Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Rob Hunt’s fantasy-comedy webseries for geeks of all kinds
How do military training, a Dungeons & Dragons hobby, and an acting/writing girlfriend come together when you’ve graduated with a computer science degree? If you’re Rob Hunt of Vancouver BC, you form Phasefire Films and engage all your creatively-minded friends to help make a fantasy-comedy webseries called Standard Action.
Rob used his graduation gift money to buy a video camera and gained inspiration from reading Rebel Without A Crew by Robert Rodriguez and The DV Rebel's Guide by Stu Maschwitz. After a year in England while his girlfriend Joanna Gaskell completed her master’s degree in theatre, the pair returned to Vancouver, gathered up their friends, and got busy.
Rob’s first feature-length project, A Mythology Of Revenge, was made for less than $5,000 and shot with a Cannon HV30 camcorder. Joanna acted the leading role, and Rob served as Writer, Director, Producer and Cinematographer. He then took on The Director’s Project, filmed in the summer of 2010 using a Canon EOS Rebel T2i DSLR, and a growing circle of film-loving friends. Joanna acted, and Rob was Director and Producer.
It was on the last day of filming The Director’s Project (TDP) when Rob and Joanna admitted their love of Dungeons & Dragons to actor Edwin Perez that the seeds of Standard Action were born. Joanna had been writing short practice scripts based on D&D characters that could be filmed in the forests of BC. Edwin, also a D&D enthusiast, revealed his talent for thrifty costume design, and the TDP makeup artists were invited to indulge their love for making monsters.
Initially the ten-minute episodes were posted online for fun, and intended to provide demo reel material for all involved. But as happens with the World Wide Web, fantasy fans discovered the show, and the story continued to evolve.
Standard Action is a webseries that celebrates nerd culture and independent filmmaking. It follows the exploits of four hilariously inept Adventurers and makes reference to the worlds of other fantasy and sci-fi series. Fans love the private jokes and the acknowledgement that life isn’t always easy for characters with social hang-ups.
Joanna has taken over producing duties allowing Rob to focus on production. They write collaboratively and edit together, and every actor on screen also doubles as a crewmember. Rob credits his university job in the militia with how smoothly the team works together. “A lot of the leadership skills I use, I learned in the army. I know people perceive the army as yelling a lot, but a lot of it is working really well as a team and treating your team members properly. I think applying that and giving people authority over their own areas, and allowing them to take ownership … we just offer a creative outlet for people and we treat them really well.”
Half way through making the series, Rob attended a BC Professional Videographers Association panel with his employer, Shawn Lam Video, and he heard Bruce Sharpe talking about PluralEyes. Rob was familiar with the plug-in at work where he uses Adobe Premiere to edit multi-camera event productions, but he didn’t know about DualEyes, the stand-alone software that provides features attractive for a low budget filmmaker.
Rob says, “It’s just been amazing since then. There’s maybe sixty clips an episode and I would have to spend ten minutes on each finding the audio clip, matching it, and synching it. Now it’s like ten seconds. I can play a lot more video games now. Quality of life!” Joanna realized the time-saver meant she could write more complicated structure into each episode, and they now average eighty clips per fourteen-minute episode.
Rob uses a Zoom H4n audio recorder and boom microphones, and his Canon T2i outfitted with Magic Lantern firmware for additional features like zebra striping and focus assist. His post-production toolkit includes Adobe Premiere, After Effects, DualEyes, and Audacity for audio cleanup.
The biggest challenge with the web series is the minimal budget, which is predominantly used to pay honorariums to his cast/crew for their time and dedication. For season two, Rob would love to upgrade his camera, invest in a few more lenses, and build some new costumes and weaponry for the characters.
Joanna and Vanessa Driveness – who has added Associate Producer/Marketing and PR Manager to her original credit of Costume Design/Wardrobe – have gotten busy on the crowd-funding platform IndieGoGo, with a fundraising goal of $10,000. The women are also responsible for Twitter and FaceBook activity, which has brought speaking opportunities at recent and upcoming fan conventions.
At VCon 2011 Rob shared the stage with a co-panelist and then discovered she was heading off to edit The Avengers movie. “I’m like, Oh My God, she touched me! It means a lot when people who are working on these incredibly amazing projects turn around and say, ‘Hey your stuff’s not bad’”. One of Rob’s greatest joys is seeing his friends and crewmates enjoy the appreciation of fans.
The first season of Standard Action is online at watchstandardaction.com. With the money raised on IndieGoGo, Rob and Joanna will make the second season longer, bigger and better. Their goal is another full-length season of twelve episodes, each ten to fifteen minutes in length, all continuing to be free and available online.
As soon as the resources are gathered, Rob and Joanna will lead their team back to the woods. He comments, “While I was in the reserves I used to go away for one crazy weekend a month where we wouldn’t sleep and we’d do these eighteen hour days, and there would be this real camaraderie and teamwork. And now doing this with Standard Action, once or twice a month we’ll go away into the woods and film for fifteen hours and there’ll be more camaraderie. I’m also really good at standing around in the rain, thanks to the military.”
Writer Sara McIntyre is a Communications Consultant and Filmmaker who calls Vancouver, BC 'home'.