Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Episode Nineteen.... and behind-the-scenes writer's commentary

"Ragged Isle" episode 19, which is called "40," is up at The Entertainment Experiment web site. If you haven't already, go watch it now. After you've seen it, read on for a behind-the-scenes writer's commentary, which will (obviously, perhaps) include spoilers for this episode and previous episodes.

Way back when, when there were just the five of us (Barry and Karen Dodd, Rick Dalton, Jake Lear, and I) sitting around Barry and Karen's living room, plotting out story ideas, the way it worked was like so: Someone would think of a plot point or a character. If we all agreed, we'd jot it down on a notecard and tape it to a giant piece of cardboard that had once been the side of a refrigerator box. Gradually, we'd group collections of these notecards together to form a loose cluster of ideas for an episode. Then someone (often me, but not always) would then go home and write up an episode based on these notes, then send it out to the others for comments and revisions.

We knew very early on, from one of our first meetings, what the "original sin" of "Ragged Isle" was going to be -- lovers exiled to the sea many years ago, only to have one return and wreak havoc today. But we didn't really know when or how this would be revealed. Then, Jake said he'd like to write a "flashback" episode, and that's just what he did, turning in a 20 (or so)-page episode set entirely in the early '70s, telling the tragic story of George and Emma. It was quite beautiful, it really was.

I asked if I could take a pass over his draft because I had been thinking about who these characters were 40 years ago for the purposes of Vicki's conspiracy wall, which I was in the process of creating. So, I did a revision, fleshing out the characters I'd been thinking about and adding the business about the sardine factory, tying it into the factory fire story Rachel Moody tells the Sheriff in season one.

(George's early line to Emma, "Do you like sardines?", was one that Karen routinely deleted without comment when she made revisions and one I routinely re-inserted without comment when I got my hands back on a draft. It was a silent war I'm happy to have won.)

The episode was really shaping up to be something amazing, but there were some concerns: 1) As scripted, it would be long. Like, really long. Like, 25 minutes long. Too long for YouTube (or the attention span of the average internet user). And 2) Being set entirely in the past, it didn't feature an appearance by a single regular cast member. We worried that that might be confusing and off-putting to fans of the show.

So, the decision was made to incorporate contemporary scenes that would help anchor the flashbacks. This just made the episode longer, of course, so lots and lots of good material had to be cut. George and Emma's relationship, which evolved gradually on the page, now speeds right along, but I think we've retained the essence of their story, and we've tied it more explicitly to present-day events. I think it's a pretty special episode, one that resolves a giant piece of our mystery.

Some other thoughts:

1) Naming the episodes was one of the last things to happen in the scripting process, and (in case you haven't noticed) all our episode titles are also the names of U2 songs. I was so happy when I realized there was a U2 song called "40," since we'd already decided these events took place 40 years ago.

2) We've sent someone into the water every season. In season one, it was Dominic Lavoie as Mac, falling over the side of Paul's lobster boat. In season two, it was Meghan Benton as Vicki, knocked into the water by vengeful librarian Colleen Drake (Christine Louise Marshall). And this season, it was me. This scene was shot in September of 2011. Fortunately for me, it was a relatively warm day (MUCH warmer than the night Meghan went into the water). We only had one shot at it, since I didn't have a duplicate set of clothes. But that's fine. I was just as happy not to be tossed into the water repeatedly.

3) Michael Dix Thomas is so awesome in this episode, isn't he? He's a COMPLETELY different character.

4) Up until a few days before we started shooting season two, my character's name in the script was Greg Fishman. Too on the nose? Yes, we decided. The name we landed on, Dr. Hoffman, is a reference to Dr. Julia Hoffman in "Dark Shadows."

5) Please welcome new cast members! We've been sitting on these secret weapons for two years now, and we're so excited to finally unleash them. You've gotten glimpses of George (Kip Weeks) and (especially) Emma (Krystal Kenville) before now, but in this episode you get to meet them good and proper. In addition, this episode introduces Bob Greeley as Edwin Cutler ("Take my hand, George"), Shawn Reardon as young Harrison Shaw ("I could really go for a stone fence"), Michael Best as Phil Gerard ("I know what I saw. And so will the sheriff!"), Daniel Noel as Wilbur Henson ("Do what you feel you must, Phil"), Lynne Otto as Agnes Maguire ("What do you mean 'not yet'?"), Vince Shatto as Elmer Stringfellow ("We can write it up any way we want in the 'Star'"), Jill Koufman as Ruby Dusante ("How could you? With one of THEM?"), Sophia Reed as young Clelia (so THAT'S how she got the locket), and Allison Gray as young Rose Fuller ("Hello, Mr. Henson"). It's nice to have them all officially aboard the cast.

6) Even if you're a fan of the horror movie, "The Strangers," you might not recognize Kip Weeks (George), who played the creepy Man in the Mask in that movie. Check out his ax-wielding skills below:

7) This is crucial episode in the "Ragged Isle" mythology -- perhaps the most crucial episode in the entire series. Still, my favorite episode (from the standpoint of a writer and an actor) is the next one. I can't wait to share it with you (sometime in the new year).

8) Thank you sticking with us for this long. Happy new year!

Friday, November 15, 2013

Episode Eighteen.... and behind-the-scenes writer's commentary

Ragged Isle" episode 18, "Gone," is up at The Entertainment Experiment web site. If you haven't already, go watch it now. After you've seen it, read on for a behind-the-scenes writer's commentary.  This will include spoilers for this episode (and previous episodes), so make sure you've seen it before you continue, okay? Okay.

So, the spit is really hitting the spam on Ragged Isle, isn't it? We're gearing up for the endgame, which means fewer and fewer secrets can be kept. Some random thoughts about the making of this episode:

1) That statue of the fisherman is in Eastport, Maine. It was constructed for the reality/game/mystery show"Murder in Small Town X," which aired from July through September 2001 on FOX. The statue remained long after the show closed up shop and it's become an Eastport landmark.  And now, it stands on Ragged Isle, at least in our little corner of the internet.

2) Those helicopters, like the helicopters in season two, were created by "Ragged Isle" cinematographer (and local filmmaker) Derek Kimball.  The man's got chops, folks.

3) That's my basement Paul's tied up in.  It required very little set decoration or lighting effects to make it look that creepy. It was fun having the cast and crew in my house, and we worked hard to keep my family in the dark about plot developments they wouldn't get to find out about for a couple of years. In the original scripts for the season, it took several more episodes to reveal Paul's fate/location after his abduction at the end of season two, but Barry (rightly) insisted that we needed to see Ian earlier, which resulted in a scene I quite like, with Vance torturing Paul with his boring old newspaperman stories. Some nice work here from Denis Fontaine and Ian Carlsen.

4) That's Doughty (just "Doughty") playing the dead Agent Griggs outside Gertie Kendrick's house. Somewhere, there's a blooper of him jumping in genuine startlement when I touched his neck.  Kind of blew the whole "dead" assertion.

5) The pre-opening-credits sequences have been much longer this season, I think.  I'm digging it.

6) That's Justin St. Louis lying on the floor as the murdered Trevor Stebbins (though he wasn't Trevor Stebbins anymore when he died, careful viewers will recall). Justin was a blast to work with, and his parents were generous enough to let their house stand in for Gertie's.  Thank you to the whole family!

7) The scenes in Gertie's house were some of the last we shot, on a very long last day of principal photography. It was quite late (like, dark outside) when we shot some of it, even though this scene is supposed to take place in the early morning.  But with some fine, last-minute lighting improvisation by Barry, we were able to shoot "night for day."

8) Meghan Benton does some of her finest work (imo) in this episode as a grieving Vicki. I was at that day's shoot and it was amazing to watch her turn the grief on and off for various takes.  It wasn't like a switch.  She had to work herself up to it, and then work herself back down.  It was quite extraordinary. Amie Marzen is also so good in this scene, as Julie isn't quite sure how to respond to what Vicki tells her.  Amie improvised her voicemail message to Deputy Dan, all in one take, and while it was great, it probably slowed down the episode too much to stay on her.  In a brilliant stroke, Barry placed it over the closing credits, where it creates even more suspense for the next episode.  (You're going to Rose's, Julie?  Were you not even listening to what Vicki told you?)

9) "Ragged Isle" co-writer/prop-maker/poster-designer Jacob Lear made my CDC identification (dubbing me "Brain Hoffman" -- ha!) and I got the badge at a Halloween store.  It's made of plastic and features an image of a waving policeman.  But it works well enough for this shot, doesn't it?

10) Michael Dix Thomas is so good playing an entirely new character.  One look at him and there's no doubt Vicki's brother Eric is no longer on the scene.

11) So... yeah.  Something's up with my character, huh?  I guess there are still a few more secrets left to uncover.

12) The score is by Richard de Costa and the closing song is "Marathon Caribou" by Jacob Augustine. I love the music on this show. It adds so much.

13) There's more I'd like to say about the scripting process, but I really need to wait a couple of episodes for some more plot to unfold.  Stay tuned.

14) Thanks for watching, and for reading this far.  If you like the show, please drop us a line in the comments section below or on our YouTube page's comments section.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Meghan, Krystal, and Episode 17 -in Rick's opinion.

A few thoughts on Episode 17. There are some slight spoilers, but if you haven't watched Episode 17 yet, I have no sympathy for you. I couldn't believe it. It's a masterpiece of editing, score, acting, and some lovingly tuned special effects. But what drives me to blog again after so long? It's how long it took Barry to release a new Ragged Isle episode. Just kidding, it's the acting of Meghan Benton and Krystal Kenville that inspires this blog. Why single out a few actors over my other actor friends in the episode? Because no one can stop me. I have no wife to ask me to rethink it, or hold me close prior to a wild romp. 

I'll start with Krystal, because her scene that inspired me comes first in the episode. For me, the magic starts at time 2:10. I don't know how great actors do it, but by God it stands out when they do. At this point in time, right now, I know more about Krystal's character than most of the viewers because of course I've seen the script. That said, Krystal's eyes and expression speaks volumes of story to me. Story that, creatively, goes back years in my mind when I first saw it being born. I wish I could describe more about that, but these secrets will end up being your friend, so don't fret. When the show ends up completely posted and some viewers go back to study it all, once they have all the answers, they will feel, as I do now, a great empathy and heartbreak for certain characters. A depth to what was done, and to whom. It will hurt your heart to know it. You can't really guess at the answers right now, because the ending is too damn inspirationally clever. It's not trying to torture you by being impossible to solve, it's setting you up for a kind of delight that only comes around every decade or two. RI isn't mean, it's built properly. As a fan, you can rest assured that it won't drop the ball and rip you off. 

Back to Krystal, there are lots of ways to look at her performance, but only mine and others who agree matter. She is giving you pages of story, history, and overwhelming weights of emotions and intent without speaking a word. I'm getting more out of her 16 seconds than I can emotionally bear. It's overwhelming, combined with the post production composition of Barry, Derek Kimball, and Richard Decosta. As I write this, a second ago via Facebook chat, Barry told me of his lighting technique for this scene. The guy has it. Like a Gorham Doctor Who. Back to Krystal. Krystal is awesome. Krystal is amazing. Krystal is a real actor. Please read on...

Now to Meghan. We all got together one night in Harpswell and set up some big lights over salt water on a wobbly wharf and tried to freeze a young, thin girl to death. I've waited a long time to mention the impact it had on me. That night was strange, heavy, and exhausting, psychologically and physically. Meghan's dedication and human vulnerability left an impression on me I'll never forget. Brilliant young actress Meghan Benton (pronounced Mee'-in) as Vicki Burke plunged into icy waters late at night for the camera. She then had to float there motionless without shivering. I had to pull her out of the water twice, because the first time I had the angle wrong and fell short of getting her up and onto the dock. Pulling someone soaking wet straight up out of the water as you're leaning over is harder than you might imagine. I hoped I could do it, but I couldn't. I felt terrible that she had to go into the water again because of me, but at least I got her on the second try. I just yanked like hell. No problem. Her shoulder will likely pop back in. Soon after, I had to push on her chest pretty damned hard (because I hate it when TV CPR looks fake) over and over. Meghan of course toughed it out, with the occasion "Oh my @#%& God," as she shivered uncontrollably, sinking into hypothermia in front of all our eyes. She would however stop shivering, again and again on "action." I got to see my friend get colder and colder, soaking wet in the Maine night as she laid on the dock for what seemed like forever. While acting, pretending to save her, I wanted to save her for real. Poor little shit, having to be the toughest one of us all. A bootleg video I took of her jumping in will effectively illustrate the water temperature, but that's a treat for after the end of this, the final season. Don't worry, the Dodd's had her in a heated vehicle wrapped in blankets after not too long. She survived to act another day. Triple pneumonia doesn't last forever. 

I've been a fan of Meghan's acting since the beginning, and got a huge reminder in this episode. In particular, her realization with Eric at time 8:05. I couldn't believe the combination of grief, fear, dread, realization, terror, and loss in her face. And her running away broke my heart. That's poor Vicki's brother for Chrissakes! I find her acting flawless. She makes me believe that Vicki is real, and a completely different person than Meghan, but with Meghan's unique stretch-a syllable dialect, which I love. Unfortunately, I very rarely see her, but she's fantastic and I believe she's Ragged Isle's leading asset.

And of course I must mention Barry's direction and editing. His editing style has a signature that I've come to know, and we're fortunate that it consistently puts us ahead of so many. Sorry community, but the show is tight. In the editing bay, Barry sets up and supports mood like few others can, and does it with performances that he guided seemingly with almost no effort.

And finally (they're always last in the DVD extras, aren't they?) the composer. Richard DeCosta's scores are invisible on the first viewing, because his music so perfectly conveys the emotion of the scene. It aligns with it. I don't notice the score at all, at first. I just notice my emotion building because of it. The score commands respect but doesn't draw attention to itself. It doesn't make me think "Oh, so this is what they have for a "score"." I go back and listen carefully later, pick out the instruments, and enjoy its craft. It's hard to do, because I keep getting drawn back into the gripping story, and his score becomes invisible again.

Bravo to Episode 17. I'm in love with it. Watch it again. Share it on Facebook. Would it KILL you to SHARE it on FACEBOOK? A friend of yours might like it, and they won't know it exists it if you don't share it. Episode 17 won Indie Series of the Week on We Love Soaps! I got Best Actor of the Week too, and thank you We Love Soaps, but to my eyes Meghan and Krystal were way better.

Episode 17 is awesome. Click here to watch it! And don't forget to track down that share button...

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Beginning of the End

The end of Ragged Isle is drawing near.  It fills me with sadness, pride, relief, fear, anxiety, and comfort.  What a mix.  Well, that’s just it.  It’s very mixed.  This project has claimed three years of my life and all the more so three of Barry’s.  It has been an adventure, an education, a pleasure, and a pain, in truth.  I am glad we have this last season to go still.  I will enjoy the launch of each episode with renewed excitement.  When we first started this project in 2010 we had no expectations.  We wanted to try out this new thing, well, new to us, called a web series and have it be something that we’d enjoy watching. 

The biggest goal of all, really, was to get something done.  It seems that this is one of the hardest things to do when creating art on your own, with limited means, and still having to maintain a day job.  Things get started and everyone is excited then, bang, life gets in the way.  Next project.  Over and over, this is what happens.  It takes too long, people lose interest, move, have kids, get a new job, etc., etc., etc.   It can really wear you down and make you lose focus or even desire.   Why bother?  Again?  Get real.  We have a household to maintain and a life to lead.  It never works out.  Let’s just face it.

This is the wonderful space I was in when Barry came to me wanting to start Ragged Isle , which is loosely based on a project we had done years before.  Barry would bring it up now and again and I would shoot it down.  Well, we’d been into Dark Shadows for a while but at this time we had access to a greater volume of episodes and were doing marathons of the show.  I found that while we watched the creative juices would start to flow and our project started to seem possible.  The more we watched the more I felt this.  I can’t even explain it. That’s just how it was.  After many weeks of Dark Shadows marathons and Barry ramping up his efforts to start this project I gave an unsure, yes. 

Here we are now, three and a half years later.  Ragged Isle is one of the best adventures I have ever had and am still enjoying.  We have met amazing people, traveled to great places, learned a lot, and can now count ourselves as members of the web series community, which is filled with the most talented, creative, warm, friendly, and resilient people I have ever met.  I am so proud to be a part of it.  The sense of community cannot be overstated.  We’ve felt it in person in Maine, New York City, London, and all over the world via the Internet.  

Some of the biggest lessons I have learned are to not give up and keep dreaming big.  This may seem like a kind of boring and canned thing to say, but the journey to learning those lessons for real, is extraordinary.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Official Selection Raindance Web Fest 2013

Ragged Isle has been named an Official Selection in the inaugural Raindance Web Fest, in London, England and will be premiering the first episode of our final season in the heart of London's West End.

Raindance Web Fest announced today its launch of the UK's first ever Web Fest, a dedicated web series "micro-festival" taking place on September 28 and 29 during the 21st annual Raindance Film Festival.

For a full list of selected web series that will be shown and to read more about this special event, see the official Raindance Web Fest press release.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Ragged Isle: The Early Years

Here at Ragged Isle, we know that the ever-present dread on the island, not to mention the constant threat of death, can be kind of a bummer, as is the realization that the end is near for our series.

With that in mind, a kindly soul (who wishes to remain anonymous) has proposed a prequel series about life on our quirky little island before everything went to heck.  Before the Department of Homeland Security.  Before the body count.  Before the unfortunate misadventure in the restricted zone.  Before all that, there was...


Episode 1: Louis helps newcomer Madame Clelia fend off the ghost of a vengeful Centurion. Sebastian takes 45 minutes to decide on a sandwich.

Episode 2: Someone is stealing pickles from the Ragged Isle store! Sheriff Dalton reeks of vinegar; denies knowledge.

Episode 3: Mac and Dirty Bill find a magical amulet that let's them swap bodies. Trevor mistakenly believes Gertie Kendrick is performing her death monologue.

Episode 4: Vance Trundle spends the day asking people if they've heard about "The Internet." Paul replaces Eric's cat for the fourth time.

Episode 5: Back on the Mainland, Dr. Brian Hoffman sneezes in the lab, destroys thirty-years of research. Julie tells her troubles to a seal.

Episode 6: Paul Soucey asks Harrison Shaw for his lawnmower back. Harrison declares it part of the "Restricted Zone."

Episode 7: Rachel Moody scares another visitor away with her "first time to Ragged Isle" pep talk. Trevor Stebbins hates doing laundry.

Episode 8: Everyone regrets it when Julie Katsarakis is named "Lobster of Ceremonies." An angry islander declares the ferry service "disrespectful" and moves to cancel both.

Episode 9: Colleen Drake refuses to let Gertie take "50 Shades of Gray" out of the library. Eric regrets telling Paul about his twin sister.

Episode 10: Sheriff Dalton enlists the help of Gordon to kill a rouge shark. Harrison Shaw recounts the sinking of the USS Indianapolis.

Episode 11: Gus Hendershot spends all day trying to win KISS tickets. Julie learns a lesson in responsibility when Rose Fuller lets her keep an orphaned dolphin in the tub.

Episode 12: Disaster strikes when the Dock Boys are stranded on a nearby island. Everyone cringes when Bill keeps wanting to be called "Piggy."

Episode 13: A mysterious ghost ship prevents supplies from getting to the island. Gus won't play Marco Polo with Sebastian in the store anymore.

Episode 14: Eric Burke asks Julie out on a date same day that Madame Clelia gives him starfish earrings "for protection." Gordon and Dylan Strang hunt the most dangerous game.

Episode 15: The Dock Boys discover that the Sardine Plant isn't haunted at all! And Old Man Shaw would have gotten away with it too…

Episode 16: Things get crazy when vampires attack the Ragged Isle Halloween dance! Sebastian gets trapped inside his Iron Man costume.

Episode 17: Julie calls an emergency meeting to tell everyone how great they look today. Mac asks the Dock Boys: "You guys wanna go see a dead body?"

Episode 18: Vance catches sight of a white whale and goes mad trying to report on it. Colleen Drake's new protege (special guest LeVar Burton!) teaches a reluctant Paul how to read.

Episode 19: A series of practical jokes gets out of hand, leaving Louis and Dirty Bill gravely injured. Sheriff Dalton threatens to bring in a driven, young detective from the mainland.

Episode 20: Hilarity ensues when Paul and Eric show up to the wrong "meeting in the woods." Rose Fuller senses a presence she has not felt since...

Episode 21: A lobster shortage forces the Paul and Eric to start up a lemonade stand. The creatures of the forest help Julie fold her laundry.

Episode 22: Eric Burke contracts a rare singing disease just in time for Rose's annual Ragged Isle musical review! Gordon purposefully sprains his ankle.

Episode 23: A midnight boating accident kills two and sends shock waves through the island community. Special musical guest: Coldplay!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Random Ragged (number 91 in a series)

In season two of Ragged Isle, we introduced a bunch of brand-new characters, opening up the world of the island and raising the stakes with all those outside investigators poking around.  But now the island's locked down, sealed off, with no one coming in or out.  So how do we manage to introduce a bunch of new characters this time?

Below are actors Shawn Reardon, Daniel Noel, Vince Shatto, Lynne Otto, and Jill Koufman, playing characters who are extremely important to the fate of the island, and crucial to the mythology of our show.  But who are they?  Where did they come from?  And why haven't we met them yet?

The answers to those questions will be revealed, in time.  Meanwhile, mull the image below, and the many other shots in the Ragged Isle photo gallery.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Ragged Isle in the spotlight

The online magazine The Snobby Robot describes itself as "dedicated to the web series community – covering series, showcasing talents, and learning how to succeed in new media." They serve up a lot of great coverage of a ton of great shows, and today we're proud to see our own Ragged Isle getting some attention.

I spoke to Snobby Robot writer Chris Hadley about the show and he posted a terrific write-up. Check it out, as well as some of the other fine articles The Snobby Robot has posted.  (Tell 'em The Ragged Isle sent ya.)

Read the whole article right here.