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Our Interview with Stormforged Studios, Part 1

Posted by Jess Trebing on


For those few of you who don't know, this upcoming fantasy television series, Tavern Brawl, serves as the inspiration for our much beloved Rosebrew.  Our marketing assistant Sam Trathen spoke to series creators James V. Murray and John Shaw last March about all things Rosebrew, Tavern Brawl, and the best fantasy literature out there.

Edited for clarity and length.

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Sam: Give us a brief introduction as to who you are, what Tavern Brawl is, etc

James: It's a live action fantasy series that turns traditional fantasy tropes on its head!

John: He had some trouble memorizing those lines for our Kickstarter video… we have a blooper reel of him doing it 30 times

James: I was at VidCon 2017,  a YouTube convention, and I had a creator pass. So I was able to go chat with Olan Rogers (who is on TBS and Adult Swim for a show called Finalspace) and he had just finished season one. It hadn’t come out yet. Twelve other people and I were just asking him questions, and he said something like, “Just do something you know you can do really well.”

And I’d already had the name Tavern Brawl in my head, just sort of floating around in there and suddenly the idea came to me: the biggest trope in D&D is that your party meets in a tavern.

So what if you took that, flipped it around, saw it from the tavernkeep’s perspective. Where every day, these adventurers keep coming in and just keep wrecking the place over and over and over and this poor dude is just beaten down and just wondering, "Why do these adventurers keep coming in and breaking all my tables?” 

I went home, started developing it, thinking about the story. I started having some music made, some artwork done. John and I were old friends. I knew he’d gone to school for film, so I approached him and was like, “I want make this show and I know you have some film background.”

John: Yeah, he pitched it to me about three years ago now and he was pretty much ready to go with the Kickstarter. I told him we have a lot of stuff to do before we do the Kickstarter! But I think it would be a good idea to do a proof of concept short film to show people, “We can actually do this!”

You see so many people with crowdfunding campaigns who are like, “I promise I can do this but I’ve never done it before! Give me money!” and that just rubs me the wrong way because I knew they can’t do it. But I knew James and I could.

So we made this proof of concept short film that set up the world, and it kind of eased people into the lore. We were able to do it half animation, half live action and show a lot of stuff we wouldn’t normally have the money to do. It took us about a year and a half, almost two years to make that. Animation is still very expensive and we were working with freelancers who were all on different timetables. We made a lot of mistakes!

We built a fantasy tavern in a garage in Oregon, filmed it all in a day. The animation took about nine months. Then, we launched our Kickstarter in February of 2020.

It was funded in 48 hours. We had an awesome response, did a big premiere a month before COVID hit. Had like 75 people show up. My whole family flew up for it. And then we began production. Obviously, COVID delayed things for a while, most film projects got delayed, but it gave us more time to do cool things like this. We had more time to work on the script, work with actors. But we are eager to film.

Sam: Where are you at in terms of production for now?

James: We finished our casting in December, but we have had a few more characters crop up. Just finishing some casting, got a director of photography onboard. 

John: We're very very deep in pre-production, I’d say, in the sense of we’re about to start getting into the meat of it. Now we’re getting cast and crew, polishing the script, and within the next month, we’ll be working with actors, figuring out costumes, makeup

Sam: I know fantasy lit is having a post-Game of Thrones heyday right now. What are your influences?

James: Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss, Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn and Stormlight Archives, The Witcher games and books. I’m a huge Witcher fan. I played Witcher 3 without knowing anything about the series, and then I went back, read all the books, played all the games in sequential order.

Sam: I have a great Pat Rothfuss story: my husband and I were taking a cab from a Neil Gaiman event after C2E2 in Chicago many years ago and wound up splitting it with this nice, young woman. We were talking about books and she mentioned how her boss had just released a brand new fantasy book that was going to take the fantasy world by storm.  And to really date ourselves: the next day, we went to a George R.R. Martin signing. This was before the show was out so there was NO ONE there. George let us sit and chat with him for an hour or so because he was bored, and when I asked him what he was reading, he said, "There's this really great book that just came out that I'm obsessed with..." Turns out, both books were Name of the Wind! The lady in the cab was Pat's assistant. Anyway, we both read it and loved it. 

James: Yeah, it’s probably my favorite book. I got to see Pat playing Dungeons and Dragons live a handful of times.

Sam: Let’s talk about the world of Tavern Brawl. We kinda got into the Wayfarers, so tell us about them and the role they have in Tavern Brawl and the role they have with the characters.

James: In this world, the gods are the elements: God of Fire, Goddess of Ice, God of Storms. The God of Storms, he came to Earth because of something bad he did as a god and he wanted to repent. He started walking the land and helping people. He’s the first Wayfarer.

So the Wayfarers who came after him, they kind of took on this oath to help people. They travel from land to land using their magic for good. There are people who can use magic who aren’t Wayfarers, but being a Wayfarer is a way of life. Prior to the events of the show, there is a big war, and most of the Wayfarers fought in the war and were wiped out. So at the end of the war, they had won, at a cost, and there were new laws put in place that outlawed magic. So they were like, “Magic is too dangerous! We can’t have this.”

So for the last 200 years, the Order of Dawn has been making sure that law stays in place, hunting magic doers, making sure they aren’t out on the streets. A couple of our characters are magic users and are Wayfarers so they are trying to restore the Wayfarers and bring them back because they feel the world is a better place with magic; you can better help people.

Sam: I understand the dominant point of view in Tavern Brawl is the non-hero, non-adventurer, which is unusual and fascinating. It seems like the folks who go out and slay the dragons are on the periphery, and the show instead focuses on the little folk - the barkeep, the blacksmith, the seamstress etc. - who are normally the ones on the periphery. What drew you to sharing these peoples’ stories?

James: They are always the characters who, even in any fantasy setting, are always the people in the background who have no say. Occasionally, you get one who crops up and is a blacksmith who makes you a cool sword. But that’s all they get.

So I loved the idea that the problems that these people were having weren’t world-ending, right? In fantasy, it's always this epic tale where it’s like, "If we don’t do this thing, the world is over! This race will be demolished!"

Sam: It’s a lot more relatable during times when we are all stuck at home, trying to keep our jobs, trying to stay safe. It’s more relatable to be worried about your job than the dragon. There’s something to be said for escapism. But there’s also a great tradition of that in fantasy literature: the greatest heroes in Tolkien are a blacksmith and a gardener. They aren’t important people but they have heavy circumstances. 

James: And it’s such a fascinating idea to think about how these tavernkeeps, if their tavern goes out of business, that is the end of their world. Not the end of THE world, but it’s a similar level for them. “I don’t want to lose my job! I don’t know what I’ll do." Where a hero is like, "If I don’t kill the dragon, the world will end." While they are on different scales, the characters will still feel the same.

In Tavern Brawl, we keep everything central to the tavern. Everything comes back to the tavern. The story feels small and then we get to see with some of our auxiliary characters who are more traditional heroes, they are drawn to the tavern and it all revolves around this place.

Sam: So tell me, how did you get hooked up with Groennfell?

John: That’s a fun story. I got a perfectly targeted advertisement that was the Old Wayfarer. I sent it to James and I was like, "This is incredible. What are the chances there’s another Old Wayfarer?"

I checked out your site, saw the Viking vibes and all. Literally, seeing the can art of the Old Wayfarer is so similar to our first film. “This would be cool, I should reach out to someone.” and then one night, I was like, “I’ll send them an email and see what happens!”

Sam: Glad to hear our ads are clearly hitting the right people! Tell us about what Rosebrew represents in your fantasy world.  I know it has a really powerful role in Tavern Brawl. What makes it so special to the characters who inhabit it? 

James: It’s something you can get anywhere. From the lowliest of drinking halls to the fanciest of taverns, you can find it. It’s made with this flower that is abundant. It’s not a weed but it’s abundant. And you know, anyone can make it.

There’s a saying, “Order a stew and a Rosebrew.” I remember when I came up with that, I just liked the way it rhymed. How fun! Then I completely forgot about it.

That was the first draft of the script, before John and I started working together. Then in November, John had to cobble together a fake script, so we took half of our current draft and the first, and when I sent it to him, I reread it.

And I was kinda scared at first, thinking it was going to be horrible! But I was like, “This isn’t that bad actually!” and Rosebrew was very prominent in that first draft. So we had some music made where they mention some Rosebrew and when we had our chat with Jess [Groennfell's marketing director] and Ricky the Meadmaker, I was explaining some of the drinks, “...We have Applebuck Brandy, Wildfire Whiskey, and the Rosebrew saying.” And Jess was like, “Rosebrew! We’re doing that!” and I was dumbfounded. We were just thinking we’d give them our Wayfarer art and we'd put it on the cans. But this was perfect.

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Stay turned for next week when we publish the rest of the interview! And be sure to check out Stormforged Studios on their site, and on social media to hear more about when you can see Tavern Brawl on your small screen. 

Thanks John and James!

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