When I say that crime fascinates storytellers and audiences since ages, I state the obvious. As a theme, it’s in itself a source of tension (colliding with society’s established rules), while criminal personalities allow themselves quite easily to (dramaturgically exploitable) internal conflicts as well; and our storytelling tradition has stated that you can’t have a story without a drama and a drama without tension.
Aside from an easy, conformed and reassuring use of this tension (putting it in into the “bad guy” actant), many prefer digging directly into the source of tension; in that, crime genres like noir have historically found their natural vocation.
“Crime” seems to be a relatively popular genre (or topic) among scripted web video, too; may it be in pure genres or in one of the thousands comedy hybrids out there. Mobsters, gangs, hitmans, psycho killers, sadists, thieves, or even disillusioned and gangrenous investigators… you choose.
As for me, in this case I prefer character driven crime stores, where everything is built around a strong and catching lead. So, here are my favorite portraits of criminals in web series.
If you are even remotely interested in web series as a phenomenon, you’ve most certainly heard about the multi award winner Compulsions. The series premiered in 2009 and immediately imposed itself as a game changer: deep writing, excellent cinematography, great performances, a pretty unusual crude and dark touch.
Created and written by one of the (now) most acclaimed screenwriters of the web space, Bernie Su (already active in web series and writer of several TV pilots, aside from being Online Advertising Director), it’s directed by Nathan Atkinson and stars Craig Frank (now one of the most popular web series faces, too).
Compulsions follows the days a pathological sadist leading a double life: dull employee by day, professional torturer by night. It’s dark, cruel, punchy but, at the same time, intriguing and tangled, creating threads of vicious characters compelled to satisfy their secret addictions and making them cross, with incumbent danger.
A must see no matter what. Even if it represents one of the most burning disappointments of web series history: the reason it’s so good is the same that pisses you off. Season one (8 episodes, 4-5 minutes average) is all we got; and it acts like a TV pilot, thoroughly introducing a world and it’s internal conflicts step by step and saying goodbye just after that.
But if you haven’t already, watch it anyway: on Youtube, Blip, Dailymotion, Vimeo.
Girl Number 9
Another great one. British, moreover. Girl Number 9 (2009) which I see, more or less, as the Seven of web series.
Created by independent filmmaker Dan Turner (director) and TV writer James Moran and produced by Martin Baker & Pete Coogan, it stars a bunch of accomplished British TV actors and shows a cop facing a remorseless and manipulative serial killer who kidnapped his daughter and put her on a tricky, deadly trap.
The series is, again, dark, gloomy and grainy, both in cinematography and in writing, and despite the episodes’ smallness (6 in total, 30 minutes altogether) it builds a solid tension though clever twists and solid performances, while keeping most of the most striking scenes inside a single interrogation room.
The only real downturn: it’s too damn short. But on the other end, shortness means density; and density, here, is part of the reasons it works. I’d be curious to see how could it work, re-edited as an half an hour short film.
Originally on FearNet.com, you can watch in on Vimeo.
I’d say The Confession is a good one not because some “Hollywood guys” are involved in it, but, I’d say, despite of that. Most of the times, when majors make a web series, it’s meant to be a marketing tool, or a companion show to existing TV series, or some kind of demographic targeted or branded (and immediately profitable) stuff. Luckily for us, this is not the case. While featuring the huge presence of Kiefer Sutherland as co-producer and lead actor, of John Hurt as a second star, it’s as a matter of fact more an independent production that your usual standardized Hollywood crap.
Written and directed by Brad Mirman, produced by Digital Broadcasting Group (DBG), it features a dark and moody confrontation between a professional killer with some kind of re-emerging conscience and a catholic priest. Two lives that couldn’t more opposite and that, slowly, happen to converge at many levels.
This Webby Award winner show’s production values are, of course, excellent, and there’s no need to spend a word about the acting. After all, we have accomplished professionals at work, maybe enjoying for a while the taste of “making it on their own” (with the due differences, of course). The only downturn, if you still care to find one, is that “Hollywood smell” that the series can’t wash away completely: it lacks that sense of freshness and self-sufficient originality, maybe even with a bit of imperfection, that makes independent movies and especially web series so special and unique (until now, at least); despite of all the “indie” ingredients, there’s something in the writing and production that feels like standard, déja vu. But just a tiny bit. And it doesn’t even remotely question the overall show’s quality.
10 episodes, 70 minutes total. First launched on Hulu, then sold though separate deals, is today available on DVD (full feature cut), iTunes, Amazon, Netflix and other local digital platforms around the globe. Depending on which part of the world you are, you can probably get the chance to see it legally, and for free.
Hitman 101 (2011). Canadian; pretty original and a multiple award winner, too. Brainchild of Scott Staven (who wrote, directed, shot and edited it), it’s produced by Paige Heuser for Bad Guy Films.
It revolves around a guy that, to secretly give a new spin to his life, turns himself into a killer and gets progressively immersed into a nightly, dark, dangerous world of criminals, misfits and sexy hitwomen. The series starts after his training is done, with the first homicide, and evolves into a sometimes labyrintine chain of events and dangerous situations.
The production quality, at times, reveals the extreme low budget, but it’s still quite suited to the livid and interiorly dark atmosphere the series is building.
Worth of mention the psychological, expressive use of sound.
12 episodes between 5 and 12 minutes each, 90 minutes overall, you can watch Hitman 101 on YouTube (also with extra content) and on KoldCast.
While a comedy could stand as an intruder among the otherwise dark and gloomy mood of the series featured here, I still can’t avoid mentioning my favorite female serial killer of the web space: Darla.
Genial mini-series created between 2010 and 2011 by Santa Monica digital company Titlewave (creative team comprising Derek Baynham, director, and Kelly May, actress and specialized in branded entertainment), Darla focuses on a seemingly simple, ordinary girl whose smartness is matched only by her killing instincts.
Pure surreal comedy without any claim of plausibility, it shows situations of common, daily annoyance that the girl, without any hesitations, promptly puts to an end through the physical elimination of the original (human) source. The absolute nonchalance in her killings, together with their “open air”, uncovered, almost natural nature, is what makes them funny and, franky, quite liberatory. She’s my ideal gal.
Seriously, watch it. On Vimeo and YouTube (check both channel, not all content is present on both).
And more. Much more.
Some other titles worth mentioning.
Pink (2007). A multi-awarded web series created by Blake Calhoun (also producer, director and editor) written by Mike Maden and produced by LA based Loud Pictures Inc.
It follows a skilled and sad female mercenary that gets hired “to hunt down scum and dispose of them”, but mostly it digs onto her past, highlighting the steps that made her what she’s now.
3 seasons, 35 episodes, 4 minutes average.
It has been featured on TheWB.com; now you can watch it on YouTube, Hulu, Blip and KoldCast.
The Bannen Way (2009). The first original series produced by Sony Pictures Television for its online video portal Cracke and created, written, produced four hands by director Jesse Warren and actor Mark Gantt, with the production of Bailey Williams.
It focuses on a smart, one of a kind and reckless con-man trying to leave crime but with inescapable mob bonds. Essentially an action movie (courtesy of Sony’s money), it keeps itself free and gritty enough to be sure to please you.
Currently is available in DVD, in a re-cut, full feature version; or on Crackle, still in episodic form.
Clutch (2011). Recycling the original teaser: “an original femme fatale web series”. Canadian, again, produced by actor-run company mojoPro, it’s the creation of Jonathan Robbins (who writes and directs it), award-winning director and actor in commercials and short films.
It revolves around a streetwise, sexy pickpocket that slides into a deep and dangerous net of local mob and organized crime, sado-masochism and deranged human wrecks.
8 episodes, around 8-10 minutes, with a strong continuity that makes it work almost like a movie.
Season 2 filming fall 2012 (but Season 1 is self conclusive).
Watch it on Blip or Koldcast.
The Ten Commandments of La Vida Loca (2008). Another Webby Award winner, Mexican, it’s the only excursion I make into gang or mob stories, here.
An original web series from digital entertainment studio Filmaka, created by Luis Bernal Salazar (director), Rodrigo López Aldana (cinematographer) and Arturo González Alonso (editor), tells, in a stylistic black and white photography, the fall from grace of two young Mexicans joining the international gang known as MS-13: one for power and protection, the other for revenge.
10 episodes, between 2 and 4 minutes each. Quite gritty, but catching.
On Filmaka site or YouTube.
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