By Liz Shannon Miller
As traditional media companies, MCNs, and even companies like YouTube itself get into the game of producing shows for the web, it’s easy to overlook the independent creators who are still trying to make a name for themselves with their own original series. But even for experienced producers, there are still key advantages to taking an independent path.
One example, launching on May 9, is the series “The Adventures of Peter and Wendy”, created by Kyle Walters and Shawn deLoache and starring Walters as Peter, a twenty-something cartoonist living in Neverland, Ohio, hanging out with his best friend Wendy (Paula Rhodes), and determined not to grow up. Get your first glimpse of the trailer below:
If that story sounds vaguely familiar, there’s a reason — thanks to the magic of the public domain, it’s JM Barrie’s classic story “Peter Pan” for the digital age, updated for a modern age, and utilizing the vlog narrative format pioneered as far back as 2006 with “lonelygirl15,” but more recently popularized by series like “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries.”
In the case of the latter, that’s not exactly a coincidence: “Peter and Wendy” is produced by “Lizzie Bennet” producer Jenni Powell, and Walters was one of the stars of spin-off series “Welcome to Sanditon.”
“It was a super fun experience, and really my first foray into the YouTube/internet/digital series community,” Walters says regarding “Sanditon.”
“After the immensely supportive fan support and interaction, and after having met some of them at Vidcon 2013, I knew I needed to give back to them in the form of another show.” he adds. “It was awesome to see that when launching the Kickstarter campaign, many fans from my ‘Sanditon’ days were excited enough about me (and Peter Pan) to back the project with their hard-earned dollars.”
“Peter and Wendy” was produced on a budget of $14,000 — $9,000 from Kickstarter, with the rest self-financed by Walters. “When Shawn and I created the idea, I knew that I wanted it to happen as soon as possible,” Walters says. “We tried to talk to a few people here and there, but we knew the format, and we knew it was something we could tackle.”
The overwhelming success of “Lizzie Bennet” had a major impact on “Peter and Wendy” when it began to launch its Kickstarter campaign to raise $9,000 for production funds — if only because of the name recognition.
Rebecca Rodrigues, a 19-year-old art student in Southern California, donated $10 to the Kickstarter campaign for “Peter and Wendy” — it was the second time she’d supported a project through crowdfunding, following last year’s “Lizzie Bennet” Kickstarter initiative.
Rodrigues contributed because “The extra perks weren’t a big deal to me. I just wanted to see the show made and support the people making it, and at the time that was what I could give.”
For her pledge, Rodrigues received “our sincerest thanks” as well as “Your name (or chosen alias) as a resident of Neverland, OH in the official town ledger (the website).”
But while that might not seem like a lot, for Rodrigues it was worth the money. “I donated because I wanted to see the show made and in a sense that was a transactional interaction. However, I wanted to help them out as well and in that sense it’s karmic. I think with crowdfunding campaigns it’s never necessarily black and white because you’re able to see the person’s story or pitch and more times than not that’s what wins a donator over. The perks are perks but at the end of the day it’s about whether or not you want to take the time to help this person out,” Rodrigues says.
One advantage everyone agreed on was that because “Peter and Wendy” was a passion project, everyone involved — including those working on and off camera — was passionate about the show.
“The best thing is that you’re working with people who really love the project and are really passionate about it — that doesn’t always happen,” director Matthew Breault says. “There was so little time, but everybody is so excited to do the best work they can do.”
“So little time” is right — “Peter and Wendy” ended up shooting 130 pages of script in six days. For while most of the show’s structure was simple, there was one twist, according to producer Adam Laupus. “The script involved having Tinkerbell being part of the point of view. That was a push, but I think we pulled it off.”
The first season will come in at 24 episodes, but Walters and deLoache have three seasons plotted out. If “Peter and Wendy” does return for a second season, would the team look to crowdfunding to support it? Powell wasn’t sure. “The question is, how often do you go back to that well? The hope would be we get some sort of deal,” she said. However, as she points out, “Video Game High School” successfully crowdfunded all three of its seasons. “We have to put this out there and see how it goes.”
In the meantime, “Peter and Wendy” will serve as a calling card for the cast and crew, though what that term actually means to each of those involved varies. “It’s for our mental health,” says Rhodes. “It’s like the healthiest, most positive way to go into this business — knowing that what you’re currently pouring your heart and soul into is going to stand as a testament as to what you can bring to the table. It’s going to show what you can do and you’re going to be proud of it… And hey, if even more comes of it — icing!”