Today we welcome Todd Denis, interactive writer, producer, director, and platform & media experimentalist… a digital entrepreneur whose latest projects are proving to be if not hugely profitable at least enormously innovative, mixing the perfect amount of creativity, interactivity and what we like most: a unique visual attraction.
Todd has a rich digital agency background co-founding Rival Schools in 2006 and then his own company, Swarm Entertainment, two years ago. Four main projects have been created or co-produced with the latter, with several more to come by the end of this year.
– Jawbone TV, a narrative news site focused on the evolution of animation, film-making, advertising and of course, how stories are told in our modern world.
– Nawlz, an Interactive cyber-punk comic created by Stu Campbell & nominated in this year’s Interactive SXSW festival and also @ the upcoming Webby awards!
– MICroscope, a live interactive musical narrative being developed by UK based actor and rapper RIZ MC described by Todd like “Bladerunner meets Rocky Horror Picture meets Mos Def”.
– and last but not least Rekill, Swarm’s latest sci-fi pack. An idea born back in 2003 and which has taken 7 years to reach this level of maturity. Want to know more?
aqnb: Hi Todd & thanks for your time! We hope that by the end of this post our readers will be eager to participate & interact with this thick bloody & tasty new project. Here’s our first shot:
84 months, 3 attempts. Has the original Rekill idea changed?
TD: The story is pretty much unrecognisable from it’s first spark, but the premise (killing genetic duplicates of historical madmen) has been pretty consistent. The biggest shift on story specifics has been around the intended medium and target audience. For example, for a time during that many year stretch, it was being shaped as an episodic animated series, so the constraints of those durations, and the realities of needing to pull in younger viewers, changed the story … probably for the worse. Now it’s settled on R-rated content. That’s just the best fit for it.
aqnb: Understanding the concept of Rekill is not easy given the ambition, cross-platform & varied experiences any user could get. Could you summarize RK in a 5-10 word sentence? How many similar projects have you heard of recently?
TD: Summarizing is the biggest challenge of wanting it to live on different platforms, and that’s one of the reasons why all the info at rekill.com and on the facebook page are around premise instead of plot. I think the ‘rekilling’ part of it lends to game play. There’s a crazy depth of backstory, which I think can exist as multiple offshoots in print and/or interactive. And live action would be the ultimate end goal (I still love the animated side, but haven’t been able to figure out a way to make that happen from a money standpoint). Wow, that’s more than five words.
I guess if there’s anything I can say about the story versus the premise (without exposing the story prematurely), it’s that the story will answer the ‘why’ and the ‘how’. That’s where the jumping around will be fun. As far as similar projects, there are lots of folks doing this, but most are massive studio projects. Iron Man comes to mind right now, in case you live in a cave. I really love a lot of it – the Marvel and DC stuff generally holds up against anything being made as far as story is concerned – but it’s a steep hill for an indie to climb. Building IP is a long, drawn out thing. Some cool projects that come to mind that are doing things are Iron Sky, The Cosmonaut and Metro 2033. There are others fighting the fight, but it’s like having an indie band … you just gotta keep playing. Also GodKiller and the other projects at Halo 8 are worth mentioning.
(similar projects like Iron Sky use the power of social networking or even crowdsourcing for their viability)
aqnb: Killing dictators is an old fantasy, especially for Americans & if you mix that with biotechnology, failed experiments & corporations… you probably have the basic ingredients for a successful thriller. How does Rekill differentiate from previous comic-based hits?
TD: Well, again, without exposing the story too much, I think the difference is the how and why. You watch a movie like the Transporter, or anything Jason Stratham is in really (I actually like him for some reason … saw him on the street in Vancouver a few years back, he’s just an absolutely tiny little man, but I’m sure he could round-house kick my face off my head), and it’s mostly style. You need the style to be sure, but if you inject sci-fi, you need to intelligently tackle the motivation and the pseudo-science. A lot of Asian action used to be notorious for ignoring that, just slapping some cliched sci-fi wrapper around action (oh John Woo, I do love to hate you).
My intention with Rekill is to blow things up all the same, but let the story expand because the more you uncover as to who/what is behind this and their goal, the more questions develop. By the way, I haven’t made a feature film, or even a short that anyone would know, so I have no place ridiculing John Woo, Jason Stratham or anyone else with enough tenacity to get ANY movie made. They deserve medals. Maybe John Woo can make a movie about Stratham kicking my lippy ass.
aqnb: When you describe Rekill as a “franchise” what kind of business can we expect behind?
TD: To me, a franchise is any story that generates significant revenue in more than one pillar, and is successful enough commercially to justify expanding the story with subsequent releases (sequels, prequels, offshoots) and/or onto more pillars (games, animation, etc.) That sounds so crass it might just horrify some indie purists out there, but that’s the goal. I want Rekill to be one of the very few comic born franchises actually created in the last 20 years. I want it to be Hellboy. As long as it’s good, I don’t think I should have to apologize for aiming big. And to be honest, I don’t think you can exist on either the game or live action pillar without it having that potential. You’re just asking for too much money to make it if it’s a stand-alone. You wouldn’t ask people to invest in a business that you’ve intentionally designed to top-out at moderately profitable … why would you think someone would want to invest in a movie, especially a popcorn movie, that has built-in limitations?
aqnb: We just read yesterday a study of Vitrue, a social media management company which calculates that 1 Million Facebook followers = $3.6 million worth of media value. Who’s set up the 1M follower mark? Do you truly believe in the monetisation that FB could bring you?
TD: $3.6 million, huh? I hadn’t heard that. To be honest, I think we can test our ‘social viability’ theory with 30 or 40 thousand fans. Shooting for a million fans just sounds better. Rolls off the tongue. Obama has like 4 million and he’s the president of the united states for God’s sake. But yes, I do believe in the monetization. Not as a direct formula. But the connectivity and the exposure is awesome. It, and other social tools, are things people would have murdered for 15 years ago. And they’re free!
aqnb: Disney buys Marvel last summer which means 5000 new characters added to their portfolio. Now everyone speculates about which super/anti-hero will be revived next for a gigabillion budget film… (New Universe will probably never see the light, shame). Why is it that hard to get a new original script to get produced?
TD:It’s not hard, it’s impossible, to make one successfully from a script anyway, especially if you’re a nobody (no offense, I lump myself into the ‘nobody’ category). An original sci-fi will not be successful for a ton of reasons. It’s one of the most expensive genres to make. It’s hard to conceptualize, and even harder to visualize if you’re not the creator, so it’s almost impossible for the studio gatekeepers to understand what they’re buying. The Matrix is one of the exceptions, but think about it … those guys got an illustrator to storyboard the movie in order to get it made, and they had a track record going in. They had agents. They had successfully directed a highly visual movie like Bound. Those guys were not indie. Indie is when your name draws a blank on IMDB.com (like me). That’s indie. And you could write 120 pages of screenplay gold, it will not get made.
I firmly believe that these genres start visually and from premise. Whether that’s a comic, or a website, or an animated or live action short like Neill Blomkamp’s Alive in Joburg, which eventually lead to District 9, it takes big money to do these things right, and they want to know what it is, and know that other people know what it is .. and love it. Chris DeFaria, the VP of Digital Production at Warner Brothers (I drop his name as though we are college buddies … I’ve spoken with him three times on the phone) has some good insights on this re ‘World-Building’ as a way to approach this kind of thing… also, the 5D Conferences have tons of insight.
aqnb: eReaders, iPads, powerful smartphones with huge screens, tablets, 3D TVs… where are the borders or limits today for a story to be told?
TD: Don’t get me started on ipad at the moment. The genius creator of Nawlz, Stu Campbell, who we’ve been lucky enough to work with over the past year, is currently pulling his hair out trying to get the series onto the ipad. I can’t think of a platform that has offered so much story potential with such an idiotic, closed technology and ecosystem. I want to toss my macbook at the wall in protest (but I won’t). Honestly, feature films, games and books are still the absolute masters of story. They make the most money, and they appeal to the widest audience. Whether the audience prefers them because they have been conditioned to these formats, or whether they reflect something innate in how we like to consume, doesn’t matter. That’s where most of the eyeballs point. That’s why the tablets could be the big leap … they seem conducive to how the masses currently like to get into story (passive), but with an upside.
I think they could be like a ‘gateway drug’ … a gateway device that let’s us remain primarily passive, while allowing us to engage in the interactive/transmedia potential when it’s of interest. Almost a training device for consuming stories in an active way. They also offer possible 3D and augmented reality integration (although need a camera for the AR … thanks again Apple).
aqnb: In which platforms/devices you’d like to see Rekill? Will BlackSheep studios keep doing most of the artwork?
TD:I’m currently writing the traditional graphic novel for release this fall. That will be free in digital format, and we’ll probably do a limited edition style print run. That’s the for-sure next step. That book, or a portion of it, may also exist as an interactive digital story, more inline with what Nawlz has done, but possibly with a Z depth included. If this tablet thing works out, especially if the guys at Apple get their heads out of their asses and start allowing Flash on the ipad (or are forced to by competing Flash capable PC tablets), I’d like to release the interactive version for sale that way … but that will depend on how things shape up with that technology. And of course, I hope to see it on the bigger screens as well.