TV Insights, Observations and Obsessions from the NYTVF
Check out our Q&A series with Fest Founder Terence Gray (and others), designed to provide submitting artists and TV fans with insight to the current development landscape. If you're thinking about submitting to the NYTVF, this is for you.
Saving the Human Race was an Official Selection in the 2013 NYTVF, where it won a Development Deal with the CW Seed (the CW’s digital hub). In 2017, the series premiered on CW Seed. To celebrate the launch, the NYTVF sat down with series co-creators Jim Garvey and Stian Hafstad to talk about the journey from the original pilot to a six-part series.
Congratulations on Saving the Human Race's premiere on CW Seed. For those who haven’t seen it yet, can you give us a quick overview of what the show’s about?
Jim: Thank you! Saving the Human Race is an action-comedy about a teenage boy's attempts to lose his virginity during the zombie apocalypse. It's a few years into the outbreak, and there are less than a hundred humans left alive. Matt (our protagonist) is in search of someone to help him repopulate the planet and thus ‘Save the Human Race!’ (Though if we're being honest his goals are driven less by benevolence and more by hormones.) There's also a zombie-killing robot because those are the best kind of robots.
Saving the Human Race was an Official Selection at the NYTVF in 2013, where it won a development deal with the CW. Flash-forward 4 years, and it’s a digital series on CW Seed. What was the development process and journey from its beginnings to now?
Stian: It was a longer process than we anticipated, but we're super excited about the result. After we won the development deal at NYTVF, we developed the show with the CW until we had the scripts ready about a year after. Then, we shot the show in the summer of 2015. It was a co-production with the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation (NRK). It premiered in Norway 2016, where it was nominated for a Norwegian Emmy. Then released on the CW in 2017.
How did you adapt the original pilot and script into a six-episode series? Did it change any character arcs that you had planned?
Stian: I guess it's safe now to reveal that our "pilot" was actually a short film. But it had a fun world and intriguing characters, so adapting it into a digital series was a playful journey. I'd say it was almost good that we did not have full season arcs for the characters before starting development, because it left us very open in terms of where the characters could go. In the end, the first two episodes are basically the plot of the original short, and then we continue from there.
Jim: The original idea for the project came from my desire to comedically explore the statement "I wouldn't sleep with you if you were the last person on Earth." In the pilot that played at the NYTVF, Matt was the last male on Earth and Emma was the last female. When we were given the opportunity to expand into a full season for CW Seed, the biggest change to the original pilot was that we chose to populate the world a little bit more (87 humans worldwide instead of 2.) Giving our protagonist other characters to interact with allowed him to arc in more interesting ways and provides us with infinitely more story opportunities, should we be lucky enough to earn a second season.
The untouched location really helps in establishing the tone of the series. How did you decide where to shoot the series, and what were the logistics of shooting on location?
Jim: The original pilot was a short film we made during our time at Columbia University. First year students are required to write a short film that someone else directs and to direct a short film that someone else writes. When Stian pitched me on my original Saving the Human Race script, he said he wanted to direct it in his home country of Norway. It's a stunning locale that adds a lot to the project, but really I was just excited for an excuse to visit Scandinavia. The CW Seed executives were taken by the visuals of that original short film and were completely on board with shooting the series in Norway.
Stian: I think locations are incredibly important when creating the feeling of the world in a show, and so we were very clear from Day 1 that we didn't want to shoot in a studio. The original pilot was shot in my home country of Norway (on my parents’ farm, actually!), and we wanted to shoot the show in Norway, too. When we pitched the idea of shooting in Norway, the CW execs were very excited. Norway has magnificent nature, and the contrast between untouched nature and human decay is very interesting for a zombie show. For the other locations, we did extensive scouting in order to find places that felt right in terms of grit and texture.
What has it been like developing your own show with CW Seed?
Jim: The executives at CW Seed were great. It was a lot of a fun.
Stian: We worked directly with Rick Haskins, Michael Roberts, and Jennifer Titus, and they all had great feedback and were very enthusiastic about the show. It's always a give and take when working with a network, but they were very good about letting us do our thing, then coming in with good notes, making the characters stronger, and the story better.
How do you find the balance between keeping your original vision for a show you created and implementing notes from executives?
Jim: It was really quite easy, because the executives at CW Seed were so encouraging and went out of their way to make sure that we made the show we wanted to make. For example, early in the process we pitched them an idea to do it as a robot apocalypse instead of a zombie apocalypse in order to save money on extras and keep the budget low, but they told us "if you want this to be in the zombie apocalypse, then it should be in the zombie apocalypse. Tell your story." That type of support existed throughout the process.
Stian: It's a give and take when working with a network, but overall the CW was very thoughtful and encouraging when giving feedback. I think the hardest change for us was adjusting the age of the protagonist. In the pilot he was 14, and we really wanted to keep him that age, but the network wanted him to be 18. And that changed the whole dynamic between him and the female main character. So, it took us a long time to adapt to the mindset of making him a young adult, rather than a young teen, but, in the end, I think we landed in a good spot.
How did your experience at the NYTVF influence your career trajectory? Do you have any advice for creators looking to submit to NYTVF this year?
Jim: My advice for creators looking to submit to the NYTVF this year is to trust your instincts. It's good to solicit advice and input from others while you are polishing off your drafts and cuts, but trust that if you like the thing you've made then someone else will too. Good luck!
Stian: I think NYTVF is unique in the way it manages to connect up-and-coming creators with industry people. I've played at NYTVF twice now, and both times I've walked away with something tangible from the industry. That rarely happens at other festivals. For creators who are submitting this year, I would say just be open to meeting people, and definitely don't be afraid to submit to any pitch opportunity that sounds interesting. We played NYTVF last year with a comedy, but ended up submitting a mystery thriller for one of the pitch opportunities, and suddenly we had the opportunity to develop it for a bigger network.
Check out previous downloads here:
Top 10 Reasons to Submit to the NYTVF | Past Scripts Winners Part 2 | Past Scripts Winners Part 1 | Past JFL Winners | Shrink Co Creators | NYTVF Alum Jorge Rivera | No Tomorrow Writers | FLOWERS Creator Will Sharpe | Comedy Central Insights - 5/6/16 | 2016 TV Town Halls Advice | 2016 Bento Box Interview | 2016 truTV - Marissa Ronca | NYTVF Best Comedy Animals Heads to HBO | Q&A with the Jamz | Alumni Q&A (Richard Keith and Erin Cardillo) - 5/29/15 | Alumni Q&A (Damian Lanigan) - 5/29/15 | Chicago Comedy Panel - 5/18/15 | Big Laughs at Just For Laughs - 5/5/15 | Alumni Q&A (Whatever Linda) - 3/27/15 | Insights from the intern bullpen - 8/27/14 | Insights from the intern bullpen - 8/19/14 | Insights from the intern bullpen - 8/6/14 | Insights from the intern bullpen - 7/30/14 | Insights from the intern bullpen - 7/24/14 | Rory Covey of My Damn Channel's Honchos - 4/10/14 | Drama advice from Siobhan Byrne O'Connor - 4/3/14 | NYTVF Alum Danny Abrahms - 3/21/14 | Drama Advice - 3/13/14 | Advice from Chicago - 3/10/14 | Unscripted LA Panel - 2/25/14 | Drama Development - 2/20/14 | MSN Development - 2/12/14 | Casting - 2/5/14 | The Network Development Process - 1/29/14 | History Development - 1/15/14 | Comedy Formats - 3/18/13 | A&E Pipeline - 4/3/13 | Fox Script Contest - 4/10/13 | From Film to TV - 5/17/13 | Lifetime Unscripted - 9/4/13