What? You haven’t heard of Total Party Kill yet? Don’t be too worried. This series is a brand new one that actually doesn’t air until the 17th (this coming Tuesday), so you have a prepare yourself to find out the answer to the age old question “What’s it like to fall in love during an apocalypse?” We had a chance to talk with the creator and some of the cast of TPK and so we bring you ten questions with Total Party Kill.
A Little Background
The series is the brain-child of Alyssa Appleton, who loves role-playing games (RPGs), sci-fi/fantasy, and dogs over cats. She wanted to make a series about gamers where they weren’t the butt of jokes, where curvy girls are heroes, and where they don’t hit all those god-awful tropes. She wears three hats (creator, executive producer, and lead – she plays Kat), and reached out to us about her wonderful show.
Of course we jumped on the chance to share the love, sneak a peek at the show, and try to get her, fellow EP Aaron Hammersley, associate producer (and cast member) Jennifer Karraz, to spill the beans on all their secrets. Along with cast members Alyssa Ariel Perez, Sascha Vanderslik, Kylie Marie Colucci, Chris McGahan and Quinn Knox, we’ve got the most chaotically fun q&a yet.
A total party kill (aka TPK) is a game where everyone dies. Usually this happens when the person running the game (aka your Dungeon Master, Game Master, or Director) decides that a reset is in order. TPKs happen to everyone. We love them, we hate them, but it’s all part of the fun when you pretend to be a half-elf rogue or a halfling monk, rolling dice and making up stories with your friends. I’ve been a long time gamer geek, so this kind of show is basically written for me. When Alyssa told me it was about a snarky and curvy girl who is into girls, I wondered why I hadn’t found a show like this before.
The answer is obvious. No one had made it yet. But in this era of Critical Role being must-see-tv for gamers and non-gamers alike, the world is, I think, finally ready to see some d&d heroes save the world without being the punch line.
1. Where did you get the idea of having a streaming game be the window into the apocalypse?
Alyssa A: A little background, I play streaming RPGs with a channel called Saving Throw Show. There’s something incredibly intimate and special about gaming that way because an audience watches the action unfold in real time. Saving Throw is a completely independent channel with no sponsors – meaning it runs entirely off donations. And when people donate, they have the ability to give players dice re-rolls, or create situations or NPCs (non-playable characters the DM controls) which affect gameplay, giving them the ability to not only watch, but be part of the game.
I’d been wanting to write a web series about a group of gamers for some time but was having a hard time finding the exact story I wanted to tell or the format I wanted to use. Then, upon working intimately with a gaming livestream mixed with seeing other series that used a vlog-style format, I got the idea to use the POV of the stream to give it that intimate feel I described before. And, of course, because I’m such a sci-fi/fantasy nerd, the premise of having an apocalypse descend during the streaming of a game one night just seemed like too much meta fun to pass up, and the whole thing came together from there.
2. YouTubeSpace’s Creative & Diversity Programming compared your show to “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” and “Carmilla.” What other shows (or non-show) influenced your storytelling style?
Alyssa A: First off, I want to say I was so humbled that Jess over at YouTube compared us to those two ground-breaking series. Buffy was the main reason I wanted to become a writer and actor when I was younger, and I’m a big fan of Carmilla and what that cast and crew were able to do with that story. I’ve heard comparisons to Carmilla quite a bit with this series, after all they share a fixed-camera format, both deal with supernatural occurrences, and both have some kick-butt queer heroes (or, as I call them, queeroes)… and it never fails to touch me when people say my work reminds them of something I enjoy.
I’ve definitely been influenced by many shows and artists – not least of all being the cast and crew of TPK. They are passionate, focused, talented, and some of the most open-hearted artists I’ve ever worked with.
The reboot of Battlestar Galactica showed me the importance of having flawed characters who can still be loveable, Orphan Black built this strong, individual cast of personalities whose stories were intricately interwoven masterfully, Wynonna Earp offers me a look into a complex lead character that’s angry and independent and aloof while also caring deeply for the people around her.
People like Christin Baker and Bridget McManus of Tello Films or Amanda Holland of GirlShipTV – kickbutt filmmakers focused on positive representation – excite me. Mindy Nettifee, one of my favorite modern poets, also gets my mind and heart going. She published a book on writing called Glitter in the Blood: A Poet’s Manifesto for Better, Braver Writing and I urge any artist in any medium to crack it open and give it a read. It’s influenced the way I structure story, how I build characters, it’s given me creative problem-solving strategies, and, my favorite, reminds me that the places that are the scariest to go are the ones I should dive into headfirst.
I’m a firm believer that, as artists, we have the great privilege of the works and paths of artists that have come before. It’s important to remember many of them paved a way for us. Phew, sorry, that was a ramble-fest. I get excited about stuff that inspires me.
3. Most audiences are familiar with gamers via shows like “The Big Bang Theory” and “Scorpion,” where they’re the butt of the joke or something to mock. How is this different?
Alyssa A: I desperately wanted to tell a story about gamers where they were nerds, and cool[ish…], and the heroes. We’re starting to see these characters emerge as the nerd is becoming more mainstream, and I wanted TPK to be part of that shift. Just as I wrote to tell a story with queer characters that wasn’t a coming out story or wanted to have a character in Kat that was a little curvier but didn’t spend the entire show cracking jokes about her body, I aimed to move beyond the trope of the “awkward nerd” and have three-dimensional characters that weren’t defined solely by their nerdiness.
Chris: I mean, lots of shows have gamer episodes- Community, the new Voltron, Freaks and Geeks…. I think we are moving past the idea of nerd stuff/jock stuff into this weird amalgam of fandoms. Even comic conventions have baseball card booths. Modern politics have really diminished the idea of a “fringe” and normalized everything. Think of this kind of like that, but with systemic racism, and we’re only murdering demons, not trying to ruin the lives of our fellow countrymen.
Aaron: One of the big reasons I came on to this show is the matter-of-fact or normal approach to the characters. Many times, even in the best portrayals of gamers there is a lack of honesty or realness. Most of the time we get characters that feel like middle America’s perceptions of gamers (stereotypes) instead of real people. TPK really focuses on their relationships to each other during great struggle, and how messy those relationships can be. People are never likely to suddenly treat each other differently in an apocalypse, and more likely, it will heighten all their feelings toward one another. For example, Stef thinks Kat wouldn’t let her go in search of Lacie because she doesn’t want to deal with her. This is a perfect illustration of the baggage of their friendship – baggage that won’t go away when the world is ending.
Sascha: One of the great things about Total Party Kill is that gaming is just a normal part of the characters lifestyles and identity. It’s never pointed out or made obvious in a way that makes the audience think they are doing something wrong or different. It’s just normal. It’s so refreshing to be part of something that lifts nerds/geeks up and makes them the heroes. They don’t get teased for what they like or who they are and instead get to save the day.
4. I know you were concerned with the possibility of alienating non-gamers. Certainly gamers have a lot of lingo we love to use that befuddles our friends and family. What were some of the difficulties you faced with that?
Alyssa A: While writing, I was constantly retreating back to a time where I was new to gaming and thought about what confused me and built from there. The backdrop of TPK is certainly the livestream and the game, but it’s just that, a backdrop. The main focus is this ensemble and their relationships to each other and the apocalypse. They’re fighting demons, fighting each other, making up, and making out. They do, however, sometimes game to figure out scenarios, and that was incredibly fun to write.
Kyle: I’m gunna say something sac-relig, so hold your buns for a second. I had never even seen a D&D board until I got on set! GASP. But luckily, my character [Lacie] doesn’t play, so I didn’t have to know much about it! She leaves that nerdery to the love of her life [Stef]. I will say though that non-gamers will not feel isolated in this gaming world. The relationships that our wonderfully talented writer Alyssa created for us will speak to audiences of all interests and backgrounds. These characters are funny, flawed, and fabulously human – so there’s really something for everyone to connect to.
Quinn: As a non-gamer who ironically has played gamers several times (my first main role in a feature was playing an angsty WOW gamer) I think TPK appeals to gamers and non-gamers alike. While the series’ premise is centered around D&D, the core of the story revolves above all around a core group of characters who share unique bonds within a friend group dynamic dealing with an unprecedented apocalypse. At heart it’s a story about friends dealing with a peculiar and intriguing crisis that turns everyone’s world upside down. I think incorporating gamer terminology and references to make the scenes authentic was important but also fleshing out the circumstances of the plot and character interrelationships was essential to getting the audience invested and captivated. I think because of queer component to TPK it creates a lot of interesting and unconventional relationships in a friend group that you might not normally encounter in a heteronormative network.
Aaron: While there is a lot of lingo and some inside gamer jokes, TPK was written to explore human nature. All our characters have the same emotions as everyone else and this show is driven by those dynamics.
5. Other web-series, like “All For One” and “Carmilla,” make liberal use of meta commentary to help push the storyline, but also connect with the audiences. A show like “TPK” is perfect fodder for that kind of interaction. Did you think about having a voice-over or on-screen commentary to build that sort of rapport?
Alyssa A: We utilize the chatroom within D4TNIGHT (this is the name of the group’s gaming channel), and have characters interact directly with chat – there are even characters within the chat that end up providing the group with books and information to help them in their fight to save the world. I wanted to keep the intimacy of the livestream, the channel, and the chat throughout the whole season.
6. Dungeon Masters (myself included) are well known for having plans within plans for that inevitable moment when the players do something unexpected. What was the favourite moment you had planned for “TPK” that didn’t make it to screen?
Alyssa A: Ah yes, that inevitable moment that happens multiple times every session, at least in my experience.
I think the following story is less about a moment that didn’t make it to screen and more about something unexpected happening and having to go along with it… As of now, we have only the first four episodes shot and ready for release – we start a crowdfunding campaign on August 1st in order to raise the rest of the money we need to shoot the rest of the season. There weren’t many moments in those first four that didn’t make it into the final cut, we stuck pretty closely to the script in production and post.
For those episodes, we shot with an incredibly small crew, all of us wearing multiple hats, and only had a single day of shooting. In a tech fluke, we ended up losing much of the footage from our fourth episode. We were able to recover enough from the takes we liked to make that episode work in post, but with a single camera angle, there’s nowhere to hide a cut. The team brainstormed and came up with the idea of utilizing digital glitches – which I was wary of at first but quite like now – to hide a cut in the fourth episode. Then we added glitches into the first three episodes and fully integrated them into the story. Indie filmmaking: sometimes you have to find creative ways to solve problems, and sometimes those solutions end up making something better than it would have been had you not run into the problem!
7. Characters in a game always have a secret background to bring out at the last second and upend the story (hopefully with DM approval …). What little known skill would actually help you survive a REAL zombie apocalypse?
Alyssa A: Hmmm… I’m pretty good with weapons. Not guns or anything like that, but staves, and swords and, as a fan of kickboxing and yoga, also my body. Knowing my neurotic self, I’d probably run for as long as I could before I had to resort to wielding machetes, because even though I can use all these things I’m not really a fan of violence, but it’s nice to know that I could, I guess?
Aaron: For me, flight. Both, to be able to put distance between me and baddies, and also freedom during a quarantine.
Sascha: I am amazing at solving puzzles. I feel like I would end up being the strategist and the person keeping everyone alive. I would come up with great ways to avoid/kill the zombies, and knowing me I would somehow figure out the cure or something, haha.
8. In the pilot, the characters are playing against a Beholder. If the apocalypse HADN’T happened, how would they have played and would they have won without a TPK?
Alyssa A: Oh, the Beholder. So many Beholder jokes on set. And Jamie loves Beholders. She probably would have insisted we try and befriend it to make it part of the party. We actually improv’d a bunch of takes where we played beyond what was scripted (which was fun because some of my actors didn’t know how so we had to do a five-minute crash tutorial) and I’m pretty sure I legit crit failed about 3 times out of the 5 or 6 takes we did. We were also fighting a giant and I kept trying to either slice his popliteal vein or climb up his leg, onto his back, and stab him in the eyes from behind. Once I succeeded on my Dex throw to climb up him but then failed so spectacularly in stabbing him that Chris (who plays the DM Chase) had me fall off him, into a pile of poop, and get pinkeye. Anyway, I digress. We don’t have a druid or sorcerer or warlock in the party (though there is a paladin), so trying to find a way to out-magic the Beholder’s magic probably wouldn’t happen. We’d likely have to somehow distract it long enough for our barbarian to get in close and… hope?
I like to think that Chase as a DM has what some DMs have, which is the tendency to be particularly sadistic when he’s describing a fight or what he’s going to do while sometimes doing all he can to prevent a total party kill. We all know those DMs. And we love them. Many hugs to all my DMs that do this.
Chris: They would not have survived. Not a chance. Chase built this one for a wipe- it was time to cleanse the board, let everyone reroll and let anyone who MANAGED to survive, retire and become an NPC for the next one.
Alyssa A: I was wrong. So wrong.
Aaron: TPK for sure. Our characters need the apocalypse to learn how to work together, without it, I’m afraid the group would perish against such a formidable foe.
9. If you had to give each character a traditional D&D alignment, what would they be?
Alyssa A: I’m so glad you asked this question, because I included alignments on our breakdown on Actors Access – that’s how big of a nerd I am.
- KAT – Chaotic neutral. Plays a rogue in game.
- DESIREE – Lawful neutral, on a journey to neutral good. Isn’t a part of the game but when she does end up jumping in, she creates a fighter.
- JAMIE – Neutral good. Plays a ranger.
- BRANDON – Chaotic good. Plays a barbarian.
- STEF– Lawful good, on a journey to neutral good. Plays a paladin.
- LACIE – Lawful good. Doesn’t really play.
- CHASE – Neutral, on a journey to neutral good. The DM.
- AYALA – Neutral evil; though, in her mind, she’s chaotic good.
10. Final question! What are your IRL player classes? And full disclosure, I’ve been called a rogue for my technical debugging skills, but personally I identify as a bard.
Alyssa A: I love this. I would 100% want to be some kind of sneaky badass rogue (huh, wonder why I made Kat play a rogue), but I’m way too neurotic to be that cool. Depending on the day, I’m probably a mama bear paladin or the ranger that’s in the forest talking to the animals. …I can’t really talk to animals. Much to my dismay.
Chris: Probably a goddamn Bard. most of my skill points are in charisma, intelligence and wisdom. I love playing Bladesingers- wizards with swords as foci are the BOMB. But, I’m sure that if the dice rolled me into an IRL campaign world, I’d have a lute, and I’d be singing spells.
Aaron: I’ll never tell!
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