On September 30, Reel Life, a Grand Theft Auto V machinima project that I’ve been working on for the past few years, was officially unveiled with a short teaser during a live commentary and Q&A of SNAPT Films’ previous two major projects. I was overjoyed at the warm reception from those who watched and asked questions live and apologize if I was a bit hesitant to say too much about the show, but I hope that these monthly updates will keep those of you who are looking forward to the show some insight into how production is progressing. They will come on the first Sunday of every month (yes, I know this one is two days late), and I hope to provide a decent bit of information about the show itself in addition to progress.
In any case, let’s get into the meat of this…
“The Prince & The Pauper”, the short released last month, introduced us to two of the five core characters in Reel Life, as well as the general premise of the show. Now, though, is the time to unveil the rest of those main five characters and who will be bringing them to life.
Tom Aglio has done voice over work for numerous audiobooks, commercials, web shorts, and video games in his 20+ years of experience, with credits including Link in Zelda Universe’s English dub of The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening manga, and most recently the voice of Speed in the mobile game Marvel Avengers Academy. In Reel Life, Aglio plays James Greene, a 28-year-old filmmaker who has made some poor career moves since moving to Los Angeles and is looking to get back on his feet. But he’s not alone in his pursuits; his friends have got his back.
Kim Gasiciel has tackled an extensive variety of characters in a career spanning nearly 20 years, and has even appeared in End Game, SNAPT Films’ latest production, as Danielle. In Reel Life, she plays Serena Matthews, a filmmaker whose career is on a steep upward trajectory, and is a former classmate of James. After two unexpected box office successes, Serena has been given the go ahead to direct a film she wrote herself with the backing of a major studio, but it seems there is no end to the constant stress brought on by her job.
Jacob Eccles is a voice actor based on Norwich, England whose credits cover audio dramas, game mods, and animation. In Reel Life, he plays Ethan Jackson, a big Hollywood star in his late-thirties with staggering box office appeal who has been cast as the lead in Serena’s current film, Birds of a Feather, and one of James’ closest friends in Los Angeles. While he does present himself as having a bit of an ego, drives expensive cars, and throws extravagant house parties up in the Hills, he takes no pleasure in doing so. To stay ahead of the game, he has to keep his name circulating, and he resents this vapid trait of Hollywood.
Christina Nicholls‘ voice over resume is nothing to scoff at, with credits including Bastila Shan in fan productions based on Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Lissandra’s “Program” skin in League of Legends, and countless others. In Reel Life, she plays Jennifer Davis, a young producer who is steadfast in her approach to her work in an industry dominated by men. She also went to high school with both Serena and James and is producing the former’s current film, which is proving to be a bit problematic in its production. Her commitment to her job has been steadily hardening her, however, as she does not want to seem weak in the eyes of her superiors. While this has not had much of an effect on people outside of work, those who she does work with are starting to see the difference.
Tyler Conley is an aspiring voice actor whose only previous role was as Xanadu in his Pure Form in my old Halo: Reach machinima series, Lost in Reach. In Reel Life, however, he plays Eddie Rhodes, James’ somewhat goofy friend who has aspirations of being an actor but has had little success in securing roles. He isn’t totally aware of how the entertainment business works, but what he does know is that he wants to perform, and to his credit he is a pretty decent actor according to both James and Ethan. But there is no shortage of decent actors desperate for work in Los Angeles; he’s got plenty of stiff competition.
I mentioned during the reveal that all of the first drafts of all eight episodes of Season 1 were completed. The key words there are “first drafts”; the scripts are not ready to be recorded yet, as they are a bit rough and the last two have not even been read by anybody else yet at the time of this writing. The first three episodes are well past their first drafts and have been for some time, but episodes 4-8 are all on Draft 1.
However, Episode 1 is near total completion. At most, it needs one or two more quick passes, but in all honesty it may be ready as it is right now. Episode 2 is similarly close, but definitely not quite ready in its current state. And Episode 3 still needs work, particularly in regards to an important bit of dialogue towards the end and potentially its main setting to take advantage of PC mods to allow for something both more believable and simpler to shoot.
However, after putting together a production timeline reflecting how much time each episode should have dedicated to its own production in an effort to have them released on a weekly basis, some realizations have come to light concerning the practicality of producing each episode as they are currently planned. This is not to say that the show is to be compromised, but that rewrites are more necessary than previously expected in order to condense and combine scenes in ways that make shooting and editing the show much more streamlined and manageable. The content, story, plot, and characters will be the same, but where and how events take place will change in these later drafts.
The current status of each script is as follows:
Episode 1 – Draft 11 (10/25/2018)
Episode 2 – Draft 7 (1/8/2018)
Episode 3 – Draft 4 (1/8/2018)
Episode 4 – Draft 1 (3/16/2018)
Episode 5 – Draft 1 (5/22/2018)
Episode 6 – Draft 1 (6/19/2018)
Episode 7 – Draft 1 (8/29/2018)
Episode 8 – Draft 1 (9/4/2018)
Another major hurdle with the scripts as a collective right now is consistency. Some characters are introduced with certain character traits which simply don’t fit with who they naturally become later down the line, for example, or some information in an earlier episode may be contradicted entirely in a later episode. I currently have a couple of friends helping me out with this, but consistency, like condensation, is only part of the process.
Some Technical Details
As it may be apparent at this point, Reel Life will be produced exclusively using the PC version of Grand Theft Auto V. Originally, it was going to be a combination of Xbox One and PC due to the number of friends I have who play the game on console who would gladly assist in the production, but due to a combination of mods, a lack of latency, and control, production has shifted entirely to PC. Some kinks have to be worked out right now, particularly with hair textures of GTA Online character models using Skin Control or Custom Peds, and finding mods which fulfill what Menyoo does (since, according to someone who claims to be close to MAFINS, the developer of Menyoo, he has been busy with course work and has not had time to update Menyoo; reports of him being unable to update due to legal action from Take-Two Interactive are apparently false). I’m leaning towards Enhanced Native Trainer, but I haven’t had the time to remove the mods I currently have installed and revert/back up some RPF files in preparation for updating the game to the most current version to potentially fix the hair texture issue, but I digress.
One mod I would specifically like to highlight is EVE, or Extended Video Export. This mod allows for much higher quality clips to be exported using the Rockstar Editor, and has several options for codecs and presets, including options for Adobe Premiere, fully lossless video, motion blur, and frame rates, the latter of which is of significant interest to me. The Rockstar Editor normally only has two options for the frame rate of exported clips: 30 and 60 fps. Most machinima is rendered at the former, though since YouTube added support for the latter on HD videos, it has not become so uncommon for machinima to be captured, edited, and rendered at 60 frames per second.
EVE has one additional option, however: 23.976 (24) frames per second. Some creators have attempted rendering machinima at this frame rate, which is the standard for film and scripted television (sans soap operas), but due to the way video games are often recorded compared to how they perform, the results rarely, if ever, look good. It is usually just 30 or 60 fps footage edited at 24 fps, which leads to skipping frames to meet a target which is not mathematically divisible.
With EVE, however, Rockstar Editor clips can be exported at a native 24 frames per second with light motion blur to compensate for any perceived choppiness, as is the case in live action cinematography. “The Prince & The Pauper” short was exported and rendered this way, and so will the rest of Reel Life. Going the 24 fps route also helps to conserve on resources by 20% compared to 30 fps, mathematically speaking, as 24 fps video has 20% fewer frames than 30 fps video, thus 20% less information to store, back up, process, and render.
Episode 2 Casting
As progress is made on the scripts, new roles will become available on the show’s Casting Call Club page. With Episode 2’s script being close to finished, there is no better time to open up casting once again. There are three recurring roles this time around, and while there are a few one-off characters in Episode 2 those roles are currently in reserve for offsite actors. If one or more of these one-off roles are unable to be filled by anyone in the pool of people available to me for such roles, they will be posted on the Casting Call page when casting for Episode 3 begins.
The three roles now open to auditions are Cole Pierce, a talent agent with strong paternal instincts; Carrie Fairfield, an aspiring musician who sings and plays guitar in an all-girl soft rock band; and Mariah Michaels, a talent agent with…issues.
This round of casting ends on November 25.
That’s a Month
Not too much to say this month, but that’s looking to change pretty soon. That production timeline is going to keep us busy until the show officially premieres next year, so make sure to come back on December 2 for another batch of information on Reel Life!