Jill Soloway got her start at a scrappy theater company in her hometown of Chicago, where she and her older sister, Faith, put on shows like “Miss Vagina Pageant” and “The Real Life Brady Bunch.”
Their Brady Bunch show became a cult hit in the 90s, expanding to NYC and LA, where Jill ended up breaking into TV writing with an episode of the Steve Harvey Show. A few years later, she was writing for another cult hit, Six Feet Under, which earned her three Emmy nominations.
But for many years, the story she’s wanted to tell is that of a family wrestling with the big topics of love, sex, gender and identity. It is the story that became Transparent, which has landed on the top of critics’ list for fall TV shows.
Back in February, before the release of her pilot for Transparent, Hollywonk asked Soloway a few questions about what she envisioned for the series, how she approached writing and filmmaking, and what she wished she knew back when she first started. Below are a few highlights of what she shared.
Hollywonk: What excites you most about Transparent?
Jill Soloway: This cast (Jeffrey Tambor, Judith Light, Gaby Hoffmann, Amy Landecker and Jay Duplass), this family and the way they’re magnetized toward one another as they search for authenticity feels so real and alive to me. It’s definitely a salute to my childhood – that relationship with my sister where we were just so alive and in the moment creatively because all we wanted to do was satisfy one another.
HW: What inspires you the most about filmmaking?
JS: It’s a huge privilege for me to have an audience give me their brain space for however long I get. I get excited to provide a female voice, and I love inspiring other people to take their non-traditional ways of seeing and transform that into art.
HW: Do you approach writing, directing and producing differently?
JS: Those three jobs have all evolved into one big fat braid of creativity. I’ll write the script first, and then prep would be considered producing. As we prep I get new information about the script.
As a director, 95% of my work is casting. I absolutely have to cast people that I’m a little bit in love with. They have to be so funny that they make me laugh as hard as my sister does. The other 5% is showing up on the day and staying present in my body so I can get that little buzz that says, “Ooooh, this is WORKING. Go in this direction.”
HW: When it comes to writing, how do you approach the blank page?
JS: I never sit down and stare at a blank page. I get inspired to write or create a project because the world is revealing itself to me in my head. It happens while I’m driving or falling asleep or waking up. It’s as if the characters are ghosts out there in some vague semi-conscious land, and they’re borrowing me to have an audience with the public! It’s a lot like playing or indulging in imaginary stories as a kid. So when I sit down at the computer, it’s usually because I’ve imagined a scene or heard some dialogue and I want to get it down. Once the actors are cast, the voices evolve and I can get even more specific information.
HW: What do you know now that you wish you knew when you first started?
JS: I was always waiting for people to say they didn’t like something, and I would pay more attention to that than the ten previous people who said it was good. It may be worse for women, who are so acculturated toward being told that they’re good or attractive or likable, but I think all artists deeply suspect that they suck and they really jump on the negative stuff.
A few years ago it really hit me that the only thing that makes a director is having the gumption to say it, to declare it, over and over again, and not really give a darn if people like you. Of course, that’s not to say I don’t crave and use creative feedback. I love test screenings and sharing my work with people so I can tell what’s working. Now I tell young artists, “You have to be open enough to allow other peoples’ creativity to power the machine of your content, but not so open that anyone can slow you down or stop you.”