Jamie Clayton Appreciation Post

Today is #TransgenderDayOfVisibility, and I find myself recalling “Dirty Work” and working with the amazing Jamie Clayton.  

As part of the initial writing team that developed the show, I was the one who pitched the idea of making one of the three leads transgender.  (If memory serves, @MaureenMcQ had been writing something else that had her researching a lot about transitioning, and specifically the financial costs associated with it, which inspired me to suggest we incorporate that into the show.) Which is how the character of Michelle was born. 

We patted ourselves on our backs for how inclusive we were being, but honestly at that stage Michelle was the epitome of a token – all of her stories were about being trans, and there were many, many jokes constructed around that and nothing else.

But then we held auditions, and met Jamie. I wasn’t in on the final casting decision as by then I’d been moved to working on other parts of the show, but I’m pretty sure that she had the part the minute she walked through the door. 

And suddenly, all of the jokes and interactions and “fun” bits that were being thrown around about Michelle and her challenges had to be embodied by an actual trans woman. TBH, I shudder to recall some of the things that were pitched and some of the things that made it into the final edits.  

But all throughout, Jamie never lost sight of trying to make Michelle a fully-rounded person and more that just “the trans girl.” She put up with a lot of garbage ideas – all from well-meaning, good-hearted creative people who were genuinely trying to make something funny. As if that makes it any better. 

I wasn’t in the writer’s room at that point, but I know she pushed back on a few totally egregious things. I don’t know if there was any open conflict, but I can only imagine there were days that were tremendously difficult for her. 

Dirty Work only ran for 3 episodes, and since the RIDES platform is no longer available I’m not sure they can still be seen anywhere. But there were plans for more episodes in the works when the company went under, and I’d like to think that had that happened, we would have been able to do better by Jamie and Michelle. 

Representation is important. Visibility is important. But it’s not enough. It’s not AGENCY. Working with Jamie on this show taught me a whole lot about that. Even though it shouldn’t have been her responsibility to teach us anything. 

But she did, and I’m grateful.

aeternamente asked: What are your thoughts on Gigi using the company channel to talk about personal/private issues?

By request, here’s a rebloggable version of this answer:

aeternamente asked: What are your thoughts on Gigi using the company channel to talk about personal/private issues? How is that similar to/different from Lizzie and Lydia talking about personal/private issues on their vlogs?

I’m not going to comment or speculate on that- it’s up to you guys to decide how you feel about it.  But what I will do is give you a little bit of backstory on how the Gigi spinoff came to be.

As some of you may know, up until recently I worked for Fourth Wall Studios, a transmedia studio creating original online content.  At Fourth Wall, I helped to create the series Dirty Work, which won an Emmy last year for original interactive content. I also created and wrote the pilot for a show called Airship Dracula, an animated steampunk reimagining of a section of Stoker’s novel, voiced by Alan Tudyk and Tammin Sursok.

Both of these shows were built on a proprietary platform called RIDES, that synchronized web video with your mobile phone through calls, email and text messages.  Later on, there was a companion app that handled synced content in a single place, so it wasn’t at the mercy of the phone networks or text services and offered us greater control of the experience.

When I first came on board the LBD, I brought Bernie in to meet with Fourth Wall to see if there was a way to work together. (And also, honestly, because I had been already pitching a P&P adaptation internally and it wasn’t getting much traction.)  They passed on it, but more importantly I got their blessing to join the project outside of work. 

Cut to a few months later, and the show is now, y’know, THE SHOW. And we we’re looking ahead to the Lydia downfall arc and thinking of some of the adaptation issues inherent in novel vs. dramatic story structures.  It seemed that we needed to see at least something of what Darcy was up to, rather than just having him completely offscreen for the whole time and then finding out later.  Something that we’re constantly wrestling with in this adaptation is the agency of the main characters.  We want things to turn out well, and we want to stay true to the source material, but we also want our characters to be modern and believable. And let’s face it, all the problems in Pride and Prejudice are solved by really rich men fixing things with their money.  So finding a way to make all of these conflicting requirements work is a continuing challenge. Sometimes it seems impossible. Which is why I’ve started referring to this story problem as the “Patriarchy Maru.” You’ll let us know if we end up finding a way to make it work. 

Anyway, I brought Bernie into Fourth Wall again, and this time we pitched them on a Gigi spinoff that – rather than YouTube – would be seen on the RIDES platform.  It would feature Gigi vlogging, and then you would receive phone calls from Darcy and text messages from Fitz, etc.  We were pretty close to nailing that down when Fourth Wall hit a rocky patch and ended up halting new production.

So the idea of a Gigi-centric Ride was dead. But out of the ashes came the Domino concept.