Friends with a dream of creating something amazing, something that the public can’t get enough of – this could describe the characters in Betas, a new comedy set in the world of Silicon Valley startups. It also could describe the guys who created the show, Evan Endicott and Josh Stoddard.
They met while working at Alexander Payne’s production company, and started writing together. Their first optioned work is Betas, one of 14 Amazon original pilots now playing for free at Amazon Instant Video and LOVEFiLM. Viewer response will help determine which of these children’s shows and comedies return with full seasons.
Amazon Studios Hollywonk blog contributor Sean Wicks asked Evan and Josh about their show, what they learned from working at Alexander Payne’s production company and how they tapped into the impact that social media has made on our culture as a whole:
Where did you come up with the idea for Betas?
EVAN: I worked with a producer named Michael London on the film Sideways and he called me out of the blue and asked if I would be interested in doing TV and this was right after Josh and I had just finished writing a pilot together. We spoke with him about the idea for a ½ hour comedy about an Internet startup. We both thought that was a fascinating place to spend some time mentally and we were shocked that nobody had done it yet. Right away the idea of it being a social media startup was both obvious and important to us, especially to explore that aspect of our culture where so many young people are connected – more so than any time in history – yet how that creates its own isolation and set of problems. It just seemed of the moment.
You met while working at Alexander Payne’s production company. Did your background in the development world affect the way you approached writing the show?
EVAN: Absolutely. I’ve written a lot of notes and deconstructed a lot of scripts that it was extremely helpful. We made fewer mistakes as a result of reading so much material and deconstructing it.
JOSH: For me I have a tendency to be very precious with my writing and being partnered with Evan has been good in that regard as he’s able to get us to take two steps back and shuffle things around in new and interesting way than I am less willing to concede and try initially.
Tell us about the pilot.
JOSH: It’s about 4 unlikely friends who are trying to launch a social media startup in Silicon Valley. We watch them try to find new ways to improve and engineer other people’s social lives while they fail in their own lives and engage in relationships.
Our two leads are Trey and Nash, who are friends from Stanford. Trey is the visionary of the group; he’s the one with the big ideas, the big picture, and the guy who could very well be the next [Mark] Zuckerberg. Nash is the engineer of the group and not a social being at all. He does not relate to people or emotional issues very well. He is perfectly happy to have his headphones on and the world is an alien place to him.
JOSH: It is surprising how social media and that lens changes the way as to how we perceive people and the concept of friends and relationships in general.
EVAN: And identity, just how these people like to project themselves online because they have all these tools to project an image. … It’s a complex and fascinating issue.
JOSH: That mentality that in a way these are the people that are engineering our social life and they are the least social and that irony was also very appealing.
Tell me about the genesis of the title, Betas?
JOSH: They are starting out in “beta” mode and trying to work out the kinks but then we have these young people in the show that are effectively in beta, they are still trying to figure out who they are. Also it’s a male-driven show and these guys aren’t the alphas – they’re the betas.
This is your first option, and your first production. Did you make any adjustments to the script once you had actors on set and saw them bringing your characters to life?
EVAN: Once it was cast we started doing rewrites and started writing things specifically for actors and that’s just a different headspace to be as a writer just to know who is going to embody this and what their strengths are and what they might add to a line. It’s kind of ruined writing for myself because it’s so much more interesting to write for other people. I think all my characters sound the same in my head and it was a lot of fun to see other people bring them to life.
JOSH: We got a fantastic cast from top to bottom.
EVAN: I hope people like the show. We’re proud of how it turned out and hope people want to see more of it.
Learn more about Amazon's pilots at the Amazon Studios blog, Hollywonk.