It’s been awhile since I talked about project constraints in this column, but it’s something that affects every web series put into productions. The concept is pretty straight forward, essentially there are only two ways to complete your project that you have envisioned, either you spend money to make it happen, or you take your time with it. If you don’t have the money and aren’t willing to put in the time then your only option is to start cutting things out of your grand web series vision.
For creator Aaron Garcia his vision was grand, and his budget non-existent. Rather than give up, his focus turned to what he could do, rather than what he couldn’t. The result is a prequel to his envisioned season one and a production that spanned two years.
While there are plenty of reasons for the long time period from start to finish, the one I’d like to focus on relates to the shows obvious success on the visual side. Watch ‘We Are Angels’ for 30 seconds at just about any point and you are likely to see an eye popping shot.
Pay attention to the little details and you’ll see how he did it. The sun sneaking through the window at just the perfect angle to create a couple of lovely lens flares that frame the subject – a sign that they waited until the sun reached the right spot to start rolling the camera. Or the seemingly ever perfect lighting in the exterior scenes, because just about every exterior was shot during the last few hours of daylight.
It’s all very Terrence Malik, no joke, and proof (as if you needed any more) that a Canon 5D mark II can deliver amazing images in the hands of someone with a little patience. Of course everyone who has heard about ‘We Are Angels’ knows of the legend of its cinematography, so I’ll dedicate the rest of this article to everything else.
When I mention Terrence Malik it’s not just the camera work that makes the famed director come to mind. The style, tone and imagery has a little bit of ‘Tree of Life’ in it – a film that caused my ex-girlfriend to look at me, with a puzzled face and a question, “huh?” I sputtered some long-winded pseudo intellectual ramblings on transcendentalism that I’m sure would get torn to shreds on Imdb.
Point being ‘We Are Angels’ might not be for everyone. The show asks a lot of it’s viewer, and while it’s not going to make anyone recall the transcendental movement from High School American Literature class it does require the viewer to watch the whole thing to really tie it all together and make sense of it.
The reason the viewer really needs to watch the whole thing is because the show is essentially a series of vignettes. They are designed primarily to set up the world that the first season is supposed to exist in. They want to express tone, they want to introduce characters and conflict, but they aren’t meant to be the whole enchilada. This is something of a free sample, or as Aaron put it in the chat, it’s a pilot.
Some episodes introduce a character, while others introduce plot. Each individual episode on it’s own wont give you a good idea of what to really expect from the series and likely will make little sense. While, by the end I found the show satisfying, and wanting more, the viewer does have to sit through a handful of early episodes that make you question where the story is going to go, or if there is even going to be one.
Now I had the opportunity to watch the first ten original episodes last year at a screening, and a lot has changed since then. There are 5 new episodes added in, and the order of release had some slight changes. The additions and changes do a good job of introducing the central conflict sooner, giving us more character and more plot, and dramatically improving the pacing by giving us some variety in the style of episodes.
The central conflict is where the series really shines. The character of ‘Olly’ a childish demon, played by Elizabeth Olin, really steals the show. Her character is creepy as hell, and a real proof of concept for the show. Those moments of conflict, when the pretty pictures turn a little rough, those are when the story is gripping.
I do think there is something of a balance to be made though. Those moments without much plot are a bit too heavy in rotation, and I fear that additional plot elements might be introduced through too much exposition, as I felt in episode 14, as well as a couple earlier ones whose numbers escape me.
The story seems to be rapidly expanding by its conclusion and perhaps getting a little more complex than the simple early episodes promise. The central theme of good versus evil needed no explanation in the early episodes, and I have a long running fear of storytellers telling their audience too much. This is already a series that asks a lot of its viewers and I would hope that ultimately the plot wont be spoon fed to us.
Of course those are mostly concerns for the project going forward towards a season one, which I really hope we get to see. For this introductory prequel season the balance is done well enough, if you watch it straight through. The show is not for everyone, but viewers interested in good vs evil, angels vs demons, supernatural dramas, religious themes, or beautiful picture of beautiful people will find something to like here. The only prerequisite is a little patience – after two years of production, I don’t think that’s asking all that much.