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High Maintenance: The Show You Should Be Binge-Watching This Winter

High Maintenance: The Show You Should Be Binge-Watching This Winter


Ten questions for two stoners

Photography by Paul Kwiatkowski

In the excellent Vimeo web comedy High Maintenance, a pot dealer cycles all over N.Y.C. delivering weed to a captivating array of tokers. They've included a pair of bitchy fashionistas, an asexual magician, and a stay-at-home dad-slash-author with writer's block who likes to spark up and hang out in his wife's Rachel Comey dresses. (That character, played brilliantly by Downton Abbey's Dan Stevens, is one of the series' freshest and finest.) You can inhale the first season's 13 free episodes (each between five and 15 minutes long) in less than two hours--and you will. The new season (available) is not free, but for storytelling this potent, you should be coughing up something. We talked to the series' creators, married couple Katja Blichfeld and Ben Sinclair, who also plays the show's awesome dope peddler, a.k.a. The Guy.

You've said the new season of High Maintenance focuses a bit more on the topic of careers. Why's that?

Ben Sinclair: Well, you know, by getting this sudden injection of money from Vimeo (albeit a little bit), we've been able to get out of the apartment setting more. It's more interesting visually to change up the room every now and then, and we've decided to take advantage of that. And career ambition is very New York-centric. It's a bit of a hallmark here: people who just can't stop working.

Katja Blichfeld: That's probably the main difference between the old episodes and these next six. There are just exponentially more locations and more cast. But also, New Yorkers tend to define themselves by their jobs, so we have a lot of themes of people asking themselves, Am I doing it right? You know, thinking about career changes, wanting to do something with their lives that is maybe more meaningful. There's an episode that focuses on creative professionals who are getting priced out of their neighborhood and have to move further into Brooklyn. They're dealing with that struggle of "how do I maintain the life of a creative professional and follow my bliss, but also live in this really fucking expensive place?" So that comes up a lot.

And these conversations are best had over pot, right?

BS: Sure. The food for our show is not pot smoking--it's the reasons why one person might smoke pot. And there is a whole host of reasons to smoke pot, because it is a stress reliever.

KB: In these next six episodes, that's why most of the people are coming into contact with The Guy: because they have some sort of situation in their life that they're trying to--

BS: Smooth out.

We still don't know a lot about the show's dealer, The Guy. We really just get these little keyholes into his life. Will we learn more about him in the new episodes?

BS: Yes.

KB: Not much, though. I think we really enjoy the fact that he's shrouded in mystery.

BS: We might learn a little bit about the kind of people he comes from or what he likes.

Might we see The Guy with any love interests?
KB: Not yet.

There's something quite attractive about him. I don't know many pot dealers with that kind of charisma.

BS: My character is a very toned-down version of me.

KB: An idealized version.

BS: Idealized. So that comes across as charismatic.

You mentioned you were able to work with more actors this season, including Yael Stone of Orange Is the New Black. Who does she play?

BS: She plays an Australian woman and one of The Guy's customers he hasn't seen in a long time. And she's pure Australian--the real deal Australian.

KB: She doesn't play, like, a rowdy person, but she plays a very energetic, messy Bushwick bartender type.

Are there any other cameos?

BS: Sometimes, especially on a show that is small like ours, using known people can be kind of distracting from the storytelling. So whenever we do use someone of note, we try to use them in a very particular way. Either they're playing some version of themselves or we have some other element in the episode so that it doesn't distract from the story. For instance, when we cast Dan Stevens, it was the first time since Downton Abbey that he'd been seen in the U.S. He looked so different from how he used to look, and we cast Katja opposite him [as his wife], because that was as interesting as the decision to cast Dan. With Yael, it wasn't about her work on Orange Is the New Black or any of the other awesome work she's done. It was more like "we want to spend the afternoon with this person." But there is something exciting about unknowns, too, you know? It's better for us to catch people on the way up.

KB: To date, we have not held any auditions. We did take on some help with casting this time around, because we had to produce all six episodes at once, which was difficult for us. We brought on a casting associate who gave us so many great ideas. Between all of us, we've been able to go to actors directly and offer them parts, and that allows for a lot of these actors to come onto the set with confidence. They don't have to prove anything. The parts are theirs, and that allows for a lot of freedom and for them to be more relaxed. That's all we want. We want our set to feel like a party.

BS: I also tell the actors, "Listen, I am going to cut the hell out of this. You can try to do whatever you want to make yourself look like the best actor possible, but it doesn't matter, because I am gonna chop it into little bits. Don't even try, dude." Sometimes that really works.

What characters from season one return for these new episodes?

KB: Our asexual magician character, Evan, gets an episode this time around, which we're pretty excited about. He's one of our favorites. He's one of those characters who have a "career change" moment. He examines his life, finds it's emptier than he would like it to be, and changes careers in an effort to get more fulfillment.

You've featured a lot of queer characters on the show. Any more in the upcoming episodes?

KB: Definitely. We have some gay and lesbian characters, but it doesn't really inform the storyline. They're just characters who happen to be gay.

BS: Absolutely. I've been very into the exploration of sexual identity since I was a teenager.

KB: Ben's wearing a women's sweater right now.

BS: Oh, yes. It's got a bunch of fruit on it. I actually bought it one day when I was on mushrooms. I was like, "This is mine."

Speaking of drugs, how much actual pot smoking goes on while you're filming?

KB: That doesn't happen until we wrap. While we are very functional stoners, everyone's different. What the actors are actually smoking is a blend of herbs we get from our local apothecary. It's like lavender and mugwort and catnip. I don't know if it's the placebo effect or if it actually works, but people seem very relaxed after they smoke it.

There's the old adage "Write drunk, edit sober." Does the same maxim apply to pot? Write high, edit sober?

BS: For me, editing the show feels a lot like sculpture, in that you are just kind of moving things around and around into a place where you like them. That said, it's very time-consuming, and sometimes when I'm smoking pot, it a) helps me forget how long I've been standing there (I have a standing desk); and b) it helps me enter some ideas through the backdoor. If there's a clip I'm having trouble matching a cut to, sometimes that stone-y frame of mind will help me think about re-editing the scene, and sometimes that works to great effect. Now, have I wasted a lot of time because I got super focused on a very unimportant little thing that was bothering me? Of course. All I know is that we've done it that way and it seemed to be fruitful.

KB: And it turns out "that way" included us being stoned for a good portion of the creative process.

BS: But I don't want us to be proponents of smoking, because smoking's not good for you. So I have been eating a lot lately to try not to fucking ruin my sinuses and lungs. And sometimes that can get weird. Sometimes you eat too much and you need to go to sleep. You need a bed nearby.

Watch the first 13 episodes for free. Watch the Season 2 trailer below:

High Maintenance - Trailer from Janky Clown Productions on Vimeo.

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