I met Travis Richey last year at Bent-Con, but as a huge fan of the NBC series Community, and their Doctor Who parody called Inspector Spacetime, I was already a follower of his because by then I was following his Youtube page Sivartis.There I began watching his videos and so when December last year arrived, I was excited to meet him. Got his picture, and talked to him briefly.
I got a chance to meet him again several months later when he came to a reading for two scripts my friends were getting ready to produce as films in the coming months, Something Like Summer and The Dark Place, both to be helmed by Judas Kiss director J.T. Tepnapa. Something Like Summer is based on the popular novel by Jay Bell, while The Dark Place is written by DoorQ‘s own Jody Wheeler.
Then is June, I got a Facebook invite to his birthday party. And at first, I was not going to go. I thought, while I know him through his work, did he remember me? But I ended up going anyways, and had a great time. I’m not sure he fully remembered me, but it was still cool to hang with his friends (that included a mutual friend, filmmaker Steven Tylor O’Connor -A Fairy Tale and Welcome to New York). We played Cards Against Humanity into the wee hours.
I had proposed an interview (which I apologize for the long delay) of sorts with him, knowing that he and his writing partner Eric Loya were working on a web series based in and around the Inspector Spacetime character. Of course, by then, there had been some drama about the whole thing, legal stuff that came from Sony. But that did not stop Travis, and coming September 10 is the first episode of Untitled Web Series About A Space Traveler Who Can Also Travel Through Time.
So I asked some questions, which he happily answered for me:
- Who is Travis Richey?
I’m just a kid from Wisconsin. I was always a class clown. I would watch SNL on Saturday night and go to school the next week doing all the voices and characters from Dana Carvey and Mike Meyers. It was probably a way for me to deal with growing up with Bells Palsy. It was either laugh and make other people laugh or curl up into a ball and disappear. And I’m just not the disappearing type… When I was 14 I realized that what I needed to do with my life was to be an entertainer. I’ve been pursuing that goal ever since.
2. How did you get the role on “Community?”
I have been going to casting director workshops for years. Virtually everything I’ve booked on TV has been from meeting a casting director at a workshop. It’s a tremendously useful way for unknown actors to be seen when otherwise they wouldn’t get past the role submission process.
3. At what point did you realize this role was bigger than what was originally thought as?
I suspected that the character would recur as soon as I read the script, and Abed says “this is the best show I’ve ever seen in my entire life.” I’d been a fan of Community since it started, so I knew what happened when Abed became obsessed with something. Remember Kickpuncher? Then, when we were on set, we were all talking, joking around about there being an actual episode of Inspector Spacetime for the web or as a DVD extra. Then, on the way home from that first shoot, I realized that a web series would be perfect, so before I even got home I called my writing partner Eric Loya to say we needed to write something we could pitch to the Community folks, in case they didn’t have time to deal with it. All that aside, I had NO idea HOW big is was going to be.
4. We’ve seen SNL take characters and expand them into movies. Some have worked, while others have not. Was there any reservation that this could not work?
Nope. I’m not really sure how to expand on that, but basically, every character can be an interesting character. Eric and I sat down and spent hours figuring out what the character of The Inspector was, how he was similar to The Doctor and how he was different. Too many of those unsuccessful movies are extensions of a joke, and that is almost always the low-success choice.
Oh, absolutely! In all the webisode tie-ins of all the shows on TV, I can’t think of another that was more appropriate than Inspector Spacetime. I mean, fans were literally demanding it! Plus, major portions of the Community audience is online and web-saavy, and engaged online. When Eric and I wrote the series, we thought there was a good chance that there was going to be a web series, even if it wasn’t the one we wrote. And then after the season premiere, when fans created that entire history of Inspector Spacetime online, it seemed so obvious a decision. To this day, I’m baffled that it didn’t happen through official channels.
6. After the network passed on the idea, you and your writing partner produced the animated teaser. Was your initial idea to do it that way to begin with?
No, I only put the animatic together because I wanted to do something really cool for the Inspector Spacetime panel I was invited to at Gallifrey One this year. Like I said, I’m an entertainer, I really wanted to do something great for that panel. So I recorded the episode with by friend Erin Neimeyer, and asked one of my Youtube friends, SharkeyeJones, to illustrate it, and it turned out fantastic.
The panel ended up being a standing-room only event, and everybody had an amazing time. We were planning at that point to launch the Kickstarter campaign to do the series ourselves, since Community had finished shooting Season 3 without another Inspector appearance, and Season 4 was still very much in the air. I was approached by at least a dozen people at Gallifrey One who told me that they were Doctor Who fans who found Community because of Inspector Spacetime.
Then, word got out that we were planning on doing the web series, and before I got home from the convention that night, IO9.com had picked up on the story, and then it was everywhere. So I spent the night finishing up the Kickstarter page and launched it right away, so that we could take advantage of the buzz.
7. Was there a surprise when Sony filed a cease and desist to prevent both of you from moving forward with your Inspector Spacetime idea and doing appearances as the Inspector at conventions?
This is a huge bit of misinformation that I keep hearing. There was never a cease and desist. Never anything official from Sony or NBC in relation to the web series. All that happened was that my agent (who had nothing to do with the web series) got this email from a producer at Community, and forwarded it to me. All the email said was “It’s still up!” (referring to the Kickstarter) and originated at Sony Legal. So I called the Producer first and tried to tell him that we pitched the idea to them first and would much rather have worked with the folks at Community directly, and still would love to! I told him that fans were demanding that this series be made. His response was that everyone was gone from the show since it was done shooting the season, and that we should wait until Season 4. Well, at the time, Season 4 was still a huge question mark, which I told him. I said that the web series could bring fans to the show, if there were a Season 4. In the end, he said it wasn’t his decision. It was Sony and NBC calling the shots.
So, I wrote a long, professional email to the lawyer who sent that original email (I should post mine somewhere, I really was proud of it), and she called me back within minutes. She said stop making the web series. I said, well, no, because except for the title and the look of the main character, it’s completely original. I told her what I told the producer, that I thought it was a no-brainer idea to do a web series and that I’d much rather work with them than alone. She said there was no way for that decision to be made because it would have to be Sony and NBC that would have to make it. I said it was funny that they were able to make the decision to try and shut down the web series easy enough… Then I reminded her that we weren’t going ot be making any money off of this project and that I thought it was funny that they allowed other fans to make money off of Inspector Spacetime merchandise like t-shirts, posters and iPhone cases. She said there weren’t enough personnel in the legal department to chase down every case of infringement. Having worked at a studio legal department (and knowing how easy Google is to use), I just let that one slide. I told her I’d change the name and the look of the character and that I was sorry that we couldn’t work together to bring the world more Inspector Spacetime.
8. I worked on the web series Star Trek: Hidden Frontier for its final season. Paramount seemed aware that all the fan series actually enhanced their product; do you feel you could have done the same here?
Absolutely. There’s a term called “Brand Ambassador.” And that’s what all those fans are who make artwork, and t-shirts and posters and iPhone cases (and web series). They help spread the word about a show or a movie or even a product or business and help to increase it’s success, without prompting by the company responsible for it.
Lucas Films has done a great job embracing Brand Ambassadors. Joss Whedon is brilliant at it. Star Trek almost died in the late 90s because Paramount was actually fighting fan-run web sites and productions.
9. How did the new title come about and the costume?
The title was mostly me being snarky. I didn’t want to call it “Inspector When” or “Inblector Blacetime” (as Dan Harmon himself suggested). I wanted it to be clear to people that the title wasn’t the real title, and when I came up with Untitled Web Series About A Space Traveler Who Can Also Travel Through Time it just made me laugh, so I hoped other people would get the joke. I almost added “For Legal Reasons” but decided that was crossing a line. I didn’t want to fight or piss anybody off. I just wanted to make some good entertainment.
In the course of the Kickstarter campaign, I had a bunch of people approach me about helping out. I met a guy named Brian Uiga at Gallifrey One – he helped to restore the 8th Doctor’s TARDIS console from the TV movie – and besides offering to design and build The Inspector’s optic pocketknife, he introduced me to a couple of costume designers, Rebecca Jordan and Amanda Avery, who both do a lot of brilliant cosplay costumes. Rebecca designed and built The Inspector’s new coat from scratch. And isn’t it amazing?!? We basically worked from the fact that The Inspector, as an Infinity Knight, is sort of a Universe Police. So we wanted something cool and hip.
10. How much of Doctor Who –both old and new- are incorporating into the project, or are you moving away from parody now that you have some freedom and into another direction?
We are definitely trying to make The Inspector his own man, in a show that will stand on it’s own, but the entire framework for his universe is based on Doctor Who, and me and Eric are both big Whovians. Our show is not going to be campy, though, so in that respect it is more similar to the latest incarnation of Doctor Who. The tricky thing is, Doctor Who already has a fair bit of humor in it, right? So, how do you parody something that already doesn’t’ take itself too seriously? The answer was to just concentrate on making The Inspector’s series the best it could be, and maybe a touch funnier, but to not focus on The Doctor too much.
That decision was made as soon as it became clear that there was going to be no more Inspector Spacetime in Season 3 of Community. My thought was, “If fans want to see the web series enough to fund it, then we’ll know it’s a thing worth doing.” Sony had very little to do with that decision, besides not making the web series themselves. And again, their insistence that we change the title and look of the character resulted in only those two changes. Nothing else in our original script needed to be modified.
12. I heard that at Comic Con that the new showrunners are planning an episode where the crew go to an Inspector Spactime convention. Do you think you’ll be back?
I certainly hope so! I had a great idea of how to bring The Inspector to Greendale, but I have no idea what they’re planning. There are SO many great ways to do a sci-fi convention story, and not all of them would require The Inspector to be there.
So I want to thank Travis for answering my questions and apologize for its long delay.