Fort McMurray filmmakers marvel after winning award for web series Nerdvana

A group of filmmakers in Fort McMurray won the award for Best Ensemble Cast at the Miami Web Fest this year, and now they’re trying to get more funding to work on the next season of their web series, Nerdvana.

Team applying to other film festivals and seeking grants to make 2nd season

Almost the entire series was shot over two weeks in the winter of 2018. (Submitted by Matt Salem)

A group of filmmakers in Fort McMurray won the award for best ensemble cast at the Miami Web Fest this month, and now they're trying to get more funding to work on the next season of their web series, Nerdvana.

It's a series that tries to answer one question: What if your nerd knowledge could help you save the universe?

It follows the patrons and employees of the comic book shop Nerdvana — Fort McMurray's actual comic book store. The characters discover that all of the places and people in comic books, TV shows and video games are real and they can travel to those universes.

The series was released in January.

"I don't want Fort McMurray to just be known for oil," said Matt Salem, a Nerdvana actor and writer who is also the marketing director for the series.

"There's so much talent, there's so much film, acting, theatre talent in this town that should be recognized."

The team has yet to see the award they won on May 5. 

Matt Salem poses with the Beepcube, a made-up gaming station designed to put on the shelves of Nerdvana during shooting. (Jamie Malbeuf/CBC)

They attended the first few days of Miami Web Fest, but had to leave on the day of the award ceremony. 

Another film team from Toronto is mailing them the award. 

3 years in the making

The team got $10,000 in funding for the pilot episode in 2016. Salem got that news by phone as he and the rest of the team were getting out of Fort McMurray because of the wildfire.

They received $100,000 more in 2017 and shot the rest of the series in 2018.

There are noticeable differences between the first and second episode, which were shot more than a year apart. 

One difference was Salem, who didn't like the way his character looked in the first episode. 

"I ended up joining a gym. I lost probably 35 pounds and I also got laser eye surgery."

They shot the entire series, except for the pilot episode, over a two week period in 2018, because everyone had a full-time day job. 

Nerdvana store manager Ashley Laurenson played two characters in the web series. (Jamie Malbeuf/CBC)

"It was kind of gruelling at some points," said Salem. 

"We'd be getting maybe four hours of sleep in between shots, but everyone was willing to do it."

As well, they had to shut down the real Nerdvana, the comic book store, in order to shoot the series. That involved removing anything in the store that had a trademark, and that meant nearly every product.

Nerdvana manager Ashley Laurenson said it took about a day to remove everything that was trademarked and replace it with props of their own.

The team made dupes of popular brands, including a HecksBox and Beepcube. 

Students from a local high school also submitted their fake superhero artwork to showcase in the store; Laurenson said her favourite was Scorpion Baby.

Now the team is applying to other film festivals and seeking grants to shoot the next season of Nerdvana. 

They will also be releasing a few short Nerdvana videos in the upcoming months. 


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