“He’s With Me” has a seasoned pro behind the camera. Sebastian La Cause is not only HWM’s director, he’s co-producer, cinematographer and editor. An Indie Series Award-winner for his successful series, “Hustling”, in this interview, Mr. La Cause, a Broadway actor and television/film veteran, shares how he was inspired to create series and what he hopes to accomplish in the future.
Can you share what made you want to be involved in web series?
I wanted to get involved with web series when I was looking to “do more” in developing my career. It was almost six years ago when I returned to New York after spending some time in Los Angeles, auditioning. I was so inspired that when I got back to the East coast I couldn’t ignore this deep rooted desire to take action. The web space was still relatively unexplored but there were a lot of series out there already. I sat down at my computer, started researching and came across a now defunct media platform called Blip.TV, that was dedicated to original scripted content. I was blown away at what I found. So many shows. Some good – a lot not so good – but the point was that people were doing it. I realized in that moment that there was no reason why I shouldn’t be working in the web space.
What compelled you to write “Hustling”?
After my research of the web series world and my discovery of Blip, I then had to figure out what the hell I wanted to write about. All I knew was that I was going to star and direct. Back then, there was a trend of out-of-work actors writing shows about well, being out-of-work actors. Some of them were doing it well but I didn’t want to do that. During my time in LA, I had met a couple of porn stars – as one does when one is in LA because they are everywhere. The big thing that stuck out for me…get your mind out of the gutter that’s not what I’m talking about…was that they desperately wanted out of the porn business they just didn’t quite know how to do that — and if they did, what the eff were they going to do? So I took that idea and ran with it. When a gay-for-pay sex worker hits forty and questions the choices he’s made, he embarks on a journey of self-discovery and uncovers a passion for food and cooking, hoping it leads him to a new life. It’s a sexy, edgy dramedy about starting over. The interesting thing was that once I started on this path there was a crazy parallel with my own life. Suddenly I was going through exactly what my main character Ryan was…minus the sex worker part. I was embarking on a journey of self-discovery and uncovering a passion for filmmaking. My life would be forever changed.
How did you get involved in “He’s With Me”?
I got involved with “He’s With Me” back when Jason Cicci reached out to me and asked if I’d be interested in directing a series he had written called “The Men’s Room”. I liked it when I read it but I didn’t think it was quite ready to start rolling the cameras. The focus of the “The Men’s Room” was very different but one relationship stuck out to me and that was the friendship between two of the characters, Martin and Ted – one gay, one straight. I thought that seemed interesting and was worth exploring. Jason agreed and started rewriting the scripts and he created “He’s With Me”. I loved the new scripts and soon we were casting and then shooting season one.
Do you have a favorite episode?
Honestly, every episode is my favorite episode hello! But if you put a gun to my head and I’m forced to pick I’d definitely say ‘Sexy Things’ in season one is definitely one of my favs. It all takes place in an art gallery with all the principals. We basically had no budget so we didn’t have many extras so we just worked the exhibits low attendance into the storyline. I also think the actors give really great performances in this episode. The scenes in front of the ‘giant vagina’ painting are just so so good! And my second favorite episode is the 2-parter ‘Lost Boys’ episode in season 2. I just love the idea of all the leading men struggling to find answers in their lives.
You’ve created three successful web series. Is there a particular formula that contributes to making a great show?
I’m sure network execs have a formula for a successful show but I’m not an exec nor do I work at a network but I honestly believe a successful series boils down to a good story that resonates with people. I also believe passion is a key ingredient. You have to love it. You have to believe it. Being passionate about the story you’re telling infuses it with an energy that’s not about pleasing an audience. Audiences will respond to authenticity. If you simply try to chase this idea of creating something successful you’ll always be chasing that idea. If you are invested in your idea at that level, it’s already a success. (Drops mic).
Your show “Hustling” has garnered all kinds of awards. Has your success in web series parlayed itself into more opportunities in the entertainment business?
Well, I’m still a struggling actor in LA, wondering if I’ll ever work again so on some level nothing’s changed. However, it has definitely opened some doors. It has given me a certain level of confidence as an actor and it pushed my career in a new direction that showed me I was capable of so much more. Opportunities are still presenting themselves and there are more on the way. It also taught me how important it is to take action. You can’t just sit around thinking about what you want to do. You have to actually take action.
What do you hope to achieve?
Global domination and my own show.
You may have noticed some natural chemistry between two particular actors on “He’s With Me”. Bradford How and Veronica Reyes-How aren’t just co-stars, they’re married in real life. Find out if it’s easy to act together when you live together and what these talented actors are up to now.
Have you ever acted together before “He’s With Me”?
B: “He’s With Me” was the first time Veronica and I acted together. But we almost had before. Veronica was responsible for my introduction to Jason in the first place on a play she had booked that needed an actor to cover the small support roles (me). She booked a film during those rehearsals so we had to wait until “He’s With Me”.
V: Well, it makes it very easy to love the person you’re already in love with. And Brad is so fun and funny that he always makes any shoot day a good time.
B: Veronica is one the best actors and THE best person I know, so to be able to work on a project that she is also a part of really is the best of both worlds. Also, when we wrap at the same time, we can find a new place for dinner.
Are there any downsides to acting together?
V: Well, when you have a fight before (or during) a shoot – it then is a challenge to not bring it into the work. There’s so much baggage when you’re a couple who is also playing a couple – so I feel like so much can go wrong there. Also, he’s super tall so I have to wear ginormous (urban dictionary word) heels to look like I’m human size.
Did you audition together?
V: We did not. Brad got the job first and I was auditioned later. I think they just trusted that we’d have “chemistry”.
B: It’s been really amazing being part of this team, working with the gang in front and behind the camera, and our amazing guest stars, and witnessing Jason and Seb usher it to completion. From an experience standpoint, it’s been invaluable!
V: It hasn’t really changed much for me. Before HWM, I worked pretty consistently in commercials, voiceovers, and some tv. I continue to work in commercials, voiceovers and TV. I’m grateful the work keeps coming and that people continue to trust me in their projects and that “He’s With Me” is successful and that people love it!
Do you have plans to act together in the future?
B: I think we’ll definitely work together again! We’re always bouncing around ideas which is one of the great things about working in the same field.
V: I am working on a couple other projects with people, and anytime I’m writing – I always create a role for Brad.
What projects are you working on now?
B: I currently have commercials on the air for Optimum, and Konica Minolta, and continue to audition for a wide variety of commercial, VO, and tv projects.
V: I work and audition regularly for TV, theatre, commercials and voiceovers and am working on a new web series with Ryan Duncan (Benny from “He’s With Me”) that just got an outside producer to sign on. I’m also writing a book about becoming an actor.
Have a question for Brad or Veronica? ASK!
Creating a series takes creators/producers down many roads to a finished product.
From casting to locations to story lines, assembling the various, necessary components sometimes take on surprising solutions.
- The show started as a 30 minute pilot called “The Men’s Room”. Eventually three 30-minute shows were written and it performed live at The Duplex. That cast included future series regulars Ryan Duncan and Indie Series Award winner Darcie Siciliano.
- Over the course of eight years, there were numerous readings with many actors playing the characters until finally confirming the cast.
- Benny (Ryan Duncan) was originally a freelance men’s room attendant but finding men’s rooms to shoot in became daunting. He was subsequently changed to a freelance Renaissance man in search of stardom.
- Martin (Jason Cicci) is featured playing the piano in a few episodes. This was easy, as Jason Cicci is a trained pianist.
- Co-stars Jason Cicci and Bradford How met performing in a play together. During the audition process, Brad’s footage and comfort with the role made him the obvious choice.
- Bradford How’s dialogue was written but he was encouraged to ad lib. During shooting, time was allotted for Brad to riff on the script. Many of his hilarious improvisations are included in final episodes.
- “Chico” is actor Ryan Duncan’s dog, Jerry, who is particular about the company he keeps. This worked to the show’s advantage, as Chico is supposed to dislike Eddie.
- “Couching It”, Eddie’s 9 page monologue, was shot in one day. Actor John Cramer arrived on-set prepared for a six hour, one-man shoot.
- Season One was shot on weekends over three months. Season Two was shot in 14 consecutive days.
- Most of the show was shot in and around Long Island City, Queens. Locations include Madera Restaurant, Square Wine and Brooks 1890.
- Upon seeing “Hustling”, Creator Jason Cicci approached Director Sebastian La Cause about working on “He’s With Me”. After a few meetings and incorporating some of Mr. La Cause’s ideas, casting began and shooting commenced in 2013.
Want to know something about “He’s With Me”?
In 2005, I wrote a pilot. At the time, web series had not yet become the popular venue for aspiring talent that it is today. Instead, I had written the pilot in the hopes of sending it around in search of a pitch meeting. When that proved to be difficult, I took heart and continued writing, liking my premise and the characters I had created.
The premise? Showing the development of the unlikely friendship formed between a gay man and a straight man. 30-ish at the time, I had enjoyed close friendships with many people, although none more than my friend Ted. Yes, “Ted” is based on a real Ted, a college classmate who I really didn’t know in college in more than a fleeting way. As we became closer, almost brother-like, it occurred to me that our friendship was special. We confided in each other, leant shoulders to cry on and provided an emotional outlet when things in life got hard or got good. There was also an underlying confusion that ensued when we’d meet new people while vacationing together or when showing each other friendly affection in a public place. It got me thinking about how modern men show their love for one another, if at all. Is it all just fistbumps and high fives? Is that as satisfying for, ahem, older men as it is for teenagers?
As the pilot progressed to a live stage version of the show to shooting our first season, I had the unique task of creating situations that modern men may find themselves in. Some of these situations are happy, i.e. weddings, falling in love, job opportunities. But, the contemplative, modern men I created also sense that there is a potential dark side to the positive things that happen to us. Are these life-defining, self-defining events that might create a meaningful trajectory in our lives? How do we feel about that? And, more importantly, how might my male friends help me to get through it?
Although there is a stereotypical notion that men don’t deal with things emotionally or sensitively, I have not always found that to be true. In fact, men do “feel” things beyond the masculine surface. They do wonder if they’ve done right, if there are more challenges ahead and how to process what is happening to them. “He’s With Me” has all of its men facing these questions, mostly with humor.
As I ask these questions myself, sprinkling my musings with levity assists in the journey. It allows me to not take it all so seriously. It has always been my hope that the men who watch our show might learn this “lesson”, ask each other for help and keep on going.