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The Creators of High Maintenance Tell Us Why Vimeo, Why Not FX and What to Expect From Branded Weed

New episodes available this week

Katja Blichfeld and Ben Sinclair, creators of Vimeo's "High Maintenance" Web series. Photo: Brian Killian via Getty Images

High Maintenance made headlines last spring when it became the first original content to be funded by the video-sharing service Vimeo. The critically acclaimed Web series, which revolves around a roving weed dealer simply known as "The Guy," already made 13 episodes that found popularity on the platform. Since today marks the premiere of three new episodes funded by Vimeo—available for streaming on Vimeo on Demand, with three more episodes slated for January—Adweek sat down with creators and spouses Katja Blichfeld and Ben Sinclair.  

Earlier episodes of the beloved series featured guest stars like Hannibal Buress and Dan Stevens. Before creating High Maintenance, Blichfeld worked as a casting director earning an Emmy for her work on 30 Rock.

Adweek: Why choose Vimeo?

Katja Blichfeld: I've been describing it as when you move in a building from one apartment to another, and you just move to the one with the better view because you've got a little raise at work. It's not a big move, but maybe you've got a better view and some better amenities, but it's the same address. It kind of felt like that.

Ben Sinclair: Even before we knew they had money to give I was like, I wish we could just work with them. I've always been a fan of Vimeo, in terms of that versus YouTube, no question. That's how I want to watch videos. Uncluttered platform, it had a more curated feel, and I was always waiting for them to pop. We definitely didn't expect to be around when they announced that they would be doing original programing. When it happened I remember saying to our agent that, God I wish we could have rewound and gone back and just worked with Vimeo. Then that opportunity presented itself.

You are in good company, since FX also passed on Broad City.

Blichfeld: I know. Those ladies are friends of ours, and I feel like now that people have the knowledge that that happened—there was a time when no one was talking about that and now it seems like everyone is—and since that came out we’ve been more comfortable saying that, yeah, we got passed on. I think. Me, I speak for myself. We are in good company.

Sinclair: I talked to [Broad City producer] Amy Poehler this summer because I had the lucky chance to do a scene with her in her upcoming movie The Nest, and I got to ask her about that. And she was like, you know, unfortunately they just didn’t know what they had—

Blichfeld: Not unfortunately because I think everything went the way it was supposed to—

Sinclair: Well, she said fortunately.

Blichfeld: I’m sure you’re paraphrasing. But I have to say that it feels like they landed where they were supposed to be just like we landed where we’re supposed to be.

Sinclair: This couldn’t have been on Comedy Central because it’s not a lot of jokes, jokes, jokes and Broad City does do that very well.

They do.

You mentioned that you would love to be able to do this [make High Maintenance] and have that pay the bills, but if a brand or advertising agency came to you and asked you to create for them, would you?

Blichfeld: Of course, yes.

Sinclair: Depending who they were.

Blichfeld: I have to correct you. Yes we would love to do this and support ourselves, but we don’t believe that’s a possibility. We think this will be the thing we’ll do not to make money. We really feel we’re going to have to find those advertising jobs or things where we’re guns for hire, and we’ll be able to keeping doing this thing that may or may not generate a profit.

Sinclair: I actually got my start in commercials and making spec commercials. That’s how I taught myself how to make films, through commercial contests that companies would run. I love the challenge of writing something that is satisfying in 30 seconds to a minute. It’s really, it’s a fun challenge. Usually you can invest more money and have more loaded visual images, which sounds like a lot of fun to me. I know it’s a lot of fun. It is.

The New York Times has called Vimeo the HBO to YouTube’s network television…what do you think of that?

Both: That’s our hope. It’s very dreamy—

Sinclair: Vimeo is going to have the subscription service next year so people will have access to all of the titles, and I think that’s going to propel that notion even further. In this space, for sure. I wonder at how high of a price point they can entertain the talent that they want to bring into their original programming. But I think that they are probably going to start doing something where it’s Vimeo and [film production and distribution company] A24 present this thing—

Blichfeld: Partnering with production companies.

Has Vimeo talked to you about doing sponsored or branded content?

Sinclair: No, no, they aren’t into advertising.

Blichfeld: Yeah, that’s kind of their thing. I don’t think anyone would be upset with us if we decided to, on our own, bring in a sponsor.

Sinclair: Like, Chrome is on The Guy’s bag.

Blichfeld: But they aren’t giving us money.

Sinclair: Yeah, they aren’t giving us money. They just aren’t suing us for displaying one of their bags.

Blichfeld: It’s not something they are encouraging, and it’s not something they are against. They would like us to just do what we do to make out product what it is.

Sinclair: For that matter they aren’t even pressuring us to make them the money back either, that they’ve spent over the show.

Is there a thought on your part to try and normalize stoner activity?

Blichfeld: Absolutely. It’s not No. 1 on our agenda but is definitely a part of our value system. Once we landed on this idea and decided to press "go," that was very much a consideration. We did not want it to fall into the land of stoner clichés. We are very conscious not to portray weed smokers as bad people. Although, we do have some asshole characters, but they aren’t nefarious. Nor is pot contributing to evil qualities in people. Does it make people a little lazy and procrastinate sometimes? Absolutely.

Sinclair: We may do a storyline where using pot screws somebody over someday. If you woke up and had a drink you would be an alcoholic and if you wake up and smoke pot you might have a similar -ism.

Blichfeld: But we are very conscious of making marijuana usage appear to be a normal thing, ascribing a neutral attitude towards it was really important to us from the get-go, and it continues to be important. We just wanted to reflect the way that we see it in our lives, which is to say that we see it as a commonplace thing.

We live in a climate right now where people will have to start branding weed. I’m wondering what your perspective is on that.

Blichfeld: Totally. There is a part of me that gets a little bit excited about the idea of being able to get weed and know exactly what it is going to do and if I use this much and this strain it’s going to—

Sinclair: A reliable high.

Blichfeld: Yeah, a reliable experience in using it. There’s something about that that appeals to me. But I haven’t really thought about the larger issue.

Sinclair: Yeah, we get these little caramels called Sensi Chews, and they are dosed very accurately. They are like, you know what you are getting. It would be hard to take too much. But I also think, part of the reason I like smoking pot is because it’s illegal. I like the rush of having a nug in my pocket and walking by a cop with a dog and not getting caught. There’s something about that feeling, and I think it will be slightly less exciting for a certain age of user after it’s all commercialized. 

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