One such team, Ryan McCalla and Tommy Larkin, are preparing to make their first mark on the independent webseries scene. Their anticipated first project, Inner Demons, is nearing the release of it's first series. Inner Demons is a non-linear story, with its roots in horror and the supernatural.
I recently had a chance to ask Ryan and Tommy some questions about their ambitious new project. Here's what they had to say...
Me: Describe the genesis of Inner Demons.
Tommy: It started off with Ryan writing a short story about someone who has to deal with being a werewolf and a drug addict. I loved the initial concept of it. After many games of Halo and many discussions, we started talking about making a short movie. As we kept talking about it, more characters kept coming to life. Since I was studying film at the time, we thought it would then make an awesome movie. However, because funding was really hard to get, we decided to make it a series. Then we both came up with the idea of showing it on the web.
Ryan: Yeah once we decided to go for web distribution it really opened up the ideas for more characters and ideas – I still remember passing Tommy the first draft of season 1 in hand scrawled notes, and him going off to decipher my so called “chicken scratch” handwriting as he called it. Initially I wrote alot more characters but Tommy really helped to streamline this down getting rid of unnecessary characters, merging characters and coming with several new ones as well such as Sparky, which was initially just an unnamed teleporter that Tommy helped to flesh out and bring to life. We wrote the main storyline in a linear fashion, plotting out certain moments and beats in the season, before going into more depth, before settling on going for a non linear format, meaning we could just really push in and focus on these key dramatic moments in the season 1 timeline.
Tommy: Also having this being shown on the web cuts out any drama trying to pitch it to a television network. Plus with the content of the episodes, I think that the web will be able to reach more people than television would. It works so we because Ryan and I are using practical tricks we have learnt to pull off something that looks like it has a big budget.
How long did you work on the script? Any inspirations?
Tommy: Overall we have been working on getting this series off and running for the last two and a bit years. It’s been long road but worth it in the long run. We started casting in December last year and since then, it has snowballed. We have managed to find fantastic cast and crew that love the project as much as we do.
Ryan: I think it helps having people that love the source material we came up with as well, to really help bring this to life, and are as enthusiastic about this as we are. Basically the we plotted out a major arc that goes over 4 seasons of 13 episodes during the first year and a bit of development, then we went in and fleshed out the moments we thought would have the most impact. This took us about another year getting the season 1 scripts finalised – inspiration wise I loved we have alot of comic books and various tv shows as well, I really quite liked in the UK show SKINS, how we saw these events and moments from a certain characters point of view and just really focused on that character for a given episode with other characters still weaving in and out but more just being in the peripheral.
Is the series totally self financed?
Ryan: Haha yes completely self financed... scrimping an saving bits and pieces here and there to put towards it.
Tommy: Yeah basically we have been doing this on the skin of our backs. Any big pay we would get, would go straight to equipment props, costumes, catering etc.
Are you using a distribution plan similar to other web series, or are you trying a different model?
Ryan: It is similar in some respects yes – we are pushing it out via as many different video distributors as possible to get a maximum reach, so people are not just forced to go to youtube to watch the latest episodes. People will be able to watch through itunes, Vimeo, Blip.TV, Youtube and also on the Inner Demons website.
How did you find the casting process? Is it difficult to find actors interested in independent film projects in Australia?
Tommy: We actually got really lucky with our cast. Everyone that applied for the roles loved the idea and were definitely keen. The casting process was stressful at times but in the end was really worth it all.
Ryan: Everyone is perfect for their roles as well, both in acting ability and look. It’s quite scary how much they match what we originally had envisioned in our heads.
How long were you in pre-production?
Ryan: Including the writing process about 2 years – though really, its been more the last 6 months that we have really started to push things together with costumes, props and the like – we got very lucky with our costume designer Jerrel Dulay who has just nailed exactly what we are after from the get go.
Tommy: We had basically started doing some VFX tests about 3 years ago to see what we could and couldn't do. From there I was also doing some camera and sounds tests. And also before we started shooting, we had a few table reads to make sure that all the cast members were on the same page and we also did lighting tests and camera tests. We figured the best way to shoot this series was to be as prepared as possible.
How are you finding the filming process? Is it what you expected?
Tommy: SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO MUCH FUN!!!!!!!!! The cast and crew are so amazing to work with. After a day of shooting, we all relax and watch the rushes of the day. It has become a real family vibe. I wasn't expecting everyone to get along as much as they do. They have been all so supportive and keep both Ryan and I going which is rewarding to see.
What kind of equipment are you filming with?
Ryan: We are using the Cannon Series DLSR’s, plus Tommy has a lot of his own equipment...
Tommy: We are also using the latest in steadicam units and dolly tracking systems. The camera team is just doing an amazing job.
How do you get what you need out of your actors? Is that an easy exchange?
Tommy: I find that in order to get a great performance from your actors, you let them play around with the idea first. See if they can truly get the vision. After that, I simply make suggestions to help improve the performance. The cast we have are so spot on. Everyone is very professional and really easy to direct. They all know how to bring the best of the character out and give it 110% everytime. Even with blocking through action scenes, everyone goes balls out and fully commits to the role.
Ryan: Alot of the time too they will think of doing things that we hadn’t even thought of during the blocking process – taking the characters to a completely new level.
Inner Demons is ambitious in terms of special effects, especially for an independent project. What's the biggest effect you have to tackle for Inner Demons? Is there anything you had to omit due to budget or technical limitations?
Ryan: when we initially plotted out the season, we both sort of said to ourselves lets go all out. Put it all in and we can reel it back in once we realise what we can achieve – with most of the VFX side of things we would go out and shoot tests to see how we could achieve things in post and what we would need to pull off the effect, I think for me that moment when I could actually breathe a sigh of relief was watching a finished shot of the twins. Being able to see them interacting with each other and brought to life with just one actress (Melissa McConnel), it was one of those sort of moments where if we didn’t get it right the whole thing would have fallen apart. A lot of what we are doing is using every little trick in the book to pull of certain shots and cheating as much as possible before we go to a Digital VFX shot in post – if we can do it on camera we go for it.
How important are social networking tools for spreading the word about your series?
Tommy: Having social networks such as Facebook and youtube, gives you the option to reach out to more people as these sites are being used in everyday use.
Ryan: They are pretty much the standard nowadays, it allows you to interact with fans and people interested in the project at a great level.
Which aspect of production or filming has surprised you the most so far? Is creating a series like Inner Demons from the ground up what you expected?
Ryan: Mostly just how friendly and supportive everyone has been throughout the whole process, our friends and families have been extremely supportive about the series along with all of the cast and crew which makes so much easier and can what would be a painful long day go by do quick with laughs between takes.
Tommy: For me I guess it would have to be the crew. The crew we have are extremely talented and by far the best crew I have worked with in years. And even if there is something that needs attending, they stop and help out. It's very much a "no one gets left behind" mentality and i think thats why we work extremely fast and awesome together.
Ryan: I think I expected to be a lot more difficult than what it has been – all of our cast and crew like I was saying earlier are so friendly and down to earth – it makes our jobs alot easier. The most difficult part was getting it started, once you get enough momentum the project takes on a life of it’s own and picks up more momentum. Me and Tommy like to call it the snowball effect, which sort of hit for us about halfway through casting.
How do you feel about the state of independent film making in Australia these days?
Tommy: I find that indie films made in Australia really suffer as I feel that there is little to no support. I find that every indie film maker struggles as most of the stuff shot in Australia either has to have everything Australian in it to get funding, or, Make it for an overseas market with little theatrical releases. If the indie film industry had more support, It would seriously boost the film making in Australia. There is sooooooo many talented film makers in Australia that are just waiting for the chance.
When can we expect to see Inner Demons hit the web?
Ryan: At the moment we are shooting for a Q4 release, once we have most of the episodes finished we will be releasing the details through our website 'innerdemonstheseries.com' and our Facebook fan page as well.