From TV to Web and Back Again: Chatting with ‘Drifter’ Creator, Jeff Koenig
After working with online video for roughly six years, Jeff Koenig recognizes that the network/studio system has its flaws, but it is certainly still standard. His latest creation, Drifter, can be described as a project comprised of people who came together online to create a standard-format television show. Is the web world really moving so fast that we already have people gravitating back to the traditional medium?
A independently produced sci-fi series, Drifter is backed by OMFGeek and sponsored by SciFinal. Its pilot, set to begin filming in mid-July, is currently being funded on Mobcaster, the Internet’s first crowd-funded television channel, co-founded by Aubrey Levy. Directed by Blake Calhoun and written by Julie Ann Emery and Jorge Rivera, the show tells the the story of a man (Darren Le Gallo) trapped on a ship 18 million miles from Earth with only 12 days to live.
The plot is thickened with a layer of next-level 3D television, not in structure, but in context. Within the ship’s computer, our main character is virtually able recreate a favorite classic show, in an attempt to get the virtual girl (Julie Ann Emery). “It’s like creating an episode of Cheers while you’re sitting at the bar,” Koenig quips. Even though the show takes place 150 years in the future, a good chunk of the story unfolds in modern New York, so there’s a unique blend of gritty sci-fi mixed with the idea of spending time for escape inside of a comedy — a respite which all avid TV watchers treasure. The series also features Al Thompson, Gary Ploski, and IAWTV award-winning actress Rachael Hip-Flores.
With such a dynamic blend of plot and production, how can a show like Drifter make the jump from the online, collaborate space, to breaking through the belly of the traditional beast? Koenig and Levy agree that rather than staking out a competition between “us” and “them,” showrunners should recognize that in the end, they all have the same goal: to make an entertaining show that people can gather around and enjoy watching. “There will be a happy medium,” Koenig asserts. “There will be a convergence of content in the same space in the same way. Ultimately, all entertainment will exist on same screen.” The question remains how to accomplish that and, of course, how to pay for it.
Branded entertainment seems to be a popular method of making money for your content. But theres a limit for creators there. “I was lucky to work on a couple of projects where brand was able to step back. And as long as it was in line with brand message, they were pretty hands off. But at the end of the day you’re still making a commercial.” He’s since come back around to the model that traditional television has already established. “We’ll put ads around this to pay for it,” he says, “but we’re making the show for you — to be entertainment.”
Entrenched players and networks aren’t going anywhere, but they will have to — for the second time — learn how to share the playground, just as they had to do when cable emerged. When networks like USA and Bravo emerged as content aggregators, they did exactly what Hulu and Netflix do now. Then these channels began to curate content for specific audiences, such as The Food Network and ESPN. “TV did the same when they took away entertainment from traditional radio,” Koenig says.
Cable generally succeeded financially through investment funding, whereas on the Internet, creators are mostly focused on just selling shows instead of entire channels. “Investors put their money into companies, not content.” It’s been a balancing act to discover best ways to find funding for new productions. Creators are now called to the challenge of not only having to bring their visions to life, but marketing their shows as well — often independently through social media strategy. “There’s no support structure there to take care of that for you,” says Koenig. “We’re completely rebuilding the system.”
Still, there’s no limit for online content. And the more the networks water down their shows for a broad reach, the more opportunity independent showmakers have to come in and fill the space with unique creations. “Thats the kind of stuff you’re going to see come out of Mobcaster and indie creators who are developing their followings and professional storytelling skills on the Internet,” Koenig says. “Someday, someone on the Internet will make a Breaking Bad or Mad Men. It’s inevitable.”
We’re not sure what entertainment as an industry will look like 150 years from now, but there’s currently a definite shift happening. And Drifter provides a prime example of the hybridized projects that will emerge during this transition, mixing genres, talents, and platforms in order to do what creators will always strive to do: enlighten and entertain.
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