“Stranger Things” has taken the world by storm, and its influences are starting to be show up across popular culture — if not consciously by filmmakers, then certainly in the perception of their work.
“A few of those were like ‘Stranger Things,'” an audience member said, following one screening of SXSW’s first-ever Independent Episodics section. Designed to highlight independent television pilots, web series, and proof-of-concept pitches, the inaugural section played in full on Sunday, split into two screenings of 12 total projects.
In the first section, two pilots featured young lead actors dealing with supernatural forces, and at least one paid homage to a blockbuster film.
“Beast,” created by Ben Strang, tells the story of a young boy who lost his father, Christopher Press, at sea. Most people, including his mother, think Chris is long gone, one of many sailors to disappear near Smith Island, but his son keeps tracking the tides, looking for something, anything, in the water. With the help of a professional fisherman, the young boy sets out to find a monster in the water — and find out what’s really going on out at sea. (Watch the trailer below.)
With hints of “Jaws” as well as the bike-riding kids, suspicious parents, and haunting mysteries of “Stranger Things,” Strang said he intends for “Beast” to be a one-hour anthology series with a new monster every year. Watch the trailer below.
The second offering reminiscent of the Netflix hit is “Polar,” a Danish pilot where a mysterious sound from the ocean affects select kids in the neighboring towns. Four end up dead. One comes back to life. The mystery, though, remains.
Written by Morten Mortensen and directed by Natalia Anna Ciepiel and Alexander Ohrt, the series incorporates the death of a teenage kid who gets resurrected (not unlike Will Byers), but is more notable for a strong cast of young actors and a compelling central secret. Ohrt described it in the post-screening Q&A as a “young people sci-fi thing,” which are certainly the rage right now.
But it’s not just “Stranger Things” that made an impression on the group of creators.
“I didn’t really understand why people made web series for the longest time, and then I saw ‘High Maintenance,'” “Night Owl” director, writer, producer, and star Rebekah Miskin said. “Then I was like, ‘Oh, I get it now. This makes sense for this format.’ And I really just wanted to make something that I could see through from inception to realization, and I had an idea that made sense in a short format.”
While “Night Owl” is still “for sale,” according to Miskin, other series debuted online shortly after their SXSW debuts. “She’s the Ticket,” a docu-series about five women who chose to run for office after Donald Trump was elected president, is streaming now via Topic. Also on Topic is “Everything Is OK,” a fantasy comedy that plays out like extended sketches.
Both screenings on Sunday were mostly full, and all 12 series will screen again on March 14 at the Rollins Theater. Check the SXSW website for more details and contact information for each project.
The SXSW Film Festival runs from March 9 – 18 in Austin, TX.