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Sanctuary, new innovative web series with a buffy-esque heroine

Thursday 29 March 2007, by Webmaster

What happens when you take aspects of the movies "Van Helsing" and "300" and mash them up with aspects of the TV shows "The X-Files" and "Buffy the Vampire Slayer"?

If you’re Damian Kindler, you get "Sanctuary," a “TV show” for the Web that should begin “airing” at sanctuaryforall.com around the middle of May.

Sanctuary “has a gothic graphic novel type feel,” Kindler said in a recent phone interview with SyFy Portal’s Carma Spence-Pothitt. It follows Dr. Helen Magnus (Amanda Tapping), “a 157-year old woman who seeks out all manner of terrifying and monstrous creatures” to either offer them sanctuary from harm or to keep them from harming humankind.

Her age has led some on the Web to speculate that she is immortal. But that’s not the case. “She just ages at an extraordinarily slow rate,” Kindler said.

Magnus has two main allies in her quest: a reluctant protégé, psychiatrist Will Zimmerman (Robin Dunne), and her daughter, Ashley Magnus (Emille Ullerup). While Helen is careful and measured in her dealings with these creatures, Ashley “is more kick-ass and Buffy-esque,” said Kindler. “She could follow a darker path if her mother doesn’t guide her well.”

The Seeds of ’Sanctuary’

Kindler wrote the original treatment for "Sanctuary" as a spec pilot treatment — an example of his writing — after being prompted by his agent to write about “a show I’d like to see on TV.” This was about seven years ago, shortly before he got the gig on "Stargate SG-1."

Like so many writers do, Kindler got busy with life and "Sanctuary" remained tucked away in his files. That is until about a year ago. He and Marc Aubanel, co-founder with Kindler and Tapping of Stage3 Media — the company that is producing "Sanctuary" — were on a ski trip and got to talking about doing “something new and different,” something that took advantage of media convergence.

“Most ideas are channeled through various filters,” Kindler said. “The original idea for ’Sanctuary’ was set in New York.” However, because of improved special effects abilities, “we’ve created our own city that is a mash up of New York, London, Gotham and other cities.”

With "Sanctuary," Kindler wanted to create mythology that was fresh. However, he concedes that like so many ideas, “this isn’t truly original.”

His inspiration for the story comes from a wide variety of sources and filters. Kindler counts Caleb Carr’s novel "The Alienist" about a serial killer look in New York City around the turn of the 20th century and the retro-futurism of the "League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" comic books as inspirations for "Sanctuary."

There is also his background as a science-fiction fan, following such shows of the 1960s as "Star Trek" and "Space: 1999."

“I was never a voracious fan of science-fiction,” he said. “I was kind of cheesy about my sci-fi.” However, he respects and appreciates the passion exhibited by the more hard-core fans he’s been exposed to as a writer on several science-fiction shows ("Earth: Final Conflict," "PSI Factor," "SG-1" and "Stargate: Atlantis").

And Now For Something Completely Different

"Sanctuary" is unique in several ways:

1) Its first run will be provided over the Web, something never done before by a professional production company.

2) It is shot almost exclusively using a green screen.

And 3) using the power of social media, it will invite interaction with the fans.

“Providing entertainment over the Internet is very viable,” Kindler said. It is his hope to show the “power of narrowcasting shows to a tight audience over the Web.” He believes this is a much better option than having fans pay to get 100 channels when they only really watch two or three.

"Sanctuary’s" pilot is about two hours long and will be broken up into eight 15-minute (or so) Webisodes that will be released regularly, “most likely every 10 days to two weeks.” Thirteen episodes are planned for the first season, each being broken down in to three or four Webisodes. Eventually, Stage3 Media plans to distribute "Sanctuary" via television and/or DVD, but its first run will always be on the Web.

Starting with seed money from initial investors, Stage3 Media has built a strong team of visual effects artists, Web designers and other creative and technical staff, creating an infrastructure that will allow the company to not only bring "Sanctuary" to life economically, but more shows like this in the future. In fact, they are working on a new show they hope to release in 2008.

Part of what keeps the production costs low is the use of green screens, creating most of the sets virtually on a computer. This saves costs in building and storing sets and traveling to locations, as well as creating a smooth workflow. Another perk is that they “have complete control over the environment, giving us more options.”

For example, shooting a scene in a Scottish cemetery in a torrential rainstorm would be close to impossible in the real world, but quite easy in the virtual world. “You can create places that you can never go to,” Kindler said. “You can create a look that blows away anything else on television.” And, because they are creating ’Sanctuary’ in high-definition, the result is “something that is much more heightened.”

It is important to Kindler and his partners that “fans feel like they are a part of the process.” Therefore, they are planning for a variety of interactive components that they will grow over time. Some ideas include a Flash game, in interactive environment, forums, a blog and possibly even posting up fan-created mash-ups. “We’ll build the Town Hall and the fans will build the village,” Kindler said. “Whatever this becomes is up to the fans.”

Nothing Typical

Born in Melbourne, Australia, Kindler immigrated to Toronto, Canada, when he was very young. (Take that Wikipedia!) Like many writers, his teenage dream was to be the next great novelist, or perhaps a writer of feature films. But then he was offered the opportunity to write for "Kung Fu: The Legend Continues" and found that writing for TV paid very well.

“I was attracted to the process,” Kindler said, but was “keen on the regular paycheck,” as well. “TV is a wonderful place to be. It has a pipeline. Its stable (as stable as contract work will get) and you get to see the results of your work fairly quickly.”

His work on "Kung Fu" led to other TV work and eventually a fairly regular gig with "PSI Factor: Chronicles of the Paranormal." When the producer of that show went over to "Earth: Final Conflict," he offered Kindler the opportunity to write for that show, too.

“It’s always fun to write in the first season of a show,” he said. “The first season [of ’Earth: Final Conflict’] was daring and interesting. It was not your typical alien invasion story.”

Throughout his career, Kindler has been able to work with some very talented people. “It was a thrill to work with Brad Wright and Rob Cooper,” he said. “They are two of the best writers I’ve ever worked with. They taught be how you can write stories that are witty, smart, complex and unpredictable.”

It looks like these skills will be put to good use as "Sanctuary" moves forward.