TWENTY | Shifting the Narrative
Meet Caitlin Combe & Lily Richards, the power couple making waves in the entertainment industry.
Lily is a writer, director, and actor of her first hit web-series Twenty, and partner, Caitlin is the head producer of the show. Fellow alums from Emerson College, Lily, and Caitlin aspire to break the LGBTQ stereotypes that exist in media today. After getting cast in multiple projects that were shelved and never released, Lily wanted to attempt to take on a project entirely of her own. Already a writer, an actor and a director, and by her side, Caitlin as a producer, they were off to a strong start.
Tell me about your journey to Twenty, and what inspired the premise.
Lily: Twenty honestly just evolved as it went. I knew I wanted it to be about a queer woman and have that be the main through-line and the straight friends be the wacky ones. Whereas typically it’s the other way around, you’ll have that token gay friend who’s crazy and I wanted to reverse the stigma.
I had all these friends from Emerson who had also moved out to LA, and we were all trying to do the same thing. I knew what roles they would shine in, so I wrote their characters based on what I knew they would be great at playing and then the rest fell into place. There was a lot of freedom in season 1, and episode 1 was entirely based on improv. I would have the actors come over, I would voice record our improv rehearsals and then I would write the script based on that.
At Emerson, Lily majored in Acting & playwriting and minored in Marketing and Caitlin majored in Film production and specialized in production management and producing.
Do you feel you were able to take what you learned from Emerson and apply it when you were creating Twenty?
Lily: 100%. The thing that influenced me the most was my improv classes. I’ve never been one for traditional learning, my greatest learning comes from doing. I remember watching improvs in my improv classes and thinking every single one of these could be a show that people would watch. These lines that people are coming up are phenomenal. I remember thinking I want other people to see what comes out of these classes.
And of course- I met almost everyone involved in Twenty at Emerson. If I hadn’t had gone, I wouldn’t have had such an incredible cast and crew.
Caitlin: From the production side, I think Emerson prepares you to be an independent New York freelance producer. Learning by doing it, is the way you have to do it. But when you get to LA, they tell you, you have to start in the mail room and move your way up at an agency. That was a huge realization for me, learning that I much preferred working on smaller independent film sets which I did at Emerson than the big Hollywood blockbusters. Twenty is a product of an Emersonian.
Writing, directing and acting - what has the experience been like doing all three on one set? What did you learn?
Lily: As an actor, you can’t anticipate, but as a director, you have to anticipate. It’s hard balancing that. To be in front of the camera and then jumping behind the camera to watch the scene. Directing and acting, I don’t have time to really nitpick both on the crew and the cast side. That was one thing I learned that it requires so much trust. I need to trust that my DP, lighting people and sound people are doing what they’re supposed to be doing and I need to trust that my actors know what’s right for their character at that moment.
As a woman, it’s hard too. I get nervous that if I retake a shot or a scene again, that I’ll be seen as the bossy female director. When I know, that’s not the case. I’m in charge of this set, and it’s my job to be that “bossy female director.” It’s not a bad thing to retake something.
It’s so important to make sure your voice is heard, as a woman, and to not be afraid of how others are going to perceive you. You are coming from a right place, and you’re there to make the project better, and that’s what going to show.
What change do you hope to see in media for the LGBTQ community?
Lily: Honestly so much. I found that most of the time when I got cast as an LGBTQ character before I was working on Twenty, she was always evil in some way. I was tired of narratives of gay and bisexual women being predatory people who were just there to suck the life of straight women or women that were just experimenting and then end up with a man eventually. I was tired of seeing that. There are so many stories out there that aren’t being represented accurately.
It’s harmful. Growing up, if that’s all you see it doesn’t make you want to be confident or comfortable in your sexuality. There’s very little representation of queer women being normal. Twenty is for queer people, but it’s also for straight people. I wanted to make queer mainstream and have straight people relate to queer characters in a way they hadn’t before.
What's been great though, is we’ve received a lot of messages from young women and queer people who have come out to their parents and have started watching Twenty with their parents saying that it has helped their parents to understand a bit more of where they are coming from.
Caitlin: In the last year, we’ve seen other people doing similar things. So it’s been good to see that other people are on the same page. Especially for where Twenty can go."
Things you didn’t expect:
Our audience is very international. After the US, our second biggest viewership is in India and then it’s Brazil, UK, Australia. We have a massive fan base in Brazil and India.
Upon release, what have you learned?
Caitlin: We launched the show on Youtube, and we realized how essential subtitles are. Knowing where people are watching your content, subtitles can be crucial to have that immediate response. Now we release every episode with English subtitles, and because of our fanbase, we found someone to do Portuguese subtitles for Season 2. Youtube has a great feature too, where anyone can add subtitles, and we’ve seen our fans going in and adding subtitles so their friends can understand it. So that’s been very heartwarming to see.
Lily: Season 1 has been translated into Portuguese, Spanish, French, German, and Mandarin and some in Japanese.
Incredible! Where do you see Twenty going?
Lily: We would love to see Twenty developed into something bigger on a Network.
If you had to give one piece of advice to another LGBTQ woman going out on her own, what would it be?
Lily: Your stories are worth it. Your story is worth being heard. Don’t second guess it. Find a way to tell it.
Caitlin: It can be easier than you think. Once you get into it and there’s a passion behind it, people will show up and connect you. Once you’re in the groove of it, it doesn’t feel overwhelming.
Lily: Don’t be afraid to ask for help. You need to find your people who are passionate about it and are willing to help you along the way.