By Ed Sum
(The Vintage Tempest)
A Filthy Lot Entertainment is a relatively new North Vancouver based company who encourages content creators to just do it. A Filthy Questline is one of their three channels (the others are the main, an anything goes, and comedy channel) where talents can show off their love for pop culture. Whether that’d be with comic book movies, board games, video games or role-playing, there’s a lot more to this company than meets the eye.
Christopher Livingston is the CEO and Trevor Gemma is the CCO of this company. Before creating this company, they both had careers in the local film/television scene. The former was a lighting technician but he wanted to produce. Part of his credits include The Killing, Electra Woman and Dyna Girl and Pirates of the Caribbean 5. The latter was an actor with the desire to craft his own productions. From a local cult hit Gutterballs to The Little Mermaid, a horror film, to Riese the Series (web) his success was as varied as the wind that guides him. The two met during production of Riese.
“It was a magical little web series everyone became friends on, which doesn’t happen very often in the film. I’ve made a lot of long-term friends there, including Chris, Nadav, and Mischa, who were with us when we started the company,” said Gemma.
Some of that crew became AFL’s founding members, and more people were brought in because they all had a love for Dungeons and Dragons. They include chefs, comedians and high school teachers who wanted a creative outlet. Others shifted disciplines and found what they learned can still be applied in creative ways. Coming from Alberta, Matt Baker was a microbiologist turned film editor/writer. Other members, like Trevor Adams, came from long-running television/film series like Battlestar Galactica, who wanted to just expand their craft. They have no regrets letting go of that hustle and bustle life for something that lets them explore ideas that truly inspire them.
“We’ve heard ideas that might be better than what’s being shot. If you’re not above this line on the pay grade, then the attitude was do your job. We created this company on the belief that good ideas can come from anywhere,” said Livingston.
The origins of AFL came from when Chris realized he was in over his head correcting a story concept for the BBC. “I needed help,” recalled this writer. He phoned his friends and said, “I got to pump out eight scripts in 10 days and let’s see if we can pull it off.”
They holed up in Nadav’s apartment. By day six, Trevor had his day job to get to; what he saw on his return and exclaimed became a lightbulb moment for Livingston. “He said, ‘Jesus, you writers really are a filthy lot!‘ I looked up from the floor and muttered, ‘That’s who we are from this day forward.'”
Chris enjoys watching YouTube videos. Some were video blogs and others were assorted short film projects. He knew he could do that, too. By Christmas time of 2018, he called Trevor up and said, “I got a crazy idea. Every other person I pitched to agreed. That was when AFL was born. My ex-wife, Holly Breton, is wonderful and supportive. She’s been a great part of allowing us to exist (as an investor). She supported our idea of just trying something crazy.”
“There’s unlearning that has to happen in order for creativity to be fostered,” said Beverly Rapley, one of the many talents working here, hostess of Beyond Brewing, a how to make beer show on AFL. She was a teacher after a bad bicycle accident changed her life.
She added, “We have an incredible web of support when you have an idea that you’re unsure about, but always wanted to try.”
Alain Williams, comedian from Victoria, BC and lover of all things kung-fu said, “The ethos [behind our company] is to gather creative people and just do it. To get those gears going helps,” His latest work, Blacula: The Musical One-Man Show is a result of that.
“I also write and co-produce Monster Talks, an animated show that looks at the classic D&D monsters and where they came from,” said Williams.
This studio also produces, One Shot or Not, a live tabletop gameplay that streams on Twitch every other Tuesday. Unlike simpler shows that’s out there, the prep involved is tremendous. This program adds sound effects, uses a studio lighting system, and spends time developing dioramas for every episode to close up on. Sometimes, a new role playing game, like Dune, is played.
“[We believe] our audience will watch Ready to Roll because [the former] is the highest version of that we have–which is amazing tabletop gaming with really cool dioramas and miniatures we make ourselves in house. The sound design is very important in all our shows,” noted Livingston.
The decision to spread the content this company offers to different channels wasn’t tough. Part of it has to do with how YouTube sorts the videos. The chiefs know everyone is very enthusiastic about some aspect of pop culture. They even have their own talk show, “A Filthy Talk” which streams on Twitch every Thursday at 5:30 PST and gets posted on YouTube the following Monday.
Early on, AFL’s chiefs knew that Dungeons and Dragons would be their focus. “Not only does this game help bring people together, but offers a bit of therapy,” said regular Dungeon Master Sam Cargnelli. He’s one of the hosts/Game Master of One Shot or Not. When he’s not handling a spatula (he’s a chef), he gets to sling a sword and throw spells around.
This company’s flagship product is Ready to Roll, a web series where their in-house group of gamers are dealing with threats to the world of Altera. Portals (wormholes) exist to help people jump around the planet, but just who can use them are controlled by internal politics and other issues in the countries where they exist; They also allow transportation to alternate dimensions. Even steampunk technology can invade this world of high fantasy and throw everything out of whack.
Roz Young and Matt Baker are a couple who’ve created a unique (techno) fantasy world and their story bible is thick. They spent eight years developing and fine-tuning their work. Going from drawing maps to defining cultural boundaries and crafting weather patterns isn’t enough for them. One of their challenges as co-dungeon masters is that they know a lot more ongoing situations than the players do since this story being written here is ongoing and organic.
These games exist on A Filthy Questline’s channel and the two acknowledge it’s part of a living campaign. The duo wants their players to explore. “You’re going to let it grow with your players,” said Young. “DMing; you have way more knowledge in your head than anybody at that table needs or wants. I save it for the improvised moments where the world opens up.”
These creators (pictured left) would love to publish a source book so others can play in their world too. Or, they can read about it–which is what Trevor and Chris want to delve into next in 2022. They’re open to fan fiction and comic books. For now, “We’re introducing more of our world in our Shadows & Blood campaign (available on YouTube). There are a lot more Steampunk elements filtering in and you’ll see nations that’re more technologically advanced.” said Young.
The difference between Ready to Roll and Shadows & Blood is in how the former will recreate parts of the adventure for real. “After reading the comments from those who watch Critical Role that say I always wanted to see that come to life, well, we’re going to do that,” revealed Livingston.
Interestingly, Gemma has a hard time watching Critical Role. He said, “I appreciate the show, and I appreciate what they’ve done for D&D. There’s no lack of appreciation. But the way it used to be filmed–which was a locked off camera–wasn’t for me. By making our shows only an hour-long and adding camera motion, we can make what you see more dynamic.” The rig they have built consists of five cameras and it floats around, so video editors can cut into close-ups and get reactions as danger floats into the game field!
Chris added, “We locked in only 15 minutes of recreation per episode because that was achievable. We hope that people will like it. And if they do, then we’ll go for a second season.”
The team is still hard at work finishing what they’ve recorded pre-pandemic. Now that some restrictions have eased, they can film additional material, do other edits and add in the special effects. This includes providing realistic looking monsters too, and they won’t be cheaply crafted in CGI either. The goal is to deliver these vignettes by the New Year.
Livingstone and Gemma know what they are getting themselves into. Natasha Wehn, this company’s Assistant Director, coordinates and manages all the productions that are produced by the AFL. She’s worked with Air Bud Entertainment in the past and is also a voice that says what goes forward or is put on hiatus. But she’s also wanting this company’s many products to succeed. She said, “We’re also doing a few community outreach programs (with our comedy channel) in the coming weeks.
“One of the long-term goals is to have a space in Vancouver where people can come in and create content. One idea we have is to help local Youtubers with the resources that we have available and another one would just be providing a positive, alternative, work culture; even more important is providing a space for artists to create that isn’t detrimental–a work-life balance by not working 12-hour days [which is a typical day in the tv/film industry -Ed]”
Gemma knows that this company is walking into this with their eyes wide open. “You hope for big success out of the gate–of course you do–but, I know it’s going to take five years,” he realistically said.
Livingston can only conclude, “Only time will tell if we made the right decision or not.”
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