There aren’t too many other people who embody the spirit of web entertainment as well as Sandeep Parikh. Parikh is all over the web: as an actor on marquee web series The Guild, writer-director of Atom’s Legend of Neil and creator of his own website, EffinFunny. Already a celebrity to hundreds of thousands of fans, Parikh’s popularity keeps growing each year.
Now, with Neil’s final season premiering yesterday on Atom, Parikh is set for the next big stage of his career: writing for television. Comedy Central, Atom’s partner and fellow Viacom subsidiary, announced Parikh has signed a blind script deal with the network.
“I’m very excited to be able to throw my hat in the television ring,” Parikh said. “Do not doubt that I will continue to create for the web even as I write this script for television.”
But first, Neil. Parikh promises a big finish for the trilogy: with longer episodes, more special effects and all the fan favorites on hand. “We wanted to build to a ridiculously epic finale and we did that,” he said.
As he plans to dip his feet into a new world, what does Parikh think of the state of web entertainment?
“The television and web worlds are colliding and it’s kind of chaotic which is great for someone like me. Amongst the rubble, new models will arise, and myself and my peers will be the ones to create those models for programming,” he said. “I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else.”
Below, the full interview, in which we discuss more about the future of the web, what’s in store for Zaboo, behind the scenes of Neil, and what he wish he’d done in his twenties.
Tubefilter: First, the obvious question: what can fans expect from the final season of Neil?
Sandeep Parikh: Nothing. Neil hits “Quit” and then it’s just seven episodes of his crappy life in New Jersey. Then Neil joins the mafia, works for Tony Soprano and we give that series an actual ending.
Oh, I kid. I don’t want to give anything away but this season will be by far the biggest, most epic, absurd, nerderiffic season of them all. We’re building to something that I’m really proud of. Tony and I always wanted this to be a trilogy of seasons. We wanted to build to a ridiculously epic finale and we did that. Our core cast is back, more Mike Rose as Old Man, more Felicia Day as our Fairy, more Scott Chernoff and Eric Acosta (Gannon and Wizrobe) and of course Angie Hill as Zelda. We really tried to give each of them a grander story arc and put them in many unexpected situations. There’s also a host of new characters, creatures and big bosses from Zelda that we haven’t seen before.
We have over 400 effects shots this season (as opposed to about 220 last season and maybe 40 the first season), so Sevan Najarian our VFX super has his hands full. Our production designer Greg Aronowitz, really created some of the most awe-inspiring sets, props, etc. Jenn Rose, our make-up artist and Jenny Green, our costumer, outdid themselves this year. And we stole Schmidty (John Schmidt) from The Guild to DP and he really killed it. The scope overall has increased.
We put every penny we could on screen and our incredible cast and crew devoted so much extra time and effort to make this season the best it could be. I’m just so thankful to have so much talent around me to make me look good. It was by far my greatest challenge as a filmmaker and that’s what it’s all about: Just always overreaching and scaring the crap out of yourself, it’s the only way to keep things interesting.
Tubefilter: Now that it’s ending, what do you think made Neil so successful?
SP: Fun. I try my damndest to keep the entire process fun, and work with genuinely fun and funny people and I think that joy jumps off the screen and grabs the audience. It’s inviting and the audience feels a part of it. Don’t get me wrong, the people that put the show together are professionals, hard workers and hugely talented. We put in very long days on set and months of full days go into pre and post production. But in general, the mood is light, everyone’s happy to be there and having a good time and that bleeds into every part of the process.
Especially for the actors, I want it to feel like play time for them. It’s important to me that I not try to mold them into the characters that I think they should play, I’d much rather my characters mold into the actor’s persona. I encourage improv, I encourage ideas from every crew member. As a director or creator or producer, or whatever it is I’m called, my most important job is hiring. Micromanaging sucks and is rarely effective: It’s all about hiring the right people and being able to trust them and collaborate with them. And for something like Neil, it’s important that every member of the team is in it to win it, crazy talented and likes dick jokes.
Tubefilter: What’s the secret to doing comedy on the web?
SP: Doing something that’s unique to you. Showcase your sensibilities and your sense of humor, because there’s seemingly a niche for all kinds. It helps if your niche overlaps a large passionate fan-base like Zelda-lovers or World of Warcraft players. The gamer audience is so passionate. We just love it when you speak our language, when you portray us, or speak to us in an authentic manner. There are other niches like that all over the web, so just be true to yourself. Oh and keep making shit. Don’t just make one thing and put all your eggs in that basket, because you only get better and better the more you do. In Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers,” he says it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at anything and that’s just as true for comedy. Practice, work, dedication, all the same stuff you rolled your eyes at your parents about.
Tubefilter: You still write and direct most if not all the episodes. Is it hard to keep the show fresh, especially with so much competition online, or have you hit a stride?
SP: I write them all with Tony Janning (Neil) and direct them all and I wouldn’t say it’s hard to keep the show fresh. But we’re always thinking about it, it’s definitely something we talk about a lot. Have we done this joke before? Have we seen this character before? Have we already hit this beat? These are questions that Tony and I ask ourselves throughout the whole process. If the answer is yes to that question, then we twist and keep twisting until it feels original.
And I don’t think the competition has really put any pressure on me. I put all the pressure on myself that I need. I love that there’s so many people jumping into the online space. It’s empowering everyone around me. All of my actor friends now want to make a Web series and that’s great. It’ll bring the quality up eventually, as we all get better, understand the space better and attract more eyes to the web. A rising tide brings all boats…
Tubefilter: The series is pretty consistent aesthetically, though from season one to two, it looks like the episodes were longer. Was that at the request of fans, who, especially for popular web series, almost always demand more? What other narrative changes have been influenced by fan engagement – e.g. more of a particular gag, character, more action?
SP: That’s the coolest thing about the web. The immediacy of response and the intimacy with our fans. Tony and I are actively engaged in our Facebook and Twitter fan pages. We build a forum on my comedy portal, Effinfunny.com, specifically on Neil. I come from an improv background and I’m used to going up on stage and feeling right away whether or not what I did was funny. The audience will tell you, and the Web replicates that experience to a certain degree. So, yes, we definitely hear what our fans like and they help shape what we show more of. I was quick to learn what a fan favorite the Old Man was because of our fans, so we always try to get him in there and push his story and character arc. But it can’t be disingenuous, it’s got to fit with the arc of the story. So it’s a balance.
And yes, the episodes will definitely be longer in season 3, the story is just dictating that it gets more grand and epic. Also I think that if you’re watching anything from season 3 you’re probably already committed and along for the ride.
Tubefilter: What’s in store for Zaboo this season on the The Guild? Any teasers?
SP: Zaboo goes through some pretty major growth this season. I’m really excited to see how it all comes together. It was a blast to shoot: I got to act a bit with Wil Wheaton, do more stuff with Jeff and Felicia and play some big multi-character scenes. And it’s always such a good time to work with Sean Becker, he makes it so collaborative, he’s got no ego and is really receptive to my ideas.
This season, Felicia really wanted to go back to the season 1 feel and make it less crazy dramatic than seasons 2 and 3 and I think it was a smart call. It keeps the show episodic feeling, like you can live with these characters for a long time. Neil was kind of the opposite, where I think we had to keep one upping the drama because the show is more serial than episodic and has a clear path to an ending. I’m really the luckiest man alive to be a part of both shows so intimately.
Tubefilter: What are your thoughts on the future of “web” entertainment, particularly the short episodic programming on which you’ve made your name?
SP: I think the future is bright. I think we’re on to something. The television and web worlds are colliding and it’s kind of chaotic which is great for someone like me. Amongst the rubble, new models will arise, and myself and my peers will be the ones to create those models for programming. It’s rare to get to be a part of something new, new paradigms. I remember hearing about how Obama was excited to be president during the toughest times, because it actually presents the opportunity for greatness. Please take this metaphor loosely, but I think we’re in a similar situation with the state of entertainment. Economic downturns, constantly improving technology, monetization models broken, self distribution, experimentation – it’s crazyville. Simultaneously scary and exciting, I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else.
Tubefilter: Do you pay close attention to all the changing business models in web/TV (Hulu+, Google TV, and the like)? Are you excited or nervous about the future?
SP: Yes I pay attention. And yes I’m excited. Nervous? What’s there to be nervous about? As long as I get to keep creating, trying new things I’ll be happy.
Tubefilter: I’m told you have an exciting project coming up with Comedy Central. Anything you can divulge about your future endeavors?
SP: The success of Legend Of Neil and my longstanding relationship with Atom.com has given me the opportunity to develop and write for Comedy Central via a blind script-deal. I really need to thank Scott Roesch, Peter Ignacio, Kate O’Brien and the whole Atom.com team for their support and faith in me. David Taghioff, my agent at the time, was instrumental in putting this deal together. It’s a rare that these crossovers happen. I’m very excited to be able to throw my hat in the television ring. Do not doubt that I will continue to create for the web even as I write this script for television. Needless to say, I’m very excited and can’t wait to talk about this in more detail down the road!
Tubefilter: If the Internet is correct, you’re turning 30. If there is one thing you wish you’d done in your twenties, what would it have been?
SP: I wish I touched <name omitted> boobs that one time. I’m pretty sure she was in to me, and I just chickened out. Other than that, I’m pretty cool with my twenties. I think my 30s will be even more fun, or as I like to call them my twenty-teens.