Incredible Journey: Ryan Copple Discusses Creating the World of “Riese the Series”

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Riese the Series won’t be premiering until November but it’s not too early to start submersing yourself in the world of Eleysia. Riese the Series is a perfect example of transmedia storytelling — the use of multiple mediums to tell a story and involve the consumer as a participant rather then just an observer in its unfolding. There’s a growing community on the Official Forum, where members are discussing clues and puzzles hidden within the pages of the new ARG (alternate reality game) that launched a few days ago on the propaganda-laden website The Sect is Here. (The Sect is the terrifying religious cult that is taking over Eleysia). What is an ARG? Well, according to CNET, an ARG is:

an obsession-inspiring genre that blends real-life treasure hunting, interactive storytelling, video games and online community and may, incidentally, be one of the most powerful guerrilla marketing mechanisms ever invented.

These games are intensely complicated series of puzzles involving coded Web sites, real-world clues like the newspaper advertisements, phone calls in the middle of the night from game characters and more. That blend of real-world activities and a dramatic storyline has proven irresistible to many.

The internet isn’t the only place Riese is reaching out, though. In our own universe, goggle-clad teammates were handing out postcards at Comic-Con in San Diego this year and there’s going to be an Anti-Sect Mob Protest in downtown Vancouver, BC, tomorrow at 2:00 p.m., if you can make it. While there is more information becoming available daily, much of Riese is still shrouded in mystery. To help shed some light on things, we asked series co-creator Ryan Copple a few questions about Riese.

ÜberSciFiGeek (ÜSFG) What inspired you to write Riese?

Ryan Copple (RC) There were a few ideas that really inspired Riese. For one, I love telling stories with dynamic and strong female characters. Plus, I find journey stories incredibly epic, so being able to have this tough, yet vulnerable, character traverse a dying land seemed like a great jumping off point. Mythology, fables and folklore heavily inspired the piece as well. We wanted to create a world where these sorts of stories would still exist and affect people, but also keep it close enough to the structure of our own world to make it resonate with modern audiences.

(ÜSFG) Tell us a little about your characters.

(RC) I love of all of our characters. Riese is very mysterious and almost aloof, but holds firm to her own convictions so strongly. She’s not a superhero though — she does what she can, on her own, and that’s enough for her. Although Fenrir is a wolf, he has such an intense personality. Ever the faithful guardian, its doubtful Riese would’ve survived this long without Fenrir’s protection. It definitely plays into the “pack” mentality.

Even Amara, who allowed her own family to be murdered in exchange for power, is still somewhat sympathetic. She’d lived in the shadows of her family for so long that when the opportunity presented itself for her to really shine, she took it. While it’s not something to be admired, it is a notion that I believe we all struggle with at some point. It’s clear it’s a decision that haunts her, but she can’t back down or show weakness. Additionally, this character intrigues because she is so driven and strategically brilliant on the one hand, but so politically vulnerable on the other.

Herrick and Trennan, our Sect members, are also pretty compelling. While at first people will view Herrick as the “one-dimensional villain” of the show, his depth really becomes apparent in the horrid actions he takes. He’s a man who has completely lost his humanity. Discovering the history that caused this, I think, will prove very interesting to viewers. Trennan, as opposed to Herrick, is almost the only character that retains any shred of humanity. He has a conscience and thinks about the consequences of the actions everyone is taking. I like to think of Trennan as being “us”, how we would act as people if we were in this world watching the events unfold.

(ÜSFG) Why did you choose steampunk, something traditionally reserved for graphic novels and anime, as your medium?

(RC) I wouldn’t say steampunk is our only medium — we’re very careful to say that we’re inspired by steampunk, not strict adherents. We love the genre, especially the anachronisms. It’s such a cool feeling to enter a world where electricity might exist, but not gas-powered vehicles. Placing this in a setting where monarchies and religions still rule the people also creates a further surreal feel to the setting. The fashions from steampunk, as well as the clockwork parts, are also amazing, so we definitely wanted to find ways to incorporate them into our story.

That being said, we still wanted to tell our own story with our own look. While we borrow heavily from the steampunk aesthetic, this does not take place in a Victorian-era future, but more of a Medieval-World War setting, which is not typical of steampunk. There are rudimentary steam-powered engines, and technology is sparse, but the technology itself is not the key focus of the show. I like to think we’ve taken the genre and done our own spin on it, not recreated it verbatim.

(ÜSFG) Steampunk traditionally features fantastical settings, clothes and technology. Are you relying heavily on CGI like condition: human and Sanctuary did or on more traditional sets and locations as seen in shows like Lumina and The Ennead?

(RC) It was very important to us that Riese was a very textured, gritty world. In our opinion, this wouldn’t be achievable with excessive visual effects. Instead, we opted to shoot in locations that really felt like they’d be part of this world — a decrepit, run down warehouse, for example. We had two green screen shots for matte paintings, but otherwise we wanted to keep this world as real as possible.

(ÜSFG) Why did you choose to produce Riese for the web instead of as a traditional film or television series?

(RC) Initially we thought of shooting Riese as a pilot, but realized if it didn’t fit into a network’s schedule, it would end up on a shelf somewhere and not be seen by anyone. So, the obvious conclusion was to broadcast it ourselves. Other shows (Sanctuary, The Guild) have had considerable success, so it wasn’t even a bad alternative. Plus it means we can really be connected with our fan base, show them we’re listening and want them involved, and really try to build a community around the show and its immersive story world rather than it just airing on a television station. The market for this form of entertainment is still relatively new, so while the future remains unclear, I believe we have a lot of innovative ideas that’ll really make it stand out — and this is something we could only do online.

(ÜSFG) Once you decided to make Riese, how long did it take to put it all together and get production rolling?

(RC) We actually spent over a year developing the concept and fleshing out the characters before we really began production. Preparing for the actual filming only took about two months, as we had enough experienced people on board to ensure we did everything as efficiently as possible. The saying you’re only as good as the people who surround you definitely proved true here.

(ÜSFG) What kind of budget do you have for Riese, and did you rely on traditional financing or is it primarily self-funded?

(RC) We have a budget that’s much larger than most traditional web series, largely due to the cast as well as the lengths we went to with production and costume design. It’s privately financed, and we’re blessed to have financial backers who really believe in us.

(ÜSFG) Your primary antagonist is a religious cult, The Sect. Is it just a “Big Brother” type of plot device or is there an underlying message you want to convey?

(RC) The Sect is a “Big Brother” persona, but it also has other indications. It is most definitely not a knock on any specific religion. With the imagined era we’re setting the world in, it seemed an appropriate organization to serve as the villains. The Sect is meant to show the dangers of blindly clinging to archaic belief systems and the problems of fanaticism.

Riese

Riese

(ÜSFG) I’ve been looking at your production stills and loving the wardrobe! I was curious how you’d pull off the steampunk feel but from what I’ve seen, you’ve nailed it. I do get the impression the clothing chosen for each character has more behind it than just looking cool or being functional, though. For example, Riese’s hooded cloak is lined in red, the only contrasting color other than her skin that you find in her outfit, and her companion is a wolf. This makes me think of a Stephen Sondheim style Little Red Riding Hood, the inexperienced girl going off into the dangerous world facing predators that threatened her mind and spirit as much as her life. The mechanical gears and mask worn by Herrick makes me think of the figurative political machine that moves behind the scenes, manipulating governments. Is it just my imagination or are aspects of the character’s clothing intentionally representative of ideas or themes you want the audience to subconsciously pick up on?

(RC) I’m glad you noticed the attention to detail that our outrageously talented costume designer, Megan Leson, brought to each piece. I wouldn’t be exaggerating to say that we meticulously inspected each outfit to ensure it fit into this world. The costumes themselves are certainly archetypical to each character. Riese, the wanderer, travels with a wolf, in hiding, so a cloak with slashes of red turned out as a beautiful way to demonstrate that fairy tale connection, perhaps not so subtly. Each character also has a thematic palette that mirrors both their persona and their place in this imagined world. For example, Riese’s costumes are very much a dark, rugged leather, very earthy in nature. She’s the embodiment of a rogue that has strayed away from civilization. Amara, on the other hand, is a regal purple and platinum. Man-made and cold, she is the antithesis of Riese in every sense of the word.

The costumes of our Sect Members were also heavily inspired by both the steampunk genre and militaristic uniforms. You did well to pick up on the idea that the gears have deeper significance than just “looking cool”. Sect Members, as you’ll see in the show, are almost of a hive-mind, and so we really wanted to ensure this uniformity was apparent in their wardrobe — at the same time, we also wanted to make each look unique. Therefore, rather than insist they all wear the same clothing, we opted to connect them via their relics, or the clockwork. The idea is that the more relics one has affixed to themselves, the more indoctrinated into the Sect’s beliefs they are — a concept often seen in our own culture.

We embraced the idea of clockwork as being associated with The Sect for a number of reasons in their costumes. For one, we liked how much they stood apart from any aspect of the show, truly making the Sect a unique, and obviously strange, organization. In addition, as you stated, they have a deeper significance than simply being small pieces of brass — they represent something grander and more manipulative, working behind the scenes, not ever clear how exactly it functions. Finally, in this medieval, primitive world, the Sect’s technology is extremely advanced, which just illustrates how the people of these lands would fear them and be willing to give up their territory and people so easily.

(ÜSFG) You’ve wrapped on the first part of the series. How many webisodes will come from the first round of shooting and when will they start rolling out?

(RC) We shot five episodes and they will begin airing November 2nd. Pre-production has begun on the next six episodes, and will shoot in December.

(ÜSFG) Will Riese be an ongoing series with new adventures unfolding for as long as there is an interest and a following or do you have a story (or chapters) to tell that will come to a conclusion within a predetermined number of webisodes?

(RC) I’d say both — we definitely have a long term plan for Riese and its characters, but as I said before, we also have our ear to the ground every step of the way. So while there is a path Riese will follow on her journey, it’s also somewhat fluid to accommodate input from our viewers.

(ÜSFG) The cast and crew all seem so excited in the behind-the-scenes videos, and Chad Krowchuk commented on the symbiotic work relationship on the set. What was the feel on set during the production and how did it carry over into what you’re seeing on screen?

(RC) There was a huge sense of camaraderie, largely because people knew we were trying something that hadn’t been done before. Moreover, it was an opportunity for our crew to collaborate creatively, making Riese an even richer final product. Everyone was thrilled to be there, and we’re ecstatic to have the chance to work with them all again in December.

(ÜSFG) When can we expect to see an extended teaser trailer?

(RC) The full trailer is scheduled to be released early October.

Can’t get enough of Riese? Be sure to keep checking out these links for more treats and teasers before the series launches this fall:

Official Riese Website
“The Sect is Here” Website
Riese on YouTube
Riese on Twitter
Riese on Facebook

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  1. JT’s avatar

    Looks great! Always been a fan of steampunk and it’s looking like it’ll translate well to the screen. 😀

  2. Raven Kai’s avatar

    JT, it does look great, doesn’t it? It’s always awesome to see how people’s inner vision plays out on screen. The videos on The Sect Is Here website remind me a bit of the brother’s trying to contact Atrus in MYST. I love the look and feel of this other world.

    BTW, looking forward to LUMINA tonight! 🙂

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