The Internet is quickly changing how people get their entertainment fix. But only recently have there been stories specifically made specifically for the Internet, rather than the more common route of throwing TV shows or movies from traditional sources onto the Internet.
“Sanctuary,” “Battlestar Galactica: The Resistance,” “Star Trek: New Voyages,” and the list continues to grow. But one Web series that may have been overlooked is John Kenneth Muirs “The House Between,” a series about five strangers that awaken in an empty Victorian house “at the end of the universe.” Trapped, they have no idea how they got there. They must learn to trust each other and try to find a way out.
It doesnt have the budget of some of the more popular Web series, but it does have heart. It also has on board Muir, best known as an award-winning author of more than 20 reference books covering film and television including “An Askew View: The Films of Kevin Smith,” “The Encyclopedia of Superhero on Film and Television,” “Horror Films of the 1970s,” and “Terror Television.”
Last year, however, Muir decided to take the plunge and try his own hand at creating a TV series by avoiding the middleman and airing it on the Internet.
“Well, I had in mind to mount a new independent, super-low-budget production, and I understood that — unlike the last time I had attempted this (during the independent film movement of the mid-1990s) — I wouldn’t necessarily have to be concerned with a distributor, given the surging development of video on the web,” Muir told Airlock Alpha’s Marx Pyle. “Once I realized that it was do-able to get a low-budget video series out to consumers at virtually no cost, it became a matter of what kind of story I wanted to dramatize and what kind of story I could actually afford to dramatize.”
Muir knew right away that he wanted to do something in the horror and science fiction genres.
“And I also knew I wanted to cover some of the same dramatic/philosophical territory as the Jean-Paul Sartre existentialist play ‘No Exit,’ about people trapped in Hell. But realistically, I knew I couldn’t afford CGI, name actors, or a huge orchestra,” he said.
Muir wanted “to emulate the ambience” of black-and-white classics like “One Step Beyond,” “The Twilight Zone” and “The Outer Limits.” He combined that with a heavy influence of 1970s British science-fiction television of “Sapphire & Steel,” “Space: 1999” and “The Prisoner.”
Since this is all new territory the greatest challenge, besides letting people know the Web series exists, is coming up with a business model to make it profitable.
“It would be great to report that I had a coherent, fully-developed and effective business model right out the gate, but honestly everything on ‘The House Between’ has been a case of one step at a time,” Muir said. “We were just very, very satisfied to get the first season shot, edited, scored and on the Web in a timely fashion, to be truthful. We bandied about the idea of charging for the first season episodes on Veoh, but I felt that it would be better just to get the series out into the ether and hopefully develop fans.”
Muir has strong feelings regarding his competition. Other Web series cause him a “bit of irritation” because, while they have larger budgets and audiences, they fail to “take the genre further or take any chances.” Instead, Muir would like to see Web series become “a little more free, a little more experimental, a bit more like independent film, where people are doing their own thing, breaking the rules, and offering authentic alternatives to the programming on television.”
With the help of the Internet, the opportunity exist for a “boomlet of mini-Hollywoods.” However, what he sees is the system protects the system.
“Did you know I can’t get ‘The House Between’ on the IMDB? Why? They said it had to ‘air’ somewhere other than the Web, even just once. When I informed the site folks that it had actually premiered at a convention in Virginia (Fantasci), they still wouldn’t include it. But, lo and behold – ‘Sanctuary’ automatically gets a listing on IMDB. Now tell me, where besides the net does that series play? Again, not to sound bitter, but the whole thing is just very corporate.”
Harkening back to the beginning of television sci-fi, Muir explains the reason for his frustrations.
“My little show – the ‘Captain Video’ for the Internet Age – gets locked out like Ron Paul at a Fox [News] debate,” he said.
As for the future of film, he believes what he has accomplished with “The House Between” represents the direction of the medium. Todays popular films more closely resemble television, rather than cinematic movies, Muir believes. Yet, critics maintain that online audiences are more interested in watching “two minute joke clips on YouTube” than a 30-minute story.
“Those who have sat down and stuck with ‘The House Between,’ have — for the most part — been hooked. But I don’t know how to train people to watch entertainment on their computer,” Muir said. “It’s something that will happen over time; and it will definitely be a generational thing.”
Online piracy has been a big problem from TV and film, but it can be an even bigger problem for a Web series that can only make profit from the Web.
“Piracy is bad, of course, and people should always be adequately paid for their hard work,” Muir said. “I would accept that as an axiom. But studios are absolutely out of control in going after fans, sites and publishers who use photographs or snippets of programming to discuss their product. It’s just nuts. The studios want to control these ventures rather than letting there be a free discussion of art. I find it sad, frankly. ‘Star Trek’ could never have taken off with fans in today’s environment; the studios wouldn’t let it. Too busy protecting their bucks to nurture fans.”
One of the biggest issues regarding the WGA strike, is writerspay for their work online. Muir has his own controversial view regarding this matter.
“I wholeheartedly support the writers. However, I do have a little sympathy with the producers in terms of the Web, if only because I agree with the assertion that it is still a venue in transition,” he said. “Veoh, for instance, offers episodes of ‘Get Smart’ and ‘Smallville’ for free. Nobody seems to be getting paid for them, and there are thousands of downloads. So how do you cut the writers in on that action? By contrast, it’s horseshit to say that the equation isn’t settled in terms of DVDs. The studios are making a lot of money on DVD releases, and it is pretty much a ‘settled’ market. The writers need to be paid fairly. End of case.”
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