Welcome to another quest-filled episode of… The IndieNet and Beyond! It’s news and web series episodes. Plus, this time we chat with the executive producer of JourneyQuest and President of Zombie Orpheus Entertainment, Ben Dobyns.
JourneyQuest is a fantasy comedy web series that somehow eluded my notice until Indy Gen Con 2011, where I first met Dobyns. Now, I had heard about the production company Dead Gentlemen a few years ago and their cult hit Gamers, which led to the even bigger cult hit—and bigger production—Gamers 2: Dorkness Rising. Those movies focus on roleplaying gamers and their often comedic fantasy characters as they experience an adventure in their sword & sorcery world while dealing with social strife in their real world gaming group.
However, I had no idea that they had branched off into web series last year or that they had created Zombie Orpheus Entertainment (ZOE), a spin-off company that focuses on the distribution side of the business. I was excited to learn about their web series and their unique distribution plans, so I chatted with Dobyns, who filled me in on all the things they’ve been up to.
“Dead Gentlemen… we got started back in 1998 with the idea of doing this little film called Demon Hunters back when we were in college,” explained Dobyns. “It sort of expanded from there, and we made what became the super popular film called Gamers which we followed up with the feature length Gamers: Dorkness Rising.”
You would think after making the cult hit Gamers movies that Dead Gentlemen would be rolling in the dough. They found a large niche audience and they got a distribution deal with their second film, but alas (as many indie filmmakers learn) the money seemed to sprinkle rather than pour into their bank account, making new projects tough to afford. So Dobyns changed course.
“I took some time off, about two years off, from all the film work I was doing just to sit down and research and build a new kind of business plan. After our experience with ‘Hollywood’ distribution with Dorkness Rising, just at the era when traditional distribution was really kind of falling to pieces, we decided it was time to try something a little different,” said Dobyns. “Out of that came the idea that we need to be releasing our shows online for free, that we’re no longer in the business of selling units, but building a sustainable fan base.”
Then came a perfect storm that would create JourneyQuest. Writer Matt Vancil was getting frustrated with the pitching process and revisions of his work in LA to make it more “marketable.” After Dobyns finished his business plan, Vancil approached him with a low budget script just as the money to shoot became available. Then, a year later… shazam!… JourneyQuest hits the web.
So what is JourneyQuest about?
“JourneyQuest is a web series about a wizard with a quest problem. It follows a group of incompetent adventurers in a fantasy world who’ve been sent on a mission to destroy a magical sword, and they end up getting the sword bonded to one of them instead, with disastrous results,” explained Dobyns.
Are these characters being ‘played’ by some college dorm room gamers? Is there a connection with Gamers? Actually, there is.
“There’s a connection among everything we’ve ever made as Dead Gentlemen and now with Zombie Orpheus, as well. It all fits together into a meta-world that Matt Vancil has designed. We’ve left little secrets and clues in every one of the films to tie that together,” hinted Dobyns. “I’m not going to tell you where those are, because some of them no one has ever seen. There is a huge one in Dorkness Rising that when we reveal it, it is going to stun some people. JourneyQuest takes place in the same fantasy world as the gamers in Dorkness Rising, the world of Fartherall.”
To prove that they love fan interaction, Dobyns told me that they are thinking about having a fan contest where fans play the player that are playing the characters in JourneyQuest. At the core JourneyQuest is about the fans.
“At the end of every one of our episodes, we have this little tag: No Studios, No Network, No Cancellation. JourneyQuest is Creator Distributed and Fan Supported. Support the show at JourneyQuest.com,” said Dobyns. “On the basis of that, we have received an extraordinary amount of fan support from the people who love what we are doing and have lived through the cancellations of so many fan favorite shows: Firefly, Farscape, Jericho, Veronica Mars… You can go down the list of show where fans tried so hard to save them, but because of the way networks work, it just wasn’t possible. So I think people have really responded to this idea that if they support the creator directly, there’s no intermediary that can cancel the show. It’s empowering for the fanbase.”
Now with films and a web series under his hat, what advice does Dobyns have for web series creators?
“The biggest lesson just for general filmmakers in general, whether they are making web series or not, is to have a real plan from the beginning for how they are going to recoup, especially if they are taking money from an investor. Because if you are taking money from an investor without more than a plan than ‘we’ll take it to Sundance and it’ll be picked up’… the chances that [an] investor is going to make their money, and you’ll get to make your money back, is really low,” said Dobyns. “From a creative side, re-write, re-write, and re-write again until you have a phenomenal script. That is where you have the luxury to make it right.”
JourneyQuest is just one piece in the larger Zombie Orpheus Entertainment puzzle, but what the heck is ZOE? As it turns out, it is a lot of separate pieces of modules that can be helpful for web series producers.
“I built Zombie Orpheus to act as an anti-distributor,” said Dobyns. “The goal is to bring on other quality producers, with the idea that by banding together using collective bargaining, we can reduce our operating costs to even lower than they would be otherwise.”
“It comes down to a few things. The really big one I’m pushing is the Fan Supported, Creator Distributed brand that I’ve put together, that I’ve just released for anyone to use. What I want is for people to see that logo on a show and know that the creator is distributing it, and have the response ‘oh, it’s up to me. I like this. I can put 10 bucks in to help the show.’ So that the fans get used to that idea.”
With this model, all sorts of advantages are possible: disc replication discounts, Amazon fulfillment account, a custom embeddable widget, collaborative online store front, and being listed as a producer on the ZOE website for cross-promotional possibilities.
“The whole thing is build to be modular, so if there is something I’ve created that another web series creator/producer can use, then fantastic. Take it and throw out the other parts that don’t apply to you,” said Dobyns.
GOLD: The Series, Brothers Barbarian, Dork of the Rings, and more have already joined Zombie Orpheus. Who will be next?
Also, when will we see a season two of JourneyQuest? Answer: whenever they raise the money. They raised the $30,000 that paid off season one, and now they need $60,000 to pay for season two.
If season two happens, there will be at least 7 episodes and special guest starts: MMA superstar Bob Sapp will be play barbarian king, Karn the Unpleasant; actor Fran Kranz (Topher Brink on Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse) will be playing the honey-tongued bard Silver Tom; actress Jen Page (The Gamers: Dorkness Rising, Project London) will appear as Queen Starling; and Scott C. Brown will play the orc-ish professor, Strong Like Bull.
Check out their Kickstarter campaign and please consider contributing to this very funny series.
Below that, check out videos of JourneyQuest and Gamers: Dorkness Rising. You can keep track of Dead Gentlemen at: http://deadgentlemen.com/ and Zombie Orpheus Entertainment at: http://www.zombieorpheus.com/ And don’t click away from the column. We have trailers, news and new web series episodes further down the column.
Attack Of The Trailers!
Machinima is becoming the place to go online for new scifi/horror episodic web series. Their newest one is RCVR.
“RCVR follows covert government agents Sandy Bergson and Luke Weber as they seek to suppress the truth about extraterrestrial encounters. When not covering up UFO sightings and discrediting real evidence that aliens walk among us, the agents track down RCVRs; humans selected by an alien species to act as channels for advanced technologies. These select few humans have been responsible for major scientific breakthroughs – from nuclear power to your latest console – and are the key to even more powerful technology: Time travel, limitless energy, even eternal life.”
Osiris: The Web Series
An upcoming 10-episode action-thriller series filmed in Atlanta. It’s a mix of gritty crime fiction, espionage, science fiction and the supernatural.
Elsewhere On The Web
Videobloggers make millions through online content or at least that is what the BBC tells us. I’m not sure how many are making that much, but there is no doubt that in the last few years people have starting making some real money creating content online.
Elsewhere in online land: Hulu invests a whopping $375 million on content (yeah, I said whopping). They’ve started testing out their own original content, like the documentary series A Day in the Life from docu-celeb Morgan Spulock.
What I’m Watching… Are You?
I’ve been scouring the web in search of new web series episodes to watch and share with you. Enjoy!
Aidan 5 – Episode 11 “Inquisition”
The sci-noir series Aidan 5 is back with the premiere of the second half of season one.
“Aidan is interrogated by Matthew, prompting new insight into what happened with his family. Riley’s date with Roger takes an unexpected turn.”
The Guild: Season 5 – Episode 9 – “Invite Accepted”
This is one of the first web series to be a hit, and it’s still making us gamers laugh like it was the first season. Felicia Day and her talented cast are back with everyone’s favorite dysfunctional gamer guild. This season has been great with its fan convention storyline and special guest stars.
“Zaboo pays back Clara’s favor as Tink and Codex set out on a mission together.”
The LXD, Season Three – Episode 7 “RA Games”
Back for a third season, The League of Extraordinary Dancers is part superhero, part music (and crazy dance) video. This series has an original story packed with beautiful cinematography and choreography. Check out episode 7 and 8 of the new season. Sorry to our non-United States readers—Hulu has it geoblocked. (Don’t look at me, I didn’t do it!)
“Spex and the Observers go head to head with the LXD recruits.”
The LXD, Season Three – Episode 8 “Mess in Aisle 7”
“The LXD Rinas go on a mission to find the Dark Doctor through his most trusted soldier.”
That’s A Wrap
Got a web series, web comic, web… whatever? Then I want to know about it. Contact me at: [email protected]
That’s a wrap for now. Join me next time for more news and interviews coming to a Wednesday near you. Take care my fantasy friends. Until next time… marX out.
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Marx H. Pyle is a writer, martial artist and American independent filmmaker. A graduate of Vancouver Film School, he has worked on a number of projects including the short film he wrote and directed, Silence of the Belle. He is currently in post-production of his scifi web series Reality On Demand.
Julie Seaton Pyle was born and raised in Indiana, where she attended the University of Southern Indiana. She majored in Print Journalism/Computer Publishing, while also dabbling in creative writing, literature and languages. This is also where she met Marx, the man with whom she would take the plunge into marriage and, years later, into another passion: filmmaking. She is co-producer, co-writer, and lead actress in the scifi web series Reality On Demand.