July 12, 2014 11:40am PT by Philiana Ng
'Transparent' Team Talks Binge Viewing, Defends Digital Platform Pay
Amazon Studios' Transparent is breaking the rules.
From creator Jill Soloway (Afternoon Delight), Transparent — which has already received critical notice — centers on a Los Angeles family and their lives after they learn that their father, Mort (Jeffrey Tambor), is transitioning to become a woman. Amy Landecker, Jay Duplass, Gaby Hoffmann and Judith Light co-star, with guest appearances by Kathryn Hahn and Rob Huebel.
In March, the series was picked up for a 10-episode season by Amazon (Roy Price, Amazon Studios director, called Transparent "distinctive" at the time), which will be available all at once in late September — the first time the streaming video service will roll out a series a la Netflix. (Amazon took a unique approach earlier this year, debuting Alpha House and Betas with weekly installments following a three-episode launch.) Transparent DVD and Blu-ray sets are also being planned for release.
"I think of it like a five-hour movie more than 10 episodes," Soloway told reporters Saturday during the summer Television Critics Association press tour of her approach to the "shape of the season" for Transparent. "From the beginning, we've seen it as five hours. We presented the whole season with an act break around [episodes] two or three and seven or eight."
"It's novelistic; it's not episodic," said Amazon Studios head of comedy Joe Lewis of whether Amazon's other shows will follow Transparent's release strategy. "We’ve never looked at this as anything but a continuous piece of five-hour entertainment. We’re actually getting to make up this new form of storytelling as we do it. That’s the only way to think about it. I don’t think about it as bingeing. We need to figure out a new word for it — it's not film, and it's not TV."
When panelists were asked about why they opted to go to a new scripted player such as Amazon Studios, which has launched just a few scripted series, cast members emphasized the freedom they felt. "I believe in this side of the street," Tambor said. "I wrote Joe [Lewis] an email the other day and said, 'I’m overwhelmed and I’m having the time of my life.' " The Arrested Development alum maintained that transitioning from the traditional television medium to digital didn't mean the projects are "lesser than." Amazon's upcoming slate includes Roman Coppola's Mozart in the Jungle, Eric Overmyer's Bosch (launching in early 2015) and sci-fi effort The After from Chris Carter.
Added Hoffmann: "This notion that we’re making some sort of sacrifice for Amazon, it’s completely false. I would have done this show for no pay. They are our allies and supporters and cheerleaders. It is 100 percent a privilege." Soloway and the cast claimed that Amazon isn't stingy with their pay, with several saying that the service "pays your network quote." Budget-wise, Soloway — whose credits include United States of Tara, Six Feet Under and Grey's Anatomy — says she's "working with more money as a filmmaker than I ever have."
Soloway also offered insight on why Amazon was the right fit, admitting that she preferred its public approach to determining series orders. (She met with networks like HBO, FX and Showtime for Transparent.) "The feeling that people would see it whether or not they picked it up, it was incredibly exciting," she said. "You hope you can get your stuff to the people and they can decide, and you can really work that way."
Soloway discussed the decision behind the casting of Tambor in a story chronicling a father's impending transition.
"It’s super complicated, because I think ideally there would be a trans woman who would have the years of experience, love and amazingness that Jeffrey has as Mora. But that’s not ideal, because Mora hasn’t transitioned yet," she explained. "Luckily I didn’t really have to think about it, because from the very moment I had the idea in my head, Jeffrey was Mort to become Mora. It wasn’t a decision, it was an intuitive feeling thing."