Interview with Mike Zawacki and Scott Norman, The Wars of Other Men

This week we are talking with Mike Zawacki, director of steampunk short film Wars of Other Men, and Scott Norman, who plays the Lieutenant.


Airship Ambassador: Hi Mike and Scott, it’s really great to talk with you again after seeing you at Teslacon.

Mike Zawacki: Thanks! It was good seeing you at TeslaCon and I’m glad to be chatting now.


AA: Attendees at Teslacon and some other conventions had a chance to see Wars of Other Men on the big screen and enjoy a follow up Q&A with you and others on the team. What is the film about?

MZ: It’s about a lieutenant fighting in a war that never happened in a past that never was. The army he fights for is on the verge of defeat, knocked back on its heels by the introduction of the enemy’s new chemical super-weapon – the Fog.

The Lieutenant is ordered to lead a team of soldiers into the heart of the urban battleground to steal the secrets of and means for making the Fog. His mission will turn the tide of the war but at a terrible personal and moral cost, as use of the Fog would proliferate and kill countless soldiers and civilians. There’s an even more sinister angle to his mission and throughout the film the details of that aspect are slowly revealed until the moment when he has to choose between his duty and his humanity.


AA: I found the multilayered story and messages to be very engaging when I watched the movie. What was the motivation for creating Wars? How did it all come about?

MZ: I’ve always had a fascination with alternate history (especially Steampunk and Dieselpunk), the Battle of Stalingrad, World War I, and war films in general, so the overall spine of the project came together pretty easily. My fellow filmmakers and I had been doing projects in the urban wilds of Detroit for a while and I wanted to use that backdrop for something other than post-apocalypse and the other sorts of projects that generally get set there. You don’t see a lot of war films that take place exclusively in urban settings, and there aren’t a lot of Steampunk war films so that became the other component of the project.



The zeppelin gunship fielded by our heroes’ forces. Though formidable, their technology lags behind that of their enemy and as such the vehicle has fewer and less powerful weapons as well as a much more basic gas envelope, propulsion system, and superstructure.

AA: How did elements from the team’s lives and experiences play into creating Wars?

MZ: We had a few military veterans on the team and one of them, Keith Dean, who played a couple of roles on the enemy’s side, took some of the cast out shooting with some period appropriate rifles. There were some bolt action rifles like a Mauser (I think it was a German 98k) and a Russian Mosin Nagant 91/30, and a couple of semi-auto rifles – a Garand and an FN-49. I think that gave them a sense for what their weapons in the film would feel and shoot like. He also offered up advice on how to move through dangerous areas, how to hold your weapon, things like that which made our soldiers more believable in their soldiering.

Beyond that there was just the passion for filmmaking in Detroit that a lot of the cast and crew already had. Many of us knew the places where we shot very well – all the cool little out of the way locations, the idiosyncrasies of the buildings and lots, and so on. But in a lot of ways most of us were stepping out of our comfort zones on Wars and operated outside of anything that was familiar. We hadn’t really done much in the way of war films and had never done any kind of alternate history. The scope of the film was outside what any of us tried as well.


The enemy’s dreaded zeppelin gunship. Note the armored gas envelope and reinforced super structure, which allows the guns to be rotated along the circumference of the envelope.

AA: Why use steampunk as the design aesthetic?

MZ: Oh man… why not? Because it’s cool and fun and you get to make it up as you go along! There’s so much creative play in Steampunk and it’s a really striking and distinctive style. And even to people who aren’t used to the genre it’s this immediate visual cue that you’re watching a film that takes place in a past that’s completely unlike our own. So it says a lot without having to utter a single line of dialog. Given all that it’s a choice that’s hard to resist.


AA: What kind of backstory is there for Wars which didn’t make it into the final film?

MZ: There was just tons of stuff. Before shooting I had conversations with each of the actors individually and then as distinct groups – like, all the soldiers, all the officers and so on. We talked about their characters, their pasts, events that shaped their lives, and in group settings we’d talk about things like how they related to the other characters, and so on.

With a short film, even one like Wars that’s pretty long by short film standards, you have so little time to explore things outside the central character and the central narrative. But we worked in what we could. Chief amongst those were the camaraderie of the soldiers. Little things would sneak in too, and I think it really helped give the actors a sort of emotional bed for their characters. We knew that very little of what we talked about would make it in, but I wanted to give the actors as many tools as possible to work with.

In addition to all those character stories there were notes about the world, some rough outlines for the history of the conflict, discussions about the rigid and almost hereditary nature of the leadership of the Lieutenant’s army, just lots of material. Again, we knew very little of this would make it in to the finished film but hopefully it gave the costume, production design, and art teams something to work with while they were creating their parts of the film.


AA: That makes a lot of sense to have that information for everyone, even just to flavor their character in small ways and actions, and nuance their performance. Are there any plans for a sequel or spinoff?

MZ: Yeah, given all the stories we feel are left to tell and the positive reception we’ve gotten from the Steampunk and Sci-Fi communities once we stopped to catch our collective breath we didn’t have to think too hard about what to do next. I’m working with Scott Norman, who played the Lieutenant, and some other friends and fellow filmmakers to work the elements from Wars into a full-fledged series. We’re writing the pilot episode and mapping out character and story arcs for the first season.

We’re also going to be shooting a teaser for the series to show at TeslaCon. For now we’re pursuing an independent funding model rather than trying to pitch the show to networks or whatever. That may change but for now we’re much more excited about hooking into a lot of the options for online self-distribution that would allow us to maintain ownership of the project and keep working closely with the Steampunk community.

Scott Norman: It’s probably going to be more of a “reboot” than a sequel or spinoff. While we were initially taking TWOOM on the road, I asked Mike “What is this all for? What are we trying to accomplish other than get this short film seen? And, how can I help?” He told me that his dream was to do it as a series. I always believed in his talent, so I jumped on board to see if I could help make it happen. His dream became my dream, and we’re pushing toward that end.

Airship Ambassador: It’s always fun, and inspiring, when someone’s idea takes hold like that. Creativity can be infectious and exciting.


Let’s break here in our chat with Mike and Scott.

Join us next time with they talk about the actual filming of the movie.

Follow the latest news and information on the movie’s website, twitter, and facebook.

Information is also on IMDB, the internet movie database.


Published in: on March 29, 2015 at 10:15 am  Comments (6)  
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Interview with Lisa England / Aurelia

This week we are talking with Lisa England, the creator of Aurelia: Edge of Darkness.


Airship Ambassador: Hi Lisa, thanks for time out of your busy schedule for Aurelia to talk with us about this great project.

Lisa England: No, thank you! I really appreciate the chance to share this fun collaborative story.


AA: There are a few articles about Aurelia out there, even the Huffington Post reposted one of them for an added boost.  There’s also the show’s official blog to follow. I came away from those with many terms to describe Aurelia, but how do you describe it, both the story and the storytelling platform, for other people?

LE: Thanks for making a distinction between the story and the show! The story, in my mind, is the overarching “thing.” The show is a subset of that story—one part of it.


I describe the story as “a steampunk fantasy that follows an inventor-king who must abandon his culture’s failing technology in search of a greater power—one that can save their whole world from collapse.” (I call it a steampunk fantasy to distinguish our story from a scientifically-driven “pure” steampunk tale that probably shares more in common with science fiction than fantasy.) The first installment of that story is Rise of the Tiger, my 48-episode web serial that’s available online. Future serials (or books) will continue that story to its conclusion.


The show is an “interactive web drama that follows the citizens of a self-sustaining, steam-powered city, as they battle an energy crisis that could wipe their civilization out forever.” That city is Aurelia, the home of the saga’s inventor-king hero, Jude. At the time of the show, Jude has been cast out of the city after failing to solve the energy crisis, and the citizens are on their own to save themselves. So the show falls between the end of Book 1 and the beginning of Book 2.


AA: You’ve called this ‘co-created storytelling,’ and it’s like a web series, but without a script, and actors who are both audience and participants, and live action role play (LARP) with a bit of delayed response. How did you even come across and get involved in this new type of storytelling, which was described in one article as a crowd-sourced fantasy story? How can one even crowd-source a single story?

LE: Well, every story is composed of main plots and subplots. I write the main plot for Aurelia and drive that plot forward through weekly calls to action. The actors’ stories serve as the subplots—although lately the subplots have taken preeminence in the story, and I’m excited about that, too!

I first had contact with this type of storytelling when a friend joined the long-running Beckinfield web show run by the tech start-up Theatrics. My friend’s enthusiasm made an impression on me, but it wasn’t until Theatrics opened up their public platform for beta testers that I really got involved. A friend in Los Angeles thought my web serial Rise of the Tiger (the origin of Aurelia) was a perfect match and suggested I sign up for updates.


To my surprise, a month later, the Theatrics team reached out and asked me if I were interested in running a show based on Rise as part of the beta test group. I said yes—and from there they began to coach me into how this type of story works. It took awhile to wrap my head around it all, though!


AA: What was the appeal of Beckinfield that attracted you, drew you in, and inspired you to use the Theatrics video storytelling platform for Aurelia?

LE: In my day job, I’m a storyteller and strategist for a digital marketing agency. Through my work there, I realized that today’s audience member loves a chance to be involved. Brands all over the world successfully engage their audiences with fascinating and fun interactive experiences—and I began to think about my web serial as a brand, and what might happen if an audience could get involved in the story world and become a character. This bothered me for several months while I was finishing the serial. Of course the dedicated readers (most of whom prefer text-based stories, naturally) looked forward to the twice-weekly installments, but I knew I was only engaging them one way. I began searching for that two-way experience. Theatrics was literally an answer to prayer in that regard.


AA: How does the Theatrics platform actually work for creating and telling a story?

LE:  Theatrics provides a “shell” that showrunners like me must fill. Each show runner creates a story that casts the actors as a group protagonist, so any kind of group environment (a sanitarium, a cruise ship, a research team, a town, etc.) is the perfect start for a story. Showrunners then fill the platform with info about the story world and calls to action (plot points that ask the actors to get involved). Then, they invite actors to sign up for a free account. That account allows each actor to post photos, blog-style written entries, and videos as often as they would like. Each week, actors react to the week’s call to action and/or update their individual character’s story using those three tools. Of course, video is the most popular.


Here are several particularly clever actor videos:

An Artifact Down Below

A True Introduction

Unexpected Gift

Another Shadow in the Making


AA: Back to Aurelia, what was your motivation in creating the whole project?

LE:  The original web serial had been a passion project of mine for five years, and it has gone through many different forms. Taking it into the digital space for AURELIA, my primary motivation was connection. I wanted to connect with serial readers and a brand new audience by offering them a role in the story development process. I guess you could say I was looking for relationship.


AA: With Rise of the Tiger, still available to online readers, as the creative origin, what was the process of Aurelia essentially spinning off and becoming a world and a story in its own right?

LE: Well, if truth be told, I was planning to spend my summer revising Rise of the Tiger and then releasing an interactive digital edition, which would be a lead-up to the launch of the next serial in the saga. But life had other plans!

Instead, I treated the spin-off process as part of my serial revisions; one thing I knew from my serial version of Rise was that I wanted to take readers even more in-depth into the unique world of Aurelia, the city. So all the things I had to go deeper into, for the show, will greatly help me when I finally get back to revising the serial. Things like actual culinary items, details of government, what parts of the city look like that weren’t featured prominently in the serial, how much money is worth, etc.


Theatrics required me to produce some in-depth documents that pitched a show concept, developed the world more deeply, and outlined a plan for creating artistic assets (backdrops, character designs, etc.) that would bring Aurelia to life. All that has helped me immensely with my creative process. Then I had to decide how to distribute that information on the show site, who was going to create all the artistic assets, etc.


AA: What steampunk elements have you, and now the other audience-actors, brought into the story to create this world and make it engaging to the steampunk community?

LE: Well, Aurelia is a weird mash-up of Steampunk and fantasy, set entirely inside a Babel-like city that’s trapped in a toxic wasteland. So . . . you won’t find an alternate British empire or locomotives or airships or anything like that. Steam powers the world, and there’s a lot of industrial-era technology or futuristic technology (like borgs and fully-functional mechanical animals) that, in the steampunk tradition, work on Victorian mechanics and steam. Fashion is also influenced by steampunk, as are weaponry. Actors of course have brought in their own ideas and in some case have invented new types of machines or creatures that their storylines require. Those who steampunk cosplay also have a great outlet for showing off their outfits and accessories through video. Other actors who LARP or cosplay in more fantasy settings have found the world flexible enough for their costuming, too. Which is exactly how I hoped it would be: fantastical enough for the medieval crowd but steamy enough for the steampunks. J I’m always trying to find ways to bring different genres together.



We’ll break here in talking with Lisa about the world of Aurelia: Edge of Darkness

Next time, Lisa talks about inspiration, maps, and getting involved.

Keep up with the stories until then!


Published in: on August 25, 2013 at 10:00 am  Comments (1)  
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Interview with Jeremy Kelly-Bakker – Part 3

Welcome back to the conclusion of our chat with one Jeremy Kelly-Bakker, of the scriptwriters of the short steampunk film, Aurora, from Urtext Film Productions and Rough Cut Productions, both in Australia.

Part 1 of our interview can be read here.

Part 2 of our interview can be read here.

Airship Ambassador: This film took awhile to create and that means a lot of time and commitment from cast, crew and volunteers. What of schedule and scheduling issues did you and the crew face? How long did post production take compared to actual filming?

Jeremy Kelly-Bakker: It’s really hard to gauge how much time was put into the film. Shooting days were often 2-3 months apart due to sets not being ready or actors not being available on the same day. Chris also shot Priya which put things on hold for a long while. The post production was definitely the most intense and grueling part of the production, we were sinking about 100 hours a week into post for months on end. Part of it was us learning the techniques and then attempting them for the first time to create completed VFX shots.


AA: That’s a pretty major labor of love. What kind of effort goes into scouting for appropriate and usable locations, and then getting access to them for filming?

JKB: We spend weeks location scouting and ended up all over the place. Funnily enough, for what seems like a rather remote and frontier world, 4 of the locations were right in the city, which made recording sound an absolute nightmare at times because of planes and trucks. We were lucky to have some beautiful natural locations, too. The opening scene was shot in this gorgeous field at Myponga Beach about an hours drive out of the city. And the flashback to Emerson’s home was a really cute Bed and Breakfast by the coast.

AA: With so much location shooting, what was the mix of existing settings which only needed to be redressed, sets which needed to be physically built, and CGI/green screen?

JKB: Nearly all the sets had something done to them. The market place was shot in a working quarry we got permission to shoot in, that had one side blue screened for the background city while the market stalls were built against the sheer cliff. The mansion reveal shot is actually in the Adelaide Botanic Gardens and the mansion and mountains were all composited in later. The mansion interior is the Masons lodge in the centre of Adelaide and there was either an exit sign or fire hydrant in every single shot that need painting out. The ship is actually a pirate ship themed restaurant in the suburb of Glenelg called the Buffalo Restaurant; we would then string up our makeshift blue screens so we could put the appropriate background behind it for each scene.


AA: How has movie making changed over the years? Is it more accessible for people today?

JKB: It’s definitely becoming more and more accessible to people as it moves further and further into digital formats, and content to learn from is becoming more freely available on the internet. Though the core principles will always remain the same, it doesn’t matter how good your camera is, if you don’t understand how to light your shots or how they’re going to edit together it’s not going to make a good movie.

AA: What kind of marketing is done now post release to continue attracting new viewers?

JKB: So far it’s mostly been forums, while we’re attempting to spread the film to the various steampunk, sci fi and fantasy communities. What we really want is for it to spread through word of mouth, so someone likes it and shows their friends, who sends it to more friends and so on and so forth. We’ll know we’ve done ok when the film begins to turn up on sites without us having to do it ourselves. It’s started a little already, turning up on a few blogs and twitters but so far it’s been a bit of a slow burn. The main issue I think we have is it’s a 33 minute film where most youtube content is 3 minutes tops. Getting people to dedicate half an hour to an internet film is a huge ask and not very common. But I think as long as we’re persistent and the communities continue to enjoy what we’ve made and spread it further then we’ll get the kind of coverage we’re after.


AA: What are some memorable fan reactions to Aurora which you’ve heard about? Has anyone built a model of the Aurora yet?

JKB: Actually, I believe we were asked by one person for permission to recreate the Aurora in Second Life. I’ll be very keen to see what they come up with. I know building the ship took me ages but I guess we were designing it as we built it.


AA: Do people outside the steampunk and convention communities recognize you for Aurora? What kind of reactions have you received?

JKB: We haven’t actually managed to get it to any conventions yet. It’s a whole new ball game we’re only just starting to learn about. We only discovered SteamCon and DragonCon about two weeks after all entries had closed for both. Sadly here in Australia (Adelaide especially, it’s the smallest of the cities) we’re quite removed from convention culture which is a real shame as its something we’re very keen to get involved in. Peter Rossi (Emerson) has been recognized a few times down the street. Personally I can’t wait for the day I’m recognized for playing James, though my hair has been cut short and that’s not my natural accent as you could probably tell.

AA: As the word spreads, I’m sure that fame and recognition will find you! People continue to hear about Aurora every day. How are those new readers finding you – conventions, website, word of mouth, etc?

JKB: I think its been a mix of forums and word of mouth. But we’re really wanting to push it much further. Actually if you or anyone else has ideas of genre film festivals, conventions and gatherings it could go to we’d love to hear them! It’s a world we’ve been a little removed from as we’ve had our heads down making films, now we want to spread our work and we’re only just learning how. We’ve caught up a few times in the last few weeks to discuss the different avenues we can take to spread the word and keep the enthusiasm for the film and the world running strong. But all help is certainly appreciated.


AA: What kind of attention has Aurora generated?

JKB: Nothing huge as of yet. I think we’re around 10,000 views on youtube now which is great but still a drop in the ocean in terms of internet content. Mostly it’s been questions and responses from Forums we’ve posted on. All have been overwhelmingly positive and uplifting. The film has been online since the night of the premiere which was a little over a month ago, but we’re really wanting to build on that count as much as we can so hopefully when we do approach studios and funding bodies we can say “See these 1 million hits, that’s our existing fanbase”.


AA: Most of us won’t be able to make it to a public screening; how can people watch it at home? YouTube, Vimeo, dvd?

JKB: YouTube definitely. The whole film is online for free and we hope to generate as much enthusiasm and popularity for the idea as possible, so that hopefully one day we can see more of the Aurora crew. You can see it at or at


AA: Any merchandise tie-ins for the diehard fans?

JKB: Aww man what I wouldn’t give for a toy Aurora, or a James action figure! Though I do have the 3D model on my computer. We have DVD’s and soundtrack CD’s and plenty of them. Though we haven’t really advertised them. I’d say we need to get around to that.

AA: Aurora models and action figures! Sign me up! Are there any plans for a sequel or spinoff? Will we get to see why Alina was taken from Emerson in the first place? Do the freed slaves become part of the crew? And what’s with the previous and unseen rum-running?

JKB: Oh you caught onto the rum running!? That’s brilliant! We threw a few lines in there, some reference earlier drafts and some were throw away lines we put in there to open up the world a bit. We wanted to hint at earlier adventures and hijinks so for anyone who enjoyed it could hear those and begin to expand the world a bit themselves. Many of these do in fact have interesting back stories but it’s even more interesting to hear what other people have come up with. As for the slaves, they do in fact find a home, which ties in strongly with Emerson’s wider journey. Making the transition from vengeful husband to reluctant saviour and folklore hero, but that’s another story. So we definitely have plans for something much larger so long as we have enough support and interest behind the concept.


AA: Thank you so much for joining us in this interview, and for sharing all of your hard work. Aurora was amazing to watch and engaging every time. Do you have any final thoughts to share with our readers?

JKB: Just if anyone has any questions or thoughts don’t be afraid to drop a comment in the youtube comments section. Or you can even email me direct at We try to get back to everyone and we’re always eager to hear what people have to say. And if you liked it then tell your friends, hopefully they’ll tell their friends, and then one day we’ll have enough backing to launch ‘Aurora – The Series‘ ! Hopefully this won’t be the last we see of the Aurora crew.


If you haven’t seen it yet, go see the complete film of Aurora, join the Aurora Facebook page  and stay up to date on upcoming work from Urtext Film Productions.


Published in: on October 9, 2011 at 11:43 am  Leave a Comment  
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