A couple or three years ago, sometime after we had settled in Austin and working on Wizard101 had become a comfortable rhythm, I had lunch with a pair of co-workers and we talked about our interests and hobbies. One of those fellows was Mark Vittek – a serious veteran of the video game industry (whose credits go back to Ultima VIII and Crusader: No Remorse); Mark’s hobby (well, two of them) are filming and photography, and he’s done some great photo shoots, worked on a bunch of film projects, and has a ton of knowledge, gear, and contacts.
The other fellow was James Leary (@jimmyLeary), best known for his role as Clem on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the NutriGrain “I feel GREAT!” Superbowl-spot-that-never-aired, but he’s done a telenovela (Los Beltrán), a spot on the upcoming season of the webseries ATown, and a host of voices for Pirate101 and Wizard101, including El Toro, the Frogfather, King Pyat MourningSword, and lots more.
Mark wanted to film something, James wanted to act in something, and I wanted to write something. We bounced a number of ideas around, and came up with the idea of “the Office” meets the Game Industry. We didn’t want to try to emulate the mockumentary style, particularly, but the “slice of life” element, where you are eavesdropping on characters in a realistic, if slightly (slightly?) absurd setting. We got together at various lunch times – and brilliantly called ourselves LUNCH CLUB to start – and each wrote out a few ideas. I believe Mark’s first script was the basis for WHAT PROJECT!? while my first was something called FROGGUN.
Unfortunately, at this point, James got too busy, and he had to step back from the project. But in that period of time KingsIsle had hired a new Web QA person who did more than dabble in acting. Mark knew him from various projects around town, and this he had a background in music, theatre, voice acting, writing, and so forth. And when he introduced me to Heath Allyn, Heath and I both laughed, because we had crossed paths back when we worked at NCsoft circa 2005. A small world, indeed.
Heath is one of the hardest working actors / musicians / comedians I know in Austin, and has been in a tremendous amount of shorts, ads, voice work, and did a small bit on FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS.
Heath liked the idea of the project and came in full force. With his help we finished sketching about about a half dozen scripts – we refined WHAT PROJECT and FROGGUN, and worked up others: BACON, D3, LUNCH ROULETTE, and CHEESE DAY.
We had our core group of characters: JTT, the game designer; Grayson, the sound engineer; Mace, a 3D artist; and LARP, a programmer. We also had a handful of lesser roles: APs, designers, artists, programmers, and QA, and various other roles – a love interest who worked at Starbucks; a rival for LARP at the Renaissance fair; the localization manager; the Executive Producer; etc.
During this process, Mark and I went to a Film / Actor meet-up social event, and happened to be sitting at a table with a striking actress (she has the most incredible eyes). Josephine McAdam had done an ad for a local game store, and enjoyed role-playing games, card games, video games, and comics. She was alternatively funny and intense. We had found our Mace!
Mark and Heath knew quite a number of actors in the area and we did a couple of table reads. These were invaluable helping us fine-tune the scripts, drop ancillary characters, tighten the focus, keep the best jokes (and find better ones!), and so forth. But other than Mace and Grayson (played by Heath, himself), we had a lot of trouble finding the right people to play JTT and LARP.
Then one night I went to an improv night at THE INSTITUTION to see James Leary play in a night of Buffy-inspired-scenes (called
“Fandom” or “Whedon Night” or the like the Joss Whedon Pajama Party). James was funny and terrific, of course, but two of the other actors knocked my socks off. Or perhaps I should say staked me in the heart and turned me to dust. One was big, brash, bold, and incredibly charismatic. The other was tall, slight, quiet, and had a more contemplative demeanor, but a wicked wit and sharp insight.
I was impressed by both, and shortly thereafter I asked James to introduce me. And that’s how we met Jordan T. Maxwell and Peter Rogers (coincidentally, Heath knew them as well. That dude is connected).
We convinced them to come out to do a reading, and it all clicked. We had faces and voices to put to Mace, JTT, LARP, and of course, Grayson.
We settled on filming WHAT PROJECT first, and over the following months filmed two more. And you can watch all three here:
Project23A – What Project