The Black Aether

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The Black Aether

The Miskatonic Files – Stuart Wahlin & Channel Fluxx interview

How old were you when you came across Lovecraft’s work? How did it happen?

Stuart Wahlin director: I was in college (about 20 years old) when I first came to know of Lovecraft’s works. I was part of an RPG group that started with Dungeons And Dragons, and eventually wandered into Call of Cthulhu. Immediately struck by the atmospheric horror, hopelessness and madness, cosmic indifference and insignificance, I began delving into Lovecraft’s stories.

Do you have a favourite piece from him?

SW: It’s difficult to choose a favorite, because I have many, but in terms of relevance to The Miskatonic Files, At the Mountains of Madness is a clear frontrunner.

How did you come up with the idea of The Miskatonic Files? Were you inspired by mockumentaries and documentaries or did inspiration come from elsewhere?

SW: The Miskatonic Files began after I wrote and directed a short in 2014 for The ABCs of Death 2 contest, where competitors were tasked with making a film based on “M is for…” as the title.  The M-word I chose was Mictlantecuhtli, an Aztec god, and the film focused on a pair of university professors, one of whom was relatively naive, and another who was quite aware of the disturbing realities behind world folklore. In the end, I was unable to bring myself to edit anything out of the final cut, which exceeded the contest’s running-time limit, so I never actually submitted it to the competition. However, one of the actors (North Roberts) and I discussed the possibility of turning it into a series, asking, “What if these guys are professors at Miskatonic University?”

What was first: your wish to make a Lovecraftian film or your wish to shoot a film in the documentary vein?

SW: I’m a former journalist, so the documentary style comes naturally to me. However, I always wanted this series to be narrative. I wrote what I envisioned to be the first season, which, in total, turned out to be feature-length, in terms of page count. When I was approached by Channel Fluxx to produce a pilot, they wanted something no longer than eight minutes. Because all of my episodes were written to be longer than that, I opted to write a brand-new introduction to the series, rather than trying to condense too much into the first episode. Ultimately, I decided on documentary-style as the best way to introduce viewers to the characters and conflicts that will arise.

What genre would you say The Miskatonic Files belonged to? In the say it is a parody or is it rather an ironic mockumentary?

SW: I don’t know why Channel Fluxx has listed the pilot under the “Comedy” category on YouTube. I suspect it’s simply because comedy tends to have been their bread-and-butter in the past, and it was just sort-of a default category for them. But maybe the joke’s on me, and I’m just a terrible filmmaker. What I’m striving for with the series is cosmic horror based in the Cthulhu Mythos, albeit with a modern setting.

You have launched a crowdfunding campaign where you also offered commercial spots for The Miskatonic Files. Did you receive any ideas for this? How did backers react to the hiatus lasting for years; didn’t they abandon the project?

SW: This project started three years ago, and I ultimately abandoned it for what I perceived to be a lack of interest and/or support from people in a position to help get the word out. As a result, the crowdfunding efforts were not very successful. When I finally decided to cancel the project earlier this year, I offered refunds to those who had contributed. If Channel Fluxx had not responded so enthusiastically to my pitch after that, the pilot episode would never had been made, so I’m very thankful for the opportunity. I’ve since connected with a number of people who’d supported us early on, and they’re thrilled that it’s finally come to fruition.

A pilot episode with a great atmosphere has already been published, when will be able to see the next one? What can viewers expect?

SW: Thank you for your kindness about the atmosphere. Although the rest of the series will not be documentary-style, viewers will get more of the same Lovecraftian flavor. In order to see more episodes, however, the pilot will need to receive a significant number of plays, likes, subscriptions and comments in order to be considered for Channel Fluxx to “green-light” it as a series.

That said, here’s a taste of where things are headed after the pilot episode:

I simply couldn’t resist the thought of Miskatonic University returning to Antarctica after more than 85 years, and what its team might discover there in an age when warming and melting is affecting that continent. I really believe the modern setting for the series opens up a lot of interesting factors for the Mythos, including climate change, terrorism, politics, the space age, and even something as simple as television.

“The Bloop” is also a major factor in the storyline. For those not familiar with it, The Bloop was an enigmatic, and extremely loud, undersea sound recorded in 1997. It was initially stated to be biological in origin. And it just so happens that scientists triangulated the mysterious noise to where Lovecraft described R’lyeh to be located! I couldn’t resist having the sound make a return after Cthulhu cultists, one of whom is a descendent of Randolph Carter, steal a copy of the Necronomicon.

The series also includes a descendent of Herbert West. It’s been a lot of fun working some of these family names and character-types, like Danforth, into the story. There’s even an appearance by The Mad Arab.

There are also episodes that will initially seem like standalones to viewers, but I assure you that each one is ultimately important to the overall plot. I really tried to work in all the elements that one might expect from a Lovecraftian tale, which is what I’d want to see as a viewer.

There are many films with the “Lovecraftian” label, there is quite a varied offer in this subject and there are better and worse, more and less believable creations. How will yours stand out from among the other films inspired by Lovecraft? What is your opinion about the growing number of works labelling themselves as Lovecraftian? Do you think there are any outstanding ones?

SW: That’s an excellent point. Although our series is quite faithful to Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos, I’m personally partial to the first season of HBO’s True Detective. Magnificent. It was never advertised as Lovecraftian, or “Chambersian.” It just was.

The problem, as I see it, is that weird-fiction writers often try to mimic Lovecraft’s antiquated writing style, rather than finding their own authentic voice. Stephen King, for instance, is obviously a fan of Lovecraft, but not in such an overt manner that it is a distraction. With regard to film specifically, though, there are too many that simply equate tentacles to being Lovecraftian.

As for honorable mentions, my personal favorites would be The Thing, the Alien franchise, Event Horizon, and In the Mouth of Madness. Netflix just released The Mist as a series, and I look forward to checking that out. And, of course, everyone’s talking about Stranger Things season 2 appearing quite Lovecraftian.

I just hope that Guillermo Del Toro will finally make At the Mountains of Madness one day.

Would you like to submit The Miskatonic Files to film festivals such as the H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival?

SW: That would be wonderful. But to be honest, after our crowdfunding failure, I tried entering the script for the first season, in feature form, to that particular festival’s screenplay competition, but we were not accepted. On the other hand, I don’t recall any screenplay awards being announced afterward, so maybe they cancelled that part of the festival, though I never received a refund.

Honestly, I do not feel inclined to submit the pilot or series there again, unless specifically invited and offered a fee waiver. I guess being rejected by a festival that the material was clearly right for has left a bad taste in my mouth. There are plenty of others, like FilmQuest, that I plan to submit The Miskatonic Files to.

How did you and Channel Fluxx find each other? Did you find them with your idea, or did they contact you after your campaigns?

SW: I’d completely forgotten that I’d pitched the idea to Channel Fluxx during their pitch season, and had since given up on The Miskatonic Files. Months later, I received an e-mail from them, generously offering a modest budget to produce a pilot episode. Again, I’m thrilled that they afforded us this opportunity.

How is Channel Fluxx different than other internet program providers? How would you explain your slogan: “Think Outside The Tube?”

Angela Gray from Channel Fluxx: We support independent filmmakers and showrunners by providing them a network of creators whose ideas wouldn’t work on typical networks. We seek to legitimize webseries as a viable form of unique and censorship-free entertainment by assembling progressive and hard-working content creators under one banner. We work with our teams to nurture their projects, while allowing them the freedom to develop their ideas and tell their stories.

According to your introduction on Youtube, you have a filmmaking past, what kind of experience do you have? How can you help upcoming artists?

AG: We’re a small crew of filmmakers out of St. Petersburg Florida, where we’ve produced films, shorts and corporate videos for the past 10 years. The CEO, Lester Bullock, works in television and has produced shows for TruTV and MTV. Trevor Anderson has written for feature films and is an editor for several YouTube Channels. Angela Graye is a production manager with years of experience in the field and is in charge of social outreach. With our experience and a network of like-minded creatives, we hope to provide a stomping ground for changes in our stagnant entertainment industry.

According to what criteria do you choose shows to support? What things pique your interest?

AG: When it comes to the things we like to see, we enjoy clever writing, good production value and talented actors. I wish I could say that was the only wall to scale, but talent isn’t the only issue we focus on. We need to watch what we can promote due to YouTube’s newest changes in policy. There are so many great ideas being ignored due to projects not being ‘advertiser friendly’, so we have to consider that problem along with the feedback we get from viewers.

Why did you choose Stuart Wahlin’s project, The Miskatonic Files?

AG: When Wahlin submitted his pitch, we looked into his work and discovered what a talented filmmaker he is. Looking over his past work, we’d be foolish to not ask him to produce a pilot for us. He seems to have a great admiration for Lovecraft, and we knew he would make a pilot that fans would enjoy. We hope that your readers found it interesting, and encourage them to send in their comments. The pilot episode of Miskatonic Files had more than 2500 views on your Youtube channel in barely a week. Did you expect such a popularity? We’re not sure where it came from, but the surge has been great- we’re so glad fans responded well to it. Lovecraft is a difficult style to emulate, but what we really enjoy about his pilot is how it leaves the conflict looming in the background. We’ve heard plans for the rest of the season, and he’s got some exciting ideas if the show is greenlit. We’d say more, but we can’t spoil anything!

Are you planning to have other horror themed series?

AG: We also have another pilot this year called ‘Spiders In The Night,’ which is an animated show about a young actress and crazed director going to his classic cinema-inspired house in the Hollywood Hills. We get a lot of comedies, so seeing different genres is refreshing in our office. Slasher, psychological; if it’s got style and creativity, we’re down to check it out at Channel Fluxx!