Sweet Van Loan's series, The Raven, based off of her original book series has been years in the making. Sporting a female-driven cast, heroines are left and right in this action-packed series. Now looking for funding for episodes 4-6, Van Loan took some time to chat with us to learn more about her series and the importance of depicting women in film.
netTVnow: Where did the idea for The Raven come from?
Sweet Van Loan: The Raven is actually based off the book series I authored. I had been a writer for a long time with over 30 books out. My original series spun-off as characters who outgrew their background roles and thus Jack Adair of The Goodnight & Loving Series had a friend named Jo who shared his haunting experiences. I've always wanted to have a character that I could relate to; the socially awkward girl who makes it work despite continuous self-doubt. Jo became that person. Her abandonment issues coupled with her ability to pick a fight in the most unlikely of situations made me want to write a series. I'm also a very big comic book fan, so masked vigilante? Yes, please.
One night I had a dream about it. It was outlandish and weird, so I wrote it down in my journal. I came back to it and before I could stop myself, I had my laptop open. I wrote the first book, featuring Adair, in one day. The rest, as they say, is history.
netTVnow: Can you give audiences a brief synopsis on the series?
SVL: Jo and Maja have been working together for a year after the death of The Phoenix. As Jo struggles with the weight of the legacy and responsibility of The Phoenix, the former cop has also had her doubts about becoming a vigilante. When a dangerous drug hits the streets of her home city, she and her team have to find a way to stop the spread of the deadly effects before it's too late...problem is, they are in way over their heads. Despite their efforts, The Guardian, The Veteran, The Spymaster and The Knight find themselves fighting an uphill battle that they just might lose.
netTVnow: You mentioned actually writing the The Raven book before turning it into a web series, what sparked that creative decision?
SVL: Creative peoples tend not to be any one thing. I am an author, yes, but I am also an actor, screenwriter and producer. Austin is my city and I love the film industry here, but it is so underrated. I've penned a few screenplays and I fiddled with the idea for a long time. Keep in mind, when I wrote The Raven, I had yet to publish a work. When I started getting my books published, I had so much fun watching these characters come to life in the minds of readers. I wanted to mix my passions and grow as a creative individual. The Raven was the series that people really liked, so I wrote the first script.
It was awful.
But I kept at it, honing it until I felt it was ready enough to get some film people to look at it. Somewhere along the line it became an obsession.
I have to say, our team is amazing. The Raven was a no-budget project and they worked hard despite time constraints and set backs. We learned so much from each other, burned a hell of lot of midnight oil and formed some great friendships throughout filming and now in post production.
netTVnow: I saw on your website that the series has been a project that’s been 8 years in the making with contributions from across the country. Can you elaborate more on how it all started and how you work across the country?
SVL: As an actor, I travel for work so I meet a lot of wonderful people. While I'm painfully shy, I open up when it comes to film, literature and such. I've been in film for almost 15 years so you can imagine how many people I've likely mentioned my little project to. It was just an idea, and then it became so much more. Friends started to share their suggestions and thoughts, some even red the original scripts and helped me with ideas to improve it. I remember being so jazzed about it all. We eventually coined the phrase "The Murder Crew" which we still use to describe people on Team Raven. You see, Maja, the spymaster on the series, leads a spy network known as the Crimson Crows. A group of actual crows is known as a "murder." Thus, The Murder Crew.
netTVnow: From what I've seen, the series looks great! What was it like filming some of those fight scenes? What was preparation like for that?
Here's a laugh. When we got to the "in production" stages, I was 110 lbs lanky, twiggy armed nerd type. I mean I'm a writer, man! And when we started casting I knew Jo was one of those characters....the ones I'd obsess over too much. We held audition after auditon and finally the casting director and I agreed that it would be best if I took the role so we could focus on the other characters.
But the fight scenes...I was not ready for.
Jo is a former Marine. She was a cop and even had a short stint in the CIA. While the books describe her as thin, she was exceptionally athletic. William Alexander (who plays Sebastian Lennox) and Justin Fischer (who plays The Knight Sergeant) had their hands full as they were jointly the stunt directors of episodes 1-3. They trained me and choreographed all the fights. These guys worked their butts off because we had a short time-frame to film due to our low budget.
I remember laughing a lot with them because I started out so small and lanky. They worked me hard but all of us wanted this project to work, so we burned all the midnight oil and really practiced. I didn't realize how many angles a camera guy would have to get. Our DP, Stephen Laughrun, his job was super hard. We'd walk away from a film day exhausted, jovial and sweaty. The guys are wonderful and very patient.
You see, writing a book is quite different than a film. Certain practicalities are not in play. Writing a fight scene in a book is great fun....little did I know how much work every single move was in real life. Moral of the story: Never underestimate Batman!
netTVnow: You described the female heroine as someone who can hold her own without losing femininity, what are you hoping audiences will take from the series?
SVL: The thing about femininity is that there is no one size fits all. Every woman is a force of nature and we adapt of femininity to fit our lifestyles and needs. Film sometimes downplays that, generalizing what womanhood is or should look like. I love this series because it celebrates women and what we are capable of.
The series has quite a few strong female characters, including Jo. Jo is feminine in the respect of her protective matriarchal personality. She is the leader and she tries to be very distant but in reality, she cares a great deal for her people.
The Spymaster Maja (played by Emery Welsh) is feminine more upfront. Poor Emery wore pencil dresses basically every film day because Maja dresses like a supermodel, but her soft and sweet demeanor underplays her ruthless and unwavering loyalty.
Kincaid (played by Lydia Pilot) is the maternal one, but don't think that makes her weak. Maternal instinct is dangerous and she has her own fight scenes in the series. Kincaid is a Knight known in the books as a legacy, meaning the descendant of Knights. She the best marksman on the team and proficient with both firearms and swords. I have to admit, Kincaid (in the books) looks nothing Like Lydia, but when we cast her we knew she was perfect. Lydia did an extremely good job playing Kincaid, because she has this fierceness in her personality. Thanks to her efforts (and William Alexander's sword training), Kincaid comes to life in a whole new way.
Then our antagonist in Episodes 1-3, Primrose Albright (played by Venus Monique), is more subtle in her femininity. She has a commanding presence and simply does not take no for an answer. What makes her great is that she is the big bad, but she need not even lift a gun. She has other methods.
netTVnow: What has your experience been like in the web series industry?
SVL: I'm learning a lot, and it's humbling. Being in film for so long, you sometimes make the mistake of thinking you pretty much have it figured out, but what made me fall in love with film to begin with was that you never lack in surprises. I've grown both as a performer and a creator. I still have plenty to learn, but we're hoping to bring on other crew as well as we film episodes 4-6!
netTVnow: Tell us more about The Yellow Project Studios.
SVL: I created The Yellow Project Studios to produce film projects that supported certain causes. It grew beyond that, as you know. It is associated with Van Loan Productions and that collaboration allowed for us to do this webseries.
netTVnow: Any upcoming projects to share?