The first five episodes of the internet comedy Cockpit were all shot in one day in a cramped bit of fuselage that Ryan Wise of production company Big Fantastic tells me has some filmic history. Peter Graves, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Robert Hayes, and a few inflatable dolls shared the same space over 25 years ago to film the slapsticky, disaster movie spoof, Airplane.
As I said when it launched, the pilot episode relies less on the characteristic puns of its comically highflying predecessor and more on the awkward, often sexually ambiguous charged interactions and power dynamics of the crew. Check it out:
It’s funny and shows that Ryan and the rest of the Big Fantastic team – Chris McCaleb, Douglas Cheney, and Chris Hampel – can do comedy, but it runs an alternative course to their normal fare and the genre that brought them to the this newfangled internet medium in the first place.
###The foursome had been independently earning their chops in Hollywood’s movie-making biz for five or so years before coming together in early 2006 to answer the question, “What would storytelling look like if it was native to the web?” Two years ago – with the exception of the precocious persons behind The Spot, Port City PD, Something to be Desired, and Lonelygirl15 – that wasn’t a question a lot of people asked. Their answer was telling the dramatic, teenybopper life and death tales of SamHas7Friends and Prom Queen through impressive, professional productions and daily doses of plot and intrigue that keep the audience hooked.
It seems to have worked. Michael Eisner was so impressed with Sam that his new media studio, Vuguru acquired the series’ rights (but the acquisition was somewhat bittersweet, at least for fans – after obtaining the series Vuguru decided to take all the episodes off the web) and commissioned Big Fantastic to make Prom Queen, which itself wrought over 15 million viewers, a mini season spinoff, and a slated overseas expansion.
I recently caught up with Doug, Chris, Chris, and Ryan in their welcoming Santa Monica office to find out more on how they came together and learn about their creative process:
Of course there are exceptions, but McCaleb is definitely on target when he says that drama on the web is a video genre that has been drastically underserved. He tells me that his company has some exciting shows planned to fill the void.
On the internet, comedy has been king, closely followed by lifestyle shows and instructional videos. Horror has also made some inroads. But as more money and talent flows into the space and invests in the production of quality series – looking for the digitally distributed equivalent of old TV hits like The Sopranos or even Law and Order – we’ll see much more content focused on the art of dramatic storytelling. And I’ll bet we’ll see Big Fantastic’s name among the credits of some of the best