Chatting with the Ingenious Minds Behind Original "H+" Webseries
This past week, I had the pleasure of chatting with Stewart Hendler, John Cabrera, and Jason Taylor, the creative team behind the brand new digital series, "H+ The Digital Series", premiering next week (August 8). Hendler is the director behind the series, Cabrera is the head writer, and Taylor is one of the producers (along with X-Men director, Bryan Singer).
Distributed by Warner Bros. Digital, "H+" tells the tale of a future where technology has spun out of control, and 33% of humans have abandoned their cell phones and computers in favor of newer technology, known as H+, which is implanted into the user’s mind and allows them to be connected to the Internet 24 hours a day. But when a virus is implanted into the H+ users' minds -- and a small group of them in a parking garage survive -- the survivors and fellow non-users wonder what exactly went wrong and are left to solve the mystery of “the event.” Starring Alexis Denisof (“Buffy the Vampire Slayer”), Amir Arson (“Law & Order SVU), Hannah Simone (“New Girl”), and David Clayton Rogers (“Jane by Design”), "H+" truly asks the question: what would happen if we were all hooked to the internet, and a virus wiped us all out? Would we really want to be that connected to technology?
The minds behind "H+" chatted with me about where the idea for the show came from, their love for the show “Lost”, and offered an inside glimpse of the storylines:
YH: Why did you choose to format the series in digital as opposed to a more traditional television format?
JC: When Cosimo De Tommaso and I -- Cosmo is my co-writer -- conceived of the idea years ago, we didn’t know exactly what it was. We just sort of had this big story world that we had developed with the characters. It wasn’t until we took it and started sharing it with others, we started to realize that the story that we wanted to tell was very non-linear, very out of order, and spanned over a 20 year timeline; would be a bit of a challenge to tell if it was in a traditional television format. We met with Bryan Singer and his company, and they were very supportive of the idea of exploring this as a digital series. And once we began that path, we just never thought of it as anything else. As soon as we started writing, it took the form of something for the Internet.
SH: Each of the 48 episodes opens with a POV, so the camera is looking through one of the character’s eyes before you see the time/location card that tells where you are, then goes back to an objective shooting style. One of the cool things that we liked about this is that the story is very much about people’s perspectives. Because the story is so much about technology, and because this internet technology exists in these people’s field of vision, but no one else knows what they are looking at, it was very interesting to kind of play what they can see but what other people may not be able to see. And we liked that as something that played sort of well on the web -- this idea of being sort of a player and looking through other people’s eyes.
YH: Where did the original idea for "H+" come from?
JC: About six years ago, I was driving through the Kodak Theatre parking lot, and my car radio started to go out. I remember that there was this song on the radio that I really liked, so I just sort of stopped my car to fix my radio. Of course I backed up traffic and people were beeping at me. And something about the experience just made me think about how I was suddenly not connected to what was going on, and that got me thinking about how connected we are, and how vulnerable we are when we’re not connected. Which of course made me think about if I was unconnected and that kept me safe. What if something happened up there, and I didn’t know about it, but not knowing kept me safe? Eventually, that sort of turned into ideas of implants and connectivity. I took this idea to my writing partner and asked what he thought of being connected by implants, and something goes horribly wrong, and everyone who has these implants dies, but there are some survivors, and perhaps what if some of those survivors work in a parking garage [laughs]. We started talking about other people and other stories around the world, and what happened to them, and we eventually created story upon story and had created this whole world. Some of the characters and stories we kept, others we threw out, but that’s how we created this general concept.
As we began developing the story world, we immediately started to do research. At that point, we realized that the idea of having the internet implanted in your head was extremely possible -- and this was only in 2006. At that time, there were no iPhones, phones still had buttons, the whole swiping of screens... none of that existed. We did start looking at technology that actually did exist; for instance, in 2004, a man was actually implanted with a device that let him control the mouse curser with his mind. This technology was actually happening.
SH: I first read the outline of a script in 2008; it read like an amazing piece of sci-fi and fantasy. The first thing I did was hop online and started researching to see how far away this stuff was, what threads of reality were confined in the script. It turned out that there was a lot more than just a few threads; this technology was all just around the corner. And in the four years that I have been involved with this project, this technology has all just become the more real. This story is a lot closer to happening than I think a lot of people realize it is.
YH: How did all of you come together to create the project?
JT: I think that the path went from Cosimo and John’s outline, and taking that outline to directors. That’s when Stewart came on board, and he became such an amazing presence. He wanted to focus on the world and what it was. Bryan Singer has always been about logic, and why is this sci-fi relevant. And as mentioned before, this could actually happen, which appealed to Singer. This whole project has been the perfect storm, we are all very proud of this project and very excited for the world to see it.
YH: Does the show take place before, after, or during the incident of the virus (or all three!), and how long will each episode be? What will the order of the series be?
JC: All three. This is not a linear story, it takes place on a timeline that spans almost twenty years, and every episode of the show takes place at various points on that timeline. And these episodes happen in an almost seemingly random order. For instance, Episode One will take place about two minutes before the virus happens, while Episode Two will take place a few minutes after the virus happens, and Episode Three will jump back before the virus occurs, and Episode Four will jump back to about 45 minutes after the virus happens, and then Episode Five will jump back another five years before the virus happens, etc. It’s a lot of jumping backwards and forwards. Every odd episode is before the event happens, and every even episode is after the event happens, and where the story is at that points depends on what part of the story we wanted to focus on for that episode. The series takes place all over the world. The episodes range from 2-8 minutes, usually about five minutes.
YH: Are there any other shows/films/books that you feel are comparable to "H+", or that helped inspire the idea for it?
SH: I would like to note that the idea of “flash-forward” came long after the script was written [laughs]. But I think that people who love “Lost” will love our series too. We are all admirers of the world, the mystery, and the different layers of “Lost” on which “Lost” appealed to people. There’s definitely a flavor of “Lost” to this series.
JC: We all like “Lost”. We’ve talked about “Lost” many times during the creation of this. When we first conceived of the series, “Lost” was in its third season. It took us six years to get to where we are now, and during that whole time, technology was rapidly advancing. We grew concerned about all that was happening in television and media, and we became concerned that our show may seem a little dated. It seemed that they were moving faster than we were. We grew very concerned about “flash-forwards” and “the event”, both elements that were encompassed in our script. I think now, though, we are at the place that we are at, and "H+" is so distinctly different from anything else out there, that’s there not much else you could compare it to. I would say, though, if there was one show that we were most inspired by, it would probably be “Lost”, I would say that it was less in terms of story, but more in terms of what “Lost” was able to do outside of the show -- people talked about “Lost”, held “Lost” parties... it was able to foster “Lost” communities. “Lost” did something special outside of its medium. Aside from that, Cosmo and I were really inspired by “Why the Last Man”. “Why the Last Man” is sort of in that apocalyptic, everyone-dies genre, which was similar to what we wanted to do.
SH: I think what makes “Lost” such a great show -- and the reason that we are hoping people will be drawn to our show -- is the characters. The stories that we have been able to tell, and the experiences that our characters have, take you through this whole event and is incredibly relatable. And what the online format offers in order to really let the audience choose which character they want to focus on, which playlist of episodes they want to make, etc. You can watch these segments in any order you please, and share the way that you watch it with others on your YouTube channel. This is what truly excites us -- that the format of the show is truly new and different, and we hope that people experience it in that way. The actual viewers of the series become “story tellers” as they rearrange these episodes into ways that they feel relevant to them.
YH: What can we look forward to happening on the series?
JC: With a true ensemble piece, it’s a little hard to dive into it without really giving anything big away. But the true trajectory of the series really takes place in Episode One when the virus strikes, and you spend the next 45 episodes before and after in time trying to weave together the mystery of the virus, who was behind it, how it happened, and what the affects were on the world afterwards. It’s a very broad, sweeping, high-scoped series. It’s about a lot of different things, and I would not say there is one character who is more interesting or more important than the others.
SH: There is a storyline that takes place in India, and it centers around a young girl who is hired by an Irish couple. The wife is very connected to the technology, and she’s very connected to the company that makes this technology, and this Irish couple is hiring this young girl to be a surrogate, and she will be implanted with H+. The audience should be wondering how she is going to fare as the event approaches. Most of her storyline takes place before the event. So, we are approaching this event that we know has already killed off all of the characters who were implanted with H+. You can’t help but wonder, what happens to her? I don’t want to give away anything, but that is one storyline that I think people will find interesting to follow. There are some other storylines that take place in Northern California, Africa, and a few other places around the world; there are some luddite characters who are in there for all the luddites out there [laughs], and of course the question of what would happen if we were disconnected.
JC: And of course we focus on this group of characters who survive the event because they were in a parking lot garage, and they did not have reception to H+, which goes back to my original story of being in the parking lot and getting disconnected.
Check out the official trailer to "H+ The Digital Series" below, and be sure to subscribe to their YouTube Channel!
(Image via Warner Bros. Digital)
- Sarah Osman, YH Staff