Shadows is a scifi/supernatural thriller television series produced by Growling Dog Productions for Boston University's butv10.

Created in 1995 by Pilar Flynn and David Kalbeitzer, the show has produced over 50 half-hour episodes. This blog supports the Shadows Wiki in documenting the series.

Watch Shadows online

If you have memories of working on Shadows that you would like to share, please email

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Episode 38 - "Salesman"

It all starts to come together. Off the multiple disasters of “Trust of the Fallen”, we forged a crew that was primed to be more organized. And also more fearful of disorganization. Julie sat in the director's chair, and was eager to get to work. Kendal was being proactive in the producer's role. She also did a great job with the editing. This episode required no last minute crazy editing crises. She took the footage, went away with it, and just fucking did it. She showed us a rough cut and we gave some notes but it was pretty much locked in, the most painless editing experience we had.

This episode also benefitted greatly from Phil Tatel, a great director of photography. It's a position that we often don't have the luxury of having, but I think it's one of the things that makes a huge difference. The episodes with designated DP s tend to look the best. Even with a skeleton crew, a DP is worth it. Notice how the colors and moods are in keeping with each other from scene to scene. There's no blow out or underexposure. It makes for a much more professional looking product, and all it really takes is thinking deliberately about your camera settings. Having the DP do that for you is a good way to do that. In training our crew, we tried to have a checklist of things to consistently do every time. White balance, focus, f-stop, etc – training the routine of the process. One thing that butv never had that I was always agitating about was getting a light meter. Using that simple tool really makes a difference, even shooting on video.

We lucked out with a relatively smooth process and a great cast. The script showcases some of Jay's humor and warmth, human warmth being something that my writing doesn't always bring to the table. I love how Ford and Meyer develop the chemistry they have. I specifically assigned Jay those scenes, because I wanted him to make them his own and develop them in future episodes. I wish we got more of Ford and Meyer, but we ended up with only one more episode - “Pest Control”. The Scrambler 3000 was Jay's idea, for example.

Garytt Poirier is really the scene-stealer though. The pathetic, Willy Loman character could have been very dull, but Garytt made him likable at the same time. There's that wonderful scene where he talks to his girlfriend Rachel. It was shot over by South Campus, and had just begun to snow. The flakes fall on his shoulders and stay there a moment, like all the troubles that are falling on him. And then a homeless man, in the midst of filming, walks up to the payphone and checks the drawer for change. Priceless! As Orson Welles always said of directors, they preside over a series of accidents.

A word about makeup. Up until that point, we hadn't the expertise to employ good quality makeup. Fortunately, Nicole Herrington had it, so the makeup for Jakob's deterioration scene was very cool. I enjoyed going to the bathroom in COM and washing off afterward – it looked like someone had been murdered. I also wet my hair down with mineral oil to give it that oily, sickly quality. Makeup is not that difficult, but it requires some study and some basic principles. I wish COM taught that kind of stuff, it would have been very useful to us. We began Jakob's deterioration in “Trust of the Fallen” and I think the arc works. In each scene he rots a bit more. It was a long process that we felt was justified by its novelty, but we hoped would become more casual and frequent as time went on. We needed to prepare the theoretical audience for the change. But once the changing had been established, we didn't need that preparation every time. Casting Garytt who was obviously so good (just look at the scene at the end where he has clearly changed his personality) altered the plans to recast Jakob more frequently.

The transformation. Ah. Well none of us were special effects people. The bass lure and cherry pie filling was the best I could come up with at the time. A bit laughable in retrospect. But here's the thing – special effects are overrated. Immensely. How many times when you are watching a movie do you say “oh, that giant monster must be real”. Of course nobody does that, even children. Everyone knows that they are watching a movie or a TV show and that what they are seeing is in some sense, despite the genre, a product of trickery and illusion. We know it and we buy into it. Sometimes we don't know that it's an illusion, as is the case with good greenscreening or a well-executed glass shot. But for the most part we can tell that the spaceship is a model. We suspend or disbelief, just like in theatre, and accept the reality. The Muppets operate on the same principle, and they are even more artificial than most special effects are. What I am trying to say is that the cleavage between good special effects and bad special effects isn't actually whether it's believable or not, (the audience suspends their disbelief so frequently that they are quite versed in the process) but whether the effect conveys the information or not.

Andrew Cartmel, Doctor Who script editor and one of my heros, talks of this problem frequently. The BBC departments often didn't work in concert with each other, they didn't always get what the tone or the style or the approach to the material should be. Thus they delivered brilliant period sets and decors, and horrendous futuristic ones. During the story Battlefield, they were called on to produce a model of an underwater lair, a cave where resided the tomb of King Arthur. The model that they built simply didn't convey what it was supposed to be. A key detail of the plot of the story is that King Arthur is an alien from a different planet, and the tomb at the bottom of the lake was actually his spaceship. Now, the model might have been very pretty, very “believable” as people like to say, but it wouldn't have made any difference at all, because the effects team didn't realize what the story required of the model. The difference between good effects and bad ones is simple: good effects convey the necessary story and character information in a way that is in keeping with the tone of the material. Bad effects fail at this task. Thus, the bass lure parasite in Jakob's regeneration scene is a bad special effect. Not because it wasn't “believable” enough, but because its construction didn't fit the tone of the material. It didn't serve the story well enough, despite Julie's direction. That was my fault.

“Salesman” was a great success. It proved our concept and our methods. I think the key there was our organization and our teamwork. But we were still short on content, and I was worried that Shadows would never be able to compete with Bay State, the giant of butv. We could never do as many episodes as the soap opera, but we could do more than we had been. And a core body of work meant a potential audience. You can't develop that audience without a certain critical mass of content. The next semester, my last, we pushed out even further. We divided up our production group into two teams, and set to work on two brand new episodes, “Pest Control” and “The Prisoner's Dilemma.” Two episodes that challenged us in very different ways.

- Justin K. Rivers

Episode 37 - "Trust of the Fallen"

I don't know that The X-Files has really remained in the modern media diet. Certainly it was still well known when I was in school, but it fell off quickly and I don't think it has the draw to successive generations for some reason. Like a good wine with no finish, it has dissipated in the culture.

X-Files is a very good example, however, for looking at the juggle between ongoing narrative and single-episode stories. One episode is a monster of the week. Another is a mythology episode, furthering the series backstory. This was our direct idea for the Agency re-boot – propel some long-range backstory gradually, while solving a case or monster of the week in the meantime. The problem is that you need a backstory that can survive without tying it to the cast, which we knew would change frequently. Episode 36 is a monster story that introduces the setup, just like “Rose” was with Doctor Who in 2005. Exact same mechanics.

Episode 37 is the mythology episode. The lengthy teaser was meant to lead into a scene that is now missing. You see in the chase the back alley behind Warren Towers, a brilliant bit of Retro Ugly architecture. Fortunately nobody saw our fake guns.

Throughout the episode you can see that we are still not quite in command of the PD-150's, our f-stops are all over the place, and our color temperatures are not deliberate enough. Sometimes monkeying with the white balance produces some nice results. But its not replicable to do that.

The filing cabinet in the Agency was an old COM discard. I found it in a junk pile and hauled it back up to Studio East.

The story begins to fall apart right away. The lost tape meant that we had a big hole that we could never quite work around, and trouble with casting meant that we couldn't get the actor in to patch up that problem. We also ran out of time and didn't get another scene, which went at the end of the episode, where we're supposed to demonstrate that the Parasites have infiltrated our society. Ok, perhaps a bit ambitious. But we planned on getting some shots to make that happen. I remember Kendal Stavros and I standing at the top of the stairs at Government Center, shivering in pain, on the coldest day in the history of reality, hoping that the next person who came through the doors would be one of our craigslist extras. Alas, none of them showed. So we went home with almost nothing.

I talk about the Parasite backstory elsewhere, so let me just say this: we either should have established it more or established it less and metered more out over time. I think that was a mistake on my part. Because of the technical difficulties with losing footage, losing cast members, losing our director (Sam had serious commitments to school projects, and justly had to focus on them), with me stepping in to finish the shooting on the episode, we were never able to achieve what the show needed to achieve. And I didn't want to scrap the episode even though it would probably be better that way, because we needed content. A show that produces no content is not a show, and with butv10 just starting up at that point, we needed content more than quality. We needed to prove to the world that we existed.

There are some moments that I am very proud of in “Trust of the Fallen.” It was a new Shadows out in the real world, going for a spin around the block, and experiencing the necessary growing pains.

The long term impact of the episode is that I decided that I needed to not be onscreen, so the next episode obviously had to establish the precedent for re-casting Jakob. I had the idea that Jakob could be a different actor in each episode, but it didn't turn out that way. The episode also cost us some mythology. By muddling it, we didn't establish what we needed to in order to support a pillar in the story structure. After a sour experience working on this episode of Parasites, we all wanted to do something different. But the best thing that happened is that our crew – Marcus, Darcy, Kendal, Julie, and the rest – got a really great crash course in how things can go wrong. And I think that we learned those lessons as an organization, which is why the next episode was so good.

As a post-script, “Trust of the Fallen” is not on the butv web site. I have no idea why. It was on there at one time, and then disappeared, which screwed up the episode numbers. “The Agency” is listed as Episode 37, when it's actually 36. “Trust of the Fallen” fits in between “The Agency” and “Salesman”.
- Justin K. Rivers

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Episode 36 - "The Agency"

The cycle of every long-running institution is the same. It is a bit of a boom and bust, with highs and lows and transitions. I'll talk about the early episodes (31-35) later. For right now it's episode 36, “The Agency”. I guess we call it the “agency reboot” now, but basically it was a new series that we just kept calling Shadows. And it works. Written in 2004, Jay Fuller and I (with a lot of input and planning from Sam Rosenthal, who worked with us to plan the format and style), set out to build a brand new beast. Sam and I established our template after experiencing the problems that the original series format presented to us. But we didn't know how to make establish the new thing in 30 minutes. The obvious choice was to start with an outsider.

Notice that we didn't have an Agency perspective in the episode. We follow Lauren, the FBI agent, who gets fired because she insists her husband was killed by a werewolf. There's a plot hole there, as you can probably see. Was he buried? He's supposed to appear at the end as (surprise!) the werewolf in question. Anyways, the FBI thinks she's nuts but she's too square to back down. She writes a tell-all report and gets canned. A mysterious fellow FBI agent sends her off for an interview with The Agency and thus we gain entrance to the supernatural world of Shadows.

Things don't work out right. The first thing to know is that we thought we had a CGI werewolf. We had shots where it would plug in, with the idea that we could use practical werewolf arms. We just never figured it out, and by the time I edited the episode Sam had moved on and there was no time and not enough footage to make it work. But that's why the scenes with the monster are so thin – we literally had nothing and no way to shoot new material at that point. The result is an attempt at Val Lewton's Cat People. If you haven't seen any Val Lewton films, by the way, I highly recommend them. They're probably the single most useful reference for how to operate Shadows on such a shoestring budget.

Despite the flaws, the story does achieve it's objective, to pull us into this other world. It would have been even better, I think, to have a few more minutes of Lauren's existence pre-Agency. We have two status-quos to disrupt. One is her domestic situation. The other is her work situation. Rightly, the work situation takes the bulk of the episode, but what is the inciting incident of the story? Is it the death of the husband or being fired from her job? Her willingness to go along with the Agency is a change from her more stubborn nature, it's part of her arc, but I'm not sure we fleshed that out properly. And in the end, she shoots and kills the monster, which is supposed to be her husband. The dialog remains, but without a setup in the teaser, it doesn't pay off.

Dave Rogers was our cast member from Apocalypse, here reprising his role as Jack Flynn. The hard man of action comes out of our conception of having Jakob be Bosley to the Angels. With the Board of Directors as an invisible Charlie. We needed Agent Flynn to do the work, and also to establish that the Agency is poorly funded and resourced. They are frayed, desperate people, fighting a losing battle. It ups the stakes. Dave had to move on after only a few episodes, but that was ok – indeed, that was the point. Agents can come and go. The structure remains.

Marcela (Lauren Clay) was not an actress, though she's a very talented woman, who worked for McKinsey last I checked. She was also one of the founders of the BU Editorial Society which published the Back Bay Review, so I knew her from that as well. I don't know that she was completely comfortable with acting on-camera, and I regret that I don't think we offered any of our actors as much support as they needed.

Joe Maddens, who plays Jay, was a good friend of mine from Liquid Fun, the BU improv troupe. He gives a great performance here, as he always does. His energy is always infectious, especially here as the doomed asshole on what I merely point out is an unusual job interview. And frankly the conceit doesn't quite make sense but again, it gets us a tour of the Agency.

The shoot was particularly challenging, we were doing a lot of stuff late at night in the cold, and our most intense shoot consisted of a grueling night in the sub-basement of Marcus and Sam's apartment in Kenmore Square, a dingy place that was locked of course, but could be reached by climbing through an unlit crawl space beneath the floor and unlocking the door from the inside. It served as a perfect location for the werewolf lair, and I think the texture and the lighting worked well for that. You can see at that point, we're beginning to get a handle on the iris, which is one of the things that TV students consistently overlook. The film program is more precise in terms of using and calibrating the f-stop correctly.

We chose the BU castle as the external shot of the Agency for obvious reasons – it looked cool and it was always available. I was never completely happy with it, because everyone knows it so well. It would have been better to find a cool old building in the North End somewhere, that was the urban aesthetic I wanted, but logistically that would have been difficult. During our first shoot at the castle, the camera malfunctioned, so when I captured the footage to the hard drive the images were corrupt, staccato frames, a mess. I ran out of time and, a year later, ran out of Marcela time as well, so I had to use that footage and couldn't reshoot. What's onscreen are stills picked out of the faulty footage assembled like a slideshow. A makeshift solution that I try to imagine evokes surveillance. Another example of a consistent problem the show has always had, which is the editing backlog. In fact, the three biggest problems, chronically forever seem to be:
  1. completing episodes
  2. keeping up with the editing backlog
  3. cast turnover

As a first effort, Episode 36 could have been a lot worse. And it certainly did its job. Some things got dropped, like Wilbur, the Agency secretary etc. But we got the harshness down, the crazy weird world. That's what makes the show flexible. It can and should accommodate a wide range of storytelling, once the core Agency structure is set down. The idea was to do a string of “Agency” based episodes and then break the format in the next few after that, to establish a precedent as to what does and does not constitute a Shadows episode. I think perhaps we should have been more aggressive in breaking our own format, because the subsequent runs hew fairly close to the Agency itself. I always thought that the series should be set in the world the Agency inhabits, using the rules of that universe. And that the Agency should be the main story of that world, but not the exclusive one. There's still opportunity to do it. 

- Justin K. Rivers

Monday, November 26, 2012

Interview - Dave Gilbert, Shadows Editor 1995-98

The Shadows History Blog is very pleased to have an interview with Dave Gilbert, the chief editor on Shadows during its formidable years, 1995-98. He graduated from the COM television and broadcasting program in 1998, and is a video game designer based in New York.

Shadows History Blog: How did you get involved in Shadows?

Dave Gilbert: This is going back - gosh, 17 years? - so I'm not sure I remember it exactly, but I was a sophomore at the time. I was interested in learning more about video editing, but COM's requirements left me unable to take any technical classes right away. I read somewhere that a sci-fi show was being edited on a certain day at a certain time. so I just sort of wandered in and asked if I could watch and/or help out. The next thing I know, I was made chief editor for the show.

SHB: How many episodes did you work on?

DG: The show averaged around 2 episodes a semester, and I was involved for about three years, so I'm guessing I worked on around 12 episodes altogether.
SHB: What was it like editing on videotape?
DG: UGH - this question makes me feel old. :) I enjoyed it. I have great memories of spending hours in those editing rooms in front of two big 3 1/4 inch decks, with the editing machine in the center. There was the "master" deck and the "raw" deck, with various dials and buttons that controlled both. I would flick the dial just slightly to move the footage frame by frame, I'd set the in and out points, and then hit "preview" and watch while the decks squealed and rewound themselves to the specified places.  Once I was satisfied with the edit, I'd hit "perform" and it would transfer itself to the master tape. That was always a nerve-wrecking experience. Once you hit that "perform" button, it was set in stone. Woe befall you if you realize you made a mistake several edits back. You would have to go back and redo lots of work.  So not the case these days. All that stuff is done by computers now - heck, I bought a piece of software a few months ago for $80 that does everything that those machines did and more - but I do miss those big, clunky machines. It might be nostalgia talking, but I think they gave me more direct control.

SHB: How was the production team structured? For example, were there producers and directors responsible for specific episodes or was the work grouped together?

DG: It was a university show, so there was lots of turnaround. Whoever was director or producer at the time directed or produced all the shows. It wasn't done episode by episode. Each semester there were different writers, and usually a different cast (as people tend to graduate, or take a semester abroad, or whatever), so it had to be pretty flexible. I don't remember the details.

SHB: What were some of the problems you encountered working on the show?

DG: There were no problems, exactly, but the biggest issue was that nobody was WATCHING it! We'd write them, cast them, tape them, and then edit them, but they were never broadcast. Not while I was there, anyway. It was a definite shame, since everyone put so much work into it and it was a bit discouraging. Nowadays, streaming indie TV shows over the web is an everyday occurrence, but that didn't exist back in the dark ages of 1996. I wish it did!

SHB: Were there any moments you were particularly proud of?

DG: I remember a minor character's voice sounding really muffled and impossible to hear in one scene. I wanted to get it redubbed, but the actor had graduated and was no longer around. So I just redubbed all of his lines with my voice! Fortunately the character was only in a few scenes and didn't have many lines. But even still, nobody noticed! Or were just too polite to say.

SHB: How did working on the show impact you?

DG: For me, it was my first ever experience of working with a team to create something. We had deadlines, and we had to hit them. It might have been a bit ramshackle, it might not have even been totally professional, and maybe the end results weren't as nice as we would have hoped, but we all took it seriously and got it done. It's a lesson that still applies to my work today. I'm very aware of the clock ticking on a project, and the need to be creative and make the occasional compromise in order to get it finished.

SHB: What do you do now, and what are you working on next?

DG: For the last 7 years, my wife and I have been running an indie video game development studio here in New York. We focus on old-school adventure games (King's Quest, and the like) and we sell them off our website. Our current project is called Primordia, and will be out in early December.

Thanks to Dave for being interviewed for our project!

Shadows alums, we want to hear from YOU as well. You can contact us at shadowswiki at gmail dot com.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Shadows Manifesto 2004

An essential part of any organization (or any society for that matter) is self-perpetuation. The components of our social structures do all sorts of different things, but in the end, they always have to survive.

Below is a "manifesto" that I printed up and posted around the butv office and in the Shadows cabinet where all the props and tapes were housed (2004-2006).

The goal was to create and strengthen inter-organizational culture, with completing episodes the most important goal. Only with completed product (regardless of quality) could an organization based around a TV show truly survive in the long run.



We are here to:

  1. Complete each episode completely.

  1. Be organized, professional, and prepared.

  1. Leave behind a capable crew to carry on after we’ve graduated.

  1. Make each episode asskickin’ damn good.

The Secret Agency Backstory - Justin K. Rivers

This is a document I wrote in 2004, I think - as an explanation of the Agency and its backstory. As you can see, it's a bit far out, a bit spacey, but was something that could have been used to draw inspiration from. The idea was to inform the episodes with flavor and allusion to the backstory, so there would be a cohesive "past" connecting things, without ever actually explaining it. Here ya go:

The Agency's Backstory

Far away from Earth, an epic battle raged. The Naroks have nearly triumphed, their parasites spreading and eroding the foundations of civilization, collapsing all resistance. The Directors, a small, ragged collective of nearly extinct races and the last stand against the onslaught of The Naroks, have been defeated. The survivors flee into the farther reaches of the galaxy, resisting covertly, carefully avoiding discovery out of fear of being crushed utterly. They turn their attention to the frontier worlds, thwarting The Narok vanguard and protecting planets such as Earth from the forbearers of invasion.

The Directors came to Earth and made alliances with some enlightened humans, and The Agency was born. But the Directors remain in the shadows, hiding, protecting their identities. Jakob is their perfect front-man, but his exposure to the field is limited, because he alone knows who runs and directs The Agency. If he were captured, all would be lost.

The Naroks cannot be seen in their true form, except under special light. They are otherwise invisible and intangible. The only clue to their presence, which is only occasional and imperceptible at best, is that body temperature can sometimes drop, as the Naroks mind drains the energy fields of those around it. The brief ripples of cold, the sudden shiver in a crowd of warm people, all indicate the passing presence of a Narok. They are among us.

The Naroks are working towards a specific goal, which is still a mystery to The Agency, a goal which is the lynchpin of the undoing of human civilization.

There is a reason that Earth is important. These two warring factions are the result of some ancient bifurcation, a divergence between order and chaos, and with the waning of the Directors, an imbalance has formed which must be corrected. Hidden somewhere on Earth is the secret to righting that imbalance, a secret which both factions are desperate to get their hands on…


Friday, March 2, 2012

My Time on SHADOWS - Matt Burns

Matt Burns

I'm pretty sure I auditioned for SHADOWS on two separate occasions. I think it was the end of my freshman year and the crew was looking to re-cast the part of "Daniel". I remember going to the audition and reading a monologue from the book A Clockwork Orange. I probably freaked everybody out with my impression of Alex, that psychotic droog. The SHADOWS crew ultimately decided I wasn't quite right for the part, but they wanted to find something else for me to play in the future.

Flash-forward to the beginning of my sophomore year. The SHADOWS team basically scrapped all their old characters and plot-lines and started the series from scratch. The producer Melissa Carelli wanted me to audition again for a character whose name was still Daniel but later turned to Reese. The audition took place on the evening of 9/11 and I remember stressing over my audition pieces, still not fully aware of everything that had taken place earlier that day in New York, Washington D.C. etc.

Anyway, to make a long story short, I got the part and played Reese for the next three years, off and on. By the time junior year came around, I started getting more involved with the production, helping to build the sets, operating cameras etc. The lighting director and DP Jake Kassen kind of took me under his wing and showed me everything there was to know about lighting sets. About midway through my junior year, I replaced Jake as Director of Photography and had a good time designing the lighting schemes for all the scenes that were shot on the soundstage. The funnest scenes to light were ones that took place at night. I'd use blue gels to create moonlight and blink a red light to imply that there was a flashing neon hotel sign nearby or something like that.

All in all, my experience working and starring in SHADOWS was kind of a blur. We would shoot every Friday afternoon and I just remember how tired I was by that point in the week. I was writing papers, writing screenplays, shooting short films, working at a supermarket and juggling my load of other course work, all on top of SHADOWS. But I'm glad I was part of it. It was a magical time and I realize now that a lot of the girls I co-starred with were rather sexy. I wish I had urged the writers to put me in more kissing scenes.

I appear in several episodes around the 2003/04 era, including episodes 32, 33 and 34.