If you need proof that creating "television" is a completely different game these days, look no further than the Vancouver-produced science fiction series Riese . To begin with, the series launched not with a television pilot, but with a nine-minute episode on YouTube and the video site Koldcast. And before shooting even a single scene, the show's creators launched a stealth marketing campaign to promote the series, sending a "street team" to the fan expo Comic-Con in San Diego last July with 60,000 postcards, synopses and propaganda material for the Sect, the scary religious group featured on the show.
Then the producers created more Web content: behind-the-scenes videos documenting casting, costume fittings and production; a slick trailer; and, of course, a presence on Facebook and Twitter. All in an effort to have the series go viral.
"People just really got excited and we generated a lot of buzz that way," says Nicholas Humphries, one of the show's producers.
Episode 1 launched last week, attracting some 10,000 views on YouTube in the first two days - enough to make it a featured video and for YouTube to go into partnership with the production team so that each time a new episode is launched, it will be featured on the site's main page. That alone should guarantee a substantial amount of traffic.
A good review in The New York Times didn't hurt either ("the fight scenes are so tightly edited and scored that the combined effect is on par with anything you'd see on prime time").
It all fits into the production team's plans: either make enough money by continuing to release episodes online (generating revenue through various platforms: an alternate reality game, an iPhone app that's currently in development, even good ol' online T-shirt and mug sales) or document what they hope will be huge numbers of viewers and use those statistics to sell the series to a broadcaster.
"We realized we could put all this time and energy into shooting a pilot [to begin with]but with the economy how it is, it doesn't seem like there's a lot of broadcasters out there buying really stylistic fiction so we thought we'd still make it but take distribution into our own hands by putting it online and building a fan base that way," says Humphries, 27 (who is married to one of Riese 's creators, Ryan Copple).
The steampunk series - a fantasy/science-fiction subgenre where stories are set in a steam-fuelled world, like the Victorian era - is set in a crumbling land, the once peaceful kingdom of Eleysia. Riese (Christine Chatelain) travels through the dying land with her companion - a wolf - battling the Sect and trying to remember the terrifying events of her own life, including the murder of her entire family.
"It's fantasy without magic, it's sci-fi without futuristic technology," says Humphries.
The series, the first episode anyway, is heavy on style, fight scenes and music - with only a single line of dialogue uttered toward the end.
Shot in and around Vancouver with professional actors (Chatelain has starred in the TV series Sanctuary and The Collector ), this is hardly a low-rent Web project, with an estimated budget of $50,000 per episode. The shows will be released every two weeks, with five episodes making up one chapter (the producers are in post-production for Chapter 1 right now and preparing to shoot Chapter 2).
So will Riese be another The Guild - the online sitcom about a group of gamers that is now into its third season and watched by millions? Or will it be another Sanctuary - the Vancouver-produced series which began online but jumped to television after eight webisodes? Or will Riese "air" in obscurity, fighting for exposure in an increasingly crowded online market?
Stay tuned. Don't touch that … keyboard.