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Kit Williamson is the ultimate 21st-century L.A. success story.
He moved to Hollywood with fame in his eyes and spent a few years trying to make it big as an actor while canvassing, phone-banking and telling cheesy jokes as a waiter at the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. on the side. Nothing stuck.
Tired of what he calls “the audition rigmarole” and longing to work on something he had a creative stake in, he enrolled in the graduate playwriting program at UCLA. He wanted to be honest about his friends' lives, without studio heads or focus groups dumbing down the complexity of gay characters and glossing over their flaws. So late last fall, he wrote, directed, financed and starred in the first two episodes of web series EastSiders, a soap opera about a same-sex couple living in Silver Lake.
Williamson wracked his brain for ways to make the series stand out among the YouTube jetsam.
“We put my cat in the first episode because we were, like, 'It's an Internet video, so we can try to get the screen grab to be the five seconds when Albee is on screen,' ” he recalls.
(Yes, his cat is named after famed playwright Edward Albee.)
Such gimmickry soon proved unnecessary, however, as the series garnered buzz from LGBT blogs and soon had more than 100,000 views on YouTube. Williamson quickly raised more than $25,000 on Kickstarter and set to work on the rest of the first season.
It found a home in the spring on Logo TV, which is owned by MTV, a division of Viacom.
“You don't expect a company like Viacom to reach out to you, so I was beyond thrilled,” Williamson says.
He did his best to work in the culture of his titular neighborhood, shooting scenes at Silver Lake gay club MJ's, as well as at the Cha Cha Lounge and Mohawk Bend.
Living in Silver Lake, he says, is “maybe the first time I've felt at home in L.A. The Westside is just an amazing hub of gay culture, but I've never really felt at home there.”
Williamson, 27, also stars in another web series about what Money recently dubbed the “Best Big-City Neighborhood” in America: Hipsterhood, our judges' pick for best Comedy Web Series. Appropriately, Williamson met Hipsterhood writer-director Shilpi Roy at a vegan barbecue, where the host served rosemary craft beer he had bottled and brewed himself.
Williamson is putting on a play this fall at Los Feliz's Skylight Books. He's optioned a screenplay about a heroin addict who turns into a vampire — and even has a Gosling-esque Tumblr devoted to him: “Fuck Yeah Kit Williamson.”
Not to mention his guest spot on this past season of Mad Men as ad executive Ed Gifford, which he actually booked before EastSiders blew up. Williamson shot his episodes this spring for the acclaimed AMC drama while simultaneously working on his web series, finishing his graduate coursework and teaching acting classes at UCLA.
With all this success, it's getting harder to maintain a low profile on campus. One of his undergrads this quarter informed Williamson that he happened to have contributed to the Kickstarter of a movie Williamson acted in, a postapocalyptic road trip comedy called Best Friends Forever.
And no, Williamson says, that does not guarantee the student an A. —Amanda Lewis
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