Pixel Brain’s Craig Williams on “Bagged & Bored,” indie production, and Kentucky’s entertainment industry

“It’s like The Big Bang Theory, except, you know, not horrible.” Ohhh shots fired!

While entertainment production isn’t something people think of when discussing Kentucky, it hasn’t stopped those at Pixel Brain Productions from creating their own shows. With a low-budget, the Pixel Brain crew started creating short films. This lead to them deciding to create their own sit-com web series called Bagged & Bored. Wanting to learn more the company and this new series, Craig Williams (a writer for Bagged & Bored) allowed me to interview him for ScifiPulse.

To learn more about what Craig Williams and the Pixel Brain crew are doing, make sure to check them out on Youtube, like them on facebook, and follow them on twitter @PixelBrainPro.

Nicholas Yanes: When did you know that you wanted to get into entertainment production? Was there a movie or show that you think pushed you the most towards this path? 

Craig Williams: Mystery Science Theater 3000 has been, and continues to be, a big influencer on my sense of humor.  However, what I found most intriguing about the show was how “homemade” it was. It seemed like those guys just decided to make a show, and then went out and did it, because how else would a show like that get made?  Could you imagine them trying to pitch a batshit crazy concept like that sight unseen?  So instead of waiting for the “gatekeepers” to give them a shot, they made it themselves.  So why not us?

Nicholas Yanes: What is it like trying to be a professionally creative person in Kentucky? Are there you unique opportunities that most people don’t realize?

Williams: I can’t speak for Kentucky as a whole, but Louisville in particular is a huge reservoir of talent that has yet to be tapped or appreciated on a national level. As much as I’d like to think I have my finger on the pulse of the arts in Louisville, I always discover there’s a pocket of music, comedy, or theater I was never even aware of.  As with any major city, the opportunities are there if you look for them, but if for some reason you can’t find them, you could always create the opportunities yourself!

Nicholas Yanes: On this note, what would you like to see the state of Kentucky do to attract and encourage more entertainment development?

Williams: Whatever the heck Georgia is doing, because it seems like more and more stuff is filmed there lately. Kentucky’s a beautiful state, with lots of interesting places to shoot stuff, as we learned when we went on location to Red River Gorge to film “Kuso Kombat.” There’s no reason Kentucky can’t be a hub of major Hollywood productions. There were already a couple of fairly big movies that were filmed in Louisville this year alone.  Also, Jennifer Lawrence is from here, so I mean, you’re welcome America!

Nicholas Yanes: When did you and your friends realize that you should all form the company, Pixel Brain Productions? (I do imagine that you all came together in a manner similar to Voltron or the MegaZords…but with more paperwork.)

Williams: (Laughs) It was nearly as epic (pun intended)!  We actually met because I was running a retro video game competition at the Half Price Books I used to work at. Matt Gaither and Aaron Patterson (who does our visual effects and plays one of Zooey’s, er, eccentric siblings) became regulars at the monthly event. We all got to talking about our interests outside of video games, which included production. Then Matt asked if Aaron and I wanted to help him with his 15-minute student film…which became an hour long short(ish) film titled Zach Cooper’s Epic Speedrun! After making that movie, we realized we worked well as a team, so why not keep it going until the inevitable Beatles-like breakup? Hmm, I might be greatly overshooting our cultural impact with that comparison…nah!

Nicholas Yanes: I wanted to specifically interview you about Pixel Brain’s new webseries, Bagged & Bored. What was the inspiration for this series? This show reminds me of Community. What stories do you think influenced how you wrote Bagged & Bored?

Williams: Oh man, I never considered how similar it is to Community!  We need to start telling people it’s like Community, instead of our usual go-to line: “It’s like The Big Bang Theory, except, you know, not horrible”.  Ohhh shots fired!  Take that, you nationally syndicated sitcom that enjoys more success than we ever will!  I digress.  When we started the show, we weren’t sure what it was going to be.  For the first episode, I think it’s fair to say I was largely influenced by the film Clerks – in fact, I listened to the Clerks soundtrack while writing it for inspiration.  That seemed like the most natural foundation to start from.  I know Matt, who directed/edited all of the episodes, is hugely influenced by Edgar Wright, so there’s probably a lot of Shaun of the Dead and Spaced in the delicious pop culture stew that is Bagged & Bored.  As the show continued on, and the characters became more fleshed out, I’d like to think it naturally evolved into its own thing.

Yanes: Given that Bagged & Bored is set in a comic book store, do you remember the comic book or comic character that made you a fan of the genre? Also, as a writer, what comic book writers do you look towards to improve your craft?

Williams: Spider-Man all the way!  I was a fan of Spider-Man before I even knew how to read because I just loved his costume.  He has such colorful and weird collection of villains too – probably the best rogues gallery in all of comics next to Batman.  As I grew up, I loved Spidey even more because he’s the most relatable superhero.  He’s just an everyman dealing with normal life, but with the caveat of having these incredible super powers.

As for what comic writers I consider influences, I would consider Neil Gaiman, Garth Ennis, Alan Moore, Brian K. Vaughn, and even Joss Whedon to be among my favorites.  I know including Joss is kind of cheating, because he’s mostly a film/television writer, but he wrote Astonishing X-Men, so I’m counting him!   Buffy the Vampire Slayer is one of my favorite shows of all time, and I admire Whedon’s ability to juggle a handful of characters, while making them all likeable, yet flawed, in different ways.  I would definitely say that Whedon’s style of crafting a story and character development was a major influence for writing Bagged & Bored.

Yanes: As an indie production, could you talk about how you got all the assets needed to make this production possible? Additionally, how did this series become shaped by the resources you could or couldn’t get your hands on?

Williams: The biggest asset, and the entire reason we did Bagged & Bored, is the comic book store itself.  The owner, Brian Barrow, was a big fan of Zach Cooper’s Epic Speedrun, and told us that should he’d love for us to film something at his store.  I don’t think he realized we’d not only take him up on that offer, but film an entire season of a webseries there!

As for other assets, we try not to take such things in consideration during the writing process because it could impede creativity.  Speaking for myself, it’s very hard to write something on the scale of absurdity like “Pog Club” if, in the back of your mind, you’re constantly worrying about locations, props, budget, etc.  That’s one of the things I like most about working with Matt – he’s a “why not” person.  When you hand him a script that aspires beyond what we’re capable of doing with no budget, he says “why not” and goes for it (within reason).  For big episodes like “Pog Club” and “Kuso Kombat,” we knew they would be massive undertakings, but if there’s one thing we do well at Pixel Brain, its follow-through.

Instead of wallowing in the hypothetical difficulties of a production, and making a list of all the things we can’t do, we try stay positive and think of how best to cull the resources available to do what we want.  Fortunately, the Louisville community was really helpful along the way.  Once everyone saw a couple episodes of Bagged & Bored, and saw what we were capable of doing, people came out of the woodwork offering to help in any way possible, whether it be contributing art for the comic book title cards, composing original music, helping us build props and costumes, or letting us shoot in unique locations like The Tim Faulkner Gallery (where the party scene in “Pog Club” was shot).

Yanes: As a writer, how does it feel to see something you’ve written come to life with actors and then appear on screen? How do you think you’ve improved as a writer during the production of Bagged & Bored?

Williams: In lieu of a paycheck, seeing that actors bring the script to life is the most satisfying aspect of Bagged & Bored.  The bulk of our casts are amazingly talented comedians, so we are very encouraging on the set when it comes to improv.  I don’t mind saying some of the best lines of the series didn’t come from me, but from one of the actors.

I very quickly learned to highlight certain parts of the script to let the actors know that its open to improvisation.  For example, Taylor Carden, who plays Veronica, comes up with brilliant “Veronica-isms” I’d never think of.  Kent is a seemingly endless well of obscure pop culture references, so far be it for me to try and “out nerd” him.  April Singer, who mostly sticks to the script as written, has such natural comedic timing, which she doesn’t give herself nearly enough credit for.  The entire reason episode 5 was written was to showcase April’s entire repertoire of acting ability, because in the episodes prior, Zooey was much too sidelined, and I told Matt if we didn’t have an episode that fully utilized April’s talents it would be a goddamn crime.

Sean Keller really helped to shape the direction of Adam Shanks with his onset ideas – I mean, it was his idea for Adam to have Fargo-esque Midwestern accent.  In fact, he came up with it the first day of filming!  Before that, we always knew Adam would be the oddball, but not sure what type of oddball.  Jake was always easier to write for because, well, he’s Jake (though I hasten to add he’s a much more thoughtful guy than his onscreen persona).  My point is these unpredictable character flourishes really helped flesh the characters out, making them much easier to write for in the future.  I definitely struggled less writing for them the more episodes came out because I could visualize them easier.

Yanes: What are the long term goals for Bagged & Bored? Are you hoping to do another season? Also, are their plans to leverage Bagged & Bored to get attention from Hollywood producers?

Williams: As of right now, we are writing scripts with the hope of making a second season.  There will be more episodes, and at least two of them will be even more epic in scale than “Pog Club” and “Kuso Kombat.”  That being said, we’re hoping to raise money this time around via Indiegogo so we actually have a budget (truly a Pixel Brains milestone!) but, most importantly, reward our cast for donating so much of their time in the first season with honest-to-god actual MONEY next season!

While it would be amazing to have the backing of some kind of Hollywood entity, I can’t help but feel the charm of the show would just be ruined by it.  I feel like most producers would want to take the idea and make it their own thing, maybe even with an entirely different cast (a major deal breaker if ever there was one).  It just depends on who the producer is.  I could imagine us working well with successful producers who understand the appeal of a web series like this, and nerd culture as a whole, such as Felicia Day or Chris Hardwick.

Believe me, we’ve been trying to get their attention since the show started, like a group on a life raft shooting flares to get the attention of passing ships.  All it would take is one positive Tweet from either of those two to give Bagged & Bored the attention it deserves.  Certainly interviews on sites like Sci-Fi Pulse help as well!

Yanes: Finally, what are some other projects you are working on that people can look forward to?

Williams: For now, we’re pretty focused on making season two of Bagged & Bored happen.  We’ve been discussing other, smaller projects we could do in the meantime, such as 2-3 minute sketches involving Bagged & Bored characters like Jake or Kent making fun of current pop culture events, like the new Star Wars movie or whatever new Marvel film is around the corner.  There’s also my podcast Kill Screen Cinema, which I host along with Kent Carney and his fiancé Loren Cline.  We talk about video game movies, much in the same vein as How Did This Get Made?, with different guests to join us for the ride.  That’s been a lot of fun and good way to fill the time between seasons.  Once Bagged & Bored is finished, we have some movie ideas we’d love to get off the ground, so we’re hoping Pixel Brain Productions will be around for a good long while!

Remember, you can learn more about what Craig Williams and the Pixel Brain crew are doing by checking them out on Youtube, liking them on facebook, and following them on twitter @PixelBrainPro.

And remember to follow me on twitter @NicholasYanes, and to follow Scifipulse on twitter @SciFiPulse and on facebook.

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