GIANTS Goes Even Harder For Season Two
If you haven’t already been watching the hit YouTube series GIANTS, do yourself a favor and go to the IssaRae Presents page to binge it immediately! With most of the episodes 20 minutes or less, you will find yourself watching back to back! BOSSIP caught an early screening the week that Season 2 premiered and we also had the chance to chat with the show’s creator, producer and star James Bland, as well as co-producer Takara Joseph.
For those who are not familiar with the series, Bland plays Malachi, a Los Angeles transplant navigating adult life with the support of his friend since college, Journee, who has plenty of problems of her own — including severe depression. Malachi’s friend Ade adds another layer to the storyline. He’s got a lot of family drama thanks to his father’s disapproval of him and his decision to pursue a dance career, among other things.
When we sat down with James Bland and Takara Joseph, one of the biggest questions we had for them was why they chose YouTube as the platform to deliver this complex story.
“Mainly because, what other platform allows content creators the freedom and flexibility?” Bland explained to BOSSIP before emphasizing the importance of the community the platform offers. “YouTube was a great place to find our audience, and Season 1 to Season 2 was largely about building the audience for the show, so YouTube was really the best place to do that.”
For Bland and Joseph, as well as the rest of the “GIANTS” cast and crew, their endeavor has largely been a labor of love. Much of what makes the show possible are the friendships and relationships behind the scenes. “GIANTS” landed on ISSA RAE presents in a very organic fashion, thanks to a relationship between Bland and Issa Rae that stretches back for quite some time.
“I met Issa seven years ago,” Bland told BOSSIP. “We had a mutual friend who was looking to create a web series, Issa had just launched “Awkward Black Girl,” I had just launched my first web series in L.A. it was called “Fail” and this friend wanted to pick our brains. I got a chance to meet Issa, we remained friends and started following each other on social and we were just supportive of each other’s content and movement and from there I did a show called “First” that we put up on her channel, then I worked on Amanda Seales show, “Get Yo Life,” so when “GIANTS” came around she was familiar with my work, so she was like ‘Yea, let’s put it up!'”
Issa’s not the only celebrity involved either. After the first season of “GIANTS” wrapped production, Bland, Joseph and their partner CJ Faison launched an IndieGogo campaign to crowdfund the monies that would be needed to complete post-production work on the project. “Empire” star Jussie Smollett just so happened to be a friend of Bland’s who was willing to help their cause.
“Jussie and I met through the acting circle in L.A.,” Bland told BOSSIP. “Lena Waithe put a table read series together and I used to film them. Jussie was one of the actors that would come through a lot. We both used to volunteer with the RuJohn Foundation in Jamaica run by King Bach and his family. When we did Season One, Jussie kinda watched the process and saw what we were doing and when we were raising funds to finish Jussie stepped in and donated at the level of an executive producer and he’s been rocking with us ever since.”
Filmmaking isn’t cheap, and doing business with friends can be dicey but Joseph and Bland say the “GIANTS” family has managed to navigate their way to millions of views without doing serious damage to their relationships.
“We don’t even have an agreement,” Takara Joseph says of the partnership. “It’s really just trust and a bond. When I signed on to do it, I hadn’t even seen the script yet, I just believed in James and what he was doing. Whatever he asked me to do, I just did it. I had just moved to LA at the time, and for me, it was just sowing a seed knowing it was gonna grow.”
“I’ve been pretty transparent throughout the entire process about what funds we have going in that everyone on the team knows where the money is going,” Bland says. “Because we put so much of the budget towards production, we don’t really have an issue at this point.”
GIANTS cast is completely unpaid, and most of the casting was done informally, with the main characters culled from Bland’s inner circle.
“I already knew Vanessa [Baden Kelly] was going to play Journee because I’d already based so much of that character after her,” Bland says. ” Sean [Samuels] I met, and as soon as I met him, I was like ‘Yo that’s Ade,’ because I already had this character that I was forming in my mind off of people that I knew who were similar to Ade and Sean just fit the mold, in terms of being darker skinned because I wanted him to be Nigerian, and him already being a dancer in real life and embodying what I wanted Ade to be. The rest of the characters are all friends.”
“Living in LA, most of your circle are actors so it saves a lot of time having to audition actors when I already know so many dope people I know can pull the role off. Season 2 we did audition a few more people for certain characters because we couldn’t think of anyone in our circle to fill the role, so we put out audition notices.”
As the show has gained a wider audience, people have been particularly impressed with the way depression and mental illness are handled with extreme sensitivity. Bland credits his friendship with Vanessa Baden Kelly for informing him so well about Journee’s challenges.
“She’s very open and vocal about her struggles with depression,” Bland says of his star actress. “Vanessa has her moments now, but I think anxiety is more the Giant that she’s dealing with. Vanessa always showed up. Something I’ve been able to credit her for is, she’s able to push through it. At this point she’s gotten the tools and resources that she needs to pull through it. I know she has moments when she feels like she’s drowning, but she has managed to always pull through and perform.”
For Season 2, “GIANTS” continues to follow Journee’s journey to wellness.
“Going into Season 2 we all collectively talked about what therapy looks like,” Takara Joseph tells BOSSIP. “We brought on three other writers so there were times where we were writing certain things for Journee where we would pause and say, ‘Hold on, let’s make sure that this is correct.’ We make it cleear that she’s on medication in Season 2 and we had to map out our timeline so we were accurate because sometimes medication takes a while to take effect and we just wanted to be true to what would happen in real life.”
Watch the first episode of Season 2 below then hit the flip for more from our interview.