The next big production to take the world by storm may be filmed right next door — and I’m not just talking to the Burbank neighbors near Warner Bros. and Disney. A cadre of movie wizards could be conjuring the next great fantasy epic in a three-bedroom apartment with a budget of a couple of months’ rent.
With the advent of YouTube and affordable digital technology comes a new breed of production — the online series — that requires no big-studio backing, no huge buildings for sets and little overhead.
They may benefit from big names attached to their productions (see Neil Patrick Harris in Joss Whedon’s “Doctor Horrible” series), but often a unique concept is all that’s needed to put them over. Take “Ikea Heights” for example: a film crew shot its entire series inside the Burbank Ikea, which means that during a bedroom scene a customer may wander in the shot to check out the prices on a Malm bed frame. Its first episode has more than 76,000 hits on YouTube.
These productions have something in common: small crews with usually small budgets just want to see a dream realized, with or without a studio behind it (though a few independent investors with a couple hundred or thousand dollars to spare would be nice). They have amassed a loyal fan base, and rightfully so — many Web series are funnier and edgier than the big-budget productions constrained by studio brass looking at profits, marketability and long-term business outlooks.
Many Internet filmmakers have their roots firmly in the art of filmmaking, and it’s this passion that brought Adam Rady and James Rodehaver to Burbank from Ohio more than a year ago. From James’ swords-and-sorcery concept came “Walking in Circles,” an 11-part Web series. I visited them Friday, a few nervous days before they debuted the trailer for “Circles” on YouTube.
Walking into their Burbank apartment, you see guerilla filmmaking at its finest: a space devoid of furniture, save the wood table and chairs below a tavern backdrop nailed to the wall. In various spots on the scuffed hardwoods are triangles of black tape — markers for camera placement.
In the apartment’s kitchen, black-and-white dragon photos are affixed to the fridge; on the counter next to a box of Walking in Circles pins lies a stack of Dungeons and Dragons books. In the living room is another backdrop where homespun medieval weapons hang from the walls and litter shelves.
As Adam jokes, they’re here like so many who try their luck at entertainment: “To waste all our money and try a dream.”
“Circles,” however, may have struck a formula that sets it apart: “Make it look and sound nice.”
They attempt this with the sets. Where most independent Web series rely on one or a few indoor locations, “Circles” follows a band of wizards and warriors almost entirely outdoors. For their fantasy setting, Adam, James and their ragtag crew chose scenic Castaic Lake just north of Santa Clarita.
Then there’s the subject matter. As a period fantasy epic, the crew had to procure convincing props and costumes. The props — weapons, mostly — were handmade by John Buco, a friend of James and Adam whose re-creations were almost too realistic to be used in a combat scene, lest an actor be brained with a working war hammer. His mother helped him sew some costumes; others came from another “production mom” who had worked professionally as a costumer.
“Every person has put into this way more than we should have expected them to,” Adam said.
To get to their locations on the banks of Castaic Lake — which were sometimes flooded or swarmed with bugs — the actors often volunteered to carry the equipment themselves. Suddenly Jim and Adam found their crew of four expanded exponentially. The effort paid off.
“Every week we could see improvement,” James said. “Episode 1 is great, but you’ll like episode 2 even more.”
Last Friday, they took up seats at their series’ “confessional booth” set once more — a la “The Office.” Here, with no costumes, James and Adam made their plea for donations and support from the community at www.indiegogo.com. The site raises money for independent groups like high school speech teams, new music albums, and budget-limited film productions like “Circles.” They’re hoping to raise $3,500 to fund a second season.
The “Circles” gang was set to debut its trailer on YouTube this week. The first episode will debut on July 19. James, who wrote it, and Adam, who starred and directed, will put their dream to the world. They do so with confidence that the world is waiting.
“People are willing to watch a lot of crap on the Internet, but they want to watch something good,” said Adam. “Once we started developing it we were like, ‘We really have something good here.’”
BRYAN MAHONEY is a recent transplant to Burbank. When he’s not hanging out with wizards, he can be reached at 818NewGuy@gmail.com and on Twitter @818NewGuy.