I’m not that into social media, but once in a while Twitter really comes through. It has been recommending filmmakers with web series for me to follow, and so I often go and watch a pilot episode. I watched the pilot of The Division and was completely floored — this thing looks like prime time tv. So I sought out the filmmaker in LA — Eric Won.
I expected Eric to be a veteran who had worked in Hollywood on some well-known shows. Instead, he told me this humble origin story.
Eric attended the LA film school and majored in directing. He directed his first short while in school and sent it to the film festival circuit for a year. He hoped to get an agent or a feature deal, but nothing happened. “It was terrible,” he says. “I was at a loss for a couple of years. What can I do? I gotta do something…. I really wanted to do a feature film, that’s what people say gives you notoriety, but I didn’t have the money.”
He looked through his old notes on script ideas, hoping for something along the lines of 24 or lost — a sci-fi or action with cliffhangers and character development. He found a seed there for what would become The Division.
Now is the time when I have to ask if you, dear reader, have watched The Division. Have you? No? If you haven’t, you should go watch it right now. www.WhatIsTheDivision.com. No really, I’ll wait.
At this point in our interview, Eric hadn’t yet mentioned all the big projects he’d worked on, so I asked him point blank. How did you get the experience and connections to make a web series this good?
“The division is my third or fourth short film, though I also produced a couple of shorts [for others]. And I’m just working with people I know. For example, I met a DP at a party and checked out his website. Then I hired him for a short film, and thought, I gotta work with this guy again. He ended up becoming my best friend, and he’s my DP for The Division.” For the rest of the crew, he says he gets a lot of referrals.
My next question was about budgets. A series like this has to cost money — the production values are too high to do it on favors alone. And Eric was very up-front with the numbers. The episodes cost on average about $7,000 each — less for the earlier episodes and more for the later ones. About 70% of the funding is from Eric, and 30% from Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and some ad revenue. They have a Monster Vault product placement in one episode — you can see the details on their website http://whatisthedivision.com/participate.
I asked Eric for a set story — because every film shoot has crazy things happen.
“We got kicked out of one of our locations — it was the parking lot of my apartment. After ½ way through the shoot, someone from the management company came out and asked if this was a student short film. At that point we had only shot about half of the scene, we had an entire action sequence left. They wanted us to leave, so I had to change the script on the spot. I had to get rid of everything…I was walking to the management office and I started thinking o f how I could change the script so we could finish our shoot in less than 60 seconds. And I thought of a way to finish it.
“’Start wrapping up,’ I called out to the crew, ‘we have to shoot right now.’ My DP wanted to change lenses, but I said ‘No no no! We have to shoot NOW!’ And we got the take.
“You can see it at the end of episode one — notice the jumpy cuts? I had to go that route because I didn’t have enough footage. There was a whole fight sequence we never got to shoot. The Secretary of Defense was supposed to be in the van, the actor was there but we couldn’t shoot him.” Visit this link to see the scene Eric is describing: https://vimeo.com/84082139.
Ah, filming. Everyone has a story like that — to be a director you have to be able to think on the fly, change your story, and make it work.
I asked Eric about releasing the series.
“I wrote the first three three scripts for The Division and shot one episode without knowing if I’d shoot more or not. But I released the first episode as if I had all ten. It’s all about presentation, how you present it visually, tell it differently. You wrap it like a really nice gift for the viewer.”
For more of Eric’s work, see his website: Ericwonfilms.com