Damian survives first day his series goes live...barely.
Resuming my email chit chat with Sanctuary creator Damian Kindler, but first let it be known that the first webisode has gone live on the internets. You can go to the official website and download high rez versions for a small fee, or try a free taste over on the Youtube...
Will: So what excites you and inspires you about this particular concept?
Damian: I love the look and tone of the show. The 3D backgrounds just totally rock. And I really really love the cast. Amanda is amazing. Smart, funny, incredible work ethic. Robin Dunne – great guy, talented actor, mediocre defenseman. Chris, Emilie are total pros -- all of them FEEL like a cast that’s been working together for years.
I also love how open-ended the concept is: Monsters. Full stop. It’s an endless font of ideas and stories, visuals, clichés to be broken, etc. I mean Joss Whedon dealt mainly with demons and vamps and Buffy could’ve run for 20 years without getting stale (I think).
Now that said, I am not fit to wax Joss Whedon’s car, and may indeed run Sanctuary into the ground by season two. But god, if I do, it’s because of laziness and a drug habit – not a limited concept.
Will: Whedon's da man. Okay, a quick musical interlude...tunes you listened to while you were writing?
Damian: When I wrote of the first hour of Sanctuary it was mainly Mark Snow's "X Files: Fight the Future" soundtrack.
I would program in about four specific tracks a loop them. It got so I wasn't even aware I was listening to anything. Just white noise. Subliminal stuff. I still zone out like a zombie when I hear certain cues from that CD.
For writing the second hour: Matrix soundtrack (classic), Groove Armada, Patriot Games soundtrack, Dirtchamber Sessions...
Will: Matrix...mmmmm. Did you have to sell the series to anyone and if so, what closed the deal as it were? Or since you are a partner in the entity that's producing it, is it more or less self-financed and so don't have to answer to anyone? (Note to self: cut down on length of questions)
Damian: I think my agent showed Sanctuary to a few companies in the early 2000s with no traction. So while I was working on the Stargates the script sat in my hard drive. In Jan 2006 I started talking with a friend of mine about where the hell the Internet was headed and why visual media wasn’t getting the same traction as Mp3 had -- yet. The answer seemed to be that no one was stupid enough to try it out as a form of mass distribution, despite its massive reach. Oh and no one works for free.
So every time a company like Yahoo or Google experimented with getting Hollywood level content on the web, they immediately balked at the insane money writers/directors/actors get paid to do what they do. (I won’t even go into the seizure-inducing headaches certain unions induced as we did this)
So we postulated the theory that if you took a concept that a) everyone liked, b) was something online sci fi fans would click with, being vital “early adopters”, and c) made key creative people founders of a dedicated media company and gave them healthy back end deals… why couldn’t you make something big and cool and sell it as a webcast?
Answer: You can. It just hadn’t be done yet.
Now this all got started BEFORE Google bought YouTube and all the TV ON THE INTERNET insanity really kicked in. So it was good timing to be in the high-end content game. We all kicked in some of our own money, then got some healthy private investment, pulled in some major Stargate-sized favors (studio space, etc) and bang: We set up a VFX/Web/Post team and shot for a month in January and have been posting like mad ever since.
And now we’re at the doorstep, about to find out if all our blood, sweat and tears were for naught…
Time to start drinking heavily.
Will: Have a drink on me. We worked together in one hour sci-fi/paranormal television and so know that animal...what is the Sanctuary animal? As in, are you writing one hours for future TV broadcast (and then chopping them up into 15 minute webisodes)...or are you writing fifteen minutes webisodes (your primary market) and then will staple them together into one hours for television/DVD down the road? Is it all good or making you mental??!!!
Damian: It’s a little nerve-wracking as there are now MANY ways to deliver content and they all have to work in sync. BUT… it can work in your favor too. Say I pull an all-nighter and the script we end up shooting has a plot hole the size of a Hummer (fictional example, results may vary).
Hey, no probs, I say, when everyone points out said plot hole… I’m just leaving room for “other content” – and then I fill the hole via content in the form of a flash game or online comic book, or… I’m spinning here. Help me.
Seriously, it’s cool to have so many options… I love it. It frees us from cramming the entire world of the show into one format, which is the coolest thing.
Will: So what's your process now? Is there a writers room? Who's on staff? How much story do you 'break' at a time and then write?
Damian: No writers room yet, but there will be once we’re green lit. Stargate method is good: Writers gather, talk about a story idea. If it survives the first discussion, then we put it up on the board, broken down by act. We work that until it makes sense to everyone (well mainly the showrunner and the person writing the ep) and then send the writer to outline. Work the outline till it’s smooth and then draft phase begins…
We plan on having as many scripts on the table as possible before shooting in the fall. We need to, as there is a massive amount of pre production that goes into green screen shooting. More pre-viz we do, the better the shoot and the smoother the posting goes.
Will: So, will you still put sandwiches in the margins of other people's scripts? I tell the story of us doing notes on a writers draft and she kept seeing drawings of a sandwich and asked about them and you replied: "oh....it's when I got bored of the story so went to kitchen to make a sandwich." Ouch. A little harsh, but right sentiment - it's about the audience and keeping them entertained and involved.
Damian: Agh. I am mortified to be reminded of myself as an obnoxious young writer. In my defense, I only did the sandwich thing once. Or at least on one season of PSI Factor. Yeesh, what a shitty way to relate a note. Not constructive or helpful at all. Now yes it is important to keep the pace up and not bog scenes or scripts down with info that’s boring or irrelevant.
Writers often get caught up in their own cleverness, research, or characters and forget they’re telling an entire story. Get on with it, say I! And sandwiches are nice. The key is to make the scene AFTER the sandwich scene contain hot sex or a massive explosion (ideally both) in order to make people run BACK from the kitchen to see what they missed.
Will: What's been some of the challenges of writing for primarily a 'green screen' world? Is it all good, or as you learn more about what the technology is capable of does that impact on the creative/writing? (Note to self: questions getting repetitive)
Damian: As I mentioned, lots of preproduction time is key to shooting lots of green screen, especially 3D environments – not just one wall backgrounds. It does allow for shots and angles that you cannot do when shooting conventionally: Up the actors’ noses, big three sixty moves, etc. But the director (and the crew) HAVE to know what the “set” looks like. And that’s why previz is key – so is realtime 3D computer model tracking, which we prototyped during the pilot shoot and will refine as we go back into production.
Will: Casting...how wide did you toss the net and what kind of actors/characters were you looking for? Obviously, Amanda Tapping has been instrumental in getting series noticed...how's it been working with her?
Damian: Amanda was honestly the only choice for Magnus. She’s a great friend and a smart lady, tons of fun to work with. Always super-prepared, very pro on set. And to be honest she totally relished not playing a geek in army boots for the first time in 10 years. Robin Dunne had worked with Martin Wood years ago and read for the part on video. As soon as he was cast I quickly realized what a “find” he was. He’s totally a star waiting to happen. Chris was an obvious choice for all of us, as his work on the Stargate series has always been stellar – same with the cameos from SG alumni David Hewlett, Kavan Smith, Paul McGillion and Peter Deluise.
But finding Emilie Ullerup… that was just clean livin’ karma, man. She had only been working in town for seven or eight months and as soon as we saw her… it was… Holy Shit. Danish Blonde who can act and does even slightly look dorky when she fights or holds a gun. It was her role from the moment she first auditioned. Call backs were basically a formality.
Will: The big launch this week....What's next for you, and for the show?
Damian: I will be in my hyperbaric chamber for all week, shaving years off my life and plotting how to get into the Russian space program. You know, what all global media moguls are up to.
I will be watching web stats closely. Prepping Wep 2 to go live. Interacting with fans. Preparing to go to London’s Sci Fi Expo at the end of May and then meeting with TV Broadcasters in Toronto in early June. I will be partially sedated during most of this.
Thanks for this Will. Good questions and great to reconnect with you. And remember: "Rock And Roll Hoochie Koo" IS the best one hit wonder of all time. Now, discuss…
Will: Truck on out and light my fuse, dude...