Inside a nondescript warehouse in Glendale, a crowd of people stands grouped around a monitor, watching it intently. A fight sequence — occurring live on the other side of a wall — plays out in black and white onscreen. Meanwhile, a cameraman moves unobtrusively around the group, filming the crew as they, in turn, film the fight sequence. When director Freddie Wong yells “Cut! Reset,” the sounds of laughing and joking immediately fill the space as the crew jumps into action.
This is a typical day in the life for Wong and his production team at RocketJump, who were hard at work filming their new series “RocketJump: The Show” on the cloudy day in June when I visited their set.
“RocketJump: The Show” is the newest endeavor from Wong’s eponymous production company, which wrapped the final season of their YouTube series “Video Game High School” in fall 2014. Described by Hulu’s official synopsis as “part documentary series, part action comedy-VFX extravaganza,” the eight-episode original series from RocketJump and Lionsgate TV follows the filmmaking team as they produce a new short each episode, while continuing to carve out their place in the world as a digital entertainment studio.
Five of the shorts are helmed by Wong and his directing partner Matt Arnold (“Video Game High School”), but three are directed by newcomers to the chair, including Ben M. Waller and Ashly Burch. Waller, who also serves as showrunner, helps run the writer’s room alongside head writer Anthony Burch.
Hulu invited Indiewire to visit the RocketJump set for an afternoon spent watching the crew film a fight sequence (and the other crew filming the crew filming the fight sequence) while also talking to Waller and Wong about different aspects of their company and the show. Read on for some highlights from our conversations.
How RocketJump began
Asked about the origins of his production company (co-founded with Matt Arnold and Desmond Dolly), Wong cited a lack of interest in the traditional path and some serendipitous technological timing as a few of the reasons his company came to be. “We have always wanted to make movies or TV shows,” he said, before explaining that they weren’t willing to work their way up the traditional ladder. “We realized we don’t have a lot of patience, so I guess that’s a bad thing. But at the same time we looked at YouTube, and back in 2010 it’s like hey, here’s a place where we can express ourselves, where we can do what we love doing and hopefully build an audience from that, with the goal of transitioning into making longer form things like we always wanted to do.”
Working with Hulu is a dream come true
Hulu hasn’t yet achieved the reputation of its competitor Netflix, so it was great to learn about how positive of an experience RocketJump’s relationship with Hulu has been. “Hulu is really friendly to premium content creators,” said Waller. “Beatrice Springborn at Hulu has just been so supportive of the eight insane shorts that we wanted to make for this show.”
Wong agreed, describing the initial conversations with Hulu as “refreshing” because of their understanding of the entertainment and filmmaking worlds. “When you think typical creator/studio relationship, it’s generally an adversarial one or fraught with conflict,” he said, “but that’s absolutely not the case here. I think they’ve been very good partners from day one.”
The future of television may be online, but the content itself isn’t changing
Both Waller and Wong were confident that the gradual shift from traditional to internet-based television content wasn’t anything to worry about. “I think that delineation is really only made in terms of advertising dollars,” said Waller. “When it comes to what’s actually in those shows, there’s really no difference. I think it’s just giving more people like ourselves opportunities to make a television show about what we do and bring our shorts to a larger diverse audience.”
Wong’s opinions on the matter, though similarly themed, focused more on content distribution methods than on the advertising. “I think that when you talk about where things are going to be found and how it gets delivered, it’s going to be online,” he said, “and your gatekeepers aren’t the same gatekeepers as before. It opens up the world for us, but the content is able to work across any of those platforms, which is something that we see happening and something that we’re very happy as people who make content. It just gives us more freedom in terms of where it goes.”
The educational aspects of “RocketJump: The Show”
“I don’t think a lot of people really know what goes into something that they see,” said Wong when asked about how the behind-the-scenes aspects of the series will change our perceptions of filmmaking. “I think some people have a vague idea, but the general public has no clue what the actual behind-the-scenes of filmmaking is and what this profession is.”
Waller shared that sentiment, noting that “people see [filmmaking] as a one or two person job, and don’t realize all the different facets that go into it. We want to show the people involved and how those characters and those people actually inform the decisions that are made, and how you end up with the short.”
“It’s hopefully going to give people a sense of what goes into it,” added Wong. “The effort and time and talent that goes into everything that they see.”
On the difficulties of trying to use a cell phone as the main camera
One of the shorts (directed by Waller) is framed around Wong’s decision to start a day-in-the-life-style video blog that gets more and more surreal as crazy and outlandish things start happening to Wong, and was filmed entirely on mobile phones for authenticity’s sake.
“A vlog look is a very specific look,” said Wong, “and it’s basically a phone look.” But the actual realities of filming a short on a phone ended up being rather amusing. “It was actually pretty funny when we were filming,” he said, “because we were like ‘Okay, rolling, I guess. Okay, here we go.’ And then your assistant camera people are like ‘Uh, what are we doing on this? We don’t have to do anything on this.'”
Advice to creators looking to make their own digital series
Asked what advice he would give to new filmmakers breaking into the world, Waller took a cue from Nike’s famous tagline. “I think it’s just about making things constantly and writing constantly,” he said. “There’s always these opportunities to have an idea, write it out, have someone recognize it and either fund it or help you put it out there and get it sold. Let alone having a camera, like you can just have an idea and create it, and if you have a camera then you can film scenes.”
He also advised new filmmakers to always keep learning. “It’s a constant learning process. Mike Symonds, one of the other writers, says that life is an internal training montage so that’s kind of the way we look at it.”
On why viewers both old and new should be excited about the show
Freddie Wong: “It’s going to be eight things you’ve never seen before. Eight different shorts, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.”
Ben M. Waller: “In the span of one episode you’ll get to see a story rivaling any feature film you’re going to see this year, you’ll get to see how it was made, and you’ll get to see how these people keep themselves busy with working and some video games.”
“RocketJump: The Show” premieres Wednesday, December 2 on Hulu.