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Interview with Standard Action

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Standard Action Cast and Crew Last week I had a chance to spend some time having a dialogue with a couple of cast members from the award winning web series, Standard Action. For those that haven’t seen this fantastic series yet, it’s a humorous, fantasy based series with a good amount of nerd culture references mixed in. I’ve watched a lot of the show and its writing and production values will keep you coming back for more. I can see why they’ve built up such a loyal following after only two seasons. I’ve also included the first episode after the interview for your viewing pleasure.

Right now they are also getting to the end of their Season 3 Kickstarter campaign. There are a number of great rewards being offered to backers, including the ability to vote on how season 3 unfolds. It’s worth checking out whether you are a long time fan of the show or a new recruit. I know your eager to look so I’ll wait for you to get back before getting on to the interview. Go ahead and have a look.

All done? Great!

With me today are Joanna Gaskell (producer, writer, actress) and Rob Hunt (director, editor). They’ve graciously taken some time out of their day give us a bit of insight into the history and production of Standard Action.

BGQ: For someone who might be new to Standard Action, give us a little introduction to the series. What should a new viewer know?

JG: Standard Action is the comedy-fantasy webseries for geeks of all kinds. It’s the story of four bumbling adventurers who just don’t fit in normal adventuring society. Alone and marginalized, they find each other, and set out on a quest that will challenge not only their fellowship, but everyone’s perceptions of what a hero should be. It’s full of nerd culture references and tongue-in-cheek humour, and hardly ever takes itself seriously. If you love endearing characters, silly gamer humour and rooting for the underdog, you’ll like our show.

RH: The elevator pitch is it’s Lord of the Rings meets Hercules: Legendary Journeys with some Terry Pratchett’s Discworld and Red Dwarf thrown in for good measure.

BGQ: It sounds like the show will definitely appeal to gamers across a broad spectrum. It also sounds like someone doesn’t have to be gamer/geek to enjoy the series. Do you have many non-gamer fans?

JG: We have all sorts of fans, and yes, some of them just like the funny fantasy stuff, and the gamer jokes just go over their heads. We also have a bunch of kid fans, which I think is pretty great. We’ve also found a significant following among women, who appreciate the show for the well-rounded… and appropriately dressed female characters. 😉

RH: I pushed early on to make this show accessible. I wanted to avoid heavy use of statistics numbers in the scripts.  The goal was to make it entertaining to casual players of of either D&D and WoW.

BGQ: It looks like you have quite the cast and crew working on Standard Action. Has it always been this large of a group or has it grown over your first two seasons?

JG: We started out with a tiny group of six people working on our first ever episode, the teaser of Season 1, which you can now see as Episode 6.5 – it slotted into the middle of the story after the rest of the season was shot. 🙂 For the vast majority of Season 1, we had a cast/crew of about ten people. That got a bit bigger in Season 2 – on one ridiculous day we had over twenty people on set, which was just silly. We’re hoping to scale back down to a smaller number for Season 3; we just tend to work better that way.

RH: I worked as a backgrounder in Vancouver for about a year and actually our crew size is pretty small by comparison.  Some of the crews of Eureka and Psych were pretty big.  I really strive towards minimalism which helps keep costs down.  Season 2 did get a big unwieldy some days.

BGQ: With a smaller cast/crew, I’m sure you have to wear many hats to produce the series. Is it a challenge for people to fill more than one role? About how long does it take to create an episode, start to finish?  

JG: Sometimes it can be a challenge, but it also gives people a real sense of ownership of the show. Everyone is knee-deep in it – there are no unimportant people on set, no small cogs. Everyone is important, and very difficult to replace. How long? Well, let’s see. We try to film everything for a single episode in a single day. So… 12 hours on set, let’s say. Then, about 25 hours in layout editing, then maybe 30 hours in visual effects, mastering, and animations, and maybe 12 hours in sound design and composition. That’s about 80 hours, and that doesn’t take into account pre-production, so costume and prop building, writing, rehearsals (if we have one), gear prep, location scouting… etc.

RH: It’s definitely a challenge but I also find there’s a synergy in working on the layout, colour correction and effects.  Sound is still a very difficult beast but I would really enjoy the opportunity to take some courses on sound design and dialogue cleanup.

BGQ: Wow, I bet most people wouldn’t have guessed that it takes that much time to produce an episode. It really helps one appreciate what the cast/crew go through to make the series happen. With all that dedication to a standard episode, I’m sure there are a lot of things on your wish list for the show. What is something you have always wanted to do in the series but haven’t been able to?

JG: We really want a tavern set to play with, but haven’t managed to pull that off yet. Also, I really want to try to get a musical episode off the ground, but the idea is a bit daunting. We’ve committed to it if we make it to our 33K stretch goal in the Kickstarter, though, so it may happen!!

RH: I would love to work on it full time 5 days a week.  There are so many side projects like a Standard Action 3d game with Unity.  I just don’t have enough hours in the day with my web developer job, Starlit Citadel Reviews and Standard Action (and SpaceCab and Pyrenees Chronicles)

BGQ: Speaking of side projects, I noticed one of the rewards for the Kickstarter is a copy of the Standard Action Card Game. Can you tell me a little about this? Did you develop it?

JG: Actually, I’m going to get Rob to explain it, as it’s his baby! 🙂

RH: About 8 months ago I got Kaja from Starlit Citadel reviews, Joanna, and a few other wonderful friends and we spent an entire day cooking up a card game.  I had been reading a lot about game jams and wanted to hold a mini one.  I intend to do another similar one later this year using Unity 3D and some fantasy game assets I’ve bought.

BGQ: As a D&D inspired series, do you have a regular RPG game you play? Do you draw inspiration from these games?

JG: The two of us play a Pathfinder game on Monday nights these days; we used to play D&D 3.5, but switched over a few years ago. As the writer, I  for sure draw inspiration from our games, but usually not directly; usually the inspiration comes from the humour and the jokes and the silliness. So, the tone translates over to the show, rather than actual events.

RH: Yes we’ve played for years but I don’t keep a notepad at the table (I probably should)

BGQ: Your Season 3 Kickstarter campaign is currently in funding. Is this the first Kickstarter campaign you’ve run before? If so, what is the experience like?

JG: We ran an IndieGoGo campaign for Season 2, and that went really well. This is the first Kickstarter we’ve ever run, and I’m really glad to have some help from Ed and Kyle of Gamerati – they’re handling a lot of the back-end stuff on the campaign, so we can focus on lots and lots of updates, and promotions, and media appearances, and videos… It’s been a crazy experience these last six weeks; we’re working so hard to make sure this is the best campaign we could hope to run. And the fun is just beginning!

RH:  I’ve ran a number of Indiegogo campaigns in the past and was able to screen my second feature film The Directors Project in a theater because of a campaign I ran.

BGQ: Right now you’re trending towards almost 235% (via kicktraq) of your funding goal. Did you expect to receive that level of backer support ?

JG: We’re very happy with the response, for sure. We decided to be pretty honest this year about exactly how much we can do with the money we receive, so we aimed low on our Kickstarter, promising a very small season if we achieved our base goal, and a bigger season if we hit stretch goals. At the moment we’re looking at four episodes funded for season 3, so we’re hoping for a few more before the end!

RH: The Gamerati has a math guru we consulted. With Kyles advice, we charted a campaign that we all hoped would fun at least 6 episodes. I’m thrilled we’ve made it as far as we have.

BGQ: One of the rewards for your Season 3 Kickstarter is to be able to vote on which direction the backer wants the season to go. (Choose Your Champion Contest). This is a really clever idea, how have the long time fans of the series responded to this?

JG: The response has been pretty positive! We’ve had to be a bit vague about exactly how the season will change depending on which character “wins” the Choose Your Champion contest because we don’t want to spoil the story, but I’m sure people will be happy with the treatment their “Champion” adventurer gets. 🙂 We’ve always been proponents of giving people the feeling of ownership in a project, so hopefully this will let fans really take hold of their stake in Standard Action. Without our audience, we wouldn’t have a show!

RH: The fans have responded but I’m really curious to see who wins.  I have my favorites picked.

BGQ: Say I’m an average gamer who might be new to your series. I like the episodes Standard Action I’ve seen and am intrigued by your Kickstarter, but I am on the fence about being a backer. What can you say to me to push me over the edge into pledging?

JG: We’ve made sure to make the $25 level incredibly lucrative, so you get a huge amount for your money. If you’re a gamer, then for your $25 you get a full-length Pathfinder module, as well as PDF character sheets to play our characters, and some awesome music – which is actually exceptionally good music to play while you’re gaming! So you end up with the materials for a bunch of great gaming sessions for your group for just $25!

RH:  All of the above.  We are putting a big effort into building on the $25 level so if you donate $25 and tell your friends eventually we will hit more stretch goals and more great stuff will be added in like another Pathfinder module.

BGQ: Any hints on what we can expect for Season 3?

JG: This season will close this storyline, at least somewhat. This arc was always meant to be three chapters long. You’ll see a culmination of the threads we’ve been planting over the past two seasons… plus hopefully some very interesting locations, some more Ikosa, and some more puppets!

RH:  MOAR PUPPETS!  and the Passive Aggressive Fork.

That about wraps up our interview with Joanna and Rob from Standard Action. I want to thank them again for taking the time to discuss the series with me. If you haven’t already, make sure to hop over to their kickstarter page and check out all they are offering to backers. The campaign ends Friday, May 17th so no procrastinating. Click the green button below to read all about their campaign. 

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As promised, here is the first episode of Standard Action:

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