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Aidan Belizaire, Andrew Phillips, & Chris Aylward - Photo by Zak Chowdhury, www.screenbreakphotography.com
Tonight's Feature Presentation


an interview with aidan belizaire, andrew phillips, and chris aylward

The Green Room

So, what can you buy with 76 British Pounds?  You can get a single seat for Man U and a beer or two, or you can get three and a third kilos of good cheese, or you can produce an outstanding forty-five minute pilot for a science fiction series.  Aidan Belizaire, Andrew Phillips, and Chris Aylward decided to go with that last option, and the result became The Sleeper Effect.  Here they discuss the surprising genesis of their pilot project, the long road from start to finish, and the possibilities of where things might be headed next.

*Note: Responses marked as being from “TSE” represent collective answers by the entire group, while individual responses are indicated by first names.

The Interview

watch the show at


Ziggy:  How would you describe the premise of The Sleeper Effect?

TSE:  The Sleeper Effect is a Manchester based sci/drama pilot on the web.  During the crippling energy crisis, humanity has been split into three sects.  Amidst the segregation, four gifted individuals become involved in events that will alter their lives indefinitely.  The pilot episode is split into 3 parts, and was shot with a talented cast and crew on an extraordinary low budget.

Ziggy:  What was its genesis for you?

TSE:  It actually started out as a comedy about people with terrible or pointless abilities.  However, as we started developing the universe in which the show is set, we realised we'd created a rough show bible, around 16 pages long.  It was at this point the genre changed and we began developing the drama, characterization, and narrative further into the pilot and teasers that exist today.

Ziggy: You seem quite proud (and deservedly so) of being able to accomplish what you have on a budget of 76 Pounds.  It seems a safe assumption that on that kind of cash, everyone worked for free and the most of if not all of the equipment used was owned by someone who didn’t charge for their use.  So what did you spend the money on?

TSE:  We spent it on select items of costume, some broken bluetooth headsets (that the team wear), cereal bars for cast & crew, and biodegradable hair spray that was used for writing the symbols on trees and walls.  Everything else (equipment, locations, actors, crew and post-production) was achieved with no money at all.  All of the people involved used their own equipment – we purposely worked with those who would be able to contribute in this way.

Ziggy:  Considering that you’ve got a science fiction story with a very definite effects requirement, did you ever doubt that you’d be able to produce such high quality work while remaining on so tight of a budgetary string?

TSE:  Yes, at first, as we didn’t have a team in place.  However, the script originally didn’t require as many special effects.  It was only after we met Adam Thomas (our visual effects supervisor) and saw what he could do that we began to think about other things we could incorporate.  As the shots came in (from people working all over the place), they quickly surpassed our expectations.

Ziggy:  Are you afraid that having very clearly advertised and demonstrated that you could deliver the quality that you have on such a low budget, you might now run the risk of being shortchanged in the future by people who continue to expect you to work for pence and thanks?  Or do you think (or have you found) that people will/do recognize your efforts as an initial effort that cannot be repeated without more substantial backing in future?

TSE:  The Sleeper Effect is a demonstration of the talent and dedication of the whole team.  However, any TV or web based production studio is well aware of the cost of producing a show like this under normal circumstances.  If TSE was funded, there would be the possibility that the budget could be lower than usual, but would still be plausible in the eyes of the industry.  The show took a long time to make – around two years, but probably only around six months in actual working time; we spent a lot of it waiting for people to become available and for things to be delivered back to us.

Ziggy:  What made you decide to go with the webseries format to present your pilot episode to the world?  Why chop it into three bits when it is very clearly a single coherent piece?

TSE:  As we were self distributing, the webseries format was the easiest way for it to be viewed and promoted.  Research shows that people online don’t to watch things for a long period of time: 3-10 minutes is the norm.  Splitting it into three parts makes it more flexible for the viewer and gives them a choice of whether to view it as a whole or in distinct chunks.  We designed the show to be a serial – in fact the original version of the script would have been split into five parts.

Ziggy:  Those three bits plus the intro piece just happen to come in at a runtime equivalent to a television hour.  Is that deliberate, or just a coincidence?  Is it your intent for this concept to remain an internet-based production, or is there thought to having this be a springboard to television?

TSE:  We did it on purpose in order to show that it was a viable pilot episode.  However, the format of the show [in future] would depend on what happens.

Ziggy:  Based on the initial response you’ve gotten to your pilot for The Sleeper Effect, how does the future look? 

TSE:  The response has been very positive so far. However, the original pilot was intended to be self-contained to showcase Manchester (UK) talent.  If we did get funding, the show would be started again from scratch, and would build on what we’ve already learnt through making the original pilot.

Ziggy:  You’ve been at this for years already.  Are all of your original cast and crew still on board to keep going?

TSE:  Like we’ve explained above, that would depend on the format and status of the project.  There is also the factor of external creative input being involved – this would depend on who showed interest in the show.

Ziggy:  When you started at this, 2012 and even 2011 were still dates in the future.  Now that you’ve finally released your pilot, the story you present already has unreal events occurring on dates that are in the audience’s past, putting The Sleeper Effect firmly in “alternative reality” territory.  Is that a place you’re comfortable being with this story, or might there be some calendar adjustments?

TSE:  A lot of real world events have happened in the show or are extrapolations of what could happen.  An alternate universe isn’t a preference, but there are already successful shows in the marketplace that use this element.  However, if the show was re-made, calendar adjustments may be made.

Ziggy: There’s more to The Sleeper Effect than the video.  Your site makes reference to a comic, and I can see a snippet of that on your Facebook page.  Does the comic contain a different aspect of the story than we’ll see on video, or is it just a different take on the same?  Is there more where that came from, and if so, where/when can people at large go to see it?

TSE: The comic relates to different aspects. There will be two short comics coming out soon (which will be obtained via ‘pay with a tweet’ or ‘status update’).  The first one deals with the history and universe of the show in a bit more depth, and the second acts as a prologue to one of the main characters.

Ziggy:  What has been your greatest challenge thus far with this project?

TSE: The main challenge was organisation.  As nobody was being paid, we could only shoot when people had free time.  An example is the Type One Correspondence office in part two; with five actors and various crew, we shot half of that scene, but had to wait three months for the next available day when everyone was next free.  This was the same for crew also.  On numerous occasions, we halted post production while people completed paid projects, as rather than keep distributing work, I wanted to use specific people I believe are excellent, and thus, we were willing to delay.

Ziggy:  What has been the most rewarding part of it all?

TSE:  The achievement was that we finished what we set out to do.  So many projects get talked about or worked on, but are rarely completed.  We didn’t want that to happen, and although it took longer than originally thought, we saw it through.

Ziggy:  What’s surprised you the most?  What didn’t you expect?

TSE:  The visual effects for the opening shot surprised us, and it turned out a lot better than we thought it would do – it was one of the first VFX shots to be completed and raised the bar for all the others.

There’s also Colin Rice, who started out as a fan/extra in the background of one scene, but he was so good we adapted the script to incorporate him more.

We were also surprised by the size of the crew we could get away with – most scenes only required us to have 2-3 crew members with the actors (that included ourselves).  Some shots would only feature Aidan on direction & camera, and Andy on sound – however, this helped to speed up the process greatly.

Ziggy:  As a member of the audience, what is your favourite part of The Sleeper Effect thus far?

Aidan:  All of the future scenes with the boy, as they are so intriguing and visually epic in scope.

Andy:  The Club scene with Monos – it was added as a last-minute sequence and turned out so well.  The performances of Max, Colin, and Drew are very strong, and it’s something I’d like to build upon if we do any more.

Chris:  I’m just impressed with the overall quality of the actors – considering the circumstances of the production, they were all very committed and delivered some outstanding performances.

Ziggy:  Looking at the Indie world around you, what else are you watching on the web?

Aidan:  I watch quite a few independent web series from the USA and UK; however, I do really enjoy The Guild with Felicia Day.

Andy:  I don’t really watch any web series, to be honest.  Most of our inspiration came from mainstream film and TV – it was these shows that we tried to match rather than shows on the web.  I don’t really think that TSE is really a web series in the traditional sense, but uses the web as a promotional vehicle.

Chris: I’m the same as Andy – if it is on the web, it tends to be documentaries and information based shows.  I tend to use the net for mainly research purposes.

Ziggy:  What kind of cheese and recreational beverage do you pair best with?

Aidan:  Emmental and Dark Rum & Coke – to be honest, it can be any cheese as long as it’s melted!

Andy:  Stilton and a Mango Smoothie.

Chris:  Buffalo Mozzarella and Lucozade.

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- Interview conducted by Ziggy Berkeley, August, 2012

You can email Ziggy at ziggy@cinemaontherocks.com. You can also find us on Facebook.


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