By Stephanie Lane
Though I’ve never met Toronto Director Jason Leaver, he was more than happy to talk with me about his web series ‘Out With Dad’. In his words it’s a quirky drama about a teenage girl and her single father, at a time when Rose is coming of age and coming out of the closet. Sound interesting? Well I thought it did, which explains why I’ve watched both seasons two or three times over already.
Here Leaver talks about how the show came about, his busy schedule and the importance of LGBTQ media on the web. Check it Out.
You’re a corporate video producer, you have a number of personal projects past and present and a number of awards. How do you fit the time in to do all the work you do? What’s your schedule like, it must be pretty crazy by the sounds of it?
Life gets pretty crazy! I do my absolute best to juggle it all. However, it’s getting more and more challenging all the time. Last fall, for instance, I got a great corporate video gig. It was my first one in a while. It was a big one, plus I had several smaller ones at the same time. It became too much to handle with Out With Dad on top of it all. That’s what motivated the hiatus. I hated doing that, because my first love is Out With Dad. But I had to think about myself, fostering my career, paying the bills and all that jazz. That’s really why we need a proper budget for season three, so that our cast, crew and myself can focus, and then there’s no need to worry about a hiatus or other responsibilities.
Where did the idea for the show Out With Dad come from?
I had a dream one night in which I became a father of a girl named Rose. The next day I started musing about this imaginary daughter growing up. Somewhere along the way the idea struck me: what if she came out to me? The rest is history!
You’re the creator, writer, director, cinematographer editor and do visual effects for the show. Would you say there’s one role that stands out for you as being a favourite?
That’s a really tough question. I kinda love it all. Well, not producing. That’s kind of a bummer job to do, because it often means a lot of planning, budgeting, phone calls, emails and little creativity. Blah.
I discovered rather recently in life how much I love writing. I never thought I could be any good at it, so I never really tried. Now I adore doing it. Cinematography is lots of fun, and I’ve shot other people’s projects too. Though I’m happy to hand that job over to someone else on my own projects so I can focus on the directing more. Bruce William Harper was the co-cinematographer on our second season, he shot about 25% of it, including all the scenes in our finale episode. I think he’s amazing – and way better than me! I hope we can have him on season three 100% of the time. Post-production has always been my favourite best part. When it comes time to editing: it is a solitary and controlled environment unlike the chaos of the set and the stress of pre-production. I get to just sit and be creative. There is such a thrill from putting scenes together and fixing problems that may arrive. Visual effects is another fun fun fun part. Not many people realize this, but the average episode of Out With Dad contains tons of visual effects. The finale, for instance, has about 20 effects shots in it.
But over all: directing. I think that’s my favourite part. Even when I’m writing, editing, camera operating, I’m still directing. It’s the ultimate play-time.
Are there any other projects in the works at the moment?
Lots of things! In fact, I’m working with Kate Conway on two things. One is sort of a filler-project for Out With Dad. We’re going to film something with her as Rose to help tie us over until season three. We’re also eager to shoot a short film together – hopefully in 3D! I’m also co-directing and shooting swashbuckling web series called Pete Winning and the Pirates with my friend Mike Donis. That will be happening soon. Later in the summer I’ll be directing an episode of the award winning web series Clutch. I’m honoured to be asked to direct that. I’m currently in post-production on another series I directed called The Gate, that’ll come out in August. This show is created by Elize Morgan (who makes Pretty In Geek) and Ash Catherwood (of Microwave Porn, he also plays Nathan’s co-worker).
In the back of my mind, I’m also cooking up a new web series – I won’t say much about it yet. But I will say that it involves travel, falling in love and several Out With Dad alumni. On top of all this, I’m still doing the corporate gigs!
What would you say are the advantages and disadvantages of producing series for the web?
The number one advantage is that you, as a creator, get to make all the rules. You don’t have to answer to anyone but the audience. It’s an amazing and freeing medium for a filmmaker. The greatest disadvantage is the same as it is for all indie filmmakers: money. You’ve got to fund it some how!
Have you been a part of any other productions that are LGBTQ based?
Yes! I was the cinematographer on a wonderful web series called Leslieville. My friend Nadine Bell is the creator, writer and director. The script she wrote is beautiful. I was honoured when she asked me to shoot it for her. It will come out later this year, I can’t wait for you to see it!
What would you say has been the highlight of filming Out With Dad?Easy: the friends I’ve made. Most of us involved in the project didn’t know each other before it started. Now, we’re like a family. I love them like family.It’s also opened me to an extended family: the bustling and energetic web series community here in Toronto. There are tons of amazing series made here, and we’re all so supportive and excited for each other. The level of encouragement is astounding.
What about a typical day of filming on the set of Out With Dad, what’s that like? How are the relationships between the cast and crew?
It’s a lot fun! And we have more fun now than we used to. In the beginning we were all kinda nervous since we didn’t really know what we were doing. Now that we’re in our groove it’s a joy. There’s an amazing level of trust. There are no egos (except mine!). We’re all in it together. I think that might be the best part: we know we’re making something special and we’re all doing it for the love of the project. That’s an amazing kind of energy to experience.
How important do you think it is for LGBTQ youth to have series like your own so readily available on the web?
Before I started, I didn’t have any idea how important. I got a taste of its importance when I began researching. That scene in the beginning of our second episode with Nathan researching? That was very autobiographical. I found those very disillusioning results and it made me realize that I simply HAD to make this. But I didn’t really, truly, realize the value of this show until we started getting feedback from the audience. Not just from youth, parents too. Some of the feelings, reflections, confessions and reactions I read in our comments bring tears to my eyes. I never imagined I’d make something with such an impact.
I’m interested to know about the fan mail you get and how that inspires you? Is there a wide variety of fans that get in touch with you about the show?
The audience does impact the show, to a certain extent. I’m still telling the story I want to tell. But the audience’s feedback has been quite valuable to me in how things are interpreted and understood. I learn from the audience all the time, such as what needs to be said clearer or differently. For instance, in the beginning people HATED Vanessa. I knew it would be a while before we got to see her home life to understand why she is the way she is to Rose. Thanks to feedback, I knew I needed to demonstrate just how fun and lovable she is; and why Rose is in love with her. So really, the audience inspired episode 1×04 “Party Out”.
It’s a wide variety of fans. We have many LGBT adults watching, who tell us they wish they had something like this when they were younger. We have parents of LGBT youth thanking us for helping their child come to terms with themselves – even come out to them by showing them Out With Dad. We also have a lot of people who identify as straight, who are glad they learned how challenging it might be for their LGBT friends. I’m so glad the show has turned out to be so relatable.
I recently watched the PFLAG episodes in season two. How difficult were those to film considering they contain true stories from audience members?
It was surprisingly easy, for me anyways. The cast were so good that the shooting day went very smoothly. We even wrapped a few hours early! I kept those true stories from Kate and Will, so those reactions you see on their faces are from the first time they ever heard those stories. I know our guest actors were nervous at first. Not only were they entering a set with a cast and crew that already knew each other, they were inhabiting real people. They wanted to do those roles justice. I think they did. Actually, I know they did, I’ve spoken with some of the real people who submitted those stories and they’ve told me first hand that they did a good job. The best part was when the guest actors thanked us for such a great day, as our family welcomed them and made them feel at ease. There was no need to feel nervous!
What’s some advice you’d give to aspiring film makers wanting to get into the film business, or those wanting to get more involved in the LGBTQ community?
The advice is kind of the same for both: just do it!
When it comes to filmmaking, there are so many tools out there now that are super-affordable and produce great results. Just get writing, filming, editing and put it out there. If it’s no good, who cares? You’ll have learned something and nobody will see it. The next thing you make will be way better, and if it’s worth watching, people will!
As for getting involved in the LGBTQ community, I was a little nervous at first. I was worried I’d be too much of an outsider, or that I might be thought of as a spy looking for my next big story. But I discovered very quickly how wrong I was. The LGBTQ community is happy to have friends and allies. The more people involved the stronger the community. I think that’s what’s important.
What can we expect to see in season three? Are there any hints or teasers?
Hmmm….. what can I tell you? Well, pretty much all of our characters will return. Even some of the characters we only got to meet in one or two scenes. I’ll also tell you, based on the comments and feedback of our last couple of episodes: people are going to LOVE season three! Honestly, I think it’s going to blow people’s minds. I’m so excited. Now… if only we can afford to make the whole season. As much as I hate asking for money, it is necessary. So that’s why I’m encouraging people to visit our donation page and give what they can to help make it happen.
This is definitely something worth checking out. To watch the web series visit www.outwithdad.com
If you’re interested in donating to ‘Out With Dad’ to make sure you see season 3 visit www.outwithdad.com/contribute