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Showrunner Kulap Vilaysack says future is uncertain for 'Bajillion Dollar Propertie$'

by Michelle Lanz | The Frame

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Actress/Executive Producer Kulap Vilaysack attends the Seeso original screening of 'Bajillion Dollar Properties' season 2 at Ace Hotel on October 5, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for Seeso

Self-professed multi-hyphenate Kulap Vilaysack has her hands in just about everything, from television to podcasting to documentary film.

Her main gig is as showrunner on "Bajillion Dollar Propertie$," on NBC’s streaming service, Seeso. It’s a partially scripted, partially improvised spoof on HGTV reality shows like "House Hunters."

Vilaysack is also working on a very personal documentary called "Origin Story," in which she travels to Laos — where her parents are from — to find her biological father. At 14, during a fight with her mother, Vilaysack found out the man she thought was her father actually wasn't at all, and that her real father was in Laos.

The revelation was disorienting for Vilaysack, but for years she filed it away. It wasn't until Vilaysack started to think about motherhood, herself, that she decided to try and find her father and get some answers to her own origin story. 

Vilaysack came by The Frame to talk about that film and the future of SeeSo and Bajillion Dollar Propertie$.

Click on the play button above to hear the full interview!

Interview Highlights:

On the uncertain future of Seeso, which is currently undergoing layoffs, and what that means for 'Bajillion Dollar Propertie$':

I just finished season four in post just a couple weeks ago or a week ago. You know, whatever happens with Seeso, and I don't fully know, all I know is that I have a show that I'm really proud of, that I worked really hard on with super talented people. It's such a gift to have produced that in two years-- four seasons. For me to have learned in such a safe environment, for Seeso to have taken a chance on a first-time showrunner, I mean I joined the WGA and the DGA through this project. No matter what, I can't tell the future, but I'm looking pretty good.

On deciding to make 'Origin Story,' a documentary film about her own life

My relationship with my parents, and especially my mom, is very fraught. And at around 33 it had reached kind of, for lack of a better term, a fever pitch. She is amazing, funny, a gambler. We've always had a tough, tough relationship. So that, plus I got pregnant. And then I miscarried. When that happened, it was heartbreaking, but I knew that motherhood was coming for me. It was time to ask the questions that I had not asked before so that I could find some sort of peace within myself so that I could move on with my mom, and some sort of letting go with the relationship I wish we had. And so I felt compelled to go digging. 

On finding out that the only father she'd known was not her biological father:

When I was 14, my parents got in another awful fight. They were prone to fighting. And I defended my dad, whom I always identified with and got along with better. And in [my mom's] anger and frustration, she said, 'Why are you defending him? He's not your real dad.' And so that's how I found out. And I was 14, living in Minnesota, again my parents are Lao immigrants. They've packed and put away things and become pros at that. So I didn't really have a model of how to deal with that information and it was so painful. I mean I thought I looked like my father...I thought I was the most like him. And so it really just sort of shook my little preteen, teenage life.

On deciding to take a pause from making the documentary:

The thing about digging and looking underneath rocks is, you know, there are reasons things are hidden. Not to mention the fact that like, it's one thing to have your own memories, but then to go into the editing process and to watch it from the camera's point of view, and to see what you missed. And to see like, Oh why didn't you press him on that? Why did you let it go? And to have that thought in my head and just... to see it in I think angles that we're not meant to see. But for the purpose of this project, and for this project to mean what I want it to mean, I have to see it and I must tell tell this story.

How to figure out what you need to share versus what you want to keep private when you're telling your own life story:

I guess it's a gut feeling. To talk about that time, to talk about my family, I mean this could be a series that has no end. What an indulgent series that would be! But it's having that editorial eye, choosing the threads. If I choose the threads, then I have to take it deep. Otherwise, there's no point in doing this. And it has to be so much about me so that it'll be somewhat universal. One writing teacher told me that-- to write so much about you that it becomes about me. 

On the challenge of going back and forth between funny and serious projects:

I will tell you that the first rough cut, there was absolutely no funny. The rough cut that was three hours, before 'Bajillion' kind of got going, was so bleak that when I would show people they were like 'I just want to know that you're okay.' And at the time I was like, 'I don't know if I am though.' And the two years of 'Bajillion' got to me a place where like yeah, yeah I am okay.

On learning the importance of not putting things away through the filmmaking process:

Yeah because they don't really go away. When I put things away, when I make deposit in this really dark bank, it's only building interest, everything that I put there. And so a lot of me growing up was about keeping things in the dark, and what gives me freedom is when I can put them in the light. And I can talk to people, and when I talk to people, like through the podcast and various different podcasts I've done, where we can relate to each other, and I don't feel alone. And that's freedom to me.  

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