Thursday, April 09, 2009

Director's Notes: Series Finale -- The House Between Ends...

With the advent of the 21st and final episode of my independent web series, I can now write these fateful words: The House Between (2007-2009).

Yep, it's over. At least in this particular incarnation.

Endings are difficult for me, and the ending of The House Between is bittersweet, to say the least. This has been a rough week for me emotionally, making the final edits, watching the rough cuts, and realizing everything was really and truly coming to an end.

If I lived in a perfect world, and it were all up to me, I would continue depicting the story of Astrid, Arlo, Bill, Travis, Theresa and Brick forever and ever. I love those characters, I love the THB universe, and I love getting together with this talented group of individuals to carve out something creative, ambitious and meaningful. I love editing, sound mixing, and creating the special effects too. It's hard work, but I have found it to be rewarding work.

But, alas it costs money to make a series even as “cheap” as this low-budget effort. And life has a nasty way of driving people apart, and sending them in different directions.

Also – to be blunt – I don’t even know where the hell I could air a fourth year of The House Between. Google Video is closing down soon, and the compression on Veoh is getting worse by the week. Plus, our modest little 700-dollar-an-episode drama is up against not other original, outside-of-the-industry independent efforts, but rather Get Smart, Smallville, Supernatural, Star Trek, etc., etc. The Big Guns. In that crowd, how many folks are going to test drive an unknown quantity like our guerrilla production?

The format of “online video” I once hoped would spur a golden age of independent productions has rather definitively not done so. Rather, the Big Boys of Hollywood are squeezing out the little guys. Next year at this time, I fully expect there will be no place to broadcast online an independent drama of more than ten minutes in length. The world of online video may forever consist of episodes of famous TV shows (or franchise extensions of those TV shows...), and short videos of people getting kicked in the crotch. Or funny cats.

So the great experiment is over. And yet I don't want it to end it with any inkling of "sour grapes" because writing, shooting, editing -- creating -- The House Between has truly been one of the greatest experiences of my life.

I’m thrilled with everything we've achieved here: the dedicated fandom we’ve developed, and the intriguing stories we’ve dramatized in our three seasons. I’ve watched my actors grow from being “good” to being fucking amazing. I’ve seen our special effects go from being laughable to gee-whiz-how-the-hell-did-you–do-that? I’ve listened as Mateo’s musical compositions have become more accomplished, more emotional and downright brilliant. I know this fact: I certainly have a potent talent pool to return to for whatever my next film or TV project turns out to be. One of these days, when I find the right story (and have enough cold, hard cash...), I’ll have some calls to make to some old friends...


But for our stalwart denizens at the end of the universe, “Resolved” is curtains, an ending of sorts. Longstanding questions get answered (mostly), fates are “settled” to use THB lingo, and the story-arc circle gets squared. When writing “Resolved” I gazed across the vast history of “series finales” and knew there were many I wanted to emulate and pay tribute to. Of course, my favorite series ending of all-time belongs to Blakes 7, if that gives you any clue where this episode might be headed. In fact, I named the villain of our last episode Nora “Pearce” after Jacqueline Pearce, the actress who portrayed Servalan in that British TV series.

I am not a big fan of Star Trek: The Next Generation, but I admired the series finale, “All Good Things” because it tread deeply in the past and future as much as the “present” of the main characters. That was a template I utilized a little bit in “Resolved.” There are references and images of the “past” and even one or two cryptic flash cuts of one possible future here, mostly in a single heavy-exposition scene. Although they aren't series finales, the Space:1999 episodes "Guardian of Piri" and "Matter of Life and Death" also form the basis for some of this episode's foundation.

Another thing was very important to me as we closed the door on these beloved characters. I wanted the denizens -- for once -- stand up for something larger than themselves and their daily concerns. We've seen them defend their turf, help each other through tough times and challenge all comers in the smart house, but in this last show, I wanted them to accomplish something heroic. Something for other people.

Also, I realized that "Resolved" couldn't simply be about answering questions or tying-up dangling subplots...that it had to tell a unique, standalone story, and I'm proud of the one we tell. It involves perhaps the most evil character ever to appear on the series, a "happy fascist" played by a remarkable young actress named Alison Velasco. I gave Alison the note that she should model herself after former press secretary Dana Perino, and Alison ran with that note. She was brilliant in the part, and every time I think of our villain, Nora Pearce, I remember that line from Shakespeare, about a person who can "smile and smile" and still "be a villain."

I have often attempted to use The House Between as a venue for making commentary about human issues. One key idea from “Resolved” is sort of political, however. When I was writing the episode last May, the Democratic Presidential Primary was being bitterly contested and, during one debate, there was a candidate who did not wear a flag pin on his jacket lapel. The other candidates in that party, the mainstream media, and the opposition party all pounced on this candidate as being unpatriotic because he didn't adorn that bloody pin. In some corners, he was even called a terrorist. It was a pretty disgusting affair, frankly, to see any candidate attacked because of…fashion. Patriotism, I believe, is carried in your heart, not in the jewelry you accessorize on your jacket lapel. Agree or disagree with a candidate on his policies, but don't judge his patriotism by the pin he sticks on his chest.

I found a science-fiction corollary for that pesky flag pin in “Resolved,” and that idea plays an important role in the tale. But really, there’s a bigger and more important idea that I hope to leave you with in “Resolved” and in The House Between as a series. And that takeaway idea is this: we only get one chance; one ticket to ride this mortal coil. Whatever it is that you care about --- love, liberty, freedom, romance, art – grab onto it with both hands and don’t let go. Because although there may exist a million universes in a million quantum realities, we each only get to experience one of them. This one. And that makes the existence we share special. So whatever you want to see happen in your life…make it happen.

That’s what we did on The House Between these last three years – warts and all – and I wouldn’t change a thing. There’s a part of me that, when thinking on the series, will always dwell on the last day of shooting during our first season. We had all pushed ourselves harder than we thought we could be pushed. We’d all learned new things about ourselves and each other. We hadn’t seen a single episode put together, but we were a team, and we felt successful. We had helped each other to succeed, and trusted each other enough to fail. Petty complaints, rivalries and complaints had been cast aside and we were a unit...brothers and sisters united in a purpose.

As long as I live, I will forever recollect standing in my crowded kitchen the night we shot "Departed" -- surrounded by that unit -- and toasting the cast and crew of The House Between for accomplishing what days earlier had seemed an impossible dream.

The House Between? I had the time of my life there.

13 comments:

  1. I love you, too, John.

    I have to go cry now. :-)

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  2. You're the best, Kim! People will talk :) -- but I love you too!

    Keep kleenex close-by for the finale. Kathryn actually wept when she watched it last night.

    JKM

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  3. Anonymous3:58 PM

    I guess it's no secret that I consider myself The House Between's Number 1 fan:-). I have been totally devoted to the series. I am truly in awe of everything that has been accomplished over the past three years. I have been near tears all day with the realization hitting home that tomorrow is the end of this phase of The House Between. I am wondering what I will do with myself now:-) The anticipation of waiting for each new episode was nerve wracking and, at the same time, wonderful. Thank you all for everything you have accomplished and thank you for sharing it with us.

    You have had another devoted fan over at Airlock Alpha. I wanted to share her thoughts with you.

    Raissa said, "Thanks to JKM and Co. You guys rock, and I'm looking forward to the finale, tomorrow. cool cool cool cool cool cool cool" She gave you seven smiley faces with sunglasses:-) Guess that means you're super cool!

    I agree, Raissa!

    faninawe

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  4. Faninawe,

    I hope you know what you mean to all of us. Your support, enthusiasm and patience has indeed made you THB's # 1 fan.

    I told Kim in these comments I love her. Well...I love you too. I can't tell you how many times one of your comments has made my day.

    Thank you for all the wonderful things you have done on behalf of our show.

    best,
    JKM

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  5. As Victor Bergman might say, "to everything that was." Thanks for the adventure John! Now back to my kitchen b*tch : )

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  6. Anonymous1:14 AM

    THAT

    KICKED

    ASS

    !

    Congratulations to everyone!

    Mateo

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  7. Re: "Next year at this time, I fully expect there will be no place to broadcast online an independent drama of more than ten minutes in length."

    I believe the future of independent distribution is through bittorrent. It enables the user/fan to swiftly acquire the content and watch at his/her leisure, and in his/her preferred format, without hitches and compromised quality. The trade-off: the Producer cedes control of the end product, and receives no direct financial compensation. Obviously, producers for this format would need a different business model (or do it for the fun of it, assuming one is independently wealthy). For yourself, I would suggest that the business model would be that a widely torrented project would serve as a rather cost-effective way to promote your substantial back catalog of books. Just throwing out ideas.

    DLR

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  8. Jim: We could never have done THB without you, and your wonderful, sympathetic portrayal of Arlo. You are WONDERFUL in "Resolved" and in the entire series.

    And Mateo -- jeez, what would we have done without your great music? I think "Magical House" is one of the most beautiful compositions in the series; on top of many beautiful compositions, from "Addicted to You," "Oppenheimer Syndrome" to "Travis's Father," "Future Arlo" and "Samantha."

    Thank you both for everything!

    regards,
    JKM

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  9. John,

    Are there any plans to do a manufactured on demand DVD of the complete The House Between, perhaps through Amazon's CreateSpace service or independently? I, for one, would certainly buy a copy (and probably a couple for friends).

    Nate Yapp
    Editor-in-Creep
    Classic-Horror.com

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  10. Hey Nate!

    I am working on a DVD release for The House Between...using the CreateSpace service you mentioned! Good to know I'll have some potential customers!

    Thanks!
    JKM

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  11. Anonymous8:23 PM

    I think the forum for independent series is iTunes. You can put your series up for sale, $1.99 an episode. I intend to make the soundtrack to THB available there as well...if I can just figure out HOW! :-)

    Mateo

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  12. Hey, I started watching THB last year right before the second season. I came back for the third season (finally) and just finished watching "Resolved." It had me in tears. Great job.

    As an over-educated classicist of sorts I had a very good time analyzing this series. It's a thinking show. I enjoyed the dialog very much. The characters are great and you had me guessing on what side Travis was on right until the end there (obviously his own . . .). Arlo was definitely my favorite character. I just can't say enough about how much I liked the show. I think the ending was perfect.

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  13. Esther:

    Thank you for that lovely comment. I'm so glad you enjoyed the show, and found it worthy of the time you put in!

    Keep in touch, who knows if you've seen the end of The House Between!

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