The BitTorrent Interview: Marco Weber on Children of the Machine

The first original content series and a new funding model come to BitTorrent Bundle.

BitTorrent Bundle started out as an alpha experiment in content sustainability: as a way to provide artists with creative options and a direct connection to fans. Since the project launched in 2013, we’ve added over 10 thousand publishers to our platform, and over 2 million new and archival titles. We’ve seen new storytelling models unfold — 3D-printed music videos, and community-sourced albums. And in just over 365 days, we’ve seen a new digital community come together around the arts, with over 100 million Bundle downloads, and counting.

Our goal is to make the Internet a better place for creativity: to make music, film, and art more valuable each time it’s shared. This summer, we’ll be building paygates into Bundle: allowing fans to buy projects direct from artists; giving publishers choice and control when it comes to funding their work. For non-traditional storytellers, like Marco Weber of Rapid Eye Studios, this represents the next wave of digital media.

This fall, Rapid Eye Studios will bring a new original content series to BitTorrent Bundle. Children of the Machine tells the story of young adulthood on earth, after a major tech upheaval. The pilot will be launched with BitTorrent Bundle, and will also air on Cinedigm’s new Comic-Con digital network, CONtv. If viewers fall in love with the show, they can purchase the entire series in advance via Bundle paygates. Once the funding threshold is reached — 250K subscribers — the first season will be produced, and delivered back to the fans who kicked in to support the project.

We talked to Marco Weber about the BitTorrent Experiment, and why original content needs more openness, and options.

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Photo credit: Stephanie Diani for The New York Times

BitTorrent: We’re in something like the golden age of episodic content. HBO, Netflix, AMC, and Showtime have in many ways redefined the shape of the traditional TV series. Has this been an inspiration for you as a storyteller? What inspired you to turn your focus to episodic content?

Marco Weber: When I came up with the concept of Children of the Machine; when Jeff Stockwell, my writing partner, and I started working on it: it felt bigger than a feature. We were creating an entire universe of characters and storylines.

Of course, we were inspired by the boldness and bravery of shows like True Detective, Mad Men, and Breaking Bad. These series prove that there’s an audience for edge; that there’s something beyond traditional network offerings and story arcs.

BitTorrent: And yet — you’ve chosen a different, non-network, non-Netflix approach to distribution for Children of the Machine. Why?

MW: I wanted to be able to control the process. I looked at how Kickstarter evolved, and the success of Netflix. And my idea was to marry these two concepts, and basically create a hybrid model: one where people have the opportunity to watch a pilot for free, and then decide if they want to see (and fund) more episodes. BitTorrent Bundle, with its upcoming paygate feature, is the exact platform to accomplish this. That’s why I reached out to Matt [Mason], and started pitching the idea.

We’re putting ourselves on the line, and making the pilot at our own risk. We’re doing this because we believe in the show, and we believe in the community. We hope that audiences will respond, and use the BitTorrent Bundle paygate to fund the next eight episodes. They get to make the decisions that executives at entertainment conglomerates usually make for them. If fans are willing to accept that deal, and become stakeholders in our production, then I’m sure that Children of the Machine will only be the first of many shows to follow this model.

I don’t know if there’s anything wrong with how TV shows are usually created, but I don’t like the fact that you have to pass through countless gatekeepers in the pilot process; the way original concepts get watered down and diluted. In everything I do, I want to stay true to myself and my ideas. That’s the goal.

For us, it’s been incredibly encouraging that major talent has signed on to support the project. Joakim Olsson and Markus Hammarberg of Stockholm Design, a company that worked on The Hunger Games franchise, will create the entire design and artwork for Children of the Machine. CONtv, the new network for Comic-Con launching this summer, has also signed on as a partner.

BitTorrent: Your series, Children of the Machine, will become the first piece of original content to be created in collaboration with BitTorrent; to be distributed using BitTorrent Bundle. Why BitTorrent?

MW: With over 170 million users, BitTorrent is a powerhouse. Add in paygates, and you have a fantastic tool to distribute content to a growing, influential youth audience.

If this audience appreciates and wants to participate in the creation of original content; if they want to use BitTorrent Bundle paygates to subscribe to and fund filmmaker projects, then we’ve created a powerful new distribution tool — something that can change the way content is being developed.

BitTorrent: Children of the Machine is a post-apocalyptic story about young adulthood; set in the not-so-distant future. But you see the story as something that’s unfolding now. What do you see as the cultural / electrical currents that inform the story?

MW: I’ve always been interested in making films about youth in chaos / crisis: Igby goes Down, The Informers; the really dark and nihilistic California Scheming.

What’s most fascinating to me right now is that — for the first time in youth culture — emotion and anger isn’t communicated directly to others, but instead: through devices, software, and social media. That triggers a totally different dynamic.

Jeff [Stockwell] and I started thinking about how that would develop over the course of the next twenty years; into the time when our story takes place. I believe that things like Artificial Intelligence and digital addiction will have a major impact on our society. The idea and experience of Oculus Rift is an early indicator; it’s not hard to imagine a future where wired experiences become — effectively — digital drugs. These are some of the themes we’re interested in exploring.

BitTorrent: What can we expect from Children of the Machine? What are you / what should we be looking forward to?

MW: You can expect a pilot that breaks some of the rules when it comes to storytelling. We’ve created a world in the not-so-distant future that brings to life the things that today are happening behind closed doors. This is about the impact of digital culture on every human, and not-so-human, being.

Follow Children of the Machine on Facebook and Twitter.

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About BitTorrent Bundle

BitTorrent Bundle is an alpha project made with and for the web’s creative community. Our mission is to help artists connect directly with fans, inside the content they share.

Each BitTorrent Bundle allows artists to distribute content directly to the Internet. An each Bundle comes with a key. Fans can unlock artist content with an email address. The idea is to make each song a storefront, and each file more valuable, each time it’s shared. Got ideas for the next BitTorrent Bundle? Hit us up.

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