The West Side, a new series produced by Zachary Lieberman and Ryan Bilsborrow-Koo, is a western set in an alternate-universe version of contemporary New York, impressively shot on a shoe string in real NYC locations. The city (known colloquially within the first episode as The Side) is re-envisioned as a wasteland, every block heavily spotted with graffiti and rubble. Men in overcoats and neckerchiefs silently eye one another in recognition, hands always ready to reach for a holster.
Full disclosure: I’ve never met Bilsborrow-Koo, but he used to contribute to the now-defunct blog DVGuru, which was part of the same AOL-owned network as Cinematical, the site I co-founded and used to edit. Bilsborrow-Koo also maintains a site called NoFilmSchool, which carries the tagline, “Ryan Bilsborrow-Koo tries to start a film career in New York, without going to film school; hilarity ensues.”
With or without film school, The West Side is clearly the work of someone who has studied movies. Its careful cinematic plotting and respect for traditional filmmaking structures is unusual amongst online content, and the attention to detail on display is remarkable.
But I’m most impressed with the way Bilsborrow-Koo and Lieberman play with genre. In the first scene of the first episode, human ash mixed with city dirt blows in the wind, doubling for tumbleweeds on an open trail and signaling the arrival of the new player in town. Later, there’s a shot that seems to have been lifted from The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, but it’s completely redressed and, as such, reinvigorated. And when the action gets going, the score kicks in, and it’s all twangy guitar and winds set to thumping bass: Ennio Morricone meets the RZA.
By the end of the first episode, a power struggle is put into motion that will ostensibly play out over the remaining eleven episodes — which, as Bilsborrow-Koo notes on The West Side‘s production blog, will only see the light of day when the producers deem them ready. “To us, visual storytelling on the web is not about posting a one-minute clip every day and pushing for max audience numbers and ad revenue — it’s about quality of storytelling, regardless of delivery medium.”