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Treadwater: An Interview with Morgan Rosenblum

Treadwater, originally a graphic novel, has grown into a full-fledged transmedia franchise. Fans are able to follow the story across various mediums, all of which shed a new light on the what’s being told. Read the novel, watch the show, or play the game: the choice is yours.
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I was able to ask the creator of this series, Morgan Rosenblum, a few questions regarding his experience in the whole process.

Treadwater began as a graphic novel series, and now has developed into a ‘transmedia franchise’. Could you give us an idea as to what that entails?

We didn’t just write a story, we built a world. Multi platform, all interconnected through the same story and characters. We have everything for you. A graphic novel series, a motion comic, a video game, and interactive website which pulls you into the story in a unique way. And now we are working on bringing it to TV. But the greatest part to all of this, is that it’s all interconnected. Read a mission in the graphic novel, then play the mission in the video game, and then go and meet your fellow operatives on our interactive website as you uncover more secrets and try to earn their trust.

Transmedia storytelling seems to be quite the process. What sort of steps did you take to make this franchise happen?

Well the decision to turn the graphic novel into a full fledged transmedia franchise was not the plan from the start. The evolution happened quite organically. My brother Owen, and Nat Prinzi (one of our closest childhood friends) also run a video production company called Betterdays Media. And so, once the graphic novel was finished, I showed it to Owen and Nat, and they were like, “Dude, this is pretty friggin’ cool. Since I know you eventually want to bring this to tv, what if we casted some actual actors, and filmed some live action elements to help pitch it for TV at some point?” I obviously was all for the idea. But we decided to do something a little different. What we filmed wound up being a lot more than what we had initially planned, and we were able to use the live action components in our interactive website. If you check out our website (from a computer for the interactive experience), as you snoop around, you’ll unlock some of the live action interactive content.

After the live action stuff, we decided to turn the first 24 pages of the graphic novel into a motion comic with animation, vfx, sfx, voice actors, and even an original score. This way, fans could check out the beginning of the story/graphic novel for free in a very engaging way, before deciding if they wanted to buy the graphic novel. Having this motion comic really went a long way into helping us sell graphic novels, because I think for the most part, people who watched the video wound up getting a graphic novel. So we’ll of course do the same thing for the first 24 pages of the second book (due out in 2016). 

Next up was the video game, which is still in development and has no set release date yet. But you can check out what the game play looks like on our youtube channel (youtube.com/darkrosestudiostv). Fans really seem to love what they’ve seen from the game so far, so we’re excited to keep that moving along as well!

And now, Nat and myself have been working on developing Treadwater for TV, and we’re extremely happy with how things are coming along. It’s an adaption from the original graphic novel storyline, as opposed to a direct translation, and I think fans will really like what we’ve done with it.

As far as challenges go, aside from how expensive it can be (since we’re an indie company, and don’t have a Marvel or DC budget), the real challenge is making everything work seamlessly together. Where all mediums actually feel like one complete experience. That is our goal, and that is what we think we are doing quite well, as our fans have told us. We are so excited to continue to grow the experience and find even more ways to engage fans.

For readers who might not quite know what Treadwater is about, can you give us a brief synopsis? 

Sure!  

15 years from now, in the wake of a global economic meltdown, chaos erupts and the world’s safety is jeopardized by a whole new wave of crime and terror. A privately funded team of high tech special operatives is assembled, known as Treadwater, the only force standing between hope and anarchy.

Treadwater seems to have a perfect mix of politics, science, and super heroes. What inspired you to create this series?

There are truly so many! My partners and I always try and find ways to (appropriately) incorporate pieces of our favorite characters (from our favorite tv shows and series) into our own characters and story. But specifically? The Dark Knight, Homeland, Lost, The Walking Dead, and Metal Gear Solid have all played important roles in building and shaping Treadwater. As you go deeper into our series, you’ll start to see some of those inspirations.

One thing that cannot be overlooked is the series’ artwork. Can you tell us about who you collaborated with, and where the inspiration was drawn from?

The key word there is ARTISTS. Plural. We love to work with talented artists who have a naturally edgy and gritty style to their work, and we’re always looking for new artists to collaborate with.

When we first saw Ray Dillon’s work, we were like “Him. That’s our guy.” It was that simple. His style is different from pretty much everything else out there, and his colors are fantastic while keeping that dark and gritty tone that is inherent in Treadwater.

That being said, we’re actually switching artist for book 2. Some people might be shocked that we’re switching artists after only the first book, but as I mentioned above we love continually working with new artists. We believe we found a hidden gem by the name of Mingchen Shen. While he’s new to the industry, we think you’ll be blown away when you see this book. 

Treadwater was funded on Kickstarter. Could you give us an idea as to what the process was like, and what sort of feedback has the series received from fans?

For anyone who has never done Kickstarter before, it is A LOT of work. There is simply too much to try and cram into this interview. We just did an AMA (Ask Me Anything) on Reddit, where myself and some other successful indie creators/writers/artists answered questions like this in detail. I would definitely check it out, and you will get a much more in depth explanation of the process. Link to the AMA: https://redd.it/3sfb34

Chad Coleman not only plays a part in the series, but he has his own part behind-the-scenes as well. How did he become involved?

This is an awesome story. Owen was at a restaurant on a blind date, and they were talking about there favorite shows, and Owen starts talking about Walking Dead.  She didn’t watch the show (so of course that date was doomed). Owen get’s up to go to the bathroom, and when he comes back to the table, he tells her, “Omg, one of my favorite characters from the Walking Dead is sitting at that table over there.” She was like “Did you know that when you brought it up earlier?” He was like “Nope.” So she looks at Owen and was like “Why do I get the feeling like you’re about to get up and go talk to him?” Owen smiles and says he’ll be right back.  

Owen is very polite when he approaches him, and eloquently conveys why he appreciates Chad so much as an actor and why the show is so special. Chad was like “yeah bro, that’s what I love about it too, you totally get it.” Chad then asks Owen what he does, and Owen brings up Treadwater and this transmedia franchise. Chad takes Owen’s phone and programs his contact info into it, and tells Owen he wants to see it. Fast forward a couple of months and he is now a partner in the franchise, and a character in the series. So people call that luck, but wiser people call it Opportunity Meets Preparation.  

What’s it like working with your brother on a project such as this?

Pretty awesome. Not only that, but two of my closest childhood friends are also heavily involved (Nat Prinzi and Jonny Handler). Which makes it a truly special project. What’s cool is that Treadwater was actually originally conceived when Owen and I were kids. So this project has some serious history.

What’re your plans for Treadwater? Is there a possible TV show in the works?

OH YES. This is the best place for Treadwater. When I first wrote the original script (for the graphic novel) i was just writing it as a teleplay. Then when I realized that the likelihood of a no-name writer like me ever getting picked up by an agent or selling my script was a huge long shot, I decided to turn it into a graphic novel so I would have something to show my kids someday. But as you now know, it became a lot more than that. Several years later, we’ve got a full fledged transmedia franchise with a cult following. I’ve also partnered up with some really great creatives, and we have been working on developing Treadwater for TV, and are really excited about our pilot. We hope by this time next year, you’ll be hearing our three favorite words… “Previously on Treadwater”. 

What sort of advice would you give those who are trying to kick start their own projects?

HAVE A PLAN. Do your research, Google is an amazing tool. Use it!!!! All the information is out there. Read it all. And decide what you think is the best route for you. Then make a plan. Have a backup plan. But at the end of the day, it’s a leap of faith, which scares the shit out of most people, myself included. But if you want to get your project off the ground and see it fly, you’re going to have to jump first. 

You can follow the project and studio on Twitter & Instagram: @Treadwater and Twitter: @DarkRoseStudios.

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Amanda Russell

The author Amanda Russell

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