We joke about it all the time. One day, we’re all just gonna have chips in our heads and we won’t need things like TV or computers anymore. But what if that actually happened?
That’s the starting point for a new web series produced by Warner Bros. and Bryan Singer called H+: The Digital Series, which launches next week. Although, “web series” is a bit of a limited term. Web experience, more like, as H+ is going to be hugely interactive, allowing viewers to watch episodes out of order, edit them together differently, and create their own experience of the world, much like the characters are able to do with their web experiences in the context of the show.
I had the chance to speak with H+ star, Alexis Denisof (Angel, Dollhouse), and producer, Jason Taylor (Bryan Singer’s Bad Hat Harry Productions), about this unique and exciting sci-fi project.
H+ takes place in a future where people can install a chip into their nervous systems called “HPlus,” which allows them to access the internet 24 hours a day just by thinking it. They are always connected. That is, until a virus is released and one-third of the world population dies instantly.
“I would classify the story as an adventure story, rather than a dystopia,” says Jason Taylor, producer from Bryan Singer’s Bad Hat Harry Productions. “It’s really about what happens when you have a society that’s relied on something so long and now needs to figure out what’s next. The adventure is the people that had gotten the implants and survived, or people that never got implants to begin with — how do these people now unite to understand the new world that’s in front of them? Everyone has a cell phone, you know? And in this story, those who don’t, or those who chose to go off the grid, the people who are in parking structures or deep down somewhere where there’s no signal are spared. We don’t try to aim this at any one specific group, we try to understand what something like this would do to society as a whole.”
Alexis Denisof plays Conall, an Irish writer in a strained marriage whose journey into parenthood with his wife is part of the larger mystery surrounding HPlus. “I loved the character they were talking to me about,” he says about joining the project. “He’s a lovable Irish writer having a very human problem in his marriage, and HPlus was helping and hurting the relationship. I really liked that [the writers] were looking at the technology through the human experience and not the other way around.”
Denisof, too, is uncomfortable with the “dystopia” or “post-apocalyptic” label. “Frequently when technology is married with post-apocalyptic storylines — and I hate that word. It brings up this sort of Mad Max image which is not what this is about at all — I do think that those stories revert to some tried and true ground that’s been walked over and over. But the writers have thought very deeply about the applications of this technology and how it would affect you in a daily way, and how would it affect your relationships, and how would it affect you when you’re driving your car, and how it would affect you at work. What are the opportunities it provides, and what are the problems it creates? That’s where they’ve been so intelligent and sensitive when writing this story.”
Both Taylor and Denisof made it clear to me that this isn’t a story about how technology is going to be the cause of our demise. Technology isn’t the bad guy. It’s about how people are capable of abusing technology and using it to hurt each other. It also has a world scope, with storylines set and shot in countries in Europe, Asia, and Africa, as well as in the United States.
If you watch the trailer, you’ll see that the production value for H+ is amazing, not only for a web project, but for anything. If the footage we see on their YouTube channel is any indication, this show could easily compete with anything on broadcast television right now. So, why the web?
“The number one comment we get is: Why aren’t we releasing this as a feature? Why isn’t this on television?” Taylor says. “Well, the way you can experience it — jumping back and forth in time, reorganizing the episodes the way you want them — is a real fit for this story, which makes it a fit for the web. Would we love this to be a transmedia project? Of course. Because it’s a world. You can easily take any one of these characters, give them a whole storyline and really follow them.”
I asked Denisof about where he sees web entertainment going. “We’ve all known for a long time that the web is going to be a huge opportunity and platform for people to enjoy storytelling,” he says. “It’s just taken a while to figure out how to pay for it and how to make money at it. As a result, budgets haven’t really been there for production values with the web that will compete with television. But as advertising dollars are coming in, as they see what the format looks like, and as the production values increase and there’s more people watching… I think it’s an organic process. In this case, it’s a great story, it’s a great script, the performances are phenomenal, the director has an incredible eye… this is really exciting, and I’m super proud to be a part of it.”
Taylor sees no difference between the evolution of the web today, and the evolution of network television decades ago, or the evolution of entertainment over time. “I think the internet will always be a level playing field in the sense that you’re always going to have people making shorts, people who want to create. In the olden days, you had the people who played in travelling shows, and people who played for the King. You’ve always had these different levels of creation. At the end of the day, it’s everyone wanting to entertain. I see the internet as an evolution. What YouTube is doing now with their channels is providing people with things they like in a way that will eventually become more narrow. If you would’ve told my parents that there was going to be CNN, FX, BET, TNT… I mean, they grew up on [three networks] and that was it. And the evolution of that, basic cable, premium cable… it’s just evolved.”
Warner Bros. creating something like H+ shouldn’t scare aspiring web content creators away. If anything, H+: The Digital Series should force those aspiring creators to step up their game. The internet is its own medium that shouldn’t simply be used as a springboard to “something bigger.” It should be its own end goal, because with studios like Warner Bros and producer/directors like Bryan Singer getting into the act, more of the folks with money are starting to pay attention. Quality generally finds a way, and stuff of lesser quality tends to fall by the wayside. This is the main reason why I’m excited for the premiere of H+: The Digital Series. It seems like something I’d love to watch. The concept is sound and the talent attached is top-notch. It seems like a quality sci-fi web experience.
H+: The Digital Series premieres on Wednesday, August 8th. You can see preliminary content on their YouTube channel to start getting immersed in the world, follow them on Twitter, or like their Facebook page.
Teresa Jusino totally also asked Alexis Denisof about Much Ado About Nothing. Apparently, it’s still in post-production. Her Feminist Brown Person take on pop culture has been featured on websites like ChinaShopMag.com, PinkRaygun.com, Newsarama, and PopMatters.com. 2012 will see Teresa’s work in two upcoming non-fiction anthologies, and her “Moffat’s Women” panel will be featured atGeek Girl Con on August 11th! For more on her writing,Get Twitterpated with Teresa,“like” her on Facebook, or visit her atThe Teresa Jusino Experience.