This article was originally written for the Anchorage Daily News.
Star-studded Netflix shows, award-winning actors and the always-sunny hills of Hollywood seem like a world away to Alaska, but some local talent is finding their place in the industry.
Kate Trefry, Ryan Welch and Ari Katcher — all former Anchorage residents — write for shows that appear on streaming platforms Netflix and Hulu. Trefry, who graduated from Dimond High, is a writer and story editor on “Stranger Things,” the most popular television show on the platform with over 64 million plays. Welch and Katcher created the Hulu original show, “Ramy,” along with comedian Ramy Youssef (who also stars), which recently picked up a Golden Globe for best lead actor in a comedy series.
The big break
Kate Trefry and her husband, Ben Bolea, a writer and screenwriter also from Anchorage, struggled for about eight years to make it in Los Angeles. Trefry had gained some traction for a script called “Pure O,” but still worked odd jobs like landscaping and bartending while pursuing writing.
“Out of nowhere, my manager calls me and asks me if I had seen the trailer for ‘Stranger Things,’ which I had, and I was really excited because the script I was working on was very tonally similar,” Trefry said.
At the time, Trefry and Bolea were in Big Lake, Alaska. The creators of “Stranger Things,” the Duffer brothers, wanted to interview her over Skype. She had previously had some “terrible conversations” with higher-ups in the industry; she braced herself for just that.
“I went skinny-dipping in (Big Lake) and I got out and put on pajamas or whatever, then went and had this Skype meeting with the Duffers,” Trefry said. “I didn’t think it was going to be good, so I was kind of a dick. They were great and they were asking me all these questions like, ‘What’s your process?’ And I was like, ‘There is no process, writing is a nightmare, Hollywood is a hellhole, there’s no point to any of this. But you guys did a good job, so what’s your process?’”
Five minutes after the call, her manager called her and told her she got the job and to fly back to Los Angeles the next day. A month after accepting the job, the first season came out.
“It blew up, and I definitely had a feeling like, ‘Oh no, there’s been a mistake, I shouldn’t be here — this is crazy,’” Trefry said.
Now, Trefry spends much of her time in the writing room, where work on Season 4 is underway. She doesn’t visit the set often, although one visit did lead to an appearance on the Netflix hit.
Trefry was shadowing the Duffer brothers one late night on set when they realized someone had forgotten to hire a stunt double to play a monster that attacks Bob Newby.
“Everybody was freaking out … They were like, ‘Oh my god, we need a small person, a little gymnast or something,’” Trefry said. “And I was like, ‘I am not a gymnast, but I’ll do it.’”
With that, the head of special effects suited Trefry up and she made her acting debut in the Season 2 episode, “The Mind Flayer.”
Ari Katcher and Ryan Welch met when they were 16; Katcher graduated from West High School and Welch attended Service. They went to Portland State University together before Katcher moved to L.A. to pursue stand-up.
After convincing Welch to move to L.A., the two crashed together and oftentimes brainstormed scripts, pilots and scene ideas for their next project. Katcher reconnected with Youssef, who he met through the stand-up scene while temporarily living in New York, and the idea for a show emerged.
“Ramy” is the story of a first-generation American Muslim navigating his faith and lifestyle. When digging in with Youssef, they asked him what he could write that nobody else could. The more they pried, the more he would say things that “maybe he hadn’t even said to anyone.”
“It was really just conversations,” Welch said. “We would walk around L.A., I would ask (Ramy) questions about his life and it was pretty clear that he had some pretty funny experiences that were awkward and dark and about trying to balance being religious and being a millennial. There was a lot of material in there.”
The show has gotten notice for exploring that kind of unfamiliar ground. The New York Times writes that “Ramy” is a “complex, funny series about messy and specifically drawn people. Its characters are not, to use the cliché, ‘just like us,’ because this is a show that realizes no one is just like anyone else.”
From their experience being around comedians so often, Katcher and Welch said they knew how to push.
“That was always something that really excited both of us a lot, was getting to that really uncomfortable place, because that’s where we find a lot of our favorite things,” Katcher said.
In addition to their Hulu original, Katcher and Welch wrapped their first film, “On the Count of Three,” featuring Tiffany Haddish, Henry Winkler and Jerrod Carmichael.
“Ramy” has been picked up by Hulu for a second season, which is set to release at the end of May.