Narcoleap's Kate Green. Photo courtesy of KGP Films.
For most people, sleep is a time to rest and rejuvenate, but that is not necessarily true for Kelsey Atkins. She suffers from narcolepsy, a long-term neurological condition that affects a person’s sleep cycle and most commonly results in excessive as well as unexpected sleepiness that can last from seconds to minutes. As if that is not a big enough challenge to deal with in her everyday life, when Kelsey falls asleep, it leads to an out of body experience that puts the young woman directly in the line of danger. Staying a step ahead of those who want to do her harm is the basis of Narcoleap, an eight-part web series created by producer/director Kate Green. A documentary and factual television maker for over 17 years, she wanted to try her hand at scripted work, particularly in the genre world, and this was her chance to do just that.
“I’ve always loved Sci-Fi. It’s one of those, I don’t want to say guilty pleasures because there’s nothing guilty about it, do you know what I mean,” says Green with a laugh. “I wanted to do Sci-Fi, but a web series. I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to connect with Sci-Fi lovers online. I also wanted it to have a really strong female lead, and felt that actress Chelsey Reist [The 100], who I had worked with before, would be perfect as the lead.
(L-R): Madison Smith, Chelsey Reist and Austin Eckert. Photo courtesy of KGP Films.
“I was working with a young writer, so I explained this to him, and about a week later he came back to me and pitched an idea. Back then it didn’t even have a name, but it was about a young girl called Subject 46, who had special powers, including astral projection, and was trapped in a military facility. I said, ‘OK, there’s definitely something here and I really want to develop this with you.’ So we started on that process, and then the [Netflix] series Stranger Things came out. It was about this young girl called Eleven who had special powers and was trapped on a military base. Well, it was one of those moments where you’re like, oh, our idea is too similar, but you also know you’re on the right path.
“At the time I had been accepted into Canada’s Women in The Director’s Chair Program, so I took the concept, which became Narcoleap, with me and developed it within that program. It was a terrific experience because I had access to mentors as well as story editors who helped me continue to shape the idea, which in turn allowed the storylines to breathe and the characters to have a bit more depth. I came out of that program with a complete development package, and that’s when I hired David Schmidt to write the scripts. So it was a long [creative] process, but one I’m really grateful for.”
Behind-the-scenes on Narcoleap with Kate Green. Photo courtesy of KGP Films.
With concept in hand, Green had one or two other components to iron out before filming on Narcoleap could begin. “Funding is always an issue,” she notes. “Luckily in Canada we have some incredible funding opportunities, and for me, the two major funders for this project were the Independent Production Fund and Telus’ Storyhive. Those are two funds that are really about giving emerging directors the opportunity to have their voice heard and tell their story. So we got everything we needed because of their support.
“Writing-wise, David Schmidt is a fantastic writer and has written for TV in the past, but because this project was on a much smaller scale, I’d always joke with him and say, ‘Can you give me one script with just one location and two actors.’ It was always a matter of having to pare things down, and in the process you definitely hone your skills at being able to fit the entire story into a short-form format like this.”
Did the casting process for this project present any particular difficulties? “As I mentioned, I worked with Chelsey Reist before,” says Green. “I’d hired her 11 or 12 years ago as a host for a travel show I was producing and directing, so I’ve known her for years and always wanted to work with her again.
“I suppose my main casting challenge or concern was that I knew the three main characters, Kelsey Atkins [Reist], Aidan Webb [Madison Smith, Salvation] and Miles Kirkland [Austin Eckert, Colony, The Flash] had to have amazing chemistry for all different sorts of reasons. However, due to scheduling and budget constraints, I was never able to get all three actors playing the leads in the same room together. In fact, the first time I heard them say their lines was at our first cast read-trough. Talk about rolling the dice,” she jokes. “I had no idea whether or not it was going to work, but luckily it did, and all three actors had this wonderful rapport that came across onscreen.”
Kelsey (Chelsey Reist) and Aidan (Madison Smith). Photo courtesy of KGP Films.
For those who have not yet had the chance to watch Narcoleap, Green offers this teaser to whet peoples’ appetite. “Kelsey Atkins has never been very remarkable, and she’s at the stage in her life where she’s in college, is a little bit awkward, and trying to figure things out in life,” explains Green. “Then, of course, she’s dealing with narcolepsy, and on top of that, when she’s asleep, Kelsey leaps into other peoples’ dreams. This sets her on this journey where she’s being targeted and watched by the military, specifically Agent Miles Kirkland. Kelsey and her friend Aidan try to figure out just how much danger she’s in, and as the story progresses, you see Kelsey go from kind of an awkward, unsure young woman to someone who by the end of the series starts to take control of her life. This is a very universal, relatable story and one that I think a lot of young women go through. It’s also Sci-Fi, and because of that you get to create these incredible worlds where you can explore themes such as coming into your own skin and finding your own voice.”
Just as creating Narcoleap was a passion project for Green, the actual filming of it was equally as rewarding. “I had a phenomenal DOP [director of photography], Ryan McMaster, who’s worked on Fringe, Battlestar Galactica, iZombie and many other Sci-Fi shows and films, which we’re known for doing in Vancouver,” she says. “It was a pleasure to work with him and it was a very collaborative process. I knew what I wanted when I came on-set, and it was a dream set because we all got along. It was not a big budget project, but everyone was there because they loved the concept and the people around them. I was thrilled every morning when people kept showing up,” enthuses Green. "I thought, 'Oh, my God, this is great. They’ve all come back.’
“It was one of those indie filmmaking experiences that you don’t always get to experience. With big budget productions there’s a great deal more stress, money and stakes on the line. There was a lot on the line for us, too, but everyone knew this was a labor of love and they were just willing to be a part of something they felt was special. Who knows what’s going to happen from here. The sky’s the limit, really, with Narcoleap and it has so much potential. We already have huge support from the fans. Before we even went into production, people were making videos and fan art just from the small amount of material we had posted online. There’s so much love for this project, and that really came across on the set and beyond.”
Narcoleap is now available on YouTube in the US, and Telus Optik on Demand, the CBC TV app, and cbc.ca/watch in Canada.