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An emerging form of internet-based entertainment is the web series, which combines the short film with the traditional episodic structure of television. The first FXhome.com filmmaker to truly embrace this new format was Rodolphe Pierre-Louis, who you probably know as RodyPolis, with his Dynamite Studios team.
The 9-part Carpe Diem web series ran through summer 2009, following agent Ronald Smith as he tries to piece his life back together after finding himself at the centre of a conspiracy. It’s an ambitious, action-packed thriller and an impressive project to have completed on a micro-budget.
Carpe Diem developed in part on the FXhome.com forums, being written and directed by FXhomers, so we wanted to know more.
1. Why did you make a web series instead of a one-off short film?
I wanted to better my skills, but I knew just one short film wouldn't do the trick. So I went with the web series idea instead. It constantly gave me something to be working on and at the end it was like I did nine short films, because there are nine episodes. Plus I always wanted to have my own TV show, and a web series was the closest I could get at the time.
2. Did you look into any other established web series to study their approach?
When pre-production started, I wanted to get an idea of what the other web series on YouTube were doing. It was pretty much what I expected, even if some had a significantly higher budget than mine, so I wouldn't say I learned a whole lot by watching these other web series, but they definitely inspired me to keep on going.
3. Where did the concept for Carpe Diem come from?
Carpe Diem started off when I, as Ronald Smith said in Episode 1, woke up in the hospital and had no idea how I got there. It felt weird not remembering what caused my accident. I'm guessing I hit my head on something, though to this day no one is sure what exactly happened. The feeling I got was that a long time had gone by. The stuff I could remember felt like they happened long time ago. Something that happened that morning felt like it was a memory from when I was 5. After a while everything was more stable, but there's still that hole in my memory.
It was a cool experience to lose memory so immediately I wanted to make something based on that. I already had the idea for a web series, and now I knew what it'd be based on. In case you're wondering, the whole TBI/FBI/Assassin approach were all added in later and are not also based on my experience.
4. The series was written by fellow FXhomer Matt Alan, aka Biblmac. How did you start working together?
After I had the idea I posted a thread in the forums explaining what I had in mind and that I needed a writer. Biblmac wrote me back saying he was interested and that's how it started. He did the first couple drafts, and I did the final draft so it could fit my budget and my capabilities better. I'm glad I got to work with him because he's both creative and a really fun guy to work with. I had also planned on doing some more projects with him before he fell off the grid.
5. What were you main goals with the series?
My main goal, like I said, was to practice and better my skills. I learned so much in the making of this and I think that will help me a whole lot in the future. I also wanted to do something that all my friends and I could do together and Carpe Diem was it. I didn't think of much when I was making the series, but it's still helping me a lot today. First, Carpe Diem and my newest film Chosen got me a $45,000 scholarship for college, and it also landed me this article!
6. How did you schedule such a large shoot?
Oh man, I don't know. Looking back I still wonder how I could do such a project. While working on it I constantly wished I went with something smaller. For scheduling, my actors and I had to see what days we would be available and we would plan to shoot on these days. I had the most free time since it was my project and I was still in high school. The other actors were college students and I'm sure they were a lot more busy than I was. So I'm very thankful they took their time to help me out on this.
7.How long did it take to produce a single episode?
I wouldn't be sure of that because we didn't film it one episode at a time. Since we had to make the schedule as we went, sometimes we would film the scenes depending on which actor(s) would be available. It also depended on the scale of the scene.
Biblmac and I originally planned on making four longer episodes, but I later decided to make nine smaller ones. So I just filmed it all, then decided where to cut the episodes. For example, the semi-violent hospital scene in Episode 1 was filmed around the same time we were filming stuff from Episode 5 because it took a long time to plan.
8. How long did it take to produce, from concept to completing the final episode?
I would say about two years. I had the memory loss accident on March 2008, and the final episode went online on March 2010. So a good two years of my life went into this.
9. How did you find your actors?
The main characters, Ronny and Frank, were friends from my church and so were some other minor characters. Special Agent Williams is played by my brother Renaldo, and Cassie and Jack were played by some other college students in the area. Ronny, Frank, Williams, and Jack are the only actors I officially asked to be in this. Most other actors/extras in the series were either friends of the main actors I recruited, or random guys I knew who had a few hours to give us. Like I said, everyone was a volunteer and I'm just glad they took their time to help out.
10.How did your composer Tommy Gundersen get involved?
I was talking to Andrew Adams [aka regular FXhomer Atom –Tarn] on Facebook and he recommended Tommy. Tommy was awesome enough to do work on the series for free so I'm once again very thankful for that. He's so talented and I wish him the very best.
11. What was the online audience reaction like once the series starting to be broadcast on YouTube?
The YouTube audience generally really liked the series. Most of the episodes do have five stars on there. Local friends also really enjoyed it and so did some members here on FXhome.
12. Carpe Diem was a slightly underground hit on FXhome, not quite gaining the attention it deserved initially. Why do you think this is?
I guess I didn't hype it enough! Seriously, though, I really did expect a bigger audience, which Episode 1 sorta had. I think it might have to do with me failing to put out an episode every week. Sometimes a month would go by before a new episode came out and I think that hurt the audience for the show a lot.
13. What would you do differently if you made another web series?
I would get better equipment since most people complained about the sound and the image. I thought they were being too nit-picky at first, but when I actually did use better stuff on Chosen I realized they were right. I would also make the storytelling less confusing since that's one thing a lot of people had problem with.
14. Any tips for others that are making web series, either in terms of production or marketing?
I would tell anyone making a web series, or any other projects, to not start a project that they aren't passionate about. I'd be a liar to say that I didn't feel like quitting a thousand times while making Carpe Diem, though I kept it to myself and never told anyone really.
So I would tell them to expect it to be hard and challenging, but don't quit as soon as you start wishing you never started it. The project might not be coming out the exact way you pictured it, I don't think it ever does, but if you go on and quit every time something gets rough then you'll go years without having one single project done.
15. Any plans to continue the Carpe Diem series?
Not at the moment. It's really not possible. I'm starting college next fall, and the actor who played Ronald graduated college and is getting married so I think Carpe Diem 2 – or as I planned on calling it, Carpe Diem: The Last Days – won't be happening. At least not anytime soon.
16. What can we look forward to from you guys next?
In the coming months I will be posting a lot of music videos since I'm doing a small music video making business for local bands and artists. I also was writing a new web series called Desert Eagle, but that has been put on hold for now.
A big thanks to Rody for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer our questions. You can watch the entire Carpe Diem web series in the FXhome.com cinema.
Next week we'll be chatting with the man with a plan himself, Joshua 'schwar' Davies.