The 21 ConspiracyThe 21 Conspiracy has been quietly growing a cult of followers Down Under, making the thriller web series from upstart Spaceboy Productions the best kept secret in Australia’s web scene. Since its launch in mid-July, the series has propelled the Spaceboy YouTube channel to #24 All-Time amongst the site’s Aussie partners, and notching over 85,000 views for the series so far.

The first episode (above) quickly pulls viewers into a seemingly normal suburbia marred in a deep mystery we know nothing about. We follow Winston (Liam Andrew Miller) on his journey to figure out what happens to people when they turn 21. Teaming up with a conspiracy group of fellow sub-21 year-olds, including tech-savvy Collin (Kaaran Watene) and a young would-be love interest Ayaan (Chanika Desilva), the group uncovers a web of cryptic clues to secret known only to the 21-and-up crowd. Each episode builds the tension and mystery effortlessly, making you force yourself to click on the next one just to see what happens.

The show’s somewhat minimalist website is littered with clues hidden behind mystery boxes for fans to dig deeper into the storyline. A fan forum has some addicts playing with numbers — 21, 42, 84 — to try to get to the bottom of things.

I had a chance to catch up with The 21 Conspiracy’s 20 year-old Sydney-based writer-director Steve Anthopoulos and find out a little more about the series and his plans for what’s next.

Tubefilter: What are your plans for the season – how many episodes can we expect? Will we find out what the 21+’s are hiding?

Steve Anthopoulos: It’s a ten episode series with a gradual revelation of what the 21 and overs are hiding. In the season finale the truth is revealed and has interesting consequences for Winston and Ayaan’s relationship. Anyone wanting to take a stab at the answer should pay close attention to that.

The 21 ConspiracyTF: What was your inspiration for the conspiracy story?

Anthopoulos: I’d wondered about the idea that a child goes through initiations and revelations about the world, like Santa Claus and sex, that completely change their perspective. I wondered if something is still hidden at age 20. I originally planned a short film before releasing a web series was the perfect medium. As I began to write it, I couldn’t help but be influenced by 1984, my favourite book, which becomes more evident in the final episodes.

TF: Wow, you’re only 20 years old and off to quite the start. Are you looking to continue in the web series world or transition to film?

Anthopoulos: I want to work on interesting projects in whatever medium is fulfilling, so although I do intend on moving to feature films, the industry is changing and web series are an appealing format.

TF: How is the show funded? Are you paying actors and crew? Are they receiving any of the back-end from the YouTube partner revenue?

The 21 Conspiracy - production stillAnthopoulos: The show is extremely low budget. It’s shot on my DV camera, I bought a shotgun mic off eBay for $50 and the actors and crew work for free. The YouTube partner revenue is fun, but it only covers website hosting right now. I’d estimate I spend $50 on props, food and other items each episode. That said, I go to some effort to make sure the budget isn’t too evident on screen.

TF: The series debuted July 16th, how have the early reactions been? Are you planning on distributing it on other sites beyond YouTube?

Anthopoulos: Early reactions have been good. Users seem to enjoy it and YouTube Australia recently featured episode one on its homepage. I do release it as a podcast in the iTunes store, but I don’t have any incentive to move it beyond YouTube as I have a base of subscribers, regular viewers and the series is promoted through the partner program.

TF: Any plans for sponsors for the show?

Anthopoulos: I think an active search for a sponsor would complicate the production more than simplify it, however if interest is there I’d consider it. [Read: Get him while you can.]

So far four episodes have been released, with new ones slated to come out every week. My bet is this one picks up some US love in weeks to come, as there’s still a lack of consistent mystery thrillers from the US web series bunch. The minimalist acting by the young Aussie actors conspires to make the series come off unforced and accessible. Bottom line, this is one to watch and a director to keep an eye on.