An Interview with John Cabrera of Remarkist (& Gilmore Girls!)

An Interview with John Cabrera of Remarkist (& Gilmore Girls!)

I’m so excited to share my conversation with John Cabrera, an actor, writer, and brilliant app developer. John played Brian Fuller on Gilmore Girls and its A Year in the Life revival. He can be seen rocking out on bass guitar in Hep Alien and rooming with bandmates Lane and Zack. John also has a tech background, and I loved learning more about an innovative fandom experience he created in 2021: Remarkist. Remarkist brings together television and film fans across all genres for unique group-watch experiences, and it all began with Gilmore Girls. John hadn’t ever sat down and watched all of his work on the show, so he did precisely that with fans who quickly became a close-knit community. Group members continue to host watch parties and share commentary via Clubhouse while using the Remarkist app to collect digital mementos and stay connected. Remarkist has expanded to host a huge range of virtual events, and John loves seeing community members share what they’re most passionate about. “I spend a lot of time like getting to know what it is that fans love about the shows that they celebrate,” he told me, explaining that the community was built “one step at a time. And over the past year, we’ve gotten to where we are.” Now is a fantastic time to join the fun, as Remarkist begins their 2022 Super Sensational Summer Spectacular! Read on for an inside look at Remarkist, Gilmore Girls, and more!

Did you ever imagine that you might revisit Gilmore Girls in such a significant way, or did it seem like a closed chapter until A Year in the Life?

As the show was ending, I was very eager to move on to a new chapter of my career. I wanted to go behind the camera and write and be a creator. So my feelings about returning to any role weren’t really as present in my mind. I did always feel that the Hep Alien storyline was one of the most conducive to a spin-off series. On set, me, Todd, Sebastian, and Keiko [who played Zack, Gil, and Lane] would talk about the possibility of a show about the band being on the road or whatnot. Even given the events of Season 7, with Lane realizing that she’s going to be a mom and that’s going to be where she puts her focus, we just always thought that there would be a really great opportunity to sort of flip all of that.

I’ve been joking with the community, although it’s kind of slightly serious. I love the idea of a spin-off series about her twins in their late teens or early twenties. Completely new cast of characters. Young, like both of them in a band, both leading, like band twins, slightly Oasis in spirit to young musicians, maybe potentially reaching the height of success that Hep Alien couldn’t get. And in that story, we would get to meet Uncle Brian every once in a while. Personally, I would watch a show like that and I wouldn’t want it to be about Hep Alien. I really would want it to be about them. And Hep Alien, if it ever showed up, would just pass through occasionally. That’s something that I’ve thought of before, but I’ve always felt like the Hep Alien storyline and characters were so ripe for some additional expansion of the Stars Hollow Universe.

And even if it was a sitcom instead of a drama, because there’s just so much that’s hilarious that happened with the band. That’d be fun.

Absolutely. And now sitcoms are different, like the modern sitcom has that single-camera style. So it could be like a half hour in the style of like a Shrill or something like that, where it still retains a bit of the filmic quality of Gilmore Girls, but it has that lighter half-hour comedy feel to it.

Brian Fuller (John Cabrera) all dressed up with members of Hep Alien

I know you have a tech background that brings Remarkist and your acting together; Remarkist, of course, is a community that you created, where fans can watch television and movies together virtually. What was the genesis for wanting to do this?

Well, the genesis for the project itself has been a few things. One, after Gilmore Girls ended, I started to write. I started to to work behind the camera. I almost immediately started writing things for the studios, for Warner Bros., Universal. And I was mostly writing in science fiction. That was sort of my wheelhouse. That’s my geeky brain. I mean, I’m a techie type guy, and that’s also where a lot of fandoms converge. So because of that, I had this really intimate look at how fandoms interact with content and specifically how studios interact with fans. And I noticed that there was this kind of strange, dysfunctional relationship between fans and studios, and that fans really view themselves as part owners of this content because they feel a sense of ownership on something that they’ve helped build to great heights. Of course, their evangelism and all of that is part of why these franchises, even Gilmore Girls is as big as it is. The studios understand that. And they certainly want to encourage it, but only to a certain degree. When it goes past a certain line, the studios get a little uncomfortable, which is like, ‘We don’t really know how we feel about fan fiction in all cases on our stuff. We don’t know how we feel about fans monetizing our brands and our trademarks,’ etc.

I thought that there was something really weird about all of this because I do feel like fans deserve a lot more than they’re getting. And so I started to venture into ideas for how you could potentially get all of that fan creativity that we see in the form of cosplay and fan fiction and blogs about these shows. I was thinking, is there a way to hone it all, focus it all, and help fans create their own fan economy and potentially their own IP, their own content? And when I first started thinking about this, the biggest challenge was how to get all fans to work together on one thing. How would you credit everybody? It seemed daunting at first. I sort of looked at tech to see if there were any solutions that technology was coming up with. And I started to see that that games had actually figured out ways to get people to all work together, that we see big, huge online games happening all the time where people work together on missions.

John began building a game in 2017 as he envisioned a collaborative concept. He set it aside for a time and came back to it a few years later with an exciting thought.

And in early 2021, my daughter was born, and I thought it was a good time for me to reboot. And so I did. I wasn’t thinking about the project. I sort of put it down and in the middle of late-night feeding a baby, changing diapers, I suddenly had this thought and it was that maybe the solution is that I need to engage fandoms, right? And that, of course, then got me thinking, well, ‘Wait a second, you were on a television show that has a very large fandom,’ and then that got me thinking. ‘How much do you even know about that show? Maybe before you start thinking about how fans create together, you should get to know the fandom that you are most associated with. Why don’t you watch the show that they love so much that you know very little about?’ And it just all kind of, like a snowball, just started happening.

Let’s just start simple. I’m going to watch this show every night at this time. And anybody who wants to watch it with me can do so. And so that’s how it started. We started watching it and it was really popular. Now there was all this interest from fans to talk, not just meet me, not just watch a show with me, but to talk about the episodes, to hear what I had to say, also to share their perspective. Like, ‘Here’s what we think about the characters, here’s what we think is going on,’ right? And I could then get kind of schooled on it. I just had a blast and we did this through a whole summer and I just forgot about the tech and game and project and all this.

I was just having fun with fans, meeting new friends and developing this love for a show that I was a part of but I never really actually enjoyed. And in the midst of all of that, I just thought, ‘What if I start incorporating some of those ideas that I put together in that game here? Why don’t I see if maybe I can introduce collectibles and maybe some of these game tokens that I did?’

So they can win prizes. They’re called KRNLs. Is that right?

Yeah, we have two types of collectibles on the platform. We’ve got KRNLs, which are a game token that you collect simply by participating in the community at this point. [Members] RSVP to events and then they come to the events and just literally are rewarded with a small amount of this currency. So it promotes participation and growth of the community. And then, of course, we need ways to actually use these KRNLs. So we use them in a variety of ways, including tipping members for their valuable insight. One thing that I learned over the last year is that fans know way more than I do about my show, and it was really fun to learn from them… We also started to experiment with putting up ticketing walls around special guests. We had Sean Gunn, Keiko Agena [Kirk Gleason, Lane Kim]. We’re going to have lots of special guests this summer. And then we have another type of collectible called a memento. And that is more of an actual digital collectible. We drop those at events to commemorate the event. They’re always limited edition, and up until now, the main way that you get them is you have to sort of crack a password…that you kind of needed to be an uber fan in order to crack [like obscure lines from shows the group would be watching].

And then the first, 20, 30 or 40 people would end up grabbing one of these things. It started over time kind of turning into a sort of Comic-Con style fan economy, where we are creating collectibles that represent the spirit of the events that we created and the shows that those events celebrated. And then we trade them with each other, and sometimes we buy and sell them from each other and and sometimes we just gift them to each other. And it’s become really, really fun… Because there’s that difficulty of, you can’t just create them willy-nilly, you have to really participate in order to collect the kernels necessary to create them, it keeps a little bit of a check on how many are out there and adds a specialness to it. That person didn’t just create out of thin air. They actually gave me something that is representative of the time they’ve spent here on the platform.

And what’s so cool about it is, especially coming out of the first couple of years of the pandemic, Stars Hollow has really become even more of this place that everyone just wants to be. And you’ve created that. People can’t always go to the WB lot or get out to Connecticut and see it there. I lived in Connecticut for a few years, but I never got to go to a Fan Fest or anything. I did my own pilgrimage going out to Washington Depot. I was a student at Yale, so I was doing all of the Rory things. But what you have, it’s something that’s accessible to everyone and they can kind of relive their own personal experiences from watching Gilmore Girls. I listened to you on Scott Patterson’s podcast (“I Am All In”) and I love how you talk about parasocial relationships between actors and fans. All these people knew who you were and love your character, but you didn’t know them. So I’m curious, what has it been like for you getting to know the fans, maybe something that surprised you or brought you joy about connecting with them through this project?

I’ve always been very open on social media. I guess I never totally felt comfortable with this idea that I am anything that you would consider to be a celebrity. I get the idea that I’ve been in your house, but I’ve always really treated my social as, like, I’m just a person. And there are some members of our community, who, we’ve been following one another since Twitter began. You know, since MySpace, some folks, and I’d never heard their voice. I had only really in some cases just heard them through the interaction, maybe just little quips here and there we would have, like no in-depth conversation, but I never heard their actual voice. For example, I was huge into Lost, I had a Lost blog for many years of the show, and many fans of Gilmore Girls who followed me on Twitter then started getting into my Lost blog, and they would be in the comments, and we would get into long conversations, but it was all over text. Then I start this platform and for the first time, I get to hear what these people sound like in real life.

And it was both exciting, but it was also incredibly familiar. It’s as though I’d already heard their voices, even though it was the first time that I had heard their actual speaking voice. And that really speaks to a lot of what we talk about at Remarkist all the time, which is that the essence of who we are is not in any sort of vocal sound or whatnot. You can feel the person through text, through audio, and in a weird sort of way, what we’re doing here is breaking down the wall of celebrity to a degree and saying ‘We’re all sort of the same, we’re all creators.’ So I would say that was a huge surprise for me, this kind of epiphany. That’s one of the things that I love most about the project, is that we’re all on the same level and we’re all creators. I believe very, very strongly that somebody who creates premium content versus somebody who just tells you something interesting about a scene that you didn’t know about — like, to me it’s just the same. They give you joy, and therefore, they’re both types of content creation. And that’s why I believe that the fan deserves to be treated like a partner in all of that.

The other thing that I would say felt surprising is probably how much the fans began to take leadership over the franchises that they love and evangelize. What’s been really exciting is to see fans start to understand that their fandom is a form of leadership.

Allison’s personal photo of Washington Depot, Connecticut, in the fall

John and the Remarkist team shared that the community has watched so much more than Gilmore Girls. Other group watches have included RuPaul’s Drag Race, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly, Schitt’s Creek, Bunheads, Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Being Erica, Mad About You, American Horror Story, Emily in Paris, Bridgerton, This is Us, and so much more. They have even hosted listening parties for albums including Taylor Swift’s Red, Taylor’s Version and Harry Styles’ Harry’s House. If you’re a big reader, you can also join in for live readings (Pride and Prejudice, anyone?)! John explained that Remarkist currently functions as a game for collecting KRNLs and commemorating group events with mementos. He sees a future for the app in which Remarkist could host audio rooms, like Clubhouse, while continuing content creation and fandom games.

My hope is that, jumping off what I just said about fans and leadership, that we start to see fans themselves create really incredible shows, live shows and content in the form of games and gab sessions and even just watches of content. … I’ve never built a community or been part of building a community. I don’t think that I’m specifically building it. We’re building it together. And I’m so surprised by how much others in the in the community are willing to do to help build this. For example, we’ve got a few community members that spend every day making sure that the calendar in our app and the calendar on Clubhouse align… it’s just amazing. I didn’t specifically ask for that. That was something that members came forward and said, ‘Hey, can we help with this?’

That’s awesome. And of course, before we go, I do want to make sure we talk about the month of June and your Summer Spectacular. Looking at the lineup for this weekend, I was amazed at all of the guests you’re having. And in addition to Gilmore Girls, I saw a Willy Wonka rewatch and then parentheses noting it was a “huge reference in Gilmore Girls.” I love that.

We’ve got movie nights every week, focusing on some of the movie references from the show. I mean, it’s going to be wacky. It’s going to be wild. It’s not like a normal festival, and that’s important for people to understand. Our project is a really casual project. The whole ethos of of the project is that we hang out together. So we’re really flexible with how things might change. During the first run, I would call up Keiko or Sean hours before a watch and be like, ‘Hey, you’re in this episode. Can you do me a favor and just like just pop in and surprise us? It’s going to be awesome.’ So it was all like we were flying by the seat of our pants. We’ve gotten a bit more structure to it, certainly. But I think that a part of the fun of this is that you kind of don’t know exactly what’s going to happen, but we have an awesome schedule with lots of stuff.

We’re doing things like Rory’s Book Club [focusing on the books Rory reads], “Friday Night Dinners” is going to be a big contest every week. People are going to be creating recipes from some of our blogging partners that we’re that we’re partnering with — Larisa from “Eating Gilmore” and “The Gilmore Cookbook.” And fans are going to be challenged to create some of their recipes for KRNLs for their winning recipe to be featured on their blog. It’s a celebration of everything around and peripheral to the show itself. And even in the midst of all of that, there are going to be community members that are going to schedule a watch of like, a Marvel television show. So, you know, mostly people will be in Gilmore Girls events, but we’ve got community members scheduling stuff all day, every day, episodes of Mad About You and whatnot. If that interests you, go pop in and say hello to them.

I love that. I’m so excited for everything that’s happening with Remarkist, and I think this will be a really fun event. It’s been so amazing to get to talk with you, John!

Oh, I love it. This project has been just, a joy, everything about it. And the the interesting thing about projects, I especially tech projects and even a lot of the stuff that I was doing as a writer, it’s very lonely building things and writing things. And one of the wonderful joys of this project is to build something and not be lonely. And that has been one of the best parts about this project.

Be sure to tune in for the Remarkist Super Sensational Summer Spectacular! The schedule can be found on their blog, with events and special guests you will not want to miss. Make sure you’ve downloaded Clubhouse! Click here for more information on the Remarkist app, and follow John and Remarkist on social media: @JohnCabrera on Twitter and @unboiled on Instagram. @JoinRemarkist on Twitter and @remarkist on Instagram.

As always, you can find me on Instagram @pastfootforward and on Twitter @AMcClainMerrill.

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