By Stu Greenfield (@Youvegotfilmon)
Have you ever wanted to travel through time? Maybe go back to the Old West, Back to the Future style? Or change something that happened in the past like Terminator? Well Mitch Manners is a time traveller. The downside being, he has no control over it. Time Keeper is an online series and the brain child of Daryn Murphy. We interviewed Daryn about Time Keeper and the process of making a series as opposed to a film.
What was/is your inspiration to make film/video?
I’ve always loved storytelling in general and have had photography in my life from an early age. My father went to the NY Institute of Photography and worked in the film chain at Color by Delux. But my exposure to that was that he was always taking pictures and filling up tomes of family albums. I think that definitely rubbed off as an interest in photography which transferred into film while I was attending college. I started off in engineering at the University of South Florida (in Tampa) and was drawn to some of the film courses for an arts credit, but once there pretty quickly decided to change my major. Back then we were shooting nothing but film and digital media wasn’t a part of the curriculum. I think I also really enjoyed all of the behind the scenes elements of photography and film, i.e. the dark room, developing and printing, editing on flatbeds, etc… Generally I liked piecing something together and making a story that didn’t exist in the world before.
Do you find it harder to produce effective continuity when making a TV series rather than when making a continuous film?
Not in general. Whether something is 5 minutes or an hour and a half, I find the same challenge in each. Specific to Time Keeper, I have found it more difficult more because of my own approach to the story. It’s a time travel story which already presents its own obstacles in keeping the order of things straight for the audience, but I really love serialized stories. I’ve always loved multi-part stories and arcs that run an entire season. So when it came to Time Keeper, I felt I was always fighting the short format (7-10 minute episodes), injecting enough exposition to keep things clear while not having the whole of it being actors standing around squawking the whole time about what’s going on so the audience isn’t immediately lost. Trying to balance that against keeping the pace fast and exciting has been difficult and would have been easier in a conventional film.
Time travel is a popular subject within film and TV. This series had hints of the 90’s series Quantum Leap. Are there any particular films or TV series that inspired this series?
Quantum Leap for sure as Season 1, Episode 1 borrows from that same structure before delving off to become its own thing by the end of that first episode. A lot of people referenced Doctor Who to me after season 1, but I had actually not seen any of it at that time. Right after that I binge watched everything available up until that point and became a huge fan and saw some of those parallels. Not that Star Trek is a time travel story, but the time loop episodes in particular were an indirect influence as I wanted to take something that was built into each of those kind of episodes and turn it on its head. Specifically, every time one of those time loop episodes drew close to the end, a character would start to point to some of the inconsistencies (chicken and egg type of stuff) and the captain would wave them off and reference the head ache they would get back in temporal mechanics class back in the academy. So I wanted to make a show that was all about paradox and what people could do once they could collapse those kinds of variables into something like an iPhone. Terminator comes into play a bit too and is referenced more for a comedic effect than anything else, but there is a moment when the main character, Mitch, learns that his future self sends Emily back in time to rescue Mitch. Lastly, another show would be Lost, as part of the narrative is mystery that leads to more mystery than answers as we go along.
What made you decide to turn this idea into a series rather than a film?
My first exposure to web series was with Felicia Day’s The Guild and I instantly became hooked on this idea of short format/direct contact to an audience that being a content creator offers vs the more conventional distribution path for trying to sell a feature film. And if one could develop a following online, with an original story, it also seemed like a great social media platform to point that audience to other efforts like a short or feature and perhaps overlap that with crowd-funding efforts.
If you could alter one aspect of Time Keeper, what would it be?
One thing I learned the hard way was understanding the audience for a series, especially for a short format online series. I made Time Keeper very serialized so literally each episode begins where the last one ends. There were cliff hangers built into each episode ending, but it basically created the need for viewers to “invest” in Time Keeper and watch from the beginning to figure out what was going on since each episode did not spend a lot of time reminding viewers of the rules or what had come previously to lead up to where the story was. I certainly wouldn’t abandon the serialized approach since that’s the kind of series that I tend to love, but I would have injected more of a beginning, middle and end to each episode as far as subplots while maintaining a thread that connected them all rather than having the whole season be one big arc. I think that would have made the story a bit more consumable and not ask of much of an audience that doesn’t automatically have that patience. With established series (television, or otherwise) we have more patience with that kind of thing if we are already hooked.
What was behind the decision to make the setting America but the lead character English?
There’s not an exciting answer here and most of the answer is in the question below. Basically once I found my lead, we talked about whether he should do an American accent. He could do one, but it definitely required more effort and time to consume the script and concentrate on every word. With an indie production shooting on nights and weekends, I just didn’t want to add anything to the process that would make things more difficult than they already would be. And other than the easy answer in my own head that his back story could eventually include a reason for relocating to the US, time travel and Doctor Who seemed like a natural fit with an English Accent.
Speaking of actors, what was your casting process?
My casting process was happily one of the least stressful thanks to my friendship with Jessica Alexander who was not only an actor, but very involved with the local theater community. So I was able to give her my list of main characters, a bio for each and then we played a game of “If you could cast absolutely anyone, no restrictions, who would you choose?”. And based on her knowledge of the community and having seen them in action in local theater, she was able to give me a short list of candidates. We contacted them and if they had interest, we brought them in to read. And to follow on from the question above, when I found my Mitch Manners, he instantly became who I saw when writing further episodes and since Mitch is essentially a man who didn’t know his own past, the fact that he was from the UK didn’t affect the current story. I think the only thing we changed as we went was a word or two here and there whenever Matt would tell me that he would (for example) say “shop” instead of “store”.
There are various colors within the film with some scenes looking cold but others very warm. How do you like to utilize color within your work to aid narrative?
In Time Keeper, the color temperature was a device to help explain where Mitch was in time. The colder the color temperature the farther away he was from the future. The color is only warm when he actually is in the future (or the future relative to his main experiences). There is also a story based reason introduced late in season 2 which was always a part of the architecture. The time energy created by the agents altering the timelines are focused back in time and that energy is essentially cooking the past and making the sun burn brighter (shifting towards blue).
So what is next? Will there be more Time Keeper?
There will be more Time Keeper. A lot of that journey will be dictated by the success of our crowd-funding campaign. All of seasons 1 and 2 were financed out-of-pocket on a very limited budget. And for season 3, my aim is to raise the bar on all aspects (production and post production). I will align that plan to how much public and private financing I can funnel into it which may range from the originally intended full season 3, or perhaps a half season, or a half season partnered with some other form of media like a graphic novel.
Exciting things to come from Daryn Murphy and the team behind Time Keeper. Lets just travel forward in time to see the finished result. Or does that take all the fun out of it? Keep up to date with what’s going on by following Time Keeper on Facebook, Twitter, and the official website.