The New Adventures of Peter and Wendy is a webseries created by Kyle Walters (most recently known for his role in Welcome to Sanditon) and Shawn DeLoache. Loosely based on J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, it’s set in a fictional Neverland, Ohio in which Peter is a comics writer, Wendy an advice columnist, and Wendy’s brothers John and Michael a neurotic editor and ne’er-do-well slacker, respectively. New episodes air twice weekly on Wednesdays and Thursdays on Epic Robot TV. The charming series has been well-received and SoS had a chance to speak with writer and creator Shawn DeLoache and lead actress Paula Rhodes (who plays Wendy). Interview edited for length.
SoS: Shawn, you have a background in comic-book writing. How did you end up involved in this series?
Shawn: My first paid writing gig came from comic books – I write for a series called Medikidz, [in which] we use superheroes to explain medicine to children. We’ve been doing that for five years, started in London and came to America, we’ve sold over three million books. I recently sold a series to Darkhorse called LARP – it’s kind of like Glee but with LARPing (editor’s note: live-action role playing). That will be coming out in 2015.
When I came to LA from New York it’s because I got a job writing screenplays, and the thing about writing for TV or screen or anything like that is that it all takes so long…It’s a long development process and there’s a lot of bumps in the road, and then it might never happen. You get really close and then it disappears and it’s gone..
So when Kyle [Walters] came to me and said he wanted to do a web-series I was immediately interested. I’ve been watching web-series recently, I really like them, and what’s great about them is you can do them fast. I wrote that script in January and February, we shot in April and March and then it came out in May. That’s really fast.
SoS: Where did the inspiration for the show’s concept come from?
Shawn: Kyle had just done Welcome to Sanditon. He had such a great time doing that he immediately wanted to do something new, something different. It all comes from a fan – I don’t now exactly what fan, but a fan made a GIF of him with his head on Peter Pan’s body. That’s how the original idea came – he said “I think I want to do something with Peter Pan – what do you think?” and that immediately got my brain going a mile a minute.
We sat down and we started to develop a world for it. We read the source material; we studied what’s popular now and how to modernize it. I think the key when you’re taking something that is so beloved is to stay true to who the characters are. You can make them more adult, which we did, they’re older now, but you have to stay true to their essence or the fans won’t like it. We tried to stay close to who Peter is, who Wendy is. The story is putting them in a more modern-day context.
SoS: What was the writing process like?
Shawn: Kyle and I knew we wanted to do 24 episodes. What I usually do is work backwards – I usually know the last line or the last scene before I know anything else. So I knew the last line, the last word of this series, and what we did is we took that and worked backward, making sure that everything was leading up to that properly. Kyle and I came up with basic episode summaries, such as “in this episode Wendy will get a rejection letter, and she’ll feel this.”
And then it was all on me. Every time I finished a script, I would send it to Kyle, and Kyle would send back his notes and then we did a big group reading where we had a group of people come over and they would give notes. I would get up in the morning, drink some coffee, type for 13 hours, drink several Red Bulls in the evening, and then when I could hear my heart, I would know it was time to stop. There was a lot of caffeine and typing.
SoS: One thing that’s interesting about the series is that the characters are all in their mid to late twenties as opposed to early twenties, and are all a little bit lost – professionally or romantically or both – still finding their way in life. That seems very topical for the current millennial generation, and for twenty-and-thirty somethings in general. Was that a deliberate choice and were you drawing on your own or others’ experiences?
Shawn: Absolutely. What the characters and most of our cast – and especially me and Kyle at the time of writing – that’s what we’re going through. I’m 32 and I’m from the South so by southern standards I should be married and have kids and have a house. I need to have more babies – I don’t know where they are, but I need to have them [laughs].
Especially what Peter’s going through is very similar to what we go through in the arts in general. Peter’s a cartoonist and in the arts, unless you’re super successful and make a lot of money, people consider having a job as lazy and immature. I tell people I’m a writer and they say “what restaurant do you work at?” And I’d say “Well no actually I get paid to write.” And then they’re interested. But it’s really only been in the last 3 years that I’ve been able to live off writing – I used to have tons of other side jobs.
Growing up isn’t what it used to be – as you were saying, people get married later, people don’t even get into gear until their 30s now. Pretty much every character is dealing with something either Kyle or I have gone through or something one of our close friends is going through. A lot of my close female friends are going through similar things to Wendy.
SoS: Talk about the financial aspect of the show. How are you being funded?
Shawn: We started off with a Kickstarter and raised about $9000 (minus about $1000 from Kickstarter’s fees). We had some other backers who were mostly family and friends who donated a few thousand more, so we ended up with about $10,000. The series will end up costing about 20,000 grand, and in the end we’re probably going to end up having to put in about $6000 ourselves. These are expensive series to make – they seem so simple but it’s really expensive – we called in a lot of favors. We have a lot of amazing people who really believe in this script and this show who did this for free or for well below what they deserved. Kyle and I did it for free, we actually gave money, because we believe in it.
SoS: Paula, can you describe Wendy in your own words?
Paula: The heart of her out of necessity has to come largely from me, and so there’s elements that I play up more for her situation. There’s this burning desire to see what mark you can put on the world, to see how far your ambition can take you or if there’s some greater calling that you’re out there to do. She feels this draw to go out and have adventures and see the world, and yet right now – in the story anyway – her anchor that’s holding her back in Neverland, besides her family whom she knows will always be there for her, is Peter, and the potential for this great love. Those two desires between ambition and love, or even family and career, are pretty universal I think with women these days. I certainly feel them and I know Wendy does.
She is sparkle and sass and fun. To an extent, but also trying to keep her eye on the prize – a little bit grounded. And I think she’s still trying to find herself and define herself so I look forward to that journey in seasons two and three.
Note: Paula, who has volunteered often at animal shelters, had to step away from the interview briefly at this point to rescue a baby bird that had fallen from its nest outside her home. Real-life Disney princess? (Or at the very least, a real-life embodiment of the warmth she brings to Wendy).
SoS: What character do you most enjoy doing scenes with?
Paula: It’s such a toss-up because they bring out such different sides of [Wendy]. Just for the contrast I love doing scenes with the brothers because she’s so much more mature than Michael and not quite as mature as John. So the either bringing John down or bringing Michael up and sometimes realizing that they’re doing the same to her and acting as mirrors for her – it’s such a fun seesaw. They’re such talented actors – honestly every single actor in the cast I had an absolute blast with.
SoS: Were there any funny moments or bloopers during filming?
Shawn: You guys have seen two of the bloopers that made it to film. In the Michael drag race episode, when he comes in and he knocks the scooter over and falls and everything falls, that was a blooper reel, we weren’t going to use that because he broke [from character] and he knocked some crap over, but when we watched it it was super funny so we kept it in. And also in that episode when he knocks the chair over, that was a blooper reel but we thought it was so good so we kept it.
Paula: : There’s a moment in one of the episodes when Wendy’s giving advice to someone who’s written in for Dear Darling, and is a little bit nervous about the size of her new boyfriend’s “pirate ship”…it was a lot more complicated than it should have been to get that from me.
Shawn: Our director Matt was trying to get Paula to do the scene, and he kept saying, “Look, Wendy knows pirate ships. She’s been around pirate ships before.” He looks over at me because I’m the writer and he’s like “Wendy knows pirate ships right?” and I was like “Yeah”. We had a lot of “Wendy might have known pirate ships” jokes.
SoS: Shawn, it felt like the romance developed relatively quickly on the show, especially compared to other web-series. What was your thought process behind that?
Shawn: You know in the original source material, they’re meeting for the first time. In ours they’ve known each other for years – twenty years at this point. When we were writing it, we knew one thing we didn’t really want to do [is have] the entire series be the build-up to ‘will these two get together’. That’s not really what the story of Peter and Wendy is – it’s not about the story of Peter and Wendy in a relationship – the story is about growing up. The arc that we have planned for the three seasons is not about Peter and Wendy being together or not being together. It’s about these two growing up and growing through life and the challenges they face and what they give up and what they become. So we wanted to get into that romance and that kiss early on because we have so much more to explore. A lot of times that’s where the show ends – you get there and there’s nothing more. For us it’s where things start to begin.
Kyle and I have a three-season arc planned for the story. We’re hoping that with fans and we’ll get the right sponsorship and everything will come together to where we can do three seasons. The fan reaction’s been great so far – we’ve gotten great reviews from people. It’s very humbling. The harshest comment I read was “I didn’t really like that episode that much. But I liked the other ones.” And I was like, “Woah.“ I cried myself to sleep that night because that was a really mean thing to say to me.
SoS: What do you think about the future of YouTube as a platform for creative works? Do you think it will eventually become a self-sustaining entity as far as creative works and audience or will it always be more of just a transition platform to bigger mediums like Netflix and prime-time television?
Shawn: Youtube is such an amazing invention and such a gift to creators. Twenty years ago you couldn’t do this, you couldn’t come up with ideas and show the world and put something online that has the ability to reach people all over the world…There are a lot of Youtube channels now where people are being paid to make creative content, and getting the money back from ad revenues and etc., and so in that sense it is already like Netflix. It’s completely possible for it to become more like that. But right now, it’s just a great entity to share your creation with the world. Right now we have people translating our show into Portuguese and into French and we’re doing subtitles and closed-captioning for English as well. People just came to us and asked us if they could do that because they wanted to share it, which is kind of awesome.
Paula: I’ve produced in this world for quite a while – been a web producer for the past 7 years, and while I don’t think it will ever completely do away with the other mediums, I think it’s definitely moving to be a big player…It’s been a place to kind of cut your teeth and wear different hats , it’s been a great calling card maker for various people, and it’s been a great career-maker for some people, oddly enough it’s becoming their thing.
I think the transmedia element, the depth of storytelling that you’re able to do when you pair up with other medias is really interesting and I think we’re going to see a lot more of that even with traditional media, coming up with online web content too. Web TV is here to stay.
Shawn: On Twitter and on the Kensington Chronicle, which is our online newspaper, the fans have created want ads and shops in Neverland, they’ve built the world out and built characters and it’s incredible. At the end of the day, it’s really humbling to have people love what you’ve done so much.