Venice the Series debuts on the web sometime in November this year but is already one of the most highly anticipated interactive projects to hit the online entertainment industry. So when I got the chance to chat with Kim Turrisi and Hope Royaltey, two of three creative minds behind Crystal Chappell’s new web series Venice, I jumped at the chance. You know that saying be careful what you wish for because you just might get it? Well I had no idea what I was getting myself into but most definitely enjoyed the ride!
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Hope: I primarily was a writer for about the last ten years I’ve sold a couple screenplays I sold a television show, made a living doing that but hadn’t had anything produced which can be frustrating…wonderful to make a living but not seeing your work realized is tough. So about the last five years I started doing my own DV short filmmaking. I did four half hour shorts in LA that became really popular there and ended up kind of having a wonderful experience where you know where a lot of amazing actors, a lot of really talented people that were on television and film ended up jumping on board because we had such a great time doing it. It was another experience that I hope Venice is that everyone using their creativity not necessarily doing it for money but to see something amazing realized and I had such a good time doing it that I wanted to do another project like that for a long time and ended up joining Team Venice which is another whole story. But my main occupation is a writer.
Kimmy: I work in film and television production and then in development and I’ve always been a writer. I worked a little bit for soap opera magazines and for Mimi Torchin doing a lot of freelance work. Crystal and I have been friends for a long time and we’ve developed a few things together and this one’s the big one!
EM: How did the three of you come together for the project?
Kimmy: We obviously Crystal and I have a lot of things going on and when this particular project came about we came to Hope sort of via Ricky Paull Goldin (ex Gus on Guiding Light). Hope you can tell that story!
Hope: Sure! I had stumbled across Otalia like many other people who are now huge fans on the Internet, on You Tube…
EM: Myself included!
Hope: Exactly! I never watched, wasn’t a soap watcher. I was pretty impressed by the writing and certainly the acting and thought this is cool and interesting and being the person that I am kind of went in and was sort of fascinated and amazed at observing the fan base, I looked at all the boards, I saw the impact that this show and this storyline was having on thousands and thousands of people. I thought how amazing was that?! But when I heard that there was a possibility of them doing this web series I…you know its funny because I don’t usually go after things, a lot of times I have things brought to me but this was something where I went you know what, I’ve got the right set of skills and I like to tell them what I think I could bring to the table and see what will happen. Within weeks I had a friend who told me oh I’m doing this project with Ricky Paul Golden, who obviously you know was in the storyline, and I was in LA at the time and he ended up calling Crystal and I got her number and I had an initial call and it was fantastic. She was so articulate and warm and funny and, as you just did in your interview, an amazing first impression from her. She said why don’t I have my business partner call you, which is Kimmy. Then we got on the phone and we all clicked! It just started there. We had a couple calls after that and as we got to know each other creatively and just the way we communicated and skill sets…it just seemed like it would be something right to move forward on.
EM: Kimmy, when Crystal called you about creating the series initially were you say you’re out of your mind or were you think she was a complete genius?
Kimmy: We were actually sitting in my house. I sort of had Gina (Chappell’s character) on my canvas for a while and we talked about it and I was very excited when she called me to tell me about the Otalia storyline because she’s always wanted to do something positive like that. We were just sitting on the couch and she just said, “You know what we should do? We should create a web series” and I’m like “Oh my God I love it! “ We literally sat in my house on the couch and just created the world of Venice and then coming up with these unbelievable characters and it snowballed from there. It’s just been the wildest ride. I started writing it immediately and we created it. Then we had all of these wonderful people jump on board like Hope. Then our first cast member was Jess (Jessica Leccia) and that’s how it started.
EM: The three of you seem to wear multiple hats on Team Venice. What are everyone’s roles? Kimmy you’re writing, are you doing…
Kimmy: I am the co-creator. Crystal and I created it together. I am the sole writer and I’m one of the executive producers. You know we all do everything from researching t-shirts…there’s really no job too big or small for any of us, Crystal included. We all do a lot of everything but our primary roles obviously Crystal and I being the co-creators, all of us are executive producers, Hope is directing, Crystal will direct and she’s the star. Happy for me! [Laughs]
EM: Yeah! That’s fantastic getting to work with your longtime friend.
Kimmy: Yeah it is and it’s also as a writer because I know what she can do and what she can deliver, it’s the best of all worlds. That’s true for all the cast that we have but particularly for because I did write Gina with her in mind. I said it everywhere that every time I write anything there’s always a part for her.
EM: You both have been in the industry. Any time your going to tackle a project it’s going to take a great deal of work. Why did you want to take on such an ambitious project like Venice? I mean for what you’re doing there’s a lot going into the website, there’s a lot with promoting over Twitter, you have a logo contest, a music contest, a store…you’re not just putting something up on You Tube. You’re actually creating a production.
Kimmy: It was very important for Crystal, the fans especially for Otalia, the outpouring of love, the stories she’s heard…she wanted a forum. So coming to me, obviously because I’m her best friend and I’m out and I’m gay and I also have been very frustrated by the lack of positive or even sort of true to the lifestyle because it’s really no different from any other lifestyle and that’s one of the things that we really wanna throw out there that’s it’s just part of who somebody is it’s not this that the right seems to make it all about. Then when we added Hope, she can speak for herself obviously, we were so passionate about this and a lot of that I think comes from Crystal’s passion for it and then the story now that we’ve set out to tell with all these characters has just blossomed. As each actor comes aboard, it’s very easy to stay fired up about this. It’s easily far and away the most fun I’ve ever had on a project and the most work I’ve ever done and the least amount of money, which is nothing [everyone laughs].
Hope: But the most happiness for the least amount of money!
Kimmy: That’s right! All the money in the world couldn’t buy this kind of joy. When you see people on Twitter that you sort of get to know and then you’re working with two people that you respect and love…it’s like a love fest 24/7! It’s easy to stay passionate about it.
EM: Can you talk at all about casting for the series? I realize there are quit a few seasoned actors with Jordan Clarke and Hillary B. Smith and some of the new faces in soaps with Jeff Branson (replacing Daniel Cosgrove as Owen) and Jessica Leccia. Then you also have Elizabeth Keener who’s an amazing character actor who I was lucky enough to speak with yesterday. You know I’ve gotta tell you Kim she spoke very highly of you. Unfortunately for Hope, I don’t know what you did to tick her off [everyone laughs uncontrollably] but she totally talked shit about you from start to finish.
Hope: That doesn’t surprise me.
EM: I don’t know if it’s the crazy ridiculous clues you keep leaving on the site that she can’t decipher or…
Hope: It’s cuz she doesn’t want me to kill her off in the first season. I’ll talk about that with her privately.
EM: But in all seriousness, she only had wonderful things to say about everyone involved with Venice. I’m totally teasing, I don’t want to get anyone into trouble!
Kimmy: I love it!
Hope: Oh no! I’ve known Elizabeth Keener for a very long…I’d say, I’m gonna call it about 15 years. We’re very excited she’s part of Venice.
EM: I was wondering if it was more about casting friends and people you know because obviously they’ll work for nothing although Elizabeth was surprised that she wasn’t getting paid for this project. [everyone laughs]
Hope: We weren’t very up front with her about that I realize.
EM: Yes, she was a little irate about that. You may get a call about that!
Hope: Yeah, alright.
EM: I didn’t realize it was on the QT. Sorry!
Ok so…was it more about bringing in the people that you know because you know their style, were you looking for people outside of the soap world? Did it make a difference one way or another? Was it more about people that you know and wanting to work with friends?
Kimmy: I think initially for Crystal it was…as soon as everyone on Guiding Light found out she was doing it they were like if there’s anything you want me to do and then she came to us and it’s like an embarrassment of riches and so it’s definitely about picking the people that you wanna work with. They’re incredible actors and yes still do it for nothing but more importantly everybody’s spirit is in the right place about the story, about the storyline, the project, the way that Crystal’s mad intelligent mind has worked on this and yeah I love being able to give my friend Michelle a part. Hope reached out to Keener and she was like yeah. You know everyone has just jumped in. We’ve gone to people that we know just because it’s been easy and people have really actually called us and said do you have anything I can do. I think we’re really going to surprise with a lot of the cameos that are going to be in this thing too.
EM: That’s great but I don’t know if I can handle more of the teasers from Hope.
Kimmy: You know the next few weeks we’re gonna roll out some cast, the remaining cast are sensational. I mean I don’t know how it gets any better but they’re really good.
EM: Well you know Hope, you’re a little sadistic!
Kimmy: So Tiffany, how smart is Hope? She comes up with these things and she’ll send them to Crystal and I and I’m like “Who are we rolling out?” I’m like wait a second I thought…who…I haven’t been able to figure out one of them and I know who they are! Really Hope, she’s scary!
EM: She’s VERY scary! I mean come on, DNA in reverse backwards in a diagonal while standing in the lotus position to even begin to try and decipher it. I think I actually blacked out at my desk trying to figure it out and I never did. Thank God for one of the girls in the UK because the back of my brain fell out. It’s ridiculous!
Kimmy: Do you see why we like working with her? She’s mad smart and there’s nothing better than a smart woman. She comes up with this stuff and I’m like where do you even begin to think about that kinda shit, it’s ridiculous.
Hope: WOW! Love fest it out girls! I’ll take it!
Kimmy: And I might add, the final person that we’re going to roll out…Hope’s plan for the way that the clue is going to go…
EM: Oh my God…
Hope: It’s my magnum opus! Just take off a day, take a day off work.
Kimmy: It’s Armageddon in one clue.
EM: Oh God. Can you at least do it over the weekend?
Hope: I’m open to negotiations, requests.
EM: I can send you alcohol if that’s what it takes.
Hope/Kimmy: [laughs] Yeah that’s the way it works!
EM: At least give us a Friday so I don’t have to call of work.
Hope: I can’t tell you how much fun do these because you know this isn’t the kind of thing like I haven’t done clues before in my life. Like oh that one time…I have so much practice! Do this has been one of the most fun things about this entire process. And I will MISS the clues. In fact, you know what I might keep the clues in some form.
EM: I think you kind of have to.
Hope: Maybe we don’t have spoilers we just have clues because you know I love it. The fans are just so smart! And they do get it every time. They do! I’ve been angry. There’ve been a couple that I really expected another hour or two and there was someone and then they spread it all over. I watch the post it on the board the minute they figure it out it spreads like wild fire.
Kimmy: We know exactly on Twitter who are in the chats because of the way that they’re talking and I think that it’s just amazing how engaged they have become with it and with each other.
EM: So how do think media has changed within the industry and how do you feel about being on the forefront of this new way of entertainment? Actually, I just read an article in the LA Times that reads nearly 25% of households in the U.S. now watch TV shows online. The highest was news then followed by dramas and comedies and sitcoms.
Kimmy: I feel pretty friggin good about it myself!
Hope: There’s a statistic and I can’t remember the exact statistic that people now spend more time in front of their computer than they do in front of their television which I think is a really, really important milestone because it used to be that people used to watch TV for 5, 6 hours a day and now they don’t. And with the advent of the DVR, if TV is ad revenue based and that’s what’s producing these shows is the ad revenue you know these companies are their commercials are being fast forwarded and everyone knows it and they know it and you have a free roll or post roll video commercial on your video on the internet and you can’t fast forward through it the people have to watch it. So right there I think the advertisers will eventually catch up to the benefit of doing it on the Internet, of having the eyeballs there, of being able to not just have it being in a television box to have users click on whatever it is have it completely interactive. The technology is finally there to deliver the video in a way that’s getting there close to television. There used to be a quality issue but now it’s not.
EM: The quality is just as good as television if not better in some instances.
Hope: Right! So it benefits the advertisers, it benefits the viewers and it certainly benefits the people producing because you’re not restricted to these antiquated confines of the way that television production is which is sometimes very wasteful. With DV camera’s you can now make things look really, really good for not a lot of money.
EM: So how will the web series work? What’s your production model at this point as far as the episodes and sponsorship and marketing?
Hope: We really tried to not bite off more than we can chew for season one. We waffled about how long they should be because we want them to be long, we want Kimmy’s scripts to be longer, we want to have every nugget in there and it’s so hard to get it down too. I think we’re going to do between 5 & 6 minute, which would be a sixty to seventy page script and twelve episodes so it will be between an hour and a seventy-two minute season. That’s just something we ca shoot in a reasonable amount of time and do our first roll out of this. You know we may adjust that for season two if everything goes as well as planned.
As far as sponsorship, we are having meetings. We’d love to get a sponsor to underwrite the production aspect of the series. We’re also considering other models like subscription models. We’ve been polling the fans. We basically want the fans to tell us how do you want this delivered and that’s why we’ve been so interactive with them because ultimately they are the ones that are going to be watching it. If we do the subscription we’d have bonus footage, we’re planning on shooting a two camera behind the scenes hopefully so there’ll be behind the scenes of the five minutes will probably be ten minutes which I believe will be equally entertaining. So if we have behind the scenes and bloopers…
Kimmy: With this group that would be hello…
Hope: That’s what we’re hoping. So you have five minutes but then you have this whole other rich world in terms of just the production and interacting with it again because the whole process has been so interactive so why not let them see what’s going on behind the scenes. You know what I mean? So that’s our plan, to really make a rich experience not just with the show but also with all the other media that goes along with it. I think we’ll probably end up doing a duel model where we have the ability for them to watch it advertising, for free or do a subscription model where they get all the bonus stuff for a really low price.
We have had such a successful…Twitter has been a buzz word, Facebook has been a buzz word of social networking but to see it really in action and to really see it working in terms of just delivering information weather it’s chatter or weather it’s something new on the website or something new about the show and having it be re tweeted and then having it posted on Facebook and watching people who are certainly interested in the product or the show just go like a school of fish and really get that information right away and it’s just amazing to watch. It’s amazing for them because they get instant information. It’s amazing for us to see how it works. Also it’s a global thing. Anyone can join Twitter, anyone can join Facebook so it includes everybody. So we’re going to continue to really interact on that level and continue to build our base instead of doing traditional banner ads on other sites for instance.
EM: I know at least with a lot of the American television shows that run on networks that the international audience kind of felt slighted because they have to use the backdoor way to get in and even online a lot of the sites even the big network sites will block international users. So Venice should be open to international users as well?
Kimmy: Yes. And we’ve got a lot of international Twitter fans, Team Sydney, Costa Rica…it’s ridiculous!
Hope: We get hits on the website from over 85 countries including Qatar and some wild countries where I’m like “Are they even allowed on the internet?” So it’s pretty amazing the international following. We pretty early on had discussed subtitling Venice in as many languages as possible so that’s what we’re going to do. Again totally fan interactive we have fans saying right now who’ve said I’ll do the Spanish translation and through our outreach see if we can get some of our international fans that love the project and want to donate their time just like the rest of us to see if we can get it translated into certainly the majors and then we’ll see past that. We want the international fans to have as comfortable of a viewing experience as possible and not have to go to You Tube to see it in their own language.
EM: I know that was definitely and issue for Guiding Light fans with Otalia. The UK fans were pissed because they couldn’t watch on CBS.com and then people in various other countries would have to wait for that one person to translate it into their native language. I think it’s great that Venice is going to be a collective effort having the fans help out.
Kimmy: Oh yeah, they’ve been amazing and really gracious and so smart!
Hope: I’m impressed by them every day! We get emails about various topics and it just fills you up sometimes. You go “I can not believe I’m having this experience with this growing group of people that are so amazing.
EM: You guys are definitely taking full advantage of all the resources that the Internet has to offer with Facebook and the website (venicethesereies.com) and you guys are Twitter addicts like myself. [everyone laughs] I didn’t want to join Twitter and then I did and now its…
Kimmy: No one WANTS to join Twitter.
EM: You can’t put the crack pipe down!
Kimmy: I swore I’d never do it, I made fun of Crystal, I was like there’s no way and there we were a couple of drinks into the night and she’s like “I’m tweeting that you wont get on Twitter” and I’m like “What are you talking about?” I actually got goated into it! Literally in my own home by her Twitter followers and the next thing you know I’m at a business dinner and I’m like “I gotta be right back” I jump outside to get on Twitter! It’s ridiculous!
EM: It’s like going out for a cigarette!
Kimmy: It is exactly! I mean how many of us have bought new phones since we’ve been on Twitter? I have.
Hope: I have!
EM: I have my app on my iPhone. Actually I have two apps on my iPhone in case one breaks down.
Hope: Ohhh…backup app!
Kimmy: That’s perfect! [everyone laughs]
EM: So are you ever concerned, because you’re all pretty open and accessible to the fans especially through Twitter; are you ever concerned about it being too much access?
Kimmy: You know I think there are two schools of thought there. For me, I don’t mind it I’m just the writer. I’m happy to hear from them. I love the interaction, I think they’re smart. One of the big components here is that they feel like they are part of it so I think I’m probably on a little bit more than Crystal and Hope…I don’t, I really don’t because very few people really step over the line so I don’t feel like that at all and certainly the emails that I’ve gotten and Hope has gotten and Crystal they’re just so lovely and wonderful and warm…I don’t, I really don’t. Hope?
Hope: I was very, thus my Nancy Drew (Twitter avatar) avatar, was very determined to remain somewhat anonymous but obviously that didn’t happen but now I’m completely…well Nancy Drew is going to stay by the way but I’m really enjoying it I’m really enjoying the experience I’m really enjoying the interaction. And like you said, it’s totally addictive even for the more shy people the more private people it’s like once you engage it’s wonderful. There’s nothing like it! I’m a big Twitter preacher. I’m trying to bring as many people in as I can. No one wants to do it but the minute they get on they’re like “Oh my God!”
Kimmy: I think also if you look at the way that Crystal has been with her fans all along when she was on Days then when she went to Guiding Light and then certainly with this storyline she’s one of the most open, giving, accessible actors I’ve ever seen and not just because she’s my friend. She’s very generous with her time and she really means it so I don’t know that we could do it any other way and be part of a team with her.
EM: Actually, I have to say that when I first started following the Otalia story and started writing about it, I was really surprised just how accessible and open she is to her fans. Anyone I have ever talked to have said absolutely she will stop and talk, sign an autograph and has never turned anyone down. She will happily sit and talk to anyone who approaches her and that something your really don’t see.
Kimmy: And you’ll see it with the entire Venice cast. They’re all very, very similar maybe not all on Twitter but certainly when it comes to fans or anything like that. They’re all incredibly gracious.
EM: You’ve also opened up the design for the logo for the site and music submissions for the series asking people to submit their original designs and music, which could be featured in the series; why take it to the people so to speak? Why open it up to the fans to create the brand?
Kimmy: I can speak to the music part and Hope can speak to the graphic design part. For me, one of my passions is music and I love indie artists and I’ve always like the notion as Crystal has, with being able to discover somebody new. Since we’re going on this kind of journey where it’s almost like a family on this journey with the fans and with our cast it just seemed like the right thing to do and the fun thing to do to involve them. And I have to tell you I have got some of the best music, I’m not kidding, it’s just amazing. Our theme song is gonna blow everyone away. It’s just so good. Some of the artists people will know and a lot of the artists they wont. The hardest part for me has been narrowing them down because I have hundreds and will certainly use them throughout the next coming seasons but I don’t know how we could not do it that way.
Hope: Yeah, it’s similar for the graphics. Unlike the music, which you cant go hear that band play, for months just observing everything the fans are doing the minute we thought about a logo it was like oh well I’ve seen a million AMAZING fan artwork that goes on their banners, what they put into their videos. I was like there are serious graphic designers out there that are really good and then people that may not be professional graphic designers but just have a raw talent for it. There was no question in my mind that the fans were gonna be able to just knock out some amazing work and I thought and we all thought that it would be fun for them to be a part of it like that. We got hundreds and hundreds…I couldn’t believe it, I was blown away. Within hours of the contest launching there were submissions right up to midnight at the end and just little notes from people saying how much fun they had doing it. We had amazing logos from a range of people and it was so much fun for us to just get a new one and see it and just blown away by the talent…blown away! We have a fantastic logo (the logo has since been unveiled). The fans delivered on that one for sure.
EM: Music is definitely an important part of any show I think. Will there be any sort of play list?
Kimmy: Oh God yes, most definitely! Actually when I start to blog, which will be relatively soon, I’ll be because I’ve talked about the fact that I write to a play list that I make for each of my characters when I’m writing for them or the tone of the scene and so I’ll be doing my play list but then we’ll be doing the weeks that we air whatever artists are featured they’re going to be on our website for sure. Everybody is going to get to know everybody.
Hope: We’re also going to have profiles on the website just like the cast.
Kimmy: Yes, it’s almost like a get to know. Hopefully it will help the artist get exposure and just have the fans be involved with…they’re very musically driven this group that we’ve got as I am…as we all really are. We’re going to cross promote everybody.
EM: Ok last question. Do you plan on keeping Venice strictly for the web or ideally would you want it eventually turn into a primetime series or even somewhere like HBO or Showtime?
Kimmy: I think we both have an answer for that. Hope you wanna go first?
Hope: For me personally, just the excitement and the new frontierness of the web if that’s a word [everyone laughs] you can double-check that new frontierness! You know this came about obviously from Crystal and Kimmy wanting this to be creative and wanting to have their own voice and not be censored and not have other people telling them what a character would or would not do or how they should or should not write so there’s certainly a sense of wanting to protect that creative freedom.
The same with me, I have that same sense so it would be really hard to give that up. Hopefully the show is a hit on the web and we have an audience that can at least from the numbers that we get we either have sponsorship or the productions paid for I don’t know for me it would be really hard to give that up to not continue to do it ourselves unless it was the most amazing creative control deal ever in the history of time! [everyone laughs]
Who knows how it’s going to change in the next year or two but for me personally I would keep it on the web for now certainly.
Kimmy: I feel the same from a creative stand point because both Hope and I and I’m sure Crystal at some point we’ve been down the road of you know someone buying our script and by the time it gets to when they’ve stripped it away and killed your characters and destroyed all the integrity that you’ve written it’s not worth the money. It would be very difficult for me to give up control of these characters especially Gina. I would not want somebody slapping my hands or saying yes or no. So it would really have to be the deal of the century where we would be able to keep our creative control because that’s part of the joy in knowing that the three of us can say yes or no and really it’s all been about yes and there hasn’t been any no. That would be very difficult to lose that.
Interview by Tiffany N. D’Emidio