Foundation Grad Goes Steampunk in ‘Riese’

Ryan Copple on Set Foundation Visual Art & Design grad Ryan Copple has lately been devoting a lot of time to Riese - a web series he co-created and is currently Executive Producing, drawing on the writing talents of two Writing for Film & Television grads as well: Miguel Valdez Lopez and Alyssa Ciccarelli.

Ryan and the rest of the Riese team have jumped into the social media world with both feet on this project: there’s a Riese website, a viral campaign site, a Facebook profile, and a Twitter feed. It’s a brave new world of online entertainment.

We had a chance to ask Ryan about the series and his efforts to better establish an innovative route to get ahead in an ever-changing industry. Here’s what he said:

Hi, Ryan. Could you start out by telling us a bit about your educational journey? What eventually drew you to the Foundation Visual Art & Design program?

Ryan: My graduate education began in New York, where I’d been pursuing a doctorate in Forensic Psychology. After a few years, I realized that what really interested me wasn’t so much the psychology but the creative aspects involved with it – such as designing studies which, in a sense, is like constructing a story. It was a hard choice, but I eventually decided to discontinue my studies to invest my time into work that really focused on using my imagination.

Vancouver Film School first came as an obvious choice because of its respected reputation in providing a solid education in film and television. The Foundation Visual Art & Design program especially stood out to me because, although I’d been in the educational system for such a long time, I hadn’t honed my artistic side much, and its well-rounded curriculum seemed like a great place to start. So I made the big move to Vancouver and have loved it ever since.

What is Riese?

Ryan: Riese is a combination of the science fiction/fantasy genre and a journey into the human condition. The story takes place in another world, similar yet different from our own. The majority of the action is centered in a nation called “Eleysia,” and follows the journey of “Riese” – a seemingly random wanderer – and her wolf Fenrir, as they flee from a religious cult that is hunting her.

Throughout the story, the characters – including Riese – are forced into situations where there is no clear right or wrong. The ambiguity of the situation will in some way mirror events and histories from our own world. As the tale unfolds, Riese will realize that she alone can tip the scale of her world, which is spiraling towards catastrophe.

How would you describe “steampunk”, and how is it represented in Riese?

Riese's Steampunk StyleRyan: Aesthetically, Riese is very inspired by steampunk. Steampunk itself is a style that has origins in H.G. Wells novels and has become more popular in recent years. It is a future envisioned by people from the Victorian-era, where technology is still largely steam-powered, though in reality the applications of the steampunk aesthetic are quite fluid.

In Riese, we really wanted to play with the idea of an anachronistic world. The look, in the end, is almost a Medieval meets World War II-era. Kingdoms and religions are the ruling powers, while only primitive technologies have been developed, such as electricity and water works. The world lacks other inventions and resources: oil was never discovered, so there are no automobiles – but steam-powered airships exist.

One very prominent feature in steampunk is the clockwork element, and we’ve definitely embraced it. At the same time, however, we’ve introduced our own spin on it. We wanted to pay homage to the genre, but not copy it verbatim. To discover what that spin is, you’ll have to watch the show.

The Foundation program focuses a lot on “discovery”. How have the creative processes you learned here at VFS helped you in creating this project?

Ryan: The opportunities Vancouver Film School offers for discovery is amazing. Foundation in particular was a great experience because I was able to spend an entire year developing skills in a variety of different subjects: photography, editing, illustrating, animating, and writing, all of which I had little-to-no experience in. Additionally, people who are working professionals in their field taught all the courses.

Experiencing all of these different mediums not only gives you a global view of the kinds of jobs available in these fields, it also grants you the basic skills necessary to actually work in them. This has helped especially when working on smaller projects, because it prepared me enough to assist in a variety of departments, which is essential in an independent production.

Riese and her wolf, FenrirDescribe your team’s production process. How is making a web series different from what you know about producing a more traditional television series?

Ryan: We were fortunate to have a production process very similar to television, largely due to the fact that our budget was big enough to fill most of the positions network shows have. Once the scripts were locked, we’d have meetings with all our department heads to discuss the directions we wanted them to go with their designs, and then spend the rest of our efforts on casting, scouting locations, and ensuring everyone was on the right track leading up to production.

The greatest benefit of producing a web series ourselves is that we’re our own bosses. I would definitely say that it is the key difference. With television, there are always network executives who have to be included in all sorts of creative discussions, and they might not have the same eye that we, the creators, do. In the end, as one of the creators, I have to approve every detail, down to which babies to cast as extras. Foundation really helped to prepare me for this role, because I’m forced to have an opinion on everything. The well-rounded assortment of courses helped me to gain a critical eye for all areas of work, not only the ones I am completely familiar with.

What’s the ideal state for Riese? Do you hope it will crossover to traditional television – like Sanctuary was able to do – or will this always be a web-only project?

Riese - On SetRyan: As I said, there are definitely benefits to staying on the web. Without being beholden to anyone but our fans, we’re allowed to do whatever we like with the story, so long as our viewers are happy. The main reason we would move to television would be if the web series was not sustaining itself.

The real question will be how new media and web content thrives over the next year. We’ve already begun to see major networks putting out web-only productions with reasonable success. As we move forward with Riese, I think the answer will lie in how web series, in general, are performing online. I personally believe the forecast looks sunny.

A lot of producers are nervous about producing content for the web since there’s no one clear way to make money doing it. Do you agree? What’s your plan for Riese?

Ryan: I agree that the formula hasn’t been unveiled yet, but I believe it’s out there. We have a variety of options for capital that we’re pursuing. Merchandising has been a big push, and we’ve had a positive response from the items we’ve created so far. Advertising will be a small piece, though historically most web series cannot maintain themselves on ad revenue alone.

We are pursuing some unique avenues in developing an immersive experience for our viewers. An iPhone game is in development, which could lead to discussions of console games, though it’s too early to say anything definitively. Also, we’ve been in talks with distributors about selling our episodes to a variety of online retailers, such as Apple, which would be a huge boon for us.

While there is no clear, designated route, I definitely think we’re paving a path that could lead to success.

Thanks for your time, Ryan. Congrats and best of luck!

Click here to learn more about the series, its cast, and to watch behind the scenes videos.

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