the conventional area to find a series would be television, the idea
of developing a web series has attracted thousands from writers to
actors to production hands. Those who would have headed to California
years ago instead are honing their craft and building their resume
from their home town with just their talents, some equipment and an
--- One of the most recent local series to make their debut in this fashion is Raising Kayn. Exploring the paranormal misadventures of an abnormal family, investigating zombies and werewolves, fighting off ninjas, conducting experiments from the basement and trying to find the answer to a strange disk. I got the opportunity to chat with creator and one of the stars of the project, Taunya Gren, about her career in acting and the series. All with pictures from the set you can check out here, and check out new episodes of the series every Friday.
Gavin: Hey Taunya! First thing, tell us a bit about yourself.
Taunya: Well, I’ve been an entertainer in one way or another all my life. As a working actress for over 36 years, but also as a singer with the band Puzzlebox and as an artist and animator for video games. Turns out my kids (all but 1) are also entertainers.
Gavin: How did you first take an interest in acting, and what were some early inspirations?
Taunya: My first “acting” memory was when I was 3-4 years old. My mother had taught me how to read and I was reading one of those old classics comics of A Midsummer Nights Dream. I decided that it needed to be real and so I locked myself in my room and worked on acting out all the characters. From there the bug never left. Early inspirations were Shakespeare, Plato and Socrates. I loved the challenge of the archaic language and making it real. I also really admired Maureen O’Hara, James Mason and Lawrence Olivier when I was very young. I feel they formed a lot more of who I am as an actress than just about anyone else.
Gavin: Did you seek out college for it, or mainly head toward independent acting classes?
Taunya: I did indeed go to college for acting, as well as taking independent acting classes. As a professional performer you are always a student. There is always something new to learn about presenting the human condition. I also was fortunate to have an acting mentor who had come from England and so learned a very different acting style than a lot of the American teachers were teaching. A much more technical style.
Gavin: You did a lot of Shakespeare and contemporary works early on in California theater, how was it for you performing and growing in that competitive environment?
Taunya: It taught me very quickly that to be seen or treated as a professional you had to behave as a professional. Work ethic will make or break you in that environment almost more than skill or talent. It also made it clear that to be the “best of the best” you had to keep learning. You can’t stop or you become stale and that’s another death sentence in the California acting scene.
Gavin: When did the interest turn from theater to film, and how did you start to get involved with that aspect?
Taunya: In my mid 30’s I’d done so much theater that I started to get frustrated at the constraints that stage work puts on your acting. It has to be bigger and louder so that the audience can see what you’re doing. For me acting is about taking a piece of paper and making it a real, living, breathing person and I’d had to modify that reality for theater. I did a few film things then and realized that THAT kind of acting was what I was looking for. Film and theater are very different styles of acting. So, I made the slow move to film and television and haven’t gone back.
Gavin: What eventually led you to moving out to Utah?
Taunya: A combination of my oldest daughter living here and the cumulative effects of the writers strike and threatened actors strike in Hollywood. You know it’s bad when the person next to you at the temp agency is a name actor from “ER.”
Gavin: How was it for you doing a cold-start, getting involved with local theater and film?
Taunya: It’s been interesting. In Hollywood it’s so big that it’s frequently a cold start unless you’re a name. Here, it wasn’t as hard as it is there. Just jumping in and going to auditions as well as being willing to become involved with smaller projects has helped me meet and work with a lot of very talented Utah filmmakers and actors. For my new web series “Raising Kayn,” I also cast my net pretty widely and got a hugely skilled cast of some of the best acting talent in the state. That helped as well because now I know people here who have been generous enough to help me navigate this new market.
Gavin: When did you start taking to directing films on your own?
Taunya: Actually, I don’t direct. I produce. A number of years ago I was an associate producer on a film called “The Other Side Of Heaven” where I got to see how those producers, who are the real deal, actually work. I decided that I wanted to have that control over the quality of my projects and began producing at that point.
Gavin: What were some of your first films, and how was it for you learning the craft?
Taunya: My first films were rather varied in quality. Some I’ve put on my resume, some I haven’t. Someday in person ask me about “Deborah The Goblin Queen” or the bus film. Early films were “Thunder Calls,” a period Irish piece that was a lot of fun if filmed in freezing temperatures, “Dancing On Coals” where I played the fantasy dream girl hairstylist in the negligee. I found I loved it though. It was definitely a challenge at first to change an acting style I had been doing for over twenty years. Once I’d learned how things look on camera though, the crossover became much easier.
Gavin: How did the idea come about to start doing web series?
Taunya: Last summer another web series came out called “Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog.” Which is wonderful and everyone should see. My kids and I loved that and began talking about maybe doing something like that ourselves.
Gavin: Where did the idea for “Raising Kayn” come from?
Taunya: The original story was actually a concept myself and my kids worked on together. A very wacky comedy… but from there it actually grew to become somewhat of an autobiographical piece about how my family has needed each other to get past the hard times, to fight off the monsters of our world. It’s a fun and funny story, but underneath there is a foundation of real issues. Loss of a father and a husband. Betrayal, reacting to hurt and pain in different ways and how we work through that together.
Gavin: What was the process like for you in writing it, and did you know where you were going with it at first or did it develop over time?
Taunya: My mother was a writer and both my sisters are screenwriters… but I’ve always been a performer so writing was somewhat intimidating to me. I’d decided to discipline myself to just sit down and write one scene every day to try and overcome my fear of writing, which also meant I hadn’t a full idea of where it was going. I had the general outline, but some of the story elements definitely came over time. And it worked! Fortunately my children had a hand in submitting ideas that really made the story fun.
Gavin: What was it like casting the series, and how did you finally end up with your leads?
Taunya: Casting was a lot of fun. Being new to this area, most of the talent I had never seen before and it was really a pleasant surprise to see the quality of Utah acting talent. For the leads, well… for the family I cheated and cast myself and my kids… since it’s about myself and my kids. The character of Wilbur was a challenge because he had to be able to martial arts AND act well enough to portray one of the more complex characters involving both broad comedy and subtle threat. We auditioned a ton of people for that role and just couldn’t find the right person. And then we saw this actor, Matthew Mangeac, on the new web series “Lifeless” and liked his intensity. We called him in to audition and found out not only can he do the intensity, he can also do the comedy like nobodies business. The character of Dr. John Allen was actually the first person cast after myself and my kids. I worked with John Hinckley on my first project when I’d moved to Utah and really felt he had that great mix of scholar and humor that was required for that character. Two of the main bad guys also went through extensive auditions. For the Candy Man (our version of the Smoking Man from the “X-Files”) we cast Brandyn Cross. A man who seemed kind of quiet and nerdy when he’d first come in to the audition… but then he put on this character that was just SO THREATENING! He was perfect. And then Adapa, the first of all vampires. 8,000 years old and the most powerful creature on the planet. Once again, we just couldn’t find someone who could do his very quiet intensity. And then after three different casting sessions for this character, Jeff Johnson, a local casting director auditioned and nailed it. I’d been worried we were going to have to go to LA for that part and was very relieved we didn’t. Our third main bad guy for season one is the evil Manan. Our very first audition we saw a young man named Thomas McMinn whose air of serpentine threat was so wonderful that we cast him in that role instantly.
Gavin: Is it difficult putting yourself in a lead role and producing as well, or does it make it easier for you knowing how you want it to play out?
Taunya: It’s both. Easier because I have the control to make sure the vision is kept intact and harder because the responsibilities of a producer mean I have less time to focus on the acting. Fortunately our very talented director Colton Tran had the same vision that I did for this and so it’s been much easier than it would have been otherwise.
Gavin: Who did you get together for your crew and how was it working with them throughout the series?
Taunya: Our crew we got in several different ways. I’m also acting in another web series called “Huntsville” that will be out towards the end of September. Most of that crew I pirated for Raising Kayn as well because they were just so fun to work with. My director had actually played my son in a film I’d done this last spring and I’d seen his directing talent then and asked him to be the director. Word of mouth is how we found the rest of the crew. We had one snafu when our initial Director of Photography and Gaffer both left halfway through do to previous commitments. Fortunately we were able to replace them with the wonderful Steve Berlin as Gaffer and Ryan Capel as Director of Photography so the quality stayed very high. We even had a guest DP by the name of Thor Wixom for one shoot day which was a lot of fun. He’s quite a professional and was really wonderful to work with.
Gavin: You've officially wrapped on the series. What was the overall experience like for you?
Taunya: The cast and crew became like my family and I miss them all horribly! That’s different than most of the California productions I’ve been on. Something wonderful about this market.
Gavin: Now that its finished and episodes are coming out, what's the next project you have lined up?
Taunya: A-HA! It’s not finished just yet. We still have a lot of editing, scoring and effects to do for the later episodes. But… once that’s all complete my next project is an ad campaign called “Middle Aged Angst.” A campaign to counteract the invisibility of women over 40 in the media.
Gavin: Going state-wide, what are your thoughts on the local film scene, both good and bad?
Taunya: I’ll be honest here there are both wonderfully good and destructively bad things I’ve found here in the Utah film community. The good is the relationships the people here allow themselves to make with their peers and the sheer talent of a lot of the people is very high. That really surprised me. I’ve worked with people here every bit as talented as any I worked with in Hollywood. The bad side of that is that I’ve found there are many cliques with a rather exclusionary view of each other. I think that is going to (or has) harmed the Utah market. I’ve also found in a few a less professional work ethic than I’m used to in California. Part of a small market mentality that needs to change if we’re ever going to compete with Hollywood for real.
Gavin: Anything you believe could be done to make things better than they currently are?
Taunya: Absolutely. My advice to any Utah filmmaker or actor is to treat every project you’re on, no matter how small or large as if it’s a big budget feature. When you behave in that professional a manner, that level of project is drawn to you. And be willing to cross the clique boundaries. They only limit you both as the creator of a project and as someone auditioning or submitting to a project. It’s easy to go with what and who you know… but not always the best choice.
Gavin: What are your thoughts on the film festivals that come through every year, and are there any changes you wish you could make?
Taunya: I love Sundance. It’s a little different than any other festival I’ve ever attended. I don’t know that I’d change it other than perhaps to open it to more genres than currently really get play there.
Gavin: What's your take on the Open Scene Nights currently happening at Tower Theater?
Taunya: I haven’t been to any of them yet as I’ve been so busy producing “Raising Kayn.” I love the concept though! What a wonderful way to get the word out that we have talent here.
Gavin: A bit on theatre, what's your take on the theatre scene here in Utah?
Taunya: I’m very pleased to find it much more dynamic and respected than the theater scene in Los Angeles. More on par with how things are in the Bay Area actually.
Gavin: What can we expect from you the rest of the year?
Taunya: “Raising Kayn” finishes airing in December at RaisingKayn.com, after which it will be released on a season one DVD. Tell your friends. I’m also acting in the new horror web series “Huntsville” which you will be able to see at HuntsvilleSeries.com at the end of September. In November I will begin releasing the ads for “Middle Aged Angst” and am now writing the second season of “Raising Kayn.”
Gavin: Aside from the obvious, is there anything you'd like to plug or promote?
Taunya: Yes, very much so. On the “Raising Kayn” website we have a page for our special charity. Child Find Of America. This world has real monsters and Child Find combats the monsters involved in child abduction every day. It’s an A rated charity that I feel is vitally important. I can’t imagine anything in this world worse than losing any of my children. To all your readers, please click the link and read and perhaps even donate. As a note, my money is going where my mouth is. “Raising Kayn” is donating 10% of all the producer’s profits to Child Find Of America.