Sandeep Parikh (You Know, the Guy Who Does Legend of Neil, With Which I’m Obsessed): The Nerd World Interview

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So yeah, I’m obsessed with Legend of Neil, which is an online comedy about a guy who accidentally gets projected into Legend of Zelda on the NES. He runs around fighting and doing the levels, but he’s very disaffected and just not that into collecting pieces of the Triforce or whatever. They’re really clever about sending up the manifold absurdities of the Zelda game-world. That in no way conveys what is awesome about the show, but believe you me it is pretty awesome.

(This is where I would embed a Legend of Neil episode, if that were possible with our implementation of WordPress.)

Then I realized that the guy who makes it, Sandeep Parikh, also plays Zaboo on The Guild. (Both shows also feature Felicia Day, by the way.) Then it started to seem really important that I talk to Sandeep, immediately.

So I e-mailed him. And he e-mailed me back. That pretty much brings us up to the present day. He turned out to be exactly as funny and interesting as I would have thought, extrapolating based on Legend of Neil.

Me: How’d the idea for Legend of Neil happen — what was the moment? I’m assuming you were a huge Zelda fan back in the day?

Sandeep: So, the Legend of The Legend of Neil starts with my roommate getting a care package from his mom containing a bunch of crap that she no longer wanted to house including an NES and the original Legend of Zelda. He and I came home after a night out, a bit tipsy and he claimed that he could beat the game in under an hour, which I just did not believe was possible. I mean, how could someone spend 1 hour on a game that took me my entire childhood to beat? I remember hand drawing maps, spending hours and hours collecting enough rupees to buy the blue ring, etc, how could this be done in an hour.

Well we decided to crack a few beers as he attempted this feat. As I was watching him play I started drunkenly improvising as the characters in the game and making fun of the conventions of the game world. I remember thinking to myself how weird it must for Link to meet this Old Man who gives him a wooden sword to go kill creatures with and wondering what were the Old Man’s interests. I literally opened up my lap top then and started writing “The Legend of Link.” In the morning, hungover, I read through the script and it was still actually funny. I called up Tony Janning because I knew I wanted him to play Link and we decided to shoot the damn thing.

It wasn’t until a week before shooting that I woke up one morning and realized how much funnier it would be if Link was actually just some random dude from our world that got sucked into the game. I modified the script (having to leave in all the major production elements, because the parts were cast, and locations set, etc) and The Legend of Neil was born.

My roommate beat the game in less than 45 minutes that night by the way.

Unlike in The Guild, you’re mostly behind the camera in Legend of Neil. How come you didn’t take a part for yourself? I mean aside from (according to IMDB) Aquamentus, I guess? Which by the way, interesting choice.

Well I was never all that interested in acting. Directing and writing has been my main focus since moving out to Los Angeles. Acting has sort of been a bi-product of producing my own shorts and it being necessary and easier to cast yourself rather than coercing an actor to work for a day getting paid in pizza and bottled water.

Also The Legend of Neil was easily my most ambitious project and I just wanted to make sure I nailed it, since it was really the first time I’d be working for a network. So I thought that producing, directing, writing, and editing were enough hats to wear and I didn’t need to split my focus by acting in it as well. There have been a few times where I did want to cast myself (Old Man, Storekeeper) but in the end I thought it would be better with the actors that I cast in them. Now I can’t imagine anyone but Mike Rose playing the Old Man or Chris Fairbanks as the Storekeeper. So I just did the voices of Aquamentus and the skeletons (with Tony) because I figured it would be fun. Boy was I wrong, it turns out I’m such a dick as a director. Director Sandeep and Actor Sandeep do not get along.

How do you get such consistently great performers for the series, even for the smaller parts? I mean, look at Neil’s brother. And his girlfriend. Or the guy who tries to scam Neil in season 2 episode 2, he’s just genius. It’s ridiculous.

In general I rarely hold auditions. I hate them. I try to cast people that I know, that I’ve worked with improvising or seen doing stand up on my site, People that I know have the ability to improv, to really stretch a scene, discover new jokes and gags from take to take. Even if they’re playing smaller roles, I might as well fill them with someone that can get out there and play. The script really is just a blueprint for me, to make sure that we’re going to shoot something that progresses the story. Outside of that I encourage the actors to make the dialogue their own. I read somewhere that directing is 80% casting, and that’s so incredibly true.

The folks that you specifically mentioned: Derek Carter plays Neil’s brother. I saw him be hilariously funny on Campus Ladies, a short lived show on the Oxygen network, and he was a buddy of mine from playing poker and softball. He’s just a funny dude, so I knew he’d nail it.

Tara Perry (Neil’s GF) is someone I improvise with all the time, I knew she’d nail it. And Chris Fairbanks is one of the most innovative and hilarious stream-of-consciousness comics out there. He did a set for almost a year and half ago, I knew right then that I wanted him to play something in something I would do in the future because he had such a unique sensibility, cadence and comedic timing.

Also, the audition process leaves you open to casting assholes by accident. I really don’t like working with assholes, they bring down the whole set. When you’re shooting something so low budget, you can’t have that. Morale is too important. So that’s why I cast my friends, people that I know will have a good time because I think that feeling of joy and silliness comes right off the screen.

Wow. Felicia Day talking dirty. Did you have to convince her to do that? Or was she just up for it?

Felicia Day is a potty mouth. There I said it. I’ve improvved with her for a couple years before Guild or Neil existed, and she was so gleefully dirty on stage that when I wrote the part it was an absolute no-brainer for me to cast her. She doesn’t like to admit it, but MANY of her dirty lines comes straight from her brain while she’s improvising. She always likes to keep it smart-dirty when possible though, so she will occasionally veto things here and there, and for the most part I agree with her.

She’s truly a gifted actress, that can obviously play all across the spectrum. I just love that she’s not afraid to pull out all the stops for us. And she’s not afraid that it will damage her career or some BS like that because she makes her own career. Truly admirable. Also she’s 7 inches tall, so it saved us a ton on the VFX budget to cast her.

The special effects are actually … pretty cool. I mean, it’s not ILM, but it works. Who does those?

Sevan Najarian is our Wizard (or Wizrobe). I met him through where he directs a lot of shorts that have just the most amazing VFX. He’s really got an amazing eye for it, and when I offered him the gig, he jumped at it. Even back when it was unpaid. I remember sending him this long email, basically begging him to do it. And he wrote me back something like “oh I’m ALL over this.” So it’s just another case of finding someone extremely talented and passionate willing to work for our modest budget simply for the love the game. If you want to see more of his work you should search YouTube for The Pop an awesome send up of Popeye set in a Sin City world.

In season 2 we exponentially increased Sevan’s workload and he was more than up to the task. And I just think it’s those little VFX moments that sets our show apart from the rest. I try to keep gags practical wherever possible because I love that Monty Python feel to the show, but when we’ve got to go digital, Sevan brings it.

What’s your sense of where the Web video scene is at, in general. Is your plan to eventually move on to studio stuff? Or is everything cool where you are?

I’m always looking to up the ante on the next project. I’m not really the type to be satisfied where I am, what’s the fun in that? My dream has always been to make a feature and I think I’ll be putting some effort into that soon. That said, I LOVE the web, it allows for a tremendous amount of creative freedom and a closeness to your fanbase that you can’t get anywhere else.

So I imagine that as the web video scene evolves that I’ll be evolving with it, I don’t think that it will always play third fiddle to film and television. It’s just too powerful a medium ultimately. The studios know it, the unions know it (hence the strikes), and the creators know it. All the different mediums are collapsing into each other, there’s going to be a fair amount of chaos as all the monetization models get screwy and with all that there’s a tremendous opportunity for self-starters to make a big impact.

The musical episode. I don’t where to begin — did you write the music? Did you know everybody could sing? The funniest thing about that episode is that I found it actually kind of emotionally moving. I mean, not the pussy-fart part, but the whole “There’s no restart” part. It was sort of bittersweet. Or am I just a big sucker for thinking that?

I wrote the lyrics with Tony Janning. The music was written by a college buddy of mine Nigel Cordeiro. None of us had ever done a musical before and we were already in the midst of pre-production when we decided to convert the 3rd episode into a musical. (Tony and I always felt that ep was the weakest, I jokingly said to the network maybe we’ll just make it a musical, and they jumped all over that “Great idea! Do it!”). So needless to say, I had no clue what I was getting myself into. I did not know that anybody besides Felicia could sing, but I just figured we’d roll with it.

In the case of Tony, he’s a really committed actor and I though it would be funny even if he couldn’t hit the high notes perfectly, same with Eric who plays Wizrobe. Scott, our Gannon, turned out to have a booming theatrical voice. Our only issue was Angie, who told me right off the bat, that she COULD NOT sing. So then I went out and found myself a Maurissa Tancharoen (Dr. Horrible writer and amazing singer) to play Zelda’s voice. And she absolutely nailed it. You know, when you have a succinct vision for something and just put it out there, good things come along and help make it happen. That’s what happened with Maurissa, even Jed Whedon got in on it and helped us record and mix the vocals of our “Save Me” ballad.

I knew I had something special on my hands when during the shoot, every cast and crew member would be humming the songs unable to get them out of their heads.

You bring up an interesting point about emotions. Yes, our show is extremely raunchy, and silly, and weird. But ultimately the goal is to make you care about the characters. You have to do that in order to take the show to the next level and really get the audience invested. So, no I don’t think you’re a big sucker. I do want the audience really rooting for everyone. Once you have that, then the audience can really feel the highs and lows, the funny, the scary, the suspense and even the bittersweetness. I don’t expect anyone to cry (unless they’re laughing so hard) while watching The Legend of Neil, but you’ve got to play in the dramatic space a bit to make the comedy pop, especially in a musical.