Saturday, November 7, 2009

REALITY BYTES for Tristan Rogers & Kate Lang, Part Two

In Part One of my interview with Tristan Rogers and Kate Lang, the REALITY BYTES producers revealed how the idea for the new web soap came about and the motivation behind the project. In Part Two, they discuss sponsorship, how the soap will distinguish itself from others, and creating a multi-platform show.

We Love Soaps: We've been publishing a regular column called the "Indie Soap Beat" to promote these new web soaps. Many don't have a very big budget but as long as I feel the writers and producers are really passionate about the genre, and just don't have the opportunities, I will support them. It's exciting to see all this passion around the genre. It's just not on a daytime TV show.
Tristan Rogers: I think a number of things have happened that have played into the hands of people like Kate and myself who want to do an independent show on the web. The big thing was the failing of the economy and how that has impacting on everybody including the networks. The networks and the film industry are about to change forever. We're not going to see the heydays we've had in the past. It's very apparent in the film industry. The days of the $100 million dollar movie are going to be rarified. In terms of television, we're not going to have those big budgets to spend. But we don't need a big budget to spend. You can do a great job with $200,000. You don't need a $4 million dollar budget to do a television series. Most of that becomes above the line. You can do a good job with $200,000, and we proved that with NIGHT SHIFT.

We Love Soaps: I have published classic articles in the past when television soaps were replacing radio soaps where the authors were skeptical the genre would survive in new medium.
Tristan Rogers: The genre is not going to disappear. The genre is too simplistic and too compelling in it's formula to disappear. People like stories. They like well told stories. They like stories that suck them in that they can get involved with. Not necessarily identify with, but get involved in. I keep going back to what Doug Marland said 15 years ago or so. Compelling characters and good storytelling are the essence of television. I don't want to educate people or tell them how to live their lives or bring up their kids or anything like that. I just want to entertain them. And if this is what it takes, this is what it takes.
Kate Lang: The great thing about the internet is that it's a writer's medium. There is a not control from anyone outside as to what your story can be or how it can progress. It's very freeing and an exciting thing for me as a writer. I'm not typically a screenwriter, and being given the opportunity to work with Tristan on this, who basically taught me how to screen write and how to write a treatment, is very exciting for me. I think it's going to be the same for a lot of writers out there who have not been able to get the attention of a network for a story idea that they have. They can approach it on the internet and probably get a lot more response that way.

We Love Soaps: Do you think it's even possible to have a successful business model where a daytime television soap can work anymore?
Tristan Rogers: Oh, yeah. It's quite possible. This is where networks don't seem to be on the ball. Everything today has to be multi-platform. You can't pitch a project in one platform. For REALITY BYTES, I see the television side, the web side, downloadable content, and then we've got cell phones. As another platform comes along, it gets added to the mix. If you draw a square, and then in the middle of the square you draw an "I" and the "I" stands for the idea, those four platforms support the idea. And each of those platforms has its own identity, subtly different, and has to reflect a different type of program, a different part of the show - the actors, the producers, the way the show is put together. The public just doesn't want to see a show anymore, they want to know about the people involved in the show, from the top to the bottom. That's what reality television has kind of given us. I see that as being very much a part of this. While I'm thinking about the web show, I'm thinking about how this will translate into a television show, if we get that chance, and a cell phone version, and what I'll put out there for downloadable content. Each one's got to be different.
Kate Lang: To supplement the story.
Tristan Rogers: It's all about supporting the idea. What we have on network [television] is nothing approaching that. If you look at most of the websites they've got, they're stupid. They don't do anything, and they don't even talk about the actors that much. As for cell phones and downloadable content, they've kind of brushed that off. When I was in Australia recently, I did a pitch meeting, and I was surprised that they weren't interested in anything but a multli-platform approach. I had to switch gears quick as I wasn't prepared for that. But it taught me something when I came back here.

We Love Soaps: Kate, was REALITY BYTES written with Tristan in mind as Trevor Rains?
Kate Lang: Absolutely.
Tristan Rogers: We even share the same initials.

We Love Soaps: For the past few years, a lot of fans have said they would love to see Tristan take over as producer of GENERAL HOSPITAL. And now he'll be playing Trevor Rains whose returning to his old soap to run it.
Kate Lang: The one stipulation I made early on was that if we ever did anything with [the idea], nobody else could ever play Trevor Rains except Tristan Rogers.

We Love Soaps: You've posted on your website that the episodes will be around eight minutes.
Tristan Rogers: That's what we're thinking about. I have a reason for that. The studies that have been done on the web seem to indicate that people don't tend to stay put in one spot more than 10 to 15 minutes. They tend to surf around a lot. Most of the other soaps that I've seen on the web in the last 18 months have been in the five and a half to seven and a half minute bracket, maybe a bit longer than that. You can do a lot of story in eight minutes. We're used to watching television, and television might have one story point in 30 minutes, and the rest of it is seemingly filler or trivia. We're going to have trivia because soap is kind of fundamental around trivia. It's a lot of what soap is - that mundane stuff - but we just have less of it. We get more to the point of the story, and each episode has to build in its own way. Writing an eight minute format is its own genre in itself. It takes a while to get it together to be able to write in an eight minute format that is totally engaging to the public.
Kate Lang: Tristan's really big contribution to that was the actual format itself. I was struggling early on in how to put all these different stories [together], and how to weave them into the overall plot in eight minutes, and still have something you can call a three act story - a beginning, a middle and an end. It's not a lot of time on paper for a writer. But there were certain things he interjected in it and certain format styles that really enabled me as the writer to tell the story more quickly and to engage the viewer into the story more quickly. The way that we'll shoot it is going to make it feel a bit more intimate so you're almost walking beside these people as they go about their quarters in the studio in their daily lives. That was a big plus for me as a writer was him interjecting and suggesting the format change REALITY BYTES will follow. He's the genius in that area.

We Love Soaps: In terms of the cast, we know Tristan is playing Trevor and Suzanne Niedland is going to play Karen Walton, the head writer. Is there any other casting you can reveal?
Kate Lang: There have been invitations to other people but nothing we can speak about at this time. There were certain characters that were written with certain actors in mind. It's just a matter of whether or not they are available for this project once it's ready for production.

We Love Soaps: I think fan speculation has been that Finola Hughes should play Avery. I don't know if that's a possibility but that's the first thought that popped into fan's minds.
Kate Lang: The natural selection for the queen bitch of daytime? [Laughs]

We Love Soaps: [Backtracking] Well, just because there seems like there's a relationship with Trevor there, and a lot of people would like to see Tristan with Finola again. And then there's Trevor's daughter, Kimberly McMillan, has the "KM" initials, so everyone is thinking of Kimberly McCullough.
Kate Lang: That was a coincidence. There are certain actors and actresses that were in my head when I wrote the characters, but that doesn't mean we'll get them to portray those characters or they'll be available. I'm very tickled about having Suzanne because she is the actress I had in mind for the character of Karen.

We Love Soaps: So far you're two for two!
Kate Lang: Exactly. She's a wonderful comedic actress, and the character of Karen is going to be interesting because she is a calm person normally, and she's going to be thrown into a situation where she is overwhelmed and completely over her head.

We Love Soaps: Do you a tentative date for you you might start production?
Tristan Rogers: It's all about the budget right now. We can't shoot this with zero budget. It's not designed for that. We have some feelers out to sponsors and we'll see how that goes. We've got a really interesting package to present to them.
Kate Lang: We've got a lot of people working on this behind the scenes. Aaron Wells, who is going to be directing for us, and also Suzanne Niedland, who has joined the producing team. There are avenues that we are exploring. Most of the web shows out now are being done on a very small shoestring budget, favor of a favor, back end, and we want to try something different. We want to go into it seeking sponsors to see if that's possible. We have interjected certain things into the story to make it more plausible for sponsorship. We'll have to see how that works out in the future.

We Love Soaps: A lot of web series focus on the creative aspects at first to get their show out there and then think about sponsors later.
Tristan Rogers: There's a benefit to both ways. There's no hard and fast way to do this. This is the way I came along and how I understand it. It's got to be a business first. I like the idea of doing a good show, but it's got to a business or somewhere down the line it's not going to work.
Kate Lang: And the two don't have to be mutually exclusive - a good business and a good show.
Tristan Rogers: I've been in the business too long and I can't dismiss that. 40 years in this industry have tempered my approach. If I was 20, I'd be looking at it in a whole different way. You're much more idealistic, much more enthusiastic, and much more innocent. You haven't become jaded by reality. The industry is what it is. You can't change that and must work within the guidelines that are out there. Yes, you can turn around and add things to it, and be a bit of a maverick, but essentially any production you are looking at in terms of long-term, and we're looking at this in the long-term, has got to look at it as a business. We're not looking to shoot three episodes and then fold. How's the money going to be used? Where does the money come from? How do we support the money? What's the merchandising going to be? You have to think about those things.

We Love Soaps: I believe one of the things that makes some fans resistant to web series is the fact that so many come and go quickly. They don't have a sense that the show will be around long-term so they don't want to invest.
Kate Lang: There's definitely a long-term plan for REALITY BYTES. It's a soap about making a soap so longevity is one of the pre-cursors for the show. That's why we're putting so much thought into sponsorship.

We Love Soaps: How will REALITY BYTES distinguish itself from the other web series?
Tristan Rogers: We want to mess around with the way the story is being told. We want to employ a few different ideas. It's really important the show has a signature look. It's my idea to shoot this in Florida and shoot a lot of it outdoors. I want to get that Florida look. To attain a look on a show, it requires the director, the camera man, the lighting man, wardrobe, etc. to all be part of it. Set design, too, but we're not going to be using too many interior built sets because it's too expensive. It's important that you find locations that can support your ideas when it comes to signature look. This, and a few other tricks that we've got, we want to mess with to basically tell the story and give it a different look and different feel. At the end of the day the story has to be good. A good story told badly doesn't work. I want to cover both of those bases. It's got to be interesting and entertaining.

We Love Soaps: If the episodes are around eight minutes, will the show be aired weekly like some of the other web soaps?
Kate Lang: If we go with an eight minute show, we would do more than one a week. For consumption value, three times a week would replace a daytime soap for a fan. You're going to want more than one show a week to get you engaged in the story and keep you engaged.

We Love Soaps: How long has this show been in the works?
Kate Lang: A year?
Tristan Rogers: I think it's been over a year. 18 months? There was an email note about it here and there.

We Love Soaps: What is your ultimate goal with the project? Would you like to see this move to television?
Tristan Rogers: Totally. That would round things out beautifully. I don't know if it would be a network show, but it certainly has elements of cable in it, especially with some of the new ideas we're shooting for at the moment. I would love to see it rounded out in a four platform basis - television, web, cell phones and downloadable content.

We Love Soaps: Tristan, You worked with Suzanne Niedland before in Opportunity Knocks and now she's joined the REALITY BYTES production team, and will also be playing the BEYOND REASON head writer, Karen Walton. Is it important to you to bring on people you've worked with before or have a certain comfort level with?
Tristan Rogers: If you do it that way, you get to the point a lot quicker. You don't go through all the growing pains. Everybody walks on set, they all know each other, they know where they're at, what they're going to do, and what they're capable of. You tend to get what you want much quicker rather than lining up a lot of people whose work you might respect that you've never actually worked with. Now this doesn't mean I have to work with somebody to be able to do a good job with it. It just saves a lot of time. Let's say, for instance, that Finola was to come onto the show. I know exactly what she's going to do. She and I know when we walk onto the set and look at each other how we're going to face up together. You solve a lot of problems that way and save a lot of time. The same thing goes for Aaron. I've worked with him on a number of occasions and we're totally comfortable with one another. We know exactly what the other is going to do. There's not a lot of dialogue on set. And when you're doing an eight minute show, you don't have a lot of time. It's not essential, but it's nice. It certainly works better in terms of the overall production.

We Love Soaps: If you shoot the show in Florida, would you bring everybody there for a week and shoot as many shows as possible? How will that work?
Tristan Rogers: As it turns out, a lot of people are in Florida. This is something to think about. You don't want to be encumbered with airfares. Worse than that, the airlines are so bloody unreliable you could have a prize piece of talent stuck in Dallas waiting for a connecting flight. That would be crippling for a show like ours. It's important you bring in the least amoynt of people as possible. Most of the people are cast locally. There's only three places in the whole U.S. that have full service. One is Miami, one is New York, and one is L.A. So therefore I think in terms of those locations. I've always wanted to do a production on a full-time basis or a continuing basis down in Florida. I think it has a lot of resources that are underused. It was the first place I thought about. Aaron has his own crew. He's totally familiar with the entire area. Suzanne is local. There's a big talent pool down there but it takes a while to filter though it. I'm sure some of the characters we need are down there. It's a case of finding them.
Kate Lang: I'm looking forward to finding those people, that untapped resource, that unseen talent that is in Florida.

We Love Soaps: Tristan, how involved personally are you in the quest to get sponsors?
Tristan Rogers: I'm very much part of the package. I think once we get one sponsor in, we'll find more than one. I know the direction I want to push this and I know how to push it.

We Love Soaps: Are there tie-ins in the script that lend itself to sponsorships?
Tristan Rogers: Yes. Product placement is going to become much more important over the next few years. The money to make a production has got to come from somewhere. It seems the studios don't have it so the money has to come from sponsors. In order for a sponsor to ante up the money, they want to know how the product is going to be used and integrated. I think over the past few years we've seen some horrible attempts at product placement. I want to address that issue and make the product placement a lot more natural and a lot more interesting so the sponsor says, "I like the way they are using our product here."
Kate Lang: The viewer shouldn't be bothered by it.
Tristan Rogers: The best kind of product placement is where the viewer subconsciously registers it but not consciously. It's got be subliminal almost.
Kate Lang: It becomes important to almost make the product you're trying to place like a character in the show. And if it's given that much significance and they use the product and it's there all the time, it becomes part of the story. That's when it becomes really effective product placement. And that's what we're trying to do with REALITY BYTES.

We Love Soaps: Are we going to see REALITY BYTES t-shirts and mugs?
Kate Lang: I hope so! I want one myself.

We Love Soaps: Do you have a potential roll out date in mind when we might see the show or can you share that?
Kate Lang: We can't share it at this point, but it's all going to depend on what we hear over the next few weeks from sponsors. We'll hope for the best. Maybe this is a model other people can follow once we get it nailed down.

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