Recently I got the chance to chat to Australian writer, Boaz Stark, who has worked on programmes such as Neighbours and Home & Away. He is also the producer, writer and director of the hugely successful online LGBTQI series The Horizon.
Can you explain to my readers what The Horizon is about and how long as it been running?
The Horizon revolves around a small group of gay characters living in Sydney – a kind of “Gays of our Lives”. We’ve been in production since 2009, although we started off extremely low budget. I wrote the first season as a favour for a friend who wanted to produce a gay webseries. That season was made by film students but went viral. In 2012, I saw it was still getting impressive viewer figures, despite the low production values, and decided to do morewith it. I found more sponsors and it has built from there.
As it is Internet based, I guess you have followers globally. Does this affect your storylines?
It has been affected, yes. For example, our most popular territory is the USA. That attracted an American sponsor who paid for an American actor to come to Sydney and be a part of theseries – Jai Rodriguez from “Queer Eye For The Straight Guy” fame. He was a pleasure to work with, by the way; very professional and easy going.
How do you choose your characters and of course finding the right performers to play them?
I like writing characters who represent different members of the LGBTQI community. It’s about balance and making sure no character is doubled up. Despite the series’ success, we’re still low budget, so paying actors is a consideration. We need to keep cast numbers down, so every character must be unique, able to generate story and interact with all the others. In terms of casting, it’s the tradition route. We advertise the need for an actor, several come in and we audition them, choose the one who best fits the role.
As it is a LGBTQI Web based enterprise, do you think it as a value in influencing external views from our rainbow family?
The Aids Council of NSW (ACON) has supported us from the start and The Horizon includes subtle safe sex messages and health information weaved naturally into the drama. I hope we are influencing viewers to look after their health and each other. Our series fans (#Horizontals) include many straight people, who often write to us via social media to thank us for the insight into LGBTQI life, and the health info too. For example, many people had no idea about the existence of PeP (Post-Exposure Prophylaxis) until we covered it in a story. We may have saved a life. Now we’re doing a big PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis) in Seasons 7 & 8. It’s gratifying to give this information a global platform.
Above: Cast members of the show.
In general do you feel there is a lack of certain LGBTQI roles and performers in media entertainment and how can this be addressed?
Yes, we’re not very well represented, which is partly the reason why The Horizon is doing so well. I think members of the LGBTQI community want to see images of ourselves on screen, as any community does. TV networks are generally too conservative to produce any queer content that’s edgy so I guess it’s up to queer film makers like me to do it and put it online. That’s the beauty of modern technology – content can be shot on phones these days and edited on personal computers, then uploaded to platforms like YouTube. Anyone with passion and commitment can produce something and put it out there. Hopefully they’ll find an audience. It’s obviously not all about good production values or The Horizon would never have got off the ground.
Recently there have been calls for Hollywood to address issues of not using transgender performers to play such roles. What are your thoughts on this and how can this be better addressed through the industry?
The industry is first and foremost a business. Producers will often opt for a known, non transgender actor to play a trans role because it helps with financing and publicity. That’s why you’ll have people like Jared Leto (Dallas Buyer’s Club) and Felicity Huffman (Transamercia) cast in transgender roles. The bigger the project, the more likely producers will go for a “name”, so as to more easily recoup their investment. I don’t see this changing in a hurry. The only hope transgender actors have of securing big roles is if they’re cast in smaller productions first and gain a profile – like Laverne Cox (Orange Is The New Black). I’m planning a transgender story for The Horizon at the moment with a preference to casting a trans actor because my series is relatively small and we have nothing to lose!
Above: Wilma Bumhurt, the shows resident Drag Queen.
Do you think your own personal experiences come out in the script?
It’s funny, my boyfriend is always catching me using stuff that’s happened in our lives on The Horizon – situations, dialogue; the works. I often steal from friend’s lives too, or things I hear about that actually happened. I find truth far more exciting than fiction. There’s a storyline in season 7 where our drag queen character, Wilma, goes home with a kinky “Daddy”. He makes her wear a nappy and gives her a baby bottle to drink from, then leaves without having sex with her. People have said the story is outrageous but it’s based on actual events that happened to a friend in LA – so there!
Thanks for taking part in this interview. Is there anything else you would like to add?
The Horizon series has a unique voice and gives HIV information and general gay men’s issues a platform while it entertains. I’d simply ask everyone to watch the series and share it if they like what they see. The more viewers we have, the easier it is for us to get funding and keep going. We all love making it for you.
You can watch The Horizon from here……