Columbusland: Aidan 5

Bryan Michael Block wasn’t surprised when the phone rang, but it wasn’t the call he was expecting. The conversation was short, but sufficient. He opened the door to his closet and grabbed a gray-striped tie and weathered leather jacket to make sure he looked the part of a police detective. There was a serial killer, it was his job to stop him, and the clock was ticking. But this wasn’t any ordinary case. The murder he was called to solve was his own.

Block has an unsettling stature when the situation requires it. Imagine the disheveled understatement of Harrison Ford in Blade Runner amplified by the ominous presence of Vincent D’Onofrio on a bad day. That grim and gritty look is the reason he was originally cast as the lead actor in the ambitious and acclaimed science-fiction series Aidan 5, which recently returned with its long-awaited second season after starting as a short nearly a decade ago.

“We didn’t know what genre was going to get pulled out of that hat. It could have been a western or a romance. With the 48-Hour Film Project it could have been anything,” recalled Block, whose impulsive and intuitive wardrobe selection set the tone for the lead character. “When they pulled sci-fi, that’s when they decided to make a futuristic film noir.”

Professional and lifelong friendships often intersect with the 48-Hour Film Project, an international competition where local teams squeeze the entire motion picture production process into just two days.

“After the acting was done against a green screen, the backgrounds were drawn and scanned in,” Block explained. “It was really just pen and pencil on a sketch pad, cut up in Photoshop, and dropped into a timeline.”

The finished film was low tech, but high concept — a composite comic book look more akin to Sin City than an A-ha music video. Audiences and the industry took notice, making the rounds online and at larger festivals, eventually making it all the way to Cannes. Even William Shatner tweeted his approval of its innovative techniques and technology with the envious interrogative, “Why aren’t I in it?”

“Ben Bays, who is also a producer here in town, approached us after the 48 about turning it into a web series, how we needed to take this world and expand it,” he explained. “That’s when we started to explore the details and fill in the blanks on the future we’d created.”

The original series opens in 2064 with Detective James Aidan standing over his own corpse, one of several clones with which Block appears on screen simultaneously, stitched together digitally in post-production. A world where cloning is commonplace was a crucial creative device and plot point that propels the now 30-episode series. The entire production was created and executed in Columbus essentially as a community film project, with a cast and crew too numerous to name.

“Season One was shot for no money and was cobbled together. But we had a lot of help between favors, friends, and filmmakers willing to show up for several Saturdays,” Block noted. “Season Two is three and a half hours. Add that to the three hours of Season One and we have four feature films worth of finished content.”

The new season is still set in the same dystopian future, and also employed the signature green screen meets black box theater approach. But unlike the original short or the first series that followed, Season Two took several years to complete, funded through Kickstarter to build interest and cover incidentals.

Filming took place in Columbus as well, minus one notable cameo that was almost too good to be true — Richard Hatch, best known for roles in both the original and reimagined reboot of Battlestar Galactica, but also a passionate supporter of streaming series, podcasts, and similar emerging storytelling platforms.

“We reached out to him, but knew it was a long shot. Even though his scene was small, it was pivotal. We sent him the script and he said he really liked the series and the part,” revealed Bays, showrunner and executive producer of Aidan 5. “He specifically mentioned one of the reasons he was doing it was because he was so impressed with the production and performances in Season One and liked working on projects with up-and-coming talent.”

Schedules didn’t align to shoot Hatch’s scene here. But a green screen can be anywhere, so you’d never know Hatch was in L.A. while Bays directed remotely.

“I just Skyped in and directed over a laptop,” Bays added. “There is even a cast photo of everyone in the studio with Richard and someone is holding up a laptop with my face on the other end.”

Aside from consistent studio space, the second season also piqued the interest of local talent, with more than 40 speaking parts and dozens of extras populating their imaginary world. Even the late John Kuhn, artistic director of the Actors’ Theatre of Columbus read for a role.

“It was the first time we’d ever met him and his voice captivated us. He had such gravitas we decided to create a villain around it,” recalled Block, whose contributions also included casting and helping to create the series backstory. “His performance and reputation gave Aidan 5 a lot of legitimacy in the local the theater community, and the episodic nature allowed us to feature local actors in scenes where everyone felt like a guest star.”

As for the final fate of James Aidan and his clones, Bays confirmed the series was always intended to be a trilogy — but we may have to wait a while before the next installment of episodes, just so everyone can catch their collective breath.

“One of the things about Aidan 5 that we love most is that it is so collaborative. It really is a group of friends working together with the local acting community to create something greater than any of us could do on our own,” explained Bays. “Whether it’s someone like Richard Hatch from L.A. or someone local like John Kuhn, the series creates an outlet for filmmakers, writers, and actors to be a part of something that puts Columbus on the map.”

Both seasons are available now at aidan5.com

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