Ben Bays talks about Aidan 5: pulp, noir & scifi

I’ve been working with the Aidan 5 project for a while, it’s a remarkable webseries, I immediately fell in love with it. I managed to interview its showrunner: Ben Bays.

Hi Ben, welcome to

Aidan and the cloneszefram cochrane: Tell us about Aidan 5. I know the show was born as a short during the 48 Hour Film Project contest in Columbus, Ohio. I know you were not involved in the project at the time, but I think you can tell us about the very beginning of the project.
The black\white in Aidan 5 add something to the noir tone of the series. Was any of this a key element given to the team?
[The 48 Hour Film Project is a contest where filmmakers receive a few elements that define their work to be (a character, a genre and so on) and they have to write, shoot, edit and score the film in 48 hours]

Ben Bays: No, it wasn’t an element required by the contest. Originally John Jackson (co-creator/director) decided he wanted to do his film with a stereotypical film-noir flair. This involved all of the key elements of a good noir picture: The hard-boiled detective, voice-over narrations, gritty urban environments, and of course, a black & white pallette. From a production perspective, black & white also helps blend the live-action elements with the illustrated components. You can get away with more in black & white.

z.c. At the end of the short I was asking (just like you, I guess): “What made him snap?” I guess we’ll know the answer in the webseries. Did they have an aswer back then or the whole thing was thought later?

B.B. They didn’t have a concrete reason when they finished the original 48-hour version. To me, that was one of the most compelling story elements that I wanted to discover as Johnny and I would later develop the main story arc. Did he just snap because of a purely internal motive, or was there something bigger at work orchestrating things behind the scenes, or both?

I can tell you that Matthew becomes a big part of the story later on and he has developed into a complex and intriguing character. Although I think part of me will always like him in that original 48-hour version. There is something rather haunting and poetic about never knowing what Matthew’s motives were.

Ben Bays - Maya Sayre

Ben Bays and Maya Sayre

z.c. In the original film you can read “New Columbus – 2045”, in the webseries Aidan’s adventures take place in “The City – 2064”, was 2045 too close or what?
Actually 2+6=8… 4 and 8 are two of the numbers of LOST, but I guess this is not the reason, is it?

B.B. (Laughs) No, but Hurley would make an awesome clone, wouldn’t he? Imagine five versions of him barreling toward you. — I’m a total LOST fanatic by the way.

The date was changed for a few purposeful reasons, one being that we felt we needed a bit more time to justify the technological advances our world provided, while still having many familiar remnents of our current culture. The other reasons will be revealed at the end of season one.

z.c. What do you think about the end of LOST?
I mean, from the writer point of view i’m sure you consider many aspects, I’m interested in the double perspective fan\writer.

B.B. Okay, this is a bit long-winded, but hey, you asked for it. :-)
I have a lot of mixed feelings about the ending of LOST. As a fan who loved that show, I pretty much suspended all disbelief and just went with everything they did, even when it started bordering on the implausible. (And that’s saying a lot for a show that spent an entire season with their cast stuck in the 1970’s at a hippie science station) – If that’s not jumping the shark, I don’t know what is. — But I went with it, because that was LOST, and I absolutely loved it.

As a writer (and a fan), however, I was a bit frustrated or unfulfilled, because here you had this great concept and it just felt like they didn’t know where they were going the whole time. When an ending was finally decided upon, it just couldn’t support all of the unfinished loose ends they had created. It made the series feel a bit arbitrary, and that’s frustrating for me in a story.

Remember when Jacob and the Nemesis were sitting on the beach looking at the ship out at sea, and the Nemesis is talking about how he’s going to figure out a way to kill Jacob and escape the island? That was a really cool scene, and when you finally learned who those two were and what was at stake, you felt like the show was finally working toward an ending that had the gravitas to encompass all of that. But I don’t think the ending truly delivered in that respect.

The ending I wanted, if I were writing the ending, would be to have everyone else escape the island while leaving Jack and John Locke, sitting on that same beach having the same conversation as Jacob and the Nemesis. With Locke now trying to escape and telling Jack (now the protector) that he’s going to figure out a way to kill him. — Two immortal enemies, locked in an eternal struggle forever, waiting for the next group of castaways to arrive. That’s what I wanted to see.

But then again, nobody was asking me to write LOST. :-)

Aidan 5 - On set

The set of Aidan 5

z.c. I could talk about LOST for hours, but let’s get back to Aidan 5:
The City: black, dark, faded.
The memory of the clonation: bright, shining.
Some sort of bad Vs good reference?

B.B. Possibly, although you might find those references inverted in our story. We did intend for there to be a contrast. The city is primarily dark and drab because we wanted to show an economy and a culture that is in decline. By contrast, Infinity Cloning Corporation is the shiny new piece of tech that grew and thrived as the rest of the world bought its products. What the people didn’t realize is that this boom in industrialization and sudden population increase would ultimately cause the difficult times they now face. They are dealing with the aftermath of that reality, both politically and socially. So, I guess, in a way it’s good vs. bad.

z.c. The setting is brillant, pictures are very simple and complete at the same time. The first word that came to my mind was “cyberpunk”.
Which other works influenced this setting (books\movies…)? How do you imagine “The City – 2064”?

B.B. Cyberpunk, wrapped in a bit of old-school, gumshoe pulp novels. Stylisticly, I think Johnny would mention things like Sin City, Sky Captain, and Spirit as visual influences. I personally always loved Alex Proyas’ Dark City. Certainly the work of Frank Miller, most noteably The Dark Knight Returns. Also Watchmen. Deus Ex (Video Game).

Our city is not that much different in 2064 than our cities today. It has new technological advancements (commercial cloning, flying cars, etc.) but it is built on an old and crumbling infastructure. The social and economical difficulties resulting from these drastic changes have caused some painful side-effects.

z.c. As you may have guessed, I love the dark tones. I particularly liked the scene where Aidan is in front of the shutter and its shadow reflects on his face. How much time do you spend on the shadow/lights layout?

B.B. We spend more time dialing in “the look” than we do any other part of the production. Mostly because it is a very time consuming process. Our cinamatographers start by giving us the lighting and mood on set based on the scene description, (dark, night, rainy, street lamp, etc.) and then the rest of the lighting and shading is created in post-production to enhance the virtual environment. This is all done by our amazing group of volunteer illustrators and compositors.

The window blind scene is one of my favorite examples, because we didn’t have any window blind shadows on set. Months later, Johnny and I were over at our compositor’s house looking at a rough cut and were surprised to find that he had “added” them in post. It really made the scene. We were both like: “Do more of that!”

z.c. No teen drama in rural America, no vampire hunters. You and John Jackson (co-creator/director) could not realize the concepts you had in your minds. You didn’t end up in having teen vampires in your webseries, do you regret that?
Frankly I cannot bear teen vampires anymore. I love vampires. I want the old, grand, majestic vampires back! Where are they?

B.B. (Laughs) No, I don’t think we regret that. Some day we may resurrect those ideas, but I’m not interested in doing anything on vampires or other overdone creatures anytime soon. I’m currently writing a feature film, based on a short I did that has some classic, yet fresh supernatural foes that I think audiences will enjoy.
I personally abhor the whole teen vampire craze that’s going on. My wife, however, loves it, so there is often a war going on over our Tivo. I would totally love to see an old-school vampire flick with high collar capes, stone castles and a dude that turns into a bat.

z.c.On July, 7 2009 you had 3 episodes ready, yet we haven’t seen them (except for the short preview a few days ago). On your blog I read lot of things have happened, so where are we now?

B.B. We are still finishing a few on the back end, but all of the episodes have been edited and most have been completed. We needed to have enough episodes finished before we could go forward with the official release, so when we reached that benchmark, we set the date.

One of the difficulties of workng with no budget is that it is hard to stick to deadlines when life gets in the way of your volunteers. Despite juggling day jobs, familes and other responsibilites, our team has been amazing with the amount of time they have put into this and we look forward to sharing their work with our audience. I hope the viewers have as much fun watching the series as we did making it.

Special thanks to:

  • Surami for her support for the interview.
  • René Kline Bays for lending me her husband to interview.

The new Aidan 5 episodes will be available from March, 4, meanwhile you can watch (again?) the pilot, english\italian subtitles available.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s