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At some point in every comic book readers life, they have frequented a store that has quirky ambiance, fellow customers and/or employees. Chris Walker is a writer/director/producer who thought a comedy built around a comic book store would make for a great webseries. And from that initial concept the webseries Anti-Matter launched in late 2010. Filmed in New York’s Jim Hanley’s Universe, Anti-Matter features “hilarious hijinks that happen with the staff and idiosyncratic regulars of a NY comic book shop who treat the store more like a clubhouse than a place of business”.
Tim O’Shea: Can you give some insight into the character development and casting process for the series?
Chris Walker: Anti-Matter was created to be a humorous snapshot of hanging out at the comic store. I wanted to move past the conventional geek/nerd cliché and give a candid, witty look at this world. My goal was to show the broad spectrum of people one might encounter at their local comic shop.
Casting is always a challenge, especially at an indie level. Since the series is based in New York, a lot of talented actors came through for auditions. We had the fortune of casting from the same talent as pool shows like SNL and 30 Rock. Gratefully, we had one of the more unique challenges of production: “How do we fit all this talent on one show?”
O’Shea: How were you able to connect with the Upright Citizens Brigade?
Walker: I sent a Casting Notice over to John Frusciante at UCB who sent it out through the UCB mailing list. We also cast a few actors from other listings and a few casting sessions I had done for other productions. All in all, we got a great response.
O’Shea: What’s the biggest challenges to shooting in an actual retail location?
Walker: The biggest challenge is that it’s an “actual” store. We shot on location at Jim Hanley’s Universe in NYC while the store was open for business. Since it wasn’t a set, we had to be very careful in the store. I felt like a parent disciplining his kids.
“Don’t touch that. Ask him if it’s OK to use it. Don’t bother that person. Say please and thank you. Put that $500 Wolverine statue back where you fond it! Who’s gonna pay for it if you break it!?”
Overall, it was fun and challenging. I think the store being open adds to the performances because the cast is having these interactions as other people walk by, the same way anyone would if they were talking at the store.
O’Shea: With the script do you leave some opportunity for improv elements to the scenes?
Walker: Yes. I love imrpov, which is why we cast from UCB. I wanted them to bring their training and sensibilities to the show.
I usually let the cast improv at the end of a take, to create a button or ending to the natural progression of the scene. They also made suggestions during the table reads and in-store rehearsals so by the time we filmed, the cast knew where they had room to play.
O’Shea: Age and pop culture wise, what do you consider to be the target audience for the show?
Walker: More so than age, the series is for anyone who’s spent time in a comic store.
Whether you’ve just turned old enough to go to the store by yourself, spent your summer break hanging out out with the staff, or swung by the shop on your lunch break, if you like hanging out and talking comics you are the audience for the show.
The shop is also a backdrop for the age-old quest of figuring out what you’re going to do with yourself. In that way I think anyone who has been through that process or is currently going through it can enjoy the series.
O’Shea: Is the opening credits to the show a bit of an homage to the 1970s opening of some sitcoms?
Walker: Yes. I’m a big fan of the 70’s workplace comedies: Welcome Back Kotter, WKRP, Taxi, and The Bob Newhart Show. The list goes on and on. There was something classic about the characters and situations of these shows.
I wanted to bring that classic feel to the series and make it modern at the same time.
O’Shea: Did you beta test some of the early episodes with comic fans as well as comic and retail pros?
Walker: While I might say no, my friends (who are comic fans and pros) would beg to differ. I showed them everything: scripts, mood boards, logos, and more. So in that sense it was beta tested by comic fans.
O’Shea: With YouTube broadening its distribution (I recently got a new Tivo, allowing me to easily watch YouTube on my TV), do you think webseries have the potential to expand even further in appeal?
Walker: Webseries are the next frontier. I truly believe that. Will they replace TV? Probably not. What they are doing and will continue to do is provide an outlet for creators tell their stories.
The format is in its infancy. As more devices become “connected” and have video screens I think you will see the medium explode. Imagine watching a show on your printer menu screen while you’re collating copies. What would that show be about? Who knows?
O’Shea: Any parting thoughts?
Walker: I wanted to say a quick thanks to everyone who’s checked out the episodes thus far and I encourage your readers to take a minute or two to watch an episode. I hope it gives them a nice chuckle and reminds them of their own fun times at the comic store.