Is it a website? A film? TV Show? “interactive web series”? Yes. Filmed, planned, edited, and fine-tuned over nine years, the new web series Drama in Panama remakes and builds on the 1919 novel Hearts of Three by Jack London. The interactive web series “tells the story of the former magnate Francis Morgan, who has embarked on a journey to Panama, looking for a treasure, clutching at it like a drowning man. His destiny leads him to his twin-brother Henry Morgan and his beloved Leoncia. A tale of a native tribe, which manages to progress almost overnight from a monocracy and human sacrifices to a developed democracy and human rights. A comic-adventure story of the ubiquitous power, money, love and…. savages.”
Drama in Panama came to life from hundreds of hours of filming, writing, rewriting, and then carefully bringing the story into an innovative self-paced interactive web format in Tumult Hype.
Daniel Morgan @ Tumult: From what I gather, this was a nine year project! Tell me a little bit about how you started planning / writing this, and what story you set out to tell.
Deyan Sedlarski: It all started as a joke when we were students. We studied at the National Academy of Art in Sofia, Bulgaria, where we were tasked with making a comics based on a book by Jack London – The Hearts of Three. Our passion for cinema led us to film this book, but we had never done anything like this. Maybe being naive didn’t stop us in time. With tools and equipment at hand, we set out on this adventurous path. We went through many stages. Many people in the team changed. We made it to the final cut several times, but the results were not satisfying and it made us start all over again. Ivo Alekseev wrote five versions of the script and in the end we had a wonderful story. It’s only inspired by the book, we didn’t literally follow anything from it. I took care of directing the project, and later I shared this task with my wife, Mirela. And thank goodness, because I couldn’t have done it without her!
Daniel: The format of this interactive narrative is very unique — did you have any inspirations from film, TV or other interactive stories you’ve encountered?
Deyan: From the beginning we wanted to do a web series, but the whole time I was worried about the word “web.” What does it mean? If you upload a movie or a TV show to the internet, does it automatically become web? There are many examples of web series around the world that are nothing more than uploading video content to YouTube. For me, that wasn’t enough. It took me years to realize that to be web, our project had to be interactive. So even if I wanted to, it wouldn’t be able to go on TV or cinemas and really deserve the definition of “web.”
So I’ve achieved peace of mind regarding the definition of “interactive web series”. But this has a downside. Since I got this insight quite late, and we had already shot all the material, we couldn’t realize the possibility of the viewer choosing the direction of the plot. The story remained linear. In that sense, what we ended up with is not exactly a game, but rather an interactive comics and a movie in one.
Daniel: Would love to hear a bit about how you stayed organized through this process — especially switching between filming and building interactivity.
Deyan: The project took us nine years. All this time we were learning on the go. We watched lessons, read books, analyzed good examples from the world. We were complete beginners at filmmaking, but with the help of friends and parents, we were able to achieve results that we enjoyed! For us, Drama in Panama is an additional specialization, a curriculum in a free elective subject. In the last stage, we received funding from a government program to cover the cost of programming the episodes. Unfortunately, no team of developers was able to cover the brief and dare to implement it. This presented us with a huge problem. It was unthinkable to return the money to the program, something had to be done! On the other hand, the money was not enough to look for a company from abroad. I was very scared. Then one of the professors at the academy showed me the Tumult Hype. I hadn’t heard of it. It was intimidating for me to take on something that even the professionals didn’t dare start. But there was no other way out.
I embarked on studying your product. By then, I was surprised. It was much more intuitive to work with than any other software I have used so far. Also, the help I received on the forum was extremely important. Things that were completely new and unheard of for me, I would not have caught up with them if it weren’t for the forum members I was annoying around the clock!
I managed to do in three months what the developers wanted to do in more than half a year and without offering me a mobile version or support for any browser other than Google Chrome. And I have it all now thanks to Hype.
Daniel: That’s incredible! Awesome to hear that Hype was intuitive to learn. What’s your favorite segment of the story?
Deyan: The plot and visuals come to a head in the last two episodes, as the Daydreamer (my wife and co-director) unfolds in the Valley of Lost Souls. This segment of the story is mystical, surreal and that makes it truly wonderful! I don’t like to watch the rest because I play the twins Francis and Henry, and I don’t think I’m a good actor. I wouldn’t make that mistake again!
Daniel: Do you have words of advice for others embarking on a project like this?
Deyan: Don’t compromise on the overall composition, even when you don’t get paid for it. You can shoot a film with a not-so-good camera and make it less than ideal quality, but if the script is carefully thought out and the dialogue and scenes are meaningful, you’ll be happy with the result. In the end, even if things don’t work out in the best possible way, you’ll know you did your best! There are more important things than money, even though they are really necessary. More importantly, build on our high goals and always aim higher than what we can achieve.
Daniel: Any upcoming projects you’re working on?
When we finished working on Drama in Panama, I felt like I didn’t want to take on a big project anymore. But here I am now, a few months later, itching for new challenges. I want to work and look for new inspirations and people to make art with.
Experience Drama in Panama: https://dramainpanama.eu/en/
Watch the Trailer:
Deyan Sedlarski and Mirela Sedlarska