Rob Hunt’s fantasy-comedy webseries for geeks of all kinds

How do military training, a Dungeons & Dragons hobby, and an acting/writing girlfriend come together when you’ve graduated with a computer science degree? If you’re Rob Hunt of Vancouver BC, you form Phasefire Films and engage all your creatively-minded friends to help make a fantasy-comedy webseries called Standard Action.

In his last semester at University of Victoria, Rob chose a filmmaking class as his final elective. Encouraged by the instructor’s ‘go nuts with it’ attitude, Rob embraced the camera and taught himself to edit in the school computer lab. He recalls, “That was a real opening up for me, I realized I can make stuff on my computer and I don’t even have a two thousand dollar computer. That was where a lot of it came from, just this realization that I could do this without having fifty grand.”

Rob used his graduation gift money to buy a video camera and gained inspiration from reading Rebel Without A Crew by Robert Rodriguez and The DV Rebel's Guide by Stu Maschwitz. After a year in England while his girlfriend Joanna Gaskell completed her master’s degree in theatre, the pair returned to Vancouver, gathered up their friends, and got busy.

Rob’s first feature-length project, A Mythology Of Revenge, was made for less than $5,000 and shot with a Cannon HV30 camcorder. Joanna acted the leading role, and Rob served as Writer, Director, Producer and Cinematographer. He then took on The Director’s Project, filmed in the summer of 2010 using a Canon EOS Rebel T2i DSLR, and a growing circle of film-loving friends. Joanna acted, and Rob was Director and Producer.

It was on the last day of filming The Director’s Project (TDP) when Rob and Joanna admitted their love of Dungeons & Dragons to actor Edwin Perez that the seeds of Standard Action were born. Joanna had been writing short practice scripts based on D&D characters that could be filmed in the forests of BC. Edwin, also a D&D enthusiast, revealed his talent for thrifty costume design, and the TDP makeup artists were invited to indulge their love for making monsters.

Initially the ten-minute episodes were posted online for fun, and intended to provide demo reel material for all involved. But as happens with the World Wide Web, fantasy fans discovered the show, and the story continued to evolve.

Standard Action is a webseries that celebrates nerd culture and independent filmmaking. It follows the exploits of four hilariously inept Adventurers and makes reference to the worlds of other fantasy and sci-fi series. Fans love the private jokes and the acknowledgement that life isn’t always easy for characters with social hang-ups.

Joanna has taken over producing duties allowing Rob to focus on production. They write collaboratively and edit together, and every actor on screen also doubles as a crewmember. Rob credits his university job in the militia with how smoothly the team works together. “A lot of the leadership skills I use, I learned in the army. I know people perceive the army as yelling a lot, but a lot of it is working really well as a team and treating your team members properly. I think applying that and giving people authority over their own areas, and allowing them to take ownership … we just offer a creative outlet for people and we treat them really well.”

Half way through making the series, Rob attended a BC Professional Videographers Association panel with his employer, Shawn Lam Video, and he heard Bruce Sharpe talking about PluralEyes. Rob was familiar with the plug-in at work where he uses Adobe Premiere to edit multi-camera event productions, but he didn’t know about DualEyes, the stand-alone software that provides features attractive for a low budget filmmaker.

Rob says, “It’s just been amazing since then. There’s maybe sixty clips an episode and I would have to spend ten minutes on each finding the audio clip, matching it, and synching it. Now it’s like ten seconds. I can play a lot more video games now. Quality of life!” Joanna realized the time-saver meant she could write more complicated structure into each episode, and they now average eighty clips per fourteen-minute episode.

Rob uses a Zoom H4n audio recorder and boom microphones, and his Canon T2i outfitted with Magic Lantern firmware for additional features like zebra striping and focus assist. His post-production toolkit includes Adobe Premiere, After Effects, DualEyes, and Audacity for audio cleanup.

The biggest challenge with the web series is the minimal budget, which is predominantly used to pay honorariums to his cast/crew for their time and dedication. For season two, Rob would love to upgrade his camera, invest in a few more lenses, and build some new costumes and weaponry for the characters.

Joanna and Vanessa Driveness – who has added Associate Producer/Marketing and PR Manager to her original credit of Costume Design/Wardrobe – have gotten busy on the crowd-funding platform IndieGoGo, with a fundraising goal of $10,000. The women are also responsible for Twitter and FaceBook activity, which has brought speaking opportunities at recent and upcoming fan conventions.

At VCon 2011 Rob shared the stage with a co-panelist and then discovered she was heading off to edit The Avengers movie. “I’m like, Oh My God, she touched me! It means a lot when people who are working on these incredibly amazing projects turn around and say, ‘Hey your stuff’s not bad’”. One of Rob’s greatest joys is seeing his friends and crewmates enjoy the appreciation of fans.

The first season of Standard Action is online at watchstandardaction.com. With the money raised on IndieGoGo, Rob and Joanna will make the second season longer, bigger and better. Their goal is another full-length season of twelve episodes, each ten to fifteen minutes in length, all continuing to be free and available online.

As soon as the resources are gathered, Rob and Joanna will lead their team back to the woods. He comments, “While I was in the reserves I used to go away for one crazy weekend a month where we wouldn’t sleep and we’d do these eighteen hour days, and there would be this real camaraderie and teamwork. And now doing this with Standard Action, once or twice a month we’ll go away into the woods and film for fifteen hours and there’ll be more camaraderie. I’m also really good at standing around in the rain, thanks to the military.”

Writer Sara McIntyre is a Communications Consultant and Filmmaker who calls Vancouver, BC 'home'.


Not Your Average ‘Daily’ Grind

The Daily is the first tablet-native national news brand that is publishing exclusively for the iPad. Launched from scratch on February 2, 2011 by Rupert Murdoch and News Corp., The Daily has received kudos from a variety of big names.

It’s no secret that The Daily’s content recipe is quite unique. What makes it different are the various components – part magazine (for depth and quality), part newspaper (delivered daily) and part online property (updated in real-time). Peppered among these elements are dashes of interactivity – unique videos, photos, and built-in apps (yes, apps within the app).

And what keeps readers coming back for more? It’s The Daily’s A+ journalists and interesting feature articles and series. Take “Rocket Across America,” for example, where The Daily reporter Justin ‘Rocket’ Silverman travels across the U.S. covering all aspects of American culture. Traveling west from his NYC home base, Silverman has done everything from walk on fire in Ithaca, New York to Outhouse Racing in Des Moines, Iowa.

As a video editor at The Daily, Jonathan Tortora’s job is to make sure all of this content – filmed in office or captured remotely by Silverman and countless other reporters – is edited, polished, and turned around as quickly as possible. We caught up with Jonathan recently to ask him how it all works.

So Jonathan, what is it like being a part of the e-newspaper revolution?
It has been an amazing experience. The Daily is a wonderful outlet to be a part of the new media and technology frontier. I originally came from the television broadcast industry, so this was just something I stumbled into – and I’m so happy I did. It is refreshing to create the unique, engaging material for The Daily, everyday.

Recent statistics show that although the traditional newspaper industry is faltering, their online counterparts are posting double-digit growth. Do you believe the next frontier for newspaper publishers is to shift emphasis from online formats to iPads?
I think that eventually traditional newspapers will catch on to this new media trend. Apple revolutionized the way people consume media. We have the capacity to tell stories in a way no one else can and the consumer is responding to that. The work of our design team is groundbreaking and takes interactivity to the next level. Readers now want to be immersed in the content – whether it is touching hotspots with their fingertips or scrolling through interactive picture galleries the design helps to bring the viewer inside of the content. You can check out some of our coolest design features on The Design Blog.

If the top ten newspapers were to shift to the iPad, what do you think would differentiate The Daily from its competition?
The Daily started on the iPad platform, we were born for this! We got here first…and we’ll continue to create top notch content so the app is the best it can possibly be.

What are some examples of stories and series you work on for The Daily?
Our team is out in the field everyday trying to grab new content. For example, in the past few months, we have covered everything from an Angola Prison to a window washer who works suspended 90 stories above New York City.

One of the series that caught our eye was “Rocket Across America.” Can you tell me a bit more about this?
Sure – it is actually one of my favorite series I’ve worked on thus far at The Daily. Justin ‘Rocket’ Silverman went around the county doing pieces from the road about the people he comes across. We call the series “Rocket Across America” because Silverman who started in New York City and has been heading west and everywhere in between looking for ‘content gold.’

What is your role in making sure that all the footage captured from “Rocket Across America” is ready for publication for The Daily?
My job is making sure that all of the footage we capture can be formatted and polished for publication. To capture each angle of the story we utilize a lot of multi-camera shoots with DSLR cameras.

Since you are working out of New York and Silverman is on the road, how do you work with the footage for a quick turnaround?
For the “Rocket Across America” series specifically, our team’s been doing everything on the road. Our shooter/producer has been shooting with two Canon 5Ds, a Sony EX3, and some GoPros. Armed with a laptop and PluralEyes, he’s been syncing, screening, and editing in the field.

PluralEyes has actually become a necessity in producing material for The Daily. Since we are churning out content so quickly everyday, its ability to save time is priceless.

What happens once the edit is finished on the road?
It gets sent back via ftp and we can make any final changes the same day. On some occasions, rough edits have been sent back via ftp and we’ve completed the edits here at the office. At that point though, all the footage has been synced in the field first.

With so many interesting series and articles – many of which have a unique spin like “Rocket Across America” – how do you view the future of The Daily?
Promising! If we continue to focus on the content and create memorable material day in and day out like we’ve been doing, we will continue to be successful.

For more information about The Daily, please visit http://www.thedaily.com, or download the App from the App Store: http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/the-daily/id411516732