Assembling Riftworld Chronicles piece by piece

With a second season in the pipeline, a TV version in development with CBC and a mobile app on the way, First Love Films is building multiple worlds around its web series.

Web series were once the Wild West of Canadian content production. But as the financing, production and creation models that surround them have evolved, the medium has become a financially viable one for Canadian producers looking to reach and cultivate broad audiences with daring, forward-thinking and ambitious projects. Here, in the third and final part of the series, we look at First Love Films’ Riftworld Chronicles.

Riftworld 1With Riftworld Chronicles, Toronto prodco First Love Films, led by Laura Perlmutter and Andrew Nicholas McCann Smith, is taking a slow-burn approach to creating a monetizable, multiplatform world that uses a traditional web series as a bedrock for building fans and successive forms of IP. And with a TV version currently in development with the CBC, as well as a fully funded digital comic book and mobile app on the way, it’s hard to disagree.

Beginning life in 2014 as a short film titled The Portal, created, written and directed by Toronto-based Jonathan Williams, the story follows a struggling journalist who partners with a dimension-travelling wizard (played by Tahmoh Penikett, pictured) who has accidentally wound up in our world. Bringing aboard Toronto’s Sienna Films (Cardinal, Ransom) in 2015 to add more production cred and business acumen, producers Perlmutter and Smith, in partnership with creator Williams, began developing a web series that built on the short.

With funding in place from the IPF, the team developed an eight-part first season (approximately five minutes per episode), which was when CBC’s Abby Ho came knocking. The head of CBC’s Creator Network, who had seen The Portal and knew the web series was in development, greenlit the series as an original for CBC Comedy (then called Punchline). The financing from the IPF and CBC was topped up by a Kickstarter campaign (which raised $61,000), as well as some additional production coin from Sienna, resulting in a total production budget of $500,000.

Riftworld 2Under the deal, CBC took the Canadian distribution rights, but Perlmutter said leaving the rest of the world open was a crucial stipulation. “The primary goal was to get the largest audience – we wanted to ensure we weren’t restricted by platform or territory,” she says.

Season one was licensed to YouTube channel Geek & Sundry in 2016, (where it has accrued 330,000 views across its eight episodes) and U.S. SVOD service ConTV.

The deals have given First Love additional ROI to balance out production costs and a global platform with which to build an audience while the producers prepare the next pieces of the puzzle: A second season of the web series, a mobile app and a digital comic, all of which are being worked on at the same time as a TV version currently in development with CBC. Perlmutter says one of the keys to profitability and engagement for web series is finding audiences looking to consume the story on multiple platforms.

As such, First Love, Sienna and Belgium-based Reed SPRL are in production on the mobile app, Riftworld: Heroes. The project is coproduced through a partnership between the CMF and Belgian funding body Wallimage (each contributed $200,000, covering off the costs of financing the project). While the monetization strategy is still being worked out (the producers are currently exploring revenue models including freemium, pay-to-play apps, or free apps with ads), the app will let audiences explore scenes and backstories to the plots and storylines of the web series.

Riftworld 3A digital comic book, currently in the works, further builds out the Riftworld  universe. Fully financially backed by the OMDC’s Interactive Digital Media Fund, monetization models such as pay-to-download are currently being considered. An early-2018 launch date is targeted for season two, the app and the digital comic, with the producers looking to build upon the season-one launch campaign, which included TV and online ads on CBC.

With First Love and Sienna still finalizing season-two financing, the prodcos are continuing to develop a television version with the CBC, which began exploring Riftworld as a TV project after the filming of season one. Although TV deals and dollars are the hoped-for destination for many web series, Perlmutter says that’s not necessarily the case for Riftworld. “For us, the web series wasn’t the means to [TV]. We want the digital series to always be there, telling a portion of the story,” she says.

This article originally appeared in the Spring 2017 issue of Playback. Read part one of the story, on LaRue Entertainment’s The Amazing Gayl Pile, here. Read part two, on how Secret Location brought Halcyon to market, here.