‘It’s about human beings, in the end’
After watching BNN’s web-series Queer Amsterdam, Logan Wenzel met screen writer & co-director (2 episodes) Toby Chlosta to discuss what went on behind the scenes. In particular, they had a chance to discuss the inspiration for the series, the technicalities of its creation and its personal significance
How did the production of Queer Amsterdam begin?
‘It all started in 2011 after Bart and I had been at the film academy together. The two of us sat down with Dorien who would become producer of both the pilot and the web series, and Marloes who would become producer of the pilot. We started discussing the fact that whenever we were watching television, when there were queer characters, they were never represented in a way that we felt we should be represented.
So, we tried to do something about that, and Bart had the idea for a long time to portray a group of queer friends who are all diferent, to show all the diferent ways of queer life. The idea was to make a TV drama series, because we wanted it to be seen by as many people as possible.
The pilot for that premiered in 2012. Everybody had worked on it for free, driven purely by this idealism of wanting to get our stories out there and wanting to tell them ourselves. After that, we talked to producers, and it looked promising for a while, but then there was a big budget cut and the whole TV landscape changed. Suddenly, there was a lot less money and then it all stopped.
Then, in 2015, BNN had heard of us and they were thinking of making a webseries. So, we got together with BNN and talked about it. And we had to change a lot, because of the new format. But I think it did the series a lot of good. The essence stayed the same, that we wanted to tell stories of our community.’
How did you decide which issues to put in the forefront in the series?
‘That was actually the biggest challenge, because there are so many issues that you can talk about, and we had to narrow it down. We had to ask ourselves which characters we wanted.
You have Bart, myself and Dorien (the creators), and we thought ‘Which character do we relate to the most?’. We jokingly say that they are our alter egos. So then it clicked, we thought those are the characters we can tell the most stories with, and they would very likely come together.
Sam and the love story and question of ‘Is gender really important?’ was always the main focus. We wanted to create a positive role model of being trans. When we knew that, then we knew we had to have Mira. And for me, I’m bisexual myself, and I’ve never seen a bisexual character on TV that I have been able to relate to. So Jesse had to be in there.’
Biphobia within the gay male community is a rare issue to see discussed in media. What drove you to involve this issue?
‘Well, it comes mostly from my own experience. I don’t only identify as bi but also as trans. The stuff that people have said to me when I told them I am bi, people who want people to be tolerant and then they are so intolerant themselves. I wanted to tackle that because I think it’s really dumb to have these misconceptions, and it comes from fear, I think. To say that ‘bisexuals will always be unfaithful’ says a lot more about themselves and the insecurities they have.
I always had all these discussions with people and there was so much misunderstanding and I thought ‘Okay, I need to have this in the series’. And then when we talked to the people at the TV network and they suggested Jesse should realise that he is actually gay, and that just made my point.
For most people there seems to be no in between, and I wanted to address that bisexuality does exist. And also that within the LGBTQ+ community its not always a happy place and sometimes you struggle to be yourself.’
The storytelling of these identities came across very authentically when watching the series. How much emphasis was put on the inclusion of LGBTQ+ individuals in the making of this series?
‘It was very important. Starting with the crew, many of them are somehow LGBTQ+, which was very refreshing. The casting was very important— we said you have to have some kind of connection to this world or relate to the issues because if that’s not the case then we would lose the authenticity we wanted to have.
So, we asked each actor who came to the casting what their connection was. And what was great was Stephanie, who plays Sam, said ‘I’m not a trans person so I don’t have these feelings’ but she could talk to Bart, she could talk to me, or other trans people on our team. And we were very open about those things during rehearsals.
Our cast ended up being very open minded people who connected with us and the issues. So that was definitely very important to us.’
What role did the city of Amsterdam play in writing this series?
‘At the time we were all living in Amsterdam, and our social circles were here. I think, because we all love Amsterdam and especially its queer community, so we wanted to celebrate what the city can be like if you let it.
One of the main locations was Club Church, since the very beginning we did some fundraising there and we shot there. It’s sort of a magical place because it really is open and literally anything is possible there.
And that is how the queer community should be, that everyone is welcome. It was especially interesting [filming] during gay pride last year. That day was so special, we always knew we had to have gay pride in the last episode because everything cumulates in that day. And it’s connected to Amsterdam, because its so diferent from other pride events.
And you have these little things like Mira on her bike and the rooftop terrace and the small rooms and the sex shops, it’s a crazy city in a way but also a very cute city. The characters do live in Amsterdam, but in a diferent Amsterdam than most tourists and many Dutch people, it’s an exotic world to most straight people.’
Is there any LGBTQ+ themed media that has inspired you?
‘Well, of course, you have the problem, that there is not that much out there. As soon as something pops up, even if it’s bad, you just go ‘Oh, it’s about us’ and you watch it.
But actually Queer As Folk was very important for me, I loved it. Even now, I think it’s not outdated. Why it had such an impact on me was that other shows had gay characters but they were never sexual. They were always very harmless. And then Queer As Folk came along already in the first episode there was an explicit sex scene.
Also I remember Brokeback Mountain, another milestone. What I loved, was that friends of mine, who before would never have gone to see a ‘gay’ film, suddenly, they went. And I had discussions with friends afterwards where they said ‘Wow. I thought being gay was only about sex, I had no idea that it was also about love.’ Which is terrible, but that’s what that film achieved. It explained that it was about love.’
What was the biggest message you wanted to relay with Queer Amsterdam?
‘It’s really about the fact that appearances can be deceiving and we should try to look beyond first impressions. Don’t trust assumptions, I mean, before you assume something about somebody why don’t you just get to know them first or at least ask them?
Because this is a thing of our time, that happens a lot that people assume and assume. And when you say ‘Have you even talked to that person?’ and they say ‘No, I know what he or she or they are like.’ But if you go further than these assumptions its so enriching and there is so much more out there than just your own bubble.’
It was definitely clear after watching the show that it placed a lot of value on communication as a means to create understanding.
‘Yeah and I think that also captures the essence of the three of us. Because we’ve always said, hey if you don’t know any trans people— sure I get that, I’m not mad at that, but ask. There are no stupid questions, really. I mean, there are questions where I might say that’s too intimate.
But it’s the same within the queer community as within the straight community or any community. It’s about human beings, in the end. Even in our community you can’t just say ‘The queer community has always been known for its tolerance so we are all tolerant’— no. You have to be part of that, actively.’