Representing LGBTQ: ‘Poor Us’ is coming out with Jeremy Dozier
LGBTQ webseries Poor Us is here and fierce. Representation in film and TV for the community is important and the Poor Us team is giving us a refreshing and powerful show.
The protagonist Tanner Maxwell is a plus-size gay character that breaks the mold of other lead roles. Jeremy Dozier, writer, producer, and star of the award-winning Poor Us, had this to say:
“I wrote Poor Us because Hollywood wasn’t writing for my character type; every role I auditioned for either centered around weight in some way or was Security Guard #4. I wanted more. It’s about time big boys get a character that they can root for and see themselves in; one that isn’t ashamed of his body or sexuality.”
Dozier’s award-winning role (Dozier was named Best Actor at the LA Shorts Awards earlier this month) pushes boundaries. “I wanted to play a confident, sexy, powerful fat gay character; something rarely, if ever, seen,” recounts Dozier. “Growing up, I don’t remember seeing myself represented in media. If I had, coming out, coming to terms with my body and figuring out where I fit in in gay culture would have been easier.”
Webseries Poor Us centers around the dissolution of Tanner’s relationship. After popping out of a cake, completely naked, for his boyfriend’s 30th birthday, Tanner’s world is upended when he discovers his chaser boyfriend is cheating on him! Brokenhearted and humiliated, Tanner vows revenge. The only way to get close enough? Disguising himself in drag.
In addition to Best Actor, this political and pop-culture obsessed, serial black comedy sitcom also took home Best webseries, Best Cinematography, Best Editing, and a Gold Award in Directing at the LA Shorts Awards earlier this month. New episodes air every Tuesday.
Tell us about your history as a filmmaker. How did you start your journey?
My journey as a filmmaker started as an actor. I studied acting at the University of Texas and then shortly after graduating moved to Los Angeles to pursue the dream. Since arriving in LA I’ve studied improv at the world-famous Groundlings School and have also studied writing through the UCLA Extension Writers Program.
Over the years I’ve had the opportunity to be a part of some amazing projects as an actor, but have always secretly wanted to create and produce my own material. Luckily, Poor Us helped facilitate that and is the first project I wrote, produced and starred in.
Who are your current influences?
I’m really inspired by Ava DuVernay and the impact her projects have. She’s really using her platform to bring about change. I also love Ryan Murphy. I’ve been a fan of his for years and am really inspired by the great representation he’s bringing to tv.
What five TV shows do you think everyone should watch this year?
- The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
- Schitt’s Creek
- When They See Us
- And any of the Real Housewives (maybe not the answer you were looking for but I love me some Housewives)
Cat or dog?
Dog. I grew up with Boston Terriers so small dogs hold a special place in my heart.
What was the one movie you saw that made you want to go into film?
I don’t know that there was one movie that I saw that made me want to go into film. I’ve loved performing since a very early age. In fifth grade I starred as James in James and the Giant Peach and have been hooked ever since.
How was working on Poor Us? What did you learn from the experience?
Working on Poor Us was amazingly rewarding, yet also challenging, honestly. This was the first project I stepped up and produced so, naturally, the whole process was one big learning curve. I had been in front of the camera before but had never really seen how the sausage was made haha.
Luckily, I had an amazing cast and crew that joined me on this journey. It was a blast collaborating with such smart, funny, talented people!
I think what I learned most from the experience is that you can do anything you set your mind to. There were many times I felt like I was in over my head, but with good organization, perseverance and dedication I was able to overcome the obstacles and create a project that I’m really, really proud of.
Tell us about your career before you found film.
To be honest, film has always been the dream and the career. I’ve had plenty of day jobs over the years that have helped me pay the bills while chasing the dream, but film was always the ultimate goal.
Where did the concept come from for Poor Us?
The concept was really born out of the character of Tanner. I wrote Poor Us because Hollywood wasn’t really writing for my character type. Every part I auditioned for either centered around weight in some way or was Security Guard #4. I wanted more, so I set out to get it by creating my own webseries.
And I figured if I’m going to write and produce my own series I might as well cast myself as my dream part: a rich, slutty bitch. As a gay man, I love strong, empowered, unapologetic female characters who own their sexuality. So that’s really where the character of Tanner came from. I asked myself, what would that type of character look like as a fat gay man. And the answer, for me, was Tanner.
Once I fleshed out the character of Tanner, everything else kind of grew out of that.
What music inspires you to create?
I used to hate these types of questions. I always felt pressure to provide a “cool answer.” The truth is I’m an eclectic person. The music that inspires me to create changes constantly. It’s not really a genre or a specific artist, but more the message of what the song is relaying and often how that relates to my current life. I love everything from pop to country. Yes, country. I grew up in Texas!
For Poor Us in particular, I found great inspiration in Kesha’s Rainbow album and then also Panic at the Disco’s Pray for the Wicked album. For some reason, those two artists/albums were the ones I played on repeat for months while working on this project.
Talk us through your creative process.
I would say my process varies, depending on what I’m doing creatively. For writing, I keep tons of notes in my phone of little ideas I have or something funny a friend or family member might say or do. If I find someone that I think may make a good character I’ll write down their dominant personality traits that are interesting to me.
I then use those ideas/notes to outline the episode or film, whatever I’m working on, and then try and vomit all that onto the page, to create a first draft, as quickly as possible.
I’m a perfectionist so it’s really hard for me to write if I feel like what I’m writing isn’t very good. Therefore, I try and force myself to just get the first draft out of the way ASAP. Then we can get down to the nitty gritty and start to hone in on what works and what doesn’t.
I also think so much of writing is personal and based on your own life. I had a professor in college who always said, “to create you have to have lived.” So I think that’s also important; going out and living life, meeting interesting people, making mistakes, travelling. It’s all part of the creative process.
What tips do you have for new filmmakers?
Good question. I would say surround yourself with good people, creative people. So much of making a project relies on collaboration and, as they say, you’re only as strong as your weakest link. So choose your team wisely and make sure everyone is there for the right reason.
I would also say, whatever you think your budget is in your head, double it. That was a big learning curve for me – just how expensive making a project truly is.
I think a good script is key. The quality of the script will determine the quality of the project. A good script can possibly end up as a bad product, but a bad script will never end up as a good product.
Pace yourself. Taking a project from words on a page to a finished product is a lengthy process so prepare yourself and know that it’s going to take longer than you want and that’s ok.
Just do it! It doesn’t have to be the next Titanic. If you feel passionately about a project and you feel in your soul that it’s something you need to get on film then do it to the best of your ability. Learn from the process and then do better next time.
I would also say it’s important for you to take time to enjoy the process. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the minutia or overwhelmed by all the details. At one point in time you would have given anything to be exactly where you are right now, so soak it up! And take tons of pictures and videos! Both for memories, and also for content once you’re ready to release.
What part of filmmaking do you geek out about the most?
If you had asked me this question before I did this project I would have said being on set. I love getting to watch the process of a film being made: all the creative energy bubbling about as all these masters of their various fields do what they love to do.
That being said, having just wrapped post production a few months ago and experiencing that process for the first time, the part I geeked out about the most while doing Poor Us was editing.
I love getting the opportunity to really hone and craft performances. There’s a rhythm to comedy and when it hits, it hits. Working with Tucker Penner, our editor, and really getting to play with the pace and performances of each episode was such a rush, so creatively rewarding.
You’re very hands-on with your projects. How hard is it wearing all the hats?
It can be overwhelming at times, especially for a first-time producer like me. There are a million decisions that have to be made and a million little details that have to be tended to. Luckily I had a great cast and crew that helped tremendously! Everyone really held down their respective areas and took a lot of pressure off of me. I always knew they would deliver, which afforded me peace of mind.
I was also very lucky to have the support of my amazing family. They were there rooting me on from Texas the whole way and helped as much as they could from a distance – everything from giving me notes throughout the process, to helping me make/find costumes, collecting various props I needed, etc. I don’t know what I would have done without them!
If you could only watch one movie for the rest of your life, what would it be?
What a tough question! I guess I would say The Little Mermaid. That was my favorite movie growing up and watching it always brings back such good memories! Not to mention, it features one of the greatest icons of all time: Ursula.
What’s your next project?
I haven’t made it that far yet haha. We’re still in the process of releasing the first season of Poor Us. Our eighth and finale episode drops Tuesday, 11/12. I’m then going to take a little break before hitting the festival circuit next year with Poor Us.
I also have a couple other projects in development. I have a feature script that I have written and am currently working on a second draft. I have a pilot that I wrote that I’m taking another look at. And then of course, possibly a season 2 of Poor Us.
Have you worked with mentors in the past? How would you recommend people go about finding them?
I have worked with mentors in the past. I come from a family of teachers, so the majority of my mentors over the years have been my teachers: people who share a similar passion and saw something special in me and were willing to share their experiences and knowledge to help me grow as both an artist and a person.
I would say if someone is looking for a mentor then they should sign up for a class. Do your research and find a teacher that you respect and admire, take their class, soak up all the knowledge you can and see if an organic relationship develops.
What has been your biggest failure?
I don’t really like to think in terms of whether something is a success or a failure because I think it’s so subjective. I also think every project is a learning opportunity and as long as you learn something and are a changed person because of the experience, then it’s a win!
For example, I tried to do another webseries years ago that ultimately failed – it didn’t get funded and therefore was never made. I was crushed at the time, but I took those lessons I learned from that failure, retooled the webseries and turned it into Poor Us, which is now a successful award-winning webseries that people seem to really enjoy.
Therefore, I don’t really see that project as a failure, but more a refocusing. Life’s not about never falling, it’s about picking yourself back up after you fall and serving it!
What’s your filmmaking mission? Name the most important thing you want viewers to experience when watching your movies.
I would say the most important thing I want viewers to experience is emotion: laughter, joy, sadness, anger; whatever emotions might arise. Ultimately, filmmaking is about entertainment and about connecting with people. The way you achieve both of those things is by reaching people on an emotional level.
I think that’s one of the things I’m most proud of when it comes to Poor Us. Everyone I’ve heard from has said they can’t stop laughing while watching the episodes. Hearing that makes me feel like I did my job.
What has been your biggest success?
I would say my biggest success is living an authentic life. Coming out was difficult for me; there was a lot of fear and shame. So being on the other side of that and feeling comfortable and confident in my own skin is a huge success for me.
Some people spend lifetimes finding their voices or struggling to live their lives out loud. I’m very thankful I’m able to do that and do it while pursuing my dreams and creating art.
Do you think indie episodic television is the new indie film?
I think indie episodic television is the new pilot in a lot of ways. It’s a great way to show what you can do and to showcase your voice and your talent.
I also think it’s a great way to bypass the gatekeepers of Hollywood and play the roles you want to play and make the content you’re interested in creating. You’re not beholden to anyone else. If you have a passion to create something you can, and that’s amazing!
What’s your five-year plan?
To take over the world. No, just kidding. I would love to create, produce and star in more original projects – both indie series and indie films.
I think the long-term goal is to own my own production company, find a group of collaborators to partner with and start producing cool content that we like and that is representative of us and our point of view. I love creative people, so getting the opportunity to forge more creative partnerships and just soak up all that energy would be awesome.
What indie filmmakers should be on our radar?
Right now I’m really enjoying a slew of young gay filmmakers that are producing their own content and killing the game, people like Brian Jordan Alvarez, Michael Henry, Jimmy Fowlie, Matt and Dan. Their content always cracks me up.
What’s your favorite film of all time, and what did you learn from it?
This is a really tough question to answer. I would say my favorite film of all time is Moulin Rouge. I’m a sucker for a good song-and-dance number.
The biggest lesson I learned from Moulin Rouge is that the greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return. The film also taught me the power of a creative mind and a creative vision.
Who would compose the soundtrack of your life?
Oh lord, another music question. My inner 8th grade self is shaken that I’m having to answer this.
I would say Lady Gaga would compose the soundtrack to my life. I love how her catalogue of music spans genres and is really all-encompassing. I love her upbeat dance songs but also live for her ballads. She’s an amazing songwriter and performer who has the power of truly connecting with people and changing lives. I really respect that.