We are thrilled to sit down with Rodney Ferrer, creator of the Twilight Zone-inspired web series City of Mercy, to talk about his inspirations, his intentions with the series, and his plans for future series and projects.
From your website, you mentioned "Twilight Zone" as a major influence, which I noticed in the tone and the visuals, but also in the moral quandaries the show presents. Could you talk some about the ideas that drove you to write episodes like "A Day for Santo" and "Rev Stone and the Order of the Seventh"?
Things like mental illness, religion and the super natural have always intrigued me. What makes a normal, every day Joe get up one morning and decide to commit an inhumane act? At what stage in Santo's depression or life adversity gave way to his eventual demise. Or, did the devil really make him do it? At what point in your mind does the barometer go irreversible? Do we have the ability to create something so real in our mind that it can manifest itself into something that is tangible? Just like an architect that visually builds with imagination before it goes to a draft board, or a musician that hums the notes before he/she writes it down. The act of creating from the moment of conception is fascinating to me. That process can also be dangerous given the personality, circumstance, desire or religion. For me it's a delicate, fine line between mythology and reality. Either way, something was manifested because of that creative process. I think Reverend Stone and Santo had an extraordinary imagination that altered their lives and those around them.
I like my audience to come away with a little bit of their own interpretation about these stories. Something that maybe they can relate to on some human or inhuman level. For me "A Day For Santo" is about a struggling artist that lost his way in his search for self and identity. The paint on his scrubs represent the layers of his emotional and spiritual journey or lack thereof. An incomplete body of work. I find New York City to be the perfect kaleidoscope of humanity for these stories.
"Reverend Stone and the Order of The Seventh" is a love story about two worlds that cross paths but could never unite because of life's XY and Z's. It's a social commentary about our leaders that violate the working class and dismember the American dream. A battle between church and state and the political vultures that prey on the aftermath. Well, that's if you read between the lines...
Could you take us through how you got the original idea for the series and the process you went through to get it made?
It all started with "A day For Santo" which was the first episode we shot. After a few private screenings, we were very upbeat and excited about the responses we got and so I decided to make it a series. From there we shopped it around and got an investor on board who wanted to finance the entire 1st season.
The series does not provide easy answers for the viewer, particularly in "Rev Stone", where the character is presented with a choice that, for reasons never made clear to the viewer, he cannot act on. What kind of statement were you trying to make with such episodes?
There's something about an artist that discusses the meaning of their song in detail that kills it for me. I try to steer away from that interpretation sometimes. I like to feel what I feel about that music and where it takes me. I feel that way about my films sometimes. No doubt, the audience deserves a pay off but to provoke thought and intrigue is so much more interesting. Being perplexed is not such a bad thing as long there's enough to chew on and dissect . I find that kind of art usually stays with me long after the initial experience.
Rev. Stone possibly had a clairvoyance that was more of a curse than a gift or maybe a little of both. Was this total stranger (Rev. Stone) about to tell these folks at the diner that there was this imminent danger approaching in the near future? Did he know exactly when this danger was going to take place? Maybe he had a sense of fate and destiny and the principles they live by, keeping him from interfering. Or just maybe he had other worldly matters to attend to. Either way, I'm sure he had a hard time just walking away...
As far as making a statement, I want to touch my audience. I want to give them a slice of humanity. A perspective that they may not have experienced or even entertained the idea of.
While religion plays a central role in the series, it is not in a simplistic fashion. Religion appears to be, above all else, a mirror to hold up to the protagonist to see if they can rise to the occasion, and in most cases, they fall short. How did you approach the religious quandaries, which you seem to use in place of the kind of technological ones presented in "The Twilight Zone"?
Religion is fascinating! Thousands of beliefs across the globe and everyone thinks they got the right one. Perplexing... Nevertheless it is one of the most powerful inventions of mankind. I always believed that the task of getting God down to a science is fools gold. "Seymour Cruz" and some of the other characters in 'City Of Mercy" are trying to understand God and bridge the gap between man and divinity. It's one brilliant contradiction after another. Regardless of anyone's beliefs , I always felt the importance of listening and trying to be open minded about the many possibilities. I believe Rod Serling did that throughout his stellar career. Always questioning and presenting the not so obvious in such a way that might have been unsettling and unorthodox to watch and experience. So I believe those quandaries are powerful tools in the story telling process. Those components are the make-up of character and story.
What kind of stories do you want to explore in the next season?
The "City Of Mercy" elusive season 2... Season 2 has been written. Will it be done? I sure hope so! I believe season 2 is twice as engaging as the 1st. I answer many questions about our characters and their origins and motives. At the same time I introduce new characters that add to the mosaic. I like to think I push the envelope in season 2 and give our beloved fans another season to remember.
Could you talk about the visuals and particularly the use of black and white, were you trying to evoke the past, a particular mood? What visual approach did you take when crafting each episode?
I'm always asking myself, what is the cinematic narrative? What is it that I'm trying to say with the lens? How is the lens a part of the canvas? I always think of the greatest films and how they would be interpreted if you removed the sound. Can you still watch them and be moved? Can you still come away with a story that is not only visually engaging but also coherent? Films like Jules Dassin's "Rififi", Akira Kurosawa's "Rashomon" or Ingmar Bergman's "Seventh Seal". Try turning the volume down on any of those. You'll be amazed what you'll come away with.
Black & white is hypnotic and beautifully menacing. City Of Mercy is pretty dark and so I didn't want to let my viewer off the hook with color. Sure I wanted to create a mood but I also wanted to bring you back to another time and rhythm. So if you need a screen full of exploding colors and high flying speed chases, this story is not for you.
I wanted every episode to stand on it's own as a completed piece, so I treated them all like a finale. I always wanted to create a feeling of being watched all the time. I'm a New York guy so I'm used to that kind of proximity that could lend itselfto a claustrophobia or paranoia about space and territory.
As a director, do you prefer a more controlled approach, or do you allow for much improvisation?
As a director, Improvisation is always a key element to discovery of character and story but when we shoot, stay on the written word please!. Those characters have been so fleshed out on paper and re-written over and over, so any other word or impulse thrown into that soup can fuck it all up! I wont lie...beautiful mistakes have happened on set that led to some innovative moments that I decided to keep in post but luck is for the prepared so stay in the script.
Aside from Season 2, could you tell us about other projects you are working on?
I'm currently in pre-production of a 12 episode series I have written called "Placebo Heart". A New York story dealing with issues of drug abuse, mental disease and a couple ghosts... Alright! Now I've said too much... Ha Ha!!! AlsoI'm directing "The Flight of Columbus", a sci-fi short film/story that is inspired by a feature length screenplay that I was brought on board to co-write with creator Cole Sommers. Then it's hopefully on to my feature film in late 2018. But that one, I'm keeping under wraps.
For more on City of Mercy, visit here.