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Writer-Director Eli Sasich Discusses Canneseries Digital Player ‘Atropa’

Now available to stream on the Studio Plus app, ‘Atropa’s’ grungy sci-fi and high-end VFX stand out

Studio Plus ‘Atropa’ Creator Eli Sasich
Eli Sasich

Writer-director Eli Sasich’s Studio Plus series “Atropa” is competing in the inaugural edition of the Canneseries Digital program.

The seven, ten-minute episodes were produced by Vimeo, which has hosted a number of Sasich’s shorts in the past, and his own Corridor production studio, and can be streamed on the Studio Plus mobile app.

Beyond pay-TV quality visual effects and an action-packed script, the series also boasts some serious sci-fi star power in “Total Recall” and “Starship Troopers” alum Michael Ironside.

Sasich’s script was originally intended to be a feature-length screenplay, but segued easily into a seven-episode, ten-minute format in a process which Sasich described as “amazingly painless.”

Set in the not-too-distant future, Atropa is a time-warping, grungy sci-fi adventure which follows a troubled Off-World officer as he tracks a ship carrying someone important who had disappeared from his life. Each episode features twists and turns, and ends on a cliffhanger.

Sasich talkED to Variety about “Atropa” in the lead-up to Canneseries.

Can you talk a bit about the VFX in the series?

The look and tone of the series is very much an homage to the grungy sci-fi films of the ‘70s and ‘80s. DoP Greg Cotten and I really wanted it to be as cinematic as possible, so we shot it as you would a feature. In terms of visual effects, all of our exterior spaceship shots were done with CG, but we really tried to stay true to a more deliberate and classic style as though we were shooting with models. The interiors were done on a standing spaceship set in Los Angeles, which our production designer heavily embellished.

How do you handle pacing issues in a 10-minute episode format?

Being a short-form series we knew we wanted to have a cliffhanger structure to keep people watching, and so we heavily leaned into that. Each episode ends with a big reveal and/or new information – really no different than the serials from the ‘30s and ‘40s. The challenge with such short episodes is to balance character development with the speedy exposition and action, and finding that sweet spot is always difficult. Every little moment counts and it forces you to trim all the fat and focus on the essential beats.

Do you approach a program like this like you would a series, or a feature film, or a bunch of short films or something else entirely?

“Atropa” was originally designed and written as a feature film, which we chopped up into short episodes. We completely embraced the series format when it was clear we were going that route, and we restructured the story accordingly. It was amazing how painless that process was though – the feature script had mini cliffhangers every ten pages or so built in. It was really important to me that each episode had its own identity.