By 1 p.m. on Oct. 22, the cast and crew of the hipster Web sitcom The Burg had assembled at 309 Grand Street, No. 2B, in Brooklyn—some guy’s apartment, friend of a friend, cast members weren’t all sure who—to shoot part of an upcoming episode. Two pizzas had been ordered, one without cheese. Two female leads sat half-clothed on the kitchen floor, trying to get into character.
The Burg is a single-camera scripted series filmed mostly inside this apartment and on a few street corners around the block. The episodes, ranging from one to 15 minutes in length, can be viewed at http://www.theburg.tv or downloaded through iTunes. Or observed in real time at any number of stops along the L train.
“The thing about Williamsburg,” said Kelli Giddish, a blond aspiring actress who plays a blond aspiring actress on the show, “is all the ugly people are trying to look pretty and all the pretty people are trying to look ugly.” She paused to let the observation sink in, then pulled a faded white satin nightshirt over her starlet-thin frame, belted it up tight with an oversized tan suede sash, topped it off with a white crocheted shawl and pronounced the new look “Granny Chic.” Several of her co-stars applauded.
The Burg is about the precious scenesters of Metropolitan Avenue and the silly things they do to be cool. Ms. Giddish has another soap job, on actual television, playing a onetime stripper named Di Kirby on ABC’s All My Children. On the Web, she plays Courtney, a sporadically anti-capitalist ditz.
Courtney’s friends in the Burg are more of the same: Spring, played by Lindsey Broad, is a youthful brunette who cares about the environment and wants to break her generation’s credit cycle. Jed, played by Bob McClure, wears thick black plastic glasses and forcibly prevents his friends from drinking anything other than Pabst. Xander, played by Matt Yeager, is a starving artist with a huge inheritance.
In place of holding steady jobs or contributing to the local economy, Spring, Xander and the gang spend their days coordinating their American Apparel leggings and their thrift-store cowboy boots with 18 plastic bracelets and two vinyl headbands from junior high. Their days are occupied with chemical boycotts, bike trips to Astoria, auditions for independent films and hours spent cursing gentrification and analyzing the complicated etiquette of modern bohemia.
It’s like Rent, only instead of AIDS, some of them have trust funds.
Kathleen Grace, the show’s producer and director, came up with the idea for The Burg a year and a half ago as a way of mocking and paying homage to the neighborhood she loved, hated and had to move out of because the rent got too expensive.
For a writer, she brought on indie filmmaker/screenwriter/musician Thom Woodley, a guy she’d seen at some parties around Williamsburg. Together, they hired their friends—for example, Mr. Yeager, who writes a blog called “How to Pay Rent, Get Famous, and Wake Up Before Noon”—to play a bunch of lazy, aspirational, self-obsessed North Brooklynites who are financially supported by their parents.
Most of the cast lives in Manhattan. (Follow the irony snake as it swallows its tail.) Still, they manage to inhabit their roles.
“One thing you need to know about our show,” said Ms. Broad, “is that for costuming, we take what we’re normally wearing and make it two degrees uglier.” For the Oct. 22 shoot, she was wearing a brown and pink-flowered corduroy peasant dress that she’d bought for $70 at a Free People sample sale (“it was a controversial purchase”), a mustard-colored tweed jacket with giant black buttons, purple tights, cowboy boots and a yellow plastic barrette in her teased, Aquanetted hair. While waiting for her cue, she practiced dancing—“ironically,” per Ms. Grace’s instruction—while saying the line “We’re gonna be wild and free, just like college.”
Ms. Broad is a graduate of Penn State, where several cast members went to school. She works nights at Joe’s Pub and complained about how there’s no hand soap behind the bar. Asked her age, she said, “I would tell you, but my agent would kill me.” Then she said, “My agent would kill me for saying that.” Then she said, “23.”
The tagline on theburg.tv, the vlog that hosts episodes of the show, is “Too Hip to Be Spared.” On the site, Ms. Grace and her production partners write, “We think you’ll like it because at least it’s not re-packaged broadcast TV or home videos of skateboarding dogs being kicked in the balls.” They describe Williamsburg as “the hipster world capital.”
The first episode of The Burg went online on June 25, 2006, and since then the show has developed an extremely narrow, sometimes loyal core audience. According to the site’s administrator, about 2,000 people subscribe to theburg.tv, meaning they get alerts when a new episode goes up, which happens from time to time, on no particular schedule. All told, between 8,000 and 10,000 people watch each episode.
The Burg has no advertisers, but Ms. Grace and Mr. Woodley have retained a publicist, who works for FerenComm and is handling The Burg pro bono. They are also sponsoring a contest, which they don’t necessarily expect people to participate in: They’re posting a script of an episode of The Burg online on Oct. 25 and encouraging other indie filmmakers to gather their friends and shoot the episode themselves. The winning entries—if there are any entries—will be shown at a party at a Williamsburg bar sometime in December.
“We’ll see what happens,” said Mr. Woodley, while holding a boom mike.
The Oct. 22 shoot was devoted to scene three of the next episode, in which the male cast members discuss the hypocrisy of lefty cinema, then talk idly about having a poker night. The women, in return, plan a girls’ night out. Mr. Woodley had written in a new character for the episode, a bi-curious new friend named Maya, who wore bright red lipstick and sat on the windowsill reading. At some point in the middle of the shoot, one of the actual apartment residents—a tall guy in his 20’s with dirty blond hair and an Austin City Limits T-shirt—came in, walked through the scene and into his room, where he sat on a pile of laundry and typed something on his computer. No one from The Burg reacted.
After the seventh take, Ms. Giddish went across the street to the Atlas for two cups of black coffee, then back to a bench in front of 309 Grand for a Camel. She wore a tarpy brown coat that looked like burlap over her granny-chic ensemble, yet somehow made it work. She talked about dreams and youth and New York City.
“I grew up in Cumming, Ga.,” she said. “That’s right, C-U-M-M-I-N-G. ‘I heart Cumming’—we had T-shirts that said that in high school. I moved here after college”—the University of Evansville—“and lived in Chelsea with this 60-year-old Colombian lady for $500 a month. I drank a lot of wine and typed on my typewriter sometimes. That was back when Saddam Hussein was being taken out, and the Colombian lady and I would watch the news and she would scream at the television. You know, ‘Get him!’ I was working at Jules then. Do you know it? Yeah. Well, I was working late nights, and the lady kicked me out because she thought I was a prostitute or something.”
Now Ms. Giddish lives on the Lower East Side with her boyfriend, an Argentine guitarist who loves Keith Richards. Occasionally, someone will recognize her for her work on one soap or the other. “They’ll come up to me at Starbucks, and at first I’ll think my mascara is running down my face,” she said. “You can always tell immediately which show the person knows me from.” Black women like Di Kirby; boys in tight pants like Courtney.
Ms. Giddish, who looks like Kirsten Dunst with higher cheekbones, said she hopes to be a theatrical actress someday. She thinks The Burg could help her get some exposure. “I’d love to do a great film every now and then and support myself doing theater,” she said.
She took a last drag or two on her cigarette, and two boys on bikes rode by. The one in the plaid shirt snapped his head around to stare. Ms. Giddish looked away.
“Fucking hipsters,” she said.