Part serial adventure, part scavenger hunt, this interactive thriller starts as a simple unsolved murder, but quickly grows into a story with global implications. HuffPost Canada TV spoke with Jay Ferguson, the Emmy-award winning director/writer/producer at the core of the show's success.
HuffPost Canada TV: For the uninitiated, how would you describe "Guidestones"?
Jay Ferguson: "Guidestones" is a digital series, so it's produced specifically to be seen online. It's unique in that at its very base, it's a thriller. It's about two university students who stumble across an unsolved murder, and as they investigate the murder, they come across a global conspiracy. It's a classic thriller, but it has some unique things to it.
["Guidestones"] is made up of numerous episodes that are short, designed specifically for consumption online. Every episode ends in a cliffhanger, and within the episode, what we've done is we've hidden clues and if you search these clues out, it'll help you get ahead of the protagonist a little bit.
There's an interactive element -- you can do searches online for license plates, for example, to get some backstory on the characters. How has the response to this element been?
The response has been amazing! One of the things that's interesting about producing content for online is our boundaries are ... well, there are really no boundaries! When we created the first season, the episodes averaged about thee minutes long because at that time, that was the average attention span of somebody watching content online. The second season, the episodes are now 10 minutes long. We've found that people in the first season were spending an average of three minutes per episode and then spending six minutes on our site, meaning that they were spending the same amount of time watching as they were searching some of the clues out and things like that. We actually got really big in the alternate reality gaming community, which was not at all what I was expecting.
Do you consider yourself a conspiracy theorist?
Good question. Who doesn't love a great conspiracy theory?
I don't consider myself necessarily a hardcore conspiracy theorist, but I have to say that through the course of working on "Guidestones," I've met a lot of very ... "interesting" people. The story is originally inspired by some true events that happened to me, so I think that I like to question everything. I have to admit that some pretty interesting stuff pops out of the woodwork every so often and it's hard not to want to investigate further.
It's easy to see echoes of "Da Vinci Code" and "X-Files" -- were there particular shows that helped you as a model for the show?
When I first started designing it, I knew that it seemed that people online want to have some sort of interactivity with their content, yet they want to be told a story by professional storytellers. The old traditional "choose your own ending" thing never was really that much of a success because in many ways you have to be all things to all people.
What I was trying to do was to create something where we have control of the story, and as storytellers we're going to take you on this journey that'll be satisfying but at the same time give you the opportunity to interact with the characters. In terms of all of the research I did prior to building this, I read Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code." You can say what you want about that book, whether you find the writing good or not, the fact is that at the end of every chapter you had to know what was going to happen next. Because it was based on real things, you could Google it. That was the idea; it was as if you were reading "The Da Vinci Code" on a screen and you can Google the stuff as you go along.
It adds an interesting wrinkle to "Guidestones" because everything we do in the film and television business is basically a whole bunch of lies and fiction. We had to get around that -- all of the locations we shot in were the real locations. Everything that you see on the screen, you can go to Maps and find it, you can go online and find pictures. We would show addresses and then if you went and Googled those addresses, you could go online and see them and then the characters would show up there in the next episode. We had lots of fans who would go out and photograph themselves in the locations where the show was shot.
So often with these shows there's a great start, with lots of questions asked, but no satisfying conclusion, as if the showrunner had the beginning but no sense of the end (ie, "Lost," "Battlestar Galactica", etc.) How have you rectified this?
First, it really starts with the story. In Season 1, we had a very specific story that we followed, that we slowly teased out. With the second season I think we've gone a step further. What I've really tried to do is create stories that have very definitive and satisfying endings, but are open-ended enough to keep pushing forward. You'll see that we've taken the audience on a journey and made sure that a good portion of everything that happens resolves. At the same time, we leave enough open so that we can continue the journey in the third season.
It is a really tough balancing act, actually. Our biggest challenge is: how do we tease out a story in a way that keeps the audience interested but doesn't keep them frustrated? That should be written on my tombstone!
Or at least on your Guidestone.
Yeah, you're very clever! [Laughs] There's a headline in there somewhere.