For months, scriptwriter and director Annika deGroot toiled and troubled over her script about crime-solving witches. Initially, deGroot wanted to sell it to a production company, but after many helping hands from the greater Seattle area, deGroot and nearly twenty people transformed her script into something truly magical. Between building sets from scratch to designing their own products, Beall, Buch & Kandell Detecting Agency took on a collaborative life of its own.
Hi Annika and welcome to the Lonely Arts Club! What were your original plans for Beall, Buch & Kandell Detecting Agency, and what changed once you started working on it?
Although I had worked in filmmaking for several years before moving to Seattle, my skills were rusty. So I got a DSLR to get back up to speed on everything I’d forgotten. I wanted to start with a series of still shoots and worked up some fun ideas: a sushi mermaid, a late 1790’s era bal des victimes where the participants raised their glasses to the ghost of Marie Antoinette, a tiff between a petulant leading actress and her hot-headed director sitting in an outdoor café set in Rome in the early 60’s, that sort of thing.
The idea for Beall, Buch & Kandell was actually intended to be a still shoot of the cast members of a hit 60’s sitcom that never existed. It was to be a group shot of three stars of a sort of Bewitched spin-off. I’d shoot promotional shots of cast members dressed in their late 60’s gear chumming it up together for the camera. The more I thought about this project, the more it dawned on me that it could be fleshed out into a series of comedic cozy mystery episodes about a modern-day witchy detecting agency where they solve cases for the cops with their arcane knowledge.
When we first talked about this a long time ago, I recall you wanting to sell the script. When and why did that change to where you directed and acted in the film instead?
When I finished writing the pilot episode, I did think about selling it to a production company and letting my participation end there. But any other production company would try to capitalize on the current success of “witchy shows” like “The Order” or the Harry Potter series and mold Beall, Buch & Kandell into angsty college kids discovering their special powers. They’re not teenagers. They’re three middle-aged people who bumble through life, and even though they exist on the periphery of society, want to give back to their community in their own special way. They’re not particularly brilliant at what they do, but somehow or another, by hook or by crook, they get things done. Their cases aren’t major, over-the-top battles of good versus evil in the universe. Just odd cases the cops can’t – or, more likely, won’t devote time to solving.
This is a delightfully huge undertaking, to create a show from scratch. How did you find the right people to help you? When did the first person come into the picture, and how did it grow into many more?
There have been many friends who’ve offered help. The first to recognize there was something to this idea was my friend Marcus Wolland, who (unfortunately for me) moved off to New Zealand. Then local actress and writer Jenny Buehler came on board to help structure the pilot script. But when Matt Hartman, the Director of Photography for the show, read the script and started coming up with great ideas for how we should shoot the pilot, it started to come to fruition. We now have about 20 people working on the show.
How were you able to work together as a community to create something from start to finish? Does it take a lot of communication, or were there other “learning tools” involved?
Way back when I worked on feature films and commercials on the east coast, so I already knew how to do call sheets, production schedules, the types of things you need to have in place for filmmaking. But coordinating so many people often takes more communication than I’m comfortable with. I’ve had to learn to delegate things and trust people to do their jobs. MailChimp came in handy for weekly updates on where we were in pre-production, to introduce new people to the team as they came onboard and keep everyone inspired.
Did you have a favorite moment while creating this pilot? What was the most challenging?
Watching actors say the words I wrote is so rewarding. Sometimes you get these lines in your head that you think are so funny, but you’re not sure if anyone else is going to get them. It’s completely validating to have actors work with your words and not only make sense of them, but make them funnier than what’s on the page.
Also seeing shots edited together to become viable scenes was exhilarating and validating. A lot of that depends on the sensibilities and timing of the editor; in my case I’ve been exceedingly lucky.
Since we were all working for free, filming the trailer and proof of concept took longer than a normal production because we tried to accommodate everyone’s schedules. As we began editing bits of the trailer together we released them as snippets, little tasters of what we were trying to achieve. Partly to give the actors something for their reels, but also to prove to ourselves that what we were doing was going to work.
The most challenging part was trying to direct and act in the scenes we shot for the trailer; I wanted to take a back seat acting-wise, but doing so would have short-changed the character I was playing, who’s one-third of everything. There was one take where the camera was rolling, the sound man yelled “Speed”, and I sat there waiting with the other actors for someone to say “Action.” And waiting…until I realized that as the director, I’m the one who’s supposed to say it!
What makes the witchy characters like Beall, Buch and Kandell come alive?
I think the occult is great fodder for humor. In these polarized times, there’s a whole faction of religious Christians who will be completely offended by a metaphysical detecting agency, but there’s an even bigger audience out there for fantasy. The characters are for the most part non-mainstream misfits, whose experiences have shown them that when they screw things up, they just have to make good on their mistakes. Each of the main characters, Libby, Lucida, and Lapidus have specialties they bring to the table. Lucida is an herbalist, Lapidus an astrologer, and Libby delves into divination techniques to glean information for their cases.
What is next for the Beall, Buch & Kandell Detecting Agency?
We’re just finishing up the trailer and pitch video and will be raising funds for production and post-production, hopefully on Seed & Spark, a crowdfunding source for filmmakers. We’re setting up a Patreon page and getting our ducks in a row for attacking a bigger social media presence. We’re considering distribution on streaming video on demand (SVOD) services. And even though we like to work with a small, dedicated production crew, we’re looking for a few more people with prior filmmaking experience, like a producer with a good track record.
Want updates for Beall, Buch & Kandell Detecting Agency? Want to support their magical efforts? Here are their Facebook and Instagram.
Annika deGroot began working in community theatre in her early teens, both onstage and behind the scenes, then switched from theatre to filmmaking. After spending 15 years in the Art departments of many feature films, doing costumes, props, or set decoration she turned to editing commercials where her post-production team won several local Emmy, Addy, and Telly awards for commercials and films they produced.