July 14--It all started with a Halloween costume -- and a fascination with zombies.
For the past three years, Derek Stusynski has dressed as a different zombified character for Halloween. First, he was a zombified nerd who had gotten beaten up; then, a zombified superhero. Struggling to top his creative costumes, he decided to cross "The Walking Dead" and "Ted," creating a zombified teddy bear for 2012.
"I found a Chewbacca costume and chopped up a teddy bear and kind of put it all together," he said.
Six months later, Stusynski pulled the costume out of his closet and started writing a Web series based on the zombie teddy bear. Now, he's raising money through Kickstarter.com to fund the project.
'My No. 1 passion'
The Karlstad, Minn., native moved to Los Angeles after graduating from The New York Conservatory for Dramatic Arts in 2012. Pursuing a career in acting, Stusynski has been working as a freelance casting assistant for Liz Lewis Casting Partners.
He has played lead roles and supporting roles in a number of short films, as well as a principal role in the Web series "The RAs."
But at the beginning of the year, Stusynski's acting career had become stagnant. That's when the idea for "The Walking Tedd" hit him.
"Acting is my No. 1 passion, and that's kind of what I want to do forever until I die," he said. "But I love writing when I get inspiration. It's not so much that I set out to be a writer. It's that I get an idea, and it won't leave me alone, so I have to do something with it."
As more and more ideas for the story line and other characters came to him, Stusynski realized this was something he wanted to pursue. He sat down for coffee with actor and friend, Sophia Regan, in February and shared his ideas. Regan loved the premise of a zombified teddy bear, so they started brainstorming this beauty-meets-beast kind of story.
From there, Stusynski started writing the series and finding people to fill the roles. With a lot of connections in Los Angeles, Stusynski was able to picture a friend for each part.
"I was writing, and I'd get inspiration for a character and immediately think of a friend, who I knew could play the character," he said. "I was able to write based on their strengths, which I think helps the story a lot."
Quirky comedy, characters
"The Walking Tedd," which will be filmed in October, is a quirky comedy about a nanny named Kelly living in Los Angeles.
"Tedd (played by Stusynski) is her teddy bear, who has kind of come to life in a zombified form, and she has to juggle this creature and take care of him and protect him, while doing her babysitting job with this nightmare of a rebellious teenage girl," Stusynski said.
Along the way, Kelly is looking for love in all the wrong places, which brings a parkour instructor and actor into the mix. Kelly's ex-boyfriend, Brett, who gave her Tedd, is also trying to win her back.
"Tedd becomes really protective of her and doesn't really like any of the guys she's going out with, so she's trying to deal with that, too," Stusynski said.
Some crazy twins, a quirky obsessive neighbor and a handful of other characters complete the cast of the "The Walking Tedd."
The cast and crew are all relatively new to the Hollywood scene, but that's doesn't mean they don't have experience.
Regan, who plays Kelly, has appeared in ABC Family's hit TV series "Switched at Birth." Ashton Swinford, who plays Kelly's best friend, Skylar, made an appearance in FOX's "New Girl."
Kylie Sparks, who plays noisy neighbor Olivia, has made appearances in a number of TV series including: "Desperate Housewives," "Greek," "Bones" and "Melissa and Joey." She also played a lead role in the hit Web series, "Squaresville."
The director Sean Willis has led several short films and one made-for-TV movie, "Fabulous High."
Other cast members have appeared in Disney's "The Suite Life Movie," NBC's "The Office," Nickelodeon's "Drake and Josh" and CBS's "Walker Texas Ranger."
"Everybody I approached, whether they were my friends or not, when I told them the idea, they were down whether they got paid or not," Stusynski said.
The young cast is hopeful the short Web series will give them the exposure they need to advance their careers.
"We want to gain as much attention and exposure for everyone as possible," Stusynski said. "We hope to kind of get to the next step of our careers, whether it's getting an agent, getting on a TV show ..."
While Stusynski might be using the Web series as another stepping stone, he is passionate about the project. He hasn't finished writing the first season, but he already has plans for a second.
He said that could happen a couple different ways: an online company could pick up the series and fund a second season, or they could pitch it to networks like ABC or FOX for a sitcom.
"Or, maybe "The Walking Dead" just wants to put me on and have me do a cameo on the show," Stusynski said with a laugh. "I would take that."
But before they start thinking about a second season and cameo appearances, the cast and crew need to raise the funds to shoot the series.
They shot a promo video in early June and uploaded it to Kickstarter.com, a website designed to help filmmakers, musicians, artists and designers raise the funds they need for an independent project.
Launching their project June 25, they have just 30 days to raise the minimum $15,000 needed to fund their first season, which means they need to raise an average of $500 a day.
Stusynski said they raised $500 the first 24 hours and were looking for bigger donors to sponsor specific episodes. It may seem like a lot of money for five to six minute episodes, but compared to most Hollywood shows, which have million dollar budgets, it's nothing, he said.
The contributions will go toward equipment, crew costs, post production costs, hair and makeup, talent compensation, permits, insurance and promotional materials.
They may be behind schedule for their funding, but Stusynski isn't worried. He said whether they had 30 days or 60 days, everyone waits to the last minute to donate. He's confident they'll make their goal.
You can contribute to the production of by pledging a minimum of $1 at "The Walking Tedd" page. Log on to Kickstarter.com. Click "Back This Project" and enter the amount you would like to pledge. The cast will even reward you with incentives for pledging certain amounts.
If the project reaches its goal of $15,000 by July 25, your credit card will be charged the pledged amount. If the project doesn't reach its goal, no one will be charged.
(c)2013 Grand Forks Herald (Grand Forks, N.D.)
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