Sick of seeing women portrayed as squeaky clean and virtuous, Jaya Beach-Robertson created PSUSY to prove they can be anything but. Liam Maguren sat down with her to talk through the ups and downs of creating a worldly web series.
If you haven’t come across the New Zealand web series PSUSY yet, I’m not sure how I can describe this homegrown comedy beast to you. A dumpster-plucked version of Broad City? A spiritual Kiwi cousin to German flick Wetlands? A women-led ‘Louie’ for the Tim & Eric generation?
I don’t think any of those comparisons accurately describe what writer-director Jaya Beach-Robertson has created, and that should excite anyone looking for something defiantly new in a Kiwi series. And nothing quite screams “fuck your sensibilities” like the opening minute which sees its two female leads awkwardly inserting acid-soaked tampons up their anuses.
Mere days after her HP48HOURS short Charlie Loves Me Most played at this year’s national grand final, Jaya explained her web series to me while I chugged a beer.
LIAM MAGUREN: How do you pronounce the title?
JAYA BEACH-ROBERTSON: “Pussy.”
Like the cat?
Or the vagina.
That could have been tricky to Google search.
Yeah. People were like “Why don’t you just spell it right?” Because I understand marketing.
What’s PSUSY about and why did you make it?
I was bored of the way women were portrayed on programmes I was watching. I have actively fought against any stereotype or any other depiction of young women I have seen on any media format and tried to present that.
What’s the #1 trait you’re bored with or that frustrates you the most?
Women being pretty, clean, and nice. We’re not. When was the last time you saw a depiction of a female character that made you go “Ewwwww”? Particularly in television. It’s better now, but there’s not a huge amount of really flawed, gross female characters. And we are very flawed and gross.
What is the worst thing a web series could do?
Bore me. I get really frustrated when people don’t take enough risks because it is the internet – you can NOT just baby it.
I don’t think PSUSY is the second coming of anything. I just wanted to make people feel something. Whether that’s disgust, if they hated it, if I offended them, at least I made them feel something rather than them saying “Huh, *murmur murmur* it’s a thing.”
It’s the internet – you can take risks. There are some amazing, amazing web series out there that are breaking ground on different fronts. High Maintenance was ground-breaking because it had a different approach to character, really authentic, and with amazing performances. It’s just fucking great.
Did you make this for a specific audience or were you looking to please yourself first?
I think there’s definitely an audience but I don’t think that audience is going to be solely in New Zealand. It is a niche thing that’s not going to connect with what gets put on New Zealand television.
A lot of people were saying I should send it to TVNZ but there is no way they would ever like that and I would never want to compromise my vision to suit their platform. It’s not the TVNZ platform. It’s not the Mediaworks platform. It’s for the internet generation. Maybe the 10:30pm time slot for Comedy Central.
If it was animated, I’d say Adult Swim would pick it up.
Yeah, if it was animated, it would be an Adult Swim kind of thing. Definitely. But that’s not New Zealand mainstream television, but I never really intended it to be for New Zealand television. I intended it to be seen internationally. That’s what I’m trying to do, but promoting a web series is very difficult.
Let’s say you get picked up by a network – do you have an idea of how this series could work in a longer time period?
Yeah, definitely. It would need some work, but if it got picked up by a network, it could suit a 23- 25-minute time slot.
There’s definitely a lot of uncharted territory I want to cover – we don’t know if they have jobs or what their family life is like – but without being too Auckland-centric. I don’t want it to be like…
*breaks out into improvised song*
This is New Zeeeeeealand,
Here’s our birds,
And here are our cities.
*end of song*
I want to explore their family lives but still feel quite generic. There’s a lot of room to play around with.
How long did it take to shoot all six episodes?
We shot an episode a day over – roughly – a six-week period on the weekends.
How long did it take to write?
It was a pretty tough process. It took me a really long time to find somebody else to do it with me because I was very specific about not casting another white person – that’s another thing I’m sick of seeing; these encore casts of white women – so I wanted someone that contrasted me not only in look but also in background. Diversity’s important to me.
That took a really long time. I eventually got Arzi Dehar on board who had never acted before. Her first scene was the grapefruit blowjob scene. She was SO good. I was amazed.
I was so fucking nervous as well. I was like “Oh my God, what am I doing? WHAT AM I DOING!? Why are these people doing what I say?”
Who did the foley for that scene?
That was actually ripped from an actual viral YouTube video called ‘The Grapefruit Technique’ – I do recommend you watch it. I wanted to email the lady and ask if I could use the audio for it, but I didn’t have time for that, so we just used it.
Were you constantly gaining confidence as a director as you were making it?
No. The first half of making this, I was shit scared. I was worried about portraying myself, getting these people to work for free, fucking them around, and using their time inefficiently. It was fucking hard.
The confidence came after I showed people who were outside of my friend group and hearing them telling me that they liked it.
Can you give me a taste of season two?
There’s a bit of incest. I also want to address the massive issue of consent and rape culture within the sporting industry.
I want to keep addressing big subjects which I only just started getting into in this first season. The bit about Andrew Judd in the episode Bernie; I felt that wasn’t pushed heavily enough, how he got ousted because he stood up for Māori seats in the council.
Watch PSUSY season one on Vimeo here.
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