tells us how it all came about.

By Jack Rushall February 5, 2016

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Image: Jack Rushall

You may think you know what it takes to make a hit web series, but in order to get on the radar of pop cultural trendsetters like Flavorwire and the AV Club—as the Portland-made The Benefits of Gusbandry has been doing of late—you’re going to need a lot more than a couple of friends who own a Canon DSLR or took some drama classes in high school.

The set of Gusbandry, for example, is crawling with crewmen, equipment, and burritos. Alicia J. Rose, the creator of the series—which chronicles a single forty-year-old woman who finds emotional solace in her “gusband,” or gay best friend whom she initially assumed she was dating—claims the six crewmen joining her are actually just a fraction of the assistance she’s needed on location in the past.

“It’s a huge train to get on the tracks,” Rose says. “To do a small scene, there are usually twenty people. Sometimes there are fifty people on set. I’m simplifying as much as I can to get into the scope or the scale of what I can afford.”

Sitting with Rose, you can’t help but note the glee, that satisfaction of seeing her artistic offspring find its feet in the world.

“This show is possible because it is the creation of three Capricorn women,” Rose laughs. “Women are finally having their day in comedy. Just look at Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and Broad City.”

The Capricorns in question are Rose, lead actress Brooke Totman (of MadTV fame), and fellow writer Courtenay Hameister from Live Wire! But it took more than stars aligning to get this series from its real life genesis to online success.

“I was having a crisis and my gusband Lake and I went on a trip to Thailand and Cambodia, which amounted to a lot of Instagramming,” says Rose. “It was our ‘goneymoon,’ which was like the honeymoon I always imagined as a teenager. I had this epiphany that I wanted to make a show about my life and my relationship with Lake. As soon as I had the idea to make a show, I barfed out fifteen to twenty ideas for episodes. The next thing was to find people to help me make it: collaborators.”

Rose consulted her friend, comedian and fellow writer Hameister. The addition of Totman made for a kickass triumvirate. The three women met for drinks at the Bye & Bye to confirm they all had their dedication on lock.

“We started writing in May and June and crowdfunded in July," says Rose. “We shot the teaser in June: so many good things and people have committed. We did our premiere in September at the Portland Film Festival.”

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Fueled by crowdfunding and with a little financial help from her friends, Rose seems unfazed by the harsh fiscal reality of running a web series. “I don’t get paid, but everybody else does. We have $14,000 or something like that from crowd funding. If we could make twice that amount, we would be solid.”

For the actors, the benefits also accrue from having more individual freedom and collaboration with writers and crew than they might have on a network-based television series.

“A web series is much more of a team event,” says Totman. “There isn’t so much of a hierarchy. It feels much more indie versus working on King of Queens or Mad TV, where everybody has their place. It’s a longer day—fourteen hours typically—but I have a greater feeling of accomplishment because I’ve gotten to put in a lot of input with the scripts, casting choices for other roles, my clothing. I’ve enjoyed having a voice.”

The Benefits of Gusbandry is hosting a sneak peak of its fourth episode at the Q Center Friday, Feb 5. Catch up with the first three episodes here

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