With only a week left to go and nearly $5,000 raised of a sought after $15,000, we at Comedy TV is Dead are really hoping that ‘The Walking Tedd’ – a zombie / sitcom concept web series currently seeking donations on Kickstarter – will achieve the funding required to put the series into production. We covered the launch of the project previously but have since spoken to the people behind the campaign in order to obtain an exclusive series of interviews into this exciting sounding concept.
Writers Derek Stusynski and Megan Furnish, along with director / producer Sean Willis, and co-star, Kylie Sparks (perhaps best known for her excellent work on the nerdy comedy gold that is ‘Squaresville’) found some time to help me in understanding how The Walking Tedd is going to infect all our lives:-
If you don’t succinctly explain the concept behind The Walking Tedd in 10 seconds then the planet Earth will detonate because of….reasons. No pressure. Go!
MEGAN: The Walking Tedd is a comedic look at the undiscovered side of the zombie apocalypse and how one young woman tries to live a normal life while caring for a teddy bear that hungers for stuffed animal fluff.
DEREK: Inspired by “The Walking Dead” and “Ted,” The Walking Tedd follows a nanny, Kelly, as her search for love is suddenly complicated by the reappearance of her former teddy bear, who has come to life…as a zombie.
Where did the idea of what would become the Walking Tedd originate from?
MEGAN: Derek had a zany idea last Halloween to dress as a zombie teddy-bear and the hamster in his head started spinning. A few months later and here we are.
DEREK: The Walking Tedd originated as my Halloween costume last year. It’s been a 3 year tradition for me to do a zombie spin on a costume, and it gets harder every year to outdo myself. I’m a huge fan of The Walking Dead and wanted to play off of that…The Walking Tedd was the first thing that popped into my mind, and voila! Magic.
How important is creating buzz to getting a crowd-funding campaign successfully funded? How do you go about creating buzz?
SEAN: I find being passionate about a project is key to having other people support it. Whether it be from a clever Kickstarter concept, to character posters, or promo videos – I firmly believe the more effort that goes into making a campaign look well-rounded and professional, the easier it is to gain support and create buzz around your project. Essentially, you’re creating a product, and brand – and it’s important to create an identity for it even before the show is completed.
Do you feel under more pressure knowing that many of your potential viewers have volunteered their hard-earned cash in order to help make The Walking Tedd happen?
MEGAN: We are extremely grateful the [people] that have donated as well as the ones who are just eager for the first episode. Our cast and crew are talented, hard-working, and dedicated to making this web series the best that it can be for all of our loyal followers. We want this to be a project that all of our contributors would be glad to say they helped bring to life. That is no easy task, so we are working round the clock to make Walking Tedd the best it can be.
DEREK: I feel more excitement than pressure. I know we have a really fun and clever concept, so the fact that our viewers are excited enough about what we’re doing to donate freely makes me really excited to bring them more quality content.
KYLIE: With Squaresville, our first season was crowd-funded, so there [I understand] pressure! However, I think we all are going to strive to make the best work possible, even with the added crowd-funding ‘cloud’ over our heads.
SEAN: The fact we have about 50 people; some friends, some people who came across our campaign through it being shared or on Kickstarter, has brought some pressure; but more so it has brought excitement and energy to the project. Regardless of how a project is funded, there is always some pressure to deliver a high quality product; but specifically when it’s crowd funded there’s a sense of community and support which I feel drives the project in a more passionate direction.
Whose idea was what became the project’s trailer on Kickstarter? I understand that was all done in one take? That’s insane!
MEGAN: The epic idea of the Kickstarter video was that of our talented director, Sean Willis. He mentioned that it would be a crazy idea, but if it worked it would be amazing. He was right. I have to give a shout-out to all of our cast and crew. We filmed for hours; stopping for every car, flubbed line, or dead battery. It was like running a marathon: every stop just fired them up. By the end of it we were cheering and laughing; glad to have made it through a take without stopping. Man, I love our cast and crew: going that extra mile really paid off!
DEREK: The Kickstarter was mostly Sean’s vision. He brought the idea up to me; I loved it, and gave him the freedom to run with it. I trust everything that he does. I helped a lot with the dialogue and making sure the character’s were equally portrayed throughout the one long and complicated shot. And yes…insane is a great way to describe that morning!
KYLIE: I believe that’s Derek and Sean’s arena, but that one-take shot was PRETTY crazy. We all got a workout from running and hiding and we’d start over if someone was seen in the shot…and it was one of the hottest days in June. I don’t know how DeVille (playing ‘Gavin’), John (playing ‘Tyler’), and Steven (who plays ‘Travis’) had the energy to do flips and hop over cars all day: I was tired just from running and playing hide and seek with the camera!
SEAN: I came on board the project after Derek Stusynski, the writer (and co -star of a short of mine in post production called Eden [a previous Kickstarter funded web series about a dystopian future of LBGT oppression]) pitched me the idea. Upon discussing funding and the idea of a Kickstarter campaign I… wanted…to make it different and unique. There [are] so many campaigns out there, and I feel in order to stand out – gain supporter, trust, and show dedication to your project – an interesting and creative Kickstarter approach is the way to start. And yes, it is one continuous take, but it didn’t happen without a few retakes. …For us to be able to pull off a 3 minute continuous shot, with no rehearsals prior, and the script sent out just a few days before, means we have an incredibly talented cast and I look forward to working with all of them over our weeks of shooting.
DEREK: I’m really excited to see and hear people’s reactions to the story. Megan and I are working really hard to make sure there’s more to the series than just a gimmicky character, so get ready for some jaw dropping moments. There’s more than one.
KYLIE: I think what I’m looking forward to most is creating this absolutely OUTRAGEOUS character I’ve really never played before. I’ve had my fair share of eccentric characters, but Olivia may be the craziest one I’ve gotten to play with.
SEAN: Producing any project is always an exhilarating experience, and successfully translating it from paper to a visual format is always an achievement. On The Walking Tedd in particular, I’m looking forward to working with the cast, and also in this mixed genre of comedy-horror-drama, which is somewhat new territory for me but so far has been fun and successful.
What’s the difference between working on a network produced show and a crowd-funded produced show? Is there a difference?
KYLIE: Obviously the big difference is there’s more money involved [in a network show] and maybe bigger equipment but at the end of the day, everyone’s just trying to make something people will enjoy, whether it has a budget of $1000 an episode or $10,000 (or more), so other than the ‘perks’ I don’t see a difference.
DEREK: A network produced show just has a heck of a lot more people involved – mostly behind the scenes – because they have the money to pay everyone to do a specific task. We’re essentially doing the exact same thing with a lot fewer people. With fewer people it’s also a lot more intimate, so you get to know each other and really create a strong bond that helps take the project to the next level.
How was working on The Walking Tedd sold to you? What made you think, ‘Yep, that’s the job I want to take!’
KYLIE: Actually, it totally fell into my lap. I was taking a workshop class and Derek was the reader in the class. After the class Derek came up to me and asked for my info because he was “developing a web series” he thought I would be right for, and I went about my merry way. About a month later I got an email with a bunch of scripts asking if I wanted to grab coffee if I liked the scripts. I gave them a read and thought they were really great and LOVED how zany Olivia was, and as we sat down at the café. He offered me the role. I’m glad I decided to go to that class that Saturday!
Do you find there is a differing level of respect associated with creating a web series and a more traditional TV based production?
KYLIE: Being on both sides, I find that web is slowly but surely creeping into the “traditional” market, which is great, but I’ve also seen the stigma that comes with being on TV and on the web. I’ve always seen every job as “work,” not based on what type it is, but there are those out there who look down on TV actors in new media and alternatively people looking down on new media when you do TV or a movie. I know new media will have the same respect as TV and film because that’s the way the industry is heading, but it will take some time.
How far in advance are the scripts sent out in order to allow preparation?
KYLIE: I got the first few scripts plus outlines for the rest of the first season upon my initial meeting with Derek, and I’ve received scripts as we go along in the process. Because I just had surgery I am pretty limited on preparing, especially since Olivia is VERY physical character, but I’m stoked on getting to know her.
DEREK: We’ve actually already sent out the first 4 episodes to everyone involved, so they’ve had a lot of time to delve into their characters before we jumped into the Kickstarter project. We will be shooting the series out-of-order, so the cast will receive every episode well in advance. I want to give everyone as much time with the material as possible, because it will only make the end result better.
Kylie – you have experience in web series due to your splendid work on Squaresville. What is it about web series that appeals to you personally?
KYLIE: Well thank you so much! I have said before that Squaresville was really my introduction to the web series space because my background has primarily been TV and movies. Squaresville has truly opened my world up to the web and new media content. Although I’ve been in several new media projects since then (plus a secret one coming out soon as well that I am working on with Squaresville co-star Tiffany Ariany!), I’ve really enjoyed the fact that I get to be in projects that the traditional entertainment space may ignore or shut down, as well as the fact that even though I’m what is known as a “character” actor, I have been given opportunities since Squaresville began to be characters that are diverse and not just a stereotype or a cliché, both in new media and in traditional formats.
How important do you feel it is to produce high quality marketing? I notice your staggered release posters look fantastic and you specify that some of the money raised will go towards promotional materials.
SEAN: It’s very important to me, and should be to web series and creators in general. Online series have been deemed something less than a TV show per say, they’re held to a lower standard, and I don’t think that’s the right assumption or pretense to be under. So our goal is to present a full package, we’ve put a lot of time into developing these marketing products, all with the purpose of showing that this is a narrative series just like you’d see on TV, but in a slightly shorter format. We want to make a point that there is a professional quality that online content can possess too, and we hope that is demonstrated from our Kickstarter and marketing materials.
Derek – Surely the process of writing is hard enough without also donning a giant (and no doubt uncomfortably hot) bear costume! What are the advantages of both writing AND acting in a web series?
DEREK: Well since I’m playing Tedd, and he doesn’t speak, I’m not writing my own dialogue. However, Tedd has a lot of great silent moments that we’ll capture through his eyes, facial expression, and body language, and since I’ll be the one in that giant, uncomfortable outfit, I don’t have to spell out too much in the script. Although I’d have to say, I’m having much more fun writing for actors that I know, because I can create situations to play off their strengths. Such as Deville’s character, Gavin, and his superb parkour talent.
How much creative input do the actors get into bringing their character to life?
KYLIE: One of the great things about doing that Kickstarter video was that I hadn’t met Megan Furnish, who is Derek’s co-writer, and she said to me during the shoot, “I LOVE getting to meet you guys because I know how to REALLY write for you all now” since all the characters were coming to life. I really feel like we get to have a say in who our characters are based on our strengths – the Kickstarter shoot was the first time I really got to play in Olivia’s world – and with only a few notes on wardrobe, her voice and her wardrobe really came alive that day.
MEGAN: I would love to say it was a hardcore gritty drama about the sad state of re-animated teddy bears, but alas it is not. I remember sitting down with Derek in a coffee shop, before any episodes were written and just going over the idea. I swear this project has a life of its own. For me The Walking Tedd has always been a heart-warming sitcom about a zombie teddy bear who only wants the best for his friends, but somehow always makes things worse before they get better.
DEREK: Haha! More surreal sit-com. It’s whimsical and quirky, and there’s definitely a familiarity with the show, as it’s quite obvious what inspired the concept. But it has its own unique story. We’re not trying to spoof anything. Other than maybe the title.
How much of the writing process is finalised before filming begins? Do you find yourself many any substantial re-writes as unexpected circumstances crop up?
MEGAN: You have to be flexible when writing with a partner and know compromise. I remember finishing an episode and thinking that the writing is done, when…BAM! There is another idea that we need to add. So, to answer your question, we try to have a script 100% to completion, but we also know that anything can happen on the day of shooting, so we are always on our toes to make sure we get the best script possible for the circumstance that we have.
DEREK: The writing will be 100% finalized before we begin filming. Though if something inspires me between now and then I’m not opposed to making last-minute adjustments to the scenes in place. We’ve yet to meet a circumstance that requires substantial re-writes, so hopefully that continues through production.
It looks like there will be quite a large cast! How difficult is it to balance the script so that episodes don’t get too crowded, but also don’t neglect anybody?
MEGAN: I would say that is the hardest part of writing this web-series, we love our cast and as such we want to display each and every single one of them as much as possible, but if we did that we would have a series of movies instead of six minuet episodes. So, Derek and I try to only use a cast member if it is essential to the story and for some characters we expanded their story lines so they get more screen time without derailing from the overall arc of the show.
DEREK: As the writer, I get so invested in each character, because they all have a story to tell. Not to mention the actors are constantly inspiring me to write additional material for them. Beau [Wirick] and his character, Ryan, are a prime example. He started off with only one scene, but after working with him on set I started to think more about Ryan’s life, and the opportunity arose to bring him back. It’s a matter of figuring out what is vital to the story and how to intertwine the lives of these characters so that they’re appearances have a purpose and make sense.
Does the plotting lead naturally to the comedy aspects, or do you find it more effective to lay out the structure and then work in the humour later? Or visa versa?
MEGAN: For me the comedy comes naturally as I write, sometimes I’ll admit the joke or bit I want to use is not that funny, so in the re-writing stage it gets changed. But, for the most part I know what comedic element would work in a situation and then just tinker with it until we are happy with the outcome.
DEREK: The plot has to come first for me but because of the nature and context of the story the comedy just comes naturally. I don’t think you can have a character like Tedd and not have comedy, so I just write the story from a truthful place (as true as it can get with a zombie teddy bear) and let the hilarity unfold.
Derek – Tell me about how your experience on the awarding winning show The RAs compares to writing and acting in The Walking Tedd?
DEREK: I was solely an actor in The RAs, which was mainly a drama. It was my first experience on an episodic, and it was an absolute blast. The cast would meet with the creator to read through each episode after it was written, and I just remember how exciting it was to sit down and watch the story unfold, and we got to be a part of it. In The Walking Tedd, I’m now the one sending out scripts to everyone and hoping they’re as excited about what they’re receiving as I am to giving it to them.
Sean – You have successfully gained funding for a crowd funding project before in the dramatic LGBT series Fabulous High. What did you learn from that process that you have brought over to The Walking Tedd?
SEAN: I have had previous success on Kickstarter with a narrative short Eden, as well as Fabulous High. I have translated some aspects from both to The Walking Tedd – much of it consisting of how to strategically position the campaign. You could have the best video but if no one sees it it won’t matter, so finding ways to gain visibility in a very saturated market of “web series” and Kickstarter postings. I aim to think of new techniques to market and target our audience. It has proved successful so far, only 13 days through The Walking Tedd campaign we had 72 backers, and now with 9 days left to go we are up to 66 backers!. This compares to Fabulous High ending our 30 day campaign with 52.
How do you alter your approach to produce and film a comedy show as opposed to a serious piece of work like Fabulous High?
SEAN: I feel the approach is the same to each one all the way up to the point of “action”. Essentially, the same day-to-day and long-term goals need to be created, the same pre production aspects, the same production and post production aspects as well. In a comedy, the difference lies in working with the actors during rehearsal and on set, along with different camera styles and techniques, to really make the beats that are supposed to be funny – funny. If you watch some of the most recognizable sitcoms, such as The Office or Parks and Rec, the camera movement plays an equally important role as the characters do in making sure the comedy translates to the screen and isn’t left as a one liner on paper.
How difficult is the editing process when you have limited time and funds to capture the raw performances? Presumably you can’t pick from 20 takes each time…
SEAN: On The Walking Tedd I’ll be serving as Director as well as the Editor. The benefit of this is that there will presumably be a lot of footage and many takes, but as the Director I will have noted the takes that work best in my opinion, and then pull them into the edit. I also know what I shot, how I shot it, and can shoot it from an editor’s standpoint of what will be adequate and proper coverage for the scene.
Megan – without any spoilers, can you give us an insight into the part of the show you are most proud of thinking up?
MEGAN: I am most proud of the small bits or random one-liners that I have created. I remember fighting tooth and nail to convince Derek to have Abby say something in latin to Skylar, but in a demonic tone. At first he was dead-set against that idea, but once we found the right phrase, he was on board. Those little bits, aid the actor in identifying with their character, those are what I am most proud of… Oh… and they’re funny!
What’s the hardest part of allocating the funds you collect? Does reaching your target get you breathing room or is that the bare minimum you need to make The Walking Tedd happen?
SEAN: If we hit our goal it means we will be able to produce this show successfully. It’s breathing room in the sense we know we will be able to acquire the resources and talent needed to complete the show, however we aren’t planning our next vacation with extra cash.
If you could sit down with the people who might be able to donate some money, what one thing would you say to let them know it’s a great idea?
DEREK: Zombies are really in right now, but have you ever seen zombies in the form of your childhood stuffed toy? I think our idea is fresh and unique enough to catch on like wildfire. We just need your help to get started.
MEGAN: The Walking Tedd is a passion project for our cast and crew. They are donating their time and energy because they love the idea of a zombie teddy bear who eats stuffed animals. I would love for people to donate, because this project is near and dear to all the hearts of our cast and crew. Not only that, but its cleaver, witty, and charismatic. I’m not just saying that because I helped write it. This show has a life of its own and we want as many people to be a part of our journey as possible. Please join us in bringing The Walking Tedd to life.
SEAN: Everyone has an idea – and many people have great ideas – but it’s the implementation of making that idea into a reality. I’d say The Walking Tedd is not only a well written, unique, and fun show, but we have the skill and talent attached to do it very, very, well: on a modest budget.
KYLIE: The script is super funny and it’s really cute, and there’s nothing like it on the web right now. It’s fresh, it’s fun, and it doesn’t take itself too seriously, and the cast and crew are really excited about it, which is always awesome. It feels like a TRUE collaboration.