SKU creator Jeff Burns talks about the web series' upcoming 2nd season, new IndieGoGo campaign and tonight's (9/13) fundraising party.
Now approaching nearly two million views, Super Knocked Up is one of the most successful web series I've ever had the privilege of writing about as well as one of the most unique superhero stories I've encountered. Jeff Burns is the series' creator, writer and director as well as an educator and super-geek supreme. In SKU's first season he told the story of Super-Villain Darkstar (a.k.a. Jessica James) - a beautiful and complicated woman who after an unlikely night of passion with her heroic arch-nemesis learns she is pregnant with his child.
Acclaimed by internet geekdom and fans of superheroic storytelling alike, Jeff now begins the task of raising funds to make Super Knocked Up's second season as spectacular and engaging as possible. And as if the pressure of living up to Season One wasn't already intense enough, Jeff had to recast the popular series' lead character (formerly played by the beguiling Natalie Bain) which he's brilliantly accomplished in the person of beautiful & spunky newcomer Jourdan Gibson.
Earlier this week Burns launched a brand new IndieGoGo campaign (ending Oct. 9th) to help fund SKU's Season Two, and, tonight (9/13) he's hosting a remarkable Super-Fundraising Party full of fun surprises which I asked him about straight away.
Nightfly: What can you tell me about your SKU Super-Fundraising Party?
Jeff Burns: It's happening tonight in Albany, NY (where we shoot the series) and is loaded with entertainment: stand-up comedy, a fight demonstration, bands, costume contest, prizes, and more! The Fundraising Party combined with our IndieGoGo campaign will hopefully help us raise funds for Season 2. We're also going to do some casting at the party tonight as well.
NF: Your IndieGoGo page mentions the fact that your cast & crew donate their time to the production. Did the lack of pay play a part in Natalie Bain's exiting the series?
JB: Actually, Mark Pezzula (who plays Captain Amazing) demanded I cast a new super-hot actress every season... Just kidding! Natalie Bain, who did a great job playing Jessica James in Season 1, needed to be paid to do Season 2 and beyond. While I would love to pay everyone on my cast and crew, we're still early on in the series and not at the point where we're bringing in enough money to do that. I'm so grateful to everyone who's on board and volunteering their time to work on Season 2. So I had to re-cast our lead, and, I found the perfect new Jessica James in Jourdan Gibson. We had over 700 actresses audition for the role from New York, LA, and all over. And while we had a lot of great candidates, Jourdan was unquestionably the best. She just blew us away with her audition video and with how much she really wanted the part and her love for the project. It's been a blast rehearsing with her and Mark via Skype (she's in LA, we're in upstate New York) and getting her amazingly insightful ideas about Jessica.
NF: At the Villian in Training level and above, contributors to your IndieGoGo campaign receive a free digital copy of SKU's cool Season One comic book. How did you find the experience of creating it, and, was it the fulfillment of a childhood fantasy?
JB: Hell yeah it fulfilled a childhood fantasy. I've loved comic books since I was a kid and to say I actually wrote one, be able to hold the physical copy, and see it on the shelves of my local comic book stores is freaking awesome! I loved how Issue 1 of the comic turned out. I couldn't have asked for a more amazing team to work with: Artist Donny Gandakusuma, Colorist Kefas Armando, and Letterer MaGnUs. They were fantastic and it was an incredible learning experience for me. It was super-cool to take one visual format (film) I'm very comfortable with and translate it into another visual format (comics) that I had never done before. I really enjoyed the experience of working with all those guys and would love to keep making more issues with all of them. One thing I learned, though, is making a comic book costs a lot of money. So I'm not sure right now if we're going forward with another issue. We'll have to wait and see how well the Indiegogo campaign goes.
* If you live in or near Troy, New York be sure to visit SKU's treasured sponsor, Aquilonia Comics, Cards & More. Mention Super Knocked Up while there and get 20% off all new comics!
NF: Felicia Day created a few very effective music videos to promote her web series, The Guild. Have you considered the idea of making a music video to promote SKU?
JB: I've actually been thinking about this pretty much from Day 1 of Super Knocked Up. Inspired by Joss Whedon's musical excursions in Buffy and Dr. Horrible, I would love to do a musical episode. I think Jourdan and Mark would be down for it. Jourdan just did a Super Knocked Up Rap for our Indiegogo video so I know she's got mad rhymin' skills. She actually wrote the entire rhyme/rap herself so she's an awesome lyrics writer; I don't know anything about writing lyrics or music myself. Maybe I can convince her to help me write a musical episode. Hint Hint.
NF: While Season One consisted of only five episodes, the season was augmented by almost as many bonus episodes of The Darcy Danger Files (starring Daniela Malave as journalist Darcy Danger). Do you plan to produce more Darcy Danger webisodes to supplement Season Two?
JB: Maybe. I really like the idea of doing bonus episodes and giving the viewers extra content but our Season 2 schedule is so much more aggressive this year. We're actually shooting the entire season in just two weeks. So my main focus is on finishing all the main Season 2 episodes first. Then I can think about bonus episodes. They might be Darcy Danger ones or maybe something else. I really would love to do some bonus musical stuff.
NF: Will there be the same number of webisodes for Season Two as there was in Season One?
JB: Season 2 will have five episodes just as Season 1 did. But the episodes will be longer this season. Probably averaging around eight minutes instead of five minutes like in Season 1. So there will be more content overall. I never set out to specifically do five episodes. What I do is figure out the right number of episodes to convey the story arc I need to tell in a given season. I think one of the awesome things about web series is creators can make their season length any number of episodes they want and each episode can be any length they want. It's whatever is the best length for a particular series, and that's so freeing and awesome as a filmmaker.
NF: Will Jessica James spend very much time being pregnant this season?
JB: Jessica will definitely be super-preggers in this season, but not for a tremendous amount of it as we do get to see the birth of the baby in this season as well. We will be showing a lot of the relationship/conflict with Jessica and Michael and the baby. And you'll absolutely get to see Jessica kicking more ass with baby in tow. In fact, we catch back up to the scene we started with in Season 1 (the opening fight scene which was nine months ahead of the rest of the season) near the end of Season 2 and have a really fun fight scene with her bringing the baby along during a crime.
NF: Have you decided on the name of Jessica's baby yet?
JB: It's Nightfly. Okay, not really. I do know what the baby's name is but don't want to reveal it yet. You'll find out in Season 2!
NF: Will there be more, less, or about the same number of fight scenes and special efx sequences for Season Two?
JB: We'll have a little more in the fight scene department. We definitely get to do it in a fun and action-packed way this season. There's definitely more Visual Effects sequences too. We meet the rest of the superheroes and super-villains in the Super Knocked Up world this season so you're definitely going to see more superpowers used.
NF: Being a big fan of DVD commentaries, I was excited to read that there'll be commentaries included on the Season Two DVD. Not to mention the noteworthy fact that IndieGoGo contributors at the Superhero/Super-Villain level (and above) can have their own commentaries recorded and added to that DVD too. Will Season One's DVD also feature commentaries? And when will the first season be available to purchase on DVD?
JB: Yeah, I'm also a fan of commentaries. I'd love to have the Season 1 DVD out by the holiday. We've already recorded multiple commentary tracks for Season 1. I did a Directors' one. Mark and I did one together. And then Mark and I did a goofy one where we dubbed in dialogue for all the scenes. There's also a whole series of the Making of Super Knocked Up, some of which has never been released before. Probably the coolest feature will be a Visual Effects Breakdown by my Visual Effects Artists Christopher Vincelette and Daniel DeFabio on how they created the awesome superpowers and other effects in Season 1.
NF: On the subject of IndieGoGo perks, I was intrigued to see that you're offering the ability to essentially co-write an episode for Interplanetary Pirate level contributors and the opportunity to be an E.P. level consultant for all S2 episodes at the Galaxy Overlord level. Those are some seriously enticing producer perks, what inspired you to allow such dramatic behind-the-scenes access?
JB: The Interplanetary Pirate one (which is my favorite name of all the perks) is actually me or my Producer Christopher Schiller giving a script consultation to the contributor on their script. But the Galaxy Overlord one definitely includes them getting to make comments on the rough cuts of the Season 2 episodes. A lot of crowd funding campaigns I've seen have offered perks that aren't that great and haven't really impressed me. I understand people trying to keep the costs of delivering the perks down so they can make money (I did the same thing) but I think people should get something really great for contributing. And, especially at the high perk levels, I think contributors should get something significant. If someone's willing to donate $1,000 (and that would be amazing if someone does), I think they should get some really awesome perks, like an Executive Producer credit and the chance to see the episodes before anyone else and the ability to offer feedback to me and the team. So yeah, I tried hard to come up with things that were unique, cool and valuable.
NF: Was SKU your first foray into web series production? And has it thus far been better or worse than you imagined?
JB: This is my first web series. And I absolutely love it! It's been a lot better than I imagined. I've always wanted to do a TV series and this is basically the same thing, just online and shorter. And I mentioned how freeing it is from a creative standpoint. I love the idea of continuing characters' stories each season and having fans get invested in those characters and their stories. I just love this format. I love it so much I would love to continue to just make web series.
NF: What's been the most surprising aspect of the experience for you? And what have you learned from doing it up to this point?
JB: It's a tremendous amount of work, but I knew that going in. The most surprising thing is how many people have watched the series. Before we released Season 1, I thought it would be a huge stretch for us to get to 100,000 views. When we hit that in the first week or two, I knew I had to totally readjust my thinking. And now that we're almost at 2 million views... it's just incredible! And so gratifying. So one thing I learned is that there is an audience out there for web series, for original content, and that audience is growing all the time. I really believe this is the future of entertainment.
NF: As co-founder of Dyslexia Consultants, how long have you been in the business of helping high schoolers overcome the challenge of dyslexia?
JB: We've been doing this for several years now. It's been a slow process but we're finally at a point where we're also getting it into a local college and hopefully that will really help the company take off. My friend Russell Van Brocklen had severe dyslexia growing up and wanted to help kids not have to go through the struggles he did in school. So he told me his ideas on how to help learning different kids (I'm using that terminology instead of "learning disabled" as it's much more accurate). I took those concepts and turned it into a curriculum that I use to teach the students. The kids I have helped have been awesome to work with. It's been incredibly rewarding to show these kids, who are unfortunately way too often told they're stupid or that there's something wrong with them, that they're intelligent and can do amazing work. There's nothing wrong with these kids. They just need to learn in a different way than other kids. Too often we label "different" as bad (whether someone's a different race, sexual orientation, or the way they learn). Different isn't bad. Different is actually good. And no one way of learning is better than another. We all learn differently and need to find the way that works best for us. And that's something we try to do with these kids.
Nightfly: Regarding the Super-Fundraising Party, can you reveal what caliber of roles you're looking to fill? Will you be looking to cast any major speaking parts or mostly just smaller Extra-type roles?
Jeff Burns: It's actually not just extra roles at all. We have several new, significant speaking roles in Season 2 I've been holding off on casting as I wanted to wait until after the party. So yeah, speaking roles, extra roles and crew spots are all possibilities for people who come out and bring their headshots and resumes to our Fundraiser Party tonight (9/13).
Will you be attending the party tonight? If not, you can still aid the cause by contributing generously to Super Knocked Up's IndieGoGo campaign here. Jeff's cooked up a superlative line-up of producer perks sure to pique even the darkest villain's interest. And if you're fortunate enough to be in New York for tonight's Super-Fundraising Party, don't forget to bring your costume, resume and headshot and you may just find yourself cast in SKU's second season. Tonight's entertainment line-up includes comedian Greg Aidala, a fight demonstration from choreographer David Bunce and music from bands Fiction for Bandits and Route 263. Free food and contest prizes are available for the low admission prize of just $20, attendees in costume pay only $15. The party runs from 7p-10p @ The WAMC Performing Arts Studio (The Linda), 339 Central Ave., Albany, NY. Don't miss it!
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