The Internet has had a growing influence on how fans get their entertainment. From online games to downloads onto iPods, the way people are watching shows and movies is changing.
More and more, science-fiction shows have been experimenting with new ways to get to their audiences. “Babylon 5” just released a new straight-to-DVD movie that may lead to an all-new anthology series for the series released only on DVD. And even SciFi Channel recently announced that they are making new episodes of “Farscape” as Webisodes.
But this is a new frontier and pioneers are needed to explore it. Stage 3 Media is one such pioneer that has gone further than anyone else to date with their Web series “Sanctuary.”
Damian Kindler is known for his work in the Stargate franchise, but he’s also the chief executive officer of Stage 3 Media and the creator of “Sanctuary,” which he developed almost on a dare by his agent.
“‘Sanctuary’ was written seven years ago, before ‘Firefly,’ [and] before a lot of other shows,” Kindler told Airlock Alpha’s Marx Pyle. “It was primarily influenced by a number of things, [but] it was sort of an answer to a challenge of my agent at the time.”
Kindler’s agent said that perfect example of innovation could be found in existing franchises like CSI and “NYPD Blue,” but that audiences were looking for the next big thing.
“What really turns people on, when they are looking for writers, is someone who writes in their own voice, and go like, ‘Wow! This is someone new and interesting,'” Kindler said. “She [his agent] said that maybe one of the things you should do is write a script of a show you would create if given all the freedom in the world.”
That project became “Sanctuary,” a series developed specifically for the Web that follows Dr. Helen Magnus, played by Amanda Tapping, the new star of “Stargate: Atlantis,” as she seeks out monstrous creatures to reform, protect or capture. She gets help with this quest from her reckless daughter Ashley (Emilie Ullerip) and is joined in the pilot episode by her hesitant sidekick Will Zimmerman (Robin Dunne). Oh, and did we mention that Dr. Magnus is 157 years old and was once engaged to Jack the Ripper?
“At the time I was very influenced by ‘The X-Files’ and to an extent [‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’],” Kindler said. “I was very influenced by the graphic novel of ‘League of Extraordinary Gentleman,’ and I was very influenced by a novel I read called ‘The Alienist’ by Caleb Car. So I had kind of a gothic steampunk … ‘X-Files’ sort of ‘The truth is out there,’ except the truth is out there, but you don’t want to find it.”
The series was more or less based on a one-line pitch about how different it would be to have a woman who ran a private hospital for monsters when a new doctor joined the fold.
“It opened up this amazing world,” Kindler said. “I just started to develop it and wrote the first hour as an example. But I didn’t really get a chance to send it around and use it because I ended up working on Stargate.”
The show is definitely about the characters, and not just Magnus and her team. Kindler says he has a soft spot for John Druitt, also known as Jack the Ripper played by Christopher Heyerdahl, because he has a story arc planned for him over the next two years. “He’s not going to stay quiet and stay uninvolved,” Kindler said.
Using the Internet instead of a traditional network or cable channel has been sort of liberating for Kindler, even if it’s also been a bit scary. But it also proves that art can be created without the backing of major studios, and that the Internet and other technological advances have created new ways to distribute media.
“I am the studio and network,” Kindler said. “Once you can stream or make downloadable heavy media, high-caliber media, then you are effectively cutting off the cojones of ‘The Man,’ and you don’t have to surf through layers and layers of bureaucracy and development people.”
But success isn’t just how well something that is produced is received by fans and critics. There still have to be ways of monetizing such projects, because they are not cheap to produce.
“If you can put together the infrastructure, like we have, to make big content and find a way to go out and monetize it on the Net,” there can be a future for work like this, Kindler said. “We are still making this happen, it isn’t like we did it and it has all happened. This is what is making Hollywood’s blood freeze because at some point someone is going to knock it out of the park. Somebody is going to take what should have been on The CW or NBC, they are going to take it, they are going to make it, they are going to put it on the Net and they are going to monetize it and make millions. Because there are hundreds of millions of eyeballs and you only need fractions of them to hit numbers, the advertisers will flock, the people will flock.”
One way of trying to minimize cost and maximize returns is by limiting many sets to computer-generated images and using green screens.
“It is significantly cheaper in some respects because I don’t have to build and store massive sets,” Kindler said. “It is better for the environment because I don’t have to use resources and then scrap them. In setting up a company in heavy visual effects work, there is a certain amount of startup costs. But once that infrastructure is in place, over time it’s much more cost-effective and faster to shoot on massive green screens when you have the ability to create 3-D background environments.”
Creating “Sanctuary” is just as expensive as many television shows, however, Kindler said. And the fact that everything about this Web series is Canadian could make it the country’s most expensive completely-Canadian show … and it’s not even on television.
“That is because we don’t do things by halves,” he said. “We want really good stunts, really good effects, have the right people, the cameras, all of that.”
The pilot, which is two hours long, took 20 days to shoot and cost $2.7 million. That’s a lot of money upfront, but a regular studio would probably incur about $10 million to do the same thing.
“By utilizing the Stargate production team, by building your own in-house visual effects team, we were able to get huge efficiencies,” Kindler said. “You could never make ‘Sanctuary’ without having four times the money, unless you had your own visual effects and post [production] team. Otherwise, you are paying other people’s rates and you’ll be fleeced out of existence.”
In the second part of this exclusive interview, Kindler talks about the future of “Sanctuary” and whether or not it could include television, and more details about how the special effects all work. Look for the other half of this interview later this week.
The sixth Webisode of “Sanctuary” premieres July 30, and can be found by clicking here. Also, the pilot for “Sanctuary” has been nominated for a SyFy Genre Award. The ballot and guidelines for voting are available here.