Amidst the coronavirus pandemic, creators have been forced to find unique new ways to remain engaged with fans, as filming of television shows and movies remains shut down during shelter-in-place orders.
Conrad series co-creators Jennifer A. Goodman and and Ryan Atkins have been holding weekly webinars with stars like actor Harry Lennix (The Blacklist), who portrays lieutenant Don Brewer in the pilot episode of the new Lakefront Pictures crime drama.
Goodman and Atkins began pitching the pilot to networks last week despite the onset of COVID-19. While the crime drama genre can be a crowded corner of the network television sphere, Goodman and Atkins have gone to great lengths to ensure Conrad stands out.
“‘Just another crime drama’ is a common saying that none of us want our project to fall within,” said Atkins, who doubles as director of photography. “What sets Conrad apart would be probably how deep the story goes and the characters that we’re focusing on.”
“Conrad isn’t just a crime drama or a cop drama – it’s a story that really helms a young woman who is really trying to find her place in the world,” added Goodman, who portrays detective Kate Conrad. “She is guarded from life by her father – she’s protected by her father – and she’s really trying to make a name for herself. So it’s really about determination and surpassing expectations that have been set for you – which actually parallels my own personal life. I’m on the Autism spectrum and I was always kind of guarded from society or told that I would not get to certain points in my life. And I have always surpassed that expectation. So, it’s really about empowering one’s self to be true to who they are and what they believe in.”
Female empowerment is a theme that quickly emerges from the Conrad pilot. But the plot lines run much deeper.
“Conrad kind of deals with some of the concerns that we have today over privacy – identity theft, things like that. Are you who you say you are? Not everything is as it seems in this story. But it’s a story about hope,” said Atkins.
“It’s about the realities in terms of underground worlds and lives that we don’t even realize are happening all around us every single day. And that’s where a human trafficking piece comes in. We see a lot of people in this story who are kind of living double lives – who are kind of experiencing this world that they didn’t mean to fall into but are involved with without even knowing it,” Goodman elaborated. “It kind of touches upon a greater depth than just everyday crime. It goes beyond more of the psychological story behind why someone may do something that they do. It leads into perspective that goes deeper than we may fathom, while empowering women in these fields to feel confident and forthcoming about what they want to do.”
Conrad was the brainchild of Atkins, beginning as just a two page script near the end of 2016.
Goodman joined on after responding to a social media post from Atkins seeking a “bad ass, fierce detective.”
Engaged by that original treatment and initial meeting with Atkins, Goodman immediately knocked out an additional seventy script pages.
“I think my audition was over about 4:30 or 5 PM – and I went home and started writing. And I wasn’t done until about 9 AM the next day. I was writing, took a nap for thirty minutes, woke back up, had more ideas and started writing again,” Goodman explained. “The scripted seventy pages was definitely not a shootable script. But what it was was it was a bunch of ideas that were intriguing and eye opening. And then I kind of helmed the script from there with Ryan.”
“The original story came from me and it was intended to be a demo reel project. At the time, I was on a break from a previous project and I decided to do that. My hope was that there’d be interest in expanding that into a larger project,” said Atkins. “I had only vague ideas – nothing super specific. We ended up collaborating for a while but I ended up just giving Jennifer the script to run with.”
Shooting took place over fifteen days in the summer of 2019, with a few pick ups last fall, in both Chicago and New York.
In Chicago, filming closed the Wacker Drive bridge downtown at Michigan Avenue. In New York, shoots took place near the Brooklyn Bridge as well as in a shipping container yard which can also be seen in both The Blacklist and The Shawshank Redemption.
“We did this kind of backwards. We didn’t have a budget and then shoot a show. We shot a show and built the budget as we went along,” said Goodman. “Because I felt very confident and I really believed that I would make this happen. And I constantly reminded people of that: Don’t worry. If we build it, it will happen. I’m a firm believer that if you build something, people will come. And they did.”
Ultimately, that budget was financed via crowdfunding campaigns and active investors with a keen eye on reigning in spending wherever possible.
“A lot of the things that we did with fundraising started with Indiegogo and then asking friends and family and putting in our own money. That didn’t get us very far. However, Ryan and I put in a substantial amount of our own time and money – and so did some of the other producers. Because they believed in what we were creating,” said Goodman. “We were able to get that trailer out and brand our show. We got our social media marketing out and started getting up to about five or six thousand followers – without people having seen the show. And that was exciting. People who were a part of our show, or did locations or helped us with utilizing their home, put in money to our team. There were individuals who were very adamant about what we were creating and wanting their name to be a part of it. So just through networking and my background in sales, I’ve been able to utilize my skill set in this environment.”
That social media footprint has now doubled on Facebook alone and the Conrad pilot premiered in February at the Davis Theater in Chicago, with stars like Lennix and actor Eric Roberts (Michael Conrad) on hand for interviews and a red carpet reception.
Over the course of the last four years, Conrad has evolved from a two page idea into a fully realized and produced pilot with actual Hollywood star power, a lifespan few planted seeds ever make it through.
With future series story lines fleshed out, and the pitch process officially underway, Goodman is clear about what a learning process the entire experience has been.
“First, you can’t trust everybody. You’ve got to do your research. The biggest thing is to do research, plan wisely, involve the right people and make sure the people that are invested in this are emotionally engaged and invested – that they believe in you and what you’re doing and are doing it for the win and success of the show,” she said. “It can’t all be about the money. We want the money – but we want a team of collaborators and creatives that want to see something happen that’s unique and different. So, I think the biggest learning experience, I would say, is to be open minded – listen to others, take in feedback and be willing to grow.”
With the finish line potentially in sight, regardless of how the pitch process plays out, both Atkins and Goodman are clear on what their unique partnership has meant from the advent of the idea through to today despite the uncertain times.
“The collaboration overall has been really fantastic. She’s a wonderful person. She had a lot of different ideas for the character. The story now is several seasons deep. She has endless ideas and is just a source of energy,” said Atkins. “You never know who’s going to like your idea and where an idea might lead you. I had no intention of making this a TV show. It was a two page theme. I could’ve never told you that.”
“It’s been a lot of work. Because there’s been a lot of challenges. I never really wrote scripts prior to this. But there are few people that I’d rather be in business with. He truly offers authenticity. He’s humble. His integrity is in line. We really are honest with each other and we communicate well. In the beginning, it was challenging. He’s really the opposite of me in every sense of the word. But, honestly, he’s the yin to my yang when it comes to filmmaking. I think that because we’re very comfortable and trusting of each other, it’s a lot easier to be in this process together,” said Goodman of the Conrad partnership with Atkins. “We’re both very well aware that I may not be Kate Conrad. He may not be director of photography. But we also understand that as creators, something we’ve created will make sure we’re on top of this and partnered to this as long as we can.”
Source: Forbes Business