Recently, I got the chance to send the cast & crew behind LARPs, an incredibly entertaining Geek & Sundry web series about a group of Live Action Role Players, ten questions to answer. The result: This Q&A piece! If you are a fan of the show, I think you will enjoy this read – if not, I hope it pushes you into watching it. LARPs is an incredible funny and honest look at the lives of these characters and how they interact. I would also like to thank LARPs Co-Producer (and one of its stars) Elizabeth Neale for making this Q&A possible!
Q) Hey gang, thanks for taking the time to respond to our questions. A couple weeks ago, I ended up binge-watching LARPs over the course of a single morning and was absolutely enthralled. Could you tell us a bit of how the series came to be?
A) Julian Stamboulieh (Director/Co-Creator): I had initially conceptualized the show and several of its characters in 2007 as a way of showcasing the duality of a person’s public and private personas. Then I sat around for 6-7 years until finally, after coffee and Japanese food with writer/actor/good friend Jon Verrall, I handed off writing privileges and we began to refresh the story. Together with producer / business partner / bestie Benjamin Warner, we got the ball rolling in preproduction. We held auditions and cast our amazing talent, acquired some experienced crew, and went head first into what we thought would be just a fun project, but hoped would be the start of something bigger. It was our first time creating something anywhere near that scale, but the creative climate was just right in Montreal, and we had lots of help from people all around the city who just wanted to see this project succeed.
Q) Can you tell us about some of the challenges faced in the show’s first season and how you overcame them since?
A) Benjamin Warner (Producer): Both seasons of LARPs presented a large number of challenges, but in very different ways. In the first season, particularly, the show was produced on less than a shoestring budget. A spider silk budget, let’s say. Because we had very little money, everyone working on the show was essentially volunteering their time out of passion for the work. This meant that people were not able to take off time from their part time or full time jobs, so we had to film all of season one in an incredibly short period of time. Twelve straight days with approximately 13-16 hours of filming on any given day. It was tough, but we pulled through as a team and got it done. We solved these problems on season two, quite simply, by gaining access to a much larger amount of funding. Cast and crew members we able to be paid. We were able to film for less time each day, and have days off in our schedule, because people were financially able to devote their time to the show. We were able to have a much larger team, and therefore a much more efficient division of labour, so that more attention was able to be put into the little details of the show.
Q) I know that Elizabeth Neale has a great Twitch channel where she streams The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim gameplay, but could you tell us a bit more about the cast and crew’s “geek cred”? Who plays what games, reads what comics, likes what RPGs, etc?
A) Shawn Baichoo (Fight Choreographer/“Harold”): I’m heavily into role-playing, I’ve been running my own GURPS campaign for over 15 years now with more or less the same group. I plan to keep playing at least until the day I die. Then we’ll see. I LOVE comics, though they are something I discovered and fell in love with as an adult, not as a kid. I won’t list all the comics I’m into because that’ll take too long, but I love mainstream (Marvel/DC) as well as more indie comics (Saga, Finder, Northlanders, Empowered, etc). I love video games, and play a lot of them! I recently bought a PS4 and have played/completed Batman: Arkham Knight, Dying Light, Shadow of Mordor and am currently playing through The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt, which is a TERRIFIC game! I’m a big fan of board and card games as well. Some of my favorites include Carcassonne, Zombicide, Runebound and Boss Monster. I used to play a ton of Magic when I was in my twenties, but I gave that up to keep my sanity and my friends ☺. I also love miniatures and wargames and played Heroclix for many years (winning my fair share of local tournaments – total brag). Recently I’ve gotten into Star Wars: Armada, which is a ton of fun.
Scott Humphrey (“Will”): Where to begin?! I’ve been playing games for as long as I can remember: D&D, Exalted, a Changeling LARP, dozens of board games (Dead of Winter & Sentinels of the Multiverse shoutOUT!), as well as more hours of videogames than I can count. Favorite credit: 100% on Half-Life 2 plus Episodes; Transistor; Bastion; and Dishonored!
Matt R. Sherman (Sound Supervisor / Rerecording Mixer): I have always considered myself a Hardcore Gamer. I grew up on Dungeons & Dragons, played a lot of MTG, and a plethora of MMORPGs — I even met my wife playing World of Warcraft! Recently, I have begun LARPing. Yes, I caught the LARP bug working on this series! Hope to see you in game!
Zak Thriepland (Props & Wardrobe Design): Staples like Gaiman and Whedon, but my more “fringier” fandom would be late 80’s pro-wrestling (there is no more cartoonish character than “Macho Man” Randy Savage!).
Cathy Vincelli (Lead Hair & Makeup): I really enjoy playing video games, boardgames and other social tabletops like DnD (5th ed). I also love reading comics and mangas most recently New 52 Harley Quinn and Gangsta! I have 2 tattoos dedicated to Harley Quinn and Avatar: The Last Airbender (cartoon, NOT the film)!
Q) LARPs features some terrific Fantasy genre melee combat. Who is responsible for the choreography? Also, have there been any close calls or injuries while filming them?
A) Shawn Baichoo (Fight Choreographer/”Harold”): Thanks, we’re very proud of the fights in LARPs! I was responsible for the choreography, though Jon Verrall certainly helped with some input and advice for the fights that involved him (which is most fights – he was a busy guy!).
I’m very happy to say that that no one was hurt and there were no close calls in the choreography and filming of the fight scenes. I attribute that to three factors:
1) I put a LOT of emphasis on safety when rehearsing with my stage fighters, so that both I and the actors can focus on the choreography and not have to worry about them getting hurt.
2) The actors were all already certified with Fight Director’s Canada, so they had a solid base knowledge and skill set that I could work with. This allowed me to spend more of our time working out awesome moves than worrying about basic safety and technique.
3) We were fortunate in the sense that we were working with foam weapons. So though we still got to fight as though they were real (for the sake of the show/story/characters), they posed very little danger of real injury, so that gave me a lot more freedom to take risks.
Q) Where do all the great costumes and weapons for the show come from?
A) Zak Thriepland (Props & Wardrobe Design): We had some amazing sponsors for LARPing equipment. The fantasy game equipment was provided by companies Epic Armoury Canada, Les Artisans D’Azure and Bestarius, while episode 5 was heavily supported by dozens of local artisans in the Montreal Steampunk community. I already had early drafts of the costume designs done before I explored their inventories, and when I went through their extensive catalogues I had very few revisions to do. They had it all!
Q) Season two saw the episodes get a little longer than in the first season. Even with the increased length of each episode, I kept wanting to see a little more. Will Season three see episode length’s change at all?
A) Elizabeth Neale (Co-Producer/”Shane”): So much about Season Three is up in the air right now. I think it’s safe to say that the team would love to do another season, but all the pieces (especially financial) have to be in place before we can proceed. We did get a lot of people saying they wanted even longer episodes, so you never know what could happen!
Q) In this latest episode, the character of Shane talks about how the characters they play inside the LARP are all part of them in some way. Going down that road, I was curious if some of the cast and crew could talk about characters they typically play in RPGs (live action or table top) and how these characters relate to them?
A) Scott Humphrey (“Will”): Interestingly enough, when I was originally invited to audition for the show, I felt drawn to Arthur, as his perfect sneak-thief rogue Noctus is exactly the kind of character I love in RPGs, be they tabletop or online. Recently I’ve been drawn more towards “the diplomat”: the dude or lady with a tongue so silver he/she could talk a loaded gun into unloading itself. I think that probably speaks to my incredible charisma and way with the ladies (spoiler alert: not really).
Elizabeth Neale (Co-Producer/”Shane”): I recently rolled up a character who, like Astra, is an “act first, think later” type of gal. This is pretty opposite to how I am in real life. People who know me will tell you I’m always over-planning things and meticulously going over every possible element that could go wrong. It’s freeing to play someone who’s all: “You know what? Screw it.”
Charlotte Rogers (“Brittany”): The only RPG I have played is Dungeons and Dragons with the LARPs crew. I play a Halfling Druid which I believe is quite close to who I am as a person! For one, I stand at a whopping 5’1″ so the halfling felt necessary. Second, I feel I connect with the characteristics of a Druid quite closely. Their love of animals, the earth, their home and community and the way they live naturally. I like to think I’m somewhat on that path in my own life.
Matt R. Sherman (Sound Supervisor / Rerecording Mixer): Being a professional in sound and film is always about striving for “perfection” which often truly doesn’t exist in the film or sound world. This is why I greatly enjoy DMing and running games, since “on paper” I have some element of control. However, like my work, games may not (won’t) always go as planned. In tabletop and RPG video games I generally gravitate towards the intelligent underdog type-characters like Gnomes and Hobbits. This reflects my personality some as I am often tucked away absorbing knowledge and information in order to be best equipped for just the right situation.
Julian Stamboulieh (Director/Co-Creator): I always love being a bad-ass in RPGs, a well rounded physical beast. i.e. the exact opposite of who I actually am. :'(
Jon Verrall (Writer/Co-Creator/”Evan”): I’m almost always running RPGs instead of playing, so I tend to play just about any kind of character. I enjoy the freedom—if I feel like playing any particular archetype, I can, simply because I can make an NPC to fit my mood. Maybe that means that I have a little of everything in me?
Benjamin Warner (Producer): In my first ever D&D game, I play a monk, someone who is spiritually connected to the surrounding world. I believe I am that way as well, I find spirituality in my own unique way but I do feel that my spirituality – as it does for my D&D character – gives me strength and grounding in my life, and helps me on an incredibly substantial level each and every day.
Q) You guys have a background story comic to LARPs up on your website. Will we be seeing any new LARPs comics in the future?
A) Jon Verrall (Writer/Co-Creator/”Evan”): We’re hoping! Our comic artist, Mia Goodwin, is in the middle of releasing her new series Tomboy alongside her day job as a concept artist for Retro Studios, so she’s a bit busy, but we haven’t ruled out the possibility.
Q) What advice would you give aspiring web content creators out there? Challenges they should expect, rewards, etc?
A) Elizabeth Neale (“Shane”, Co-Producer): If you’re going to put something online, make sure you’re proud of it. I’m really proud of how professional the LARPs team was (and continues to be). Nobody ever used the excuse “it’s just a web series” to avoid putting in the extra effort.
Julian Stamboulieh (Director/Co-Creator): Three things to keep in mind:
- Keep pushing forward; if you have too much free time, you’re doing something wrong.
- It’s important to have people who support you with positive feedback, but it’s actually more important to have people who will respectfully critique your work. In other words, don’t surround yourself with “Yes” people, surround yourself with “Yes, but what if…?” people.
- YouTube can be a rough place. Haters gonna hate; brush it off.
Jon Verrall (Writer/Co-Creator/”Evan”): A few quick tips:
- While making a series is a huge challenge, finding your audience is also quite difficult. Budget for marketing! You want to make sure your work is seen.
- If your goal is to make a first-class, professional web series, you need to find first-class, professional cast and crew—and that’ll probably mean professional pay, too.
- There’s so much content on the Internet today that it takes something special to stand out. Figure out what makes your series different from all the others.
Benjamin Warner (Producer): Do a lot of research before you create your work. Everything and anything that has ever been thought of exists on the internet (figuratively speaking of course). If you have an idea, it is INCREDIBLY likely that something like it already exists. So please take a deep look into the world wide web and try and find ways that your idea can stand out. The larger the pond, the more unique of a fish you have to be to be distinguished from the rest. The internet is the biggest pond of them all. The most important thing – not just in creating a web series but in literally (literally) everything you do – is the quality of what you are doing. It doesn’t matter how often you do something, it doesn’t matter how many people know you’ve done it, what matters is how well you do whatever it is you are doing. Never compromise the quality of your work. Anyone who is anyone can film a cat video on their iPhone and get a million views on YouTube. If you want to actually be a real artist, do that. Work hard. Nothing else can compensate for a lack of quality. Nothing.
*** I will add, to comment on the word “reward” in the question, that the number of people working in arts and entertainment who are actually making a passible amount of money in today’s society is negligible. This number is even smaller on the internet. People read stories about YouTube creators and how they are making millions of dollars every year. This is such a rare occurrence it’s almost zero. The sheer number of people who produce content for the internet is so large it’s not even funny. If you are going to produce content for the web, thinking it is going to make you money, don’t do it. It is incredibly rewarding for me personally to have been part of producing a show that brings joy and entertainment (maybe even some meaning) to a large number of people. That is reward enough for me. But if someone is going to get into the entertainment industry for the money, then they are making the wrong choice.
Q) Finally, is there anything you would like to mention about LARPs, life in general, etc before we wrap this Q&A up?
Elizabeth Neale (“Shane”, Co-Producer): It’s crazy to think of how far we’ve come since LARPs first launched, and that’s almost entirely due to the support of our communities both in Montreal and online. We have an incredible fan base and without them I have no doubt that Season Two would never have happened! So thank you 🙂
Julian Stamboulieh (Director/Co-Creator): Thanks for all your support! If I had the money I’d fly to each of your houses and shake your hands.
Jon Verrall (Writer/Co-Creator/”Evan”): Working on LARPs is a struggle, but I keep at it because I love it so much. If this is what it takes to be an artist, I’m ready to keep going.
Benjamin Warner (Producer): Well. I suppose I’ve already said a lot. I think I’ve made enough long winded comments for today. Thanks for watching LARPs and remember to keep it in character!
Once again, I’d like to thank Elizabeth Neale and the rest of the cast and crew of LARPs for taking the time to answer our questions! You can check out the first two seasons of LARPs on their Geek & Sundry page as well as official website!