August/September 2006

Independent TV and The House Between

Media Commentary By John Kenneth Muir

It’s going to happen. Before our very eyes. To quote the evil Agent Smith in The Matrix trilogy, it is “…inevitable.”

What I’m discussing here is a new trend in the entertainment industry; nothing less than the first large-scale democratization of mass entertainment in this country in more than a decade. For lack of a better word, we might call this fledgling movement independent television.

In the early 1990s, advances in film technology made filmmaking cheaper—within the reach of brave new practitioners outside Hollywood; artists with names like Edward Burns, Kevin Smith and Quentin Tarantino.

Now, if we gaze closely, we might detect the seeds of a twenty-first century analog. And it involves—naturally—the Internet. For instance, we have already seen “webisodes” of popular network TV series like The Office or the Sci-Fi Channel original series, Eureka bow on the Web. Considering this situation, how long until original and elaborate dramatic programming—made by consumers like you and me—will be made available to stream online too?

I submit that this happening now, under our very noses. I suspect that independent and enterprising artists will very soon be fashioning their own Internet series. I predict these projects will be highly individual, curious, spiky and strange…and not at all like the homogenized entertainment we’ve grown accustomed to in the boob tube.

I have evidence, in fact, that this is happening because—hopefully—I’m on the vanguard. To wit: not long ago, I scripted, produced, cast, directed and edited my very own science fiction “series” called The House Between. It will be streamed online in late 2006 or early 2007.

Joe Maddrey, a producer on the Discovery Channel series A Haunting, joined me for this super low-budget venture and together with a small crew and a cast of five actors, we toiled to create something new and original. And, forgive me if this sounds like a Frank Sinatra song (by way of Sid Vicious…), but…hell…we did it our way.

By that I simply mean that we steered our own ship, without committee, without interference. Our production team was sequestered in an empty old house during the shooting schedule. Over the span of seven very, very long days we shot seven original half-hour scripts. As you might guess from the title, the premise concerns a mysterious, Spartan house where five strangers awaken to find themselves trapped. Like the Sartre play, there are no exits, and worse…no one can fathom the reason behind this unusual captivity.

One character, a scientist named Bill (Anthony Mercer) believes that physics holds the key to solving the riddle. A woman with a fundamentalist Christian upbringing, Astrid (Kim Breeding), suspects their new home is purgatory, “the house between” Heaven and Hell. And the mysterious Theresa (Alicia A. Wood) is a New Age mystic who believes that the house is a psychic manifestation, a change in our species’ near-death iconography.

In our half-dozen-or-so stories on The House Between, these characters are joined by the dangerously unpredictable (and oddly innocent…) character named Arlo (Jim Blanton) and a manipulative lawyer, Travis (Lee Hansen). Together, the characters squabble, debate, come together and fall apart, all while seeking an escape from the house. Along the way, they find that the house holds secrets for each of them; clues to its meaning and purpose, as well as their placement inside.

We shot The House Between down and dirty, meaning fast and cheap. We made mistakes and had victories too. Most importantly, we told the stories we wanted to tell, and had fun doing it. Soon the audience will get a gander. In fact, I’m premiering the trailer at convention in Virginia called Fantasci the last weekend of July 06.

Will people like it? Will people seek it out? I have absolutely no idea. But that’s the thing about independent TV…it’s a wide open field. What number of viewers constitutes success? What if a thousand people watch the “webisodes?” What if two thousand tune in? Or ten thousand?

You see, when the cost is low…the rewards can be high. The House Between may or may not be the independent television show that gets noticed on the web and sparks a revolution. But mark my words, that notice will come with some special online production that captures the collective imagination.

And it will happen soon…

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Copyright © 2005 by John Kenneth Muir. All Rights Reserved.