With Amazon’s adaptation of Stephan Zlotescu’s True Skin still in the works, the Bangkok-based writer/director and visual effects artist has kept busy. With production partner, Scott Glassgold, and others, Zlotescu is working on a new set of short-form science fiction shows for the free, international, mobile-oriented streaming service, Blackpills. These aren’t your run of the mill web series, though; cyberpunk edginess and adult themes will predominate once the shows air in early 2018.
“Blackpills has been incredible,” says Glassgold, founder of Ground Control which manages and co-produces the five genre series along with Zlotescu’s Punk City and H1 of H1Films. “There really haven’t been any boundaries or perimeters… we’ve really felt like they’ve given us this wonderful opportunity to create in an uninhibited way where the sky’s the limit.”
Zlotescu agrees that the streaming service has allowed for more creative freedom than the traditional broadcast route, using as an example one of his Blackpills offerings called Product Wars. “If you took it down the studio route, it would be much more family-friendly, kid-friendly, and now it’s more adult… it’s more violent; it’s more brutal; and it’s an animated project. So we’re trying to explore new territory that you really can’t go down if you went with the studios.”
Product Wars, in fact, taps into the extremes of consumer culture. “Throughout the decades, we’ve created mascots to sell our brands, right? And I thought, well wouldn’t it be interesting if we could genetically engineer these actual mascots?” Zlotescu poses as the premise for the show. “I think they would sell like hotcakes, and people would love to have a real Tony the Tiger selling their cereal brand… people even start buying them as pets… people want their custom-made characters… [The mascots] would get sick of how they’re treated, and the story follows them planning a revolt.”
Zlotescu’s other contribution to the Blackpills lineup is Tokyo Red, written by Phil Gellat, which follows one man’s journey to find his family through a highly irradiated, post-fallout Tokyo. “Tokyo, as you know, did have that Fukushima incident in 2011,” Zlotescu reminds us. “And my idea is what if people had to adapt to this? Because I don’t see the Japanese abandoning Tokyo; they would just continue their life there. So imagine young kids having to walk around on the street with trendy hazmat suits and robots cleaning up hotspots around town which are radioactive, and having these augmented reality glasses that show you which paths are safe.”
Glassgold adds that the man’s search for his family will have the cyberpunk feel that Zlotescu has become known for, but with a twist. “It’s like that world that Stephan just painted with a hard-boiled, pulp narrative to it, so it’s sort of a mash-up of genres in a really fun way.”
The short-form series lineup on Blackpills will also include Future Sex, an anthology series by Hank Woon that takes a sometimes satirical and sometimes light-hearted view of sex in the technology age; Same Rights by Gary Hall, which follows the trial of an AI accused of murder; and Tomas Vergara’s Isolated, based on the hit short film of the same name shown below, which Glassgold told us more about.
“Isolated is based on a wonderful short film by writer/director Tomas Vergara,” says Glassgold, referring to the story of a man waking up in the middle of what appears to be a zombie apocalypse, having to solve a puzzle that threatens not only his own life, but the world itself. “It’s just a nail-biter, and it’ll be a mystery that unravels in real-time. But for a tease of that one, definitely watch the short. It’s where everything will kick off for the series.”
Zlotescu admires the technical aspect of Vergara’s vision as well. “That’s a pretty ambitious project because it’s completely full-CGI, so we’re bringing a team here in Bangkok to do it, and it’s pretty crazy. But it should come out really nice,” he predicts.
Bangkok has provided a decidedly cyberpunk backdrop to Zlotescu’s work, with or without visual effects. “When I first got here in 2010, I thought I was in the movie, Blade Runner,” says Zlotescu. “The skyline has changed significantly within the last ten years, so it feels even more crazy than Hong Kong. It’s a futuristic Asian city, so it was very inspirational for me when I got here… This is a fertile ground for sci-fi, especially cyberpunk in general, as a location.”
Zlotescu often uses real footage gathered in the city streets and adds his neon palette of colors and cybernetic enhancements to create a more realistic future look. “I’m not a big fan of shooting on green screen,” he explains. “It just feels very fake and sterile, and the actors don’t even really perform well in those kind of environments. I love Neill Blomkamp’s work because he does the same thing: he shoots in real environments and then just enhances them with CGI.”
Zlotescu’s Punk City and H1Films, with cinematographer H1 at the helm, will handle the Bangkok end of production for the five series coming to Blackpills, and Glassgold’s Ground Control will manage Los Angeles production, with Bangkok-based companies Opticflavor and Flying Monkey Pictures providing the visual effects. The set of projects will shoot back-to-back and will be released in early 2018. Zlotescu’s True Skin is currently in development for Amazon Studios with Guardians of the Galaxy writer, Nicole Perlman attached.
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