Welcome back for part two in our talk with Jenn Duncan, one of the producers of Steampunk’d, from GSN, the Game Show Network. Steampunk’d is the first steampunk reality show to be broadcast on cable television.
Read part one here.
Airship Ambassador: Other entertainment companies have bandied about ideas for a steampunk themed show for a few years. Why do think that now is time to get the first steampunk show out for broadcast to the mainstream viewing audience?
Jenn Duncan: You know, that’s right. I’m not sure why now is the time that it finally hit, but I do know that Hollywood has the zeitgeist thing figured out pretty well. It’s in the air before I even know it. A week after shooting the show, I was at a hardware store and saw a chalk board sign recommending people try a do-it-yourself steampunk project and build a lamp out of faucets and piping. Amazing!! A few months ago I would’ve said this was a niche brand of art undercurrent… and here it is becoming the next big thing. Your readers can feel solid in they knew it was cool before the rest of the world did!
AA: LOL, yes, some of us have been cool for quite some time! Peering into the life of a producer, what were some initial things that have to be done to move the project forward from the initial brainstorming development phase into the concrete filming production phase?
JD: Oh wow. A lot! The biggest bugaboo for us was finding a location big enough to fit our huge set we wanted to build! We had multiple shooting areas and one big manor as a setpiece that was very very tall, and needed to be lit right. I found sketches I did early on in a legal pad of it all, and it’s surreal to me now to look back on it and see that it all really happened. That is one of the most rewarding parts of my job. Having an idea and seeing it come to life. Then again, that’s something I share with the Makers. We are all artists at the end of the day!
AA: Yes, it’s definitely rewarding to see an idea evolve to the point of becoming real and concrete. While we live moment to moment in that process, the perspective when looking back at the time and effort involved can give us quite the sense of accomplishment. Pink Sneakers brought in POP Magnet as the casting team to find candidates for the show. What is the casting process like?
JD: The casting process is grueling. We go through tons and tons of submissions and narrow and narrow and piece together a jigsaw puzzle of the perfect cast. In the case of Steampunk’d, we wanted to invite ACTUAL Makers onto the show, so we had to make sure they actually had the skills to back up what they were telling us they could do. So we had a weekend where we brought out some of the big contenders for our cast, and we had them make stuff! I remember leaving that weekend feeling confident that we could deliver real skills for our competition, but then waking up in the middle of the night worried that we had not focused enough on their personalities! What if they were dull! Turns out, steampunk artists are never dull.
AA: HA! I think steampunks in general are never dull J Once there was a pool of potential candidates, what was involved in the next step to select the final ten to be in the show?
JD: Interviews, skills test, more interviews and meetings! We had a huge skills test weekend, and lots of interviews. Then we meet with the network and we narrow it down.
AA: Some viewers may not know just how long a TV project can take, nor all of the thousands of details and decisions which go into it. What were some of the tasks and challenges in lining everyone and everything up before filming started?
JD: Yes, even I look at the finished project in the end and tend to forget the painstaking hours of conflict that got to the pretty shiny end product! It’s like childbirth. You forget the labor, and cherish the beautiful baby! In the case of this show, we had trouble finding a location to shoot in. We needed multiple areas to have room for the build and the judging area, and finding a place that was available, safe, affordable, and fit our logistic needs was a nightmare! We finally found a great studio up in the valley. Also, the building of our huge set was a challenge! We needed it to be safe, and beautiful, and functional. We had to think of fun challenges for the Makers, and write up creative plans, and pitch them to the network. There’s also just a lot of hiring of crew, dealing with schedule changes, and permits and blah, blah blah. It’s a lot of work. J
AA: While viewers see weekly episodes, the filming schedule is much different. How was that structured, and what are the challenges in such a schedule?
JD: We shot an episode every three days, and account for that in the episode, but obviously, we have to tell that story of what happened in three days in just under an hour! The challenges on a schedule like that were largely in the hands of our talented cast. They really were pressed for time and had to learn how to work FAST and be SMART with their choices, lest they mess themselves up. I really admired them and how they handled it.
AA: Wow, that’s quite a pace to keep up. How tired is everyone by the end of it all? Are people just running on adrenaline, caffeine, and sugar?
JD: You said it! Definitely we ran on adrenaline caffeine and sugar! I amaze myself with my reserve tanks… but you will have a hard time catching me without a cup of black coffee in my hand! That said, we honestly had such an amazing cast and crew that it made it fun to come to work each day – tired as we all were. You know that this pace is temporary, and it’s just a blast. A lot of laughter and hugs. And doughnuts. A lot of doughnuts.
AA: Without giving spoilers, what interesting things might viewers see in each episode?
JD: Real ingenuity. The things these Makers came up with in such a limited time with limited supplies was incredible.
AA: What are some memorable moments you had during filming?
JD: Seeing the set for the first time, fully built. It took my breath away. I couldn’t believe that it had come to life.
AA: Were there any items that you just craved to take home with you?
JD: Oh gosh yes. I’ve even commissioned some work from a couple of the Makers since shooting!
We’ll break here in our chat with Jenn
Join us next time as she talks about what comes next now that the show is airing.
Also, check out Jenn’s exhibit page at The Steampunk Museum.