It is 2011 and time to ring in the New Year with a new installment of The IndieNet and Beyond! More news and web series episodes, plus an interview with John Kenneth Muir, director/writer of the web series The House Between, which was a scifi web series that ran for three seasons with episodes ranging from 24 minutes to almost an hour. The series ended in 2009.
The House Between is an original scifi web series about five strangers that awaken in an empty old Victorian house “at the end of the universe.” Trapped, they have no idea how they got there. They must learn to trust each other and try to find a way out.
“There is food in the refrigerator. There’s heat. But there is no way to get out of the house. If you touch the doors or windows they are freezing to the touch. These five people are very different people,” Muir described.
Each of the characters has their own secrets: Astrid (Kim Breeding), a red headed songstress who won’t tell anyone her last name. Arlo (Jim Blanton), a strange guy that is obsessed with “his” kitchen. Bill (Tony Mercer), who has a military science background and seems he may know something about the house. Travis (Lee Hansen), a rich obnoxious layer that is always scheming. Later on there is a new arrival: Theresa (Alicia A. Wood), a psychic astronaut who has her own ideas of what the house really is.
How did they get there? Where is “there”? How do they escape? These are all questions that must be answered, and they are answered by the end of the first season—of course leading to more questions.
John Kenneth Muir is a professional critic and an award-winning author of more than 20 reference books covering film and television including “An Askew View: The Films of Kevin Smith,” “The Encyclopedia of Superhero on Film and Television,” “Horror Films of the 1970s,” and “Terror Television.” But he also dabbles in filmmaking when he has time. In 2007, instead of taking on a more traditional short or feature length film format, he decided to take a try at doing a web series.
“I felt very strongly in the potential of the web series. Here you have the chance to have free distribution. I knew I was going to do a web series and I found a bunch of really talented people behind the scenes and also actors that I thought could really do something.” Muir explained his first concept for a web series was a mix of Curb Your Enthusiasm kind of show for the scifi convention setting. “Basically this mockumentary of me like walking around being a total ass at scifi conventions. I think that would have been funny… but it could have been really awful. That was my original idea.”
But things took a different turn after Muir got advice from someone close to him.
“Katherine, my beautiful and very intelligent wife, said to me ‘if you are going to do this, you should really do something that is interesting. Something that is ambitious. You should be like Joss Whedon. Sit down and really create something that’s meaningful and don’t just do a lark,’” Muir still fondly remembers the conversation at a Dunkin’ Donuts. “[I told her] I want do something about the environment. About how we can’t get anything done on Earth, to the detriment of the planet as a whole, because we all believe so many different things. What we believe here is different from what people believe in China. Very different from what people might believe in the Middle East. Even in our own country we have two such partisan sides that see things so differently. What I did to create The House Between… I thought let’s get that down to a microcosmic level, make the house the world and put five people, like five warring countries in the house fighting over the resources of the house.”
That led to Muir’s idea for episode three of season one called Positioned, which had Travis taking over the kitchen. “He who controls the food, controls everyone else. Which is exactly what [Travis] tries to do,” explained Muir. The second episode he came up with, which became the sixth of season one is called Trashed. “If you’re in a contained environment and can’t get rid of it. What do you do with your trash?”
“It was my attempt to do a science fiction TV series about how I saw the world being right now. As far as how we need to row in the same direction and compromise, but that seems to be the one thing no one seems to want to do, which is sad,” said Muir.
Another big inspiration for Muir was the Jean-Paul Sartre existentialist play ‘No Exit,’ about this man trapped in Hell for eternity with someone he doesn’t like. Muir said one line from the play is very fitting the idea of his web series, ‘hell is other people.’ He pointed out the concept is far from new to science fiction, with the movie Cube and episodes of Twilight Zone as examples. But he wanted to update it and have it function on a metaphorical level.
“A lot of people also describe it… Lost was Survivor as a fictional show. The House Between is Big Brother as a fictional show,” said Muir.
This is not my first time interviewing Muir about the series, and in the past I’ve even reviewed episodes. Muir even thanked me in a way only a fellow filmmaker can: by naming a character after me and then killing him horribly in season three.
I enjoyed the black & white “film” look to the show and the original music. It really helps develop a unique style that works well with the writing.
“We shot this in black and white so we could do all these sort of things with shadows and silhouettes. I remember one of the things I told my cinematographer starting right off. ‘We have no props so lights and the shots sort of have to create the props.’ The shadows almost become the props,” Muir continued. “One of the great things about black and white is that it hides the scene. We’re dealing with very low budget. The budget for the show was like $700 including the catering. But also the look I was going for with the show, I wanted to do something along the lines of The Twilight Zone or the anthology of One Step Beyond or the original Outer Limits… Somehow the black and white makes it timeless. I did want to emulate that… and try to recapture that feeling.”
John Kenneth Muir and his crew worked at a neck breaking pace by shooting about one 25-minute (or more) episode each day. It lead to some rough edges, but gave a massive amount of story for fans to devour each year.
Things have come a long way for web originals since Muir first launched The House Between in 2007, but this is still new territory and the greatest challenge is still coming up with a business model to make a web series profitable.
“I hope that the medium is going to have a future. The question you first asked when we did our first interview all those years ago, which I’ve never forgotten, ‘What is your business plan?’ …Well I don’t have one,” Muir laughs, “When someone figures that out, The genre, web series, that medium will be in good shape.”
Does Muir have any lessons learned to share with those reading this interview with dreams of their own web series?
“One lesson from The House Between that I’ve never forgotten, is that the idea in your head is never what ends up on the screen. Because you layer in other talent. It becomes something else. It becomes something wonderful. But it’s not what you had in mind in your head. And that’s okay, because it is a collaborative art form,” shared Muir. “Secondly, just have a good time. Get the most out of the experience.”
The House Between is a well-written science fiction series that has mystery, humor and a touch of horror. As I once said when reviewing season one… Warning: The budget is low, but your love of the series will be high.
Muir admits he was struck by the “Lucas” bug and is re-cutting the series for the upcoming DVD release. Already the official soundtrack is being sold on CD.
Elsewhere On The Web…
Winners of the Best of Clicker 2010 Awards was announced.
In the web categories the winners are:
- Best Web Comedy (Serial): The Guild (The Legend of Neil, Squatters, Dating in the Middle Ages and Self Storage)
- Best Web Comedy (Episodic): The Jeff Lewis 5 Minute Comedy Hour (with The Fine Bros., Ask a Ninja, Harvard Sailing Team and Annoying Orange as finalists)
- Best Web Drama: Anyone But Me (with Riese: Kingdom Falling, Asylum, 8.13 and Status Kill as finalists)
- Best Web Non-Fiction: A Comicbook Orange (with RadNerd, COMlife, The Web Files and Know Your Meme as finalists)
- Best Live Web Show: Control TV
What I’m Watching… Are You?
Bite Me – Episode 5 “Night Makes a Stain”
Three gamers, one zombie outbreak. This new zombie comedy web series that launched December 1st and has caught on quick with well over 3 million views and counting. We even picked it as one of our Top Ten Web Series for 2010. Warning, it is a little on the NSFW side.
Death Battle! – Rogue VS Wonder Woman
Revision3 has launched this new web series. It is sort of Deadliest Warrior, but with a much more scifi flavor to it (and way more tongue-in-cheek). An all out battle to death between two or more characters from pop culture. This time it is X-Men’s Rogue versus DC Comic’s Wonder Woman.
Haywire -Episode 3 “Return to Sender”
A new episode of the scifi horror web series Haywire. Check out our interview with creator Scott Klein.
Mind’s Eye – Episode 6 “It’s Time”
Illia heads to bed, while the Dreamweavers meet to plan their next move. Another web series that made our Top Ten Web Series for 2010.
Soul Fire Rising – Episode 8: “Raum Cometh”
The season one finale. Both Eve and Lilith battle the demon lord Raum.
Vampire Zombie Werewolf – Episode 2 Commentary
Can’t wait for the new episodes. To help hold us over, they have started releasing the episodes with commentaries. A rather cool idea. It’s another web series that made our Top Ten Web Series for 2010.
That’s A Wrap
Before I go, I want to give a shout out to my wife Julie who always gives the column a quick edit to counteract my habit of bad grammar.
Got a web series, web comic, web… whatever, then I want to know about it. Contact me at: email@example.com
That’s a wrap for now. Take care friends. Until next time… marX out.
You can find 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.