“I am the most proud of this of anything I have ever done in my career.” After ten years as Colonel Samantha Carter on the now-cancelled science fiction show Stargate: SG1, not only has Amanda Tapping taken the leap into the Pegasus Galaxy to join the Stargate: Atlantis crew, but she is also focusing on a new venture, the fantasy drama Sanctuary, in which she stars as 153-year-old Dr Helen Magnus.
The Sanctuary world is full of supernatural creatures, mutants and bad guys – pursued through time and underground tunnels by Magnus and her daughter, Ashley.
But it’s not so much the premise of the show that is attracting attention, as the method of its distribution to the viewing audience. Doctor Who’s “Tardisodes” and Battlestar Galactica’s podcasts may have delivered additional material for download to an eager fanbase, but Sanctuary is the first science fiction show to be entirely internet-based. Produced by Stage 3 Media, the show has already achieved an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records as the highest-budget show produced exclusively for the internet.
“We are really proud of this because it is pushing the envelope technologically,” Tapping says with enthusiasm. “Technologically it is a first. We shot the show entirely on greenscreen, entirely into a computer.”
Damian Kindler, the show’s creator and producer, takes up the story. “We shot for one month in January and we created just over two hours of pilot which is divided into eight webisodes.”
Shot in high definition, the technology makes use of a three-dimensional greenscreen environment, an innovation that attracted technological talent from all over the world. Developing a new television distribution model brings its own unique risks, of which Kindler is only too aware.
“We knew that if we were going up against conventional television, we had to be better. We had to start something that can grow into far more than just a television show. We want people to put it on their iPods. We are very keen on a multiformat roll-out.”
Kindler doesn’t believe that the TV era is over, just that the current distribution model needs to expand to utilise the benefits of the internet. In fact, Stage 3 Media are in negotiation for television and DVD distribution of Sanctuary, to complement its internet format.
But the audience doesn’t watch for the format. So what of the stories and the characters?
“As an actor,” says Tapping, “the script stands on its own; the story, the characters stand on their own. I saw the whole show with no music, only greenscreen and just actors and a couple of props and the story stood up. I am the most proud of this of anything I have ever done in my career.”
Tapping says she fell in love with the character of Helen Magnus as soon as she read the script.
“She was eccentric and interesting and unapologetic and a great scientist, just a forward-thinking 153-year-old. This was an opportunity to play someone so significantly different from the character that I’ve been playing – who I adore but it’s been ten years! This was a great opportunity to branch out. I phoned Damien right away. And when Damien and Martin came to see me and talk about the technology part of it, I was blown away by that.”
The first eight webisodes feature cameos from Stargate colleagues David Hewlett, Peter deLuise and Paul McGillion. The initial feedback was certainly positive, with more than 15,000 views of the first episode on YouTube. With the show launched to considerable public and media interest, the show looked set to gain a fair wind. But there was one issue that caused disgruntled comments from viewers: the cost. The show initially launched with a differential pricing structure that forced fans in the UK and Australia to pay more for each episode than those in the US, causing annoyed overseas fans to protest on Kindler’s Sanctuary blog.
According to Kindler, the reasons for adopting differential pricing were partly due to the show’s unique nature. “There’s no-where else you can get Sanctuary. It’s available on High Definition. And there is no digital rights management. This doesn’t mean I’m snubbing my nose at people’s concerns. What it means is that I will seek to harmonise prices at the earliest affordable opportunity.”
True to his word, at the end of July, the pricing structure was brought into line, with one single dollar-based price now applying for the webisodes wherever in the world the customer is downloading from.
And now Stage 3 Media are moving forward. Kindler has the entire first season of the show mapped out, they have ten more hours of shooting ready to take place in the autumn, and are in discussions with a Hollywood studio about TV distribution.
Having relished the idea of creating a gothic modern feel for Sanctuary, Kindler also has two other sci-fi projects in development, both of which will be multi-format releases. Stage 3 Media’s aim, he says, is to be the global specialists in multi-format scifi. And Sanctuary is leading the way.
Sanctuary is available for purchase from the official website www.sanctuaryforall.com with the first four 15-20 minute webisodes available for free viewing on YouTube.
© Carole Gordon 2007