People are always talking about how quickly projects travel from concept to premiere in the streaming video space, but there are exceptions to the rule. A case in point: “Epic Studios.”
The series has just begun principal photography in Toronto with star Lloyd Ahlquist (a.k.a EpicLLOYD), co-creator/star, with Peter Shukoff (a.k.a. Nice Peter), of the long-running YouTube series “Epic Rap Battles of History,” which has racked up 13.3 million subscribers and 2.9 billion views. But it has been in development for nearly two years.
“I thought that it would be cool to have a show set in a recording studio,” Ahlquist told the author in an interview last year. “’Epic Studios’ has elements of ‘The Flight of the Conchords’ and ‘Garfunkel & Oates,’ with music involved in every episode that’s very different from the type of music in ‘Rap Battles.’”
Ahlquist first went pubic with the concept for the show — co-created with longtime friends Jill Goslicky and Aaron Krebs — at the third annual New York Television Festival-Just for Laughs “Set to Screen” Pitch Competition in Montreal in July 2014. Their pitch didn’t win, but it attracted the attention of iThentic, a Canadian production company responsible for such direct-to-digital series as “Guidestones,” “Space Riders: Division Earth” and “Save Our Skins.”
In early 2015, iThentic commissioned a trailer/sizzle reel for “Epic Studios,” shot in snowy Toronto, with Ahlquist playing Lloyd Steﬂan, an adrift loser and closet rapper who inherits a failing music studio when his estranged heavy metal rock star father (played by Steve “Lip” Kudlow of the Canadian metal band Anvil) is mauled to death by a lion.
The original plan was to was to shoot the series in late summer or early fall before Ahlquist hit the road with the first “Epic Rap Battles of History” live tour, but it didn’t come to pass.
Instead of withering and falling into development hell like so many other projects do, “Epic Studios” rallied. It won a grant from Canada’s The Independent Production Fund and rounded out the the budget with financing from Makers Studios, Ahlquist’s longtime MCN partner.
Budgeted in the $700K Canadian range, the first season of “Epic Studios” will feature 13 7-minute episodes. Written by Josh Gal (“Working The Engels”) and Amanda Brooke Perrin (“Spun Out”) and directed by Rob Stefaniuk (“Phil the Alien,” “Suck,” “Anxietyville”), it will feature guests stars including Kevin MacDonald (“Kids in the Hall”) and Adam Rodness (“Hemlock Grove”).
“While there is a story arc that would permit repackaging for TV, we are more focused on potential for an online hit,” said “Epic Studios” producer Catherine Tait, president of Duopoly and chair of iThentic, which are producing the series with Farmhouse Productions. “Each of our episodes has a very strong [1 to 2-minute] ‘music video’ where Lloyd raps, and the plan is to use these as standalones to promote the show.”
Production on “Epic Studios” is scheduled to wrap in June. The series isn’t scheduled to be released until September, but, in the meantime, viewers can get a taste of the show in the trailer above, replete with a lion mauling.
“There’s this web site called Green Screen Animals,” Alquist explained. “It has every type of animal you could ever ask for in front of a green screen doing fun things. You purchase the asset for a hundred bucks or something and you can put it in your show.”