Interview with Bri Castellini Writer/Director/Actress of the “Brains” Web Series

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In September 2015, Undead Burrito Productions released the first ten episode season of its original web series Brains. The series follows college neuropsychology student Alison Sumner as she navigates the dating world post­zombie apocalypse. Season 2 kicked off a few weeks ago and we got a second chance to talk with writer/director/actress Bri Castellini about all things “Brains”…

-PH: The first question has to be after all the hard work, how relieved were you after the first episode of season 2?

-Bri: I was so, so relieved. I wrote the script last October, so this has been in the works for almost a year. I was also really excited since this year we have a couple new hands on deck, particularly our DP Brandon Smalls, who brought along a steady hand and a way nicer camera. This meant that the show, just on a visual level, has hugely improved, but we only got to show that off after the premiere. Also, the handful of fans who we have who also leave comments seemed happy with the direction the new season was going. And they liked our new Carl, the excellent and hilarious Colin Hinckley, which was also a relief, since Carl is a pretty major character.

-PH: In our first interview, you talked about how you handled all of your roles in the production. Has it been any easier the second time around?

-Bri: It has definitely been easier the second time around, specifically, again, because of our new DP. I no longer had to be responsible for holding the camera while acting, which was a huge burden lifted. And our director no longer had to watch and set frame while also directing, so that freed him up to work with actors more. I did still have to run sound, which was a nightmare, and we also have way more social media this season so I was balancing that as well, but overall, and this might surprise you, having more experience and more people made the whole process run much smoother! Who woulda thought?

-PH: Season 2 opens where you left off, Alison running for her life. It’s quick but there’s a shoot of Professor Sherman down the hall from Alison. It’s a fabulous shoot, and probably the creepiest one is the series so far. How did that shoot come together?

-Bri: Oh man, my DP and my director will be so happy to hear that, because that was one of their favorite shots as well. So scary. That came together during a day of location scouting. We knew for continuity that we were filming in that building, but we weren’t sure which floor we wanted until we saw that massive window and the cool silhouette effect. Then it was just a matter of getting the timing right- our director would open the door from the stairwell then race behind our DP calling out when to move to the next doors, and then right before he got to the door Greta was waiting behind, I would pop out from another room to give Greta someone to make eye contact with while we yelled lines at each other, then our director would signal Sherman to get in position and we’d whip to her and I swear, it was scary every time. That was also Kmur’s (Sherman’s) last day on set, so it was a fun final scene to end on.

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-PH: Alison got several surprises at the end of season 1, but the audience got one in her bed in the season premiere. Alison finally got what she wanted from the beginning, but actually isn’t all that excited anymore. Why go that way with her character instead of embracing Damion?

-Bri: There are a couple of reasons why embracing Damian never seemed right to me. First of all, Alison says in the pilot that she wants kids (for herself as well as for the repopulating of humanity), which an undead Damian cannot provide for her. Alison is very specific about her goals and five year plans and Damian, with all these revelations, does not fit. Plus, I think it’s more interesting to watch what Alison takes away from her whole seduction trap, especially because it’s the wrong thing. In her mind, her only mistake was crushing on him before determining how alive he was, but the reality is much more complicated. Despite all this, she obviously cares for Damian a lot, and he obviously cares for her, so watching them both struggle with that and figure out how or if it’s going to work is a more compelling story, in my opinion.

-PH: Speaking of Damion, now he’s the one who seems more into wanting a relationship. Is it weird for both Marshall and you to have this role reversal after everything last season?

-Bri: I can’t speak for Marshall, but for me, not really. Alison was pretty relentless in season 1, forcing Damian out of his shell bit by bit, culminating in their date during the finale. In spite of everything, Alison has gotten under his skin and he finds himself compelled by this crazy girl in the red lipstick, someone he might have previously written off as a liability to the safety of campus. For the first time in a while, someone is asking Damian about stuff other than his job, and I think he didn’t realize how lonely he was until Alison inquired about his hobbies and his classes and his “deal.” I guess what I’m saying is that it seemed to be a pretty natural transition for both characters, and I definitely had a lot of fun this season playing the less nice version of conniving Alison. She is absolutely ruthless in her quest for an apartment with at least two children and a pit bull named Hamish, and that is definitely going to be addressed later this season.

-PH: This season you added minisodes. For those who haven’t seen them yet, let them know what they are about.

-Bri: The minisodes actually weren’t originally planned. After I’d written the main 10 episodes, my director noted that he was disappointed we didn’t get to see Alison and Carl move. It didn’t fit into the main arc, but it was too bad we didn’t get to see it. And so I wrote ten accompanying “mini episodes” that expand the world of the show without adding too much time to production or to the season’s run time. It ended up being a really cool exercise because we’re getting to see almost a behind the scenes look within the world. Plus, there was precedent for Alison to upload things like this because plenty of YouTubers, especially vloggers, will occasionally upload stand-alone short videos because there isn’t enough material for a whole production but you still want to share the content. So far, we’ve watched Alison and Carl move, we’ve learned that Carl hasn’t returned to the kitchen since his imprisonment, and we’ve watched Alison officially make the decision to start her hunt for a new “man steak,” which we wouldn’t have gotten otherwise. Plus, it means we get to upload two videos a week, and the fans seem to appreciate that.

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-PH: Take us behind the scenes. What’s it like on a day’s shoot?

-Bri: Depends on the day. If it’s an interior day, in the dorms or classrooms, we’ll start a bit later in the day because we have more control over the light and the look. Andrew, the director, Brandon, the DP, Michele, our other executive producer, and I will show up about an hour before the rest of the cast to set up the equipment and the look and the craft services. Then I’ll do my hair and makeup and wait until the other cast shows up, at which point we shoot until we finish our planned scenes. We schedule our days based on location and cast availability, so that means we’ll try to shoot all the scenes taking place in the lab on the same day or two, or all the scenes with Marshall/Damian in five days so he can go be in the Scranton Shakespeare festival. Then we send the cast home and the original crew will pack up and grab something to eat and talk about the day- we go over what went well, what didn’t, and what we can change for the next shoot to make it go smoother. This was a new thing we started doing this season, and I think it made a huge difference, because it gave everyone the opportunity to air grievances before they became actual problems and to workshop the best way to coordinate complicated things. Then I take all the footage home and organize it before going to bed and waking up to do it all over again.

-PH: Besides all the hard work, it seems like you guys are having fun time in some of the pics and extra videos. Can you share a funny behind the scenes moment?

-Bri: We definitely are having a fun time- it’s such a small production that we’re essentially just hanging out while also sometimes saying lines or fake punching each other. It’s hard to pick a single funny behind the scenes moment, because there are so many- you’ll see when we release the blooper reel. For one, it was always a delight when Rebecca McDonald, who plays Sophie and also ran wardrobe, would do the slate, because we didn’t have scene numbers or names so she’d just make them up. Some of my favorites were “maybe Damian has to poop, take 2” and “two daddies having a talk, take 4.” Also, the entire day we filmed episode 4, with the zombie training drills and students in the background, was just one funny thing after another. My boyfriend was actually on set that day because we needed extras, and we convinced him to flirt with both Marshall and Jean (Ben) in the background of different scenes, because we thought it would be funny for my actual boyfriend to pretend to flirt with my on-screen love interests. We didn’t tell Marshall or Jean this beforehand, but they played along like pros. Jean thought it was so funny he’s now a little bit in love with my boyfriend and it’s pretty cute.

-PH: Going back to the episodes, there’s a lot happening in episode 4. As Alison tired to get people to eat her cookies, we got a look a some characters we haven’t seen before. Are we going to see more of them coming up, and is there anything we should know about them?

-Bri: Yeah we definitely meet a lot of new dudes this episode, which was fun. Our fantastic DP Brandon even got to play a part- he’s the guy that likes steak. All the new guys are now part of the Brains canon so their names might come up and they might be seen in the background in the future, but you should definitely expect to see more from Ben in particular. You’ll get to see a lot more from him in episode 5, in fact! So that’ll be fun.

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-PH: While the taste test is going on, we get to see some zombie fighting in the background. How is that planned? While they are supposed to be fighting, it seemed like that might have been a lot of fun for the actors.

-Bri: I love these big group episodes. They’re a nightmare to plan but tons of fun once the day starts. Last season during the group episode (also episode 4, in fact! See what we did there?) we sort of accidentally started to have the background tell stories because we needed something for the extras to do, and this time we wanted to coordinate more up front to make continuity easier. The whole saga with the Christmas sweater zombie and Ben was planned, because we wanted Ben to be impressive even before he was officially introduced, but the rest of the chaos back there was coordinated largely by Chris Cherry, who plays Billy Jack, and improvisations from the rest of the cast. They had so much fun with it, though we did have to keep reminding them not to take out the fake gun we had for Sophie’s scene, since we were in a public park in the middle of the day and that is not safe or smart. We also had to make sure they weren’t actually hitting each other with the various fake weapons, but overall it was one of our best days on set and everyone walked away with smiles.

-PH: One of best things about season 1 was all the twist and turns. After episode 4, it looks like the audience is ready for another turn. What can the audience expect going forward?

-Bri: I don’t want to spoil too much, but we’ve got at least two more twists before this season is up. Going forward you can definitely expect to see Professor Sherman again, some bro tension between Damian and Ben, and both Greta and Carl getting some things off their chests. We’ve also got some of our coolest sets coming up- we go “off campus” for the first time, and we’ll get to see a more destroyed area of campus.

-PH: Finally, is it too early to ask if there will be a season 3?

-Bri: Definitely not too early, since I’ve actually already written season 3 AND season 4 and have plans for two more seasons after that to finish the story. That said, however, there’s only about a 5% chance that a season 3 will happen, let alone a season 4, 5, and 6. Web series are a lot of work and commitment and we just don’t have the resources for a third season, which is a real shame, because it’s awesome. Season 3 has a massive battle sequence as a finale and features a lot more shamblers and classic horror moments. And season 4 is a road trip, with shamblers and fight sequences along an apocalyptic landscape beyond campus. Of course, both of those things would be very expensive, but hey, I’m still holding out for getting crazy famous or attracting one really rich fan to help bankroll it. Any millionaires reading this? I would do all the work, you’d just have to sign the checks, promise!

Joking (or not) aside, I would love to keep making Brains, but I recognize my limits and am still floored that we managed to get two seasons at all. So for now I’m focusing on short films, one of which we just finished filming, and promoting the stuff we already have to build an audience. Perhaps I’ll release the scripts (I do intend to finish writing the show, even if we never film any more) as an eBook. Who knows! In the meantime, we have two small spinoffs planned- a short film set in LA and a mini series set in Wales, both in the Brains universe and both “inspired” by Alison, which will come out in December and January.

We would like to thank Bri Castellini for once again taking the time to answer our questions. Hopefully this gave you a good look at what’s happened in season 2, and what’s coming. If you haven’t been watching, please visit the link below to watch it, and get more information on the series.

http://brainswebseries.com

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Follow Bri on Twitter @BrisOwnWorld

Our first interview with Bri: http://promotehorror.com/2016/09/07/interview-with-bri-castellini/

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