Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Mystery Solved: An Interview with Jess Archer Versus Creator Amy Taylor [Contributor: Chelsea Eichholz]

Summer is upon us, and that means limited television choices and blockbuster films. A better way to fill up your entertainment season is to check out the new web series Jess Archer Versus, a comedy mystery brought to you from the mind of Amy Taylor. From the moment you hit play, the series feels like an homage to the great Veronica Mars with the quirky film stylings of a Spaced-era Edgar Wright. The series follows Jess as she tries to prove her classmate’s innocence after the school security officer and Jess’ nemesis accuse him of selling test answers.

Having watched the first three episodes, I can say the series has many fun twists and turns, and a great performance by Emily Williams, who portrays the titular Jess Archer. The multi-talented Taylor wrote, directed, and edited the series, and shared with us what the story behind its inception and what fans have to look forward to this season.

So tell us a little bit about the series.

Amy Taylor: Jess Archer started out as a short for my thesis at film school (Ohio University) that follows Jess as she helps her best friend, Chase, recover his stolen comic book. In the series, Jess must discover who has framed Troy, the school's star lacrosse player, for cheating

The show is very much inspired by Veronica Mars and hilarious filmmakers like Edgar Wright. How did you conceive this story that blends these two wonderfully different tones?

Amy: When I was writing the initial short film, I knew that I wanted to do something that would combine some of my favorite things. I love detective stories — Sherlock Holmes, Nancy Drew, Veronica Mars of course — and I love the style and sense of humor of Edgar Wright. So I started watching Spaced, Edgar Wright's TV show with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, as I was writing. And whenever I would get stuck, I would just think, "What would Edgar Wright do here to make this funny?" Scott Pilgrim came out just before we started shooting the short, and I had a screening for the crew so that we'd all be on the same page with that style and sensibility.

For the Veronica Mars side of the equation, I knew that I wanted to portray an interesting female protagonist, like Veronica Mars, to be at the center of these sort of outlandish shenanigans. So I took a lot of cues from that — like the fact that Veronica is very prickly and doesn't necessarily feel obligated to be a nice person. I wanted Jess to also have that quality because I'm very interested in the way that society tries to socialize girls to always be polite. It's something I know that I do myself — like always apologizing, or feeling obligated to smile and not ruffle any feathers — so I wanted to create a character that didn't feel that, and was just very unapologetically herself. And "herself" happens to include being a very big geek. So, to bring it back around to Edgar Wright, Jess and Chase live their lives very much through a pop culture lens, and we can make references and go inside the characters' heads a little bit, like they did on Spaced.

How did the show evolve from the original short film and what inspired you to take it from that short to the web series?

Amy: The short film got into the Dragon Con International Short Film Festival, and after the screening, a few people came up to me and were wondering if there would be more with these characters. One person mentioned that they would watch this as a webseries. So I thought, "hey, taking advice from random strangers never ends poorly!" But that idea percolated around in my head for a few years, and I really loved the characters as well as the actors, and so finally took the plunge and we did a Kickstarter.

How many episodes do you have planned for this season, and what kind of adventures do you have in store for Jess?

Amy Taylor: There are eleven episodes this season, and there's one mystery spanning all eleven episodes. Jess has to deal with not only trying to clear Troy's name, but her arch nemesis — the school security officer — wants her off the case. And so she has to figure out a way around him as well. We also have fun with little homages to other films and genres. There's a Godfather homage, an 80s montage, etc. We're constantly pulling in little things like that.

Our motto here at Just About Write is #LadiesSupportingLadies and Jess obviously fits into this. What webseries/films/TV shows inspire you personally as a writer/editor/director?

Amy Taylor: Felicia Day is someone I certainly look to for inspiration. She created The Guild, which really jump-started the whole web series thing. And she's created this sort of online empire with Geek and Sundry and just putting out great content for us geeks.

Parks and Recreation is a TV show that certainly inspires me. I really love how there are so many different, interesting roles for women on that show where they're not just relegated to being "the girlfriend." And Amy Poehler is just inspiring as a person with her Smart Girls initiative. If I had a daughter, I'd probably insist she watch Parks and Rec and The X-Files, because Dana Scully and Leslie Knope are kinda great role models.

What's your goal for the series?

Amy Taylor: I would love to do another season at least! I've got a ton of Jess Archer stories swimming around in my head, so the opportunity to explore this world and characters more would be amazing. And I'd love to do longer episodes for the hypothetical next season, so we can really get into the characters and play around with the structure. Geek and Sundry, call me!

New episodes of Jess Archer Versus drop every Monday on YouTube. You can find Amy Taylor on Twitter as @WalknCandyApple. And follow the series on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook for new episodes and cool behind-the-scenes features!


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