Today, The Zombie Spider, from the mind of Aiden, is upon us. The episode has just been released. Like, just now. Here it is. Watch it. Watch it!
More than 30 VFSers – grads and instructors alike – from eight programs worked on the episode. We reached out to producer Lindsey Mann and co-producer Samantha Jewell (Entertainment Business Management grads), puppeteer Chad Costen (Film Production grad and instructor in Foundation Visual Art & Design), and the episode’s director, VFS instructor Nicholas Humphries, just ahead of today’s launch to get some behind-the-scenes scoop.
How’re you feeling about things now that the episode is about to go public?
Samantha: One word: excited! Halloween is my favourite holiday, and to get to celebrate in costume, with close friends and colleagues with such an unreal opportunity… Excitement is the only thing I can think of to describe it!
Lindsey: It is always nerve-racking having the thing you have put so much time, effort, and talk into go up for the the public to see. It’s fun teasing your audience with photos, blogs, articles, and posts, and now they get to see the whole thing together. You can only hope it meets or exceeds what they had pieced together in their minds.
This project took on so many different elements I have never worked with - miniatures, puppets, spiders, and babies – and it’s been exciting seeing those elements create the illusions via camera tricks and editing in the final cuts. I think that is what I love most about film. No project is ever the same and the process never really gets easier… but in a good way.
This is not a business for those who like comfort, but the payoff and excitement is like no other. To get to share what you have gone through in something like this Written by a Kid episode, which will be seen by thousands, only makes the thrill greater!
When all is said and done and the episode is out, I can only know that I loved this project and all the cast and crew that worked on it and I hope that translates to the audience.
The concept of Written by a Kid – bringing kids’ stories to life – is almost irresistible. What is it about being a kid that lets them tap into the weirdest or creepiest stuff?
Nicholas: I think the most amusing thing about adapting a Halloween story written by a kid is that I can see all kinds of weird horror references in his story that have been pulled completely out of context and then mashed together. I think we do this as adult creatives all the time, but kids are just less fearless and apologetic about it. Their enthusiasm over their own stories gets us excited about them no matter how silly they may be. I think we can learn a lot from this.
Samantha and Chad, how did you come to be involved in the episode? Were you familiar with the series before?
Chad: The first episode had yet to be released when Nick approached me to build the Zombie Spider puppet, but I was familiar with Felicia Day and am a big fan of the career and reputation she has built for herself on the web. I wanted to be involved to learn more about the show and how it was being produced, as well as learn from Nick and [executive producer] Jessica [Leigh Clark-Bojin]. It was a no-brainer, really, because I admire and respect both of those brilliant people and have been waiting for an opportunity for us to work together. It was a great experience.
Samantha: It was kind of crazy for me, actually. I have remained close friends with Nick, Lindsey, and, well… essentially the entire team from The Little Mermaid, so any time we are able to work on a project together, we jump on it – and Zombie Spider was no different.
I got the call from Nick and said yes without even knowing what I was getting into . While I wasn’t familiar with Written by a Kid, I had, of course, heard of Felicia Day – but I had no idea that that was whose series we were going to be a part of and how large of an audience we would be producing for. It’s safe to say that when I was brought up to speed, I was thrilled to be on board for such a monumental, and incredibly fun, project.
Could you explain what your role in Zombie Spider entailed?
Samantha: When I had initially signed on to the project, it was a crazy time for me with beginning a new career in talent management, so my role as co-producer was more or less to be Lindsey’s backup and teammate. In the early stages of the project, I was involved with the planning, conceptualizing ideas from page to product and organization of the budget as well as the script breakdown. Production day was more of an “all hands on deck” scenario, where I made myself as accessible and helpful as possible to our cast and crew – as you do.
I also got elbow-deep in creating the slime that would soon explode onto our Jake. Sorry, Dawson! [ed. Dawson Dunbar is a lead actor in the episode]
Chad: I was responsible for designing, building, and performing the Zombie Spider puppet. I’ve been a builder of creatures and puppets for as long as I can remember, and worked in that field professionally for several years before following the filmmaking path. I still make monsters and costumes for my own movies, but Zombie Spider was one of those projects that was just too cool to turn down. Come on, it’s a giant flesh-eating spider that rises from the dead! How would any self-respecting creature builder say no to that?
Nothing’s ever simple. What were the challenges you faced on this shoot in particular?
Chad: I’d say the biggest challenge – which is an obvious and persistent one – was time. I’ve had my plate pretty full this year. Besides teaching, I’ve been developing GAIA, my own web series, and Zombie Spider fell right in the middle of that. So there were countless sleepless nights and stress-inducing moments. But thankfully, there was a great deal of creative freedom on the project, so I was left to work whenever I could find time and make the spider my own, within the basic needs of the show.
Samantha: The biggest challenge for me in this project had to have been the pressure of having a full-time job and working independently on such a large, important, and amazing project. Aside from Mermaid‘s potential, this is the first, guaranteed, work that I will have ever done that will be viewed by thousands of people – with the potential for hundreds of thousands. It’s definitely an overwhelming reality.
Chad: Honestly, the actual shoot was the easiest and most enjoyable part of the project for me. The only challenge I can think of on that day was squishing into cramped spaces to perform, but when you puppeteer, it comes with the territory.
I am still finding the remnants of the coffee grounds, which stood in for dirt on the graveyard miniature set, in my shoes and clothing, though. Laundry is definitely a challenge.