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June 02, 2017

Art Imitates Life

Eva Gutowski is using her brand to breed a fan base of charming little sisters.

Ny MaGee

YouTube sensation Eva Gutowski moved to Los Angeles from Michigan when she was 20 to pursue a career as a digital star.

Her professional ambition paid off when she combined DIY elements with her witty comedy style for a web series titled MyLifeAsEva. The massive success of the show spawned a book that hit shelves earlier this year titled My life as Eva: The Struggle is Real.

The actress, author and fashionista is a top lifestyle personality with over 10M combined subscribers, and she has worked with major brands including Proactiv, TRESemme, PacSun and Kohl’s. She’s also been included in Billboard's Social Media Stars list.

Gutowski currently stars in her first original, half-hour comedy Me and My Grandma on YouTube Red. Four-time Emmy winner Rhea Perlman, whose career on stage and film spans more than 30 years, stars as the easy-to-love grandma. Gutowski also serves as an executive producer on the project alongside Adam Wescott. The two previously collaborated on the short-form scripted series How to Survive High School.

Television.com contributor Ny MaGee recently spoke with Gutowski, Perlman and Wescott about the inspiration behind Me and My Grandma, the freedom that the digital space allows creatives and the importance of having a social media presence.

In what way has your Hollywood journey served as inspiration for your new YouTube Red Series?

Gutowski: Me and My Grandma is kinda inspired by me and my own grandma’s relationship. Growing up I lived with my grandparents and my first YouTube videos were actually in my bedroom at my grandma’s house. I grew up with my grandparents, even with my grandma driving me to and from school, which was kinda embarrassing.

And then when I moved to L.A. when I was around 20. It was kinda like Janey who is in the show. She moves from Michigan to L.A. to pursue her dreams of acting, so for me it was like moving to L.A. to pursue YouTube-ing, and my grandma was back home in Orange County but somehow found a way to, every day she could, drive all the way to L.A. to just say hello and hang out.

So it reminded me a lot of this hilarious show that I could make called Me and my Grandma, that is inspired by a girl just trying to achieve her dreams and her grandma comes along with her 'cause she just can’t be without her granddaughter.

How much of your personality is embedded in Janey?

Gutowski: It’s funny because I feel like now I’ve learned a lot from living in L.A. I’m a little bit more used to things but definitely we’re very similar. When I moved to L.A., as Janey moved to L.A., she’s discovering all these new people and she’s learning about L.A. and the whole industry of Hollywood.

I just took a lot of inspiration from how I moved to L.A. as well as all the crazy things that I learned when I moved to L.A. the first couple months that I was here. But definitely I’m like Janey maybe two years after. I’m season three Janey.

What about grandma inspired you to want to be a part of this project?

Perlman: The freedom of the character. She’s just really free. Once she gets outta Michigan, she’s a loose cannon, and you never know what she’s gonna do next.

I’d only read one script and after they kept coming that proved to be true. There was no holds barred with grandma and I love that kind of character. Sometimes I play characters that are mean, as you know. Grandma is not mean but she can get into big trouble, which I love.

I thought the script was really well written, and I knew nothing of the YouTube situation. I didn’t know Eva from before, or any YouTube stars, and when I started researching what that was all about, I thought, “Man, this is a real opportunity for me open myself up to an entirely new and young audience,” and I sure loved that.

Do you find that there’s a certain freedom that a web series offers that perhaps network television or studio projects lack?

Perlman: There seems to be. There seemed to be less intervention. I know once we started, there was no time for anyone to go, “Hmm, maybe you should change this line and this line and this plot point,” because once they were all written and we started working, it was just go. We had to shoot six episodes in five weeks and everything kinda had to be locked. YouTube came by but they left us alone once we started.

Why is YouTube Red the best distributor for Me and My Grandma, and how did you bring Eva and Rhea together?

Wescott: It was a natural progression from our success on a short-form scripted series we did with Eva called How to Survive High School, which now has 47 million views combined across the five episodes. So we went in knowing it was a platform that she could succeed on with scripted comedy, and figuring out ideas that would be better suited for a more traditional 22-minute format.

The whole idea was to pair Eva, a digital talent, with someone more traditional and to tap into the best of both worlds, and we were lucky enough to get a comedy legend in Rhea. From the get go, one of the most important things was, there are very few female, multigenerational buddy comedies out there, so we loved the idea of two leading ladies that could both be equally funny.

Is there a social theme woven into the fabric of Me and My Grandma?

Wescott: There’s actually a handful of social themes, and I think they resonate with both Rhea and Eva personally, as well as just where we’re at in society right now. Female empowerment is an important one and then I think ultimately, the characters through their move to Los Angeles, learn that you’re most likely to succeed when you’re being yourself and just being confident in who you, and that’s Eva’s whole message.

Perlman: I got another one too, ageism. It’s kinda ripped apart here because grandma is obviously old enough to retire and sit around playing bingo but she gets this opportunity to start a new life and she’s ready for it. She’s truly young at heart, mind and body. I think a lot of people in their 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, and I even know people who are 100, who are just as young and the world is still open to them. I love that.

Gutowski: It’s so amazing because grandma’s getting to be young again and she’s getting to live out these dreams that she’s always wanted to live and Janey’s getting to grow up.

I love the show so much because it really opens up a conversation as to how was your life when you were younger, cause maybe some people have never even asked. Before it’s too late, it’s always good to know all the crazy stories that your family has done and you’re definitely going to find out that they’re actually pretty cool.

You have an incredible following on social media. How do you cope with the scrutiny that comes with being a viral star, and what’s one thing people usually assume about you that isn’t true?

Gutowski: I’ve always had a hard time answering that question because people don’t really assume much. Everything I put out on the internet is a lot more than most people do, so people know a lot about me.

But the scrutiny… I don’t think I get too much of that because I feel the way that I handle things, it kind of makes people not want to scrutinize me because they know that I’m so rock steady in who I am.

I love my followers and we just have so much fun on Twitter, sending memes to each other and creating these fun moments on the Internet. It’s just really a safe space and so I feel like everyone sees that and they know my work ethic is amazing and they just choose to participate in a positive way. It’s awesome because I feel like I’m breeding this fan base of little sisters that look up to me.

And I feel like, with them seeing me not be bothered by any hate that comes at me, or any negativity, is really shaping them into going on the internet and finding positivity instead of ending up in forums getting mad at people. I create a pretty good environment and we all have a lot of fun.

Considering how technology is shifting and shaping the way viewers receive content, how is this influencing the stories you tell, and do you find this digital age that we’re living an exciting time for independent creatives?

Gutowski: I think it’s really amazing. Just my friends in general, you see all these amazing actors and actresses coming up and getting so much amazing work just from a YouTube video. I have friends whose songs are on the radio and showing up on my Spotify playlist. It’s really cool because talent is being found everywhere now, versus just through a door that you’d have to go through that only a few people can open.

Now it’s like, if you have talent as a director, as a filmmaker, as an actor, there’s an outlet for you to express that and it is kinda like maybe somebody will find you from it.

It’s a lot easier and if the people that are finding you aren’t just executives, they’re actual fans that you may have to wait to get until you get an executive to find your work, and now you’ve got the fans first and these people are contacting you and it’s just kinda like a whole new dynamic to how people are discovered.

I think it’s really cool and it’s become a lot more organic and easier for people that may not live L.A. and can’t fly down here just to do casting calls. They have another outlet and another way to do things.

Wescott: We were lucky in that Eva is very much an independent creator. She self built her business based on the content that she came up with and the audience that she grew over time and the fact there’s so many platforms and buyers for original content, both traditional and short-form format nowadays is great.

And with YouTube Red, we really had the luxury of them trusting us and Eva in knowing what would succeed. So I think the very fact that there are all these new avenues for content to be shared, it makes it that much more of a great opportunity for people like Eva to find other platforms and more premium evolutions of their existing content.

Perlman: I think it’s amazing. It’s very powerful that you could make your career happen for yourself and you don’t have to struggle just to get on the studio lot. I feel like if you have the personality and the talent and the persistence and the work ethic to do this on a regular basis then you can figure out how to get it done. If you’ve got something, there’s a pretty good chance people will find it.

I struggle with technology. I use the computer all the time but I struggle with social media. I’m trying to learn, especially while I’m doing this show. People are encouraging me to do Instagram and tweet and all that kind of stuff and I want to.

I want to be able to do it with ease as they are, and for me, each tweet is, oh, God, I don’t know where the hashtag goes. I don’t know where the @ goes, and I don’t even know how to attach a picture. But I’m learning and I think it is important these days for anyone in the public eye to actually have some kind of a social media presence because it’s your own publicity and people learn about you through your own workings.

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