Behind The Scenes With The Aperture R&D Web Series
Fan culture has come a long way from recreating gaming scenes in Legos on top of cakes. In 2010, the video company Wayside Creations produced a web series called Fallout: Nuka Break about a Vault 10 Dweller on the search for an ice-cold Nuka Cola. We chatted with Wayside creation director Vince Talenti and writer Zack Finfrock about their newest series Aperture R&D and the challenges of creating a fan service project of this scale.
Where did the idea for Aperture R&D originally come from?
Finfrock: When I'm a fan of a game and its universe, I enjoy creating new stories that fit inside it. It's a way for me to show my fandom, just like I did when creating Fallout: Nuka Break. I'm a huge Portal fan, so needless to say, when Machinima approached us about creating a new series, Aperture R&D was on the list.
I've always wondered what it was like to work for Aperture Laboratories. I like to imagine what it would be like to deal with an AI robot as your boss. We've seen where the Aperture scientists worked and what they worked on, but never how they worked on it. We're using the entire Portal Universe, including the extra Cave Johnson's multi-verse dialog from the "create your own test chamber" add-on. And, we're dealing with a separate universe where GLaDOS was never turned on and everyone is still alive in the present day.
What is the show about? Can you give us a quick rundown?
Talenti: Aperture R&D is a comedic series based in the Portal 2 universe. Scientists of Aperture Research Labs are in an endless battle for the meaningless title of Lab Team of the Month. The show is focused on the tension between two seemingly incompatible partners, Nik and Charles. While Charles prefers a more conservative approach to his research, Nik makes impulsive decisions and encourages Charles to be brave and take risks.
What are the biggest challenges of creating a web series like this?
Talenti: The biggest challenge was creating a live-action Aperture Laboratory that audiences have never seen before. It's not the dilapidated version you see in the games. We combined obvious Portal elements with clues from the game to create what we think a working lab would have looked and felt like. Zack and the writers developed enjoyable storylines with humorous characters, but we knew that all of our original content had to fit in the Portal universe.
How long does it take you to produce an episode like this?
Talenti: The entire first season, which consists of seven episodes equaling about forty-five minutes of content, was shot in five days. The three weeks leading up to production were spent on brainstorming, outlining a story, writing scripts, re-writing those scripts, casting, hiring crew, location scouting, designing sets, building and hunting props, and rehearsing. Capturing our story through the lens was memorable even though fourteen-hour long days for the core were typical.
What is the writing process like for a show like this? Do you guys spitball ideas for a long time? Is there a writer’s room? Do you plot out a whole season ahead of time?
Finfrock: Doug Sarine, Peter Weidman, and I made up the writers room. The first decision we had to make was whether or not to have a large, overarching story for the season, or to make each episode its own. Once we decided that the series should be episodic rather than serial, we each came up with a few main story plots and began writing episodes. We passed them back and forth, collaborated on jokes and twists, and made several revisions. We were very lucky to all be on the same level, creatively.
What’s the craziest thing that’s happened while trying to get this show off the ground?
Finfrock: Driving down the streets of Los Angeles in a Prius with a very large Companion Cube sticking out the back.
What would you like to do next?
Talenti: Feature films. Specifically, feature films that require supplementary online content. We hope to create stories that are not only told on the big screen, but also in the growing, yet familiar universe of keyboard and mouse. Our goal being, to give fans and audiences the opportunity to enrich their experience by exploring more of the characters and the worlds we create for them.