Withered World, Award-Winning Web-Series

Waiting in Line (The Last Episode) from Withered World on Vimeo.

When nascent filmmaker Bryce Young thought of the idea for Withered World a couple of years ago, remembering a screenwriting book he read as a teenager crept into his thoughts. As a teenager, Young read the book The Screenwriter Within and started seeking out scripts to read or to follow along with the film. “I like to write humor and works based on reality, but I started wondering about what I would do if I knew the world was ending in a day. Honestly I have yet to earn the right to be called a filmmaker. I am still earning that title.”

Return to Sender came to fruition in 2013 with this last day concept, but Young knew he wanted other voices to chime in on the topic. He also looked at an episodic series to accompany the larger series and titled that If Night Comes. “I met with some of the local filmmakers such as Anthony Ladesich and Patrick Rea to discuss the series.

The response was great and we sought others. I was not interested in having the directors and screenwriters look at the hows and whys of the world coming to an end, but I wanted to care about what people are doing. I didn’t want a disaster movie about comets or aliens. I wanted to leave behind the comparisons to films such as Armageddon or Independence Day with comets or aliens and focus on people and how people would deal with the knowledge that they were marking the last day,” Young explains.

Young was joined by directors Rea, Ladesich, Turner Baietto, Chris Bylsma, Jon Davis, Justin Gardner, Tucker Keatley, Katie Mooney, Brian Reece and Kendal Sinn. The entire series found its home on the Internet where the series could be viewed in either its entirety or as individual short films. In many ways, Young serves as the curator of the series … a sort of caretaker and guardian to these many short films. Check out some of the films at witheredworld.tv or on Vimeo at vimeo.com/channels/witheredworld.

Young’s love of films started as child when his parents allowed him to watch films he probably shouldn’t have watched. Then he started looking at the films with the eyes of a camera operator or lighting designer. “I can appreciate films of all types. However, I fell in love with those lower budget films like Tremors or Critters. The styles of films such as Pulp Fiction also resonate.”

Rea and Young met for lunch at the Golden Ox. “I have always been a fan of post-apocalyptic stories and those what-if tales. It was an easy sell and I liked the story from the get-go. I told him he had my support and I liked that he got others excited. I could tell he wanted to make sure the project came to fruition,” Rea says.

The consistency of theme thrilled Rea and other directors. “While my short film is more morose and dark, there are comedies and others. It is a sort of grab bag for many voices.” Vindicate has no dialogue. Rea, who also wrote the short film, told Young that he wanted no dialogue and a long shot that was visually interesting. He filmed the short in May of 2013. “It is not just a simple revenge story. I wanted to deal with what is more important as the world is ticking down. Is it revenge or forgiveness as a man seeks revenge for the death of his family?”

Rea even had some attention from Ain’t It Cool News for his short film. “Each short is almost like a calling card for the series. It’s really atypical in that the shorts stand alone. Each story was its own unique moment,” he says. Web series are fairly new, but Rea believes that many short films will be packaged like Withered World. “Film may be heading this way more and more. The next steps will be making money and bringing attention to such series, but I am hopeful. I know that if one film gets views, viewers are often pulled into watching others.”

In early April, the series won the first Kansas City FilmFest’s Best Heartland Web Series award. The Best Heartland Short Narrative award went to Sinn’s Pop Tarts. While not entirely related to the Withered World series, Bylsma received the Fred G. Andrews Emerging Filmmaker Award for his work which includes a short in the series. Sinn wrote and directed Pop Tarts, a short film of a little more than 10 minutes, tells the story of a widower and a stranger who share a breakfast together on the last day.

“Bryce told me early on that there was no specific thread running through the film, but rather it’s an anthology. We understood that the films simply have to take place on the last day of the planet. I was the only one who thought about Jesus returning,” he says. “It was a fun and an interesting story. I wanted to tell something more personal. I like to take a larger subject, a high concept and make it third-page news. The movie is about hope. Even when the end is staring you in the face, there is hope,” Sinn says.

He says the 2008 election with the divisive nature and the various topics that spurred such hatred including religion. “I suppose those discussions of blaming God and religion stuck with me. In truth, I have a 7-year-old mentality and when my parents would tell me that Jesus loves me, I knew it was so. I suppose that was what I was trying to do … it’s all alright and I if I can be forgiven and redeemed, that goes for the world too.”

Initially a horror movie director, Sinn enjoys the challenge of doing a comedy or a film with a message. “I wanted to put out something innocent, sweet and a positive message. I am now married with three small children. It was probably one of the easiest movies I have ever made. I wrote the script in about an hour. However, I did rely on my wife who is the keeper of the flame. She makes sure my voice is there. I didn’t make a faith-based film or to be preachy, but I still wanted to make a serious toned film with a sense of whimsy.” Sinn has had the chance to sit with audiences and watch the film. “I like knowing the emotional response; the audience smiles and there may be a sniffle. I have even had several congregations share the film.”

Sinn says the opportunity to be part of the web series continues some of his previous efforts. Sinn already hosted a Web series titled Shadow Falls and now has an active series titled Smoke Break. “I have always wanted to be innovative and the web series works. It’s a model that really does operate well. You don’t have to be a studio boss to make a web series. It takes promotion and that is the real trick. The other joy is allowing your voice to come out, especially if you are paying for it. It’s all about making your mark and statement artistically.”

Young says the series is at a point of conclusion. “It’s a complete piece that honors the talented people who were involved. It is an anthology that has achieved my vision. I think we have produced some of the best short films around.” The group also learned how to finance their projects through crowdfunding. Young used Kickstarter. “That all-or-nothing aspect means more and there is a sense of urgency. It keeps the project relevant.”

And like all the filmmakers, there is no rest. Young has another untitled short he is aiming to have completed by the fall. “I also have a feature film that I want to make and I hope to have the screenplay completed by the end of the summer,” he says. “I am always writing and working. There are always stories to tell.”

Kellie Houx

Kellie Houx is a writer and photographer. A graduate of Park University, she has 20 years of experience as a journalist. As a writer, wife and mom, she values education, arts, family and togetherness.

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