From the press release: “Take two large scoops of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, mix it with a heaping cup of The Brady Bunch and add a dollop of the beloved 1960’s Batman television series and you have Vixens of Virtue Vixens of Vice.”
Vixens is a micro-budget web series turned legitimate DVD release that’s shot in and around Cedar Grove, NJ. On the eve of Season Two’s DVD release and the start of production on Season Three, Cinedelphia spoke to series creator/director Rob Longo about Vixens’ origins, reception, and the benefits that accompany nationwide distribution.
CINEDELPHIA: What were the origins of Vixens?
ROB LONGO: At the time, Buffy the Vampire Slayer was coming off of regular syndication and I had started dabbling in filmmaking and I thought it was a wonderful time to start up some sort of web series. I thought that, because of the vacuum left by Buffy, some sort of superhero woman empowerment series would be great and no one was doing web series with superheroes at the time. This was around 2005 when the idea hit.
C: Did you already have a filmmaking background?
RL: I had a music background, I owned a music studio previously. I ended up directing a commercial for it and I really fell in love with the process. We happened to be on the set of the first Spider-Man movie as an extra, because a friend of ours was music supervisor. Sam Raimi was so hands-on that he even directed all of the extras, face to face, including myself. I was one of the balloon vendors.
C: So you can say that you’ve been directed by Sam Raimi.
RL: Yes, unfortunately my scene ended up on the cutting room floor, but I can point to which balloons are mine.
C: Was it a natural transition for you from audio to video?
RL: It was, but I have to say that I made all of the mistakes that everyone makes starting out. You don’t realize how important getting clean sound is, getting good sound effects. As the series progresses you can see how my knowledge and talent have evolved.
RL: Yes, closed off streets on a Sunday, someone’s apartment complex. I’ve worked with the New Jersey Film Commission, who are incredibly helpful. They treated me no different than they treat big studios like HBO. They invited me to come to their office and had folders of different locations all laid out and have been very helpful throughout.
C: Where do you find the actresses?
RL: NYcasting.com, they’re all professional actresses.
C: What was the initial casting process like?
RL: The responses were pretty good. When I first started out a friend said “I don’t think you’re gonna get anybody. Nobody’s gonna show up.” We had a pretty good turnout, 18 actresses came through for the first audition. As the series progressed and gained a following and notoriety we had more and more people auditioning, I’ve had some people audition more than once.
C: Were they at all hesitant to appear in the required skimpy costumes?
RL: No, not really. We keep it as PG as possible, there’s no blood and I think only one curse word in the whole series. The only time a costume issue comes up is because its action and you can’t have them performing crazy kung-fu moves if they’re wearing platform high heels or something that’s too short.
C: Can you comment on how the series is “empowering to women”? There’s a fine line that exists between empowering and exploiting, Sucker Punch comes to mind as an example.
RL: Well, the idea germinated from the vacuum that Buffy left. Watching the series you can see that these are women who are not only beautiful, but they either have super powers or they’re incredibly masterful in whatever endeavor they’re into whether it’s robot building or martial arts. A man never gets one over on any of the Vixens in the series.
RL: I had set out to do camp, mostly because of the budget. It’s very hard to do action on a micro-budget just because of the props and special effects. By making it female empowering, not having nudity, I’m not going to alienate people from watching it.
C: Your Facebook page is filled with pictures of comic convention-types posing with the girls.
RL: It’s flattering, surprising, and the reaction that I was hoping for. I am a big geek myself at heart, I’ve been reading comic books since I was twelve years old. It’s amazing to be on the other side of that table now, to be producing something and having people consume it and want more of it and signing autographs, doing interviews…it’s kind of unreal and I’m very thankful to have the fans that we do.
I’m a firm believer that everyone has a great story to tell, it’s just a question of whether or not they ever get to tell that story.
C: Can you give any advice to the people who haven’t gotten to tell their stories yet?
RL: The hardest step is just starting. It sounds cliché, but just do it and don’t give up. Make that first step and be persistent. I’ve always been out there at conventions and on Facebook and everything, it’s really just getting out there.
C: At this point you’re not only starting production on your third season, but you’ve also secured DVD distribution.
RL: Yeah, it started off really making no money, having the episodes on YouTube, gaining fans. I gathered the episodes on a DVD to sell at conventions and that made some money, but I’m not driving a Bentley or anything at this point. The distribution deal was wonderful because now we can reach a much wider segment of fans. They can buy it on Amazon, at Target, at Barnes & Noble, and that lends it a nice air of legitimacy. One of the funniest moments for me, there’s a magazine called Previews that has all of the comic book-related stuff that your comic book store can order and I got a call from my friend who said “You’re in Previews!” I didn’t even know about it and there it was in there, it felt like a moment of success.
With season three, instead of doing it one episode a month or one shoot a month because that’s all I could afford, now with money from the distribution deal I’m going to shoot season three in ten days. Kind of like a legitimate movie-making endeavor. Having all of these actresses that are waiting to hear what weekend we’re going to shoot, I can take ten to 14 days to shoot the season and spend a ton of time in post-production.
C: Do you still have a day job?
RL: Before the distribution money I worked for various cellular phone companies and as a fraud analyst. Now this is all I do, it’s a wonderful blessing.
RL: Ultimately I would love to see it on cable. Not in the form it is now, but with a decent budget and talented writers or a talented director. I don’t have much of an ego when it comes to this, I know that when people watch Vixens they can see that it’s just the start of my journey as a director. I think the idea itself at its basic level is so wonderful that it could be applied to anything. It could be a series on ABC Family or Syfy Channel or AMC. It could also be a great animated series. My only regret is that I wish I could draw because it could have been a comic book first, I seem to have done it in reverse. You’re supposed to come out with the comic and then the movie.
C: You have a bunch of upcoming projects listed on your website, would you like to briefly talk about Slaughterhouse or W.O.L.F.?
RL: Slaughterhouse is the first screenplay I’ve written, we even did a short funding trailer to see how its going to turn out. That’s going to be the first feature I do. W.O.L.F. is an episodic web series, a squad-based soldier action kind of thing.
C: Do you want to drop any hints about season three for the fans that may read this?
RL: For season two, it is the heroes darkest hours, it’s the Empire Strikes Back of my trilogy. It answers questions from season one; season three I promise to tie everything up into a nice package that everyone will be satisfied with.
C: This won’t be the final season though, right?
RL: It probably won’t be.
The second season of Vixens of Virtue Vixens of Vice debuts on DVD this Tuesday, January 24. Purchase on Amazon.
Author: Eric Bresler
Eric is the Founder/Site Editor of Cinedelphia.com whose additional activities are numerous: Director/Curator of the Philadelphia Mausoleum of Contemporary Art (PhilaMOCA), founder of Tokyo No Records, the brain behind Video Pirates, and active local film programmer including the Unknown Japan screening series. He’s served as a TLA Video Manager, Philadelphia Film Society Managing Director, and Adjunct Professor in Cinema Studies at Drexel University. He is shy and modest. Email Eric.