Welcome to another alien-filled episode of… The IndieNet and Beyond! It’s news and web series episodes. Plus, this time we fight off an alien invasion as we speak to Mercury Men writer/director Christopher Preksta.
Mercury Men is a black and white scifi serial web series shot in Pittsburgh that recently premiered on the SyFy website. Preksta admits that the series came about originally because of his love of ray guns.
“Mercury Men is a web series that’s a throwback to the old retro serials of ’30s and ’40s. Stuff like Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon. The story actually takes place in 1975 and it’s about a lifeless office worker, this office drone (played by Mark Tierno), the kind of guy you never want to meet if you go to the DMV or some kind of government office in need something. His building actually gets overrun with these glowing white creatures from the planet Mercury. He gets trapped in this building overnight having to try to fend off this invasion,” explained Preksta. “He teams up with another character named Jack Yeager (Curt Wootton), who is a throwback to those old serial heroes Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers. He’s got the aviator cap and goggles, leather jacket, ray gun, that kind of stuff. Mercury Men is also a throwback to the old Twilight Zone episodes: the idea of this normal everyday guy being thrown into extraordinary circumstances.”
Scifi fans are used to seeing scifi pulp in the ’30s and ’40s, but this series takes place in the ’70s instead. Preksta had a good reason for choosing that time period, both story-wise and for practical reasons.
“In episode 6 we actually reveal why, but it is important that it takes place after 1969 moon landing. That is a big moment in the Mercury Men universe. For story reasons we had to have it take place after that event,” explained Preksta. “But then simultaneously for the budget we were doing—a very low budget series—we wouldn’t be able to pull off 1930s offices or 1930s everything. So 1975 was a little more manageable. Even though the main reason was story influenced, it also helped us out with production design and set design.”
While the series was filmed in late 2008, it took time to finish post-production. Then, SyFy announced last year that it would stream the series on their website. You may remember that the web series Reise was also picked up last year and streamed after airing only a few episodes online. While many web series creators would love the opportunity to air their creations on the SyFy web site, it was surprising how Mercury Men ended up catching SyFy’s interest well before it was ready to air online.
“There were many steps along the way. We shot it independently in October 2008. And shortly in the beginning of 2009, I finally cut a trailer,” said Preksta. “We hadn’t released anything. We hadn’t released an episode, a trailer… nothing. We had a Twitter account, a Facebook page, a website set-up, but had all of a dozen followers… 15-20 followers at best at the time, because there was nothing to really show anybody. On the Twitter account, I posted a little status update that said ‘hey I just finished editing the trailer.’ I didn’t even post a link. In a few seconds I got an email from Craig Engler over at SyFy. He said ‘hey I saw your tweet about the trailer, can I take a look at it?’ I sent him a private link to the trailer, this really rough 30 second trailer. He said, ‘We really love what you are doing on the digital side over there. We would love to partner with you in some way.’ ” And then I hadn’t heard back from him. A year after my first email with Craig at the South by Southwest Festival in, I think 2010, my agent ran into Craig.”
His agent told Craig about the Mercury Men, and Craig already knew about the series and was very interested. They began discussion in early 2010 about releasing the series on SyFy, and the rest is now history.
Mercury Men is full of visual effects: glowing aliens, ray gun blasts, lighting blasts and more. Did he have a post-production team to help him? Nope, he made “99%” of them himself, even though Preksta has no background in visual effects.
“To be honest it was a lot of learning visual effects for the very first time. I would picture a shot I wanted to do and if I couldn’t figure it out myself, I would honestly Google it and look up some kind of tutorial to point me in the right direction,” admits Preksta.
The most visually memorable effect is the glowing Mercury Men themselves. Preksta explained the process of how he created them and what actor played the tall thin glowing aliens.
“That effect was something where I was just trying to come up with a unique visual alien. I was just trying to come up with something that hadn’t been done before. I came up with the idea of a reverse silhouette. The idea of instead of an all black creature, we would have this pure white glowing creature. We had no story reasons for it, it sparked visually,” explained Preksta. “I also knew on the low budget we were working on, I wasn’t going to be able to pull off a photo realistic CGI character that looked good or a photo realistic costume or puppet alien, either. So it was really trying to come up with something using the resources and talent I knew I had, rather than wishing for the ones we didn’t have. The aliens, the Mercury Men, are actually played myself. At 6′ 7” and 170 pounds, I was the tallest and skinniest actor I could find. So what we do is film myself in all black spandex on an all white background.”
Preksta went on to explain how they would film the background first in principal photography, getting a rough idea of their framing and interaction with the other actors. Then, they would go into the studio with a rough cut of the film before they shot any of the invaders. Then, they would film him on the white background while looking at the footage and trying to match things up. When there were multiple Mercury Men, he would do different movements for each character so they could layer them together. Then, he inverted the footage, so instead of an all black character on a white background it becomes an all white character on a black background.
“We then layer that on top of the background footage,” described Preksta. “I use a specific layering style that removes any dark colors. So, of course, the black background gets removed, leaving only the white silhouette on the top of that footage. Then, we add a glow filter on the invader himself. Then, once you throw in the electrical hum that every one of the creatures gives off, then you’ve got your glowing white man!”
Now that Mercury Men has aired their 10 episodes on SyFy, what advice does Preksta for other filmmakers wanting to make their own web series?
“My number one advice honestly is very simple: just do it. Don’t keep thinking about, don’t keep worrying about, don’t keep fearing it…just do it. I can’t tell you how many times I get asked ‘how did you raise the money to shoot Mercury Men?’ Mercury Men was made for under $10,000,” said Preksta. “I didn’t go to anybody or find some secret investors. All I did was… I canceled our cable bill, I stopped buying as many video games, I stopped seeing as many movies for one year. If you stop spending money for movies and video games for just a period time, then you will have raised enough money to make a movie or video game or novel or whatever is on your heart that you want to make. The question kind of came to me years ago: do I want to be the kind of person that is watching movies or the kind of person making movies?”
What future projects does Preksta have in the works? Mercury Men is the only web series he is focused on, but all of the other projects he is developing are feature films and currently all scifi.
“I don’t know what happened… for some reason the last couple of years, scifi has really captured my heart. As to whether all my projects will be scifi, who knows,” said Preksta.
He can’t say anything more about his film projects or he would have to send the Mercury Men to kill me. But he did say that Mercury Men has ten episode online and “the main story-arc wraps up in the first nine episodes and our tenth episode serves as a cliffhanger or bridge into a possible second season. Right now we have story developed not only for a second season, but a potential third season, or a prequel season, or… we would like to branch the story world into comics or potential novels.”
Below you can watch the trailer. If you like it, click on over to http://www.syfy.com/rewind/mercurymen to watch the entire first season. Right now, Mercury Men is working out deals to be shown to non-United States viewers, and once the numbers are in they will see if a season two is a go for launch.
“If you want to see a second season, the best thing you can do is share the season with someone else. A vote for season two comes in the form of a reTweet or a Facebook status update or some way that fans can share the series. The more viewers we have really makes anything possible,” said Preksta.
Attack Of The Trailers?
A Perfect Union
“When freelance reporter Virgil Montez begins investigating the 20-year-old unsolved murder of eccentric history professor Roger Kaplan, he finds more than a cold case. Virgil’s pursuit of the story behind the homicide reveals an ancient conspiracy involving the Texas Revolution, the Freemasons and a powerful secret about the Battle of the Alamo lost for centuries. Soon, Virgil must grapple with unknown forces as he tries to solve the murder and unlock the mysteries hidden in the corridors of Texas history.”
Elsewhere On The Web
Congratulations to Goodnight Burbank, the original web series from creator and star Hayden Black, about an awkward workplace a Southern California local area news network with very awkward and comical chemistry. The Hollywood Reporter broke the news that the show has joined web series like Sanctuary, Childrens’ Hospital, and In The Motherhood who have all been picked up by TV.
What I’m Watching… Are You?
I’ve been scouring the web in search of new web series episodes to watch and share with you. Enjoy!
BlackBoxTV: Halloween Belongs To You
This week’s episode of Black Box TV has been delayed. But in its place is a video about a new contest for Halloween. Post your favorite urban legend in their comment section and the three highest rated stories will be turned into short films directed by Tony E. Valenzuela, Drew Daywalt and Joe Nation.
Blood and Bone China – Chapter 10 – “Through The Eyes Of A Child”
Blood and Bones China is a Victorian vampire web series that quickly became one of my new favorites. It’s fun and fast… with a bite. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)
Border Guardians Of Ackernon – Episode 2 “I Have Nothing to Hide”
Is it just me, or have the number of D&D type fantasy web series increased dramatically over the last year? I’m curious to learn more about this series, which at first glance seems to be “Lord of the Rings meets Harry Potter.”
“Vardin, a smuggler, Galiene’s confidential informant, and unfortunately, her love, comes to Ackernon for unknown reasons. A chance meeting on the streets outside the University is about to complicate Galiene’s life beyond measure.”
The Brothers Barbarian – Episode 2 “Lord Brian & Stinki”
Speaking of the increase in the fantasy web series population, we have episodes two and three of the recently premiered fantasy comedy Brothers Barbarian. The series guest stars fantasy artist Larry Elmore and award winning fantasy author Margaret Weis (Dragonlance). The creators jokingly describe it as, “Its kinda like [Lord Of The Rings] meets Conan on acid!”
“Art & Russ meet Lord Brian, ruler of the Midland Orcs, and his man servant Stinki.”
The Brothers Barbarian – Episode 3 “Give the Dog a Bone”
“Art & Russ meet Nicky & Nacky, two female thieves who get the boys into trouble.”
Captain Blasto – Episode 1
Before Mercury Men, Preksta made Captain Blasto. Check out the first episode.
Enter The Dojo, Episode 1: Welcome To The Dojo
Sometimes I list shows that aren’t scifi or fantasy. As a martial artist, how could I not post an episode of this new martial art comedy series? I have studied many martial art styles, but I think I’ve found a new one that I need to learn. 😉
Haywire – Episode 11 “Homecoming”
It’s another episode of the scifi horror series Haywire. The series focuses on the result of a flash of light over a small town in Orange County, NY called Monroe. It has an effect on everybody who sees it. Everybody who is not in direct line of site is unaffected. You have the people that were hit by the light running amok and you have the normals trapped in their houses trying to avoid the Haywires.
“Nikki drops Cassie off at home just in time for a lunch of the strangest kind.“
The Guild: Season 5 – Episode 6 – “Revolving Doors”
This is one of the first web series to be a hit, and it’s still making us gamers laugh like it was the first season. Felicia Day and her talented cast are back with everyone’s favorite dysfunctional gamer guild.
Vampire Mob Season Two – Episode Four “There is Yin and there is Yang”
Vampire Mob is back, and here is the fourth episode of the new season. Warning: it’s NSFW, both for the cussing and for the ensuing, uncontrollable laughter that will cause you trouble both with your boss, and possibly your jealous coworkers who wish they could have that much fun at the office.
“There is Yin and there is Yang” Don’s grocery shopping gets a little more complicated…”
That’s A Wrap
Got a web series, web comic, web… whatever? Then I want to know about it. Contact me at: [email protected]
That’s a wrap for now. Join me next time for more news and interviews. Take care my alien friends. Until next time… marX out.
You can follow me on Twitter @MrMarx
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Marx H. Pyle is a writer, martial artist and American independent filmmaker. A graduate of Vancouver Film School, he has worked on a number of projects including the short film he wrote and directed, Silence of the Belle. He is currently in post-production of his scifi web series Reality On Demand.