An Interview With SHAPETOWN Producer Steve Bakken

steve

Steve Bakken is one of the owners of Triumvirate Prods. Which produces the show SHAPETOWN; here is a link to his IMDB page:

http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0049134/

 

Q:  What inspired you to start Triumvirate Productions?

A: Well, it started simply as a protective housing for SHAPETOWN as we moved development from the web-series to a 1/2 hour sitcom format. We had worked previously with others on the web-series, but after four episodes were completed and the money we raised was depleted, everyone fell by the wayside, except for myself and my two partners who make up Triumvirate Prods.

A little back story: we started My Two Pennies as a collaborative effort to bring a like-minded group of actors together who were motivated to “stop waiting for the phone to ring” and to “forge their own destinies.” A Facebook email was sent out in December of 2009 by Nakoa Lee (one of my current partners) to almost 300 actors in his network, announcing this effort to create a company of actors who would produce their own work. And I believe only 12 or so actually showed up to the first open meeting. This was right around the time that the whole web-series thing was running like wildfire throughout the Hollywood actor community. Cameras were cheap, there was no need for film and you could edit on your laptop, so every actor decided they could be a filmmaker, and eventually an internet sensation. I was one of them. Along with the other 11 or so eager souls who took this first step toward something new. Our first project was a 3 page short about a guy and a girl on a date in a diner. The guy is awkward and the girl is way too pretty for him and so the date is really going in a bad direction when a man at the next table begins choking and this awkward “hero” performs CPR to the beat of a disco song and saves the man’s life. It was called DISCO DINER and, unfortunately,  it was never finished. The editor was doing a favor for the director and wasn’t willing to do more than a basic rough cut. This was before I had tried my hand in editing, so I couldn’t edit the thing, and so we decided to move on to something new, rather than hire a new editor. This is when SHAPETOWN was born. We decided that jumping on the web-series bandwagon was a better idea than trying to turn out another short film. After all, all we had to do was write, shoot, edit, and upload something brilliant, and the chips will all fall into place. So we wrote five 7-page webisodes (which ended up being edited into 4) and raised the necessary funds to produce, shoot, and edit all of it over the course of 15 months or so. We began the first shoot in November of 2010 and finally finished editing of Episode 4 in January of 2012. During that time, the company evolved into this triumvirate of leadership. Nakoa Lee, Julianna David, and myself were clearly the ones who took control of the production and post phases and who really showed commitment to the project and the desire to see things through. So, after much discussion and a few disagreements with the other members of My Two Pennies, we three decided to push forward on our own and leave M2P behind. Thus, Triumvirate Productions was born and as I said earlier, it was originally formed just to house out intellectual property (SHAPETOWN) until we found a network or production house to come on board. However, through connections, we have been brought a couple of projects to produce this year – another independent TV pilot and a feature. The pilot is finished but the feature fell through due to financing issues.
Q:  What kind of training and work experience have you had?

A: I studied theatre and acting at the Meadows School of the Arts at SMU in Dallas, Texas and came straight to LA the fall after graduation. I have been a struggling actor for well over a decade. I have had many great personal successes and some minor financial ones. I’ve had agents and been agent-less. I’ve had meetings with some Hollywood icons and nothing came of it. I’ve been on LA stages working with some famous people and it was just for that night. I’ve done readings with well-known actors to help them audition for a role that I wasn’t up for. I’ve taken cold reading, scene study, improv, on-camera, and other classes and workshops. I’ve had many day jobs around town from hotels to restaurants to retail stores. At times I feel I was spinning my wheels as an actor. It is so hard to get above water in LA as an unknown actor in his 20s with no connections and no trust fund to support himself. Had I never taken a day job to support myself and lived off of the hunger and need for acting work, maybe that would have compelled me to break down more doors. But you gotta eat and pay rent so I couldn’t ever figure a way around the day job thing. And as far as breaking doors down, industry people aren’t necessarily attracted to overly aggressive actors, and I didn’t want to group myself with the crazy ones. And there are many crazies. Overall, I’d say the best experience and training I’ve had is just living in the city itself and finally making my mind up to learn how the business runs from the other side of the camera. This began with My Two Pennies in 2010. And I wouldn’t have been lucky enough to find that group of actors if I hadn’t auditioned for a short film written and produced by my present partners. They were also starring in it and brought me on to play a key role opposite them. That is what led us to our partnership today.

Q:  What is Shapetown about?

A: It is a single-camera style half-hour workplace comedy that is set in a rundown mom & pop fitness club in a suburb of Phoenix, AZ called Gilbert. The premise is that an international conglomerate called Shapetown, Inc. acquires this little gym as one of its new locations and sends in a fresh-out-of-Wharton-school grad into this new location to get it up to corporate standards. The new guy is met with a staff of zany characters led by an obtuse and dysfunctional manager and coincidentally is reunited with a high school crush who works the front desk. It has the potential to be a hit show like CHEERS or FRIENDS. That is my humble opinion 😉

Here’s a link to the original web-series teaser: http://youtu.be/nAaLr9p5xc0

We have a new sizzle reel and full pilot presentation but those are both under wraps due to the fact that we are shopping it around town.

Q:  What role do you play?

A: Writer, producer, and actor. In the show, I play the role of “Rick Maddox,” the aforementioned delusional douchebag of a manager.
Q:  How are you going about shopping it around?

A: We are doing a lot of cold calls on our end. I’m calling in as many favors as I can to folks in my network that have connections in the TV world. My partners are doing the same. We do have two big agencies looking at it now and one of them reps a writer who is high school friends with Julianna, and he has loved the concept of the show since he saw the first webisode in early 2011. He came on board a while back and wrote a pilot script based on our web-series and his agents are working on a plan to package the show with an experienced, well-known show runner. But nothing is on paper right now, so we are pursuing every and any avenue we can.
Q:  What  makes a web-series worth watching?

A: I guess the same that makes anything worth watching: Story, characters, humor, drama, etc. I have to be honest and say that I’m not a web-series fan. I don’t think the format works very well for most stories. I primarily used the web-series format as a way to get my feet wet with production and as a cost-effective (well, relatively) way to develop a show that I felt really should be a 1/2 hour comedy. When we were writing our web-series, we were aiming for 7-7/12 pages per episode. So that three episodes, back-to-back, would be about the same running time as a full half-hour show. It was really difficult to give life to 8-10 characters within a coherent, logical storyline that would provide enough action to provide laughs and keep the audiences attention each episode. It was like we were really trying to compress 22 pages into 7. So finally moving to the full 1/2 hour format has been a necessary change. The most successful web-series I know of either target a very specific niche audience (i.e. Mortal Kombat) or have a very simple, short setup and punchline format that recycles every episode (i.e. Fact Checkers Unit). SHAPETOWN just didn’t fit in the web-series arena, in my opinion. It’s a character-driven show and it needs time to develop real relationships. It used to be that web-series were always “supposed” to be 3-5 minutes, because the belief was that no one would sit at a computer and watch anything for longer than that. But I never bought into that, as cable and satellite boxes are just simple computers anyway. So when we finally decide it’s okay to hook our real computers up to the TV (or monitor), we will be watching all of our programming though our computers. And that is what’s happening now. It’s all content anyway – web-series, TV, film – no matter how you define it.
Q:  What’s your favorite web-series ?

A: I don’t have one.
Q:  What sort of day job do you have and what makes film production better?

A: Currently I work part-time in a high-profile Los Angeles restaurant. I’ve been there for 7 years and it supplements my income and keeps the bills paid. But it doesn’t fulfill me creatively, spiritually, and intellectually like the work I do in film production. I didn’t come to LA to wait tables or tend bar. I spent many years trying to break in as an actor to no avail, so I’ve switched up my strategy a bit and doors seem to be opening for me. I wish I would have figured this out 10 years ago, but there’s no use in looking back with any regrets. Everything in my past has led me to this very great place I stand in right now. And I believe this next year will bring about lots of change for me professionally, including my exiting the restaurant industry and moving full-time into production.
Q:  What is your oddest Los Angeles story?

A: There are so many of them. Let’s see… I guess ALL of them. It’s an odd town, full of odd people. But that is what makes it unique and wonderful, as well. I think many of us creative people that are here trying to break into the biz ride a very fine line between rational and just plain crazy.

Q:  What’s next for you?

A: Hopefully getting SHAPETOWN sold and/or into production. That is my main focus over the next 3 months. I just want to get my foot into the door on a TV show and have the opportunity to work my way up the ladder. I also am one of the producers on an indie feature called IN EMBRYO, written and directed by European film star Ulrich Thomsen. It is set to hit the festival circuit in 2014.

Please note; Eliza’s interviews are done by email. All answers are unedited and come right from the lovely fingertips of her subjects:)

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