noun (pl. sanctuaries) 1 a place of refuge or safety. 2 a nature reserve. 3 a place where injured or unwanted animals are cared for. 4 a holy place. 5 the part of the chancel of a church containing the high altar.

ORIGIN originally denoting a church or sacred place in which, by law, a fugitive was immune from arrest: from Latin sanctuarium, from sanctus ‘holy’.

And that’s all that the Compact OED has to say on the matter.

But more relevantly to this blog, it’s also the name of a new SF show.

And even more relevantly: It’s being premiered on the Internet, has been designed from the get-go to be experienced through more than one medium, and has some real (read experienced) talent behind and in front of the cameras.

So I got in contact with showrunner Damian Kindler and asked him what was going on.

What’s the story of the Sanctuary pilot? Tease us!
Sanctuary follows the exploits of Dr. Helen Magnus (Amanda Tapping), physician to beings with extraordinary powers, seeker of new life forms, and when the need arises, out-and-out monster hunter. In the first hour of the pilot, while tracking a young boy with strange and deadly abilities, Magnus encounters a young psychiatric resident named Will Zimmerman (Robin Dunne), whose talent and open-mindedness make him an attractive candidate for a protege. Soon enough Will is caught up in Magnus’ terrifying yet fascinating world — from which there is, of course, no turning back. We also meet Magnus’ headstrong yet valiant daughter, Ashley, who learns a terrible truth about her mother’s past.

The second hour of the pilot introduces a new trio of (possibly) supernatural guests to the Sanctuary as well as a challenge for Ashley in the wake of the events in hour one.

How does the budget of Sanctuary compare to a TV show? And how has that affected your storytelling?
The budget for Sanctuary is as high if not higher than most internationally-recognized sci fi TV series. It was produced by the same people who make SG-1 and Atlantis. Many of the same producers (myself, Martin Wood, John Smith, George Horie), most of the same crew. Only difference is we put together our own VFX team, as farming out the massive amount of 3-D modeling and rendering would have easily doubled our budget. The only effect on my story telling is that I now have a far bigger palette to work from, seeing as I can set scenes virtually anywhere. That’s the beauty of green screen. We can be in London in 1888 or on a trecherous island off Scotland or moving through a city that doesn’t exist. Anything is possible. That’s a lot of power. I intend to wield it recklessly, of course. ; )

What’s the business model? How are you planning to make your money back?
Sanctuary will employ a simple pay-per-download or subscription model. As a company, our costs are significantly lower than say Warner Bros or Sony Television (we don’t have massive soundstages or plush offices to fund) so we don’t need to sell many millions of downloads in order to be viable (although, hey, millions of downloads would be nice). There will be no advertising – at least not initially. We may explore some creative ad models with companies we like and find entertaining and seamless ways to integrate their products into the show. But nothing gauche or obvious or obtrusive.

You’ve chosen to film Sanctuary in tapeless HD. How has that affected the production pipeline?
It’s made it cheaper, faster and easier to shoot and post the show. We spend less time rendering and transferring media. And we get to see exactly how each shot will look in HD as we edit, composit and render scenes. Many companies were shocked we went this way. But it is the way the world is going and we’ve had no real complaints. The future is friendly!

Which media will Sanctuary be released in? Do you have any confirmed non-web sales yet?
Sanctuary will be available for download or streaming in multiple HD formats. We are exploring other, more traditional forms of distribution (TV and DVD) to be made available after we premiere on the ‘net. We realize there are many people out there with old computers, dial up connections, or who simply prefer to watch the show on TV or DVD. We want as many people as possible to enjoy the show. I know that sounds like hype, but I strongly believe Sanctuary is an accessible-enough series to warrant a wider audience beyond Web — while still giving our online fanbase the interactivity they want from new media.

A TV show structure is defined by the act breaks. Sanctuary is designed to air in multiple media – how has that affected your story structure?
The structure of Sanctuary is at its core a one hour per story format, edited in four roughly 15 min webisodes for online distribution — not too dissimilar to a four act TV episode, just a little bit longer overall. At some point in the future we may recut the webisodes into single TV hours (44mins). The online versions would of course have extra scenes and takes not available on TV. Plus gaming and other web-based sources of info on the show’s stories.

As a writer, what excites you most about the story of Sanctuary?
I just think it’s a cool story. It blends recognizable elements into a new form. It hopefully has the feel of a good graphic novel, but the visceral excitement of a great-looking video game. Sin City, 300, sections of Sith and Phantom Menace had elements, both visual and dramatic, that showed off the potential of what green screen can offer. We intend to take it to the next level.

As a writer, what excites you most about creating Sanctuary in this new format, rather than realising it as a TV show or film?
The use of virtual sets. The non-linear aspects of writing for online (flash gaming, web assets, etc). The freedom to create a show without the usual constraints of the Studio/Network paradigm. I think once people get over their technophobia, there will be many series done on green screen, and many series done mainly for the web. We’re just crazy enough to go first!

Sanctuary has been designed from the get-go for immersive viewer interactivity. What does that mean? How will this be different to an ordinary TV show?
Without giving away too much, the flash-based player application that is now live (just register on will be the basis for all sorts of interactivity while watching the show. Flash games, instant messaging, break out moments — all these will be implemented over the first season of the show. And a lot of what we do and why will depend greatly on feedback from our viewers. Which, if you think about it, is the coolest thing of all. A show that listens to its fans could be the biggest innovation we’re employing!

So there you have it. And as of yesterday, you can watch the trailer and title sequence for the series here.


3 responses to “Sanctuary”

  1. Excellent interview, Piers. Thanks for that.

    I think this is going to be a successful experiement for Damian and company. They may just become the legendary trailblazers of a brand new era in New Media sci-fi entertainment.

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