The Setting

East Timor

The Spectral City is about the people who are usually just in the background of war stories—the civilians. By focusing on their struggles for survival, redemption, and healing, we can avoid the usual war story clichés. There are no big set-piece battles, no moments of mass CGI slaughter. It’s about ordinary people finding extraordinary grit in the face of adversity. By combining the war and supernatural/horror genres, the story brings out the inner as well as outer conflicts of the characters. This keeps the scale human-sized while also delivering an epic tale.

The fictitious country is an amalgam of different real-world places and cultures. The civil war is based on the recent Sierra Leone conflict (which lasted roughly a dozen years), the north/south Sudan war (which lasted for decades), and the ongoing Chechen/Russian and Syrian civil wars.

Setting the story in a present-day, non-specific war zone accomplishes several things. First, it keeps the material from becoming dated or overly political. The effects of war on everyday people never change, even if the sides do.

Second, it can overcome the ‘exotic locale’ issue, in which audience members subconsciously distance themselves from the material, saying, ‘Oh, that could never happen here.’ But the events in The Spectral City could happen anywhere. Zombie and horror films are engaging in part because they are often set in familiar environments. Orphan Black, set in a nondescript modern city and suburb, also takes this tactic.

Third, it presents an opportunity to create a truly diverse ensemble cast. A recent UCLA study concluded that television viewers are more likely to watch shows that employ racially diverse casts and writers. Fox Networks seems to agree. By not being tied to a specific place, the cast can be from anywhere.

Lastly, it gives the production company and financiers a great deal of flexibility as to where the episodes can be shot. The producers can take advantage of lower labor and location costs, tax rebate programs, and other financial incentives. It may be possible, for example, to shoot in Liberia, India, Ghana, or Detroit in a cost-effective way.

We intend to produce the first season (10 episodes) of The Spectral City and to license the broadcasting, streaming, home video, and syndication rights to a variety of television, streaming and film distributors. Our goal is to shoot the episodes in different countries across the globe, with each corresponding to a different location in the story. Locations that we’re looking at include:

  • Ghana or Guinea for the tropical forest sections of the story
  • Assam (India) or East Timor for the mountainous regions
  • Detroit, upstate New York or Pennsylvania for Ishmael’s flashbacks and the Haunted City itself

The precise arrangement of locations depends heavily on aesthetics, the resources available in a given place, actor availability, tax/production incentives, and other factors.

While this approach makes the production more complex, it accomplishes several aesthetic, strategic, and economic goals:

Aesthetic

  • The story takes place in an unspecified country with different geographic regions. By shooting in different real-world locations, we can present viewers with something they’ve literally never seen before, but which will also be familiar to them on some level.
  • This approach can increase the production value of the mini-series quite a bit, making it seem ‘epic’ in scope.
  • The diversity in locations reflects the diversity of genres. The Spectral City incorporates elements of the war, drama, and supernatural/horror genres. We can ‘key’ our locations to these genres to some extent.

Economic

  • Location shooting avoids or minimizes the expenses of extensive set construction and CGI.
  • By shooting in different locales with less developed economies, we can take advantage of lower labor, locations and materials costs (relative to the U.S.).
  • We can potentially finance or reduce expenses by obtaining grants and/or in-kind resources from the governments where we’ll be shooting (Michigan, for example, has a 40% tax incentive program).
  • The lower cost and greater portability of modern production equipment means that we can ship or travel with our gear if it isn’t readily available where we’re shooting.

Strategic

  • By casting actors that are known to the people where we’ll be shooting, we will create fans and possibly even sell rights to distributors in those regions.
  • We can differentiate ourselves from our competition—other shows that are more bounded by a particular space or ‘look.’

The Spectral City is about a group of people from all over a country that itself stands in for the state of the world today. It makes sense to extend this aesthetic approach to the financing, casting, shooting, and distribution of the project as well.

Today’s entertainment is global in scope, reflecting the complexity of our interconnected world. Witness the crossover of Indian actors, producers, visual effects artists, and directors into Hollywood films. Doona Bae, a Korean actress, is now starring in American-based films and series such as Cloud Atlas and the Wachowski’s Sense8. Lupita Nyong’o of 12 Years a Slave was born in Mexico to Kenyan parents and was raised in both Kenya and the U.S.

Financing for television series is currently coming from diverse sources as well. British company ITV’s Titanic was pre-sold to 12 broadcasters. The Canadian show Lost Girl was co-produced by broadcaster Showcase, the Canada Media Fund, and executive producer Jay Firestone’s Prodigy company.[3]

Countries around the world are trying to drive production their way as a means of building up sustainable industry within their borders. South Africa, for example, has recently expanded its film and television production industry through generous incentives.[4]

[1] UCLA’s Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies amassed data on a number of dramatic and comedy TV series for the 2011-2012 season. Unscripted shows were excluded from the study.

[2] Source: Indiewire: Fox TV Says That Diversity Is Just Good Business Sense. Sergio, November 14, 2013.

[3] Source: The Globe and Mail, ‘How Canada is Becoming the Sci-Fi Nation,’ Marsha Lederman, April 13, 2013.

[4] A survey of the various South African incentives and programs