For Matt Anderson, writer and director of the Twin Cities-based Web series "Theater People," life has come full circle.
A decade ago Anderson moved out to Los Angeles to write and pitch screenplays — but nothing ever got the production green light.
"Finally, by the end, I just wanted to do something," he said. "I just wanted to make something and see it through to fruition."
Anderson headed back to the Twin Cities. He bought a cheap video camera before hitting the road with a friend, and by the time he was home, he'd managed to piece together a silent film. That's when he realized:
"Even though I hadn't made the money out in L.A., the means of production had changed so much in that seven or eight years that you didn't need $20,000 to make a project," he said.
Anderson decided to put together a show about the local theater scene, drawing on one of the Twin Cities' greatest natural resources — actors. "Theater People" was born.
"Our tag line is 'It's the comedy Web series about the drama behind the drama,'" he said.
After wrapping the first season, one of the actors mentioned the series to Star Tribune Theater Critic Graydon Royce over coffee.
"I went back to my office that afternoon and watched three or four or five short episodes in a row," Royce recalled. "And yeah, I just sort of fell in love with it, right then."
Speaking as someone who regularly attends plays, Royce said "Theater People" offers a behind-the-scenes look at auditions, rehearsals and cast parties. Philandering actors, pretentious directors and overworked stage managers all get their day in the sun.
"It had a real charm to it, kind of a 'We're making fun of ourselves kind of thing, but we're taking it really seriously,'" he said.
Royce, who inherited his parents' farmhouse, was so charmed by the series that he offered up the house and land for possible use as a set.
Matt Anderson grabbed at the opportunity, and the farm became the setting for Season Two of "Theater People," in which director Jamy Gumb appears to go a little mad while staging a site-specific production of Ibsen's "A Doll's House."
Anderson's crew recently finished Season Three. "Theater People" has had more than 30,000 episode views, and it's been picked up for 10 different film festivals. It won for Best Web Series at Open World Toronto Film Festival and was nominated for best ensemble cast at NYC Web Fest.
The first season of "Theater People" was a volunteer project, Anderson said, but he managed to pay the cast and crew stipends for the second and third seasons, thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign. Now he needs to figure out whether there can be a Season Four.
"We have to kind of increase things on both levels again," he said. "It has to be more ambitious, and we'd like to be able to pay people a little bit more. Every step has to be a little bit bigger and a little bit more professional."
And so once again, Matt Anderson is looking for a producer to back his idea.