Monday, July 13, 2015

If you've been curious about what Karen, Greg and I have been up to since we wrapped on Ragged, wonder no more! I was invited to craft a short spooky film for the 2014 Damnlationland film series and luckily Karen and Greg were up for the task!  On a Country Road stars 3 former Ragged Isle cast members Kip Weeks, Christine Louise Marshall and Shawn Reardon. And if you're paying attention you'll hear Greg and Karen and myself in there too. Joining our cast is Sharon Smyth Lentz from the original gothic soap opera Dark Shadows. She was a big fan of Ragged Isle and we were overjoyed that she accepted the offer to star in their short movie. The film was shot in Gorham and Westbrook Maine over the course of a few nights last fall and I've just recently done one final edit on the film. This is the version you can rent or own right now on our page at VHX.  Check out the short teaser video below. I think if you enjoyed some of the scarier moments in Ragged Isle, this might be something you'd enjoy too. Thanks for your continued interest in our work.  <3>

Friday, October 31, 2014

Episode Twenty-Two.... and behind-the-scenes writer's commentary

"Ragged Isle" episode twenty-two, "Exit," (the series finale!) 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 (of course) include spoilers.  So if you haven't watched, stop reading now.  Seriously.  Now.

 When we were shooting "Ragged Isle," whenever we finished a particularly challenging sequence (the "man overboard" scene from the pilot, for example, or the lobster festival from the season one finale), Barry and I would turn to each other and one of us would say, "Hey, Barry" [or "Hey, Greg," if it was Barry talking].  "We just finished the [really hard thing we weren't sure we could do]."

Hey, Barry.  We just finished "Ragged Isle."

So, wow.  Huh.  That was something, wasn't it?  I'm a little emotionally drained, to tell you the truth.  Let's talk about this episode. But first let's talk about how it came to be.

Our first writer's meeting, in January 2010, with Barry Dodd, Karen Dodd, Rick Dalton, Jake Lear, and myself, was blue sky.  Anything goes.  No thought of budget or logistics or anything.  Just throw everything out on the table.  The second meeting, we zeroed in on some of the core ideas that eventually made their way into the show:  A group of five immortal beings possessing island residents.  A sixth one exiled to an underwater cage for decades.  Murder.  Mayhem.  Mysterious, impossible drownings.  We hammered all of that out.

In our third meeting, we were talking about "the jump," the moment the entity transfers from one body to another.  Jake said, "We should have a moment where there are two people right in front of the creature, and maybe it's dying and has to decide which one to jump into. And maybe it decides not to jump at all, just to let itself die."

And we all stopped.  Because that was our ending right there.  Rick got so excited he got down on the floor and acted out the action Jake had just described.  Right then and there, we knew it had to be Rick as the final host.  Everything that has come before was reverse-engineered to arrive at that moment.

Sorry, Sheriff fans.  We hate to see him go, but he turned out to be the hero of the island, didn't he? (We've joked all along that "everybody dies on Ragged Isle," but today we came close to having that not be a joke.) Rick brought tears to Barry's eyes on-set with his utterance of his final line, and I suspect he'll bring tears to the eyes of a few audience members as well. He's always been very, very good in this role, but in this episode, he takes it to a new level.  (Also, the sly look on his face when Paul and Vicki call to him may be the most hilarious thing I've ever seen.)

Okay, I'm jumping all around.  I'm a little excited.  Let's back up.

A lot changed in the scripting process, or course.  Many tweaks and changes and top-to-bottom rewrites along the way, but one thing that's never changed has been the final showdown would be between the sheriff (played by Rick) and storekeeper Gus Hendershot (played by Brent Askari).  Brent was one of our secret weapons.  Someone we seeded in the lobster festival crowd scenes in season one and then introduced as a minor player in season two.  But anybody who knows anything about the local acting scene knows that Mr. Askari deserves more than background player status.  But we had this scene in our back pocket all along.  I have loved it when we've been able to do this -- give a juicy scene to an actor who's been present only on the fringes of our story in previous seasons.  (A special shout-out to Eric Anderson of  The Shoggoth Assembly who supplied Gus's post-crash makeup, as well as the knife-in-leg special effect. This guy's a local treasure.)

A word about that crash.  There was a draft, very early on, in which the sheriff shoots Gus, several times, and that is the source of his injuries. But the no-guns decision eliminated that option, so we went with the classic stepping-back-into-the-road-and-getting-hit-by-a-car gag.  This has been done time and time again, we realize. But the reason it's been done so many times is that it still works.  And although it's not explicitly stated, I like to think that Deputy Dan hit Gus on purpose because he realized what was happening.  (His annoyed "I wasn't going to" to the sheriff's warning not to touch the body tells us that Dan is completely up to speed.)

I love the quiet moment between my character and the dying Gus. It's very quick, but perhaps helps to contribute to his decision moments later.  I also love, love, love Erik Moody's line-reading of "you've got a knife in your leg." Just superb.

Okay, I've gotten ahead of myself again. Let's back up one more time.

The episode begins in the basement.  Again, this is my basement, and it really is that creepy, even in real life.  We don't have a lot of special effects on this show, so we try to make the effects we do have, well, kind of special.  Rose's spider-walk across the basement ceiling was one of the many things we conceived of with no real idea how we were going to pull it off.  I love the way this bit came out (h/t to our composer Richard de Costa, who pitched in on some of the effects shots in this episode), but it's the reactions (Paul's scream, the sheriff's jaw-drop) that seal the deal.

A couple of episodes ago, we learned the significance of Madame Clelia's gift to Dr. Hoffman (the knife, used so handily to dispatch Vance Trundle and then later by the sheriff to dispatch himself and save the island).  In this episode, we learn the significance of the key given to the sheriff in season one.  I love that we flashback to the moment the sheriff gets the key, and that within the flashback, the sheriff seems to realize the significance.  Because that's how memories work, isn't it?  When you remember something, you put yourself back in that moment, but now with knowledge you bring with you from the future. What a clever visual way to convey that. Man, that Barry Dodd is a smart little bugger, isn't he?

We've known the significance of the locket, given to Vicki in episode two, for some time now.  But now we know why it was given to Vicki, as the sight of it finally brings an end to the dissident's blood-soaked quest for vengeance.  I can't emphasize enough how much Rick sells that moment.  Love it.

Then we get one last check-in with the remaining survivors.  While the Paul and Vicki romance has been foregrounded for much of the series, the Dan and Julie romance has long been simmering in the background. And in this episode, the two of them, each having lost a mentor, give themselves to each other.  Paul and Vicki, meanwhile, also still raw with grief, seem almost tentative with each other.  Even Dr. Hoffman and Agent Thorne share a moment, perhaps a new beginning.  (There's nothing like the threat of imminent death to prompt people to pair off.)  As a writer, I wish I'd included one more exchange between Agent Thorne and Dr. Hoffman, something along the lines of: Thorne: "What do you mean it's over? Isn't there one still out there?"  Hofman: "Too many people know the signs now.  She won't stay around here."  (Barry tells me to save it for the novel.) Maybe we don't need it, because there's Rose, one last time, saying goodbye to the island and rowing away.  Where is she going? Will she be stopped by the blockade? Will she get through?

Well, we had to leave some lingering mysteries, didn't we?

The final montage of cast and crew brings back so many memories, of course, as well as conveying the rich community of artists Maine has to offer.  I am so incredibly moved and grateful to be a part of it. 

There's more I want to say.  A lot more. About this episode and the series as a whole.  But for now, I think I'll let both the episode and series speak for themselves (aside from the above ramblings).  I do hope that Rick and Barry and Karen and Jake weigh in, either in the comments below or in posts of their own.
In the meantime, what did you think?

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Episode Twenty-One.... and behind-the-scenes writer's commentary

"Ragged Isle" episode twenty-one, "Are You Gonna Wait Forever?", 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 (of course) include spoilers for this episode and previous episodes.

To me, the scariest villains are the ones who don't know they're villains, the ones who think they're the heroes of their own stories — because that's what we all think, right? That we're the heroes of our own stories. Nobody thinks he's the "bad guy," even bad guys. I think of Robert De Niro in Scorsese's Cape Fear. Here's a guy with a legitimate grievance against his former lawyer (Nick Nolte), a lawyer who's own unethical behavior plays a part in triggering the terror that befalls his family. (Not that it excuses De Niro's violence, but the horror comes from the realization that the violence has its roots in the victim's own bad behavior.)

In "Ragged Isle," we've just learned that the main villain of the series, the one who's been killing people left and right, had a back story that helps explain (if not justify) his horrific behavior. That back story also reveals the other villains on the island, those of his kind who put him in that underwater cage with his human lover. In our writing sessions, we informally referred to these people as "the elders."  In this episode, we learn, quite explicitly, how the elders also do not consider themselves to be villains.

We've seen Rose's powers of persuasion before. In the first season, she convinced the town meeting attendees to carry on with the lobster festival (a decision that turned out to be disastrous). In the second season, she convinced a weary Gertie Kendrick to jump into the body of her poor doomed protégé, Trevor Stebbins (which didn't work out very well for Trevor or Gertie). In this episode, she tries to convince the sheriff that what the elders have been doing for centuries is somehow justified. This effort is doomed to failure, of course, as neither the sheriff nor the audience is likely to be convinced that taking over someone else's body (killing them in the process) is okay. But you can see why the creature calling herself Rose Fuller believes she's in the clear, morally. If you can't, consider the lobster (or whatever other animal you're recently consumed).
“I am not the potter, nor the potter’s wheel, but the potter’s clay; is not the value of the shape attained as dependent upon the intrinsic worth of the clay as upon the wheel and the Master’s skill?” 
-Stephen King, The Stand
Julie Katsarakis, always sunny and positive, has an unsavory history that was revealed in her Homeland Security interrogation in season two. In Rose's discussion with the sheriff in this episode, we learn the significance of that history. It turns out, Julie was chosen as a vessel precisely because she was a lost soul, someone who, without intervention, would not have thrived. The elder currently known as Rose reasons that if she cultivates a lost soul, she has the right to take over that soul when the time comes. No different than an organ transplant recipient using the organ of someone who no longer has use for it.

The sheriff's counter-argument is that Julie may have been a lost soul, but now that her soul has been restored, she has the right to it. That's where Stephen King's quote above comes in. I have always loved this quote. (In an early draft, I even had the sheriff paraphrase it pretty directly, but this was roundly rejected as out of character.) The intrinsic worth of the clay.  To the potter, the clay is just a tool, a means of achieving the finished product. But the clay itself has value all its own. The sheriff (and we) can see things from the clay's point of view. The elders cannot.

All of this thinking informed the discussion between Rose and the sheriff that anchors this episode.  This is a long scene, probably the longest single scene since the town meeting in episode four (unless you count the talent show as a single scene), and certainly the longest scene we've ever done between just two  characters.  I'm delighted and riveted by how it's played by Beth Saufler and Rick Dalton. It's a debate between philosophies, between cultures— hell, between species. And both actors perfectly embody the opposing viewpoints.  Both of them quiet, both of them understated, both of them brimming with unuttered rage. My two favorite line readings in this exchange is when the sheriff says "and neither of them... drowned" and when Rose says "Not to me." (I also love Rose's "By all means" that closes out the scene.)

I love this scene.

Other thoughts:

1) The opening scene is about as deliberately comic as we've ever gotten (with the possible exception of "Louszini"'s magic show). I love the pace of this scene, the rapid-fire exchanges, my own character's extremely condensed summary of everything that's been discovered, and the one last Aquaman joke courtesy of Deputy Dan (who delivered our first Aquaman reference way back in season one).

2) I wrote last week about how the parallel investigations are starting to intersect. I'm enjoying watching previously unpaired characters teaming up. Agent Thorne and Sheriff Dalton? You bet! Deputy Dan and Dr. Hoffman? Sure, why not?

3) An early draft of this episode had the sheriff enter Rose's house with his gun drawn, which makes a certain amount of sense, given the threat level. But a decision was made soon after that draft was written not to have any guns on this show. Now, the sheriff plays this scene like an unarmed hostage negotiator, and the scene is all the more riveting for it.

4) Rose's one outburst in her debate with the sheriff reminds me of Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men.  Here's a powerful person who has indulged some impudent questions from an underling for a brief period, but whose patience has definitively run out. "You can't handle the truth!" (This goes back to the villains who don't know they're villains.)

5) The final line of the line of the episode is decidedly meta, isn't it? Rose is (hopefully) voicing the opinion of everyone in the audience, everyone who has to wait for the last episode to see how everything turns out. (This is my favorite closing line of any episode since Madame Clelia's in episode seven.) The line is shamelessly cribbed from Kenneth Branagh's largely forgotten 1991 neo-noir Dead Again.  The movie is pure hokum, but (mostly) pretty clever and entertaining and (at times) wildly over the top. It occasionally streams on Netflix, and the next time it does, you should check it out.

6) I cannot believe there is only one more episode of "Ragged Isle" left. It has been an amazing journey, from that December day in 2009 (when Barry Dodd asked me what strange things could happen on an island) to today, almost five years later, as we prepare to wrap up the series. The show has quite literally changed my life, and I'm grateful to have been a part of it.

7) I'm also grateful to you, the audience, without whom this whole endeavor would have been rather pointless. Thank you for following along on our story. I sincerely hope we've stuck the landing and you dig our ending.

8)"Rose, why is there a man chained up in your basement?"

Monday, September 8, 2014

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

"Ragged Isle" episode twenty, "Original of the Species," 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 (of course) include spoilers for this episode and previous episodes.

I've written about our process before. I'm talking about the five original writers:  Barry Dodd, Karen Dodd, Rick Dalton, Jacob Lear, and myself. We had this giant piece of cardboard and these little index cards on which we wrote character descriptions and plot points, clustering them on the cardboard to form loose episode capsules. The first ten clusters, representing the first season, were thickly settled, as a large part of our energy and focus was getting the first season (which we'd be shooting that summer) really nailed down and into good shape. We knew the climax of the whole series, thanks to a brilliant offhand comment from Jake Lear early in the proceedings.  But the clusters of cards between the first season and the climax were a little... thinner.

For example, for the previous episode, we wrote that the "dissident" (which is how we referred to the character who fell in love with Emma Dobson and was exiled to an underwater cage) meets the CDC character (who would be played by me), realizes I'm his son, and tells me so. This is what it said on the card, more or less:  "Dissident meets CDC agent. Tells him he's his son."

When it came time to write that scene, I thought to myself:  Wait, what? Why would the CDC agent believe this guy? Is there anything written on the back of this card? No? Damn it!

After some thought, I hit upon the idea that unbeknownst to the CDC agent, he has the ability to breathe underwater. I wrote the scene that eventually ended up in episode nineteen, in which the "dissident" gives my character a bit of baptism, proving definitively that he's... well, not like other people. Brilliant!, I thought to myself, and happily shared the scene with the rest of the writing team.

To my dismay, Karen pushed back against it. "I think that the CDC agent would have discovered this ability before now," she wrote. Rats! Wait, would he have? Why would he have? We went back and forth on this for quite a while, never quite fully agreeing, until finally, I wrote the monologue my character delivers in this episode, the one about his little brother drowning -- definitively serving up a reason why Dr. Hoffman has never discovered this amazing ability.

Boy, am I glad Karen pushed back, because this is my favorite scene in the whole series (or one of my favorites, anyway). But, boy, was I terrified to actually have to perform it. First of all, I'd be sitting next to Michael Dix Thomas, who's basically great acting personified. Secondly, the tone of monologue is extremely tricky: sad, awed, and capping off with a laugh line about Aquaman that has to be delivered absolutely straight. I'll leave it to others to decide whether or not I pulled it off, but I've been waiting two years to share it with you. I'm so happy it's finally here.

As for the rest of the episode, it has one of the creepiest endings of any episode of "Ragged Isle." I've mentioned this before, but the basement scenes were shot in my basement, which is just inherently creepy anyway, and the sight of a gagged and bagged Paul thrashing around on the chair just gives me chills -- even when I saw it happening on set and I knew Ian was just fine. Yikes.

And oh yeah: I kill a guy in this episode. No sound effects have been added to that slam against the wall. That was really me thumping against the wall. The tricky part was to stay hidden behind actor Denis Fontaine as he advanced towards Vicki until he falls away to reveal me holding the knife. We did a bunch of takes, always starting with me slamming against the wall of the building and then me crouching down behind Denis to stay out of the camera's sight. (When I dropped the knife, I was trying to do it like Michael Corleone drops the gun in The Godfather.)

Also, I throw up again. Dr. Hoffman sure has a weak stomach.  But now we know why he doesn't like boats. Or the water.

This episode also features a quiet scene between Madame Clelia and Louis. This was a very late addition to the script, when we realized we needed a final beat between these two whose friendship has been a part of the tapestry of the show since the beginning (and something that was very much discovered on set, based on the chemistry between the actors). It was a pleasure working with Kathryn Coccyx and Adam Cogswell, both of whom brought so much to their characters. (I'm not saying we've necessarily seen the last of both of them, just that this scene puts a nice bow on their relationship.)

The idea from very early on was that there would be simultaneous investigations happening on the island -- people taking a cold, hard, logical approach (Agent Thorne Homeland Security), people looking for a more supernatural explanation (Sheriff Dalton and Dr. Hoffman), and people digging into the island's history (Paul and Vicki). As we begin to wrap up the series, those supposedly parallel investigations are beginning to intersect more and more. It was fun to bring those separate elements together outside the Ragged Isle Star offices (to be continued next episode).

We're really in the home stretch now, and for me, these final three episodes are the most exciting ones we've done. I can't wait to share the rest with you.

P.S. Those underwater shots are stunning, aren't they? Barry and Derek and David's images are so beautiful. Haunting event.

P.P.S. I keep thinking of other things I want to praise about this episode. How about Kip Weeks and Krystal Kenville acting underwater? Acting. Friggin'. Underwater. Holy cow, these guys are unbelievable.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Kip, Krystal, and Episode 19 in Rick's Opinion.

Be ye warned: Spoilers abound! Watch Episode 19 FIRST! This piece will go in depth in a soap/story-obsessive fashion that April Grant and Amanda Shockley from Indie Intertube can truly appreciate.

I have made my RI colleagues wait for days to get my reaction to this latest episode. I didn't want to say anything about it or even share the episode until I could properly address and present it, and unfortunately working then decompressing from work has filled my last two days.

I was surprised to find Episode 19 posted on Facebook at 9am on New Years Eve, as I sat in my Taxi, which is my line of work. For some reason I was expecting it in to be released in the evening, but there it was, the long anticipated flashback episode written so long ago by co-creator Jake Lear. This episode, deep in Ragged Isle lore, has haunted the original five creators of the show's narrative for years. The story of The Past on Ragged Isle has been known in the minds and imaginations of five poor, unfortunate secret-holders for a long time. No one could know but us! Keep it secret, keep it safe. Now we're finally getting to see the faces and personalities of the characters who set the fate of this island in motion, set forty years before our main story. I'll mention that it's a challenge to write about this show without divulging too much. There are still secrets to be revealed, even though this episode fills you in on a lot of big things, especially so for those who are following the story very closely. Three amazing episodes are left, where everything will come full circle. You'll have all the answers.

Back to me watching this episode for the first time. The first thought I had when it started, and was so damn good, was "I am so incredibly lucky to have met Barry Dodd." Being a part of such a great story and snazzy production is the highest gift I've ever gotten.

I hold the Ragged Isle story close to my heart. In particular, the Emma Dobson and George Bridges story. I was in the room, way back when, as a contributor and simultaneous fan, when George and Emma's love came into existence in our original outline. I've been reminded of their short but nonetheless boundless love with each episode's release. I know what their love means, and what it leads to. So after being emotionally entwined in these two characters' plight for years, here I am, seeing them brought to life in this as yet unseen whole new section of our story. Pure magic. I cry every time I see Krystal Kenville on screen as Emma Dobson. Every damn time. Tears just keep rolling down my cheeks. I was floored as Kip Weeks and Krystal filled in tons of back story with their eyes and faces. Such brilliant acting, that I don't see it as acting. It's connecting all the other events, and it breaks my heart with its beauty and purity. Kip and Krystal are awesome. This is a fact. The next time I see Krystal, I'm going to have her make an Emma face for a pure fan thrill.

This episode was loaded with new characters, and for me, many special personal moments. One of them was seeing my favorite child in the world, Sophia Reed, making her on screen debut as young Madame Clelia. She's the daughter of my long time best friend Jewlee Robinson (who got a cameo as the voice who called to her). I'm so psyched that she's forever immortalized at that adorable age. She'll be able to see herself as a little kid in this great show as she grows up (She's already grown so much since it was filmed it's unbelievable). Some day she'll be able to show her grandchildren. How many of us get to do that?

Then there was my friend Daniel Noel as Wilbur Henson. Daniel's a "Cleaner." You call him when things get serious. He's one of the three best actors I know in person. He makes anything you're working on way, way, way better. He always wins, so it was no surprise, but it was so great to see him knock it out of the park with a completely new character. His acting is so satisfying, it's like a recliner and beef jerky. Hell, DEER jerky. With root beer. He can do anything. It's amazing to watch. True power. He's also an incredibly kind and gentle man, when he's not ruining someone's life on screen.

Mike Best as Phil Gerard. Mike and I go way back. I met Mike back in my Running Over Productions' days, where I acted for the first time. I later wrote a roll just for him in my play, the first big thing I ever made. Mike is a great, local, rock-solid Go To actor whom I've had the privilege to work with a number of times. Mike also, in my opinion, does a better demented, insane hick character than anyone I've ever seen. Scarily so. He's not limited to such a character, but if you need that role filled, track him down, because he'll likely say yes.

This was the first time I've seen Bob Greeley act, as Edwin Cutler, the old fellow on the dock with Kip. He was perfect. What a great face! The whole set up and style of that scene looked like a million bucks. First rate work from everyone involved. When I think of the multi dimensional motivations with this one character (shhhh, not yet!) it boggles the mind. 

What a thrill it was to see young Harrison Shaw as portrayed by Shawn Reardon. Shawn is a great local favorite. I've seen him in some awesome Madhorse Theater plays. And my old friend Jill Koufman as Ruby, I've always loved her acting, particularly as Naolia when we did Bucket Of Blood on stage. I saw some new faces too, and everyone kicked ass. So spot on. I'm going to watch it again, right now, to get a recharge.

I'll just go through the whole episode, as I watch it, and if you're one of the few obsessed and dedicated story followers, you can go through it with me:

Opening: The Not Eric Entity's love and tenderness toward his son, Dr. Hoffman. Beautiful. Michael Dix Thomas shows us a side to this character we couldn't have imagined was there.

Bob Greeley being awesome as Edwin Cutler. That face, that hand, those eyes. A living embodiment of back story to inspire the viewer's imagination. Kip Weeks introducing us to George Bridges. Young Harrison Shaw, not impressed, wants a Stone Fence. I can't imagine how many of those he has ordered in his lifetime. Barry's transitions from past to present are masterful.

Greg Tulonen, being semiconscious and adorable as Dr. Hoffman. He is adorable in real life too, as well as being a great writer. Perhaps the "shock to his system" Eric is referring to was writing Ragged Isle.

Krystal as Emma, with her icy blue eyes. It's love at first sight for George. Daniel Noel as Wilbur Henson, already watching that no one gets involved with one of "them." I'm a romantic, and I love this couple. He treats her with respect and kindness from their first words. Such a short amount of screen time that does so much.

A beautiful montage transition by Barry. Striking imagery and scenery with beautiful music, flexing some art, setting the show apart. The Bear's Den. (Bear -short for Barry Dodd) I don't know if anyone but me is currently referring to him as The Bear. I don't even know if he minds. 

George and Emma's love, weeks or months later. I'm amazed how beautiful and cinematic this scene is. I can't believe how awesome Kip Weeks is. I can't believe how awesome Krystal Kenville is. It is very hard to type this through tears. The music by Starlight Cicada is heart-wrenchingly beautiful and perfectly marries to the scene. He puts the locket around her neck. I know what the symbol means. I am weeping. You will understand later. You'll know everything in three more episodes.

I don't think spinoffs are typically as strong as what they spin off from, but this show is replete with offshoot series possibilities. George and Emma's time together could be another amazing web series. 

Ahhhh, the underwater shot. Trust me, get into this story if you have not, and study this shot in HD. Astounding. It kills me. I want to hug everyone involved with this shot, because it is perfect. Kip and Krystal, you are killing me. Viewers will be able to feel this moment so much more acutely later on in the story, because they'll understand. I cry over it. I can't believe what the written page has blossomed into. Bravo to you all. So well done. Ragged Isle is horror made beautiful. George pulls out the wolf's head cane sword. You've seen this cane before, more than once. You will see it again in this episode. 

Eric/Not Eric and Dr. Hoffman on the beach. Head writer Greg Tulonen, as Hoffman, gets a chance to deliver some great acting in this pivotal scene. He's no longer just the quirky Examiner from the CDC with the paranormal hobby. He's a crucial part of this story. More to come. I am biassed with Greg, because he is my emotional champion and one of the best finds of my life. We confer regularly, and together amass entertainment power. I think his acting as Hoffman is a lesson in appearing natural, while I know he's anything but comfortable doing it. I'm more confident in his acting prowess than he is, and I'm right. And Michael Dix Thomas as Not Eric in this scene? I've seen Michael politely and calmly accept compliments on his acting, but I'm sure people start to sound like a broken record in their praises, so I won't butter him up here, I'll just state briefly: He is an acting weapon. He is someone you use when you want to speak directly to your viewer's emotions and make your story become real. I can't believe how heavy the information he delivers in this scene is. If you're a RI loyalist, your jaw must be on the ground at this point. Oh to be an unsuspecting fan hearing these lines for the first time. There is power in Michael's delivery. Power under the matter-of-factness. You could cut it with a knife. "Because you're my son, and you were born underwater…" I think the exchange between these two characters is absolutely huge. 

The people behind what was done to George and Emma, standing on the beach, forty years ago. No remorse. What is it with these people? How could they do this?

Then to young Clelia, finding the locket. She comes running from a good distance away, too far to have spotted it. She just knew it was there. Something drew her to it. Does she already have the power at this young age? Clelia keeps the locket for forty years.

Daniel Noel as Wilbur Henson, being scary and crazy, and something more. He doesn't seem to be too worried about Phil (Mike Best) going to the law with his secret. Soon after, he finds young Rose Fuller, and with no regard for her, jumps…

Credits roll. We're plunged back into the waiting and anticipating again, but hey, you got a lot of info in this episode, and a bunch of new characters. Hell, people have been identified for you. It's coming together. Still time for you to formulate theories and wonder. Still more story to tell. I never look back at my script, because we're taking this journey together. The beauty and thrills are essentially as new to me as they are to you.

I believe momentum is important to fully appreciate the Ragged Isle story. It's a lot of interconnecting details to keep in mind, and not everyone re-watches it all to refresh their memory, even the very loyal. I see the quality of Ragged Isle as the very highest, and often wonder why it doesn't presently have the high numbers of views that other shows seem to get. Some of them are really lousy and have numbers that dwarf ours. Who could ever say for sure what the reasons for this are. It could take off at any time, or maybe never. It could just remain something that we're very proud of, and that many of our friends love with all their hearts. I often imagine someone finding it someday on perhaps Netflix, sitting down and watching all three seasons in one sitting. And they say, "That was awesome," and they post about it to a friend, or to everyone, and word gets around that it's a must see, and it becomes a household name, and some celebrities embrace it, and hey, that was all shot in Maine?! Who are these guys? And we're all dead and buried (It'll be online forever, remember?) YouTube never dies, it just keeps buffering.

I want millions of people to embrace the show, and I believe that it deserves the views, praise, and accolades, but you know, we've already won. We have made something together that is rich and beautiful to the eyes and mind. Something that inspires the imagination, and makes people want to make a show of their own, or strive for a standard in their work that they see in ours. We've won lots of awards, and it feels great, but our two greatest rewards are when someone tells us with a big smile that they love the show and then they ask us questions about it, and the feeling of knowing in our hearts that we've created something truly special, with integrity and quality from page to screen, that will stand the test of time.

Here is Episode 19, entitled "40" Please watch and share.

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.