The hypothetical I’ve heard posed frequently over the last year or two is this: When is online video going to get its Lost — a creative, well-produced, buzzworthy series that offers enough intrigue to keep audiences engaged? I’ve heard some people answer that question with “Never,” saying that web series budgets and talents aren’t up to the challenge. But that was before Ark premiered on Hulu last Friday.
Developed and financed by the now-defunct 60 Frames, directed by Trey Stokes and created and written by Robbie Thompson, Ark is a sci-fi thriller that doesn’t give its secrets away easily.
The first episode is largely dialogue-free, opening with Connie (Xena the Warrior Princess‘s Renee O’Connor) finding herself in an forest in space, and subsequent episodes push closer and closer to the audience understanding who Connie is and what she’s doing there.
Ark pulls off a high-quality project, including overall top-of-the-line visual effects (minus some awkward green-screening in episode 1), on a extremely limited budget: $50,000, which is about a fifth of what was spent on the Stage 9/Crackle sci-fi series Trenches. (Your sci-fi trivia of the day: Ark was shot partially on a standing set that devoted Firefly fans might recognize from the episode “Bushwhacked.”)
There have been sci-fi series with great production values. There have been sci-fi series with great writing. But Ark is the rare combination of the two.
When I say that Ark has great writing, what I mean is that the drawn-out reveal of the show’s central mystery is so compelling that it kept me enthralled for nine episodes. Of course, because Ark‘s main draw is that mystery, I’m going to advise that you don’t read the below unless you mind spoilers.
Seriously, spoilers below.
Are you ready?
Okay, spoilers start…
HAH. Gotcha. I lied. There are no spoilers here. Why? Because the first season of Ark concludes with no firm answers, but instead a teasing cliffhanger on par with “the hatch is open.” I suppose that’s a spoiler, the fact that there are no answers to the show’s major mysteries, and to write it here might dissuade some of you from checking it out. But Stokes, via phone, does promise that they do know the rest of the story, and they hope to continue it.
Stokes put the likelihood of there being a new season of Ark at 50 percent. “Everyone wants to do one, and we owe people an ending. It’s just a matter of funding and how it does [on Hulu],” he said.
Executive producer Gabe Sachs, on the other hand, puts the odds at 85 percent, though according to him, “That’s to do with confidence — we’re going to do whatever it takes to sell the story, and would love to do a second season.” Some of that confidence comes from the fact that as of today, he and partner Jeff Judah control the rights to Ark, which means that they’re free to pursue other opportunities for the series.
That may include transferring the series to television as opposed to remaining a web series, though both options have their drawbacks according to Sachs. “If we did it for TV, we’d hopefully partner with someone who has the same vision for [the show], and there wouldn’t be as many budget constraints. But with the web, we’d have total control.”
Ark is currently geo-blocked on Hulu, though Stokes says that they plan to release the episodes for international audiences on YouTube (s GOOG) at some point down the line (there’s no specific time frame for that plan). According to Stokes, the show’s performance on Hulu “is doing very well so far — Hulu is very interested in it, asking us what else we’d like to do and what other projects we have in mind.”
Whether Ark becomes another successful web-to-television transfer or a web series powerhouse is thus yet to be determined. But as much as I feel that the web video world needs to support great content like this, as a viewer I have to admit that I’m having a hard time caring where the next episodes come from. Because, ultimately, I just really want to know how the story ends.
Related GigaOm Pro Content (subscription required): Should You Super-Syndicate Your Web Series?