Interview: ElfQuest Webseries

It all started with a panel from the epic comic book series ElfQuest posted on Twitter. Stephanie Thorpe (After Judgement) and Paula Rhodes (A Good Knight’s Quest) bonded over their shared love of the fantasy series they had grown-up reading. They pooled their knowledge and resources and decided that they would pay respect to the series by making a fan trailer. They crowd-sourced via IndieGoGo and it was a massive success amongst fans of the series – they reached their funding goal within a week! And then the creators of the comics, Wendy and Richard Pini, gave their blessing to the project and even donated original artwork as “perks” for donating at a certain level. The internet was a-buzz with excitement over the project, and on April 6 this year SAG hosted the premiere party of the trailer.  This week, we sat down with Stephanie and Paula to have a chat about it all.

When did your love for the ElfQuest series become apparent?

Stephanie: Unbeknowest to us, we both fell in love with the series as little girls. we’ve been reading the comics since we were about 8yrs old.

Paula: Yep, we were both still ordering off kids’ menus. Both of us were given the wonderful gift of being set free in a comic store by our parents and were drawn to Wendy Pini’s lovely artwork. From page one, we were hooked. I tried to dress as an elf on my first day of Kindergarten and Steph tried to pinch her ears each night so they’d grow pointy. It very much shaped our imaginations and love of a good story.

How did the idea come about to turn it into a fan-made trailer?

S: I was back up in my family home in Vnacouver where I keep all my geeky priceless possssions. I’m not sure what possessed me but I posted one of my favorite ElfQuest panels on twitter and there was quite the response…chielfy among them Paula. We had a blast over twitter chatting about the series and jokingly casting a bunch of actresses we knew. Then we realized we have the producing experience to make this happen.

P: We met for coffee and started the ball rolling. Realising that as we were non-rights-holding fans, we could make a fan film project that could stand as a rallying point for other fans so we could (hopefully) encourage the studio feature to be made.

What was it like to get the backing from its creators and how did they become involved/hear about your idea?

P: Oh, it was amazing – the fact that our childhood heroes like we’ve made will make me tear-up until I’m 90. We initially contacted them on Facebook to show them some of our past work and share our plans.

S: They were thrilled and so supportive. They donated vip perks towards our indigogo fundraising campaign. and we had the pleasure to be on a panel with them at wondercon, and have them attend the sag red carpet gala with us in April

I have to say, the cast is perfect – absolutely everyone really looks like the character they’re playing. Was this intentional, or did you just happen to get really great actors on board who happened to really resemble the characters they’re playing?

P: Oh, thank you. :) Actually, casting is what sort of spurred this whole thing on. When Steph posted the frame on Twitter, I responded by mentioning how many friends of ours among the women of the web looked so much like the characters. I think I initially named Cathy Baron and her likeness to Little Dewshine. From there we went back and forth naming more characters and the girls who look like them. When we realised we had nearly all 30+ years of EQ characters covered, we had that moment of “ooh, we could make this.” In fact, we had more girls that we were able to use and ultimately had to narrow it down to the characters alive at the time frame we chose to shoot.

S: It was definitely intentional, and amazing, these actresses WERE the characters. it was so inspiring to work with all these talented ladies. Some were life-long EQ fans, while others fell in love with the series researching their roles.

What made you choose to go to crowd-funding sources?

S: We wanted the fans involved. We wanted to be clear this was a fan celebration. and frankly our pocketbooks were dry. this was a complete passion project for us–every dime raised went into the production.

P: Yes, once we realised the budget would be higher than we could cover, we brainstormed options and Indiegog just made the most sense for what we were doing. We had a very successful experience with it and would recommend it highly.

Did you ever have any doubts about doing it?

S: I was so scared right before we showed it to the diehard fans at wondercon. their opinion meant the world to me and thankfully they embraced it! Also at the SAG screening when I heard the whispers that 27K viewers were watching the livestream–that was a wee bit intimidating.

P: Yeah, the moment right before we share the teaser, the trailer itself, and even the moment before we launched the Indiegogo page were all moments where we held our breathes. We always knew we wanted to do it, we just also knew we couldn’t screw it up – the pressure was on big time. But that’s how things work, big risks = big rewards.

S:We will always be so proud of this project and everyone involved.

How much of the process were you both involved with?

S: We wore a lot of hats, from producing, casting, directing, writing, Paula made all the costumes by hand, even location scouting. we had a wonderful team along with us but we are proud to say that this has been our baby . That’s how it is in the web world: at some point you are doing anything and everything.

P: Indeed, we collaborated on every step. While it was wonderful to have a partner to help when one of us got tied up with another project, we were both constantly in the loop moving it forward, doing whatever needed doing.

Where did you film? And how many missions into the forests did it take to find just the exact right places?

P: We filmed at a secret forest location in LA. :) We made a total of 2 location scouting trips out there in pre-production. Once to see if we liked it and once with our DP to plan our shots, we’re pretty efficient. :)

Were there any hiccups along the way you can tell us about? Any funny stories from the set?

S: We did not burn down California. Enough said.

P: Hahaha! Let’s see, we did have a crew member lock keys in the car that was in a shot and had to use a satellite phone to call AAA and give them very detailed directions to this clearing deep in the woods. But they made it and we stayed on schedule to boot.

Stephanie plays Winnowil

P: Hmmm, I guess just coordinating everything and everyone. 16 cast members coming and going, some which share scenes, all from a location where we didn’t get cell service was a challenge that required pre-pro down to the minute. But everything worked out and we made each of our days. It’s a very intricate dance, filming. That and doing the harddrive shuffle all over town between our amazing post-production team was tricky. But we loved every moment of it.

How did SAG become involved with hosting the premiere?

S: SAG New Media has been so supportive of us–they felt that considering our previous bodies of work–this would be a great project to showcase. Paula and I are both SAG members and SAG signatory producers, We had worked with them on several other projects (A Good Knight’s Quest, Night of the Zombie King). And they were thrilled with the 27k fans that tuned in to watch the livesream too!

What advice would you give anyone looking to make web content? What’s the most important piece of advice you were given about it?

S: Tell the story of something you are passionate about — viewers can smell inauthenticity. Be tenacious, and go for it. But make it good. Ensure you are telling a story from a unique perspective.

P: The web is unique in that it’s still such a jungle – there’s no set path for what will work. One must cut one’s own path through, but it’s wonderful in that you can really cut your teeth here wearing as many hats as you’d like. As far as advice I’ve got, all I can think of was that I was told how important networking was and how tight this community was. That is definitely, definitely true. We do all support each other and knowing so many within this circle is beyond invaluable.

S: Absolutely, we couldn’t have done it without their help.

Paula plays Nightfall

S: Every woman who has been a pioneer in this space inspires me. I’m honored to be a founding member of theLXL.com, where we hope to spread geek girl spirit and foster a sense of community and camaraderie. We rose up against the NYT Game of Thrones review with positive results (shutting down the message boards) and I see us scrutinizing other geek injustices in the future. My co-hosts with Celebrate the Web are a continual inspiration too.

P: Stephane, Taryn Southern and Jenni Powell all inspired me when I first got into the space. All of the gals we used in this project inspire me. So many are content creators in their own right.

S: We love that each day we seem to be hearing of another series with a lady at it’s helm.

P: I have girl crushes on all of them!

Now that you’ve made the trailer, do you have any plans to make the movie/series?

S: We would love to be asked to be involved in Warner Brothers’ movie. We hope we’ve demonstrated a social media savvy, as well as our passion for the subject matter. We had over 100K fans rally–that’s got to mean something.

P: I think we’d be more than game.

What are you both working on at the moment?

S: We have a couple irons in the fire that we are very excited about but don’t want to jinx yet. Sorry to be such a tease!

P: True. Right now we’re doing lots and lots of reading – if you need a hint. ;)

Who would win in a fight, Kirk or Han?

S: Duh! Han. no question

P: Hmm, I sort of want to know if you’re talking Pine or Shatner Kirk. i do have a bit of a crush on Chris’s eyebrows. And JJ Abrams’s Kirk is more stunt-tastic than Shatner usually was. I’d say Han beats Shatner-Kirk, but can I please drool over a Pine-Kirk Vs Han showdown?

S: Ummm–now I like your answer better Paula! I just assumed you meant Shatner. I second the need for a Pine/Kirk vs Han showdown. With their shirts off please.

Down girl! ;) Okay, and finally if a Pop Culture Monster was eating your house, what one thing would you save?

S: Hmmm, I’d probably save my elf ears — or my Borg teddy bear.

PL Hmmm. In order of importance (after my fiancé – who’d save his coin collection, and our kitties obviously), I’d save my computer, my great Grandma’s college scrapbook. And the drawing Wendy Pini made of me as my ElfQuest character, Nightfall. :) Clearly I don’t pay attention to limitations. One thing? Pshhhh.

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