Vera Miao is fresh and new in every way, but don’t call her Gay or Lesbian.
“If you need to identify Vera can you please identify her as Queer?,” Stage 13’s publicist, Hanna Bolte, told me after the interview. Miao wanted to make sure I used the right moniker as we had talked about “openly gay” becoming my first name in the 90s and beyond as an Out man in media.
However this young lady wants to be identified the one clear thing is that she is part of an exciting new crop of Queer filmmakers bringing their voices, their visions to television, OTT and web; this time she is coming to light with the help of Warner Bros. Digital Networks brand Stage 13 and Verizon’s go90. So how did a nice working daughter of a Chinese immigrant mother (both Vera and mom were born in the USA) end up a show runner on one of the oldest and biggest film lots in the world?
Like most millennials, she found it online.
“I found the posting on a list server that target female directors,” she told me on my daily Karel Cast. “To Stage 13 and Warner Bros. credit they really wanted to cast their net as wide as possible. They posted a very generally-worded call looking for diverse filmmakers for an unnamed network, unnamed project, you know, so I threw it over that cliff and never really thought about it. And then, within weeks, I was on the Warner Bros. lot pitching a project. I had been on the lot as an actor, but not as writer/producer/director and it was quite an experience walking on to pitch my own series,” she continued.
That series would become “Two Sentence Horror Stories,” a horror anthology much like Black Mirror, but shorter, and with a variety of diverse story lines woven in the terror.
“‘San Junipero’ and ‘Black Mirror’ has been a massive inspiration for me and the series,” she gushed, after I gushed to her about the miraculous “San Junipero” from that anthology winning an Emmy. I knew when I saw it was something special, and so did Miao and Emmy voters, “The content, as a filmmaker and the diversity of the stories, I can’t rave enough. ‘San Junipero’ came out of left field and breaks the ‘Black Mirror’ mold, a great love story, so emotional, it’s no wonder it won the Emmy. That win certainly makes our job a little easier,” she added.
But make no mistake; she’s not about taking the easy way out. Her “Two Sentence Horror Stories” are brash, inventive, and very, very diverse. I recently watched several, including “Ma,” a story of a traditional mother, a not-so-traditional daughter and the horror that ensues. I sat wondering, how does one pitch this to an executive in today’s world? And was this autobiographical?
“I didn’t pitch ‘Ma,’” Miao laughed. “I pitched an anthology series where each horror story is told in two sentences and is visually beautiful an emotionally developed, characters that we love, and that at the center had Queer people and people of color. That was the pitch. And yes, I suppose it is emotionally autobiographical in a sense, traditional mom, nontraditional daughter,” she laughed.
And it worked. When Senior VP and General Manager of Stage 13 Diana Mogollón heard it, she was in.
“Two Sentence Horror Stories is a brilliant Horror anthology created by Vera Miao, a vital new voice in the genre,” Mogollón told me via email from a business trip. “Miao brings a unique storytelling style that weaves in cultural issues, the human condition and the reality of our world that at times can be scarier than genre itself. Stage 13 is proud to launch this scripted Horror Anthology with go90,” the Senior VP and General Manager of Stage 13 Diana Mogollón stated.
But in a time when there were only two visible Asian Americans at Emmy (BD Wong and Riz Ahmed), and a smattering of Queer and Women, has Hollywood caught up to society? Or is the job of Hollywood to catch up, or the job of Queer, Women, Hispanic, Asian and other filmmakers to break down the doors?
“Hollywood is trying to catch up to where society is…,” Miao started. “But it’s up to both Hollywood and us to be Hollywood. Hollywood is not its own animal, it’s a gathering of people who write the stories, who make the movies, and move the money around and get the stories out there. I don’t see a separation between Hollywood and those of us trying to get the stories out, we are part of in, it is part of us and we have to function in it. “
But in a world that increasingly devalues art, wants music, movies and entertainment for free, it almost seems like a schizophrenic relationship. The United States exports more music, movies, TV and art than any other country, it’s our main product when you crunch the numbers, entertainment, yet, we don’t fund or respect those that make it.
“It is a schizophrenic relationship, but isn’t that capitalism? Capitalism always creates schizophrenic relationships, particularly when we merge it with Art,” Miao stated. “You take it all when you go into it, because at the end of the day, we’re crazy because we love this so much. We can’t do anything else, so we have to make it work, right?”
Indeed, as a person genetically engineered to be in front of cameras, microphones and people, the insanity of not being able to do anything else is dealt with on a daily basis by so many, including myself.
But it’s a lot different behind the camera than in front, but like a few women before her (Streisand blazed that trail) she moves effortlessly from behind to in front.
“I love being an actor, and it made me a better showrunner,” she stated, “On a personal level, I understand what they’re going through, I understand actors, I understand how to talk to actors, in terms of helping them, directing them, helping them understand what’s going on in a scene. And also, straight up, I have mad deep respect for actors and acting. It’s an honorable way of storytelling. We as a society and as a people couldn’t exists without folks that are brave enough to stand up in front of other people that stand up for your judgment, for your approval. That takes guts,” she added.
And if being a Queer daughter of Taiwanese immigrants isn’t enough hurdles for Hollywood, when you add in she’s a woman in a genre that doesn’t see many of them except as victims to be stabbed, choked, dismembered or some other horror, she truly is blazing new trails.
“You know there’s a lot of women who love the Horror Genre and there’s a lot of rad women out there who are making their way through the Genre,” Miao stated. “ I’m not going to say anything new to any other part of this industry, right? Yes, traditionally, historically and even now a lot of the people that make the stories tend to look a certain kind of way and look a certain way, particularly straight White men. That’s not new, that’s just a fact. At Two Sentence Horror Stories we hope to change that,” she added.
As for the future, at her young age and the pace she’s ascending the Hollywood ladder, things are popping.
Lots of things are in development and for a change that’s fabulous,” she laughed. “Seriously though, I hope that people embrace Season One of ‘Two Sentence Horror Stories’ and that gives us a second season to get even more diverse story lines out there.”
Given the quality and content of the anthology series, true fans of horror will only benefit from the series lasting. And diverse people from all areas of life will see themselves reflected in storylines not as victims for a change, but as richly developed characters and all within 15 minutes or so.
Of course, when the conversation turns to current social issues, Presidents and such, Miao agrees.
“There’s a lot out there that’s even more frightening than fiction. We will draw on some of those absurdities, those fears, those circumstances, but for someone like me, real life sometimes seems more horrifying than anything on screen.”