interview: matt palazzolo, creator of webseries bloomers
Meet Matt Palazzolo, one of the creators of the web series Bloomers.
Matt is an actor, screenwriter, filmmaker, and director based in Los Angeles. He is best known for originating the role of Fever, a street prostitute in the NAACP Award-winning musical City Kid. He has been recognised for his performance in the indie feature film You Should Meet My Son and recently finished filming the lead in superhero film Real Heroes. Matt is an LGBT activist, and serves on the City of West Hollywood Lesbian & Gay Advisory Board. In 2010, Matt wrote and directed a PSA that starred George Takei and husband Brad Altman, to encourage same-sex couples to fill out the census.
Bloomers, an award-winning web series, is about a diverse group of friends finding new ways to love, work and laugh in downtown Los Angeles. The characters are rich and nuanced, and the series deals with a variety of social issues by examining their lives, like Matt’s young gay man, Brooke, or co-star Swati Kapila’s Joanna, a young Muslim woman who struggles with observing her faith in modern America. The series is running a crowdfunding campaign for its third season.
Matt is currently writing Season 3 of Bloomers, which will be full of surprises for the viewers. We caught up with Matt to find out what else the talented rising star was up to.
Tell us about yourself. Where did you grow up? What’s your background?
I was born and raised in Fremont, CA – it’s a suburb in the San Francisco Bay Area. Fremont is a very culturally and ethnically diverse town. I was born to a half-Filipino, half-Italian household. Fremont also happens to be home to the largest population of Afghan-Americans in the US.
When did you know you wanted to be a filmmaker?
I knew I wanted to be an actor at around age 8. I knew I wanted to be a filmmaker at age 16 when I wrote my first feature screenplay, which I then produced with my friends during our senior year of high school. Don’t ask for a clip as it’s exactly what you would expect from a first-time teenage filmmaker. [laughs] I moved to Los Angeles when I was 17 to both go to UCLA and also to pursue my career in acting and filmmaking. I’ve been here ever since 2002.
Describe your state of mind just before your very first screening.
It’s funny. I always get nervous at screenings. Before it was more about worrying what the audience would think about my talent or product. Now it’s more like… I just hope I put something useful and good into the world.
Can you give us an insight into how you pick and choose your projects?
I try to pick projects that I feel contribute to the world in some way… that will somehow make someone’s life better.
Do you feel that you’ve had creative control in your previous projects?
With my show Bloomers, it’s quite nice. When you make something for the internet you don’t have to answer to anyone so the producing team and I always maintain complete control. It allows us to tell stories that we think are worth sharing rather than creating something for the sake of attracting a lot of viewers. Low-budget filmmaking is a double-edged sword. You don’t get paid, but it’s very rewarding artistically.
What did you learn from those projects?
Talent doesn’t make a project successful or rewarding. Hard work and team work do.
Which was the most difficult character to cast throughout your career?
Actually, the most difficult character to cast in any project I have ever produced was Joanna, our Muslim character in Bloomers. The six other lead characters of the show were cast by asking actor friends we were familiar with. Joanna was the only character who we actually held auditions for. We lucked out when we cast Swati Kapila. She has an incredible honesty to her which does the character justice. It’s challenging to play a character when going in you know that a lot of viewers may disapprove of or not like the character.
The first two seasons of Bloomers have been a major success, so can we expect a third season in the near future?
The next project in line is season 3 of Bloomers! We just launched an Indiegogo campaign to raise $75K to make the next season.
How did you get the idea of doing the series Bloomers? Was it an inspiration?
My producing partner and Bloomers co-star Fernanda Espíndola and I were trying to think of a project to make together – it had to be something fairly easy to shoot in LA and that we could film with the involvement of our friends – so of course we decided to make a show about friends in LA. As for how each storyline and characters has developed, it has all been sourced from my own life and the lives of my friends. There’s so much richness in every life around us so as a writer I never feel I have to look too far.
You have depicted the life of a young Muslim- American girl who struggles with whether or not wear Hijab or whether or not to date outside her religion. Did you have any complications with this story? What was the feedback like?
Having grown up in Fremont, clearly I was raised amongst many Muslim people, some of my best friends. But, the interesting thing is – most of my Muslim friends were more unfamiliar with their faith than familiar, more Muslim in name and family tradition than in practice… you know, a very common thing to see in America… especially in a town like Fremont which is home to many immigrant parents with American-born children. Sometimes it seems as if kids are living in a completely different world than their parents. From seeing that immigrant experience all around me and from my own experience being bi-racial and growing up gay without knowing, for the most part, any other gay people – I’m very attracted to stories about people living in the in-between – in-between cultures, faiths, countries, communities and so forth. It’s why I wanted to write about Joanna, a character who doesn’t wear the Hijab correctly every day, who dates outside her faith and who is sometimes unsure about herself and her own beliefs. From these stories comes at first a lot of pain and disagreement, but then ultimately empathy and understanding.
Audience reaction to Joanna’s story has been very mixed. Some viewers have commented or written to us expressing how much Joanna has resonated with them and their own personal journey. Other people have taken to the YouTube comment wall to express their frustration with the character – and that’s very valid. Joanna is not, by any means, the perfect Muslim role model. I understand how frustrating it can be to watch a portrayal of a character that shares your identity, but acts in a way that you disagree with. It happens to me all the time when I watch portrayals of gay characters. Sometimes I’ll shout at the TV “What!? Gay people don’t do that!” and then I have to remind myself… yes, of course some gay people do that… it’s just that I do not do that. And that’s the difference. So when people react with upset to the character of Joanna I completely understand. I just hope that viewers understand that, whatever you think about Joanna, she is written and acted from a good-hearted place – trying to share an honest story about one particular person.
You know, and to be honest. I always see Muslims portrayed on TV as terrorists or some kind of outsider – not the best things. I really wanted to create a Muslim character that you’d want to hang out with… because I want to hang out with most Muslim people I meet in real life.
Who are your biggest film influences?
My biggest film and television influences are Meryl Streep and director Paul Thomas Anderson — for their tenacity and obvious hard work and talent. I also hugely admire Shonda Rhimes, the creator of Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal, for her bravery in creating full stories about people of every colour and sexuality. She truly has changed the landscape of television and has redefined what a leading man or woman can look like on American TV. My very first film/TV inspiration was Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek. His imagination broke barriers, really, truly. Star Trek featured the first interracial kiss on American television. The series finale of Star Trek: The Next Generation was all about exploring our unique human ability to imagine what is not known. To do so is powerful. And to do so can change and improve our world.
What are your top five favourite movies?
The Hours, Star Trek: First Contact, Cloud Atlas, There Will Be Blood, Boogie Nights, and Bridges of Madison County to name a few.
What inspires you to keep going and how do you keep yourself motivated?
What inspires me is – well, why not? You gotta do something while in this world. You might as well make it something you believe in and that brings you joy and joy to others.
What are your goals in life?
Make my parents proud.