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The Sleeper Effect
Tonight's Webseries Presentation


Starring: Ant Bacon, Michael Ross, Rebecca Mae Lam, Scarlett Mack, Richard Easter, Ben Ross

Written By: Aidan Belizaire, Andrew Phillips, Chris Aylward Directed By: Aidan Belizaire

See It Here: http://www.thesleepereffect.com

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?


Tasty stuff with a smoky flavor to pair with the air of the mysterious surrounding The Sleeper Effect. (A Manchester cheesemonger, by the way, will give you 3 1/3 kilos of this cheese in exchange for the show's budget.)

Pairs Well With...


When the setting is integral to the story, drink local, especially when it's good.

“I’m not a soldier, a prophet, or a leader.  I’ve simply come to be, and I’m all there is.”

So, what will 76 British Pounds pay for?  That money won’t cover the cost of two adult seats at a single Manchester United game, but it will pay for a high-quality, television-hour long pilot run for a Manchester-based sci fi show in its entirety.  At least it will in the hands of the people behind The Sleeper Effect.

In the words of its makers, The Sleeper Effect is a concept for a Manchester-based sci fi series.  It’s been presented as a webseries format pilot episode split into three parts, which conveniently edit back into exactly one television hour (a television hour is not a clock hour; a television hour hacks off just over a quarter for commercials), with adjustments made for having to run the credits just once and including the intro/teaser as part of the episode.  What the makers don’t say is a concept for what kind of series.  Contextual evidence suggests a continuation in webseries format, but the fact that this not only edits back to television timing but also very much plays like a single coherent episode of standard television makes me wonder.

In any case, it’s a webseries now, so that’s how we proceed.

Our story is set in a very near future (and at this point, alternate universe; see the rundown for more) incarnation of Manchester, UK.  Something happened to humanity starting in mid-December of 2012 that split our species into three groups: those who remain unchanged, those whose changes have caused them to “regress” (one such character is presented as being essentially catatonic), and those who have been “altered” (which seems to be code for “having developed psychic powers”).  Sometime after 2020, this seems to have led to a near-doomsday scenario, but the major action of our story happens in 2015.  The details are sketchy – this is, after all, just the pilot – but it looks like the regressives are treated as infirm mental patients by the state (a formal ‘United States of Europe’ type affair called the EUG), and the “normals” and the “altereds” don’t exactly trust each other.  There are also hints of a Resident Evil-esque pharmaceutical corporation, and yet another player of the “secret society” variety.  Lots of introductions, lots of questions, and no answers at all that don’t lead to a dozen more questions each.

This is, in essence, exactly what a pilot episode should be.  It puts a big hint of the goods on display and makes the audience want more.  Mission accomplished.

With the exception of one sci fi nerd calendar quibble outlined below, I really couldn’t find anything that goes wrong here, but I found lots of stuff that goes right.  The acting is solid across the board.  The direction is first rate.  The writing?  Good stuff, and damned intriguing.  But most impressive of all is the amazingly high quality of the production.  You will not believe that this cost just 76 Pounds (or, at today’s exchange rate, 120-ish US).  This really does look like it came right off the BBC (or any other major network with a lot of cash, for that matter); that’s how impressive this is.  The camera’s fantastic.  The music is phenomenal.  In the entire pilot production, I caught exactly one scene where the special effects can be seen for what they are; just one, and I was deliberately looking for it.  Most network shows and even motion pictures don’t come off that well.  When I saw that a science fiction show was being put together on that kind of budget, I had my doubts, but watching it… I’m floored.

Of course, the bad news is that now people know that the makers can do this kind of work this cheaply; hopefully, someone decides to reward them more richly for any future efforts, because really, everyone involved here deserves to get paid.

Bottom line, the pilot run for The Sleeper Effect does exactly what it’s supposed to do, and if you’re into world-on-the-edge-of-doom sci fi, I encourage you to check it out and tell your friends.  If enough of us do that, maybe we’ll get to find out just what the hell’s going on in this fascinating universe these people have cooked up thanks to additional episodes.  One can hope, anyway.

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Pilot Run | Intro + Three Episodes, 12.5 – 17 minutes each

“Intro” – The makers of The Sleeper Effect are kind enough to preface their actual opener with an introductory primer that sets up the world they’ve created.  Aside from serving the additional purpose of being a teaser trailer, this really does do a good job of letting potential viewers know what it’s all about, and deserves to be taken as part of the series just as much as a prologue deserves to be taken as part of a book or introductory title cards deserve to be considered part of many regular science fiction films.  However, it also reveals the first major mistake made by the filmmakers: though The Sleeper Effect takes place in 2015, the catalyst event is in December of 2012, and mention is made of other lead-in factors starting in 2011, including a European government that does not exist in the form discussed.  So we’re already talking alternate reality here.  Sure, I get the appeal of the 2012 thing, but too-near futurecasting (which will already be in the past before anything can be picked up, at this point) can only work against this particular production, especially since it’s just at the pilot stage.  I know that this won’t bother many people, but as someone who’s watched a lot of sci fi, this jumps out at me right away in a frustrating manner.  I don’t think that a calendar adjustment would have been asking too much.  With that said, intriguing premise.  I’ll watch.

“Pilot Part I” – A boy in white runs through the countryside.  He moves as though pursued, though we see no one following him: just a series of stylized eyes drawn in chalk everywhere he turns.  Eventually, he finds a ruined stone hovel, itself decorated with chalk eyes, and within, he finds a journal.  He begins to read an entry dated from the year 2020, and then the credits roll, after which we find the bustling city of Manchester, UK, with a date that now reads 2015.  Looks like we’ll be watching the show as a flashback, then.  And we’ve flashed back to… another chase.  Two men and one woman with earpieces are on the hunt for someone, with the help of someone else remote from them whose voice is distorted… is this other individual human or machine?  And are the runners (one of whom appears to have some telekinetic ability) really after a man, or after a package that he seems to be looking to pick up in an abandoned building?  There are few answers here, but lots of questions, and amazing production values.  Yes; I’m very, very interested.

“Pilot Part II” – The runners return to an office to deal with the aftermath of their chase, and we find that the woman on the other end of the earpieces is quite human.  The vibe is official… with plenty of barely contained tension and weariness to go around.  And then suddenly, we’re back to the boy in the time after 2020, reading the journal out in the countryside and munching on what looks to be canned tuna, followed by what the savvy viewer has figured out enough by now to view as a psychic attack that sends the boy running again.  He makes his way into a cave, only to have his mouth covered by an unseen person’s hand.  What’s going on?  Guess that’s for later, because we’re back to 2015, and thickening plots.  Is that a familiar notebook being written in?  Is that a whiff of an Umbrella type corporation I smell?  And didn’t this other dude get smashed by a car not too long ago?  And that “Type I” and “Type II” business talked about in the Intro gets more fleshing…  Still very interested.

“Pilot Part III” – Since this is technically the end of a run, this is where I go spoiler free, but I will say that if you’re looking for answers, you’ll find very few, and those you do find just lead to many, many more questions.  Here, though, that’s a sign of ultimate success.  If the purpose of a pilot is to get an audience interested and wanting to see more, then The Sleeper Effect succeeds brilliantly.  After what amounts to a television hour, I still don’t know what the hell is really going on, but I know I want to find out.

This is where I hope that the unanswered “for what” ends up being “the web” (based on all of the evidence, I’m guessing it will), simply because I’m not in the UK, and if this pilot – which, as noted, conveniently comes in at the length of a television hour – is a TV pitch, I won’t get to see it for a long time if it gets picked up.  And I want to see where this goes.

- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, June, 2012

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