I recently explored the growth of diverse sci-fi/fantasy shows on the web using the new original series Osiris as a perfect example.
The show, which has received some publicity help from the awesome Shadow and Act, is sleek thriller about a man named Osiris who cannot die, instead resurrecting each time after he’s killed. He’s 300 years old, has 23 degrees and speaks 16 different languages, among other useful abilities. Episode one premiered today.
Creator Donnie Leapheart wrote and directed the show to expand the genre possibilities of black media, which is still dominated by romances and comedies.
“If an alien dropped down to the planet today and watched black films to get a sense of us,” Leapheart said, “they would deduce that all we want is to get married, get in a good relationship, get out of a bad relationship or get out of the hood.”
Osiris was supported in part by funds raised through Kickstarter, and its campaign was enormously successful. The Kickstarter project helped the series build buzz and early fan base of 1,000 people on Facebook. But Leapheart says he’d rather not do it again. “It was an exhaustive, nerve-racking, humbling experience,” he said.
Below I talk with Leapheart about casting Sheree Whitfield (Real Housewives of Atlanta), the state of black sci-fi and whether Atlanta is the new black Hollywood.
Televisual: What inspired you to tell this story? What inspired you to go to the web?
Donnie Leapheart: To be honest, this series is a direct response to our (myself, Redd Claiborne and Rodney Breedlove) personal complaints of the lack of variety in films and series produced by African Americans. Don’t get me wrong, I love the success many people are experiencing, especially lately. But as a fan of movies and an indie filmmaker myself, I wish there was more thinking outside of the proverbial box. Many indie filmmakers make these boring, pretentious movies that they would never pay to go see themselves. So Osiris was a “put up or shut up” move on our part. Instead of complaining about the problem, be a part of the solution.
We chose the web as a platform for distribution because we see on-demand streaming programming as the future of media. Also, we know so many filmmakers that waste years pitching projects in on “trying to get a deal”, that was the last thing we wanted. We wanted to go straight to the people. Osiris is our “mixtape”.
DL: Casting was a major part of the very first discussion about the series I had with the others producers. I had many conversations with our casting director LaQuanda Plantt about not making the show “Black World”. This is what I call it when indie films by African Americans cast all black actors in their films to play all of the characters: the cops, the lawyers, the friends, etc. I wanted “Osiris” to have a very diverse cast so that it would feel more “real”.
As for Sheree Whitfield…actually she auditioned for us and got a small part in the series. Honestly Aymar, I don’t watch reality TV at all so I didn’t know of her “celebrity” until I was told after the fact. She’s a new actor but I felt confident that we would work well together given the role she received. I won’t get into the details but things didn’t work out with her due to scheduling, contracts and the fact that the project itself was bigger than any one budding actor making a brief appearance in a couple episodes. It would have been interesting to see what she would have brought to the series but we moved on without missing a beat.
TV: You were very successful using Kickstarter to fund part/all of the show. What advice would you give to indie creators looking to use crowdfunding for their projects?
DL: Kickstarter is very interesting. Some people call it “digital panhandling” but I don’t see how it is any different than what PBS does with their pledge drives or what politicians do when they have campaign fundraisers. Having said that, I still wouldn’t use crowd-funding ever again. It was an exhaustive, nerve racking, humbling experience. We were fortunate in that we had a unique concept and a strong social networking circle to help us reach the finish line. As for advice, I’d say be as friendly to as many people as possible because no matter how great your project sounds, people will be giving money because of YOU not the idea.
DL: What show and films are you speaking of? LOL…Seriously, that’s one of the reasons we were so Gung Ho on making this series. There are a couple scifi web series being produced but not on a major level. If an alien dropped down to the planet today and watched black films to get a sense of us they would deduce that all we want is to get married, get in a good relationship, get out of a bad relationship or get out of the hood. I would LOVE to see more scifi/fantasy from people of color in this country done on a professional and realistic level.
TV: As I understand it, you work primarily in Atlanta. Is Atlanta becoming a new center for black film/media production?
DL: Well, yes and no. There’s a lot being produced here but outside of the forerunners, Tyler Perry Studios and Rainforest Films, it’s all from people just coming in to take advantage of the amazing film tax credit in GA. I’d love to see more homegrown filmmakers such as ourselves producing films of interest outside of a black audience. We hope Osiris will inspire some 22-year-old African American here to say, “Hey, that was kinda cool but I can do better.” As a fan of media in general, I wanna see cool, fun indie films too!