New York based husband and wife team Stuart Culpepper and Karin Williams recently picked up the award for “Best Web Series Pilot” at the 2008 NY Television Festival. Their dramatic sci-fi microseries, The Prisoner, is a mysterious exploration of a secret prison, torture, and “the limits of personal freedom in the context of a global war on terror.” (No, this isn’t a web version of 1960’s British cult hit, The Prisoner.) The show functions as a game for viewers, allowing them to decode messages and unravel the mystery of this underground world. (Hint: start here and crack the code.) Tubefilter talked to Culpepper and Williams via telephone about their plans for the show.
Tubefilter: You guys recently won “Best Web Series” at the New York Television Fest, so congrats! What did you think of the festival?
Stuart Culpepper: The festival was — we were kind of taken aback by that in a regard- because we really thought it was going to be kinda of a small sort of indie kind of a festival. I don’t think we were at all expecting how professional, how well run —
Karin Williams: Yeah, it was great, I don’t know if you had a chance to be there. But there were a lot of interesting events and panels, we met a lot of interesting people.
TF: What was your inspiration for making The Prisoner?
SC: Karin and I run a production company, and we always want to try and use the company not only in a money making incarnation but we also want to use it as a way to develop and do new things, our own projects, and we’ve done feature films and other things as well, and we were fascinated by new TV. By iTV. And all these different iterations of how people were accessing motion media. And we wanted to make something for that; we didn’t have a specific —
KW: That was really it. We just wanted to explore the idea of – can we create a show in little three minute episodes? Or four minute episodes, and how can we design shots for the small screen rather than for the much bigger screen that we’re used to working with.
TF: I notice that you guys have really great production value – Is that something that you guys did with a large team or a smaller team? How did you guys assemble your production crew?
KW: We had a pretty big team. (laughs)
SC: (laughs) It was huge.
KW: Who were all volunteer, by the way; they were really terrific.
SC: Everybody came together because again they thought it was an interesting thing to do and also they were drawn to the subject matter. I mean, at the time we were doing it the subject of torture was in our culture in the news in a more painful way, and so lots of people showed up. I think total cast and crew on our biggest days were 75-80 people.
TF: So did you guys pre-shoot the whole series? Or are you going to shoot it as it goes along?
KW: We shot the entire 12 episode series at one time. I believe it was a … ten day shoot?
SC: It ended up being ten days.
TF: It seems like the series looks like it’s going to unfold like a mystery, so should your viewers make note of the scrambled words at the end of the pilot and is that something that’s going happen throughout the show.
SC: Oh yeah, completely, all that stuff is totally intentional. The whole point of the series is that it’s not out there trying to be sold. We’re not banging a drum and saying “Come watch our series,” we actually created in conjunction with this idea of a game where because it’s about an underground world and a secret prison, you have to be pretty good at hacking around the web to find the episodes. And at the end of each episode, and sometimes within the episode are the clues of how to get to the next one. So that was also part of the idea, that we wanted to create a new way for people to discover the content in a way we thought the audience would enjoy – this specific audience, people who are very smart, web savvy, maybe even code literate.
TF: Do you plan to do a second season of the show as well?
SC: We’d love to. We don’t know at this point. We funded the original series from our company, and it wasn’t a huge amount of money; it was very low-budget project, but I think anyone can tell looking at it that we really invested in.
KW: We definitely can’t afford to produce a second series ourselves, and we can’t ask the same group of people to keep on giving their time indefinitely. We’d like to continue the series by getting funded by a larger production company or possibly turn the series into a regular television series.
TF: Is this your first web project?
SC: This our first web project with pure entertainment purposes.
TF: I know it’s sort of a mystery where each episode comes from – but would you want to give our readers a hint of where they can find the pilot?
KW: I think the best place to start is mkzaq.us.
SC: I think the beginning of the game should be back up there now … The game starts there and for the savvy we can give you a clue to episode one, it has proliferated. If anyone Googles the words “red yellow green.”
TF: Who is your target audience for this show?
K: We’d love to reach everyone!
S: I think … there is a large group of disaffected, young, internet savvy people who are interested in politics, and this series speaks to them initially.
K: And I think it also appeals to people who are excited about this new technology, people who are excited about being able to watch a program on a iPod that they carry in their pocket …;