Summary:

Distributed directly to torrent sites, the fan-funded sci-fi series Pioneer One has won awards, contended with guilds and, so far, been viewed over two million times. With the second episode set to launch in December, the big question becomes: Is this model sustainable?

Pioneer_one

The independent sci-fi series Pioneer One, following the successful direct-to-torrent premiere of its pilot episode, is gearing up for the debut of its first full season, teased today with the launch of a compelling trailer for Episodes Two, Three and Four.

PIONEER ONE: New Episodes Teaser from Pioneer One on Vimeo.

In the world of digital content, Pioneer One‘s story is a unique one: The half-hour pilot, created by Josh Bernhard and Bracey Smith, and funded by a Kickstarter campaign, was distributed through VODO and promoted by a conglomerate of P2P services. As of today, the pilot has been viewed over two million times, won “Best Drama” at the New York Television Festival and received over $30,000 in fan donations, which will go towards producing the remaining five episodes of the first season.

The second episode, entitled “The Man from Mars,” is due to be released (again, via BitTorrent) this December, with episodes following on a roughly monthly basis. Originally, the first season was going to be seven episodes, including the pilot, but Bernhard said via GTalk that “We realized that 7 can stand on its own and is an undertaking more massive than the others, so we’re ending on 6.”

“If possible, we might be able to make it more like every couple of weeks,” Bernhard said, “But it honestly depends on the response to the next episode. It’s an interesting beast, because it doesn’t quite play by the rules of a television schedule — I’d love to put out a new ep every week, but then we’d kill our momentum. Right now every episode is sort of its own ‘event,’ and we don’t know the balance between ‘event’ and ‘we just want the next part of the story’.”

PIONEER ONE “Pilot” from Pioneer One on Vimeo.

Pioneer One‘s fan base has been waiting for the next part of the story since June of this year, but has remained active in that time, according to Bernhard, communicating with the creators directly via email with questions and offers to help. Set photos and video blogs from the Pioneer One set offer fans a look at the production in progress. New Facebook fans are added every day.

“In general I think people are proud of the fact that they’re able to support content they like, whether it’s Pioneer One or something else. I think they feel a real connection to the show that you don’t get with traditional media, which is a very one-way relationship,” Bernhard said.

One issue that came up during production was a guild one — Matthew Foster, the original actor to play Dr. Walzer, joined SAG between the production of the pilot and the new episodes, and, as Pioneer One lacked the time or money to become a SAG production, Foster had to move on due to his union affiliation.

“We tried to work with SAG, but there’s a big gap in their coverage for productions of this size,” Bernhard said. “I wasn’t handling the specifics, but there was an issue with the fact that we were presenting ourselves as an on-going series, which seriously complicated matters. There’s not really such a thing as a low-budget, independent TV series, so there aren’t really deals for that.”

Foster’s scenes in the pilot have been reshot with the new actor, and will be included, along with previously deleted scenes, in a revised version to be released before Episode 2.

Pioneer One still needs to raise a little more money in order to complete Season 1, but Bernhard believes that it will come through. “We won’t really know until we see what the response is like to the new episodes, but we’ve gotten further than I realistically thought we would back in June,” he said. “I think we’re going to be able to produce a season of our show based solely on viewer donations, which is amazing.”

But is this model sustainable? Not necessarily. “Moving forward, we’re hoping to find other sources of financing, supplemented by continued viewer support,” Bernhard said. “It worked for this season because of the limited scope of the story. But it gets bigger with every season.”

Even so, a unique show, an engaged fan base, an unconventional financing and distribution system…Pioneer One may not singlehandedly change the face of entertainment. But it is showing what’s possible when you explore other options.

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