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Darlene Sellers
Tonight's Feature Presentation

ENTER THE RABBIT

an interview with darlene sellers


The Green Room

Chop Socky Boom is a webseries that dares to turn the lens back on its own world, exploring the sometimes nutty, sometimes painful, and often hilarious process of getting a webseries made.  Many of the scenarios presented therein were inspired by the real experiences of writer and co-director Darlene Sellers, who also takes a star turn on the show as Daisy, aka Rabbit.  In this interview, she discusses some of those inspirations, along with thoughts on the indie film scene in general, chop socky goodness, and the answer to a burning question about the name of a certain character on the show…


The Interview

Hey! When you're done reading the interview, Click Here to watch Chop Socky Boom!

Ziggy:  You’ve hinted that Chop Socky Boom is based on “more than a few” of your real life on set experiences.  What was the “a-ha moment” that flipped the switch for you and made you decide to turn the insanity of life into a webseries?  

Darlene Sellers:  I am so excited to tell you about the a-ha moment and surrounding events that inspired CSB... after the season finale!  I know it’s not fair.  I can tell you about a few of the more general inspirations, though.

The term “indie” just means without a studio.  I’ve been on indie sets where all the actors have a trailer, meals are catered in the dining tent, and department heads are totally crewed up.  I’ve also been on indie sets where you do your own makeup in your car, the director passes around a sign up list for craft services, and G&E department consist of the director’s cousin holding two flashlights.  Generally speaking, most productions fall somewhere in the middle.  And generally speaking, no matter where a production lands in the spectrum, there is never as much money or time as the filmmakers need.  The end result is that totally rational people often end up doing borderline nutty things to get a project done.  We at CSB find this inspirational.  And sometimes entertaining.

Ziggy:  What is nuttiest thing you've seen a totally rational person (or yourself) do to get a project done?

Darlene Sellers:  We put together a list of “12 signs you’re an indie film ninja” and posted some of the responses (including from Jen Paige, Jay Irwin, and Joe Downing) on the CSB facebook page.  Most of their responses relate to acting, but we’ve all seen directors go to some lengths.    

I’ve known folks to max out multiple credit cards.  I’ve watched more than a few folks lose jobs and relationships.  I once saw a Producer and an AD come to blows over craft services.  And I’ve heard a saint of a director proclaim, “No more water for the cast or the crew until they finish this scene.” 

Film making can lead even the sanest of people to Crazy Town. 

Ziggy:  How did you come up with the name Chop Socky Boom, and what made you decide to go with “chop socky” as the genre for your webseries-within-a-webseries?

Darlene Sellers:  Do you have inside information?  The show was originally called Second Season.  About halfway through post, we realized that the original name worked great if we were doing a feature.  But with a webseries, we wanted something fast and fun – something that better reflected the quick pace of the show.   We came up with a list of 200 ideas… and spent almost a year arm wrestling over which one to go with.  In the end, how could we not go with Chop Socky Boom? 

As for the show-within-the-show inspiration, we have the Bruce Lee / Seattle connection.   Next up, we have the amazing Cliff Lee willing to help us out.  And finally, most Chop Socky films have great action sequences… and performances/acting/dubbing that are not so great, and therefore sort of funny.    CSB, with the help of Final Zodiac Warrior, is the exact working opposite.   We have talented actors who don’t really know martial arts.  Still funny, and hopefully doubly so.  Finally, as a bonus, Final Zodiac Warrior was a great device to be able cast 12 talented actors regardless of race, gender, or age. 

Ziggy:  When you wrote Daisy/Rabbit, were you already writing it with yourself in mind to play the role, or did that come later?  Were any other roles written with specific people in mind from the get-go?

Darlene Sellers:  Almost all of the roles were written with specific people in mind.  We had several people we had worked with previously that we knew we wanted to approach about the project. 

For example, [co-Director] Heath [Ward] had filmed with Jen Page (Paige) on a few projects (most recently a series of commercials for Wizards of the Coast), and I was a big fan of her work.  I had been looking forward to finally meeting her on JourneyQuest, but my character was bumped to the second season.  So we wrote a part for her in CSB and we were absolutely thrilled when she agreed to do it.    

I had worked with Jay Irwin (Scottie) on a Seattle feature that included a scene with a barn burning down.  After three days of travelling to location, camping, rehearsing, and prepping – we finally filmed.  The stunt went off without a hitch except that somehow, the camera wasn’t rolling.  Everyone was devastated.  Except Jay – who turned to me and said, “Next time I’ll bring the s’mores.”   And I knew I needed to work with him again. 

As for Daisy, Heath and I worked on several projects together over the years, and I would always update him on my adventures and misadventures of auditioning.  And he would usually say something like, “You’re such a freak, but that’s pretty funny.”  Obviously Daisy is taken to the extreme, but she does embody the insecurity and self doubt that many actors sometimes face.   Heath convinced me we needed to include her in CSB.  (And there is an audition related story on where the name Daisy came from, but I’ll save that for another time.)  About a month before we filmed, we almost re-cast Daisy.  I was concerned about slowing the production down trying to act and direct.  We never told the actress we had in mind, but hopefully we can bring her on board later on in a different role.  In the end, Heath saved us by co-directing, and we took Daisy out of a few scenes to make our days. 

Ziggy:  Which of the cast do you think most resembles their assigned Zodiac sign in real life, and why? What about the least? 

Darlene Sellers:  There are twelve zodiac signs and as of episode IV, we’ve met seven of the warriors:  Khanh Doan as Khanh as Dragon (Charismatic), Jay Irwin as Scottie as Rat (Smart), Jen Page as Paige as Pig (Kind), Dan Humphrey as Charlie as Dog (Dependable), S. Joe Downing as Dillon as Ox (Hardworking), Darlene Sellers as Daisy as Rabbit (Friendly), and Eric Steven as Ty as Horse (Energetic).  Um.  Sort of hard to pick who most resembles their sign.  Everyone is pretty spectacular.  (Except for Sellers.  I hear that chick is mean.)  And pretty much the same answer for least like their character.  Unless you were referring to the characteristics of the actual animals?  As a side note, none of the actors were cast as their actual sign from real life. 

Ziggy:  When people see what the characters go through during the course of auditioning and filming, how close to dead on accurate can they assume the depictions are compared to what happens in reality on a regular basis?  (In other words, how high or low is the exaggeration factor?)

Darlene Sellers:  Accuracy of medium with an exaggeration level of 5?  But seriously, almost all of the audition and on set scenarios started with true stories that we enhanced, elevated, or escalated.  There is a very large spectrum of budget, professionalism, and onset etiquette expectations across the span of indie film.  Auditions are a great example of the range.  You might receive an audition through your agent, or you might find the audition on Craigslist.  You might show up to a room full of people that you’ve seen on television, or you might be sitting next to sci fi fans that have always wanted to try out movie making.  Depending on the project, there are people that show up to auditions in costume (like Scottie).  There are times you receive direction during an audition that goes against everything you thought the role was about.   I tend to write things towards the truthful, and then Heath helps to take it to the appropriately elevated level.  

Ziggy:  What's the weirdest way that you're aware of for an actor to have found out about an audition? Was Scottie's getting handed an accidental invite with his Chinese food delivery based on something real, or was one of the exaggerations? 

Darlene Sellers:  Theater Puget Sound, in Seattle, is a service organization for Theater Professionals.  It also serves as an audition space.  On busy days, there might be five or six different theaters and films holding auditions at the same time on the same floor.  One of the actors from CSB once had an audition at TPS for a stage show.  While he was there, a PA from a film production came out and asked him if he could do a Jersey accent.  He could, and he ended up being cast.  After that, he made it a habit to troll for auditions at TPS.  (CSB does not advocate cold calling auditions unless the auditions are posted as open calls.)

Ziggy:  Can you yet reveal the background story behind "The Nude Scene"? 

Darlene Sellers:  There are actually several stories from multiple sets that inspired “The Nude Scene,” but here’s one.  Ages back (before there were vampires in Forks), I was lucky enough to film a movie out on the Olympic peninsula.  All of the talent shared one hotel room, and this particular actor (who was playing a logger) insisted on walking around the hotel room in nothing but his underwear.  He explained that because he was so method, he needed to honor his character’s aversion to clothes.  (Again, he was playing a logger.)    

Ziggy:  Will the audience ever see any completed episodes of Final Zodiac Warrior? 

Darlene Sellers:  You  mean, demon fighters… fighting the demons?  Heck Yeah!  (If we get that far.)  While we were filming episodes III and IV, we were tempted to ditch CSB and proceed with FZW.  You should see Khanh fight.  (And hopefully you will.) 

Ziggy:  When the demon fighters fight the demons, will one be named Steven? And hey, let's hear about your music video!

Darlene Sellers:  Yes!  And you will see Steven in the music video.  Which will be released at Emerald City Comicon on Friday, March 1, 2013, at 3pm!  The video features several students attending Demon Fighter Academy.  We catch them on a typical school day, where they undergo a common demon fighter scenario: fight to the death in an elevator.  Khanh is absent from class that day (she’s attending a symposium on demon fighting in Chicago), so it’s kinda hard to predict who will walk out when the elevator door finally opens . . .

Ziggy:  Tell us about the crossover episode you did with The Collectibles.

Darlene Sellers:  The Collectibles are the bee’s knees.  And yes, I am totally biased.   (We share nine cast and crew to date.)  It was snowing (which is crazy talk in Seattle), but everyone made their call.   And even though the logistics became exponentially complicated due to the weather, the entire production team remained calm and efficient.  The material is wicked funny, the crew moves incredibly fast, and the cast is both entertaining and easy to work with.  Anyone who has the chance to work on The Collectibles should totally do it. 

Ziggy:  All of the characters in Chop Socky Boom that are actors have fictitious names except for one.  Why is Khanh Doan playing a character named Khanh Doan?  That just seems eerie.

Darlene Sellers:  HA!  I wanted to answer this question after your review.  IMDB would list this as a “mistake.”  Our lead character was written as a Vietnamese actress.  The short list of Vietnamese names that made the final cut for the character were Mai, Ly, and Khanh.  We went with Khanh.  And we cast an actress named Khanh.  It happens sometimes that an actor plays a character with the same name.  In the script, the character was just Khanh.  (You’ll notice that none of our characters have last names listed in the credits.) But for Episode I, we needed last names for the headshots and the slate.  (Actors slate with first and last name)  So we gave the Khanh character the last name of Ngyuen.   During the first take of her audition scene, Khanh said “Doan” instead of “Nguyen.”  (Habit.  She slates all the time.)  We did subsequent takes where she said Nguyen.  As luck would have it, the sound was best on the first take.   And because of the way we filmed it, as if it were her actual audition tape, there was no way to cut between takes.  So we used the first take and hoped that no one would notice.  Oops.    

Ziggy:  The fictitious actors in Chop Socky Boom are told that due to budgetary constraints, they’re working “deferred.”  Are the actual cast and crew also working deferred?  In your experience in independent filmmaking, how often does “working deferred” come out in the literal sense of eventually getting paid vs. never getting a paycheck for the role at all?

Darlene Sellers:  I’ve done two dozen projects deferred, and never received compensation on those.  Once you’ve done a few, you realize that most likely, deferred means, “we wish we could pay you but we can’t.”  (Indie projects don’t tend to make money.)  So no – we didn’t go deferred .  Our cast and crew volunteered for the first four.  We’re paying them a SAG/Indie New Media agreement reduced rate for the next four.  We’re hoping to offer union rates for the final four episodes of the season. 

Ziggy:  Do you think that the fact that so many people are willing to work deferred to make interesting projects sends a message to both audiences and other powers that be which says “Hey, these arty independent people work for free and distribute for free, so why should we ever worry about paying them?  If they get uppity and want money, there’ll be more arty free people to take their places!”  Are actors and crew sabotaging their own future economic opportunities, or do you see it playing differently?

Darlene Sellers:  Big questions.  Hard questions.  Years ago I had the chance to work on a feature.  Deferred.  And one of the other actors (Andrew C McMasters) taught me the Indie Rule of Three.*  

You agree to take a part if two of three things are present:  The money is good, the part is good, and/or the people are good. 

I still owe Andrew for that advice.  But here’s the thing.  I pay my bills with a day job.  So I’m making my decisions on taking a project based primarily on the value of my free time.  If there is no money, the part needs to be something I really want to do, and the people really need to be peeps I want to work with.  Furthermore, if the contract is deferred, the production needs to respect the time of everyone involved. 

*Indie Rule of Three does not apply to corporate or union jobs where the company is getting paid.   

Ziggy:  Do you think the current economic models for webseries and other net-distributed indie projects are sustainable?  Do you think we’ll still see a landscape dominated by IndieGoGo campaigns, Donate buttons, and free distribution five years from now, or do you see a different model taking over?

Darlene Sellers:  I recently had the chance to chat with a veteran film director who has raised funds for eight different indie feature films over the years.  He told me he went door to door begging for money each and every time.  His observation was that Kickstarter is very similar to how many filmmakers have been funding their projects for years… just over the internets.  And much easier on the feet.  But does that mean that it’s sustainable for the volume of projects currently being created?  Good question.  If you figure it out, we’d love to hear the answer.  We’ll even send you a cheese platter in thanks.  :) 

Ziggy:  If the models of at-will fan support and free distribution were to go by the wayside, do you think that “pay to play” monetization would change the content of the series and movies themselves?  Is there a real “indie spirit” that gets snuffed out as soon as a television or rental style system comes into play?

Darlene Sellers:  Yes.  And Yes.  (In my experience.)

Ziggy:  What is your all time favorite chop socky film, and why?

Darlene Sellers:  Enter the Dragon.  ‘Cause it’s Enter the Dragon.  But right now I’m on a Jackie Chan kick.  I just re-watched Twin Dragons.  Chan plays twin brothers separated at birth. One is a common street swindler (and fighter), and one is an internationally acclaimed conductor.  But don’t worry; the street fighter has a ponytail so you can tell them apart.

Ziggy:  Outside of your own work, what indie projects are you watching or looking forward to right now?

Darlene Sellers:  Gamers 3, Standard Action, Geek Seekers, Locally Grown, the booth at the end . . .  

Ziggy:  What kind of cheese and recreational beverage would you pair Chop Socky Boom with?

Darlene Sellers:  Low fat cheddar cheese sticks.  Heath and I have a standing production meeting every week.  I bring snacks.  His favorite snacks are the cheese sticks.  And I liked your suggestion of Sake.  I’m just not sure that you should serve those things together.

Ziggy:  And what would you pair yourself with? 

Darlene Sellers:  I’m a bit of a cheeseball.

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- Interview conducted by Ziggy Berkeley, September, 2012/January, 2013


You can email Ziggy at ziggy@cinemaontherocks.com. You can also find us on Facebook.


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