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Interview with “Tainted Love” Creator and Star Orlando Jones

Jones
Tainted Love is a romantic comedy-action-crime=graphic novel adventure story that combines live action and motion-comic to spin its narrative. It’s the tale of boy meets girl; however, in this case the boy is a two-bit hood named Black Barry working for a powerful drug dealer, and the girl is his freshly-knocked-up girlfriend named Jezebel. They need a lot of money if they’re going to take care of a kid, and there’s only a few ways they know to get it. It’s not your average episodic program, and that’s what makes it perfect for the internet. Machinima Prime is the place to see the show, which gleefully declares that it contains “coarse language, adult situations, inappropriate violence and nudity,” after which the disclaimer says, “you’re welcome.” The man behind Tainted Love is actor/writer Orlando Jones, who spoke to us about making living comic books for the digital domain.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jbVB0D-6vt8&w=615&h=346]

NERDIST: Where did you get the idea for Tainted Love and how did it develop?

ORLANDO JONES: The original idea was to do a graphic novel, obviously, a comic book, and coming to grips with the fact that I’m a nerd. I’m not just saying that for your readers. I’ll put it this way – I was a chemistry major. I think I own this.

N: [laughs] Yeah, you’ve got the cred for sure.

OJ: Yeah, so that was a big part of it, but also playing with the bigger ideas of Tainted Love, of dealing with characters that people think have no dignity, but forget that they’re still human and they have humanity. I sort of fell in love with the idea that we all love things that we’re not supposed to, and that often that love is also “tainted.” I wrapped it in sort of a graphic novel theme, and out of that came Tainted Love.

N: Were you actively writing it to be a graphic novel or were you just writing the story and seeing where it would go?

OJ: There were a few different versions, to be honest with you. When I first started playing with it, I was writing it as a feature script. And I was playing with that idea, and I had written various feature scripts about these characters and this sort of world, and when I first started thinking of it as a graphic novel, I had this idea for a thing called Hell Up In Heaven. It was basically about these same two characters who you meet at a different part of their lives and they already had a kid, and, basically, Barry wasn’t paying his child support for the kid and the mom, not wanting to deal with the courts, being a criminal herself, came hunting for him. The big twist, because it was a graphic novel, was that he dies and they literally continue the war in heaven, so it’s hell up in heaven.

So, I was writing that and I was talking to [co-creator and director] Avi Youabian about it and we started talking about what we could do and what sort of technology was out there. We both loved these characters and thought maybe we shouldn’t start them here; maybe we should start them before they’ve had the kid and really sort of drill down this idea of people who love doing this, but have this kid and are changed forever by bringing this person into the world. Tainted Love, in its present incarnation, I started to write and, frankly I wrote another feature script based on those characters and began pulling out the graphic novel elements and I was like, “This whole thing’s a graphic novel,” and there it was.

N: How did you go about breaking the feature story up into episodes?

OJ: I think the major idea was, if you’re going to tell stories for this medium, tell them in a way that alters the storytelling rules that often exist in the mainstream world, where the act breaks come in different places and the audiences experience things differently. It forces us to engage the viewer, so that every 4-6 minutes they’re asking what’s going to happen next. So, that was a different style to employ as a writer. Then I started thinking about who could make it and I thought, the partner of dreams for me would Machinima. I really love what they’re doing at Machinima, I’m a viewer of Machinma. So, all of those ideas really changed the way we would write the story, because we would factor in how we were going to shoot it and not just have it be static and print. How could someone view this on their phone, their iPad, their TV, and enjoy it all the same way? As it became clear we were going to launch this in the digital space, we changed the rules of the storytelling, because we were using the digital rules.

N: The actual comic book portions of the episodes go in and out of the narrative so seamlessly; who does those, and what’s the process of deciding what they ought to be?

OJ: It’s a difficult process. [laughs] The first big thought was that, if you’re doing a graphic novel, then your graphic novel needs to have a style. Graphic novels and comic books, by and large, as you know, have cover art and they have interior art. The interior art is never as detailed as the cover art. So, the first thing we realized when entering the digital space is that everything has to be cover art. All the art has to have detail, a grid, a shadow. This incredible artist and company out of Bulgaria, Cinemotion, and Viktor Trichkov, who works there, really loved the idea. I was shooting a movie over there last year called Bad Country that’s coming out this year, and I met Viktor because he was doing visual effects. He fell in love with what we were doing with Tainted Love, and we worked together with a bunch of different artists and just struggled to find the style, and we found a comic book artist there who’s just amazing and they really honed the style. Then we realized that you have to draw all of the panels first, and how those panels come to life is a completely different ideology with a completely different set of people. We worked with a company in the states called Yankee Peddler, who did the 3D camera work and the animation and what have you.

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We already had the sense in the shooting of it. One of the things Avi talks about a lot in our EPK stuff is having to shoot negative space, because the words would have to come up at different points and we really had to think about, graphically, how this was going to look the entire time we were shooting it. So, it really took a lot of planning as far as how to build it. Some things we tried didn’t work and some things did, but with that group of people, we all found the style of what it became. The key element is, we have to feel like this graphic novel is coming to life; that it sort of picks you up and takes you along and drops you at another point in the story. That’s how we felt the storytelling could play out, and we just hoped it would work, really.

N: On the acting side of things, you obviously do a lot of scenes with Jezebel, played by Deanna Russo; how important was the casting of that character, and how was your working relationship with her?

OJ: She’s hysterical and incredible. It’s a really difficult role to cast. She needs to be a ball-buster; I didn’t want her to be a delicate lotus blossom, I wanted her to really be the catalyst, the thing that’s really driving things forward. And I wanted a strong female character, because there’s female comic book nerds as well and I’m sure they want to see themselves in the light and not just as “the girlfriend” or “the wife.” So, we were looking for the girl who was hot and could also be really funny, but could look credible with a gun and could also work in those softer moments. We were lucky, frankly, to have her. One of my favorite scenes is in episode two, where she tells a story about my mom having gone in for surgery and at the end she just goes, “…super tragic.” And then two seconds after “super tragic,” the girl just goes and shoots a guy in the head. [laughing] It just makes me laugh. Yeah. She’s incredible, and was just amazing in this role and what she did with it and the way she brought it to life, the way she carries herself, the way she walks, the way she plays against Barry. She really brought her A game, and I think it’s showing in the way fans are responding to her. It just makes me so happy for her, because I think she’s so talented. And underused.

N: How much freedom has Machinima given you in making this show?

OJ: A tremendous amount. Obviously, if you’re making something, you want to appeal to an audience that actually loves this type of stuff. I do think there are rules you have to pay attention to that are difficult if you’re looking at the traditional business. Machinima has just been stupid-amazing. They’re incredible. It’s been exciting to work with them, and I hope to do it for a long time. We were in a vacuum, to be honest with you, since, again, we sort of made it ourselves and took it to Machinima, who really embraced it with both arms and elevated it to a point where we’re excited they’re putting all their power behind it.

We feel like the internet, particularly with a partner like Machinima, gives us the opportunity to both garner and audience and tell a story that, hopefully, those fans, who are looking for that type of content, can find something that they can really embrace. It’s really been a labor of love, and I think the internet is so incredible in the sense that it really does let you into the storytelling and let the content creator tell you a story.

New episodes post every Thursday (today is episode 4) on Machinima Prime.

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