This Spring, filmmakers Josh Bernhard and Bracey Smith set themselves up with quite a challenge. They finished a script for the TV-series ‘Pioneer One‘, but instead of plugging it to traditional TV-companies the duo decided to fund and distribute it via the Internet.
And so it happened. For the distribution and promotion the pair teamed up with the VODO BitTorrent distribution platform, and the first $6,000 that was needed to shoot the pilot was collected from supporters through the Kickstarter website.
Mid-June the first episode of Pioneer One was eventually released to the public through VODO. With support from all the big players in the P2P-scene, the BitTorrent-only TV-series quickly gained a huge audience.
Hundreds of thousands of people had downloaded the show, and many decided to donate money to fund future episodes. An additional $20,000 was raised in just the first two weeks and the counter topped the $30,000 mark early September – enough money to shoot more episodes of the first season.
“Once our heads stopped spinning after the pilot, we sat down in July to figure out our game plan. If we were going to produce more episodes, we knew we had to do more than one at a time to make it cost effective and timely,” Pioneer One writer Josh Bernhard told TorrentFreak.
“So a lot of preparations had to be made. Initially we didn’t think we’d be able to move forward with the money we had, but the cast and crew were all eager to do more based on the success of the pilot. So based on their generosity, we called in the rest of the favors we had and were able to start shooting in October,” he added.
Three new episodes were eventually shot in October, and the first one was released on VODO just a few minutes ago. Like the pilot, this second episode can be downloaded for free. In the coming weeks the Pioneer One team plans to release episodes 3 and 4, and gather enough funds to complete the remaining episodes.
Although the delay between the first and second episode is not something the general TV-audience is used to, it is one of the inevitable downsides of a peer-funded production. According to the current schedule it looks like the first season will be completed within a year, something the production team and all those who supported the endeavor can be proud of.
Pioneer One Episode 2: The Man From Mars
The first season has 7 episodes in total, but after that the show is far from done.
“From the beginning we knew this was a multi-season story with an arc that would play out over time. The first season is limited enough in scope that we felt we’d be able to pull it off with the resources that we had, but moving forward, it gets bigger,” Bernhard told TorrentFreak.
“How exactly those future seasons will happen, and what form they will take, is not set in stone. Ideally, we’d love to keep producing the show the way we have been: on our own, releasing through BitTorrent. But right now we’re focusing on getting the first season done, because I think that’ll prove what we set out to do, and all together it will stand on its own as a unit,” he commented.
The series was ‘invented’ for BitTorrent, and the team wants to keep it that way for now. However, there has been plenty of recognition from other filmmakers and traditional TV people. The peer-funded episode won an award for ‘Best Drama Pilot’ at the New York Television Festival, which was quite a morale booster for the makers and an indication that they are on the right track.
“We had some great meetings, but we felt very strongly that we had an obligation to our audience that supported the pilot to continue releasing episodes on BitTorrent. That was the stated goal, and that’s what we want to deliver,” Bernhard said.
Eventually, the Pioneer One team would of course be happy to see their work on traditional TV as well, which serves a wider audience than the traditional BitTorrent public. In the end, a collision between traditional TV and content funded and distributed on the Internet might benefit both sides.
For now, however, Pioneer One still relies on the BitTorrent community. Today, the release of the second episode will again be promoted by many P2P partners. Among other initiatives it will be bundled with all the new installs of BitTorrent Inc.’s uTorrent client. Through these promotions the Pioneer one team hopes to gather enough donations to finish the first season.
“We have no funding beyond user donations, but we’re hoping if we can repeat the success of the pilot and beyond, we may attract more support through some kind of sponsorship model. But for now user donations are absolutely crucial. At the moment, we’re depending entirely on the support of our audience to fund episodes 5 and 6.”
It will be interesting to see how the second episode will be picked up by the public. Josh Bernhard has high hopes, but realizes that the success of the pilot won’t be easily matched.
“I hope people will get a better sense of the kind of show we’re trying to make. Personally, I think this next episode is a step above the pilot. We’re all really proud of it. And, hopefully, people will get excited enough to support us and spread the word. I’d love if we outdid the success of the pilot, but we’re taking nothing for granted.”
Pioneer One, episode 1 and 2 can be downloaded through VODO, fully powered by BitTorrent.