Welcome to another fantasy-filled episode of… The IndieNet and Beyond! It’s news and web series episodes. Plus, this time we chat with co-creator/writer/director/producer Paul Best and co-creator/music composer Laura Olson about their web series Border Guardians of Ackernon.
Swords, sorcery, and iPhones… you heard that right. This TV pilot turned web series has many story elements fantasy fans are familiar with, plus a few new twists.
Border Guardians of Ackernon is an alternate world high fantasy web series about five camp counselors from present day Earth that suddenly find themselves on a fantasy world called Ackernon.
“They don’t know why they’re there, but they have something to do with an eons old struggle between Ackernon and their enemy the Pert. They’ve (Ackernon) been protected by a wall that has been protected by magic for the last 400 years. And as such, Ackernonions have grown pretty complacent and very isolationist, but all of the sudden the wall is failing. Basically the story involved the University helping the camp counselors achieve their end goal, which no one knows what that is for the moment… well, I know what it is,” laughed Best as he explained the synopsis of the series.
Border Guardians of Ackernon started off as a one hour pilot released in 2010 that was released at various festivals, winning awards. They found trying to get the pilot picked up for series was extremely difficult. But while in Vancouver for a screening of the pilot, Best met Mary Higgins, who told him about web series, which at the time was something Best knew nothing about.
“It sort of intrigued me because I do believe the Internet is certainly the force de-jeur for the immediate future of entertainment, and if you are not already on the Internet you soon will be or you will disappear,” explained Best. “I thought it was not horribly expensive to launch a web series and find out what all this is about on a first hand basis. That is pretty much what we decided to do: to come up with a prequel to the pilot, and story arc the rest of the web series into a five season show.”
Olson explained how they decided to film new prequel episodes to flesh out the world of Ackernon and the backstory of the fantasy characters, then broke up the original pilot that had the counselors into the rest of season one.
“We decided we needed a lot more back story to be more interesting for that many seasons… so the viewer could have an understanding of this Ackernon community and what this world was like before the counselors got there,” said Olson.
If all five seasons happen, the web series will be 67 10-minute episodes. But that will only happen if they get funding for the rest of the series.
“One of the reasons we did this particular genre is we wanted to do something we wanted to watch,” laughed Best. “Unfortunately, there is a whole lot of stuff on the Internet that in some cases is just bastard cousins of what is on TV that I don’t want to watch… but doing high fantasy in any format is a pretty expense proposition. We entered a film festival for web series where the budget topped out of $5,000 which we said we were way above that. We can’t justify putting out (for another season) out of our own pockets. If the marketplace likes it well enough and there are sponsors who feel they can benefit by tagging onto the show, then we will definitively make an additional season. [Otherwise] we will move onto other endeavors.”
Best and Olson have learned, while working on a documentary about web series, that funding is possibly the greatest problem for web series creators.
“[We] spent several weeks in Canada and Seattle area interviewing people who are content providers, producers, actors, etc… in web series and we filmed several panels at GeekGirlCon up in Seattle and also at VCON in Vancouver on the web series industry,” said Best. “And we have interviews planned with Koldcast TV, Felicia Day, Jane Espenson down in LA, and other people. Basically, it is a 60-90 minute length documentary on the indie web series industry. Like I said, I knew nothing about it when we started this. I thought this is a fascinating little underworld of people doing what we have done.”
“And we have just ran into far too many that when we say web series they go ‘web what?’ ,” added Olson.
They hope to have the documentary out sometime in the summer of 2012.
Olson has been a musician all of her life and has been teaching for over 20 years. She has a, extensive orchestral background and when she was drafted by Best for a project a few years ago, learned she had a talent for composing for film and documentary. A big fantasy fan, she was excited to work on Borders Guardians of Ackernon and is also a co-creator helping Best develop many of the story ideas.
Borders Guardians of Ackernon does have one of the best original composed music for web series, thanks to Olson’s skills and she has an expensive studio she has developed over the years.
“A lot of web series… there is this thought that you can go and buy the royalty free stuff or you can pay to use a pop song or something. I don’t think most people realize it isn’t as easy as it sounds. You can’t just go buy the can music because it won’t fit your scene. You still are going to have to have someone tailor it,” said Olson.
“I think sound and music is something that is so incredibly important. A friend of mine, Gordon Ecker, who was an Academy award winner in post-production sound and he sits on the Academy’s board for independent film. And back several years ago… he told me the single biggest reason most independents don’t qualify for an Academy bid is sound and music,” said Best.
Best has been working in film and theater for over 40 years. His last major film was Army of Darkness. After that, he went back to theater, but he got back into film in 2005 when the technology made it possible for him to produce films on a non-studio budget. Much of his previous film experience was as Art Director, Prop Master, Armory, Writing, etc. You can tell he brought much of that experience to Borders Guardians of Ackernon with a focus on excellent costumes and weapons.
They had a two person art department and they decided they wanted to stay away from the standard Viking look to the costumes. Looking at Earth history there was a time period when the Monguls had conflicts with the Russians.
“We thought those were pretty exotic cultures that haven’t been overused in fantasy. So we thought we would go with those,” explained Olson. “So the Ackernonion people are loosely based on Cossack Russia and the Pert are loosely based on Mongolian China. We had an awesome art director. And the music needed to reflect that as well.”
But you are probably wondering… what does any of this have to do with iPhones?
“It is very popular in fantasy, in the books anyway, to have the alternate world component where somebody gets transported somehow into the fantasy world. So we started to coming up with how we can make that happen and we wanted to make it modern,” said Olson. “Literally the iPhone thing popped in. We said, well we can make these smartphones that these campers have, because they are living in modern day, some kind of magical device. That’s not how they are transported, but they do become useful items when they get into Ackernon.”
With season one complete and a web series documentary in the works I asked Best and Olson what advice they have for web series creators and what they think the future has in store for web series.
“Your crew is worth 10 actors [per each crew member]. Actors are replaceable usually, but it’s really hard to replace good crew,” said Olson .
“Another thing I think is very important that a lot of web series don’t do, as far as I can tell, is storyboarding. I think it is even more important on web series than on a bigger production, because you have a lot less time and resources. To be able to walk on set know where you are going instills a lot of confidence in actors, installs confidence in the crew, and wastes less time…. I don’t think we ever went over 9 hours [a day], because after that your people start getting tired, they start getting stale, the crew isn’t paying attention. It’s diminishing returns,” said Best. “So by putting out the effort in pre-production with storyboarding, crew scheduling, using call sheets… is going to make a dramatically better product.”
“Web series is not going to spell the doom of television anymore than television spelled the doom for theater. It is another way people are going to get their entertainment. If you are not considering it for a distribution, then you are going to get left in the dust I think,” said Best. “The problem is, I see that platform being co-opted by the studios and taking it away from the independent producer that is there now for lots of reason, but one of which is that there is to much garbage being produced on the web by people don’t know what they are doing or don’t have enough budget or don’t have something. That produced a lot to have to filter through. And you also have such a fractured distribution system: YouTube, Koldcast, Blip, Mingle…. There is almost an endless list of places people can go, but nowhere that has a decent ability to filter swimming kittens from high fantasy.”
“When people are going to look for an online TV show… if you tried to search for something on most of those places you wouldn’t get a very accurate representation of what they have. Some are going to work really well for [your web series] and some are going to work less well because of how they market your show internally,” said Olson.
“The biggest problem, I’m afraid the platform might get co-opted by the studios which would just create another line of distribution for stuff that we already have now, which doesn’t please me. The other issue, we are in the very infancy of web series business, we are where TV was back in the 30s and 40s,” said Best. “So no one really knows how to monetize the platform and pay for the content. Virtually all first or second season web series are personally funded. As soon as that gets sorted out, and they are working on that now… I think within 3-5 years content designed to be distributed over the web a sizable portion finally and marketwise.”
“As we discovered working on the documentary… it’s going to take, like in the infancy of television, people out there doing it… making these web series to work out these problems,” said Olson.
Below is the trailer and episode 1 of Border Guardians of Ackernon. You can learn more about this show at: http://ackernon.com/
Elsewhere On The Web
So, the web series I’ve been working away on has premiered. Please check out Reality On Demand and let us know what you think!
Speaking of ZOE, their Kickstarter campaign for JourneyQuest season two was a big success and they’ve announced filming is scheduled for this March.
Did you watch the The International Academy of Web Television awards? In case you missed it, here are the winners.
- Best Comedy Web Series: The Guild
- Best Drama Web Series: RCVR/Web Series
- Best Hosted Taped Web Series: The Web.Files
- Best Hosted Live Web Series: What’s Trending with Shira Lazar
- Best Animated Web Series: Red vs. Blue
- Best Documentary Web Series: White Collar Brawler
- Best Variety Web Series: Kids React
- Best News Web Series: Tech News Today
- Best Educational Web Series: DadLabs
- Best Writing (Comedy): Felicia Day, The Guild
- Best Writing (Drama): Susan Miller & Tina Cesa Ward, Anyone But Me
- Best Writing (Non-Fiction): Rudy Jahchan, A Comicbook Orange
- Best Directing (Comedy): Sean Becker, The Guild
- Best Directing (Drama): Chris Preksta, The Mercury Men
- Best Directing (Non-Fiction): Brett Register, What’s Trending with Shira Lazar
- Best Female Performance (Comedy): Felicia Day (Codex), The Guild
- Best Female Performance (Drama): Rachael Hip-Flores (Vivian McMillan), Anyone But Me
- Best Male Performance (Comedy): Jeff Lewis (Stan), The Jeff Lewis 5-Minute Comedy Hour
- Best Male Performance (Drama): Daniel Bonjour (Luke Weber), RCVR/Web Series
- Best Host (Taped): Kristyn Burtt, The Web.Files
- Best Host (Live): Shira Lazar, What’s Trending with Shira Lazar
- Best Cinematography: Joost van Starrenburg, RCVR/Web Series
- Best Design: Greg Aronowitz, Dragon Age: Redemption
- Best Costume Design: Shawna Trpcic, Dragon Age: Redemption
- Best Makeup/Special Effects: Greg Aronowitz and Kimberly Graczyk, Dragon Age: Redemption
- Best Visual Effects: Chris Preksta, The Mercury Men
- Best Editing: Tony E. Valenzuela, BlackBoxTV: The Series
- Best Original Music: Rob Gokee, Night of the Zombie King
- Best Supplemental Content: The Mercury Men
- Best Interactive/Social Media Experience: What’s Trending with Shira Lazar
- Best Web Site Design: The Guild
- Best Distribution Platform: Blip.tv
Congratulations to the winners!
Attack Of The Trailers!
Bite Me: Season Two trailer
Three gaming geeks use their skills to fight zombies during the zombie apocalypse. Season one made our Top Ten of Web Series in 2010 list and now season two will be out in March.
That’s A Wrap
Got a web series, web comic, web… whatever? Then I want to know about it. Contact me at: email@example.com
That’s a wrap for now. Join me next time for more news and interviews. Take care my magic iPhone carrying friends. Until next time… marX out.
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Marx H. Pyle is a writer, martial artist and American independent filmmaker. A graduate of Vancouver Film School, he has worked on a number of projects including the short film he wrote and directed, Silence of the Belle. He recently released his scifi web series Reality On Demand.
Julie Seaton Pyle was born and raised in Indiana, where she attended the University of Southern Indiana. She majored in Print Journalism/Computer Publishing, while also dabbling in creative writing, literature and languages. This is also where she met Marx, the man with whom she would take the plunge into marriage and, years later, into another passion: filmmaking. She is co-producer, co-writer, and lead actress in the scifi web series Reality On Demand.