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Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Vancouver soap opera parody All My Pants brings home the goods from LA Webfest

When Vancouver Film School students Shelley Stein-Wotten and Dan Christensen created their web series All My Pants as part of the school’s writing for film and television program, they probably never imagined it would mean more than some Youtube views and school credit. Little did they know it was destined for bigger things, including multiple awards at this year’s LA Webfest.

Chosen as one of six projects to be filmed on a micro budget in 2014 by the Vancouver Film School, All My Pants is a sometimes hilarious mix of puppetry and melodrama as it parodies the television soap opera genre. Described as “bizarre, absurd, and silly” by Christensen himself, it tells the episodic story of a closet full of pants brought to life. Its main character, a pair of blue jeans appropriately named Gene is voiced by Sachin Sahel from the CW’s sci-fi television series The 100.

Chosen as an entry for the 2015 LA Webfest, considered one of the largest festivals in the world focusing on content created specifically for the internet, the series walked away with three awards in the student category including outstanding series, outstanding series premise, and outstanding score.

Fresh off their win, in this Q&A we chat with Stein-Wotten (SSW) and Christensen (DC) about the web series, with a mix of serious and not-so-serious answers.

Where did the idea for All My Pants come from?

SSW: It spawned out of a long-simmering ponderance about what pants do all day when they’re not being worn, coupled with the assumption that everybody else in the world is wondering the exact same thing.

DC: One day I woke up and rolled to the edge of my bed to see my pants I’d worn the previous day on the floor, and as I gazed at them I soon found myself unable to tear myself away. Eyes materialized before me on the crotch of the pants, and as they stared back at me, everything, all of time and space, disappeared, leaving only an eternal connection running directly between me and my pants. “Make a soap opera web series about me and all of my friends,” they intuited to me. So I put them on and called Shelley.

SSW: We knew we wanted to make a web series and a key factor for us was that silly, outlandish premises are exactly the type of comedy we as viewers love to watch. So creating “All My Pants” fed our own thirst for absurdity that, had we not made it and came across on the internet, we would mercilessly shove down our friends’ throats.

The episodes run about 3-4 minutes, but how long did it take to shoot each episode?

DC: You see, that’s the thing. The final cut of each episode only runs 3-4 minutes, sure. But what most people don’t know is All My Pants was originally conceived, written, and shot as a epic nine-hour-total soap opera movie trilogy. We had the whole thing edited and packaged with a marketing plan and release date and everything, but then we realized that our release date was on the same day as the first installment of the Ernest movie franchise reboot Ernest Goes to Space: Alien vs. Predator vs. Ernest. So we were like, eieh, let’s just make it a web series instead.

SSW: We shot all three episodes in one day. We were cautioned going into production that we were stretching the boundaries for what is considered an attainable number of script pages to shoot in one day, but we knew we wanted to get three episodes done, and given the shooting time parameters the school gave us to make the show we had no choice.

We were fortunate to have a skilled crew on our hands, helmed by our director, Ryan Jackson. He knew exactly how to work at a fast pace while still getting all the story elements and pants antics we wanted.

All My Pants takes a decidedly low tech approach – did you run into any obstacles in bringing the pants to “life”?

DC: Did we ever. The worst part was probably experiment number 13 where we had a pair of pants in one fusion pod, and my cat, Schnookums, in the other pod. I was thinking that Schnookums would come out like a fun, wise-cracking pair of cat-pants, like Garfield! You know, if Garfield was a pair of pants. But boy was I wrong. Poor Schnookums – it was horrific! It was just like that scene in The Fly with Jeff Goldblum! How did it go so bad? I guess we should have known – unlucky 13, am I right? Anyway, yeah, after that we decided bringing them to life the low-tech way was better. The sewing was a little tricky, but hey, no mutant cats!

SSW: Since none of us had worked with puppets before there was a lot of trial and error in terms of the construction of them. We knew we wanted real pants and that they had to – had to – walk; we just had no idea how to do that in a cost effective and believable way. We watched a lot of YouTube videos. Including ones on how to tie knots – because that’s how unhandy all of us are.

Dan Christensen (co-writer and producer), Reggie Henke (puppeteer), Shelley Stein-Wotten (co-writer and producer) on the set of All My Pants. Photo: Vancouver Film School.
Dan Christensen , puppeteer Reggie Henke, and Shelley Stein-Wotten on the set of All My Pants. Photo: Vancouver Film School.

What kind of budget were you working with for each episode?

SSW: We had a very tiny budget. It was challenging, but it got us thinking about ways to stretch our dollars – like doing open ‘casting calls’ at thrift stores.

DC: It’s a funny story actually. Vancouver Film School gave us a small budget to shoot our project, but through an aggressive round of venture capital fundraising, we managed to bring that figure up to a healthy $25 million. And I think when you look at the final product it’s no secret: every cent showed up on screen. By the way, if there are any investors reading, we’re still working out the monetization, but don’t you worry; Facebook didn’t have monetization worked out in the beginning either, and look at them now! I guess this is a roundabout way of saying that I really think All My Pants is poised to become the next Facebook.

How did you sell the idea of the show to your voice actors?

DC: Well, when it came time to cast we thought it would be a piece of cake! We took out a classified ad saying, have you ever felt like a pair of pants trapped in a human body? Call us today. And then left our phone number, but curiously, our phone never rang. I went back and checked to make sure they didn’t type our number but nope, it read exactly correct. We were at a loss.

SSW: But after that, it wasn’t particularly difficult. We basically said you get to be a pair of pants, and they were on board. I guess we lucked out and cast a lot of fellow pants aficionados. Sachin Sahel, who’s a regular on The 100 and voices Gene in All My Pants, may have a greater love of wordplay than we do. He was riffing and adding his own puns during the recording session. It was hilarious.

The series is filmed as a soap opera – were you soap opera fans before you started?

SSW: I would record several daytime soaps every day and watch them immediately after I got home from school. So yeah, I think they’re all right. Even though they can be terribly predictable, they’re utterly addictive because soap opera writers are masters of the cliff hanger. And despite the fact that they have these certain tropes you can always count on, they can go to the most insane places sometimes. Aliens, body swapping, magical ventriloquist dolls – everything is fair game.

DC: When I was a kid I had a nanny who took care of my brother and sister and I during the day, and I don’t remember which soap opera it was, but she had it on all the time. That and “The Wind Beneath My Wings” on her home karaoke machine. I never understood what was going on beyond the fact that nothing about it was ever funny, which confused me. Also the dim lighting and soft focus – it seemed to me like a very strange world. So to sum up, I guess All My Pants is really just my efforts to work out my childhood abandonment issues. Go figure, eh?

Were you influenced by a particular soap opera?

DC: All My Children was an obvious influence, considering the title we chose. But the influence it had on All My Pants doesn’t stop there. I ran into Agnes Nixon, the creator of All My Children at a party one time and instantly I became passionately obsessed with her. Now, I know what you’re thinking. She’s 87. But you have to remember this was a number of years ago. I think it was three years ago, actually. So she would have been 84. Anyway, I started pitching spin-off ideas in a desperate attempt to woo her, and when I mentioned the idea of a version of the show where the actors were all digitally removed and it was just the clothes moving around, she said “yeah, that’s really great” before slipping into the ladies’ room. I waited around for a couple of hours but she didn’t come out so I went home and drafted up a 200-page treatment and mailed it to her. I never heard back so I forgot all about it until I dug it up when we started working on All My Pants.

SSW: I was a religious viewer of Days of Our Lives for a period so those are the characters I know, and love, the most. We also began every writing session by playing the theme to Young and the Restless.

You took home a few awards from the Los Angeles Web Series Festival – how important were those awards to you?

SSW: The recognition from LA Webfest is so great. It’s given me a giant boost of confidence to keep making projects that I love and not getting concerned about what people may or may not like. It also affirmed for me that we hadn’t just been living in a mental institute for the last year discussing the emotional state of a pair of jeans.

DC: Well, when I displayed them in my house, I had to get a new plaque to change the name from bowling trophy case to just trophy case, so I think that should give you a pretty good idea. I tried to just cross “bowling” out with a Sharpie first, but I’ll admit, it looked a little tacky.

Any plans to creating more in the series?

SSW: We don’t see the passions and melodrama of Gene and the gang ending any time soon. That was part of the fun of making a soap opera. It can go on forever. We’re already planning a crazy wedding/tornado/murder/spa getaway for our one-thousandth episode.

DC: And more episodes is just one avenue for the continued life of the series. We were actually just in the middle of finishing a series of eight limited-edition cast iron dioramas depicting every scene from the series, which was supposed to be the first confident step in our aforementioned monetization scheme, but I stupidly traded the merchandising rights away for a ride on the mechanical bull at this hip saloon-style bar the other night when I couldn’t find a quarter. So don’t expect to see those on your neighbourhood toy store shelves any time soon.

What’s next?

DC: I’m pretty beat and it’s getting close to 5:30 p.m. so I’ll probably just toss on an episode of Blue’s Clues, pop out my toenail shellacking kit, and hop into bed. But tomorrow I should get back to writing. I’ve got to finish those memoirs!

SSW: I’m working on an idea for a TV series where none of the pants talk. Crazy, right? Dan and I are continuing to write other projects together as well, and always looking for ways to get involved in the Vancouver film and television scene.

You can find all three episodes of All My Pants on YouTube.

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