Some unofficial requirements of the film noir genre: Dramatic chiaroscuro lighting, murder, voiceover, and a dude smoking a cigarette. And the indie series The Steps, written, directed and starring Dylan Kussman, gets to all four of these within the first minute of the first episode.
Made possible by a grant from Chattanooga, TN-based non-profit arts organization CreateHere, The Steps riffs on details from the recent Anthony Pellicano scandal in Hollywood to create the story of Charlie Madison (Kussman), a private detective who fled Los Angeles after his boss was convicted for illegal wiretapping. Now hiding out in Chattanooga under a fake name, Charlie is broke and just desperate enough to make himself vulnerable to being drawn into another conspiracy.
We get most of this information thanks to narration from Charlie as he strolls around downtown Chattanooga and flashes back to his time in LA. Using voiceover is a tricky thing — just as one example, the original incarnation of Fall of Kaden played it too heavily (though it was later re-edited to cut down on that).
At least initially, though, The Steps employs it to fill in backstory and give the audience a keen insight into the mind of Charlie — it’s also nicely balanced by a strong original score by Joe Kraemer. When the series is watched as a whole, it’s likely that the voiceover could be a little too much. But on an episode-by-episode basis, it does a nice job of re-engaging returning viewers with the storyline.
Kussman has a face like a mean pit bull, and the character he plays in the series is just about as likable on the surface. However, the accompanying vlog entries do a lot to make Charlie seem more sympathetic, such as a heartfelt musing at the end of the first vlog that he really does miss LA — making this an excellent reason to create auxillary content for your web series.
Press for The Steps has made a big deal of the fact that the series was shot on location in Chattanooga (do you have the Cab Calloway tune Chattanooga Choo-Choo stuck in your head yet? Because I sure do), and it’s always nice to see a series with some regional flair — not to mention backdrops we haven’t already seen a hundred times before in TV and film.
With only two full episodes and two vlog entries out so far, it’s hard to have a clear handle on where, exactly, The Steps is going. But a few intriguing twists have been dropped and the production values are definitely strong. I’d say fans of the noir genre wouldn’t be disappointed.
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