The Companion looks so much better on our free app. Customize your feeds, get notifications on new content, stream podcasts with our in-app player, and access app-exclusive trivia.
Set your chevrons for App Store for iPhone or Google Play for Android now – and don’t forget to rate and review!
Around 15 years ago, fresh from being a writer-producer on Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis, Damian Kindler went rogue. Drawing on experience gained working on a string of hit shows, he formed an indie production company, Stage 3 Media, with plans to challenge the major TV networks’ dominance over the distribution of small-screen entertainment using the internet.
Multiple streaming services, millionaire YouTubers and behemoth tech companies are the norm these days. Back in 2006, though, Kindler’s vision was innovative and optimistic. In what was contemporary tech’s equivalent of the Early Modern Era, there were no iPhones, social media wasn’t a thing, and Netflix was still distributing DVDs because dedicated streaming was still practically science fiction. Kindler, like many people, saw the emerging potential of the internet to open source everything.
To further his ambitions, Kindler secured funding from a Vancouver property development company, The Beedie Group, and recruited former Electronic Arts exec Marc Aubanel, IT specialist Martin Palacios, and fellow Stargate alumni Martin Wood, N. John Smith, and Amanda Tapping, to make a straight-to-web series called Sanctuary. Sanctuary would be different on several levels: it would be available to download off the internet, it would be the first show filmed entirely using the state-of-the-art hi-def RED camera, and it would be almost entirely shot on green screen. By anyone’s standards, it was an ambitious project.
On the eve of the web series’ Vancouver launch party in May 2007, and excited by Sanctuary’s potential to bridge the gap between genre fans and creators, Kindler sat down with The Companion contributor Mike Simpson and spoke at length about the production process and his hopes for online entertainment in the noughties and beyond. History shows that things did not develop as Kindler thought they could, and the ultimate success of Sanctuary owed much to the traditional TV network-based system it might have upended. Nonetheless, Kindler made some prescient predictions, and his comments give fascinating insights into how early adopters in the online distribution space foresaw sci-fi’s potential to make the internet a sanctuary for all. As a blast from the past, we’ve pulled that interview out of the archives and published it for you in its entirety below.
Mike Simpson: How did you get into writing for TV?
Damian Kindler: I would say there’s nothing unique about the way I became a writer. [It was] more of a desire to pay the rent than carve out a niche for myself in the great canon of anything. When I was in high school, I really loved writing. I was quite good at English and, like a lot of romantic young teenagers, [I thought], ‘I want to write the great Canadian/Australian/Irish novel’. But even at a young age, I had tremendous ADD. When I was in [Queens] University I did take film writing courses. I had a romantic love of feature films and quite a lot of disdain for television as a young man. It’s funny; one of the people I knew very well at Queens was a woman named Simone Urdl, who’s been a producer of Atom Egoyan’s features for quite a few years … She wanted to go work for Citytv or CHUM [Canadian media companies] and I was thinking, ‘TV? It’s the grindhouse of the lowest common denominator. I’m not interested. I want to be a feature writer’. Then she went and worked for the high-art Lama of Canadian feature films, and I started working on TV.
So anyway, how I ended up in TV is actually a shorter story than I am making it. I was working as a script coordinator for a Warner Brothers TV show called Kung Fu: The Legend Continues, starring David Carradine … I worked very closely with the producers. They really liked my work and the way I viewed the show. I had script samples that I could show them, so they offered me a script and I started writing for that show … When my contract was up for renewal as the script coordinator — and I was quite good at it — they were terrified of trying to hire someone else …
So a writer on the show said, “Hey, do you want to write a script?” I said, “No. No. God no. Why would I want to do that?” He said, “Have you seen how much it pays?” and when he showed me, I said, “Yes! Where do I sign?”Damian Kindler
Mike Simpson: Is there a process that you go through with every script that you write?
Damian Kindler: Absolutely, there is an absolute distinct process that I go through. It’s called agony and procrastination and making those immediately around me suffer because I am chewing on problems I haven’t solved. My wife can tell you exactly what stage of the scriptwriting process I’m at by either how happy or miserable or grumpy or irritable I am. [She would say,] “Oh, you’re happy because the people in Stargate liked your pitch and you’re golden”, “Oh, you’re in the outlying phase because you’re still structuring it”, “Oh, you’ve gone to draft, you’re actually kind of smiling,” [or,] “Oh, you’ve just got notes and that’s why you’re snapping at me.” … I love to talk about [writing] with writers and other people who understand what we’re doing, and then I really need some solitude to go and problem solve off in a corner with myself … It’s like a public and private kind of thing until finally, the script is where it needs to be. I really do like to collaborate with people, but I like to write the script myself. I am not an over-the-shoulder ‘you write a scene, I write a scene’ type person.
Mike Simpson: What do you find is the hardest thing about writing, and what aspect of it gives you the most satisfaction?
Damian Kindler: The hardest thing about writing is finding a structure that works. It’s easy to say that the character does this, the character does that, and this would be a neat action sequence, but finding that ironclad spine that’s unassailable is very hard. Anyone can come up with a concept of, “Oh, this should happen, that should happen,” but it’s very, very easy for that concept to get distilled into moments that work with very weak filler in between. So, making sure that every section of the script is a logical place, a surprising and interesting place, and that nobody’s way out ahead of you [is important]. Audiences are so savvy … and they will all guess unless you really think as hard as they do about what you’re doing. It takes a freshness, originality, strong plot spawning, and not confusing people.
It’s like a joke: if you have to explain it to your audience, you’ve blown it.Damian Kindler
Mike Simpson: A lot of your work, at least in recent years, has been in science fiction and action-adventure shows. What is it about those genres that you find particularly appealing?
Damian Kindler: All good drama is escapism. I really get kind of sick of people going, “You know, The West Wing’s plots are really good television. All this stuff with things blowing up and visual effects is just another piece of garbage.” There are wonderfully profound things to be said in every art form. I think the great thing about sci-fi is that you’re able to more directly comment on social issues. There are issues that we explore on Stargate — religious issues about belief, about faith, about fanaticism and fundamentalism — that we would never have done if we were writing The West Wing or things like that. I think you’re able to create metaphors more readily that allow you to discuss heavy issues. Star Trek did it all the time. Issues of the human condition now are always best explored in a science fiction metaphor.
The action-adventure … I don’t know. That’s a really broad ,sweeping thing. You could say that Children of Men  was action-adventure because they went on an adventure and it was full of action. But that was a really profound and intellectual dissertation on evolution … I think one of the shows that really broke down the barrier between what a genre show was and what a drama was is The X-Files because it put out wonderful, wonderful shows that were really good dramas. I remember [my wife and I] watching an X-Files. It was the one with the metaphors like the Branch Davidians. It was a cult with reincarnation, and it was like the Civil War [Kindler is referring to the Season 4 episode ‘The Field Where I Died’]. There was a particular area which, when you entered it, it triggered reincarnation memories very powerfully.
They regressed Mulder and he has this wonderful reincarnation memory that he and Scully have been on this journey for lifetimes and lifetimes together as different people. And my wife was wiping away her tears going, “It’s so wonderful.” And I go, “Wow, this is transcendent.” It’s not just “What’s the monster in the closet?” That’s, in a way, what I wanted Sanctuary to be more like … So, I think that’s what attracts me to sci-fi. It has the ability to be everything you need in entertainment.
Mike Simpson: Can you briefly explain how Stage 3 Media came together and how you met the other principals in the company?
Damian Kindler: The two other principals in the company are Marc Aubanel and Martin Palacios. Martin Palacios and I are very old friends. Our daughters go to the same school and his wife and my wife are very close. He’s a pretty good friend of mine. Marc Aubanel I met because I bought a house from him in West Vancouver, and he’s been a vice-president of Electronic Arts for many years. We just literally began to have wonderful conversations, the three of us, about the Internet [and] the future of entertainment. Because Marc worked in gaming and I worked in television, we often talked about what was different and what was similar about these mass media empires we were both toiling in. And [we] began to discuss the issues of, “Hey, where’s it going and what’s the pattern?” All three of us saw that visual media was going already at the same place that the music industry was at, which was that a lot of people were in complete and utter panic or in states of denial about the fact that nobody was watching TV the way they were before and everyone was on the internet tapping their watches going, “So when does this do what I want it to do, because I’m here and I’m not going anywhere?”
So, we realized that there was a real opportunity. And this was all before Google bought YouTube and everyone began to discuss the amazing revolution of high-end media going on the net as opposed to grassroots home movies. We began to talk about how we could put that together. Marc said, “Look, I can bring in people who are very talented game designers, visual effects designers,” and I said, “Yeah, I can bring in wonderful production people. Oh, and by the way, I have a script that Martin Wood, the director, and I really love [that] we were going to take to a network. But let’s not take it to a network. Let’s see what we can do with it.” And we brought in Ron Martin, who has been an absolute driving force, both creatively and technologically, helping us find ways to do this, to do a green screen show as opposed to just a green screen film.
So, it was a synergy of the people I knew at Stargate and wanted to work with, [and] the people that Marc knew at EA. Martin Palacios has a really strong technology and multimedia background. We literally just got traction right away and it was kind of a gravity that couldn’t be denied. We founded the company, we started doing a test shoot, I wrote a second hour, we wrote a business plan, we started working with our principal investors and it was like being caught in a slipstream. The moment we just pushed that domino down, we were literally running to keep up with it.
Mike Simpson: What were your main inspirations for Sanctuary?
Damian Kindler: You mean the original script that I wrote? It was written to really represent something I wish I could see on television, something that had the kind of depth and possibilities without seeming like another, “Oh, this is the sort of show that’s coming along because everyone’s making shows about … you know, like someone’s making a movie about an asteroid hitting the Earth? Well so am I.” You know how they say, “Well these people are making a big law show, these people are making a hit medical drama, these people are…” Buffy came out of nowhere. It was a movie that the guy said, “Well it wasn’t done properly. We should make it as a show.” The same with The X-Files. It became a phenomenon, but it made no sense at the time. It caught a wave beforehand. I wasn’t interested in catching a wave. I wanted to write something original as best I could and by tapping into all sorts of other things that I liked.
At the time, inspirations were definitely things like X-Files and Buffy. I was a very, very big fan of the comic book The League of Extraordinary Gentleman by Alan Moore. That kind of very powerful writing in a kind of alternate past where there was advanced steam technology and things like that. I wasn’t fond of the movie as much, but I did love the comic book. And I really liked a book called The Alienist by Caleb Carr, which was about the first profiler working on a mass murder case in turn-of-the-century New York. So, there was kind of a real love of the gothic, a love of the mysterious and other-worldly, and I sort of mashed it up in my blender, and out it came.Damian Kindler
I don’t believe in the whole genius thing. I think it’s more like you’re a funnel for cultural fodder and somebody has to be the conduit and out it comes. Then people either go, “Yes, we like that,” or, “No, that’s terrible.”
Mike Simpson: I was going to ask you where the inspiration came from to have the show start in Victorian London. That’s a period I find fascinating personally, being a Sherlock Holmes fan.
Damian Kindler: Exactly, and me too. I absolutely absorbed Doyle as a boy and my mother is from the UK as well. That whole British roots to me gives it an absolute depth and heft that you have to be respectful of. You can’t go [Kindler puts on a posh voice], “Oh, look at me. I’m British, and thus what I say must be very important.” Don’t throw the British guy in there so people go, “He’s a smart guy.” You have to be respectful of that. What we’re gonna do, actually, with not just England in Victorian times but with Europe over the past 5000 years, with the mythology of the show as they go forward in the next few seasons, is going to be remarkable. We’re going to really do some, I want to say almost like paranormal Da Vinci Code stuff. Not that I liked the book much; I like the idea.
Mike Simpson: It’s a cool period because it really lends itself to a whole bunch of different genres.
Damian Kindler: Well, I think you want to take something like Jack the Ripper, and you want to say, “I have an idea for Jack the Ripper that’s not Time after Time . It’s going to be something better.” And I think that when you say Jack the Ripper, people, on the one hand, say, “Uh, not again,” and on the other hand they go, “But, Jack the Ripper’s cool. I wonder what they’re gonna do.” It’s a way of using something very iconic and saying, “Don’t worry. Trust us. We’re going to take this to an interesting place.” [In Sanctuary] he’s going to really transcend that cliché of being the psychopath who kills, because when we start to explain why he kills and what his character was like before he became ill and what his connection to Magnus and Ashley is, we’re going to change the way people think about him that’s not so cut and dried. And Chris Heyerdahl… it’s like working with one of the great actors. You can see from the opening, he just brings this complete power to the role. Wow. He takes it to a really amazing place.
Mike Simpson: What are the elements of Sanctuary that you think make it different and unique?
Damian Kindler: To be honest, I don’t think there is anything particularly unique about the show except that it’s not paint-by-numbers. It’s not, “OK, get me a young good-looking guy who is cheap. You need someone hot and then maybe someone sassy. And let’s do it in a law firm.” It’s like, let’s get a woman who’s got an incredible past and then start to build it from the organic roots of what that story, her story, is. Because it wasn’t high-concept, other than monster-of-the-week, I think it has a lot of virtue just in that. It doesn’t try to be the hot concept out of the gate. It just tries to be something that stands on its own two feet. As far as what elements of the show [are unique], I can tell you what I like. I don’t know what is unique about it because there have been people hunting monsters before. It’s such a blend. It’s like someone says, “Look, there’s a really nice blend of wine that’s got every kind of grape in it. Just taste it.”
I think the most unique thing is that it has a look that’s different because we use 3D virtual backgrounds, which is great and allows us to do film work and shots and digital effects that no one has done before. And I think having a female lead who is believable. We’re adding a level of reality to a fantastical environment where you go, “How old is this woman, this very beautiful older woman?” If this were CSI, they’d start with the grizzled guy who’d seen it all and build a team around him.
And I think, unlike some studios, I’m not afraid to start with a woman and not have to give her something to balance out her power. Just let her be the center of it. I have a lot of faith that people – men and women – will embrace that, and I don’t need to hedge my bets creatively by putting elements in that are more for marketing issues than for the organic needs of the show.Damian Kindler
Mike Simpson: Was it a conscious decision to write the lead role as a woman?
Damian Kindler: Yes, because the spine of the show, which is to not fear, to overcome fear and to seek out knowledge without the need to exploit, is a kind of a harmonic journey that I think [Helen] Magnus is on. She’s seeking knowledge and she’s seeking understanding and she’s seeking a cure for her own condition. She has a condition which is incurable, and she doesn’t seek power, and that puts her out of joint with a lot of people who would behave in certain ways with access to the things she has access to. I don’t want to punish her for having a healthy ego or a sexual appetite or any of that. I think that she should have the same rules apply to her character as to any leading man, and I think that’s a unique approach. I feel very strongly about it. And I don’t think Amanda Tapping would be that interested in playing the role if she was this woman who had to pay the price for her powers much.
I think Magnus has to deal with a lot of crap from people who want power and are powerful. But they’re the bad guys. As far as the female cop who is busting her way up through the ranks, that is not the story. This is a woman who has deliberately, for a long time, been working outside the system and created her own system and can never reintegrate back into society because she has created her own way of living. I think that’s interesting. I think a lot of people like that power and strength of character. She is unto herself. No matter how hard, or lonely, or difficult that journey is, that’s the journey she’s on, and that’s a bit unique to the way shows are set up.
[See also: Stargate | Sam Carter – A Role Model for Courage and Compassion by Dana Svedova]
Mike Simpson: I read somewhere that while you were writing scripts for Season 7 of Stargate SG-1 you were kind of obsessed with Samantha Carter’s character. Is that what led you to consider Amanda Tapping for the role of Dr. Magnus?
Damian Kindler: In a way. I think that when I got on Stargate in Season 6 one of my first feelings was — after seeing Amanda’s work and getting to know her a little bit — that her character was woefully underexplored. She’s a space physicist, astrophysicist, genius pilot, soldier, Air Force major, and can do a lot, and she’s doing this huge amount of making you believe and care about reems of techno dialogue that the average person would just nod off hearing about. I immediately became fascinated as to what else was going on with her. And I know they made her fall in love and they gave her a father who was saved by an alien, all neat stuff, but that was all happening outside. So, I began to get obsessed with giving her a story that would bring out some elements of her that would flesh her out to me as a person. Not about her abilities; her abilities are without doubt. She’s a genius, she’s brave, she’s worthy, she’s heroic. But I wanted more layers, so I kept pitching ideas.
And to be honest, Rob Cooper agreed with me. He said, “Yeah, we should definitely [do it].” He really liked her character and said, “Well, pitch some ideas. Let’s do Carter stories this year.” The real seminal moment came when I actually had a dream about — you know, when you’re constantly trying to come up with ideas, sometimes they slip into your dreams — so I had a dream about Carter hatching a plan and something to do with a decaying orbit, but we’d sort of done that. So literally in the morning, before I’d even prepared…
Sometimes you go and you’re hot out of the gate, and you’re rubbing your hands together, [and you go], “All right! We begin on a spaceship…” but this time I sort of stumbled in [and said], “Rob, I had a dream about Carter trapped on a planet in a decaying orbit and she’s dying, and she had a head injury.” And he goes, “Oh, really? Well, the thing that you just said there that’s not right, but we can fix it, is that you said ‘planet’.” I said, “Well, what should I have said? McDonald’s? What should I say?” He said, “Say ‘spaceship’.” I went, “Ooh, that’s good.” And we talked about it and that became ‘Grace’, which was one of my favorite Stargates.Damian Kindler
That was great because when you’re given the leeway to write something different for a character, you get a really fresh approach to the way you write, and you get excited about what you’re doing because you know you’ve been given keys to a section of the mansion that people aren’t in. So, you feel quite honored. And then you feel the pressure the moment the draft goes down to the actors but [Amanda] called me and she said, “This is just incredible. I just don’t know what to say.” It was so great. It turned out really well. Peter Woeste did a great job directing it and I loved the way it turned out. My instinct was definitely good. Then I kept after it until Rob was going, “Enough with the Carter stories.” I did ‘Chimera’ and gave her the boyfriend. The boyfriend pitch sold because we said the twist has to be the boyfriend doesn’t die. The working title for that was ‘Black Widow Carter’ because every guy she meets ends up an alien or dead or trapped in another dimension or, you know, with something coming out of his ear [laughs]. So, the trick was that the guy gets blown up and then he’s fine and we see him again. That was fun. That was a long answer, but yeah, I was very attracted to making her character interesting. And it was fun to introduce a character like Vala as well.
Mike Simpson: So how did you get Amanda involved?
It was very simple. Martin Wood and I sent the script to her and said, “Please,” and she said, “Yes,” and that was it. She called me and said, “This is terrific and I want to play this role,” and I said, “Really?” and she said, “Yeah. Yes.” It was great. And it was literally like pouring a glass of water. Everybody was thirsty and everybody wanted it and it happened, which was terrific. There really wasn’t a second choice. If she’d said, “I can’t,” or “I’m not interested,” or “I don’t think so,” I don’t think it would have worked. She has a huge international following. She’s an executive producer on the show and she’s very good at that. I just don’t know if it would have had any traction without her. She was very powerful in front of the camera and behind the camera and all of it was very important and helpful and necessary.
Mike Simpson: What about the other main actors? Did they audition for their roles?
Damian Kindler: We saw two days of auditions for Will, but Martin Wood has an amazing instinct for actors, and he had worked with Robin Dunne years ago on some cheesy B vampire movie that they had done [Teenage Space Vampires, 1998]. I didn’t have access to Robin’s good stuff. I didn’t go rent Dawson’s Creek. He was in Species III  so I watched him in that and I was like, ‘bad script’ [sighs]. He’s sort of been edited around because they were throwing things in that they shouldn’t have. So, it was almost like he had an undeveloped character in Species III. I spoke to him on the phone and he’s going, “Don’t tell me you saw Species III? My hair does not look like that and that is not my best work,” and so on and so forth. He did an audition, which was really great. It was obvious he was really solid. He was head and shoulders above anything we’d seen. We saw dozens and dozens of young actors. I could see people identifying with [him]. He wasn’t so pretty or muscled that people would go, “Yah, right,” but neither was he so dark and brooding that no-one would believe he was a working psychiatrist. Yet, he had a kind of iconic, clean, almost graphic novel look to him. And his acting is just so bang on. He was one of those actors whom you watch what he does with material and you go, “Yeah, that’s how I heard it in my head when I wrote it. Great.” You take your hands off the wheel. He knows exactly what to do with the character. He really is so solid.
With Chris, Chris Heyerdahl, you just go and you get on your knees and you say, “Please keep this. It has to be you.” He actually got the role of Druitt by being in a read-through with the cast just for a test shoot that Druitt wasn’t in. Martin wanted to read the whole script so he got David Hewlett and a few others to come — this was in July — and he read it and he did such a powerful job just sitting in a cold taping room that as soon as the reading was over, we pulled him into a room and said, “Please God, you must be Druitt. You must be.” That was it. It was just basically a done deal, really.
And Emelie… We had to shoot a number of people and she was by and large easily the best actor in the room whenever we auditioned that role. Not the best actor, just that she best found that character. And then she had to pass a little bit of a kung-fu test. We had [stunt coordinator] James Bamford in the audition. When we did the callbacks, five or six young actresses had to do the reading again, and then they had to quickly learn a grappling kind of blocking-punching move. We felt sorry for some of the actresses that came in with little skirts and high heels when Jim said, “Take off your shoes over there, get on your feet and get ready to do a volleyball stance, and let’s start trying to learn these moves.” Emilie was just a natural athlete, just incredibly comfortable, and learned it quickly. We were like, “Oh good, this is good. You’re very strong.” She’s a strong actor and a very, very comfortable physical presence, which we knew Ashley had to be. You won’t believe she’s capable of handling herself in dangerous situations if she doesn’t have natural athleticism. And, wow, she completely nailed that, both in the first and the second auditions.
We’re just thrilled with the cast. Everybody loves them. They’re very close. They get along well and we are lucky to have them.
[See also: Gaters Gonna Rate with Joseph Mallozzi and James ‘BamBam’ Bamford]
Mike Simpson: Is it your current plan to have Sanctuary follow essentially the conventional structure of a broadcast television series in the sense that you have an image of it broken down into seasons?
Damian Kindler: Yes. I do look at stories being told in one-hour chunks. I’m not making a soap opera, but I am making season-long story arcs. So, if you look at Sanctuary as being a 13-episode season, on TV those episodes are 44 minutes, but on the web, they’ll be longer. If you have a four-act structure, instead of them being seven- or eight-minute acts, they’ll be 10- to 15-minute acts and there will be a lot of extra features as we go. The stuff online will be much more like a Director’s Cut and we’ll have to edit it down for broadcast. But it will all be there again on the DVD. So, we’re kind of making fat versions and then thinner versions and then other versions for DVD. Because we haven’t actually got the green light to go ahead and shoot the rest – but that’s quite imminent – I will say that we have to work out the whole format push. It’s always better to have more content that we are editing in different ways, so that people go, “Well, the online version is really cool because you see all this, the TV version is swifter and smaller and cut down like this, but there are some things in there that weren’t out here, and then the DVD gives you kind of the full-on experience.”
We may write a script and say in every script there are one or two scripts, like a little B or C story arc, that’s not on the main TV show but that’s part of the online or DVD experience. I think there will be that kind of laying of the cards on the table, and [saying?], “Let’s hold these back for this broadcast; let’s hold these back for the web, let’s leave this for the DVD,” and really organize what content gets put in what form. I think people will want all of it.Damian Kindler
Mike Simpson: It sounds like what you have in mind is a fairly long-term story arc that goes beyond the initial eight webisodes.
Damian Kindler: Absolutely. We are going to do thirteen 44-minute hours, maybe a bit longer. We have eight 15-to 18-minute webisodes. That translates to be about 135 minutes of footage edited down. We’ll probably take the eight webisodes and re-edit them into three 44-minute hours, and then we’re going to shoot 10 more TV hours starting in the Fall. So, the full season will be 13 TV hours, edited with extra content up on the web and then be released as a boxset at the end of it. We actually have story arcs that set out a whole story for Season 2. But I don’t want people to think it’s like Lost. It isn’t. It really is monster-of-the-week with an ongoing intriguing character story arc going through the whole thing. There are ongoing quests and problems and issues that characters are dealing with.
Mike Simpson: If it is successful enough to go for multiple seasons, do you anticipate having other writers on the series?
Damian Kindler: Yes, I’m just waiting for Joss Whedon and Aaron Sorkin to come begging me for work because I know that they have nothing to do [laughs]. That is a very good question because, you know, a lot of the writers I would love to work with are working. Really good writers work. There are a couple of writers I’ve actually talked to that I’d like to work with who are busy right now but may be available later. The good news is because I only need to write another 10 hours, I can write quite a few of those, but definitely, there’s a couple of writers I want to work with. I won’t name them because I don’t want it to be misconstrued that they’re working with us. I also like finding young writers with really strong ideas and then teaching them more about how to do the process, how to work on series television or media.
Sometimes it’s easier to find a writer that’s got a great work ethic, broad and good imagination, and a good grasp of the material than someone who says, “Yes, I understand what a production meeting is, and I understand how to cut an episode.” It’s more important to have the creative input and output from a staff writer than someone who’s a complete production veteran but doesn’t deliver a strong story. Once we get the green light, I think we’ll be adding at least one or two staff members, and then we’ll know more about who is available.
Often there is a process by which we assign scripts to writers and see what they can do, and if we really like what they do and we feel like they’ve got more ideas and would be a good match, we invite them in to be on staff. That’s the way it worked on Stargate.Damian Kindler
Mike Simpson: What different qualities do you and Martin Wood bring to the scripts that you write together?
Damian Kindler: He’s reckless, chaotic, and irresponsible, while I know what I’m doing. No, he’s a wonderful guy and he and I have wonderful day-long sessions where we bounce the ideas back and forth. He’s actually one of my favorite people to sit in a room with and break a story. We actually don’t sit and break the story, we end up breaking a whole series [and saying], “This is what we can do, where we can take it?” We just don’t have enough time. He’s busy directing, I’m busy doing this. But if we could have like a two-week stretch, with him and I meeting another two writers, we’d have every story worked out. All our scripts would be assigned. We just need literally a couple of weeks in a room [with] whiteboards and people and food and we’d be great. He and I have a wonderful relationship, and because we do so much work beforehand it’s great being on set, too, because he’s very respectful of my opinion of the way it’s being put together visually. He’s never like “Look, don’t even come near the camera.” I can ask questions about how he’s going to visually portray [something] and he loves to talk about it. He doesn’t mind my input on that end, so we have a very, very strong, healthy collaborative relationship.
Mike Simpson: From a producer’s point of view, how are the challenges different when making an essentially all-CGI production compared with working on one that has more in the way of physical sets?
Damian Kindler: The number one issue becomes preparation. Having scripts on the table many, many months before you shoot so that previsualisation can begin, and concept art can be made and then translated into beginning backgrounds. We want to say that by the time we shoot, that whole building of those three-dimensional computer-generated worlds is well in hand so not only do people on set have a good chance to see what the world is going to look like when it’s completely finished, but also our postproduction, the finishing, is already well underway. Our post timeline is not, “OK, let’s start making the effects;” it’s like, the effects are so big they are already well in hand and we just have to now complete them. That’s how you deliver the show on a regular basis on a kind of more assembly line TV series basis.
I am not worried about delivering 13, but 20 or 22, I think that would be such a gigantic ramp up of people and infrastructure, I don’t want to do it yet. It’s a technological issue. I’d rather do 13-episode seasons to start with. And maybe we’ll be like The Sopranos: we’ll focus on doing 13 well-delivered, well-made shows and say it’s OK to just have that [more] than quantity where the quality may suffer if we do it too quickly. It is about preparation mainly.
Mike Simpson: How is it different from a producer’s point of view producing something that’s going to go out at least initially on the web compared with broadcast television?
Damian Kindler: Well, that was actually fun. From a producer’s standpoint, you have to be aware that you are producing things for different media [and ask questions like], “How will this play on the web?”, “How can we bake interactive features into this?”, “What other pieces do we need to shoot while we have these things?”, and “What 3D elements do we want to also give to the web team to build into the site?” You’re adding several dimensions to the way you tell stores and the way you produce those stories in a practical sense. It’s quite fun, but you need a really strong team around you helping organize that and a really creative team that’s going to think outside the box. It might be interesting to talk with a video game writer who hasn’t written TV before because they would see elements of how stories could be told in interactive non-linear ways as opposed to trying to teach a writer about all the different multimedia outlets we can add on to a TV idea.
Mike Simpson: I think I read somewhere that you did some directing on Sanctuary. Is that true?
Damian Kindler: No, I have horrifying dreams that I’m a director. I wake up screaming. My buddy, Will Dixon, who was a director that I used to work with a lot in Ontario, has a blog and I did an interview for him. He said, “So, when do you think you are going to start directing?” I said I have a dream where I show up at the set or location just before call at six in the morning and I walk in with my coffee and the entire production crew is around and they stand around me and go, “Where do you want to put the camera?” And then I wake up in a sweat. Then I see they’ve added a green screen environment, which is just furniture and no set, and now I’m screaming. Right now I’m just happy to stand behind the director’s chair and mumble words in their ears about the way they’re going to cover it, because I love editing and I love working with directors and I’m not at the director’s spot yet. Maybe someday.
Mike Simpson: What are your plans to try and recover the cost of the show?
Damian Kindler: The main thing is we sell our webisodes. You buy them as QuickTime, and you buy them as Window’s Media. You buy the show. You can watch it online as a Flash Video or you can watch it as QuickTime. You own that file. You have it. If you want to get it for free, that’s fine. It’s like buying music online; we have to believe that most people are willing to pay for something and feel good about it rather than just take high-end quality media. That’s just cheap and kind of dirty. I’d rather just pay a couple of bucks. But the other way is to also create a TV show and make money off broadcast licenses and DVD sales, and there’s also merchandising. We have a deal with Todd Masters, who is our monster maker, to make high, high-end monster replicas. So, there’s a whole way that Sanctuary can monetize without having to throw horrible ads up all over it: pay-for-download, TV broadcast licensing, so on and so forth. Advertising, if we get into it, will be much more subtle. It will be baked in. It will be metadata. It won’t be in your face. You’ll go after it if you want to see it.
Mike Simpson: That’s a revolutionary notion because a lot of the bigger studios are still stuck in that old mold of there’s got to be lots of in-your-face advertising.
Damian Kindler: That doesn’t give you your grassroots kind of street cred if you just throw huge banner ads over your site. There’s something pure about it when people say, “I don’t want to have all this stuff in my face. I just want the content.”
Mike Simpson: Is there anything you have been intentionally preparing for possible DVD releases in the future?
Damian Kindler: There’s definitely behind-the-scenes stuff and there’s definitely extra footage or extra moments of the characters speaking more just in character outside of the context of the show, almost like they’re doing their own webcam testimonials. And I think we’re going to be getting to releasing some graphic novel elements down the line. We do have plans on Flash gaming, but right now our most important thing is to get the content to the customers and let them like it. I think that it’s very possible to overload your audience with cool special features and tons of interactive everything and everyone’s just going to go, “Wow. What am I looking at here?” … Sanctuary’s main strength [is] it has a very, very high-end main engine of content and I think that we get that out there first and let the website develop in a more organic way around that. I don’t think we need to have a giant, huge website yet. We just need to have the ability for people to get what they want.
Mike Simpson: What lessons would you say that you have already learned from the work you’ve done on Sanctuary?
Damian Kindler: Oh my God, that if you keep at something, you’re doomed to succeed. I’d say that people should not fear innovation. Innovation attracts talent. If you’re saying you’re doing something new, the right people come out of the woodwork and work with you, and the people who might not help you achieve your goals stay home. You know what, to be honest, there are so many lessons we’ve learned about how to do this, but each one has been a great lesson to learn. There are little things like we would probably make the cameras do less and have visual effects take over a lot of the interesting camera tricks, things like rack focuses and moves. We don’t need to move the camera like we do in traditional television as we can control our entire environment. Things like that.
We’re still learning about how 3D backgrounds interact with real cameras and lighting in the day versus lighting done later, and how that interacts with the different file types. When you’re delivering something for the web, it’s just a little different. You try to keep the quality up with a lot of compression. You’re allowing for trying to deliver something very high-end that you’re posting to full high definition into something small that doesn’t take a thousand hours to download but it’s still very, very good looking and sounds great. Those are interesting challenges and there were lots of hiccups along the way. We had different initiatives that we had to abandon and as long as we kept focusing on getting the content to people, it always gave way and we moved to the next phase.
Mike Simpson: Have you been surprised by the enthusiasm there has been for the show?
Damian Kindler: Yes. The fact that there are thousands and thousands of fans of a show that doesn’t really exist yet until yesterday was astounding. Not only that, but the real core group of these fans helped us deliver the show. I mean, I can’t express enough that we could not have launched effectively [without them]. There are fans babysitting this site, watching it, so our web team can get some sleep. There’s a level of interactivity on a creative and practical level with our core fanbase that I could never have predicted. They are working in lockstep with Stage 3 Media, with the Sanctuary team, and they are the reason the show is going to be successful and be delivered properly and anything that we need to know, they tell us. They are like our tsunami warning system. The forums are asking [something], I put up a blog and they love that. The fans out there love that immediate real-time response from the people behind the show. To them that is unprecedented. It’s always people clamoring outside the ivory tower and people inside going, “Who cares that we just killed off a character you love?”
This is different. It’s, like, “You guys come right in. It’s a meritocracy. If you have ways to help us, things you want to try, we are all ears.” We are very, very open to working with our fans because I don’t think they’re crazy weird people, I think they’re people that have a really strong sense of what works and what doesn’t in online, in sci-fi and in mass media in general. The audience should be allowed to tell you what’s going on and if you’re smart, you listen to them.Damian Kindler
Mike Simpson: How do you see Stage 3 Media developing in the future and what sort of projects are germinating in your mind?
Damian Kindler: Stage 3 is already well on its way to being a full new media production facility: preproduction, visual effects animation, postproduction, production service support, web design, even software application design. And our partners are very keen on watching us grow into this studio that not just generates its own content, intellectual properties, series, and things, but has a very strong client-based business plan. We’d like to be like Pixar; we’d like to make a few very high-end projects per year or every couple of years, and then do high-end selective work for people whose projects we really like and that we subsidize ourselves off of. So, Stage 3 I think is going to grow pretty quickly into something quite exciting.
There are two other sci-fi premises – I guess two sci-fi properties – that we are going to develop for 2008, and then if all goes well, we will shoot two more two-hour pilots after we finish shooting Season 1 of Sanctuary and do the same kind of eight webisode roll-up for each of them. They’re both terrific. They’re both very green screen heavy. I think we’d love to do comic book or graphic novel releases of both of them because I’d say that they would fit well. They’re not spin-offs of Sanctuary, but they are very cool sci-fi premises that are not space-based or alien-based. They are kind of Earth-based, somewhat gothic, very, very at home in a kind of adult comic-book genre. I won’t tell you what they are because we are still making the deals for both of them, but both of them are going to be playing on our strengths to do really strong sci-fi genre series for multi-format release.
Mike Simpson: Do you think your model for Sanctuary and Stage 3 Media productions is the way television is going to go in the future?
Damian Kindler: Yes. I’m not one of those people who goes [in evil voice], “Ha ha. TV’s dead. Aha ha!” and I wring my hands and go, “Long live the internet!” I don’t believe that. TV’s not dead. TV is one of those mass media entities that has the ability to evolve brilliantly, and all that it has to do is figure out how to hold hands with the internet and it will move to the next level of being ubiquitous again. I think the issue is that studios and networks have to come to grips with the idea that you can no longer create an intellectual property designed for one medium. You have to create content that lends itself to multi-format release, and I’m not talking about putting little shorts or tiny two-minute webisodes on the net or to your mobile phone. That doesn’t work. You take the main engine and find a way to distribute it on the net effectively …
TV has just gone away because they haven’t found a way to push people back and forth between it and the net and you don’t have access to the net yet on your TV. In a year from now, two years from now, that’ll be over, the wall will be down. So, you need to find a way to say, “Look, here’s our latest show,” and like I’ll say to any broadcaster, “If you really like my show, my first question after we sign the papers is, what’s our web initiative?” I don’t care if we did a show that’s like a sitcom set in a diner or if we’re doing a high-end sci-fi monster-of-the-week, “What’s your web strategy because the same eyeballs you want watching TV are on the net?” And you cannot just say, “Well, let’s just throw up funny little clips, and little quizzes and contests.” Who cares? “What is our web strategy to get this show on the net? Don’t worry, more people have TVs than are on the net.”
So, you have to say, if you are going to put it on the net, you are going to get those people, and then you’re going to always have those people that watch TV anyway watching TV. The idea is to try to push these audiences back and forth between the multimedia because their habits are not cut and dried. Just because people are watching more internet than TV doesn’t mean they still don’t want to watch TV. There’s just nothing there for them right now. Everything’s too ghettoized. You’ve got to bring down the walls and let everyone kind of live in these two mediums together and find content that works to the advantages of both. So that is what I think we’re trying to do here and if it’s successful, I think people will call me and go, “Lucky! Lucky shot!” or they’ll go, “Let’s talk about how you did it and why,” because if we’re successful on the net and it’s successful on TV and our DVDs are successful, we’ve got the tri-factor, and I think people are afraid to try it because there’s a lot of old thinking going on.
Mike Simpson: It seems to me that shift is inevitable anyway because you already see it with shows like Sanctuary and with what are internet-based TV stations almost, like Joost.
Damian Kindler: It’s interesting because everyone has a different solution. Joost [said] “Let’s start a network and everyone can throw their content in there.” But I would say to Joost, “Why should I give you the power to throw my stuff in there when we are in the same control of the same medium? It’s not like I’m a studio and you’re a network. I’m also a network. I air my stuff, too.” It’s literally a flat Earth. Now, I would do it in conjunction with you so that you get the full-on distribution. I think a more interesting thing, which you may see developed, is what’s going on with X-Box Live, which is there’s a closed, particular community tied into a piece of hardware, a community that’s developed kind of as a third-party on the net that is online but it’s through particular portals. That is a distribution model I would explore getting into, like X-Box Live, having our gaming premieres through there and things like that. There’s been some talk about that. That’s different. But as far as the internet goes, it’s sort of like, why do I need Joost? Why do I need this, why do I need that, when I can be that myself and I can be the whole enchilada? Now there may be an argument that comes along, “Well, I’ve got the numbers and you don’t.” That’s when maybe you make a change, but for now I don’t know why…? I love Joost, I think it’s really cool, but when you step back and go, “Well, I also can put things on the net…” That is what’s so different about the net. No-one controls it as a means of mass distribution.
Mike Simpson: That’s what’s really cool about the net these days. It’s really opened up those doors for amateur filmmakers to make movies, TV shows or whatever, put them on the web and make them available to billions of people.
Damian Kindler: This is the thing you’re hitting on. That’s now. I think three to five years from now the net will be what AOL tried to make it, which is there will be massive network portals and people will constantly try to find the gap between them. But eventually we’ll have these gigantic things that are like, “We’ve got this cadre of 50 million people subscribing to our network,” so that even though you could slide on the net on your site, there’s just such a giant hegemony of things happening, you’ll have to go and make a license with a Joost or… I wouldn’t mind necessarily. If that’s going to happen, I want to be poised for that.
That’s why I’ve got to get as many different products as possible to create my network – “Well, we’ve got these three sci-fi things and this thing and that comedy,” so that I’ve got a build-up of content that comes under my banner. Being a one-trick pony will only get you so far. You have to be a presence, a force, and I think that there’s a space race to be the king of content. I think that people are still [saying], “We’re the king of delivery systems,” [but] the next evolution is to be the king of content. And that’s where I think Stage 3 actually has a shot even though we’re the little guy in a little office in Gastown, Vancouver. We’re sitting there going, “But you know what, we have the means to create and produce high-end content and I don’t care how much traffic you’ve got on your site, you’re still just aggregating news and little videos.” People want more and I think that’s the difference.
Mike Simpson: I wonder if that’s one of the things that is going to catch up with sites like YouTube. It’s going to remain very popular but it’s a site where there’s a hotch-potch of all sorts of stuff and you can get to a point where you have got maybe too much stuff that’s too different and people don’t want to trawl through it all to find what is interesting.
Damian Kindler: No, well people will go where they are predisposed to. If you’re a sci fi fan, S3M will be your network. You’ll pay $10 a month to have specific privileges and upfronts and a DVD mailed to you every month, but you’ll say I’m going to go watch the three to five sci-fi projects that S3M has on it. And whether we’ve made deals with networks and studios to put that out or we do it ourselves, our brand becomes synonymous with quality, and that’s why people will go to our site. It has to be that. It’s just like TV. It’s like, why am I watching your channel? The only variable that people have to figure out is, if everyone could put something on TV and everybody has the ability to throw something down their cable pipe, how do you pull [people] in? Well, that actually leads back to the multi-format thing. If you’re saying, “Look, everyone buys my DVD and that pushes them to my site, and everyone likes my TV show and that pushes them to my site, and everyone likes my site and that pushes them to my show, back and forth,” now you’re creating this nice kind of vortex that pulls people into your brand and pulls them into the world you want to create and that’s the only way you can do it, because they will go away if it stinks. That’s why content is king, and now we are in the battle for the king of content on the net, not the battle for coolest website. It’s what’s on the site and why does that matter. Giant, giant question. No-one can answer it.
Mike Simpson: It struck me looking through the titles of the projects that you’ve worked on before that many of them have a colon in them. Do colons have a particular attraction for you and why isn’t there one in the title of Sanctuary?
Damian Kindler: I had a colon-oscopy. [Laughs] OK, let me look at this. I believe Kung Fu: The Legend Continues had a dash, not a colon. Earth: Final Conflict, yes, had a colon, Stargate SG-1 does not have a colon. Your theory is not sound, Michael.
Mike Simpson: My sources are bad.
Damian Kindler: [Laughs] Yes, you’ve been duped. Give them up. Don’t go to jail. Give up your sources. They’re weak. Listen, man, you go where the work is. It’s like, will the cheque clear? Then I’ll work for the show with a colon in the title. Code Name: Eternity did definitely have a colon in the title. I would argue that Kung Fu: The Legend Continues was a dash, but you might be right about the colon. Earth: Final Conflict, yes, colon. F/X: The Series was a colon. OK, you’re onto something. You’ve broken this wide open. OK, you’ve got me. I don’t know what to say. Sanctuary? Maybe if we ever do a movie, [it could be] Sanctuary: The Curse of the Jade Scorpion or something.
Mike Simpson: Something to think about. OK. Well, I really appreciate you taking the time to answer my questions.
Damian Kindler: You’re very, very welcome.
Stargate | SG-1 VFX Wizard John Gajdecki Shares his Secrets
Stargate | How ‘Death Knell’ Made Sam Carter Real
Mike is a journalist, writer, and scientist living in British Columbia, Canada. He really wants the film industry to get back on its feet because going to the sets of geeky TV shows (pictured: Dark Matter) is like his favorite thing ever. Cheese is up there, too.Follow him on Twitter @PopCan_CA