A few months back, Geekscape fell in love with Mermates, a web series about a man who moves in with a mermaid. The group behind Mermates is the trio of writer Michael Jonathan Smith and actors Chris Yule and Alex Aschinger, otherwise known as Working Fish. After 6 episodes and a 2 part Christmas special, Working Fish has announced their follow up, Common Cult, a tale of turning 30 and summoning Old Gods. We spoke with Michael Jonathan Smith about cults, their current Kickstarter campaign, and getting to work with a budget.
Geekscape: Coming out of Mermates, was there a pretty strong focus on making sure the follow up project was super different?
MJS: Absolutely. We knew we wanted it to have a bigger cast and a completely different concept – something that would really show that we can do more than just come up with fish puns. But we still wanted it to tonally feel a little close to Mermates, mainly when it came to the mix of the mundane-meets-supernatural. But because I’m writing it, I think it would feel that way no matter what.
Geekscape: Tonally they could almost fit in the same universe. The Working Fishverse.
Geekscape: What was the inspiration behind making the next supernatural focus Lovecraft?
MJS: I’ve always been a fan of that kind of stuff, Lovecraft, Old Gods, all that jazz. I love the idea of secret societies that worship these horrible ancient things. The off-days of these people, where their cultish alter-egos leak into their normal daily lives, seemed funny to me. Similarly to the mermaid focus of “Mermates,” I thought we could mine a lot of comedy from it. Plus, I had a lot of fun coming up with all the Old Gods for it.
Geekscape: So where do we find Chris and Alex’s characters in the secret society?
MJS: So Chris and Alex are playing pretty different characters from their roles on “Mermates.” Alex plays “Leon” who is kind of the de-facto leader of the group. He’s the one that keeps everyone together, the one who recommended starting it in the first place, and the one trying to breathe new life into the stale club. He’s definitely more serious.
Chris Yule on the other hand, plays Donald, who is more of the group’s wild card.
The rest of the secret society (called “The Circle of Five, The Wheel in the Darkness”) is Casey (played by Anil Margsahayam), the first married man of the group, Rachel (played by Kim Kutner), who can totally hold her own amongst a group of guys, and Micha (Mike Funt), who’s the classic new guy of the group.
Geekscape: The great thing about Mermates was the tone and sense of humor- it’s very bright. Not that it’s wholesome- Mermates got very twisted at times, but it’s not cynical at all. It’ll be neat to see that applied to Old Gods and Cthulu.
MJS: Thanks, that’s one of the things I explained to everyone when we started working on “Common Cult”: there’s really no cynicism when it comes to this stuff, there’s very little “why are we doing this?” It doesn’t feel fun to me to have a bunch of people trying to explain why they’re doing this stuff. After awhile, it’s like we’re explaining our existence to our audience. I like Micha (the new guy) a lot because he’s thrust into this situation, but he’s the kinda guy that doesn’t have a lot of friends anyway, so he’s just happy to be included.
Geekscape: “We’re gonna do what exactly? Hey whatever, friendship!”
MJS: I try to write characters you really enjoy hanging out with, like you want to be part of the group.
Geekscape: If I’m gonna summon nightmarish tentacle demons, it’s gonna be with these guys.
MJS: Exactly! They’re very positive about it.
Geekscape: Mermates was done with no money, and looks fantastic. With a Kickstarter campaign behind Common Cult I’m really excited to see what you guys do with a budget.
MJS: Mermates was written with “what do we have at our fingertips” in mind. I’ve said this before; just the idea of an everted mermaid (human on the outside, fish on the inside) came from the question of “how do we have a mermaid without makeup?” So with a budget for Common Cult, it’s already been amazing – just being able to afford things like costumes and fake blood has been a godsend. It’s also really great because everyone is doing this for free, so we can afford things like buying meals for them, which can get expensive! It’s going towards things we didn’t even think about on Mermates, like film festival submission fees. It’s nice to know we can focus on making something great, instead of questioning if we can afford it.
Geekscape: And you guys hit your Kickstarter goal in a day.
MJS: Yes! That was a complete surprise. We have some incredibly generous family, friends and fans.
Geekscape: So now there’s 15 days or so left, what happens now that you’ve got a budget surplus?
MJS: It’s all going back into the project. We’ll be able to apply to more film festivals, advertising, upgrading some of our equipment (we just bought a really amazing tripod that we would’ve have been able to afford otherwise), and then put more money into the Kickstarter rewards. We added a bunch of stretch goals, like donators receiving t-shirts, doing a set of six prequel mini-sodes, and even forcing Alex and Chris to wear their robes for an entire day. We just met that one, actually.
Geekscape: You’ve got to be pretty excited.
MJS: We had our first table read with the cast, and that was pretty amazing. We went through all six episodes, and hearing these guys all working together, they have a lot of chemistry.
Geekscape: After the table read, are there any fun surprises or things that you maybe weren’t excited about before but now you’re like ‘I can’t WAIT until people see THIS’
MJS: I’m extremely excited to have people see these episodes. We are really stretching ourselves to top Mermates and the Christmas Special. There are some really great scenes with this cast, and they’re all so talented and hilarious. I’m just excited at the prospect to do something more on-going – Mermates was always designed to be six episodes, but this we want to continue past one season.
Geekscape: Of course, there is still cool stuff happening with Mermates. You guys are nominated as an LAWeekly Best Of, for one thing.
MJS: Yes! That’s extremely exciting, we’re up against some pretty big popular shows. It’s nice for everyone involved to get some recognition for a job well done. It’s a juried award, but for best webseries they want the internet to help vote.
Geekscape: Hopefully it’s either you guys or Between Two Ferns. Zach could really use the press
MJS: Absolutely. Some of the guests on that show are crazy-underground. Like Natalie Portman?
Geekscape: Who’s that?
MJS: I HAVE NO IDEA.
Geekscape: When can people look for the first episode of Common Cult?