Yes, it’s another show about girls with “girl” in its title. But upstart Toronto-set series It Girl promises a savvy satire of the city’s music and fashion scenes, and the aging hipsters dying to break free from them.
Ah, Soho House on a Friday night. Despite throwing down $51 last weekend for the up-sized, uber-hyped brunch, there is no place I would rather be when I don’t really want to be anywhere at all.
I’m bound by some anti-journalistic oath I’ve never read or signed to desist from divulging much of anything in regards to what, exactly, goes on inside the walls of the members-only hub, Toronto’s current social darling, if you will. What I can tell is that we’ve gathered for the official launch of director Claire Edmondson‘s debut scripted web series, It Girl, which she writes and directs. British-born Edmondson landed in Toronto 10 years ago via Vancouver; if you haven’t heard of her, perhaps you’ve heard of the artists she’s worked with, like Austra, Broken Social Scene, and, most recently, Montreal folk-noir goddess Kandle. She’s done videos for Fashion magazine. She was part of TIFF’s “Girls on Film” programme. And before all that, she spent some time in London, working as a fashion stylist. She came to resent it, and then proceeded to change her life. That old life, and the search for a new one, partially inspires the premise of the show: “What happens when the It Girl is over it?”
There’s a pink hue illuminating the main clubroom at Soho as local up-and-coming shoegazers Beliefs play a mesmerizing live set at tonight’s jam before they embarking on an American tour this month. Music will be a big part of the show, concurrently chronlicling the scene alongside Toronto’s other culture outputs like fashion. “I’ve been in this music/fashion scene for a while, and I worked as a stylist with a lot of musicians here in Toronto, so I sort of know everyone from that,” says Edmondson, who filmed cameos for the show at Fucked Up’s Great Hall gig a few weeks back, featuring members from the band alongside scenesters like Brendan Canning and members of Holy Fuck. “The music scene here is so amazing, it just fits hand in hand. [It was important for the show] to use real musicians versus fake musicians.” (The trailer, for example, is scored by Beliefs.)
As my saying goes, one person’s It Girl is another person’s insufferable twat, and the Soho can usually be a breeding—or feeding—ground for these wannabes. Soooo what does an It Girl look like? Well, that depends on who you ask. For Edmondson, that’s a package called Misty Fox, the Australian transplant—a real-life make-up artist and first-time actress—who plays the series’ lead, Wren Marlowe. “She’s a really good friend of mine, and Misty, in my mind, is the It Girl,” says Edmondson. “She’s got the charm, the looks, the style, the best friends, she’s funny. I always said that she needed to be an actress, and so when we decided to make this into a series, it was obvious that it was Misty—it was never a question in my mind.”
In the show, Wren hosts Girl Crush, a fictional blog TV show with a mandate of superficial over substance. “I’m going to kill myself on TV. Today. Autoerotic asphyxiation…with a microphone. How many hits would that get?” are the first lines we hear from Wren, who finds herself at odds with wanting to do more “heavy-hitting” reporting and, well, having a job. (It’s like a giant metaphor for Edmondson’s styling career.) The writing is snappy, and realistic without being too self-involved. It feels current (“There are Cat Marnell jokes,” Edmondson reveals), yet Canadian, which is something not many people do well on television around here. Fox/Marlowe seems like an It Girl I can get behind.
Rounding out the ensemble is Jason Couse, frontman of The Darcys, as Max, Wren’s studly boy BFF who does mildly adorable things like pocket-dial her during a hook-up and proceed to have a conversation. “In real life, Jason is so funny and chill. We were looking at other actors, but no one felt natural. I started emailing him, and I sort of talked him into it,” says Edmondson of the casting choice. Couse is also a new thespian, but a “natural” on camera. He even plays in a fictional band on the show—The Dark Seas. Sophie Grapes, who comes to the table with sizeable acting experience, seems to nail her part portraying Wren’s gal BFF, a gorgeous stoner (“Why would I eat these calories if there’s no pot in it?”) who gets high on “organic mushrooms.” She’s one to watch, and you’re eager to find out more about her. There’s also a fashion-editor friend, and, well, the list will go on.
It Girl feels familiar, combining a lot of the elements of shows with the word “Girl” in them: humour, humility, self-loathing, style, etc. The 2000s saw girls going wild, and, so far, the 2010s are on track to be about women breaking down. So exactly what message does It Girl want to send viewers among a crashing sea filled with similar vehicles for other, more privileged (yet equally unfulfilled) girls to air their grievances? Is there more to it? “The show is about trying to grow up, and not really wanting to, but you kind of feel you should, but how do you do it? It’s that whole struggle,” says Edmondson. “[HBO's] Girls is an interesting comparison. They’re in their 20s trying to figure it out, whereas I feel our crew has just turned 30 and they’ve figured it out—everyone’s made it, but everyone’s still confused.”
Are they unhappy, I wonder? “Not even. It’s that thing when you’re a little kid and you think you’ll turn 30 and have it all sorted it, but you don’t.” (Again, I defer to one of Wren’s rants: “I’m an adult and my career consisting of asking other adults who their pets are wearing this season. I’m literally mortified for a living.”) To its strong credit, It Girl feels less about its creator than it does about an actual storyline.
“Let me guess, you asked the guys about music?” is a golden line from Fucked Up’s Sandy Miranda as she’s interrogated by Wren at The Great Hall. In fact, it seems like a pivotal line that could define the entire tone of the show and its central struggle: of women being taken seriously, of pop/culture journalism as a whole, of our society’s trivial priorities and distractions. Edmondson agrees, saying It Girl, while not strictly autobiographical, mirrors her own efforts to not only be taken seriously, but also to be recognized as a director, not a female director. “I think sometimes the people you don’t expect to give you a hard time do, and that’s a bit disappointing,” she says. “I don’t find it difficult per se, but I do think guys have more opportunities and get looked at first. Sometimes, you feel other girls are giving you competition—and that’s not what I’m about.
“The show is very loosely based on my experiences. I wasn’t creatively fulfilled being a stylist, and I kind of wanted more. So we created this character—and I don’t think I’m an “it girl” by any means—but it was more interesting than me.”
Edmondson herself, though, has had at least a few creative lives. “At the end of the day, fashion seemed less intimidating [than directing], so I went that route. But I wasn’t happy, and you have to admit that to yourself eventually. My boyfriend at the time was a director, and I was far more interested in what he was doing than what I was doing.” For that reason, she began to observe and pick up a few tricks from her beau, eventually picking up a camera of her own. With no formal training or education, other than being an unrepentant “film buff,” Edmondson took a risk. “I went balls-out—this is what I want to do.” The rest, as she says, came naturally.
The purpose of the It Girl trailer, then, is to generate buzz and sway potential investment dollars from production companies. The hardest part of being in the industry, says Edmondson, is getting funding. At first, the aim was to debut the series on the web, but then television types started showing a bit of interest in the concept. If they wanted to, the It Girl team could probably put together an entire episode with all they’ve shot so far, but they’re waiting for the ratings to pop. “There’s a few different outlets that are looking at us, so we’re going to see what happens in the next month, and we’re going to monitor the reception online.”
What makes this potential web series a serious candidate for your YouTube playlists—at least ahead of other shows based here (cough, The Avenue, cough)—is that it’s one of the first scripted programs that is really about Toronto not hiding under the veil of “reality”; it’s a Toronto many can identify with, even relate to. I think it would be bloody comical, even brilliant, to show the farce that is Toronto’s “scene” to viewers in, say, Red Deer, Alberta. (Take that, Montreal and Vancouver.)
“The end goal is to want to make a pilot and have a series,” Edmondson says, “but there’s something really interesting about being on the forefront of web series—there’s a lot you can do there, a lot of interactive stuff. It’s a medium that’s just being tapped into, and to play with that really interests me.”
I mention how some scenes, namely those scripted bits between the principal cast, seem almost too sophisticated for the web. (I probably mean for Toronto’s output—because House of Cards was made specifically for the web and it’s my life right now.) “That’s the thing: A lot of web series I’ve seen don’t really look that good,” she says. “That was my mandate: If we’re going to [go this route], let’s do it properly, let’s see what we can really do.”
At the risk of giving away her trade secrets, Edmondson is really eager to explore auxiliary connections within the web format, like having a band produce a song with a digital download link after each episode. It’s an experience, a way to connect with audiences.
The biggest question I leave Edmondson with is what version of Toronto she’s portraying—are we optimistic, are we doomed, are we gritty, are we amiable? “It’s going to get dark, if you know me,” she laughs, nodding to her penchant for NSFW music vids. “Yes, we will have Jason naked on camera,” she howls uncontrollably. Gotta hook those viewers.” Okay, so there’s at least two reasons to keep the It Girl a click away.
Stay tuned for the exploits of It Girl at itgirltv.com, or follow her on Twitter.