Talent On Tap – Cassandra Ebner Journey’s Into Life XP

I really enjoy people that are so passionate about their work. They’re inspiring to talk to, they can teach you something about the joy of life and they are constantly raising the ceiling. Cassandra Ebner is one such amazing human being, stunt woman, actress and now writer and creator of Life XP. Her tenacity is off the charts but she is as humble as a dog walker. With stunt work in hit television shows as Game of Thrones, Flash, The 100, Supernatural, Planet of the Apes, Power Rangers, Death Note and The Art of Racing in the Rain, Cassandra truly has carved out a career for herself through hard work, dedication and staying hungry. As a young woman she continues to reinvent herself and create opportunities that propel her to the next level.

 

I sat down with the multi-talented anomaly to find out about her latest adventure Life XP. It’s a web-series with incredible production value that she wrote, created and stars in. At the time of the interview I had only been able to watch a teaser of the show but it premiered yesterday, so I was able to enjoy the first 2 episodes in its entirety and it is absolutely amazing. She plays Angela, an inexperienced young woman that still lives at home with her mom, played by the hilarious and talented Enid-Raye Adams. Through a job opportunity that allows her to be immersed into Virtual Reality via headset, she’s able to experience life on many different levels as she strives to become the hero of her own story. This series contains a stellar cast and the storyline is off the charts funny and original. I cannot promote this show enough because we all need a good laugh while learning something about ourselves and life itself.      

 

“How did you come up with the premise for this show?”

“When I was in high school there was this amazing web-series called The Guild. It was about a girl who was a gamer that was playing with people online that you got to meet in real life. I loved this idea because I played so many video games growing up. I met people all over the world because of it and wondered how I could create a gaming web-series that I love just as much as this. I wrote it with inspiration from that but also included things I love about movies and TV series, so I really meshed all of it together. Whenever I’ve watched people try virtual reality for the first time they all make this face of Awe because they’ve never experienced anything like it before, followed by ‘this is amazing’ and I knew that this was the gaming web-series I wanted to create. I wanted to make it about a virtual reality that people are stepping into for the first time. That’s how I came up with Life XP.” 

 

“You broke your ankle working on a show that caused you to start writing this series. Was that the catalyst?”

“I’d always wanted to make this series and breaking my ankle really provided me the time to create something that I’d like to watch and I think others would also. It was also an opportunity for me to create a series I could act in.”

 

“The series is called Life XP. What does the XP stand for?”

“XP is a video game term and it stands for experience. It stands for Life experience. The main character who hasn’t had much life experience is now getting it through the video game.”      

 

“What did it feel like to be invited to Cannes for the MIPTV (Marché International des Programmes de Télévision), the Web Series in Development section?”

“It’s one of the largest markets in the world and we were invited to pitch Live XP there. To be invited to Cannes where they have the film festival felt insane and surreal. Waking up everyday and drinking coffee in front of the building/venue where all the films are screened was so inspiring. We had gone to the closing awards ceremony and an actress from Vikings was one of the presenters and was as badass as she appears on the show. There was also a French comedian that kept the audience laughing and entertained. I didn’t know who he was but I heard he was one of the biggest comedic actors in France presenting that night.”  

 

Cassandra further explains that MIPTV is a market open to a series targeted for networks, as opposed to the film market, which targets only films for distribution.

“Can you tell me more about the outcome regarding your invitation to Cannes?”

“There were a lot of people interested in the concept and buying the series with the idea of making it bigger but the issue I had was, all the people that worked on it to make it happen would never be able to see their hard work. Considering it took a year to create I couldn’t say yes and instead said no in order for everyone involved to be able to see Life XP. Our team started this and we’re going to finish it to see where it goes.” 

 

“Are there plans for a second season?”

“It’s already written.”

 

“Are you the only writer on the project?”

“I am. I’ll write it then read it. If I don’t like where it’s going I’ll rewrite and rewrite. I probably did over 70 rewrites on season 1 and I’ll most likely do the same thing in the next season. I’ll rewrite until I’m confident with it before presenting it to the team to talk about what works and open it up to further collaboration.”  

 

“I’ve had an opportunity to watch a teaser of the series and realize it has a lot of visual effects in it. Considering you don’t have a background in that field, how difficult was that?”

“It was very hard because I had to watch people do it and I couldn’t help. Our VFX guy was Ryan Moss that created all the amazing concepts and art for it. We also had Trevor Addie create the titles and some more visual effects as well as direct the episodes. Ian Mcdonald is our editor and provided some simpler VFX, which lifted some of the load off Ryan. It took approx. 6 mths to complete post. We learned a lot on season 1, as far as green screen and have learned easier ways to create our effects heading into the next season.”

 

“How long does it take you to shoot each episode?”

“We filmed the season in 16 days with each episode taking 2-3 days. Some episodes are really epic and require more days to shoot. We had a medieval scene that required more time and care and was it’s own episode.”   

 

“Your web series Life XP is a comedy. Is it more difficult to write comedy than drama?”

“Not at all. I love making stuff that makes people laugh. I grew up making my own YouTube videos and skits that were all comedy. I’ve pulled a lot of my comedy from my past to determine what works and what doesn’t. I want people to feel relief from comedic situations as well as heart felt as they identify with the character and discover worlds that are new to her but not necessarily to the viewer. She is naïve and not very smart as she continues to get herself into laughable situations that most would be impervious to.”

 

“I’ve watched the teaser and found that the series has incredible production value, especially in the wardrobe. Where do you find the costumes?”

“We have one costume designer for the entire show, Messina Salter. She did an amazing job considering we have so many different worlds. She had to find and collect each costume for every new world. After awhile though we realized how difficult it was for her to be the lone costume designer so we pitched in and started looking through thrift stores and Value Village to collect a lot of beige tones and pieces that don’t have zippers but have buttons, jeans and corduroy. From there you start to build what that world looks like and when we came to set Messina would dirty them up to make them look old to fit into that world.”  

“Having won best actress at multiple festivals for this series, does it give you more fuel or affirmation that you’ve found something very special in this character?”

“Winning the awards felt like such a relief after working so hard on something. Having listened to your question I don’t think I’ve really taken it to heart that I’ve really found something special there. I’m quite humbled by your question.”

 

“Is your character based on pure fiction?”

“I try to base every character on people that I know and would exaggerate their personality in some way. With the character Angela, it’s likely based on my inner dialogue that goes on, on a daily basis where I feel like I know nothing and I’m failing all the time. I’m super awkward but I put on a face that says, ‘I’m not feeling this way’. There’s another character on the show and it’s everyone’s favourite as well as mine, Consensual DP and is the other part of my personality. When you put the two characters together, that’s who I am.  One is super awkward and shy and the other is obnoxious and basically an internet troll.” (Laughter) 

 

“How did you put the team together?”

“Once we knew we had won the Independent Production Fund I had prepared a list and started contacting people. For the positions we couldn’t fill I took the next step to go online and started looking on independent film forums in Vancouver. After connecting with the right people there was the process of explaining that we didn’t have a huge budget and that they’d be gaining something from being involved in it. If I couldn’t find all the right people I’d delegate someone else to find them. It was probably the least hard thing to do because everyone loved the concept and idea, so I found the perfect nerdy group of people to help make the movie and now we all get together regularly on a concept basis and are all friends, much like a little family.”

 

“I’m assuming most of the crew work fulltime on movie sets. Is it difficult to keep them on your project?”

“For the most part, everyone was looking to work on indie films/projects. In the event they were working on other projects, they’d come out on weekends. We’d always film Wed – Sun so that we could dedicate those days to our stunt people because they are so busy on weekends. The main crew of 16 were there every single day.”

 

“You do some very impressive stunts on Croft, have you always been so fearless?”

“That’s a funny story. When I was growing up I cried at everything. Everything made me upset and anything physical, I felt was a competition that I’d get upset about. Somebody would look at me the wrong way and it’d make me cry… but then I realized at some point, if I face these fears it makes me a stronger person. I started facing all the things I was afraid of and I became a better person for it. When I did Croft, I had a lot of stunt training behind me and wasn’t afraid of a lot of things because it’s not a daredevil job, it’s all about safety. It’s all planned and there are rehearsals, we’ve trained for this. When I performed in Croft I’d been training so long it wasn’t something I was afraid of. It’s part of the journey of not being afraid where others might. There’s always calculated risks but a lot of people don’t realize that under our costumes we wearing stunt pads.”  

 

 “What type of background do you have going into the stunt world?”

“I had rock climbed, had been training in various martial arts and had been film fighting with friends that have had 30 plus years experience in the film industry. I’ve had tremendous support in my stunt and acting career, which has been absolutely amazing, it’s been really cool.”   

 

“Is it your hope for the web-series to be picked up by a network?”

“I think it’s everyone’s hope that their show gets picked up by a network so they can keep going but I like to think that there’s always a way to make something happen. If a network doesn’t pick it up then we’re going to figure out how to make a season 2. The hope is there but we’re trying to develop a plan where we can do it ourselves. We’re selling the first season on VOD and are currently creating a merchandise store so we can pay back our funders to show that we can do this.”  

 

“If you weren’t acting, what else would you be doing?”

“I actually think about that all the time but it’s what I’ve always wanted to do since the age of 4. I still remember watching a superhero movie/Superman when I was young and telling my parents that it was what I wanted to do. They told me they were actors and I couldn’t be a superhero, so I told them that’s what I was going to be. It’s the only thing I’ve thought about my entire life and would do everything in my power to fulfill that. When I was 13 I discovered an editing program and started making my own movies. However, if you had me at gunpoint and I had to choose I’d say… probably travelling the world and discovering stories of other people. I’d love to ask people their stories, especially shy people’s stories because they have so much to tell but they might not have the confidence to talk about it.”

 

“Who inspires you?”

“I’m the biggest fan girl of so many people. One of my biggest heroes is Jackie Chan. Jim Carrey, I love him and think he’s the best. Angeline Jolie is also a huge inspiration and also Felicia Day of course because she was the creator of The Guild and is a huge hero of mine. She was so willing to be herself and not shy away from being creative, which I really appreciate. The Rock is also a big inspiration because he’s a good guy and makes stuff happen rather than waiting for people to give him permission. I love that there are people out there that make things happen for themselves.”    

 

“4 x 4ing or shopping spree?”

“I would go on a shopping spree to buy all the equipment for my awesome 4 x 4ing. I do enjoy shopping to look good for an event but I couldn’t say no to an adventure, so 4 x 4ing would be awesome.” 

 

“What’s the biggest reward in having your own show?”

“There are a few things that come to mind. Seeing people get excited about an idea I created. It’s exhilarating and the friends and people you meet because of it has been an award in itself. If nothing comes from Life XP, the learning experience I gained and the friends I’ve made is the win.”   

Life XP premiered on YouTube yesterday and I highly recommend checking it out. As a first time writer Cassandra Ebner hits a home run with bases loaded! You can view the first episode of this riveting hilarious and extremely well written series at https://youtu.be/qQULEYGVGYU

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