The cornerstone of any successful relationship and work of art is honesty. So while the new Web series “Transplanting” is a comedic love letter to Asheville, co-creators Lea McLellan and Andrew Vasco are sure to include a dose of truth with each episode — or at least an exaggerated version of it.
“Transplanting” debuted Wednesday, Sept. 30, on transplantingseries.com, and a new installment will be posted each Wednesday, at 2 p.m., through the end of January. The series follows Maeve (Hayley Heninger), a millennial who moves from New York City to Asheville after seeing the Paris of the South named as the top-ranked of 23 hidden paradises on the website Buzzlizt. Upon arrival in her new surroundings, she experiences the tragicomic odyssey of finding affordable, habitable housing and soon discovers the many other quirks that make Asheville equal parts wonderful and ridiculous.
Like many trying to find a place in Asheville, Austin, Portland and elsewhere, writer/co-producer McLellan and director/co-producer Vasco can relate to Maeve’s predicament. Within the past two years, McLellan — an Xpress contributor and former staffer — moved to Asheville from Boston, and Vasco relocated from from Los Angeles. Most of the people they’ve met in their new surroundings are also from somewhere else, including many from larger cities.
The two met through Vasco’s girlfriend, who’d passed him a spec script by McLellan that he thought was hilarious. Both are fans of the satirical comedies “Portlandia“ and “Broad City,” and the more they watched these shows, the more commonalities they saw with Asheville. “There are plenty of other great comedies, but I think those shows really touch more upon the ‘it can happen to me’ scenarios,” Vasco says. He also cites “Parks and Recreation,” “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” and short online series such as “High Maintenance” as relatable inspirations.
The new friends started exchanging ideas, and when Vasco pitched a concept for a show eerily similar to something McLellan had started writing, a partnership was born. The extent to which they were on the same page was so staggering that Vasco was convinced such a project already existed or would be completed by the time Transplanting got an episode online, so he took strong measures to protect the idea.
“We kept everything hush-hush,” he says. “When we first got Hayley involved, we made her sign [a non-disclosure agreement and] didn’t release any info, not even the name, until the script was registered with the Writers Guild of America. I thought for sure someone else would do it, but it never happened.”
McLellan wrote every episode with copious feedback from Vasco and other friends. Since “Portlandia” satirizes a city that has much in common with Asheville, she was conscious not to copy its material. (In other words, don’t expect a brunch line episode.) She also strove to differentiate “Transplanting” by developing an episodic story arc and making it less of a sketch show while still capping each episode at five minutes.
“For whatever reason, when a Web series episode gets longer than five minutes, it can start to feel a little draggy,” McLellan says. “I’ve watched Web shorts that I think are legitimately well done, but around minute six I’m starting to get bored anyway. It’s the Internet, and we wanted to be realistic about attention spans.”
Over the first 10 episodes, Maeve interviews for various jobs, goes glamping (glamorous camping), rents movies at Orbit DVD and goes on a bad date with a “brogi” (a man-child who practices yoga). McLellan is currently writing the second half of the first season and feels as if there are countless premises to utilize (e.g. dogs in strollers, which Vasco hopes will make the cut).
Actors were found through the self-admitted “Facebook stalking” of people in local acting groups, as well as using the talent website Backstage and speaking with performers in area improv troupes such as Blacklist and No Regets. The crew consisted of Vasco operating his camera and providing direction and, in his words, “some wonderfully talented friends who got to hold a boom pole for the first time.”
He adds, “If you know your way around film stuff and don’t mind working for food, give us a call.”
Along with Orbit DVD, local businesses Biscuithead, French Broad Food Co-op, Mojo Coworking and Vortex Donuts allowed on-site filming during off hours. Though early mornings before the workday began were sometimes all that was available, the entire cast and crew were grateful for every opportunity. “Being new in town, I was amazed to get access to film at some incredible local establishments,” Vasco says. “Unless you have serious connections, you can’t do that in LA. That’s the beauty of Asheville.”