Genre: Sci-Fi, Fantasy
A ragtag ensemble meet up in a Virtual universe – becoming the people they want to be, experiencing risk and adventure there. But their leader’s all-consuming thirst for revenge threatens dire consequences upon both their online, and real-world, personas.
Get to know the writer:
1. What is your TV PILOT screenplay about?
This pilot episode is a high-impact, action-adventure – swiftly setting up its unique dual-universe premise; introducing the ensemble cast, and demonstrating, in particular, the ace skills of protagonist Kieran; a natural *PILOT*. See what I did, eh? Pilot.
The series itself goes on to reveal the importance of Communication – tackling along the way topics such as the duality of man, online misogyny, substance abuse – as we follow one character’s plunge into dark, all-consuming, vengeance, and another pair’s chance at finding genuine happiness together: all to the backdrop of big kick-ass space battles.
2. What genres does your screenplay fall under?
Set in both an in-game sci-fi universe, and a near-future real-world, ESC.(APE) ONLINE was envisioned as multi-genre from the off. Obviously, there’s action / sci-fi, and drama. But digging deeper into the themes of even merely the first season, there’s clearly romance, and comedy, to counterpoint those darker elements, as well.
3. Why should this screenplay be made into a TV show?
The premise is an engaging one, giving modern audiences the sort of entertainment and layered intrigue they’ve come to expect from quality TV shows today. However, there’s more than just that. January 2018 saw the first $1m (real-world money) Massively-multi-player-online-role-playing-game [MMORPG] battle in history. And May will see EVE Online celebrate its 15th birthday.
ESC.(APE) ONLINE offers a window into this phenomenon just as it’s on the cusp of hitting the mainstream audiences, as well as simultaneously providing a mirror into our contemporary lives and socio-politics.
4. How would you describe this script in two words?
5. What movie have you seen the most times in your life?
Back when ‘home-theatre’ meant whatever analogue signals one could temporarily apprehend on what was essentially a piece of sticky-tape-and-rust, I had a fantastic transfer of ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST (1968) on VHS. Wore it out completely.
6. How long have you been working on this screenplay?
Initially ESC.(APE) ONLINE was a Feature idea; based on two acquaintances who, some years apart, let MMORPG addiction wreak devastation upon both their personal and professional lives. The idea buzzed about in my head for a few months in that form. It just didn’t seem to click for me, though; the multi-genre concept, and intended narrative, too restricted – and possibly even too obvious – as a film.
When a Production Company I was developing an early relationship with passed on a different Feature of mine, stating they were currently more interested in TV series, I thought I’d push my luck. Came up with the series outline and drafted this pilot episode in around 10 days, asking them would they be interested in that instead.
They weren’t. But, you know… even with mainstream appeal, it’s not going to be for *absolutely* everyone.
7. How many stories have you written?
Depends on *your* definition of a story! I like to make every e-mail typed, anecdote told, Tweet sent, or Facebook comment posted, a story in its own right. Well, maybe not Twitter – that forum is, really, more just the local crazy person shouting into the void, isn’t it?
Discounting those particular narratives – as well as some ghost-writing I’ve done, and script-consultation work? – I have something in the order of a dozen stories I consider ‘complete’; with another 3 or 4 on my development slate at the moment. The dozen range from original Feature, to TV pilot (plus series outline), to Short Film, One-Act Play, and even some Spec TV episodes.
8. What is your favorite song? (Or, what song have you listened to the most times in your life?)
‘2017 Wrapped’ suggests that would be “You And I” by Ingrid Michaelson. Knowing me, this seems unlikely. Though not for the first time this week, I will have to admit, “life is always better with a uke”.
9. What obstacles did you face to finish this screenplay?
It was always going to be difficult to instill a sense of threat, or risk, to the characters in a setting which is – after all – just a computer game. This is, potentially, why no-one has cracked the MMORPG TV series format as of yet! The solution I elected to apply became an integral part of this unique premise, but added additional hurdles to the mix, too. Foremost was plotting out each of the main character’s arcs (and secrets), so they behaved consistently throughout in their actions / relationships, but clues could start to be planted from the get-go as to where this was all heading. I ended up with a full eight-episode outline just in order to weave together a basic narrative for the journey I wanted the audience to join along in….
And, along the way, I fell totally in love with one of the characters. A character initially concocted as little more than a cheap foil to the protagonist ensemble. The entire season arc was adapted to incorporate her story, now, also (and set her up as a season two antagonist).
10. Apart from writing, what else are you passionate about?
My dogs: two little mini-schnauzers. Actually, I tend to write at least one of them in to just about every original work I pen, even if it’s just as a character name.
11. You entered your screenplay via FilmFreeway. What has been your experiences working with the submission platform site?
I’m a big fan of FilmFreeway, and use it – rather than my own website these days – as my primary online folio host. Super-easy to find interesting festivals / competitions through it, and submitting projects into those is as simple as a couple of clicks. I’ve recommended the platform not only to fellow writers, but also some Directors and festival organisers I know.
12. What influenced you to enter the festival? What were your feelings on the initial feedback you received?
Sci-fi, innit? Though I’m versed working in other genres, sci-fi is where my own original works tend to naturally gravitate. Via FilmFreeway it was easy to find the Fantasy Sci-Fi Festival, and submit my project. Ultimately, I was hoping to rally a bit of PR, some industry recognition, maybe even an extra award under my belt for the CV; it all helps when it comes to selling a spec, landing a commission, or a foot-in-the-door for a staff gig.
With regard to feedback as a service, I feel in general it can be something of a double-edged sword. Primarily, of course, feedback is a subjective thing: one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Furthermore, it’s very easy for feedback to deflect unique, experimental, or even subversive projects back into just routine, formulaic, fare. With this in mind, I didn’t order any additional feedback, and only took the default offered. Happily, I can report that what I did receive was fair, professional – even somewhat encouraging. Thanks for that!
Producer: Matthew Toffolo http://www.matthewtoffolo.com
Director: Matthew Toffolo
Casting Director: Sean Ballantyne
Editor: Kimberly Villarruel
Camera Op: Mary Cox