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Meet the Creators: Up North, Automata, Two Minutes to Late Night

June 15, 2017

Up North
 

In the New York prison system, it’s just as hard getting out as it is going in. An innocent teenager, an elder convict, and a vicious street hustler fight their way out of the corrupt prison system and dangerous city streets.

Responses by Up North creator and star Emil Pinnock:

On the harsh realities of the U.S. prison system…
Up North details the difficulties a person faces going into the [prison] system, and the parallel challenges an inmate has to face once coming out. It’s a cycle of difficulties that very often never ends. We begin our series looking into the life of Trey, 17, who is arrested and sent to New York's Rikers Island, America's most violent jail, for the first time. At the same time, Messiah, 52, is on the tail end of his 20-year jail sentence for murder, and he too is going to experience challenges. How will he provide for himself, find a job, a place to stay, and avoid past street beef that may still linger even after 20 years? Though prison is the central story, we believe that, for every one person serving time behind bars, there are ten people serving time alongside them outside those bars. These are their stories too. We dig deep into the families and communities affected by losing someone to the corrupt prison system. Though this project is definitely not autobiographical, the series itself is inspired from many of my life experiences.

I am a professional writer. I have been a professional in this industry since I was nine, but with this series, I have chosen to write about what I know. And I KNOW this life. I know the streets would never forgive me if I didn’t do them justice.

On the challenges of creating “the most authentic prison show” possible…
We were very blessed to shoot our pilot in the Queens Detention Center, the very New York jail were I [served time]. Though blessed by this opportunity, the difficulty lied in that the jail was still active, meaning there were inmates living inside the actual jail. Every day, we would come face to face with several inmates who were awaiting trial on various charges, including murder. For someone like myself, who is [assimilated] in that culture, it wasn't a major thing, but I had crew who quit on set because of it. It was a very high-pressure environment. We also had to wait to be escorted several places each time we moved, and I personally had to move everyone around the prison any time they had to go somewhere. Can you imagine doing that as the creator, while directing, lead producing and starring? It was challenging yet rewarding to say the least.

I must say that without a solid team effort we would have been doomed from start. Every single person who worked on our project did way more than expected. I wish I had the space to name each of them all, but my lead team of Damaine Radcliff, Ian Roberston, Eric Branco, Michael Pinckney, Okeema Moore, Michael Baumgarten, Adrene Ashford and Natalie Girsberger are literally my Avengers. This project is a testament of their hard work and loyalty. But for us, the biggest reward was in authenticity. We wanted this to be the most authentic prison show available, and I soon believe the world will see it is. 

On the age of indie, and hopes for SeriesFest…
We are in the midst of watching the greatest era of television ever, and, as an independent creative artist, there is no way I can just sit on the sidelines. I had to throw my hat in the race; thus, the birth of Up North. I believe that independent television has already begun to widen with outlets like SeriesFest providing the field to showcase your work. I'm very hopeful that this will become yet another stream of revenue, and a serious outlet for artists worldwide to tell unique stories. As for Up North, we are looking to make some serious noise. I say that humbly, yet with confidence. It's my goal to be ordered straight to series from this one-hour pilot, and we can't wait to tell the world it happened at SeriesFest. 

On Pinnock’s next big project…
The entire process of making Up North has really opened up so many resources to me as an artist, and I truly thank God for it. One of those opportunities that came along was the introduction to Roberto Orci (Creator of Sleepy Hollow, Hawaii 5-0, writer of Mission Impossible, Transformers, Spider Man and Star Trek). Yes, he really did all that and I'm not even naming his other 25 historic films. I was able to pitch my next project, Patch, to him, and he loved it. Patch is a coming of age story about a troubled 14 year old who earns a place at a prestigious school, Prince of Wales, a private institution in East Africa, but clashes with the abusive leadership and leads an uprising. Roberto has picked it up and boarded as Executive Producer. Principal photography will commence in 2018. It will also be my feature directorial debut. 

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Automata
 

Set in an alternate Prohibition-era America, this live action science-fiction noir series based on characters from the popular web-comic created by Penny Arcade invites you in to experience a world unlike anything you have seen. In this fictional 1930s-set tale, it is not liquor that is outlawed but instead the continued production of highly sentient robots known as automatons. They live among us as an underclass of social outcasts, victims of human prejudice and strict laws that govern their existence. Automata follows New York private detective Sam Regal and his automaton partner Carl Swangee as they work together to solve crimes and understand each other in this dystopian America.

Responses by Automata writer/director Van Alan:

From pulp comic to pilot…
Automata is a Penny Arcade comic idea created by Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins. The concept of 1920s crime fiction where "machine intellect" has been outlawed was very fresh and novel to me, and after many discussions, they allowed me to pursue a live-action version of it.  I felt the story of Detective Sam Regal and his automaton partner Carl was best suited in a serialized form, and we decided to shoot a pilot ourselves to maintain the most control.

A period piece with robots, visual effects, and a limited budget…piece of cake…
Well, there's nothing challenging about shooting a 1920s period piece with robots...oh wait...except everything! We wanted to make sure to nail the visual effects of the robots, especially the lead robot character, Carl. So we ran lots of tests in pre-production to nail the workflow down. There was also a burden placed on our production design team and wardrobe department to make sure everything looked and felt authentic to the time period, all within a limited budget. I even did a lot of the visual effects work myself to save on cost, which was a huge learning experience, having never worked with visual effects on this level before. But luckily, I had an incredible team of visual effects artists around me, and a fantastic crew to see us through the entire production.

On the future of entertainment going mobile…
I definitely see entertainment consumption going more mobile, and I think as an independent filmmaker you have to learn to adapt to the medium and the budgets you are given. Nothing prohibits you from telling great stories. We specifically created Automata so that it could be flexible in whichever way people choose to consume it. Automata can play as an hour-long television pilot, or it can be broken up into a mobile series with five ten-minute episodes. I think the future is exciting because there's a lot of experimentation and many different paths you can take to getting your story out there for the masses.

On more Automata and other fantastical future projects…
I'm definitely interested in continuing the story of Automata. The world and concept is so rich. There are many cases Sam and Carl have yet to solve that I'm itching to explore. Beyond that, I'm in the development phase of another original series about lucid dreaming that we're excited about. We've assembled a very talented visual effects team that is chomping at the bit to work together and tell more fantastical stories. 

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Two Minutes to Late Night
 

Two Minutes to Late Night is the world's only heavy metal-themed late night talk show. Join our host GWARsenio Hall (comedian Jordan Olds) as he torments musicians from all genres of music, plays games with audience members, and inevitably sends someone through a table.

About this episode: Featuring Grammy Award nominee John Baizley of Baroness performing a cover of Prince's "Purple Rain" and a special appearance by Foxygen. And with us as always is our house band, the greasiest boys in western Massachusetts, Mutoid Man.

Responses by Two Minutes to Late Night creator Jordan Olds:

On how a music video parody sparked a series…
I came up with the idea originally as a music video for a local Doom Metal band. The band had no money, so I thought that shooting the band as if they were a musical guest on a Satanic talk show would be a fun way to get around just doing a basic performance video. While putting together the official treatment for the video, I started to get excited about what a metal themed talk show would actually look like. I then reached out about it to my favorite comedy writer (and my roommate), Drew Kaufman, to help put it together with me, since he is one of the funniest people on the planet and is the only person I’ve met who gets the way I like to make fun of this type of music.

The greatest challenges were…
Finding a clean couch or getting my sidekick Nick Cageao to learn his lines. We're still not sure if he can read.

On finding the perfect sidekick…
I had been a huge fan of Mutoid Man for a while, and Drew and I went to see them for the first time while we were conceiving the show. They’re these huge characters on stage; they flip each other off in the middle of these mind-melting solos without missing a beat and run into walls. It's nuts. I was looking them up a few days later and I ended up finding out that Steve Brodsky gave guitar lessons, so I decided to hit him up since I was a pretty sloppy guitar player that wanted to get better. I learned a ton. He's a fantastic teacher, and we became pretty friendly through that. When Steve heard about all of the weird sketches we were doing with Mrs. Woman, he mentioned to me we needed to meet his bassist (Nick Cageao) and use him since he is a full-blown lunatic. He was absolutely right, and after talking to Nick a few times, I knew that the Two Minutes pilot would be the perfect place to start.

On unplanned improvisations (in the nude)…
When we filmed the Carpool Karaoke spoof, we had no idea that Chris Maggio from Sleigh Bells and Trap Them was going to be there. Ben Koller from Converge just brought him without telling us, and he ended up making the sketch by getting naked and humping my dad’s car. No one asked him to do that.

On comedic inspirations…
Drew and I would definitely attribute a lot of our main structure and humor to Mr. Show, Home Movies, Eric Andre, and of course, Conan O’Brien. Our favorite show of all time, however, is The Venture Brothers. The way that they handle humor and world building is incredible and definitely influenced the way we have been trying to build a small narrative within the show. It’s sort of becoming a show about a talk show.

On dream guests and collaborators…
Well, we technically had Ice-T [on the show] already and he was number one on the list. Our other dream guest for the show is absolutely David Lee Roth. Otherwise, we’d love to work with Jeff Goldblum, Mel Brooks, and Airbud.

…and what’s next?
Drew is currently developing a travel channel parody series for Comedy Central, and I’m working on a pilot for a musical about a girl in her late 20’s that has to move back home with her parents…who turn out to be Jim Henson style puppets.