A children’s television show that examines where science, nature and Southwest Virginia folk art intersect could be on its way to a streaming device near you.
The brainchild of Blacksburg filmmaker Chris Valluzzo, Penny P’s Backyard follows main character Penny P and her three friends as they make videos and animations about the world around them. The show will focus on how science and nature influence or show up in Southwest Virginia art, music and culture.
“The example I use most is when a geologist talks about how the Appalachian Mountains were formed,” Valluzzo explained.
He said a geologist would use terms like heat and pressure and talk about the bending and folding of the earth to explain plate tectonics.
“A folk artist who would use near-identical terms would be a blacksmith or a potter who uses heat and pressure to bend and fold their creations,” he said.
Other examples of those interconnections include basket weaving and the science of bird nests, glass blowing and light refraction, fiddle music and mathematics, and food preservation and microbiology.
The show will largely be filmed in Christiansburg, but Valluzzo said the series will showcase aspects and places throughout Southwest Virginia.
“Any downtown in the area could show up as a street in Penny P’s fictional town,” Valluzzo said.
Incorporating side streets and downtowns from across the region will allow the series to showcase its iconic buildings and landmarks, which are oftentimes engrained in its culture.
“I would like to be able to have Penny and her crew walking down, let’s say College Avenue in Blacksburg, and then they take a left and they’re on Main Street in Marion, and then make a right and they’re walking by the Floyd Country Store.”
To the audience, all these places will appear to be right in Penny P’s hometown.
Having the show set in Southwest Virginia was important to Valluzzo. He’s travelled the region for his film work and has developed a passion for the area’s cultures, traditions and people.
“I want to focus on telling a truer story of Appalachia that’s free of stereotypes and seen through a loving pair of glasses,” he said.
Folk artists, scientists or anyone with a particular knowledge of either are encouraged to reach out to Valluzzo, as he will need to generate folks to help with storylines.
Valluzzo came up with the idea for the show back in 2015 and in 2016 began fleshing it out. His end goal is to allow children everywhere to experience Southwest Virginia the way he’s come to know it.
Once the the pilot episode and first season outline are finished, Valluzzo plans to pitch the project to big names like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, Disney and PBS, as well as smaller independent studios that can funnel the show out.
Penny P’s Backyard wouldn’t be the first of Valluzzo’s works to air nationwide. The filmmaker, who works in the video department at Virginia Tech by day, formerly co-owned Horse Archer Productions, which produced two seasons of the Marion-based PBS series Song of the Mountains.
Aside from the storyline, Penny P’s adventures will diverge from Valluzzo’s other works in another important way. It will be the first show in television history to be entirely powered by renewable energy.
The idea came to Valluzzo while he was in the production storage room at Virginia Tech.
“I was in my storage room at work and I kind of just glanced at the shelf and noticed there were four power strips,” he said.
Those power strips were charging batteries for the department’s cameras, lights, drones and sound equipment.
“I thought, I wonder if we could hook this up to a solar panel and make it more renewable.”
Through a partnership with the Solar Connexion company in Blacksburg, just about every aspect of the show—down to the catering—is powered by the sun.
“I didn’t realize they were going to offer up a 100 percent solution.”
Valluzzo said using renewable energy is just one aspect of how the crew is minimizing its impact on the environment. Once filming is completed, raw materials from sets will be donated to Habitat for Humanity. Costumes are also purchased from Good Will and the YMCA and then donated back for resale. Even leftover food is put into a compost pile and later used to fertilize a community garden that feeds individuals who struggle with food insecurity.
“What other television show can say that?”
The proof of concept is complete, save for a few last-minute edits. Valluzzo hopes to begin submitting his pitch video to the studios by next summer.
To help fund the completion of the pilot episode and the first season outline, Valluzzo launched an online crowdsourcing campaign.
He said it’s not everyday that a television show is launched out of Southwest Virginia. Even rarer, he said, is one that’s powered by renewable energy.
“And the only way that is going to happen is a grassroots effort from the people in the community,” he said.
By the beginning of this week, the campaign had earned about 40 percent of Valluzzo’s $10,000 goal. Those interested in donating to the campaign may do so at www.indiegogo.com/projects/penny-p-s-backyard.
Those interested in providing information for storylines are encouraged to contact Valluzzo at email@example.com.
More information on Penny P’s Backyard can be found at www.facebook.com/PennyPBackyard.