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.