It was shortly after the cancellation of Guiding Light that actress Crystal Chappell decided it was time to creatively take matters into her own hands. What better time to start your own production company to produce your own material where you’ve got total control and the artistic freedom to tell a story in the fashion you believe it should be told. No studio’s wrapping you up in contracts or red tape, no producers tying your hands behind your back censoring your creative vision.
So Tiffany, you ask, in what strange universe could a project like that stand a chance of actually coming to fruition? Why the internet of course! The business savvy Chappell realized that the time was now so she called up longtime friend and writer Kim Turrisi and through a mutual friend contacted producer Hope Royaltey to create their very own production company, OPEN BOOK PRODUCTIONS, so they could tell the type of stories that were passionate to them on their own terms and thus Venice the Series was born!
Recently I had the chance to chat with Crystal to discuss her newest adventure as co-creator, executive producer and future director of Venice the Series due to hit the web November of this year. Unfortunately for me the new online recording service I used decided it would be fun for me if they deleted the interview. By the grace of God, a full day of me huddled in the fetal position crying and one very generous publicist (thank you Leslie), Crystal Chappell graciously agreed to an email interview. There’s a reason why her fans refer to her as a Goddess!
EM: Ok I want to make sure I’m getting this right. Other than staring as Gina, what other hats are you wearing behind the scenes with Venice?
CC: I am the co-creator, executive producer and I have a hand in the storytelling. I also hope to direct some episodes in the second season.
EM: When you first called Kim did she think you were completely nuts for wanting to create your own web series or an absolute genius?
CC: Well you have to know Kim. She would never consider any of my ideas crazy. She got right on it. She was excited about it and immediately went to work and came back with really beautiful characters.
EM: Venice is most definitely a passion project, you’ve got your very talented friends on board as the cast with promise of no pay, you get an old friend to write and co-produce, another friend introduces you to a second producer/ videographer/ well renaissance woman really and finally there’s you yourself the executive producer, star and co-creator of a web series. All of this while coming full circle by starting a new job on Days of Our Lives as Carly Manning, the original character that put you on the map in daytime. Why take on such an ambitious project like Venice?
CC: Why not? It is something that I believe in and I think it’s obvious based on how many people have gotten behind this and support it. Not just my friends, but the fans. I get excited about things I believe in and with that, I can find the energy to do a lot more.
EM: Was there a lack of fully realizing the potential of what might have been with the relationship between Olivia and Natalia after the cancellation was announced that prompted you to create your own story that you could tell and have complete control over through Venice?
CC: You know, I think the Otalia story was beautiful. What it made me realize was (A) there was a need to tell a story with an openly gay woman and (B) I wanted to go to the web so that I could tell the kind of story I wanted to tell without interference. It came more out of the need for it and less about what Otalia wasn’t.
EM: What can you tell us about your character Gina, about the rest of the characters? How do they intertwine?
CC: Gina is a strong driven, business oriented woman. She is successful in her work and clueless in love. We will follow her journey through this community of Venice. But it will involve her family and friends.
EM: Can you talk about casting for the series? There are quite a few seasoned soap stars with Jordan Clarke and Hillary B. Smith, a few newer faces being Jessica Leccia and Daniel Cosgrove though both were wildly popular on Guiding Light and have been on the scene for several years. And then you’ve got one hell of a character actor with Elizabeth Keener who I had the pleasure of speaking with yesterday. Was it just about casting the talented friends or was it a conscious decision to go with daytime actors for their obvious visibility and established fan base? Any hints to future cast members?
CC: These people did it for me as a friend because I was excited about this project. Of course I wanted to hire my friends and yes it does help that they come with their own fan base. I want to be around people who I know can deliver and have fun with and all of these people can do that.
EM: How will the web series work? What’s the production model at this point as far as episodes, marketing, sponsors, etc?
CC: There will be twelve episodes a season, 5 minute episodes in the first season, social networking and more than one season per year.
EM: You are definitely taking full advantage of all the resources that the internet has to offer. You have a presence on Facebook, an online fan club, you’re just as addicted to Twitter as I am along with everyone else who tries it even once. You and your fellow partners in crime Kim and Hope have made yourselves very accessible to the public, to the fans. Are you concerned that you open yourselves up too much?
CC: No I am not concerned at all. I feel like I have gotten in touch with a lot of voices that need to be heard. I see no harm in putting myself out there to see what people want.
EM: I read an article recently in the LA Times that read nearly a quarter of households in the U.S. now view television programs online.
How have you seen the media change since you started acting, and how does it feel to be on the fore front of a new wave of entertainment?
CC: Certainly I have seen a change in media since I started acting. There has been the obvious decline of ratings, the expansion of cable, the presence of the internet. I believe the web is where we will see a lot of interesting new ideas.
EM: What role do you think viral grassroots marketing plays in the success of this project?
CC: I think it is very important. On the web, it’s all about global connections and that will greatly determine how successful Venice will be.
EM: You’ve also opened up the design of your sites logo and series music to the public asking people to submit original designs for the logo and original music to be featured in the series. Why take it to the people so to speak? Why open it up to the fans?
CC: Well, because they are the audience and our idea as a production company is to create shows that belong to the audience. So why not invite them to share their talent?
EM: Do you plan on keeping Venice strictly for the web or ideally would you like to eventually move it to television? Maybe somewhere like HBO or Showtime?
CC: I have no problem with keeping Venice on the web. If we had the opportunity to move to television, I would never compromise the integrity of the show. But that’s not even on my radar at this point.
As a side note I just wanted to mention that as of yesterday Ms. Chappell was named as the #1 Soap Power 2009 by TV Guide’s Nelson Branco. Congratulations Crystal!
Interview by Tiffany N. D’Emidio