Gregory Bayne and Christian Lybrook on their Tribeca N.O.W. Series, Zero Point
Screening in the Tribeca Film Festival’s Tribeca N.O.W. section (as in, “new online work”) is Gregory Bayne and Christian Lybrook’s Zero Point, a 45-minute independently-produced pilot for what the two Idaho-based creators hope will be full-on television series. Director, producer and screenwriter Bayne is well known to Filmmaker readers by virtue of his various documentaries (Jens Pulver Driven, Bloodsworth) and opinion pieces, and he’s been at the DIY distribution forefront long before it was in vogue. So, perhaps its appropriate, then, that he and producer and screenwriter Lybrook are now early adopters of a new indie model: rather than make a long-form indie feature, they’ve made a long-form indie TV pilot, hoping not to sell at auction at a festival but rather to buyers at events like Tribeca N.O.W. and, earlier, IFP Film Week’s Emerging Storytellers.
Zero Point is near-future science fiction that could just as easily be science fact — the story of an encroaching deadly plague. As they discuss in the interview below, Bayne and Lynbrook are self-taught pilot creators intending to seize what appears to be a moment for new voices to work in long-form episodic. Zero Point can be watched via the embed below.
Filmmaker: What is Zero Point?
Bayne: It’s a series pilot in the Tribeca N.O.W. program. They’re calling it “a pre-apocalyptic thriller.” It’s about this woman who believes there is a disease that affects only teenagers but is a precursor to what she feels might be a coming epidemic that actually will start killing off the human population from the wrong end. Essentially, we’re dying off from both ends, and we bring about human colony collapse. So it’s this sort of hard science thriller about the demise of mankind. [Laughs]
Lybrook: It’s uplifting.
Bayne: It’s really cheery. It’s this sort of keen dramatic lo-fi sci-fi thriller about this gal and her obsession to figure out what this [disease] is. She’s driven by the death of her own son, who she feels may have been afflicted by this. So the pilot starts, and she’s investigating case number nine. She’s been linking together all of these mysterious teen deaths and trying to make them fit into the mold of what she thinks is happening.
Lybrook: It’s not a political show, but it is set against a backdrop of kind of global proliferation of GMOs, climate change and shale oil fracking. As Greg mentioned, it’s about this idea that we are the architects of our own demise. What are the ripple effects of the actions we are taking today?
Bayne: It’s got this grand scale, but also it’s a really “ground-level show.” It’s very much built around the character.
Filmmaker: Zero Point is being featured in Tribeca’s N.O.W. — “new online work,” which features web series. I think when people hear the term “web series,” they think of three-minute episodes, or eight, or 12. But yours is 45 — very much a network series length.
Bayne: Yes. When we originally started the idea two plus years ago, I came to Christian and I thought we could do essentially a web series — a short thing. But then, as we started developing the story, it kept expanding. The scripts kept getting longer and longer. We had a frank conversation. We [asked ourselves], “What do we watch? Do we spend a lot of time seeking out 12-minute web series and watching and discussing them? No, we watch a lot of TV, and that’s the sort of stuff we want to do. That’s the quality we’re shooting for. So, why don’t we do that?” And so, we decided, let’s take a gamble and bootstrap a pilot. We [thought], if we can do a pilot and execute it well, that might lead us to a season. That’s sort of been our haphazard plan, but it has seemed to work.
Filmmaker: You started at IFP, right? In the Emerging Online Storytellers section.
Bayne: Yes, in the fall. That’s actually where we met one of the programmers from Tribeca.
Filmmaker: What stage was Zero Point at then? Had you shot it?
Bayne: We had shot it, but we had not yet cut the pilot. When we applied, we just had the script and were in pre-production.
Lybrook: One of the other things that I think is important is this whole idea of convergence. When you talk to people about Netflix, for instance, is Netflix a TV channel or a website? We talked about this idea of being platform agnostic, and that has allowed us to go out and say, “It doesn’t matter [the format]” and not ask permission to just go ahead and do it. That was really freeing, in a way.
Filmmaker: How many of the kind of people who might greenlight something like this at the network or cable level, or at Netflix, or Amazon, are looking at work in Tribeca N.O.W. or IFP Emerging Storytellers? In independent film, we have our support organizations, and now that there’s so much interest among independent filmmakers in television, they’re all trying to establish a foothold in these television worlds. But are the decision makers there caring? You know, as a producer, people always ask me why I haven’t moved into TV, and I just answer that I don’t know that world as well.
Bayne: Well, neither do I. It’s funny because we’ve had some conversations with people this week, and there are some growing networks out there looking for things outside of [the regular channels]. You know, we’ve just been trying to figure it out. We don’t have any show running experiences. We just figured it out over the last two years of trial and error and also listening to the Nerdist Writers Panel Podcasts. But, there’s actually other people, like-minded folks, in the indie film world who are trying to figure out how we all can do this too. If we don’t work directly within the TV production model, how do we shape it on an independent level? You know, in the space I’m generally in, which is documentary, the advent of VOD has changed everything. Now, with all of these programming channels, whether they be Netflix, Amazon, or the myriad of others that are sort of slowly emerging, there’s a lot of opportunity for licensing content. Every week, it seems like there’s starting to be a snowball effect. Some guy produces a series independently in the U.K., and he does, like three episodes. They license it, it gets on Netflix, and they get to build on that. It’s sort of a Wild, Wild West [thing]. I know that’s a little cliché, but we kind of looked at it in the sense that we can go and try and make a web series, but we’re not trying to make web series — we’re trying to make long-form serialized television, essentially. We decided, let’s go ahead, but we didn’t have any connections in the TV world. So, to answer your question about Tribeca, it’s like IFP or Sundance. When you have a validation from a well-known curator of content, then people will look at [your work]. They will accept the phone call, or they’ll maybe look at that email and then click the link and watch the episode and then call you. It’s a weird experience that I’ve not had before, but it seems to be working with this project.
Lybrook: I think organizations like Tribeca, like IFP, like Sundance with their Episodic Lab that they just started up last year, are trying to figure it out, you know? With Tribeca, this is the second year they’ve had the N.O.W. program. I think if you talk to them, they feel really good about it, but they also know that it’s kind of like it’s an experiment. And so, we are the petri dish.
Filmmaker: Do you have a bible for your series? Do you have series arcs and everything?
Bayne: The whole thing, yeah.
Filmmaker: And how did you develop that?
Bayne: We had to do a lot of research [about] what this document should be like. In film, it’s like, “What’s the log line? What’s the thing that grabs you?” But then, you’ve got to go more in depth. Like, “Here are the characters and what are their relationships to each other?” And then you do the season summary of the major beats. From there, you break it out more into individual episodes. But we found the most compelling document was a two-page summary with a broad overreach of the season. “This is where we begin, this is the main characters’ ‘through arc,’ these are the people who come in, and this is where we end up at the end.” And then you talk about the theme of the show and the tone. You’re just really trying to sell on paper what the essence of it will be. The lucky thing for us is that we have the pilot, which we could always reshoot, if need be. But [we can say], “This is the way it looks and feels.” I think that’s been our biggest selling point.
Filmmaker: Christian, what’s your background?
Lybrook: I have a background in prose. I wrote fiction for years, long-form novel stuff, and then I moved into film. It’s been so much fun to be able to think in these broad sweeps, to know that there’s this small moment in the pilot that is going to pay off down the road. The whole story of creating the disease, working with a plant botanist and a medical professional, grounding it in hard science — it’s kind of scary because, you know, the disease we created is rooted in reality. If this ever caught hold, we’d all be screwed, you know?
Filmmaker: I know it’s early days, but, Greg, you said people that people can open an email and click the link and watch the show. Are people doing that? What kind of a uptake has there been?
Bayne: We’ve had some conversations that have continued since the IFP, and we’ve had some new conversations that have developed here, and they have all been positive. It’s like anything in this business — you just never know what’s going to happen. But there’s continually been forward momentum with this project. People seem to really like the story. We don’t know what’s going to happen over the next three or six weeks, or the next two months, or the next year, but it feels like it’s moving towards getting a season. It seems like it might work.
Filmmaker: Last question. Is there any sort of purely independent model in which this can work? Or, are you hoping to simply get picked up by AMC, the SyFy Channel or Amazon Prime?
Bayne: I think there is. One of our major conversations is with a company that’s been thinking what we’re thinking, which is, “Is there a way to make the first successful mini-TV show.” How do we do that? And what does that mean? And how do we use our sensibilities to make this sort of work? Because none of us are show runners, and we don’t have the infrastructure of a studio. My stuff, as you know, has been a very one-man show. I can’t do that with this and I don’t want to, but that sensibility informs this sort of bent. Can we figure this out — do it on our own and figure out a way to put it out?