Writers on the Web: Interview with ‘Super Knocked Up’ Creator/Writer Jeff Burns

SKU Poster - Season 2 - WebWhat if a female superhero got knocked up after a one-night stand with her arch nemesis and had to raise the baby with him? That’s the premise of the award-winning hit web series Super Knocked Upnow in Season 2.

The series, with over 2 million views, has won an IAWTV Award for Best Supplemental Content and The Geekie Award for Most Original Web Series.  It has been nominated at the Indie Series Awards and has been an official selection at several top web festivals, including Raindance London Web Fest, Marseille Web Fest, HollyWeb, ITVFest, LA WebFest, TO WebFest, and Melbourne WebFest.

I had the pleasure to interview creator/writer/director Jeff Burns, who’s also the creator of Super Geeked Up, a pop culture web show where he interviews other web series creators.

Rebecca: What was the inspiration behind the story for Super Knocked Up?

Jeff: Well, I’ve always wanted to hook up with a hot super-villain!  More seriously, it was a combination of my love for superheroes and comic books and an online screenwriting class I was taking through ScreenwritingU.com. It was a really awesome course and one of the first things we did was to come up with a concept for a feature length-script we were going to write during the six months of the course.  I was playing around with different superhero concepts as I’ve always been into that kind of genre stuff since I was a kid.  And one day going through the course assignment, this idea hit me: “What would happen if a superhero and a super-villain had a baby together?”  And as soon as I came up with that idea, I knew I had to write it.  The concept had a ton of conflict inherent in it, gave me a chance to work in a lot of humor, and it was something unique within the superhero genre.

Rebecca: What inspires you to work in the web space? Why do you think creating a web series is a viable way for writers to get their work seen?

Jeff: A lot of things inspire me to work in the web space.  From a storytelling aspect, it’s incredibly freeing to be able to make however may episodes I feel is right for a season and make each episode however long I think it should be.  I can really tell the story the way I feel is best for the characters and the audience.

Making a web series also allows me to reach so many more people than I ever did when I was making short films.  With all the online networks out there now like JTS.TV, Dailymotion, and of course YouTube, there’s so many ways for web series creators to get their work seen and build an audience.  And of course social media allows us to reach so many more people than we ever could before.  It’s a tremendous amount of promotional work to achieve this, but you can absolutely develop a strong, passionate fan base doing it on your own (well, and with some amazing people helping you).

The most inspiring thing about being in the web series world, though, is the people in it.  I have never been part of a community that’s as amazing and supportive as the web series community.  I have met so many web series creators at festivals and through the live weekly show I do, Super Geeked Up (where we have web series guests on to discuss geeky topics and play fun games).  And every single one of them is ridiculously supportive and awesome.  None of us is competing with each other.  We’re all trying to help promote each other and by doing so promote the space as a whole.  And I’ve never seen this tremendously high level of support in anything else I’ve been a part of.  It’s amazing and inspiring.  And it’s why I know the web series world is where I belong.  Without question.

Rebecca: What was production like for the series? How many episodes did you shoot at once? Did you do a lot of work in pre-production, and If so, did you find this helpful in making production go more smoothly?

Jeff: Season 1 and Season 2 were shot very differently.  Season 1 we shot sporadically.  We’d shoot one episode over a weekend.  Then a month or two later would get together again to shoot another episode.  So Season 1 was shot over the course of about nine months.

Season 2 we shot all at once over two weeks.  So like a much more traditional film shoot.  Which actually wound up being much more challenging as I had never shot one of my one projects like that.  I had always done short film shoots on weekends.  There’s so much more preparation that needs to be done when you’re shooting everything all at once.

So yes, I absolutely say the more pre-production you can do the more you’re going to save so much time on set and make things go much more smoothly.  And no matter how much pre-production you think you need, it always seems like it isn’t enough.  We did a decent amount of pre-production on Season 2 and it was still really challenging.  One of the biggest reasons for that is I was trying to do pre-production for Season 2 and run our Season 2 Indiegogo campaign at the same time.  So my time was split between those two things when it should have been totally devoted to one or the other.  I definitely would do that differently in the future.  I’d put most of my effort into the campaign and make sure it’s successful and then focus all my effort into pre-production.  And just give myself a ton more time for pre-production before shooting.

Rebecca: Did you experience any last minute fires prior to shooting that you had to put out? If so, how did you handle it?

Jeff: The biggest challenge for me wasn’t a last minute one but was a really significant one.  I had to replace my lead actress from Season 1 to Season 2.  My Season 1 lead actress did an awesome job and was great.  But she wanted to be paid for Season 2.  And that’s totally understandable.  But I wasn’t in a point where I could do that.  I just didn’t have the money.  The series was growing and doing great but like many web series, everyone was working for free.  Which again goes to show how awesome people in the space are that they volunteer so much of their time to help me do what I love.  My lead actress and I totally understood where each other was coming from and parted very amicably.

8-3J

Actress Jourdan Gibson and Mark Pezzula

But I wanted to continue the series.  So we posted on a bunch of sites like Actors Access and NYC Castings.  And I was thrilled that we got over 700 submissions and I found an amazing actress named Jourdan Gibson to play our lead super-villain.  What it also forced me to do is to come up with cool ways to introduce Jourdan to the fans and get them behind her.  It’s never easy having a new actor take over a role so my goal was to have fans get to know Jourdan as a person first and when they saw how funny and adorable she was, they would want to see her in the role.

So I had Jourdan do some VLOGS where she talked about fun, geeky things and got to show off her personality.  We started Super Geeked Up, where I, Jourdan, and Mark Pezzula (who plays Captain Amazing in the series), discussed geeky topics, played fun games, and interact with other web series creators and fans via Google Hangout and Twitter.  I think that was a huge help in fans getting behind Jourdan as our new lead (I mean the main reason is Jourdan’s just freakin’ amazing in the role).  And now we’re still doing Super Geeked Up every week and I’ve met so many web series people through there and we’ve even won an award for the show.  So I guess the point of is something that seemed like a huge problem – having to find a new lead actress – actually turned out to be the best thing that could have happened.  I got an actress who made the series even better and we came up with new, inventive ways to promote and make new fans.

A ridiculous thing that happened during shooting was dealing with the owner of one our locations.  We had been dealing with the manager, who was very nice and everything went fine with the shoot there.  But at the end of the shoot day (which was early morning as it was an overnight shoot), the owner barges in screaming about someone shooting porn in his café.  Apparently, some drunk people who were staggering past the place at night saw people in superhero costumes and a camera and their immediate conclusion was, “It must be porn!”  So they called the cops.  The cops called the owner.  And the owner wanted to know why we were shooting porn.  My DP (Director of Photography) showed him a bunch of the footage to assure him it wasn’t porn, but I think he still felt we were hiding the porn footage from him.  I gave him my card and then thankfully never heard from him again, so I guess he finally came to the conclusion it wasn’t porn.  And maybe also learned you shouldn’t go on the word of people who are super-drunk.

Rebecca: How did you handle the legal side of things, as far as talent releases, crew releases, deal memos, etc?  Did you have resources to obtain that paperwork, or did you hire a lawyer to work with you?

Jeff: I always have anyone appearing on camera sign a release.  I’m usually really good about that and my AD (Assistant Director) did a great job making sure everyone signed one.  The personal release I have is just a copy from some film production book from years ago when I was doing one of my short films.  And that’s the still the form I keep using.  I don’t remember the name of the book but it had all the different releases and forms you would need for doing a film.  I’m sure almost all of these can be found online now.  I can’t really afford a lawyer so I or another crew member pretty much always handles this stuff.  That’s something I’d really like to do better in the future.  It’d be great to have a Producer (who’s not me) handling all the forms and paperwork and making sure every single thing on that side of things is taken care of.

Rebecca: Did any of your locations require insurance? Did you need to purchase workers comp for the production? If so, can you share any resources for finding insurance?

Jeff: Some of the locations wanted insurance.  Others didn’t.  But we did get insurance for all the locations just to be on the safe side.  I was fortunate to have access to insurance through a local film group I’m part of called Upstate Independents.  It’s an organization of independent filmmakers in the Albany, NY area.  The group has insurance its members can get for locations.  So it was an amazing help to not have to purchase insurance myself.

Rebecca: How was your first day of production? Did you know what to expect, or did you find yourself overwhelmed at all?

Jeff: The first day of production was good for both Seasons.  I’d written, produced, and directed a few short films before Super Knocked Up so knew what to expect.  I usually get a little nervous before the first day of any new project but it definitely helped having experience doing it.  The first day of Season 2 was a little trickier because I had such a larger crew that season and we were trying to do so many more ambitious things than we did in Season 1.  So there was more I had to deal with and I also had to worry about keeping to our two week schedule.  We did run over the first day, but overall it was really good.  We got great stuff and everyone was excited to get started.

Rebecca: If you could do it all over again, would you do anything differently in your pre-production or production? What advice would you give new web series creators just starting out, to make sure that production goes smoothly?

Jeff: As I mentioned above, I would absolutely give myself a lot more time for pre-production.  It was tricky because I was trying to recast the lead role, do an Indiegogo campaign, and do pre-production for Season 2.  And that’s just too many things at once.  I was really determined to get it shot so we could release it by a certain date.  But in retrospect, I would have just given myself more pre-production time and been okay with releasing it later than I originally envisioned.  So I would definitely advise web series creators starting out to give themselves a ton of pre-production time if possible.  Like a lot more than they’re probably thinking they need.

Cast and Crew of "Super Knocked Up"

Cast and Crew of “Super Knocked Up”

Another huge thing is to have an amazing cast and crew behind you who you can trust.  Having that team of people who believe in you and will stick it out for crazy hours each day and always have your back is so essential.  I honestly believe it’s the most important thing during producing.  You need people who are going to stick it out with you no matter what crazy stuff happens or what goes wrong (and believe me, there’s so much stuff that goes wrong on sets no matter how well you plan and prepare).  People who are positive and supportive and will help you make your series better.  I think you need to surround yourself with those people not just on set, but in life.

Rebecca: Your series is about a female superhero who has a one-night stand with her nemesis and becomes Super Knocked Up! If you were a superhero, what other superhero would be your ideal one-night stand, and why?

Jeff: What an awesome question!  I get to be a superhero and hook up with a fellow superhero?  Best scenario ever!  There’s so many amazing choices, but I’m going to go with Huntress.  She’s a character in the DC universe, often in the Batman world.  She’s a vigilante.  Totally kick-ass and tough.  She has an awesome costume.  It’s probably my favorite superhero costume and somewhat inspired the costume for Darkstar (the super-villain main character in my series).  Oh yeah, and she’s beautiful of course.  But I really like kick-ass women.  That’s why I always write those kinds of characters as my protagonists, like in Super Knocked Up and the new time travel series I’m working on.  So I guess it makes sense it’s also who I wouldn’t mind hooking up with.

Check out the Official Website of Super Knocked Up at www.superknockedup.com!

Subscribe on YouTube and Follow SKU on Facebook and Twitter!

Related Articles and Tools to Help:

ws_webseries_smallInterested in writing and producing your own work?
Rebecca Norris teaches you how to create your own web series
in the Writing The Web Series webinar on 11/17 at The Writers Store

COMMENT