The making of a Steampunk web series…

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I’ve been chatting with Steve Turnbull about an exciting 8-part webseries, Winter, which he is creating and funding via indigogo. Here’s what he had to say about the series, how it originated and the process he is going through to make production a reality…

So, you’re creating an 8-part steampunk web-series called “Winter” which involves a dark love triangle between a soldier, a young girl and her scientist father. When was the idea first conceived and how did it come about?

The story originated a few years ago when I was offered the chance to pitch an interactive SF story to the BBC. They didn’t like my take. Which happens.Then the Director, Chris Payne, and I were looking for something else to work on so I adapted that as a modern SF story which was okay but was described by one reader as “Act 3 of a feature with 1 and 2” missing. Then Chris dropped a bombshell, he’d had this idea for a Steampunk universe kicking around and thought maybe we could set the story in that. Two years of development, and a lot of changes, later we have WINTER. (In fact it  as always called that, and the three main characters have been constant throughout – though their relationships to one another have changed.)

You’ve said it’s dark and disturbing. Will it have an age rating on it?

Well there is a sex scene in episode 7 – not explicit but important to the plot. And there is some unpleasant  violence in episode 8, not bloody, not gory – I don’t really like that sort of thing – but definitely horrific. And then  there’s the basic premise which is not very nice when you think about it – when you know what it is. No bad language at all, and there is humour. I expect it should have a 15 rating. Definitely post-9pm if it were on TV because it has “adult themes”.

What can we expect from the plot? Is it an adventure, for example?

I love writing action adventure but in this case “suspense thriller” would be a better description. There’s big screen spectacle right from the start but it’s about character and relationships, and a building threat.

How long has it all taken to put together?

This version of the script’s been in development for two years. I decided we needed to shoot and started things moving around Christmas, but we had a fire lit under us five weeks ago when we had the chance to get it to Cannes.

Has the series been a collaboration with Chris right from the start? Who else has been involved?

As far as creative input it’s just Chris and myself, though with Chris it’s a matter of keeping to the vision of his universe. He lets me be the writer and I let him be the director. It seems to work very well. I use  professional readers regularly. It’s really important to get an external view on scripts and they’ve been very helpful in pointing out cavernous plot holes in earlier versions. Also saying things like “I have no idea what you’re talking about here” when I’m not explaining the Steampunk aspects clearly enough.

Kate Murphy who worked as AD when we shot the mini-pilot for MONSTERS wanted to work with us again. One of the actors from MONSTERS also kept in touch and he’s been cast as a character we don’t see in scene 8, but Chris and I were happy to work with him again.

And we found a wonderful person – I say “found” though in fact both Chris and Kate knew him separately. He’s the reason we have a modern fully equipped green screen sound stage for three days, at no cost. Of course my daughter Deanna was also in MONSTERS and is playing the lead, Talia, in this too. Is it nepotism? Yes, but look at it this way: Chris and I (and everyone else) wants this work to demonstrate what we’re capable of. We’re not going to hobble ourselves with incompetent actors.

What made you decide to self-produce a web series?

Because I believe in the story and these things don’t happen by themselves, they have to be made to happen. So I’m making it happen – with the help of all those who’ve come on board. To be honest I’m stunned by how things are turning out, it’s quite wonderful.

How would you define “Steampunk”?

Excellent question. It’s how the Victorians would see science fiction. It’s Jules Verne, H G Wells, Conan Doyle. However we have a very particular brand: Hard Steampunk. No fantasy elements, no supernatural, just minor changes to the laws of physics, this is the fundamental rule of Chris’s universe.

What do you mean by a complete CGI backlot? it sounds expensive – how do you think it will turn out?

CGI backlot is what they did on “Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow” no real sets at all, everything is green screen. (Actually Sky Captain did shoot on a couple of real sets in the end but we won’t talk about that.) It’s far cheaper than creating real sets and means we can have anything and go anywhere, without leaving the studio. Let’s just say it’s not costing as much as it should. And it’s going to be awesome. The shot I’ve provided gives you an idea. I have to say at this point our CGI guy, Christian, has been incredible, he is so talented and so fast. He’s gone from nothing to this in less than two weeks.

What are your plans for the series?

We’re shooting scene 8 (and possibly scene 6) now. These will be edited and composited with the CGI, and will go to Cannes where we will try and get some traditional finance to shoot the full series.

However, regardless of whether we get that funding or not, we will be shooting the full series in September. As I said, these things must be made to happen.

How much do you need to raise and by when?

To cover everything I’ve budgeted $6000 that’s CGI, editing, compositing, expenses, food for the crew. Our crowdfunding runs for a week after the shoot. Anyone who wants to help can go here even a small contribution helps, it’s not the amount that counts, it’s the numbers. We’ll be doing massive social media coverage throughout the shoot on Sunday – you’ll be able to follow us on the #winter8 hashtag.

Having written the series, are you keen to write more Steampunk?

I finished a feature set in the same universe last year which is my lovely action adventure but that would need a $200m+ budget. And I tried my hand at a graphic novel – but that needs a lot of love, it’s really quite hard 🙂

Well, I for one can’t wait to see this series on the web! It sounds like it’s really pushing the boundaries and will be really something special indeed. Best of luck, Steve!

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