Features Interviews

Interview: PBC Productions (Creators of Captain S Series)

There are Genesis fans, and there are Genesis fans. In the realm of those who love Sega’s 16-bitter, few have gone to such great lengths to show it as PBC Productions. A New York-based film company composed of four friends, the small group has taken as its first project an ambitious series that tells the tale of Chad Belmont, otherwise known as Captain S. Selected by Giant Blue Head (the leader of Video Land) as its champion, Captain S finds himself drawn into a multitude of Genesis games in a courageous effort to stop his arch nemesis, Nigel Edmund Silverman – NES from conquering Video Land for his evil master, Game Genie. From Altered Beast to Streets of Rage, Captain S fights to save the video realm from NES and his evil plans!

Sounds pretty cool, eh? It is. Using special effects, the series actually places Chad inside each of the Genesis games featured, and the stories are just a blast to watch, full of humor and great special effects. Through the course of the season, Captain S and his friends slowly discover the plot of the sinister Game Genie, one of the three ancient beings of Video Land who was banished eons ago. As our hero begins to realize the full extent of his powers, he also has to find a way to impress Stacy, the hottest girl in school! Parodying such early ’90s sitcoms like Saved by the Bell and the classic Nintendo Captain N, PBC’s series is great fun that no Genesis fan should miss out on!

Sega-16 was lucky enough to snag the Chad Williams (PBC founder and creator of Captain S) and Brett Vanderbrook (the good captain himself) for a spell to chat about Captain S.

Sega-16: It says on your website that PBC Productions came together to begin work on Captain S after two of your members decided to scrap an earlier idea. Can anyone go into more detail on this? How did the whole idea of Captain S start?

Chad Williams: The initial idea began in 2005, when I came up with the idea for the character of Captain S – I thought it was a great spoof of Captain N, an old ’80s cartoon with a similar yet Nintendo-oriented premise. The colors S wears are almost a negative image of N – and I just love ‘evil twin’ fodder. I was living in Albany at the time, and so with no external help, made a five minute pilot that introduced the character, his powers, and the basic conflicts. A year later when I had moved to NYC, Devon Riley and I were inspired by the 2006 Machinema Festival to create a short – and the character just popped up again. It’s seen many different takes and incarnations, but I’m glad that the one we developed that November was the one that stuck.

Brett Vanderbrook: Back in November of ’06 we (what would become PBC Productions) got together to do audio commentary on another film that we had all taken part in. At this time, I first heard Chad and Devon talking about bringing back Chad’s Captain S character in an online serial. I had seen the original, and thought it was a great idea, so I was really excited the next day when Chad asked if I’d play the role of Captain S. I specifically think the idea that got shelved (I don’t want to say scrapped, because who knows…) was an idea for a feature film. It was a great idea, and I know we’d all like to revisit it when the time and money allows.

Sega-16: It’s great to see a series centered on the Genesis. Are you guys big fans of the console?

Chad Williams: Dude, I don’t claim to be an über SEGA nerd, but compared to most of the other hardcore geeks I know, I might as well be. After years of playing hundreds of bootlegged C64 games, my family got a Game Gear and Genesis – thus cementing my place in front of the TV for years to come. Instead of my childhood being filled with Contra and Mario, I had Sonic and Shinobi. There are so many great games that I’m pleased to see made it to the next generation on the XBLA and Wii’s VC. Comix Zone, Bonk, all those Sonic games…I hope the kids of today love to play ’em as much as we did.

Brett Vanderbrook: I am a fan of the console. For me, I never sided with one company. From the time I was a little kid, it was all about the NES. However, when the Genesis came around, my mouth started watering. Then the PS1 came out, and it was the same deal. I think we’re fans of all the systems, but Chad had the most love for the Genesis, having never owned an NES.

Sega-16: The idea of a character traveling into video games to save the world reminds me a lot of those great old Niles Nemo comics from Sega Visions Magazine. Did PBC draw any inspiration from them?

Chad Williams: The idea of a regular guy being dropped into a “special world” has been going on since Beowulf, but I think it’s very gamer kid’s dream to enter video games and be the bestest hero ever. Some shows from my childhood that we drew from specifically include Captain N, SuperHuman Samurai Syber Squad (Kilokahn = GameGenie), Power Rangers for the high school segments, and I’m sure a slew of others.

Brett Vanderbrook: I can’t say that I know of that comic, and I’ve never heard it come up in meetings, so I think it’s safe to say no. The series itself derives thematic elements from shows like Captain N, Superhuman Samurai Syber-Squad, and Saved by the Bell. We wanted the show to be like a science-fiction teen comedy set in an ambiguous time period that resembles the early ’90s, when these consoles and shows were popular.

Sega-16: The first episode of Captain S took place inside of Altered Beast, which was fitting since it was the first Genesis game released. How does PBC decide which games to use? Do you consider all titles or just the most recognizable ones?

Chad Williams: After Altered Beast, we knew specific games that we wanted for different parts of the story arc, aka Mortal Kombat for the climactic showdown between Chad and NES. We usually started with an idea for an episode, brainstormed until we figured out a great game that would tie in, and then built the story around that. The goal of each episode was to put Chad into VideoLand, so the build-up was very important – most times the punchline of the entire episode. In terms of obscurity, just watch episode five. We used a game even I had never heard of, Shove-It: The Warehouse Game. After only hearing the premise of the game, we all just KNEW it would fit into an episode perfectly.

Brett Vanderbrook: Quite the contrary, we love obscure games. Yes, we started with some well known titles (Altered Beast, FIFA ’97, Streets of Rage) but look at episodes four, five, and six: Sub-Terrania, Shove-It, and Zero Tolerance. Those are some relatively unknown titles (ESPECIALLY Shove-It. SHOVE-IT!! WTF???) Really, there’s no formula to how we choose a game. Sometimes the plot dictates the game, and sometimes the opposite is true. In the case of Shove-It, we found this extremely obscure game at a convention and just knew we had to incorporate it into an episode, so the story for episode five was written with that game in mind. Side note: Do you know the point of Shove-It? It’s basically a popular puzzle game that they modified and added a pseudo-story. You’re this ’70s porn star-looking guy who shoves boxes in a warehouse so you can make money for cars and chicks. It’s HI-larious.

Sega-16: How long does it take to make a typical episode?

Chad Williams: Each episode took two weeks to write, three weekends to shoot, and two straight weeks of post-production.

Brett Vanderbrook: From start to finish? A few weeks. In the beginning, we were getting together on a weekend and filming one entire episode. We began to realize the inefficiency of this, and started writing three or four episodes at a time, so that if we had the same location in multiple episodes, we could knock out all those scenes in one day and make better use of our time. The editing process takes a while. Chad does all the visual effects and Devon does the sound editing. I can tell you that there have been seventy-two hour non-stop editing sessions where Chad and Devon take turns sleeping and editing. It can get crazy when you have a small team, a small budget, but high standards.

Sega-16: It’s commendable that PBC filmed an entire season without outside financial backing. How difficult was it getting started?

Chad Williams: Actually, since we all had experience in the no-budget film world, making the first two episodes of Captain S were no problem. Building and improving onto that formula, however, was a different story. The more we strove to be a legitimate film company, the more time we had to commit and the more professional we had to become. By our last episode, I think we all feel like we have made long strides in terms of production. Compare the first and last episode. There’s a huge difference.

Brett Vanderbrook: As difficult as getting together on a Saturday morning at Chad’s apartment with a DV cam, a clip light, and a script. We didn’t spend much money on the first episode, and we weren’t even really sure what Captain S was going to be yet, so it was a completely pressure-free situation. It got much more difficult as we went along. We began constantly one-upping ourselves. With each episode, we would try something new that we hadn’t done before, and weren’t sure we even could do. Things like casting actors outside of our friends, securing locations in the community for shoots, complex special effects, etc. We wanted to make sure we were always staying just outside of our comfort zone. Budget was an issue, and we know we could probably never do that again unless we got outside help.

Sega-16: Ha ha, fair enough. PBC recently announced that the entire first season will be made available on YouTube, which is sure to expand its audience. What’s the public reaction been like so far?

Chad Williams: Well, we don’t quite have the massive fanbase of the Angry VideoGame Nerd, but we’re getting there. I think the fans we do have (shoutout to the boards!) are with us to stay.

Brett Vanderbrook: The response has been good. We’re watching our numbers climb every day. They’re not where we’d like them to be, but then again we’re not typical youtube fodder. Most of the site is comprised of 30 second clips of babies farting and teenagers singing pop songs on webcams. People are still hesitant about scripted, produced series on the web, but with guys like Black20 and ragtag films (the makers of weneedgirlfriends.tv) that trend will start to reverse itself.

Sega-16: Now that the first season of Captain S has ended, what are the chances of us seeing a second one?

Chad Williams: There are a lot of different factors at play, but we’d love to do a second season. There’s more we want to do with the characters, different paths for the story to go. Overall we had a blast making season one, and would love to work with the cast again.

Brett Vanderbrook: Many factors will play into that. We’d all love to bring the series back, and I know that the fans want that as well. Those who enjoyed Captain S could help us out in our endeavors by visiting our site and making a donation or buying merchandise. That money all goes toward us creating future content.

Sega-16: Any parting words you’d like to share with fellow Segaphiles?

Chad Williams: If you’re into something as awesome as SEGA, do something with it! Use your passion and contribute to the gamer culture!

Brett Vanderbrook: Sure. Uh, I hope Sonic pwns Mario at the 2008 Olympics.

Our thanks to the great folks over at PBC Productions for taking the time for this interview. Those of us here are Sega-16 think that Captain S is a great tribute to the amazing legacy of the Genesis, and we support their efforts wholeheartedly. It’s not every day that you see fans take their love of a console to such levels, especially for one that’s been discontinued for so long.

You owe it to yourself to check out the entire first season of Captain S (ten episodes in all), so head on over to the website and enjoy! While you’re at it, give ’em the kick, and email your demand for a second season! We’ll be watching for new developments, and you can be sure Sega-16 will be here with a preview of the new season if and when it happens.

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