Ted Kim thinks his web-based comedy series has two big things going for it.
One is a strong concept, which he describes as “a love story about two sisters who can never get in synch,” and in fact are constantly at war.
The other is that it is being filmed in Billings and Roundup, tapping into a national and even an international fascination with Montana.
Kim, who manages Billings Open Studio and has worked in television and film in Los Angeles and New York City, has launched an Indiegogo fundraising campaign, trying to corral the $15,000 he needs to film a half-hour pilot, which will be posted on YouTube and Vimeo.
He’d like to film the pilot this fall and then get two more episodes done before trying to pitch the series to on-demand streaming services like Netflix and Amazon.
“Once you have three episodes in hand you can start knocking on doors,” Kim said. “If you have even one episode in hand, you can start knocking on doors.”
And if you’ve already built a solid online audience before you go knocking, all the better, he said. His ultimate goal is to have the series picked up by a distributor so that it can continue indefinitely.
Because of the changes sweeping the entertainment industry, Kim said, this is all uncharted territory. The one thing everyone wants, though, is original content.
“It really is an ideal time to be a producer,” he said.
Kim and other others involved in the series, “Welcome to Big Sky Adventures,” had a fundraiser at the downtown Art House Cinema and Pub last Monday, at which they showed a trailer, a scene from the pilot and a behind-the-scenes look at the actors and the series.
None of those videos is available online yet, Kim said, but they will be soon, and he’ll also be posting filmed vignettes as they’re ready. They have already done some filming during a downtown Billings Farmers’ Market, at a Fourth of July parade in Roundup and on the Hay Fox Ranch outside Roundup.
Kim had been thinking about doing a comedy series for a long time and came up with this one after thinking about growing up with two sisters. He said sibling rivalries and family relationships are things everybody is familiar with, either in their own families or in those of their friends.
“It’s so universal,” he said. “It can be tragic and funny. It’s really a very fertile field for comedy.”
The two main characters in “Welcome to Big Sky Country” are the Tuss sisters, Hildi, the older one, played by Caitlin Hart, and younger sister Sarah, played by Robin Denk. In the show, Hildi has spent most of her life in Montana but is living in Kansas when she and Sarah are called back to Montana by their mother, who is very ill—or at least appears to be.
Kim said the mother, whom he describes as “quite the Machiavellian character,” asks her daughters to revive the family’s adventure tour business, as a way of luring them home and getting them back together.
Sarah, who has spent years in L.A. and is thoroughly citified, clashes immediately and repeatedly with her sister, who is a country girl at heart. The two leading men are Kyle, played by Troy Evans, Hildi’s ex-husband, who is still in love with her, and Benny, played by Shane McClurg, who’s madly in love with Sarah.
Hildi and Kyle have plenty of conflicts of their own, to match the sisters’ rivalry. Benny, meanwhile, was Sarah’s good friend in high school, when he figured the only way to get close to a girl as popular and pretty as Sarah was to pretend he was gay.
He’s dying to profess his love to her, but since she has already shared her deepest secrets with him—and allowed him to see her in her birthday suit—he’s afraid that copping to his true feelings might end their relationship.
Kim said more than 300 people from around the country responded to a casting call. It was relatively easy to fill three of the main roles, with Billings natives Hart and McClurg, and Denk, who is from Chicago, but not so easy to fill the role of Kyle.
That finally happened when Kim was scouting Roundup-area locations with Evans, a fifth-generation Montanan who works as an artist and woodworker in Roundup.
In the midst of that search, Kim said, he realized Evans was perfect for the part. “I said, holy cow, I’m being driven around by Kyle,” and he asked Evens if he’d like to give it a try.
“I have never done any acting at all and so I was totally taken aback by it,” Evans said. “But when he said it, I just thought of it as an opportunity and definitely wanted to go for it.”
Hart, meanwhile, is thrilled to be able to work as an actor in her hometown. She graduated from the University of Montana with a BFA in acting and has performed with the Montana Repertory Theatre, NOVA and Billings Studio Theatre.
“It’s one of my deepest passions,” she said. “I was super excited about this experience.”
She also loves how the series showcases Eastern Montana—the landscapes and all the talented people in and around Billings.
“I love the idea of a story set in Montana being told,” she said. “Even if it’s just popular in Montana, that’d be cool.”
And if it does go big nationally, big enough to expand into more than one season, Evans is ready for that.
“We knew going into it that that would potentially be a possibility,” he said. “So yeah, I’m open to it. If this is a two- or three-year stint, that’d be great.”