A couple of weeks ago we reviewed end of the world comedy Dark Age and episode eight of their first season has just been uploaded. Today we speak to co-creators and cast members Justin Bondi and Andrew Ludington to find out more about this uniquely themed web series.
What’s the Dark Age all about and where did the idea come from?
ANDY: It came to us in a dream… Justin and I decided first that we wanted to produce a short-form series for the web. That was the origin. From there, we just thought practically about what we would find entertaining as an audience that we could shoot ourselves with limited resources. We’re both big fans of apocalyptic fiction and film. I grew up loving the Mad Max movies, but it was Ariel by Steven Boyett that really got me hooked on the genre. We did worry that it would be hard to stand out in that crowd. So we decided to try a comedic take on the genre.
JUSTIN: He’s right, we are so in-sync creatively we have the same dreams.
End of the world comedy is in this year with Seth Rogen’s This is the End and Edgar Wright/Simon Pegg’s At World’s End, do you think the film industry is starting to see the funny side of the apocalypse?
ANDY: The Wright/Pegg reference is interesting. To a large extent, Shaun of the Dead was already hip-deep in that material. So those guys were already thinking about this stuff years ago. The Seth Rogan movie is, I suspect, just a natural evolution of any popular genre. Once enough variations on the theme have been played out successfully, it’s almost irresistible to parody it. Rogan’s a smart guy, so I doubt it’s going to be a straight-up parody like Scary Movie, but you get the idea.
JUSTIN: I think what still sets us apart is the timeframe in which our story takes place. We aren’t dealing with the initial terror and shock of the moment the world starts to fall apart. We’re a couple of years removed from that – most of the Earth’s population has died off and the survivors are at the ‘now what?’ stage. Part of Arthur’s character we want to continue to play with is the idea that he’s a doomsday prepper type who was right – but now that the short-term survival is taken care of, it’s time to handle the long term living. And that piece is something he didn’t plan for. That’s one place we’re looking for the comedy to come from.
Dark Age takes a more believable look at society after the fallout, was it a conscious decision to keep the story grounded in reality?
ANDY: Absolutely. I’m a nut for Joss Whedon’s writing, and the thing that I respect about him the most is his ability to tell realistic emotional stories in fantastic circumstances. Justin and I weren’t really interested in turning this piece into hero fantasy. We wanted to keep the whole thing grounded. We stray from that a bit with some of the supporting characters, where we went a little broader.
JUSTIN: Right. The idea that these people are trying to live in a familiar way – to both themselves and the audience – in this wild new world is one of the things that attracted us most to the concept. We were also very conscious of the fact that we wanted to keep the true cause of the Fall a mystery, even to our characters. If one day you lost power, communication, etc., you wouldn’t be able to truly know what was happening worldwide. Everything would be rumor. We play with that a little in season 1 but left it open as something to explore later.
You raised some of the budget on Indiegogo, did you raise additional funding or was the series made on what you’d raised?
ANDY: Most of the budget was self-funded. We did raise money on Indiegogo, but not a huge percentage of the total budget.
Whilst we’re on the subject of crowd funding platforms, how did you find your indiegogo experience?
ANDY: As a platform for fund-raising, it’s very good. Really, my complaints about the fund-raising experience have nothing to do with Indiegogo and everything to do with our complete lack of experience raising funds for something like this. Previous to this project, Justin and I had always worked in the Hollywood system, where writers have nothing to do with the money.
Would you try out other crowdfunding platforms for other projects?
ANDY: Got a good one? Seriously, if we found compelling reasons to raise funds on another platform, we’d try it.
What were the biggest production problems you faced?
ANDY: Money was tight, but that actually wasn’t the biggest issue for us. We had a budget and stuck to it, so that wasn’t a source of angst once production began. What really snagged us meaningfully and repeatedly were weather and noise. We chose the subject matter for DARK AGE because we thought it was going to present few technical hurdles. What we didn’t count on is how hard it is to get away from the sounds of the modern world. We held for trucks, we held for speedboats and lawnmowers. We even held for, I kid you not, the Goodyear blimp one day. Weather was the other big issue. We shot in June in rural Michigan, which we thought would be lovely. In fact, most days were blisteringly hot, punctuated with thunderstorms that held up our outdoor shooting. We even had a tree struck by lightning on the set.
JUSTIN: I think we exceeded our Gatorade budget.
What web series or other online comedy do you watch?
ANDY: THE GUILD is great, and I like AWKWARD BLACK GIRL but, I have to admit, I’m not as well-informed about online comedy as I should be.
JUSTIN: I enjoyed the first season of I AM TIM, but I haven’t seen the second season yet.
How would Virgil fair in a show like The Walking Dead?
ANDY: Are you kidding? He’d be so happy! Ample targets and no need to pull punches.
JUSTIN: Oh yeah, Virgil would thrive in a zombie apocalypse. He’s had to learn to cope with a regular one.
Does producing content for online viewers give you more freedom with the type of stories you want to tell?
ANDY: Definitely. I love Hollywood movies, but one of the first things a development exec will look for is a successful comparison to what you’re proposing. And I don’t blame them. There is so much money on the line. But online content allows you to experiment, to play. It’s what I imagine it was like in the early days of television except, of course, for the massive difference in volume. The real struggle online is connecting with your audience.
JUSTIN: You still need to have a clear vision though, especially if you are asking for a lot of volunteer labor from your cast and crew. So the openness and flexibility of the web isn’t an excuse to be sloppy and unfocused. I think we pulled off a fairly ambitious project on a shoestring. But there were times we cut corners when, in retrospect, we should have taken more time to get what we needed. So the point is, focus and do the best work you can – don’t sell it short because you don’t have budget or don’t know if anyone’s going to pay attention.
ANDY: True that. At least be aware of what cutting corners is going to mean for your finished piece and make those trade-offs consciously.
Do you think TV networks are paying more attention to what’s popular online?
ANDY: I really think the networks are starting to look online as a sort of farm league for projects and talent. Online content is a great proving ground for material.
JUSTIN: I think the paradigm is changing. Truthfully, it is in the networks’ best interest to let writers, director, actors, and producers do it on their own and let the best material rise to the top. They aren’t betting their own money on untested prospects. I believe it’s going to get harder and harder for you to get discovered without quite a bit of self-made content under your belt. It’s your resume.
You took a year to write the series, was that a difficult process?
ANDY: Not really, actually. We started in the summer and knew we wanted to shoot the following summer, so we had a pretty luxurious time-frame to develop the scripts.
JUSTIN: It was really enjoyable. We have quite a bit of experience writing features, so we understood how to put together a story arc that can sustain for 90 minutes or so. The new experience was breaking that up into 9 individual stories.
You guys have been working together for over 15 years, what’s the key to a successful long term writing partnership?
ANDY: You’ve got to like each other. That comes first. After that, it’s all about being willing to separate yourself from your work and accept that everything can be improved.
JUSTIN: Yep, I’ll second that. You have to respect each other’s judgment. If I have an idea I think is great and Andy vetoes it, I know it’s for a good reason.
ANDY: Damn right.
Are any of the characters based on people you know?
JUSTIN: There are little tastes of people we know in each of the characters, like Ruth has some similar characteristics to my wife Lauren. However, there is a real doomsday prepper guy in the area where we shot the show, and we almost used his place as a location. He bailed on us a few weeks before the shoot because he was afraid we’d actually bring about the end of the world with our show. Seriously.
ANDY: I loved that guy. We ought to use him in season 2.
Will there be a season 2?
ANDY: We’re planning it now! And it’s shaping up to be a good one. We’re really going to put these characters through the wringer in season 2, and it’s going to be fun to watch. We’re planning to shoot a teaser trailer this summer to use as the cornerstone of another fundraising campaign with some seriously cool swag.
You can watch all eight current episodes on www.darkage.tv or Vimeo and for the latest updates of season one head on over to their Facebook page, new episodes are available every two weeks until the series finale with episode ten.