With season 1 having proven to be somewhat of a surprise – and huge – sleeper hit, dark comedy Conversations In L.A. is back for a second run, with new episodes currently airing via iTunes and Amazon. TITL caught up with creator, writer, director and star Anne Marie Cummings and her co-star Gustavo Velasquez, both Daytime Emmy nominees, to find out more about season 2, the impact social media has had on the show and any future projects the pair have lined up.
TITL: For those who have never seen or heard of the show, how would you sum up Conversations In L.A. and the characters you play?
Anne Marie: Conversations in L.A. is a story about an older, menopausal woman who meets a young, Hispanic millennial and the obstacles they overcome in their relationship. It’s a one-shot series which is what makes this one-of-a kind. Michelle Macabee, my character, is having a mid-life crisis, she just lost her dog, she just quit her decade-long job at Amazon, and the last thing she was expecting was to meet Gus Borrero, who she initially gets involved with just because he’s the only one who makes her feel alive after the death of her dog.
Gustavo: Conversations in L.A. is a story about Gus, a young, old soul who embarks on a journey with Michelle, an unexpected older woman. They battle doubts from their friends and family as their relationship grows. Gus Borrero is a young, Hispanic millennial dealing with internal battles that are preventing him from who he is meant to be. Gus is a bartender/hairstylist looking for something more out of life then what he is used to.
TITL: What do you think the show’s unique selling point is, and why do you think the first series was such a sleeper hit?
AM & G: The unique selling point is that Conversations in L.A. is a one-shot series – something that’s never been done before. Each and every episode is shot in one-take with a single camera, with highly choreographed blocking, and with continuous camera movement.
The first series was such a sleeper hit because so much time goes into creating a one-shot series. Each season takes us almost an entire year to produce. There are a number of films that have one-shot sequences that last up to ten minutes, but they don’t go on much longer because they are so incredibly challenging for the actors and the crew. Between seasons one and two, we produced one-shot episodes that are up to 30 minutes long. This is extremely rare, and it’s essentially theatre on film.
TITL: You both received a Daytime Emmy nomination thanks to your roles in the show, but how much do accolades and praise like that mean to you? Are they be-and-end-all for actors, or are you personally more concerned by what your audience and fans think?
AM: If you were to ask me personally how much accolades and praise means, the answer would be, not much, however I say that in the sense that accolades and praise come from the outside, and while I’m extremely honored to receive that outside praise, I think it’s very important for anyone in this industry to know that if you feel good about what you’re doing, then that’s enough because you don’t always get outside praise.
All that being said, as the creator, writer, director, and producer of a series, another answer to your question is…it means a lot. Why? Because the Daytime Emmy’s is equivalent, in the eyes of much of the public, to the Oscars. If you’re recognized by the Daytime Emmy’s, then it helps audiences in terms of wanting to watch the show and learn more about it. Plus, that kind of recognition can help sell a show as well.
To answer the second part of your question, I certainly hope that nominations and awards are not be-and-end-all for actors. If that were the case, then I don’t think too many actors would continue working. Now, regarding what my audience and fans think? I don’t write or perform for them, so I’m not, in my creative process, thinking about what they think, I’m thinking about telling an interesting story – writing dialogue that feels layered, like life is. And then, if the audience and fans sense the truth of what I’m writing and can relate to it, then I’m happy – I know I’ve done my job.
G: I performed in season one not knowing that the Daytime Emmy`s offered awards for the category of Digital Drama Series. The appeal of any award was never the determining factor as to why I decided to become an actor. However, I am extremely honored to be recognized by the Daytime Emmy’s, and it’s something I will always be proud of, but the work never ends. I need to continue discovering my character, finding new layers, takings risks and challenging myself as an artist. To answer the second part of your question…although awards are an honor to receive, they cannot be the be-and-end all, because they are out of your control. As the artist, all you can control is your work. So, what I concern myself with is, my work as an actor. If my performance is genuine, real, and heartfelt, then I know that will resonate with fans.
TITL: To what extent do you think social media helped and continues to help spread the word about the show?
AM: Before we received the Daytime Emmy nominations, we had no publicity or social media presence whatsoever. We focused all of our energy on the acting, the writing, the directing, and cinematography. As the creator of the series, initially my focus was to find the style of this series and that didn’t happen right away. I didn’t go into this knowing that the intros and outros for each episode would either give a taste of the City of Los Angeles or be character driven. All I knew was that this would be a one-take series, but I had to find an interesting way to conceptualize that for episodic work.
G: After the Daytime Emmy nominations, and in regards to season two, publicity on social media has been extremely important. It allows us to reach a diverse audience that we would never be able to reach at such a rapid rate without it. It’s worldwide, and now that we’re on iTunes and Amazon in the U.K., Australia, and Canada, social media is a necessity. And, social media combined with an amazing product can really help anyone reach for the sky.
TITL: Season 2 premiered last month – without giving too much away, what can fans expect from the upcoming episodes?
AM: As the director, I pushed the actors for stronger performances even more than in season one. As the writer, I dug deeper into the psyches of the characters so you’ll be surprised to learn about some of the characters’ secrets, and I also think it’s exciting to meet some of the other people in Gus and Michelle’s lives. In terms of the character Michelle, we really do get to see her at her most vulnerable.
G: A deeper look into Gus’ family situation. Diving into the family obligations that are keeping Gus from being who he wants to be. Gus is placed in difficult situations that force him to be vulnerable and reveal truths.
TITL: The new series also has a considerable number of guest stars including Sterling Jones, Rebecca Metz and Mike E. Winfield – did/do you have any favorite people you got to work with?
AM & G: It was an absolute pleasure to work with all of the guest stars. They each brought their individual perspectives and creativity to their roles that made our jobs very easy. Each of their performances are memorable and will stand the test of time.
TITL: Are there any stories or funny moments you had on set you can share?
AM: Oh my God! Where do I begin! Certainly every episode had its funny moments because this work pushes people’s buttons, but the funniest moment that stands out for me is when I was shooting the episode called Narcotics Anonymous with Brett Banner and Sterling Jones, we were all ready to go with our shoot, we had had several camera rehearsal, and we were shooting in a parking lot in Culver City, and at midnight, all the lights in the parking lot turned off. As the producer, I had visited this parking lot at least seven times over the course of a month before we began rehearsing there, but never did I visit the parking lot after midnight, never did we rehearse after midnight. We all had to return the next evening for the shoot. You live and learn, sometimes the hard way.
G: During the filming of season two, episode one, “Red Flags”, in downtown Los Angeles, a black van was parked in the alley where we were going to shoot. There was a not on the dashboard that read, “If you need me, I’m in the basement…” and there was an address attached. I said, “I don’t feel like being murdered today, so let’s find a new location,” but Anne Marie, and our hero cinematographer and production sound mixer, decided to go to the basement. Knowing how most horror films end, I stayed behind at our location with 911 on speed dial. Eventually, like three detectives, they found the owner of the van, got him to move it, and we were able to have our shoot.
TITL: Do you think a show like Conversations in L.A. would work on mainstream TV or is it better fitted to services like iTunes and Amazon?
AM & G: I think we both agree that at this day and age, mainstream TV is not what it used to be. Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and countless others, are producing a variety of shows with unique perspectives that are all becoming mainstream. Audiences now have control over what they want to watch. With so many options, viewers are asking for something new all the time. Conversations in L.A. is meeting that need. It’s real. It’s deep. It explores love and exploring love does not mean just showing when things are working out – it shows every side of love. And, as the producer, we have the luxury of making our work available on multiple platforms all serving unique purposes. It’s a win-win.
TITL: Where would you ultimately like to see the show go? Do you think it could be one of those shows that runs for several years?
AM & G: We definitely see this show running for multiple seasons. We don’t want to give anything away just yet, but we are reaching for the stars. As should any artist.
TITL: Finally then what’s next for you? Are there any upcoming projects you can tell me about and what would your dream roles be, and why?
AM: All of my energy is on Conversations in L.A. and moving this show forward at the moment. When I moved to Los Angeles two years ago, I came to hone my craft as a writer, actor and director, and to concentrate on my work. This does not mean that I am not interested in doing other projects, written by other writers. But, my journey is currently focused on being a writer, actor and director. That being said, my first feature, a culinary romantic comedy, Eat, Bitter, Taste Sweet, was picked up by the two-time Primetime Emmy nominated director, Wendey Stanzler. Continuing to create unique and daring work with talented and dedicated artists for television and film would be a dream come true.
G: Being a lead hispanic character in a daring series means a round-the-clock effort. When the camera stops, I keep going. I am helping in every way I can to make sure Conversations in L.A. gets the exposure it deserves. My focus is on finishing season 2 at the moment. Working with talented directors, writers, crew and everyone who makes this magic we call cinema come alive for the rest of my life would be my dream role.