I have two young boys… no girls. But I’d like to imagine that if I did have a girl that she might grow up with the confidence and curiosity demonstrated in the character of Ruby Skye, Private Investigator.
Ruby Skye, P.I. is a new 12-part web series that follows amateur detective Ruby Skye as she investigates mysteries in and around her hometown and school, The Dragon Academy. The short videos (most typically between 3 and 5 minutes in length) are quirky, funny, and well done. I have to admit that after watching the first video, I went ahead and watched the next one… and then the next one. Yes, Ruby Skye, P.I. hooked me well and good.
I’ve seen a number of web series over the past few years, but none that are written, cast, and shot specifically for young adults. My boys are still quite young, but I still try to follow and understand what topics, technologies, and fads are interesting to today’s youth — and this series is quite fascinating to me.
Getting into the series, I was a bit concerned that there was going to be a massive amount of advertising and product placement — we’ve all seen the television shows where the kids are wearing $200 jeans and driving $30,000 cars. But that’s not the case with the Ruby Skye, P.I. episodes. The one obvious product used in the series (a new digital Polaroid instant camera) is a totally realistic piece of tech for this young detective who goes around taking photos of key bits of evidence. (She also has a mobile phone, but so do most 15-year-olds these days.)
As I continued to watch the series and be introduced to key characters, I was happy to see that the character of Ruby (and her friends and family) don’t seem to fall into stereotypes. The adults are typically the ones with weird or unusual behaviors, and it’s the kids who really have it together. Yes, there’s rivalry between Ruby and another girl in her class, but it’s not overplayed or allowed to run wild. There’s a hint of romance between Ruby and her best male friend, but it’s never risque and, again, not allowed to run wild. For a nice change, we have a young lady who is not insecure and speaks her mind (Ruby), a tech-savvy sister (Hailey) who isn’t nerdy (but she’s certainly geeky – a good thing!), and a polite-but-shy teenage boy (Griffin) as primary characters.
I have to give credit to the team that has developed Ruby Skye, P.I. — it’s got to be very hard to write, film, and release a show for young adults that doesn’t take the easy route to try to get our kids’ attentions. With so many television shows containing violence, sex, and harsh language, it’s actually quite nice to watch a well-written and professionally edited web series. The dialogue is realistic (you won’t find those 2-minute-long monologues here), the mystery is interesting (and based on a real-world scam), and the characters are likable.
I like Ruby — and even though the series isn’t targeted at my demographic, I’ll be tuning in for her next adventure. Kudos to the writers, directors, producers, actors and actresses, sponsors, and crew that have brought this series to life!
I wanted to know a bit more about this interesting series, so I contacted Jill Gollick, creator, co-writer and an executive producer of the Ruby Skye, P.I. series, and asked her a few questions about Ruby and this new series:
GeekDad: Tell me where and how the idea for Ruby Skye, P.I. developed — is she based on someone you know?
Jill Gollick: Ruby isn’t consciously based on anyone. Julie Cohn and I wanted to write about a girl who was at that stage in the teenage years when everything seems complicated. Friendship is hugely important, but you feel like an outsider. Ruby is driven by her curiosity and her sense of justice. Her interest in solving mysteries make her feel different than other people. Particularly her sister Hailey for whom everything comes so easily. Where Ruby agonizes over everything, Hailey just floats through happily. Ruby makes a lot of mistakes – as we all do. But her heart is in the right place. She also has this incredible stubbornness which is a wonderful trait because no matter how much trouble she’s gotten herself into, she never gives up.
GD: Ruby and her friends (and enemies) seem to be pretty hip with technology – was that an important aspect to have in this series?
JG: Yes. Technology is wonderful and an integral part of lots of kids’ lives. I also think it’s very important to show lots of images in the media of kids – and especially girls – who are using technology in interesting ways.
GD: We’ve met other adults, but not Ruby and Hailey’s parents – will that change? (Or are they too embarrassing to Ruby and Hailey to ever be allowed on screen?)
JG: We didn’t want to weight Ruby and Hailey down with grownups. We wanted them to be independent and capable of solving their problems alone. In a lot of children’s fiction the parents are dead – Harry Potter, A Series of Unfortunate Incidents, 39 Clues, for example. That isn’t the case here. Ruby’s parents do exist and will make an appearance at some point, but they will never be important characters in the series. They are both very busy with their careers and they travel a lot. They know the girls are smart and trust that they can look after themselves.
GD: Do you view the series’ main audience as young girls? How have you shaped the series to appeal to young boys?
JG: Does the protagonist have to be a boy for it to appeal to boys? I don’t think so. Girls certainly enjoy fiction in which there is a boy in the lead role (Harry Potter). The series is directed by a man – Kelly Harms – and I think he helped bring a male sensibility to the storytelling. Lots of boys enjoy the series for its comedy, action and mystery. Our choice is to make something that we love and we hope people of all sexes and ages will enjoy it too.
GD: The various young characters are smart and funny and likable – it’s only some of the adults that seem childish in nature (and I don’t take offense at that). Is that intentional?
JG: Yes. We wanted to make the kids very real and the adults odd and funny. We were trying to strike a balance – to make the mystery very compelling and intriguing. At the same time, we didn’t want to create a world that seems evil, scary and dangerous. If you’re in the mystery business you run the risk of misleading kids into believing that the world is a horrible place. We don’t think it is. We set out to build a world that our young characters could maneuver independently and safely. In this world the villains are ridiculous so kids can get into the action and excitement of the story, but they don’t leave with a sense of fear.
GD: Are there any long-term goals with the show? What is the purpose of creating Ruby Skye, P.I.?
JG: The purpose of creating Ruby Skye P.I. is to entertain. We’d like to keep doing it, keep telling stories about Ruby Skye – on the web and in other media as well. There are a million mysteries in the big city and Ruby has many, many left to solve.
GD: Do you film each episode separately or the entire story at once? How long did it take to film the entire 12-episode story arc?
JG: We shot for 15 days during August 2010. Madison Cheeatow, who is brilliant as Ruby, was on camera for almost every shot. It was her first on-camera role and we’re thrilled with her performance.
GD: There are hints at the end of the twelfth episode of a new mystery – will there be another 12-episode story arc? Are there any plans for shorter or longer stories to be told?
JG: We plan to shoot Ruby Skye P.I.: The Haunted Library this summer. At this stage, we are thinking of rolling it out in 12-episodes once again. If anyone has any thoughts on this, we’re listening. We try to make our episodes the length that the story wants them to be. It isn’t TV so we can make things any length and we’re always listening to our audience. We’re here to serve and entertain and are delighted to have input on choices like this.
GD: Are there benefits to breaking up a story like this one into smaller episodes? Do you find that kids prefer this method of media delivery (Internet-based video) and episode length?
JG: I don’t actually think of them as episodes, I like to call them chapters. They are natural breaks in the action that allow you to take a break from the story if you want. I don’t think kids necessarily prefer this short form storytelling. I hear a lot of people talk about kids having a short attention span, but then I watch 10 year olds devour 600 pages of Harry Potter (yes, I mentioned it again!) or play a video game for 3 hours straight. Kids have long attention spans when their imaginations are engaged.
On the other hand, a 3-6 minute episode will port over to a mobile or tablet device easily. It can be a quick break between soccer and homework. Or you can sit down and watch all the episodes in a row.
It’s the web so the choice is yours.
GD: The 12-episode tale had this backstory going about the waste from plastic bottles – the message was delivered quickly in a late episode, but not in an in-your-face manner. Was that environmental message intentional or just storyline? If so, do you think kids are able to discern and absorb these subtle lessons from the main story?
JG: Hailey is carrying around a petition calling for a ban on plastic water bottles throughout the story. It’s very much in character for Hailey to be happily saving the world. It’s a subplot in the series, but an issue we’re very much concerned about. We didn’t use any disposable plastic water bottles on set when we were shooting the series. We provided our entire cast and crew with re-usable water bottles. We don’t want to hit kids over the head with this and we don’t think the responsibility for dealing with issues like this belongs to kids. But if this is a topic that moves them, we have a pledge on our site you can take and we had a petition you could sign. On our site, we have Water Wednesdays when we post information about plastic pollution and water issues. We try to show kids practical things they can do and to inspire them by letting them know about some of the extraordinary things kids their age are accomplishing.
GD: What level of participation do you hope to get from your viewers? I see that you’ve got a Facebook page, but in what other ways are you hoping to interact with Ruby fans?
JG: Ruby’s nemesis is Diana who is inexplicably mean. We are about to launch a campaign to invite kids to tell us stories about the Dianas in their lives and how they dealt with them. Some of these stories may become part of the next Ruby Skye P.I. mystery.
We’re always looking for ways to engage kids. If anyone has any great ideas, we’re listening!
GD: What’s in store for Ruby? Is there to be a budding romance between Ruby and Griffin? Will we see more tension between Ruby and Diana? (And where did you find the actress to play Ms. Springer? That lip-sneer-smile is hilarious!)
JG: Ruby is in for a lot more mystery. She’ll definitely keep fighting with Hailey, but Hailey will get sucked into the mysteries more and become Ruby’s reluctant go-to-geek. There’s more romance to come – Ruby is getting older! Diana will continue to be a thorn in her side, but we will come to understand her a little better. We will likely see more of the wonderful Nawa Nicole Simon who plays Ms. Springer. We love her!
GD: You’ve received quite a number of awards for the series – what do you think (or are hoping) people are seeing in this new series and this specific character?
JG: Storytelling should be an intimate relationship between an audience and a storyteller. Mass media took that relationship away from us but the web has brought it back. That means that independent artists can reach their audiences and audiences can find the stories and storytellers they like best. We see a lot of storytellers reaching adult audiences through web series and other forms of interactive narrative. I just want to bring the best storytelling I can with the highest production values I can afford to family and youth audiences.
GD: Any advice for us geek dads (and geek moms) who might have a budding movie maker in the family?
JG: We definitely want to encourage young filmmakers. In fact, two young filmmakers (Lian Ashton and Aiden Cheeatow ) were on our set and shot and edited short films about the series. Both those videos are on our site (Aiden’s and Lian’s). If any young filmmakers are in Toronto this summer, we will definitely invite them to set and help them make films.
We have other behind the scenes videos as well that can help budding movie makers learn their craft. There’s one about the director, going on the tech scout, or meeting the camera department. It’s a great way to learn about production.
Right now, a teacher is working on a curriculum unit that will show teachers how to use the series in classrooms to help kids make their own web production.
If any geek offspring have questions about filmmaking, leave them on our site or our Facebook feed and we will answer them.
And one more thing, we also have a fantastic collection of brownie recipes and we invite you to send us your brownie recipes. Or whip up a batch of Ruby’s famous Roasted Marshmallow Brownies and send us a picture to post on our site.
I’d like to thank Jill for taking the time to answer my questions and provide the great background content that I’m sure many kids (and adults) will find interesting.
Give Ruby Skye, P.I. a look – all 12 chapters can be viewed in under an hour. Even better, hook up your PC or laptop to a big screen TV, throw a bag of popcorn in the microwave, and enjoy a nice mystery with your younger family members.