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Creator's Corner » eScape - Michael Feurstein
Tell us about your sci-fi web series.
On the surface the show's about a group of kids trapped inside a video game. We'll find out who they are, but we'll also see where they came from, and eventually who they're going to become. They all have their own things to work out. "Steven" is obviously hiding something, so he's an angry kid. He's gotta get that under control. "Jack" appears to be the natural leader of the group, but something holds him back. We also have a strong female lead named "Myrna." At school, kids try to take advantage of her brains, but then they don't want to choose her in gym class. So, she's held back by that double-standard and has to bust through it for the good of the group inside the game. In the end, the series is about facing your fears, working together and finding your hidden power. And computer hacking. And monsters.
Where did the idea/concept for your web series come from?
My actor friends had been asking me if I had any projects coming up. And the families of the kids I taught in extracurricular video classes asked if I'd be doing summer programs. So I put the two together and invited a selection of the kids over to my studio. I had a bare concept for the show, and we worked together fleshing out each other's characters and nuances of scenes. A lot of it came together organically. I'd set up a concept, and through workshopping or even being on set, the flow would change and become its own thing. Several of the now major characters erupted suddenly on set, off script, because the actors were either late to the set and we'd moved on, or because I wanted to work with more families.
I've always wanted to helm an episodic piece with twists and turns and cliffhangers. My brother and I would plot out comic books, and our own little TV shows, for our family. They always contained a lot of characters, a mysterious plot with sudden changes, and really many of the elements of the structure found in eScape. And so working with kids on this show, I was also able to return to my own childhood and bring up a lot of the things that had originally excited me about making movies. Many of the props in eScape are actually old childhood toys of mine! A major theme of the show comes out of that process too: the return to childhood, the return to what once inspired you that maybe you've lost over the years.
Name some of your sci-fi influences. Any favorite movies, TV shows, novels?
Haha, well I just used the word 'lost' which you can't use around me without thinking about the show that just recently ended. LOST was definitely a major influence, not only in the initial homages we made during eScape, but also in the way stories are told. It changed my entire method of delivering a story. JJ Abrams gave a speech once for TED talk where he spoke about a mystery box, I recommend checking it out for anyone interested in exploring ideas about unraveling mysteries, or fathoming shows like LOST, haha.
I watch a lot of scifi shows like the recent Firefly, and Battlestar Galactica's reimagined series, and even going back to Sliders and X-files. I tune in to kids shows like The Last Airbender, which is just a stellar yarn and it's saturated in amazing culture and motifs. I can't believe something as unique as that lasted as long as it did and had such a following in its demographic, it's a cut above the rest. So there are lots of shows and movies that have driven my creativity and changed my way of storytelling.
Books, too, factor into the mix. I was an old fan of Choose Your Own Adventures. My middle school English teacher turned me on to William Sleator and his Strange Attractors and Green Futures of Tycho which were an awesome read at that age.
You didn't mention video games, which would be a great influence on a show like this, hehe. I really like Portal, the humor embedded in the dark and dangerous corridors. That's something we injected into eScape pretty early: putting kids in situations normally dealt with by people much older than them. How do they solve a puzzle that puts them in danger and still keep their kid-sense about them. And you'll see in our show influences from early graphic adventures like Monkey Island and the Tex Murphy series. Find-an-object, use-an-object. The complicated plot thickens even as more solutions are presented.
Tell us about the technical production of your show. What camera & equipment did you use? Editing software & hardware? For visual effects, etc?
We started out with two DVX-100a's on set, to capture the kids documentary-style. We weren't sure if the conventional route was gonna work. This is evident in the scenes on the road with the vehicles parked. But the kids responded well to repeating takes, so we graduated into a single-camera set and some of the kids took up boom and grip. Now those kids are working with me on larger productions, such as a documentary aimed at PBS and national commercials.
I own and operate an indie lighting and grip rental house, so they have exposure to and use of Arri, Kino Flo, Mole Richardson. Shawn Schaffer was instrumental that first year in bringing his expertise as Director of Photography, so that I could focus on the kids and their acting. My parents helped a lot with set construction, wardrobe and props. It was a huge undertaking, and all the families soon became involved in the little bits that formed the whole.
The first cut was really just for the kids and their families. We had a local premiere that did well. It was interesting to hear from people who walked into the show without expectations. They were really excited. It had amazed them, piqued their curiosity and creativity. People were coming out of the woodwork to be a part of it. We realized we had something special and built it out for a wider audience. At first my brother was the sole visual effects artist, spending hours on the effects as I sent them. Many times I would give him a simple concept, and he would deliver just an absolutely stunning effects shot. So he was a large part of the creative process too, because where I might have scripted a simple orb of light, he put his own ideas into it and turned it into an organic part of the story. Runic Films later came to me and convinced me that kids everywhere needed to see eScape. This meant a bigger workload, so some of Runic came aboard the visual effects department. Everyone at Runic is helping prepare the show from top to bottom for the official launch on August 6th. In fact one of the episodes was written by Carlos Pedraza and Ben Alpi, and that was invaluable: I was finally able to look at a piece of eScape from the outside.
I edited all the first season cuts on Adobe Premiere, which crashed a lot on this older PC I had. Now we all cut on Macs with Final Cut Pro. Our voice redubbing sessions took place in my studio, which is part of a converted firehouse. The actors crammed one at a time into an upturned padded drum-kit's road-case. A lot of the music was donated, and my father Ray Feurstein did the incidentals and part of scoring. Wardrobe and props were he and my mother Joan. It was a family affair.
Can you tell us any interesting facts or trivia about your show? Any funny stories?
Weather was always an issue, most of eScape being outdoors. The last day at Lock 7 park it rained torrential and hailed in between our last takes. The kids would dive for cover, then come out when it cleared, then again and again. A lot of the shots you can see the damp ground and beaded rain on the cars. We were literally followed by a single drizzly storm cloud on an otherwise blue sky day. We were shooting the monster chase scenes, and it was one of those clouds that was just so small, the size of a minivan. But it kept circling overhead. Very strange. Our final hour at Camp Chingachook in Lake George ended with a storm and power outage... but that turned out fortunate because it forced us to shoot the end of the season somewhere else. The scene benefited from that change. We were up against a lot of adversity by shooting this on next-to-no budget, and with many kids who had never done anything like it before... but with every challenge there was a resounding victory.
eScape - SciFinal Page
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