Our January Girls Girl, Angela Gulner, moved to Los Angeles five and a half years ago to pursue her dream of becoming an actor. Two years ago, still waiting for work, she decided to take matters into her own hands and created a TV series called Binge the Series with her writing partner, Yuri Baranovsky.
The script got her representation, which was a big deal, but little else. Gulner and Baranovsky, tired of waiting for the opportunity to greenlight the series, partnered with HLG Studios and created the pilot episode.
In 2016, shortly after Thanksgiving, the duo uploaded the pilot to Youtube. Focused on the complicated messiness of mental illnesses and eating disorders, Binge has garnered over 275,000 views and counting since its debut on Youtube.
Gulner is herself a recovering bulimic, and struggled with the disease for 10 years. She wanted to let others who might also be struggling know that they aren’t alone. Binge was inspired by her experiences, and she plays the lead role in addition to writing and creating the show.
Getting to the point of creating the pilot took time, but Gulner had known for a long time she wanted to be an actor. She wasn’t entirely sure if she could follow her dream. Raised in Minnesota, Gulner attended St. Olaf in southern Minnesota, studying acting, psychology and women’s studies. “Growing up–the cheesy thing that all actors say–the only thing I saw myself doing was acting,” said Gulner. “Even during my time at St. Olaf, I wasn’t convinced I was going to go for it.”
She found encouragement through a mentor who attended Harvard for an MFA in acting. Gulner auditioned for the same program, and was accepted. “It was the moment,” Gulner said. “This is for real. This is what I want to do.”
She moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts for the two and a half years it took to complete the program. The students were able to travel to Russia to attend the Moscow Art Theater School, and then be taught by Russian faculty who came to Cambridge. “It was such an amazing program and stimulating and satisfying,” shared Gulner. “Six days a week, twelve hours a day and everyone wants to be there and you always have something creative and challenging to work on. When I moved to LA, it was sitting around, waiting for audiences that never came. It took writing the pilot to even get representation, three and a half years after I moved here. Not all of the experiences were the best and not all I would repeat. While all of this was going on, my eating disorder was getting out of control, and it was 2013 when I started treatment for it.”
Gulner willingly attended a partial hospitalization program for four months that lasted six days a week and six hours a day. “I wanted to get my creative life back when I was feeling better,” explained Gulner. “I didn’t have an agent and I didn’t have representation, so I started writing. I didn’t really know how to write other than essay writing, so I asked Yuri, who has a ton of experience.”
Baranovsky wanted to write authentic female characters, and Gulner wanted to learn how to learn different types of writing, and the two found they made a good writing team. “It was a great pairing for both of us. We wrote it really fast,” Gulner said of the pilot. “That was two years ago. It got me representation, which was really cool. I didn’t intend for that to happen. I started auditioning for real stuff. We thought this was such a special and particular story that it would only be clear if we showed our vision of it. Also Hollywood is notoriously slow and we thought that if we proved there was an audience for it, we could fast track the project.”
They funded what they could, called in some favors and found other people who connected with the story. “People were passionate about the material,” Gulner shared. “They were there for their own art and experiences but they were there for my story. It was really cool to see people working 15 hours days and eating Doritos because we couldn’t afford anything better. It was a really cool experience. We decided to release it after Thanksgiving before the Christmas season. For me, it was such a tough time of the year. You feel so alone and isolated and ashamed. It was our way of reaching out to the community and find our audience for this and provide them with some comfort and laughter.”
The story continues to resonate with others. “The reaction has been really, really cool,” said Gulner, who has heard from friends, acquaintances and even complete strangers sharing their own stories of eating disorders and mental illnesses. “They saw themselves in this. It was cool. You set out to do something and it’s really cool to get the response you hope to get.”
Gulner has found that mental illnesses in Hollywood tend to be overly dramatized. It’s difficult to get the green light for a project that is messy and covers an issue that isn’t entirely socially acceptable. “Eating disorders will get one episode on a family drama,” explained Gulner. “The little sister isn’t eating, and they have an intervention and she’s better. It’s just little pieces here and there and it’s not given the attention it deserves. I wrote a little bit about this – a piece for Refinery 29. One of things I talked about, now that there feels like more opportunities for women, the desire to get those opportunities are even stronger. Still not as many as there are for men. The competition is even fiercer. You get one female-driven comedy. You get one female superhero. All those actresses, A-list actresses, are clamoring for that one role, while male A-listers got the superhero of their choosing. It’s an exciting time, but also a frustrating time.”
The struggle finding work is not an unique experience, but is regularly a frustrating one. “I’m always battling my own competitive nature,” admitted Gulner. “I’ve been out here five and a half years and I haven’t booked any acting work in two years. I’m feeling like I’m crazy for being out here and it’s not going to happen for me. A lot of women tend to exist in this place of fear and waiting for something to happen. For me, it’s always a battle to take my power back and try to own myself as an artist. I have something to say. I’m going to stay here and I’m going to say it, regardless if Hollywood decides they like what I’m going to say, I’m going to keep saying it.”
Her family has been supportive of her vision and message, with a small caveat. Gulner’s mother told her that she needs to clarify one part of the pilot. “‘Angela, you need to make sure that people know you didn’t sleep with your therapist.’,” Gulner quoted her mother, adding, “That part is fictionalized. The staff where I went was very ethical and professional.”
Gulner has found support from other women as well, in true Girls Girl fashion. Gulner writes with Lindsey Stitium, her other writing partner. They met while working for an astrologer in Hollywood a few years ago and have been friends ever since. “She’s been a writer for a long time,” explained Gulner. “She went to AFI. She wrote and produced a film that was at Sundance, and she’s had a lot of success. I just asked her out of the blue to start writing together and we really hit it off and we have a lot of projects in the works. She taught me a lot about structure and how to find my voice as a writer.”
Gulner also finds support in a group of female friends who group text chat as needed. “We just text each other whenever we feel anxious or we need a pick me up,” Gulner said. “When [the pilot] was released, it was just a constant stream of love and support. The number of people I haven’t talked to in years who shared this on their Facebook and Twitter was amazing. It’s amazing to see how woman come out of the woodwork for each other and want to see each other lifted up.”
For her fellow Girls Girl who might want to follow her own dream of acting, Gulner has some practical advice. “I would say to try and locate what it is about acting that they love and find an additional, not another, way to do that,” Gulner suggested. “To try to just act here, unless you get crazy lucky or your parent is in the industry, it’s really, really hard. I have friends who have worked on high level projects and sometimes go a year or two without work. Even if you make enough to sustain, it’s not enough creatively. If you can find a way to reach that creative bug, whether that’s writing, making your own furniture, doing a creative house project. Finding ways to be creative that don’t rely on someone else to give you permission to do it. For the first few years being out here, I was saying, ‘No, that means I’m not good enough to be an actor.’ To be an actor, you have to have a lot of stamina and be out here a long time. But to survive it, you have to do what you love. On your own or with your friends. I think that’s the most important thing. If you’re a woman, get behind the camera. We need more women behind the camera. I wish I had gone to school for that. I guess I can always learn. If you’re driving on your way to LA or you’re already here, buy yourself a camera.”