About the Story
The concept for Lunatics came to Rosalyn and I about seven years ago, as a result of a discussion about what a space settlement would really be like, considering that it would be settled by the same kind of people who we knew as space advocates then. The truth is, the first settlers will be fanatics about space, because no one else would be able to get that opportunity. And this is something we felt was missing from most of the science-fiction narratives on the subject.
We got kind of tired of "angsty everyman" characters "thrust into the thankless task of settling a new world" or some such nonsense. This just isn't true to the character of the people who'd actually wind up in that situation. They will have to be extraordinary people, not just in ability, but also in outlook. It takes an incredible optimist to take on a task like this seriously. And we knew those people. We'd met them in conferences, and to one degree or another, we'd been those people. So we could really get inside their heads, and that was the beginning of the characters -- and this is a story that starts with the characters.
The more we talked about these characters, the funnier the idea became, and we quickly worked our way towards a set of caricatures of "crazy space advocates". After a while, the characters mellowed a little as we added more depth to them. By now they're much more believable, though I hope still funny.
Then we added to that a realism of setting based on much more up-to-date ideas about settling on the Moon. There are real problems with making a habitable settlement on Luna, and we didn't want to magic them away by ignoring them and pretending that it would all "work out somehow". That's okay in some science fiction, especially in the far future, because we really don't know how "transporters" or "warp drive" would work (or if it would work), but what's the excuse here? We know how to solve the problems for a Moon settlement -- or at least we have a pretty good idea, so ignoring them would just be a cop out.
We also wanted to challenge some of the orthodoxy on space settlement, which we've often found to be lacking. There's a lot of people in the space community who are trying to fool themselves about their motives, and then trying to fool the public into following them for those false motives. I don't think it works. Telling people you're going to settle the Moon "for the money" is just absurd. There are far easier ways to make money that don't involve going into space at all. And I think it's valuable to address the nature of the spiritual pull that space development has for many of us in more honest terms -- to admit that really, we're doing it "because it's there". There's a little bit craziness there, and I want to embrace it.
There are also a lot of human issues that just haven't been addressed in prior science fiction about space settlement. Raising children in space is going to be a particular challenge not only in terms of time pressures and other basic parenting problems, but also in terms of ethics. Even our pilot episode will raise some of the issues that are likely to be raised about taking children out on this "greatest adventure". Because adventures, as you know, are very dangerous. We've become a very risk-averse society over the decades -- are we ready to cope with the hazards of a frontier again?
Again, we were a little tired of seeing rather tired cliches of what a Moon settlement would look like -- especially designs that just didn't make any real sense on the real Moon. Every time we found ourselves falling back on cliche in developing the plot for Lunatics, we've challenged ourselves with the question, "Well, what would really happen?"
And the answer, though it sometimes took quite a bit of thinking to figure it out, was always much more interesting than the cliche.
Finally, for some reason, space settlement and space exploration never seem to be a satisfactory subject for Hollywood. Big-budget science fiction movies about space can't seem to divorce themselves from the mythology of UFOs, ancient aliens, and other such nonsense. I don't mind such fantasies in fiction, but I think they detract from a story like ours. We don't need "magic" of this kind to make our plots go -- we think there's plenty of drama to be had in just living on a space frontier, and that's what we want to write about.
So, to some degree, Lunatics will be "small cinema" about the drama and comedy of everyday life. In that way, it's almost a "sitcom", although I hope you'll find it's a little more than that.
About the Production Model
Lunatics is being produced independently on a "free film" model -- that is to say, we are using a free-culture license (Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0), and it will be mostly "open source" in that we will release as much of the source material as we are able to do. The project is nevertheless, intentionally "commercial" in that we at least hope to make enough money from it to sustain the project and pay the artists for their time. Models for that have been pioneered by other free-licensed movies like "Sita Sings the Blues" and the Blender Open Movies ("Sintel", "Big Buck Bunny", and "Elephants Dream"). Using free-license open-source software for that is a natural outcome of the desire to be able to collaborate with the community on the production (anyone can acquire the software tools to participate in our project).
Meanwhile the development process of the free software community has also given us much of the tools for collaborating on the project, and the use of a "free cultural works" license means we have access to the commons of other free-licensed work to incorporate in our project. Both bring down the cost, especially the real "dollars and cents" capital costs of the project, hopefully to the point where it will be feasible to do this project on a "community-funded" basis through what are essentially pre-sale fundraisers.
This model actually favors series work over stand-alone movies, in my opinion (if you think about it, the rising complexity and budgets of the Blender Open Movies -- viewed as a single series -- validates this). People are more willing to contribute to a project that has shown it can produce good work. Of course, we haven't done that yet, and that's why the production roadmap for Lunatics is based on a "bootstrapping" model, with successively more complex hurdles to clear, each providing the credibility for the community-funding and community-sourcing on the next. We figure we owe you some evidence that we can do what we propose before we pass around the hat to actually finance it.
This model offers us the kind of independence that is needed to tell a story like this for what is most likely a niche audience, in a way that probably wouldn't be very easy to sell to the conventional film or television industry.
I honestly don't know if this will work -- whether we can make enough money on the goodwill of fans to sustain the project or justify the thousands of hours of effort it will require from dozens of people to see it through. And therefore, I don't know how long we'll be able to keep it up. At least we will try very hard to complete the pilot. Hopefully, we'll get enough interest to see us through a season. If things work out well, we have excellent story arcs planned all the way through to a third season, and some ideas for beyond that. But that really depends on your support, and that unquestionably depends on how well we do our job. In any case, I'm pretty sure it's going to be fun!