Writers on the Web: Interview with Michael Gene Conti, Creator of Web Series Spooked

MichaelGeneConti

Series Creator Michael Gene Conti

If you’re into the paranormal, you’ll be sure to love the new web series Spooked, executive produced by Bryan Singer (X-Men: Days of Future Past) and Felicia Day (The Guild, Geek & Sundry), which recently premiered on Hulu and YouTube.

Starring Julian Curtis (Captured), Ashley Johnson (The Killing), Neil Grayson (Eureka), Derek Mio (Greek), and Shyloh Oostwald (In Time), Spooked  follows the ‘Paranormal Investigation Team’ (P.I.T.) as they investigate phenomena at haunted locations across the country. It features the unpredictable, horrific, and often comedic world of P.I.T. as they find themselves dealing with ghosts, aliens, and other unexplainable happenings.

I had the opportunity to interview creator and co-writer Michael Gene Conti (Devil’s Trade) about the writing and production process of the show’s first season.

How did the concept for “Spooked” come about? Do you have a personal interest in the paranormal?

The concept for Spooked evolved from my deeply rooted obsession with the paranormal. My entire family has always been fascinated by all things other-worldly and my older sister made it her hobby to scare me at any given moment. So naturally, I grew up being afraid of my own shadow. All of the scary movies and ghost stories that my family annually enjoyed made me terrified of things that weren’t even meant to be scary! But as I grew older, I began to realize the absurdity of thinking that Drop Dead Fred’s hand might come up from under my pillow and grab my face. The paranormal began to fascinate me. That visceral feeling you’d get after seeing a scary movie, the lurking dread that followed you home from the theater and waited for you in the darkness of your bedroom…it became fun!

I began watching all of those paranormal reality shows and found them to be as equally humorous as they were enjoyable and scary. The places the ghost hunters would find themselves in and the things that they’d do. I watched them all religiously and began to notice all of the trends and recurring themes. I began studying many real life paranormal groups around the country and tapped into what makes someone decide to do this with their life. The comedy of Spooked stemmed from that notion but the through-line and heart of the show has always been with P.I.T. and their relationships with not only each another, but the clients and case subjects as well. I suppose I should probably thank my sister for scaring the idea into my head. Thanks Nicole!

Had you worked in the web space before? If not, what inspired you to create a web series?

Cast of Spooked

Cast of Spooked

Yeah, I’ve been working with a web-based comedy group in New York City called Cardboard Helmets with another writer named Eric Paperth for a few years now. Our sketches are produced on a much smaller scale than that of what Geek & Sundry produces, but it really taught me how hard it is to get your work seen by more than twenty of your Facebook friends on YouTube. I suppose I’ve always been interested in creating web content; whether it was just a three minute sketch with Cardboard Helmets or a half-hour comedy with Geek & Sundry.

The web is so exciting because anyone can upload their work and find an audience no matter what the budget, content, or quality is. It’s become this amazing creative outlet and that was really appealing to me very early on. Then witnessing the success of Felicia’s show The Guild first hand really cemented in my mind that the web was not only a very lucrative medium, but a soon to be burgeoning one as well – which it has now become.

What was the writing process like for “Spooked?” Did you experience any differences between writing for film or TV vs. writing for the web?

The bulk of the writing process was very fast. I wrote the original pilot back in 2007 so I had years to develop that initial draft and eventually get it to Bryan Singer, Jason Taylor, and Richard Martin over at Bad Hat Harry Productions. After that, we partnered with Geek & Sundry and announced the show at San Diego Comic-Con last July. We began shooting that following November so Felicia Day and I had to write what amounted to a feature length script in just under three months in order to fill the first season. Which I know has been done by many writers before me, so perhaps it just seemed very fast because I had sat with that pilot episode for seven years and then wrote three more in such a drastically shorter amount of time. Well, then we shot it all in eleven days so, yeah, I’m sticking with “fast” as my adjective of choice. Deadlines can be a wonderful thing.

Writing for the web vs. TV or film can seem very daunting in that there are so many distractions on the screen and so many other sites that a viewer can click to at any given moment. So with that in mind, we’re tasked with writing content that will really engage our audience to a point where they no longer see those peripheral distractions and the other sites are bookmarked for after our show. But there lies an inherent attraction to that aspect of web-production as well. We want to prove that our shows can succeed in such a tough market and no one has proven that better than Geek & Sundry.

On set with the P.I.T. Mobile Base in Spooked

On set with the P.I.T. Mobile Base in Spooked

Please describe your pre-production process. Did you feel that you went into production as prepared as possible, or is there anything you would have done differently?

We were definitely prepared going into production. I live in New York City so a lot of my work was done via conference calls, emails, and even a few spontaneous flights to LA in order to help get everything ready and right for filming. I trusted our team beyond measure and kept in close contact with our producers Jason, Richard, Sheri Bryant, and Ryan Copple throughout pre-production so once I finally arrived for the shoot, I was completely blown away. I had expectations for the production but actually being there and seeing the scale of it all, the incredible talent of our cast and the tireless work of our crew almost brought me to tears on a daily basis. In regards to doing anything different, I think it would have made the process a whole lot easier for me and our production team if I was in LA with everyone the entire time. I’m moving back soon guys, I swear!

How was your first day of production? What went well and what did you find challenging, if anything?

Our first day of production was such an exciting, fun, and surreal experience. To see all of P.I.T. come to life after living in my head for so long and step out of the Mobile Base to take on their first case…it gave me chills. I may have cried. It was all a very emotional experience for me. Don’t judge.

Since day one, everyone on set got along so well and despite our tight schedule, we were really able to have a lot of fun and create something truly wonderful in the process. I couldn’t be happier with how it all turned out. I personally really clicked with the cast and all of us hung out the entire time at Comic-Con this year. We even played with a Ouija Board! Julian and Derek weren’t happy about it, but I told them that it was research for season two! What good are ghost hunters if they’re too afraid to hunt ghosts, am I right?

What advice would you give to first-time web writers/creators based on your experience?

Felicia Day

Co-writer Felicia Day

1. Don’t give up. Even if it means working on your idea for seven years before it gets made, because you never know, it may end up on Bryan Singer’s desk one day.

2. Believe in your work. The road can be hard but the destination is rewarding and well worth all the effort. Your belief in your work and yourself will keep you going. Trust.

3. Write, produce, upload, repeat. The more content you create, the better you’ll get and you may even get lucky enough to attract a few followers and fans along the way.

4. Stick to your guns. There are a lot of haters and “trolls” out there who will try to tell you what you should or shouldn’t do. Learn to recognize the positives and use them to your advantage. Keep moving forward.

5. But the best advice that I can give is to do whatever you can to get Felicia Day on your team. Always Felicia Day.

Where do you see internet television heading? Any theories on the future of web series as they become more and more popular?

Web series are the future. That’s not to say TV and film will be going anywhere, but we’ve seen this all before. When film became a thing back in the day, most of the big-shot stage actors and producers of the time didn’t want anything to do with it. Then TV came out and suddenly no one in the film business wanted to go anywhere near those “picture boxes”! Now with the web, everyone from stage, film, and TV are slowly beginning to recognize the popularity and reach of web content and it’s become a booming industry because of it. There’s no longer any question as to if whether or not the web can be a successful platform for distribution or artistry. It is and it’s an incredible honor and pleasure to be a part of it. I just wonder what’s gonna be next. All I know is that whatever it is, I won’t want anything to do with it! (I’m kidding, of course!)

Watch Season One of Spooked on Hulu and YouTube!

SpookedRebecca Norris is a writer, producer, and web enthusiast, currently writing and producing the award-winning web series Split with her production company, Freebird Entertainment. Follow Rebecca at @beckaroohoo.

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