Photo by Chris Casella

Ready for Launch

Down an unnamed alley, behind an unmarked door, a small team of Short North space travelers is building a ship to launch them into the great unknown—network television.

Enter The Shazzbots, the quintessential Columbus kids band preparing to make the giant leap from local gigs to living rooms everywhere.

“The Shazzbots have always been more than just a musical act,” explained Captain Captain, the alter ego of local musician Ian Hummel. “I first came up with the concept of the band after writing a bunch of kids songs and not knowing what to do with them.”

So Hummel recruited a mix of like-minded musicians and charted a course to bring passion and purpose to children’s music with a cast of characters designed to entertain and inspire.

“One of my biggest influences is Schoolhouse Rock—amazing, creative, complex songs,” Hummel said. “When you learn anything through a song, it can stick with you for the rest of your life.”

The band spent years honing catchy melodies and clever lyrics that leave parents humming long after the kids have gone to bed. But creating a kids television show from scratch is hardly child’s play.

“Hey, my friend is in a kids band and wants to make a TV show. Are you interested?”

That’s how local filmmaker Jordan Schmelzer became involved in the project. “We had our first meeting in late January of 2014, and I was in love with the concept,” Schmelzer said. “I’ve made short films—but a TV show with Ian’s imagination was an entirely new undertaking.”

That challenge also attracted Matt Hubbard, fellow filmmaker and Schmelzer’s technical counterpart. Despite both being from Lancaster, industrial projects with mutual clients and a road trip working on a documentary series for Chipotle were their first combined creative efforts.

We would brainstorm all sorts of ideas on our travels but not much became of them,” Hubbard recalled. “So, we set up a meeting with Ian and instantly started to click on every level—our personalities, our want to produce original content, and our love for music.”

When this team of dreamers launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund the television pilot, the support of friends, family, strangers and creative collaborators really took off.

“Obviously folks responded to our concept because we made our goal, despite all that potato salad hullabaloo,” Hummel said. “But they also responded with offers to help in any way they could, not just with money—helping to build stuff, or promote us.”

Since that Kickstarter kickoff a little less than a year ago, they’ve transformed an old warehouse formerly used for ComFest storage into a state-of-the-art studio, including four production quality sets equipped with the latest filmmaking technology and on-site editing.

“The variety of things we needed to make for just this pilot episode is staggering. I’ve been drawing inspiration from everyone and everything from Jim Henson to Pee Wee’s Playhouse,” said Joel Jackson, whose set design and art direction helped create an entire universe for The Shazzbots. “Things that are a bit old, odd, rough, and used. It makes the world feel lived in and a bit more believable.”

“When you learn anything through a song, it can stick with you for the
rest of your life.”

Unlike most contemporary kids shows, The Shazzbots are content-driven with an old school charm. It’s a mishmash of personal effects and practical effects that are novel to children and nostalgic for parents.

The space western vibe and Sesame Street sensibility make The Shazzbots feel familiar from the first frame. But it’s STEAM that powers this ship. The educational acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math is a key component they hope to bring their young audience of future innovators and explorers in every episode.

And that’s also a big part of what separates The Shazzbots from their predecessors and contemporaries—authenticity.

Captain and Scopes (Mike Heslop) really were sort of geeky before it was cool. Professor Swiss Vanderburton (Josh Tully) and Luna Stardust (Dianne Hummel) were already engaging kids with crazy experiments and kooky crafts off the set. Even Watts Watson (Steve Frye) put his electrical experience to work by wiring the old warehouse into a workable television studio. The Shazzbots are who they pretend to be.

Their next stop is the Gateway Film Center for an intergalactic premiere on August 1 at 4 p.m. The band will perform live, with episode-inspired food and drink exclusives and special seating for Kickstarter supporters.

With ambitious plans to pitch the show to various networks and distributors, The Shazzbots might be the next big act to break out of Columbus. And they intend to inspire the local film community to do the same, by shooting right here in their own backyard instead of some Hollywood backlot.

“I’ve actually seen kids dress up like Captain Captain for Halloween,” Hummel said. “Out of all those other characters out there, these kids chose this old space captain as their costume. Next up, kids playing with an action figure of me.


Learn more about the Shazzbots and the intergalactic premiere of their television pilot at theshazzbots.com.

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