What goes around comes around, isn’t that what we’re always warned about? That’s certainly the case for a group of college students in the new web series SPIRAL. Currently airing Season 1, with new episodes released every Wednesday, SPIRAL follows a group of college students, led by Emma (Alexandra Beaton, The Next Step), who come to realize they’ve been connected to each other over multiple lifetimes. The discovery comes after a mysterious death brings them together, and they start to unravel the mystery of who killed fellow student Sophie (Kailey Spear) and why. In the process, the group come to understand how past events from long ago drive karma in the present.
The series, which was shot in and around Victoria, British Columbia, was the idea of Executive Producer Andrew Williamson, who has worked on shows like High Noon, Motive and Emergency Room: Life and Death at VGH. Williamson brought on Karen McClellan, co-showrunner of The Next Step, to lead up writing of SPIRAL, and all of the Season 1 episodes were directed by Jill Carter (Murdoch Mysteries, Private Eyes). Canadian television fans will also recognize familiar face Enuka Okuma (Rookie Blue) as Dean Simpson. “It was great having her presence in amongst the more emerging performers. It was a real gift having someone who has years behind her in TV,” co-producer Lisa Purdy told The TV Junkies during an exclusive chat.
Purdy recently got on the phone, along with Williamson, to discuss where the idea for SPIRAL came from, as well as why it makes a great fit for the web. They also let us in on some of the challenges involved with making content for the web versus traditional television, but how the platform also allows for increased audience interaction and more diverse stories to be told.
The TV Junkies: Where did the idea for SPIRAL come from?
Andrew Williamson: It was an image I had years ago, this idea that six friends would be connected in the past. I always saw each character having a spiral behind them, receding into the distance. I’m not a writer though, so I contacted Karen McClellan, who I’d been developing projects with already. Together we fleshed out the pitch for the show, got some development money and were able to hire Daegan Fryklind (Bitten), Ian Carpenter (Being Erica) and Felicia Brooker to do a room in Toronto, and that’s where the original scripts came from. I then was hired as a principal and disappeared for five years, so when I came back out I called Karen and said it was time to get the financing together for this. That’s when I pitched TELUS out here in B.C. because they are the only people doing financing for digital media content out here in the West.
TTVJ: Having the room and writing the scripts five years ago, did you find that you had to update it at all when you came back to make it now?
AW: Yes. Karen and our story consultant Jocelyn Cornforth did a revision. One, to fit with the TELUS budget, but two, to update it as well. Felicia Brooker came back on and did a pass to try to modernize it because it’s amazing how much had changed in that time with tech and social.
TTVJ: Why did you feel SPIRAL made sense as a web series?
AW: The original idea way back, when it seemed like interactive TV was imminent, it always struck me as a great idea for an interactive TV series because the stories move back and forth in time. What I like about the digital form is the online conversation and engagement you can have through all the platform. But we now realize it is a strong TV property, so our hopes for coming out of Season 1 is to move into TV for Season 2 or Season 3.
TTVJ: Since you guys are aiming the series at younger audiences, what have you found the social media response to be like? Your cast seems like it’d lend itself well to being interactive with fans.
AW: We definitely chose a few of the cast with that in mind. Our social media response has been fantastic.
Lisa Purdy: Also it’s global because The Next Step is in 120 countries and they have a live touring component. So fans of that show are quite engaged and really love our leads Alexandra Beaton and Brennan Clost, and so we were able to leverage that energy and enthusiasm. It’s a very different role for both of them, and there’s no dancing in our show. [laughs]
TTVJ: Speaking of Alexandra, she plays your lead character Emma. What can you share about Emma and her relationships with the other roommates that we’ll meet?
AW: She comes in feeling like the odd person out. She’s there on a scholarship and has arrived late. What unfolds is that she’s the catalyst to discover that all these friends are connected and have quite possibly been friends forever. She goes from being the outsider to being right at the center of the mystery and really takes that on. As the episodes go on you’ll see her really grab the reins to figure out what happened to Sophie.
TTVJ: What are some of the challenges in filming a web series versus a traditional TV series?
AW: Definitely budget. TELUS really wanted to produce something outside of Vancouver, and so I went to university in Victoria and said let’s go there. We partnered with a company in Victoria, and they really delivered on letting us show as much of this location as we can. It’s a really beautiful city.
LP: The other thing about Victoria is that it’s got a vibe, besides the old world charm and colonial past, is a vibe that Karen really hooked into. Statistically it’s got a high population of people interested in spirituality, other worldness and at one point was the highest concentration of Wiccans in Canada. It’s just got a different kind of vibe there, and for Karen that was a choice to be in a place that has a different sensibility.
AW: We also owe credit to Jill Carter our director. She comes from television and working on network series, but we were basically an indie feature. She never shirked from the challenge of shooting it like a TV show, and so we got far more setups and access to more locations because of Jill.
TTVJ: One reason a lot of viewers are drawn to web series is they tend to have more diverse stories that we don’t typically find as much on TV, and they are stronger with things such as LGBTQ representation. Would you say that’s the case with SPIRAL and something you wanted to focus on?
AW: Yes. We were pitching the show before Outlander, so no one in TV wanted to talk about past lives or the fact that dreams could be important. That was exactly the same for the bisexual storyline with Brennan. We haven’t seen many stories where people may identify someone as gay, but they are struggling with being bisexual. That’s the reverse of the story we usually see. We also had a freedom to cast and because we did that ourselves we didn’t have to get approval. We were able to work with new performers like Angela [Palmer], as well as seasoned performers like Alexandra. We had the freedom to put together a cast that we felt was representative of the story and what a group of first year students who have become friends might look like.
TTVJ: You’ve alluded to it a little, but it seems like this is a story you want to continue with in future seasons. How do you envision SPIRAL going forward?
AW: I think as satisfying as the Season 1 ending is, it still leaves a lot of questions unanswered. There’s absolutely a great setup and we’ve beaten out Season 2. I’m in LA next week talking to digital media companies about financing a Season 2 online. Right now we’re really open to conventional television development, but also if we can raise the financing to shoot the second season, then I’d happily do Season 2 as a web series. The great thing about this hook and concept is that the stories are unending.
Intrigued by SPIRAL? Sound off in the comments below!
New episodes of SPIRAL are released every Wednesday online at its website here.
Editor in Chief Bridget Liszewski comes from a long line of TV Junkies who fostered her love of television from a very young age. She's channeled that passion into covering both US and Canadian television shows, and is thankful everyday for the invention of the DVR. A graduate of the University of Notre Dame, she loves college football and is a fan of sports in general. Bridget is always up for talking TV and you can follow her on twitter at @BridgetOnTV.