Red Deer-raised filmmaker Ian Strang created a science-fiction online series about real-life mysterious inventor Nikola Tesla that premiered at the Raindance Film Festival in London.
Nikola Tesla and the End of the World was nominated for Best British Series at the festival that previously introduced such cult films as Memento, The Blair Witch Project, Pusher and Ghost World. Although Tesla didn’t win the award, its first episode was screened at the Vue Cinema at Piccadilly Circus in London in September, and word-of-mouth about the series is growing.
The four-episode Canadian/British co-production was created by writer/director/editor Strang, who grew up in Central Alberta and made his first films and music videos in Edmonton.
In 1994, one of Strang’s early projects won the audience choice award at the Calgary International Film festival. Eighteen years and several films later, he was invited by an Emmy-winning producer to edit documentary television in the U.K. Strang soon fell in love with London and decided to film his next cinematic venture there.
While Nikola Tesla and the End of the World was shot in England, Strang insisted all post-production work be done in Canada. Juno-award-winning songwriter Connie Kaldor composed the ethereal title track and sound designer Bruce Fleming (Murdoch Mysteries) provided the digital audio.
In the series, London University physics instructor Dr. Sophie Clarke builds a strange time machine from long-lost plans that mysteriously turn up. She unwittingly transports the enigmatic Serbian, turn-of-the-last-century inventor, Tesla, to modern-day London.
Differences soon surface between Clarke and Tesla — not only about science, but about whether women should be scientists at all.
Red Deer Advocate reporter Lana Michelin asked Strang more about the series, the award nomination, and his life in London:
• When did you live in Red Deer?
I lived in Red Deer from the age of 7 until I was 19. I left to attend Grant MacEwan College (now MacEwan University) in 1993.
• How did you fall into the film world?
I started making movies with video equipment at Eastview Junior High, and then Lindsay Thurber Comprehensive. My interest was in music and film, and in Edmonton I studied music. I eventually started producing and directing videos for local bands, then moved into writing and directing my own films. That started a 20-year process that took me to Regina, Toronto, then finally London, paying the bills as a TV editor and directing independent films whenever I could.
• You worked on a lot of Canadian reality shows, including Holmes on Homes and Disaster DIY. How did the transformation towards more creative projects happen?
My work on (reality shows) was simply a matter of following the money! I continued to write and direct independent short films which were screened in international festivals, but home and garden shows paid the bills. When I finally got a chance to work on a technology series called Patent Bending for the Discovery Channel, word started getting around that I was good at more “science-y” stuff.
• What made you decide to relocate to the U.K? Will you stay there in the long term?
Through a series of coincidences, a TV producer in London named Carlo Massarella heard about me. In 2012 he needed Canadian editors to come to the UK to work on a program called Massive Moves. Carlo is brilliant, prolific and has won an Emmy, so I immediately agreed to go to London for two months. He ended up liking my work and asked me to stay for five more months. After that, going back and forth between London and Hamilton, Ont., became a regular thing.
• How did you get the idea for your Nikola Tesla web series, which can be seen on YouTube?
In January I decided to make London my base. First, the quality of programs is excellent and the people I work with are fantastic.
Second, I fell in love and married a Londoner in May. So it looks like I’ll be here for a while. The idea for Nikola Tesla and the End of the World came from being in London. I’d been making no-budget short films for years, and suddenly I was surrounded by magical, cinematic views.
I just wanted to point my camera at the city and make something. I was editing programs about science, and the idea of having the characters be a physicist and a famous electrical engineer just popped into my head.
• There’s a car named Tesla, a U.S. rock band called Tesla — why do you think there is this on-going cultural fascination with this historic scientist?
Tesla is a real-life person who seems like a character from science fiction. On the one hand, he’s a bona fide inventor, and his ideas are very practical: an alternating-current electrical transmission system that we still use today, and one of the earliest remote control systems, for example. On the other hand, the things he might have invented are mysterious and exciting: wireless electrical transmission, and a laser-based weapon called a “Peace Ray” that would be at home in the hands of a super villain. After his death the U.S. government seized all of Tesla’s writings, which hasn’t hurt the enduring, often wild speculation surrounding the man.
• Are you feeling some benefits yet of having your first episode screened at Raindance?
Being screened in a prestigious festival and nominated for an award is exhilarating, especially when the award is Best British Series; having that nomination means when I approach potential collaborators, I stand out from the crowd. There are a lot of people trying to get films made in both Canada and the U.K., so anything that legitimizes you as a filmmaker is helpful. Having Raindance associated with your work means a lot.
• Do you have any new projects lined up?
I have lots of new projects in development, but the immediate one is building the online presence of Nikola Tesla and the End of the World. You can’t just put your movie on the web and hope people watch, you have to engage with the audience. I’m editing some fun, educational science videos presented by Tesla (Paul O’Neill) that will be released next year, along with more behind-the-scenes movies. The website will grow and, hopefully, so will the audience.
• How did your Central Alberta upbringing affect your view of the world and your career direction?
In smaller, urban centres people tend to be more relaxed and friendly, which means you get a lot of practice chatting casually with strangers. Knowing how to connect with people is part of the reason I was able to build a large social and professional network in a new country.
The other thing about Red Deer is there were always events, courses and workshops at RDC. Although I was never a student there, I spent a lot of time learning music, volunteering as an usher at the theatre, and even singing in the chorus of the RDC production of The Pirates of Penzance. My first experiences in art and entertainment happened because of the creative resources in Red Deer.
• Anything else you want to add?
Tesla has been (twice) nominated for Outstanding Achievement in Editing and Music at the NYC Web Fest in Manhattan,
(This interview was edited for space).