YouTube is reaching for the stars as it prepares to launch its first high-end European scripted show, a 10-part sci-fi series entitled “Origin.” The drama was commissioned from the Sony-owned London-based Left Bank Pictures, and comes from creator Mika Watkins, who developed the show after working as a development assistant at Left Bank.
“Mika joined the company on a diversity scheme around five years ago,” Left Bank’s CEO Andy Harries tells Variety. “Within a few weeks we realized that she was very bright. Almost straight away we made her a trainee script editor.”
Prior to Left Bank, Watkins wrote her first screenplay at university, a Victorian Gothic retelling of the Doctor Faustus story. “It felt like the right medium for me. After that I got into writing professionally,” she says. She also penned two episodes of scripted content, for Sky’s “Lucky Man” and the BBC’s “Troy: Fall of a City.”
It was at Left Bank where Watkins says she learned “the craft of editing which gives you a really amazing brain when it comes to story lining and plotting.” But she still didn’t know many people within the industry and didn’t have enough money to “just be a writer.” She moved onto another U.K. indie, Objective — the makers of cult show “Peep Show” — where she wrote a comedy script. That enabled her to get an agent.
When YouTube saw Watkins’ screenplay for “Origin” they jumped at it. “Within a week of receiving the script they said they loved it,” says Harries. “It’s a great series for YouTube because Mika’s idea was very global. ‘Origin’ has an international cast, French, German, Japanese, American, and British — all young, so perfect for YouTube.”
Watkins pitched the idea for “Origin” to Left Bank as a hybrid of “Lost” and “Alien” and considers it a blend of science fiction and horror, centered on “a group of strangers bound for a distant planet [who have] been promised a fresh start on the new planet.”
“When they wake up everyone else appears to have disappeared but there’s a monstrous presence on the ship,” she says. “In every episode we reveal the reasons why every passenger got on the ship.”
The dialogue in these flashback sequences occurs in the characters’ own languages and is subtitled. It was extremely important for Watkins to get a multinational cast, including Natalia Tena, Tom Felton and Nora Arnezeder as space colonizers, and because YouTube accepted Left Bank’s idea that she should be showrunner, despite “Origin” being her first show, she was able to get her way.
This was, in great part, because the Google-owned platform is seeking to establish YouTube Premium in Europe, where it is an “also-ran” compared with Netflix or Amazon Prime Video.
“We’re a fledgling service in Europe,” admits Luke Hyams, the online platform’s head of originals for Europe, Middle East and Africa.
To help establish ‘Origin,’ the first two episodes are being shown on YouTube with no pay wall. Hyams believes the show, under Watkins’ guidance, will help raise their profile because it “depicts a vision of space we’ve never seen before and is based on a piece of deeply compelling, original IP.”
“The great thing about YouTube is they wanted the show as Mika originally conceived it,” adds Harries. “They didn’t say ‘We like it but can you do it this way and add this?'”
For YouTube, a lot is riding on “Origin.” If the show succeeds it could prove a game changer for the platform’s subscription service to gain traction outside the U.S. Watkins says she does have ideas through season 4 of the show, should YouTube want to continue. “I am pretty fast,” she says of her writing process. “If you’re trying to make something for a streaming platform you have to be, or it just won’t work.”
“Origin” premieres Nov. 14 on YouTube Premium.