Several months ago I came across a Kickstarter campaign for a web series called Squaresville. It was about two teenage girls who were stuck in their weird little town, due to the fact that they were teenagers, and therefore couldn’t really do anything about it. Just from the trailer I could tell that this was a series that not only looked good, but sounded good – it was witty, offbeat, and charming – and these were characters that a lot of people, especially teenagers, would be able to relate to.
Well, several months, and six episodes later, I was able to sit down with Squaresville creator, Matt Enlow, to talk about the show, the fans, and, of course, guerrilla gardening.
GEEK: So, you created Squaresville.
MATT: I did. Yes, I did.
MATT: Oh! Good one. I haven’t thought about that. I just wanted to make a show that I felt like people would really connect with and care about. I’ve been doing web stuff full time for you know, pre-The Guild, which makes me a dinosaur. The point is there are only a handful of shows that I feel people really, really connect with and really, really love and internalize the way I think all creators dream of. No one as a kid says “I want to make movies that people will forget about.”
So, that’s kind of the initial seed, just creating human characters and people that I think we can all relate to, and are universal to some extent. Then knowing that young people are online, and knowing that that’s kind of a really susceptible time to engage with someone, so why not make the show I wish I had when I was in my teen years?
GEEK: When did you come up with the idea?
MATT: I’d been sitting on it for a long while, I feel like, but in terms of when I really started, it was a good 2 years ago. It’s funny, the writing process is relatively short, and the production process is relatively short in terms of cinematic bigger style web series, but there was a big lag between when we did our first bit of shooting and the main show. What we did was, we shot a couple little episodes, like tiny short episodes, and a trailer, and used that to kind of pitch around. But between Kickstarting, which was in October/November of last year, and when we first shot that stuff, it was a full year basically.
GEEK: What inspired the show?
MATT: It’s all based off of basic experiences and that sort of thing. Like, I am a version of all of those characters, especially Percy. ‘Mallscapade’ is kind of the easiest one to point out. I definitely had a set of friends – it was me and like one or two other guys – who would play these games, and then a bunch of girl friends, and we played Dreamphone and we played a little bit of Mall Maddness. Dreamphone was the best, by far actually. I’m still friends with that person, and we just played it as a group like two weeks ago.
It’s all kind of very clearly inspired by different ideas, and stuff that happened in real life. And then it’s like any kind of writing, you take a base seed or idea and then you ramp it up for your characters.
GEEK: So, where did the characters come from?
MATT: The characters are, again, kind of loosely based off a couple different people that I knew, but then I knew that I needed two relatively grounded characters, so that the world they inhabit isn’t totally crazy. It can’t all be crazytown, so I needed two voices of reason, so Esther and Zelda are kind of designed to bounce off of each other and compliment each other. One is sarcastic, one’s optimistic. Its like the Laurel and Hardy approach, and then combining it with all those people I knew growing up, that sort of gave me a good basis for when I needed to go into the crazier parts of the show. It’s like Esther and Zelda versus the world.
GEEK: Why make a web series?
MATT: That’s kind of always been my passion, since web series has been a thing. I was kind of joking about it, being in on the ground floor. I’ve been working in web series as my living for 7 or 8 years now. I like serialized story-telling. I would prefer to do a great TV series than a great movie, so web series helps you with that. You can experiment a ton. There’s gonna be animation in this show. That last episode, the ‘I Don’t Wanna Wait’ episode, I could not get a TV network to say “Yeah, that’s okay, you can spend an entire episode on characters who we’re never going to see again.” There’s no way any studio head, or any executive producer, would say it’s okay to that, ever. So there’s a ton of freedom.
I’ve always just kind of been interested in tech and new media. I grew up thinking I would be an independent filmmaker, and that movement has ended, and doesn’t have the same spark that it once did, so I feel like web series is one where innovation and exciting stuff is happening.
And you know, like I said, its my day job, so I know how to distribute a web series pretty darn well. I knew that I could crush it, and I wouldn’t need a studio’s help the way you would with an independent feature.
GEEK: Did you shoot it all at once, or do you go episode by episode?
MATT: We shoot movie block style, because I’ve got a really fantastic crew, and a really fantastic cast, and I always joke that the better they are, the harder it is to book them, so for scheduling purposes we do blocks of one weekend. And its still a budgeted show, so you can get a weekend rental for any sort of gear for, I think it costs you one day worth of rental time, even though you’re getting it for a couple.
GEEK: So what do you think sets you guys apart from other web series?
MATT: I think that one of the things that we’ve really got going for us is that we’re very good about being collaborative with other people on the web. I really want to be inclusive and be interactive, which is something that most web series aren’t able to do because its all strictly scripted. They just don’t have the bandwidth for it. So we made that a priority.
We’re amongst the better-looking shows out there. Our DP is top notch; he’s shooting features all the time. He wouldn’t be doing it, except that he’s an old college friend, and that’s the case for basically our entire production crew. They’re all doing this as an awesome favor to the show, and I don’t think they’d be doing it except that they connect with the material in some way that’s special … and we work around their schedules.
GEEK: You mention interacting with the internet. Why do you think it’s so important to interact with your viewers the way you do?
MATT: Its kind of like asking why do a web series. I’ve seen plenty of shows out there that just want to make short, cheap TV shows. If you want to make TV, go make TV. It’s competitive no matter where you go. If you really want to make TV, you’re going to make a better living doing that. If you’re going to do something on the internet, make it internet. It’s a two-way road. That’s part of the fun.
I think the cast has been really, really into it in a way that is fantastic and gratifying for everyone. Our fans can tweet Mary Kate, or Kylie, or me, or any of the cast members, and we’ll tweet back, and we feature their fan art. That sort of interaction is so special, because I think it really does help fans who kind of relate to the show on an emotional level find each other and interact with each other. Its not like people need to become best friends, but knowing there are other people out there who relate to you is super valuable, and it’s the ultimate goal of the show. So building that fan community, and just making sure that those people are there is wonderful, and all encompassing.
GEEK: What’s been your favorite thing that you’ve seen a fan do, or gotten from someone?
MATT: I always knew that I really wanted to illicit fan art, and feature fan art, and I would kind of talk about it on set. There are a few things in the back of my head that I’m like “Oh, wouldn’t it be great if a fan did this, or wouldn’t it be great if someone made this connection that I haven’t told anyone about?” So, there was a guy who did a Calvin and Hobbs crossover drawing of Esther and Zelda as Calvin and Hobbs, and then “Squaresville” on the Calvin and Hobbs logo, and I lost it.
Calvin and Hobbs has always been a real inspiration for the show – I’ve literally read every single strip – but then the way Bill Robertson deals with fantasy, and how he approaches adolescence, is a direct inspiration, but I never told anyone that. I was never like “Hey guys, we’re like Calvin and Hobbs.” Having someone make that connection, and then going so far as to having the technical skill to pull off this awesome drawing on top of that, was like, so awesome to me. So that’s rad. Anything that a fan is doing, when they’re creating, is awesome.
GEEK: What’s been your favorite thing about making the show?
MATT: I really like being on set. That’s my favorite. It’s a really tight crew; everyone is fantastic to work with. Most of the people I’ve known, like my DP, we literally met the first day of college. We’re all so busy now that its hard to hang out with your buddy, so making a show with your best friends is pretty great.
GEEK: Have you ever been midnight gardening?
MATT: I have not.
GEEK: Where did that come from?
MATT: That was a thing where I just I knew that the girls would think it was cool, and there was like a small movement, maybe when I was writing, in LA. You can buy like seed bombs. It’s still a thing to do guerrilla gardening and I remember driving by some people and realizing “oh, that’s what they’re doing, they’re planting stuff in like a median off of Sunset.” And those are the type of people that, at that age, the girls would really care about. They would think those people where the coolest ever.
But certainly, as a teenager, I did run around at night and think overly dramatic thoughts and stuff, you know, so I had my own versions of that, but not gardening.
GEEK: If money was no object, what’s one thing you would do on the show?
MATT: If money was no object it would basically be the same, we would just have more time, and I would be releasing every week instead of every other. But I’ve seen shows that get too big for their britches. You guys like the show the way it is.
And more extras.
If you want to hear more from Matt, watch Squaresville episodes, or just stalk them a little, you can find them on Youtube, Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Pinterest, and their website – they are everywhere! You can also follow Matt on Twitter.