Part comic book, part anime movie, and all online, Broken Saints (www.brokensaints.com) is cresting a brave new wave of small-screen entertainment. This Flash-based epic is a story in 24 parts that was launched in January 2001, and was born on Canadian soil.
Brooke Burgess, a 31-year-old former video game producer, is the series creator/director. The North Vancouver native teamed up with digital whiz kid Ian Kirby and young illustrator Andrew West to realise his vision. Armed only with talent, passion, and some big ideas, the trio had no idea how far Broken Saints would go. They've been able to keep corporate paws off their indie project, which has received numerous New Media awards, by hitting up their many fans for donations -- proof that there is a niche for quality original content on the Web.
"Broken Saints is cinematic literature," Burgess explains. "It's the idea that you can have a reading experience, but at the same time a real sense of filmic or cinematic immersion." The experience is methodical, but mesmerising, requiring patience, but amply rewarding. "You've got beautiful transitions, intense effects, original artwork, hypnotic and powerful music," says Burgess. "The whole package together creates something that is unique. It's something where you can turn out your lights, unplug your phone, close the doors, make sure there are no distractions, and for 20 minutes to an hour just sit and be lost in this world."
Set on an Earth teetering on the edge of technological apocalypse, Broken Saints stars four troubled outcasts from the corners of the globe, who are united by a terrifying vision. "The obvious theme on the surface is the encroachment of technology on our lives. Instead of creating a global village like McCluhan envisioned, it separates and isolates us so we've become truly dependent on technology and we don't even truly communicate with anyone any more -- reliance on this technology will eventually come back and bite us in the ass."
The human element is integral to the Broken Saints ethos. Burgess plays the idea of the West as a society of "haves" against the non-Western "have-nots," suggesting that most of us are "not taking the time or the energy to reflect on those other perspectives." Despite the ethnic, religious and political differences between the four main characters, they are united through their mystical vision. "It's all about seeing the world through different eyes and realising that basically we're all one deep down beneath our skin."
This cosmopolitan view is reflected in the demographic of Broken Saints' viewers. A majority of the fans are young Europeans and South Americans. "The really hardcore fans are younger," muses Burgess, "but then we have other spikes that happen, of people in their late 20s and early 30s. The newest users, particularly due to broadband, are seniors. We have quite a nice little cadre of senior viewers who have been following the series fanatically." Thanks to the enthusiasm of these fans, Broken Saints is a full-time job for Burgess and his team-mates West and Kirby. Donations have poured in to the tune of about $14,000 so far this year, facilitated online and through a series of local benefit concerts. Although the three-man creative squad is shacked up in the Kirby family basement and feeds on a meagre diet, production of each episode is labour of love.
Burgess approaches the project much like the video game industry he left two years ago, or the film industry he'd like to be a part of. "I'll do the writing and directing and shot list and pre-production and stuff, but then it's like a full sit-down for storyboarding with Andrew West. Then Ian comes over and sits with us during the storyboarding and we plan out what effects are possible." West, the art director of the series, enjoys the team's planning sessions. "We throw ideas back and forth at each other -- track sequences, the way I want a character to look, or a way to make the scene more human." Ian Kirby, the series technical director, adds "Most of the influences come from seeing Andrew's artwork for the chapter. We play off each other a lot."
The team's terrifying vision of small-screen domination is getting closer to reality with each episode. Citing film deities Terry Gilliam, David Lynch and Atom Egoyan, Burgess has plans for bringing Broken Saints offline, and onto your TV set. In addition to an upgrade from Flash episodes to DVD, says Burgess, "There's going to be ten to twelve hours of material once the series is done, which is ideal for a television mini-series." Brooke Burgess, Andrew West, and Ian Kirby have lofty goals for a reason. Broken Saints is one of those very rare independent web-based projects internationally recognised as a success, proving that the public knows art when they see it -- and most importantly, rallies behind it.
Originally printed in Exclaim Magazine, Dec. 2002 edition. James Keast, editor.