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Hi, I'm horror and science fiction author Steve Kozeniewski (pronounced: "causin' ooze key.") Welcome to my blog! You can also find me on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and Amazon. You can e-mail me here, join my mailing list here, or request an e-autograph here. Free on this site you can listen to me recite one of my own short works, "The Thing Under the Bed."

Friday, February 6, 2015

No Bonus Points (Interview with Joanna Gaskell, Writer and Actor for "Standard Action")

Good morrow, blog readers, whom I assume to be of gentle stock since ye canst read.  *doffs cap*

Eh, okay, that's enough of that.  I thought I could keep up the old timey talk for this whole intro, but nevermind.

So.  First of all, if you haven't been watching history's greatest web series, "Standard Action," go do that right now.  Watch every episode and then come back.  I'll wait.

Pretty nifty, am I right?  You stoked now?  Pretty stoked?  Well, guess what!  Actress, producer, writer, and, um, a bunch of other things of "Standard ActionJoanna Gaskell agreed to be on the blog today!  (And if the stars are right, she may not be the last of the "SA" crew to swing by this year, but we'll cross that bridge when we get to it...)

So, without any further Ed-do (that'll make more sense after you read the interview) let's meet our guest and then jump right into the interview!  Yay!

About Joanna Gaskell:

Joanna was born in Victoria, B.C., Canada and trained as an actor at the contemporary East 15 Acting School in London, U.K. She moved to Vancouver in 2008 as a film actor, voiceover artist and writer, and moved into producing as well as performing in the new media industry with the creation of fantasy-comedy web series "Standard Action."


SK:  Hello, Joanna, and thanks for being with us today!  The first thing I want to ask you about is getting the band together.  How did the "Standard Action" cast and crew come together?  (Bonus points if the answer is, "We all met in a tavern.")

JG:  No bonus points for me... this time. Well, Rob Hunt and I created the concept from a few scripts that I wrote. Then, we brought on Edwin Perez (Fernando) because we'd been working with him on a feature film that Rob was directing and producing, and he turned out to be a closet D&D player. That was actually the tipping point, because he was a costumer as well - fantasy is complicated because of things like sets and costumes and makeup, and Edwin brought a skill set to the table that both Rob and I lacked. With him on board, we finally figured we could get this thing started. Then Carla Miller (our Art Director and First Cameraperson) and Ashley Young (Key Makeup Artist and Hairstylist) joined the team - they had both also worked with us in the past - and with the help of a couple of other friends we got the teaser shot for Season 1. You can now find that online as Episode 6.5; it was our first "Standard Action" effort, and was shot before the show even had a name. 

Once the teaser was out there, we got some great attention from other talented people who wanted to work with us - among them Vanessa Driveness, who became our primary Costume Designer and also an Associate Producer; and Ishnu, who worked as first season Sound Recordist. We then held auditions and met Daniel Johnston and Tara Pratt (Martin and Wendy) and we rolled from there. We've met a lot of other fantastic people along the way who have helped us out immensely - Jennifer Lyseng, Kersten Tennert, Edward Foy, David Pearson, and so many more.

SK: So does the actor you ever hate the writer you or vice versa? Like, do you ever realize you gave yourself a speech that's too hard, or you're not giving Edda enough lines or anything like that?

JG: Ha! We had a running joke on set that I always gave the least lines to myself. Wendy had all the planning and plot, Fernando had all the speeches... and I mostly just grunted or joked or fell over. And I never thought Edda had too few lines, that's for sure. As the Production Manager, I had way too many things to think about before and during a shoot day, and it was nice to not have to learn any massive speeches. On the final day of shooting principal photography for Season 3, I spent the entire shoot lying in the dirt, pretending to be unconscious. I had no lines. It was hilarious.

Some of the "Standard Action" crew with Joanna on the right as Edda the half-elf barbarian

SK: So, I have to wonder with a project on this scale that relies on goodwill and crowdfunding to exist, how much of the story do you already have planned? Like, for instance, is there a five-year plan so you can sprinkle hints about the future "Babylon 5" style? Or do you just write a whole season and if you get another, it's a gift?

JG: I never assumed that there would be another season after the one we were shooting. I often planted ideas about the world, or hinted at characters' backstories, so that if I had a chance I could explore it later; but I never relied upon it. Actually, in Season 1, we didn't even know how the season would end when we started shooting it. Season 2 and Season 3 had more planning behind them, of course, but even so, we often had to make major changes to plot due to actor availability, or even weather. Often weather.

It's actually wonderful how much Season 1 and Season 2 detail I've been able to explore in Season 3. I laid a lot of groundwork I never thought I'd be able to touch on again, and I've been given a fantastic opportunity to do so.

SK: I was going to ask which is your favorite character, but I just can't even do it with a straight face. Fernando is clearly the greatest. Can you tell us about developing such an ingenious comic invention?

JG: Ha! Well, Fernando was inspired by an actual Dungeons & Dragons character named Renaldo, who was created by Rob and played through many adventures. In turn, Renaldo was inspired by a black and white picture of Errol Flynn as Robin Hood, looking very dashing. Fernando was written to be the earnest, lovable and low-wisdom aspiring hero. A huge amount of what made Fernando what he was was brought to the role by Edwin, of course. He's such an incredibly genuine individual, and a fantastic actor. He also was willing to do absolutely everything the role required... like wearing a glowing codpiece. That thing had a waist-mounted battery pack.

Edwin Perez as Fernando Inigo Vespa of the Hairy Feet, sans glowing codpiece.  Perhaps we'll hear more from this rakish character later this year?

SK: What is the greatest fantasy movie ever made?

JG: Erm... "The Last Unicorn?" "The Empire Strikes Back?" "The Princess Bride?" No, wait - "The Dark Crystal!" Or.. hmm. "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy was pretty amazing... though so was "Pan's Labyrinth." I dunno. Pass.

SK: No, I'm sorry. The correct answer was, "Ladyhawke." Moving on, can you walk me through a day-in-the-life when you're actively shooting the series? Or is it just so random and hectic there's no real schedule?

JG: Oh, it's pretty structured. Structured with the caveat that we may have to change everything at a moment's notice. Usually those of us performers who needed complex makeup would be in the makeup chair by about 6:00am. We'd aim to be shooting the first scene by about 8:30 or 9:00, and we'd try to do two or three scenes in the morning. Then there would be a break for lunch, though often our core crew wouldn't leave set, and we'd just bring sandwiches to them. Then in the afternoon we'd shoot until we lost light, which was as early as 5:00 or as late as 7:30, depending on the season, and if we were shooting in the forest. If we had an indoor day, we could go longer, and people would be less wet and cold; though we'd still try to not ever do longer than a 12-hour day on set. Then gear cleanup and prop and costume teardown would be another hour or two after wrap.

SK:  What does the future hold for "Standard Action?"  And, yes, I am looking for a "scoop" here.

JG: At the moment, the future holds a full and beautiful and epic Season 3, and that's all I can promise. To be honest, that may be all there is - we're just not sure yet. There's a card game coming out, and a gaming module, that's for sure; and for the Season 3 Kickstarter I'm obliged (and excited) to write a feature film that delves into Edda's backstory. Those are coming for sure! But Season 4? We don't know! And if it does happen, it certainly won't happen right away. We've been producing "Standard Action" for four years now, and a lot of our cast and crew need to move on and try new things, and take a bit of a break from it. The wonderful thing about not having an executive producer breathing down your neck is that we really can do whatever we like... and we're not sure what that is yet. That's not really a scoop, is it? Sorry. :)

SK: Well, thanks so much for being with us today all the way from Vancouver, Joanna. Is there anything we didn't get to cover in the interview that you'd like to say or any parting words for your fans here in The States?

JG: The biggest thing I ever want to say to our fans is thank you! Thank you for funding Season 3, and for continuing to tune in, and spread the word about us. "Standard Action" is a huge, incredible world that has grown so far beyond its humble beginnings, and that's due to hard work fueled by fan support. And thank you, Stephen, for letting me blab on about it. I always enjoy doing that.

Joanna Gaskell as Edda the half-elf barbarian

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