Amy Taylor is the writer and director of Jess Archer Versus, a recent series out on Amazon Prime and YouTube that follows a trouble-making detective and her side kick. Jess and Chase create as many problems as they solve, and his motivation is cheese. Here is a recent chat we had, a literal chat. I replaced each “lol” with “yes” so we sound more professional. There was also an inappropriate Game of Thrones bit…
SiG: Tell me about Jess Archer Versus. What’s your pitch to new viewers?
Amy Taylor: It’s essentially Veronica Mars meets an Edgar Wright film – so if you like either of those things, you should give Jess Archer a try 🙂 It has the mysteries to solve, and the prickly, cranky teen girl detective like Veronica Mars, and then it’s got the sense of humor and style of an Edgar Wright film (although really it’s probably most influenced by Spaced, the TV show he did with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost)
SiG: I love Veronica Mars, and I love Jess Archer, but I didn’t get the sense that Jess had a marshmallow center. Is that a major difference?
Amy Taylor: Well, it’s really deeply buried. Hopefully if we get the chance to do another season we’ll see a little more marshmallow. Right now the only one who probably even knows she has a marshmallow center is Chase. Jess’ cranky exterior is actually one of the things I like most about her – I think girls are socialized to always try and be nice, so it’s fun to write a female character who doesn’t care about that at all.
SiG: YES! So there is potential for season two? What needs to happen to make a season two, and what can we expect from more Jess and Chase adventures?
Amy Taylor: I’d love to make a season two. I think the actors would all be on board. I just need to figure out the funding. We’ve just gone up on Amazon Prime for streaming, so if we do well there, that might help us get money for a second season. And I’m submitting to cons/festivals, anything to get us exposure that would hopefully translate into views. Every view gets us closer to another season.
SiG: Amazon Prime is a huge step! Congratulations!
Amy Taylor: Thank you! And as far as what their adventures would be…I’d like Jess and Chase to explore the world of high school theater. I’ve got some ideas for a ghostly mystery that would work well in that world. Of course like a Sherlock Holmes story, there’s always a scientific explanation…but I do get a lot of joy out of imagining Officer Turner getting freaked out because the school might be haunted.
SiG: Well the school might be haunted!
Amy Taylor: Yes, it might be. I’d like to see Officer Turner team up with the janitor to hunt ghosts! That could be a spin off!
SiG: Ghost Hunters side quest would be hilarious!
Amy Taylor: I’d also like to delve a little more into the Jess/Chase friendship and see what happens when we really put some strain on it.
SiG: Season One’s funding from the Kickstarter was just $15K. How did you make that work? The lighting looked excellent by the way. Usually low budget means bad lighting!
Amy Taylor: Oh thanks! I’ll pass on your compliments to the DP. Yeah, 15K was tough, but we got a ton of help. The cast and crew worked for free (a lot of them had worked on the Jess Archer short film we did a few years ago), and we were able to shoot at Ohio University where I went to film school, and they very generously gave us a break on housing and equipment, so we were able to make our money go far!
The DP actually shot the original short, and the main actors also returned, so we could generally shoot pretty quickly because everyone already knew the tone and sense of style we were going for…so that was helpful in saving money. We shot the short film in five days and that was about 13 minutes and we shot this in 7 days and it’s just a little less than 42 minutes.
SiG: So if you were able to put together a bigger budget for season two, what extras, besides paying your great cast and crew, do you think you could bring? Longer episodes maybe? Or would you want ghost effects?
Amy Taylor: I would LOVE to do longer episodes. So yeah, that would definitely be a goal. And paying cast and crew would be huge. They so deserve it! I think I’d also want to try a few more stylistic flourishes. We were able to do a few, like the opening of episode 6 where we shot it like a silent film, but I had to downsize a lot of those ideas in the script because it was like, well, that requires a whole different set up with lights and production design, and maybe we don’t really have the time to do that, particularly for something that will only be onscreen for a couple seconds (most of them were quick little fantasy sequences where we’d whip in and whip out). So I ended up cutting some fun stuff out. As is always the case…but if we had a bigger budget and more time, I’d like to get a little more of that in there.
Yes, ghost effects would be fun too.
SiG: Yes, the fun stylistic add-ons really set the tone. I would definitely love more! This sounds like you were very rational about your budget and your plan to shoot this, but it had to have been hard. What was your biggest obstacle?
Amy Taylor: Probably the fact that because I’m based in LA, the actors are mostly in NY, and most of the crew was in Ohio where we shot, we couldn’t actually get together in person to rehearse or look at locations together etc. I was able to go to Ohio with my producer (the guy who plays the janitor) to scout locations and set the wheels in motion. We had a great producer in Ohio to keep things on track (the guy who plays the zombie), but the actors weren’t able to be in the locations until the day of, and the DP didn’t have a ton of time to prepare. He was mostly working from pictures and from memory since we had actually shot in some of those places on the short film. And really we didn’t manage to get the whole cast together to rehearse until the table read the night before shooting. Again we were very lucky because the main actors had already played these characters, and the newcomers were really prepared, and came in and nailed their lines and characters. But yeah, it was difficult to bring together being in all different parts of the country. And of course time was always an obstacle on the actual shoot days. Again with all the stylistic stuff we wanted to do, there’s a ton of different camera/lighting set ups to get everything, so the DP and I really worked to try and streamline everything as much as possible so we could make our days.
SiG: See? I knew there was drama!
Amy Taylor: Yes, such drama!
SiG: What’s your dream project. If you had a huge huge budget, and got to do whatever you wanted?
Amy Taylor: OH MY GOD! Okay so two things. Is that allowed? I’m saying them. I’d love to direct a big-budget fantasy/sci-fi film – I actually have the first draft of a script – Mad Max: Fury Road meets The Matrix…kinda. And I’d love to create/showrun a sci-fi show – actually I’ve written a show bible. It’s inspired a little by, if you’ve ever read the Morgaine books by C.J. Cherryh? And then there’s some elements of Firefly and Fringe….so yeah, either of those. I’m a huge fan of Joss Whedon so the dream would be to have a career similar to his where he does TV but also film, and he’s got that sense of humor in his work even when things are really dark. Anyway, either of those or, you know, direct a Star Wars movie.
SiG: I don’t quite understand how Mad Max would merge with the Matrix, but I would still want to watch it!
Amy Taylor: Coming 2020…Mad Max meets The Matrix..find out how those two go together!
SiG: Ok last one. What is your favorite movie/book/comic/tv thing right now?
Amy Taylor: …
SiG: CHOOSE! CAKE OR DEATH! Oh wait that’s something else.
Amy Taylor: Death! Wait, Cake! Cake! Dammit.
Oh, right now? Let’s see…favorite movie would have to be..bah! I can never answer this with just one. The Princess Bride, but also The Last Crusade, Mad Max: Fury Road, Moulin Rouge, and Singin’ in the Rain. Favorite book…The Silmarillion and Pride and Prejudice. Favorite comic…Sandman. And TV….um….AHHHH!!! Okay give me a sec…. Blergh, okay, um, I’ll restrict myself to shows that are currently still airing so that’ll be Game of Thrones (and Veep…I couldn’t do just one!). Wow, my brain almost exploded trying to choose.
SiG: So now, in order for fans to have season two, and you to eventually make Mad Matrix, we need to get people watching season one, which is out now on amazon prime and youtube. Anything else we can do?
Amy Taylor: Yes, watching on amazon and youtube, and really just spreading the word whether that’s via FB or twitter etc., or telling people about us in real life. If you can leave a review on amazon or a comment on youtube that would also help.
SiG: Liking, following, reviewing and sharing! The usual! Great. Thanks for chatting. I think I now have a better understanding of how crazy you are.
Amy Taylor: And I thought I was hiding it so well! Thank you so much though for doing this. Really appreciate it!