"The Circle," a new mini-series created for Brown Television, is set to premiere Saturday at the Cable Car Cinema and Cafe. The show's first three episodes, which were directed by Daniel Byers '08, feature Brown students and alums, as well as Rhode Island School of Design students and professional actors.
The mini-series is set in a post-apocalyptic world in which dark forces, known as "wickeds," are able to transform their victims, zombie-style, into new wickeds, Byers said. In his view of the future of earth, small pockets of humanity remain. Each community — including Cronn University, where the series takes place — is protected by a supernatural force known as "the weird." The story follows Sebille, an orphaned child from the borderlands where factions of soldiers in gas masks fight the evil wickeds. Upon arrival at Cronn, Sebille finds that something is not quite right with the university. As wickeds start to break into the eponymous Circle that protects the school, students feared to have been infected by them are taken away. But suspicion mounts that these removals are related to a school administration plot.
Byers said the idea for "The Circle" came to him while he was still an undergraduate. He wanted to work on a large-scale project that would bring together the many people he had met, including actors, artists, set designers and other filmmakers. Byers said he only had enough time to make shorter films while at Brown, due to the difficulty of coordinating his busy schedule with those of others involved in the various projects.
During last spring break, Byers got together with Harry Aspinwall '11 and Alex Feldman '10 to start writing the script for the first three episodes. Before that, in mid-February, Feldman said, he and Byers started to work on a four-page story arc of the series, in which they bounced initial ideas for the story off each other. Feldman has continued to be involved with the series and will be delivering a speech during the premiere.
The project started with the writing process, then moved to casting last March once the creative team felt it knew where the work was going, Byers said.
Byers and the others put up eye-catching posters to announce the auditions, which sparked much interest in the project.
"It's important to grab people's attention visually with something like this, even if they don't really know what they're getting into, to be magnetized from the start," Byers said.
They also advertised on several professional actors' listservs in New England and the Mid-Atlantic. Byers was surprised by the amount of adult interest in the audition — one of their lead adult actors, Eric Eastman, drove two hours from Connecticut just to try out.
Byers and his team began filming in April, and they were able to get most of the shooting done before the end of last semester, using the summer to edit the footage, as well as to add special effects. Most of the filming was done at Brown, Byers said, with a focus on places "that aren't seen by most Brown students on a regular basis," like the inside of the John Carter Brown Library. They also staged scenes in some abandoned buildings in downtown Providence and at the so-called "Rhode Island Desert" in West Greenwich, and arid area about two miles in diameter.
There were "aspects of production that didn't come together until very late," Byers said. "We were still filming some scenes until a few weeks ago, a couple filler shots now."
So far, Byers and others working on the project have financed it themselves, but they're hoping to receive some subsidiary funding. They have submitted the project to the Rhode Island State Council of the Arts — which may retroactively finance the shooting that has already taken place — and to Brown's Creative Arts Council.
As for when "The Circle" may be coming to BTV, producer Sam Eilertson '12 said the last two episodes of the series still have to be shot before the series can air, which could take anything from a few weeks to a few months.
Byers said he has always wanted the project to remain student-focused and be tied as closely to Brown as possible.
"In a way its about Brown," he said. "It's about this fictional university that is Brown."
"The Circle" premieres at the Cable Car Cinema and Cafe (204 S. Main St.) Sat., Sept. 26 at 11:30 p.m., with a second screening Mon., Sept. 28 at 9:30 p.m.