Apocalypse Now – Interview with Terry Gee
Terry Gee is the writer, star and brains behind daily science fiction show Apocalypse, airing on YouTube. Bryon Fear spoke to him about its inception and how he has brought the story to life.
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Terry Gee was born was born in Derbyshire but raised in Yorkshire. In year 9 at school he came out as gay, and then to his parents when he was sixteen. Terry has had a very varied career. He began work in television the week after he left school and at eighteen joined a boy band. The year after that he began editing NOW magazine, a gay lifestyle publication (now Bent magazine) and Gameplay’s magazine a year later. He then began work as a professional actor moving between musical theatre, music videos and theatre. In 2006 he moved to London and worked in marketing but was forced to give up work due to a spinal injury.
What began the inception of Apocalypse? How did it all begin?
Apocalypse is the product of a collection of ideas finally coming together. I have been writing fiction ever since I was able to put pen to paper. Age eleven I wrote, cast, directed and starred in a play in front of my school. My brain never switches off and I am regularly lying awake thinking up scenarios and stories. There are four main themes of Apocalypse and I had to carefully write the story arc to creatively incorporate them all without coming across as too preachy. I think that all comes down to how Sebastian delivers the lines. I wanted him to be totally believable and say things without explanation – like we all would. I also replaced the two most common swear words with Shill and Flenn – there’s a reason why I did that and not just to make it U rated! I never explain why but, if you watch it all, you can work out the reasoning behind it.
Why did you choose to create a science-fiction piece set in the future?
I’m a huge sci-fi buff and most of the fiction I write is set in the future or an alternative universe. I feel science fiction is one of our most important genres as it lets our imagination soar without limitations. For Apocalypse I wanted the audience to be able to relate to Sebastian and the world he lives in, but also be able to separate the two. This is why his story is set in 2046, only thirty-two years in the future. Just look at how much the world in the story has changed in the past thirty-two years – how much will it change in another thirty two?
What made you want to create a one man show? Do you have a television background?
The week after I left school, I started work in television as a runner. Within a year I was researching shows for the BBC until becoming the youngest television director in the organisation’s history at just seventeen years old. Since that time, I have produced many television and radio shows, sang in a boy band, edited two magazines and become a professional actor, singer and dancer. Then a few years ago, I seriously damaged my spine. I was forced to give up work and for a long time it seemed I would end up in a wheelchair. My life was essentially over. But earlier this year, after yet another MRI scan, I was told my spine was repairing and there was hope. I have spent all year repairing my spine through physiotherapy and exercise. I will never be able to dance like I used to, but I am now very much on the road to recovery and can start looking for work again. Being forced into unemployment, when I was always so active, has been devastating and having no money has meant I have a very limited social life. For all those people on the outside saying unemployment is easy, I am living proof that it is not. It’s hard and lonely and I struggle every day to buy even the most essential items.
This is a big reason for making Apocalypse a one man show. It’s difficult to explain to people how isolating living alone with no money is. Strip away the fact Sebastian is in the future and we do share a lot of the same emotions. I sometimes go days without seeing another human being and constantly talk to myself. I have days where I feel really positive about the future and then others when I feel totally lost and devoid of hope. If I feel like this, there must be millions of people who also feel the same.
Why did you write Sebastian as a gay character?
I am gay. Coming out, age fourteen at school and then to my parents at sixteen was far from easy. Back then I had to fight against many homophobic attitudes in my working class community in Yorkshire. However, I’d known I was gay for a while and I didn’t feel dirty or shameful – this is who I was and I couldn’t change it even if I wanted to. In my lifetime, opinions have changed, and it is easier for someone to come out to their parents now than it was in the ’90s. So, in Apocalypse I wanted to show life in another few generations where sexuality was no longer an issue. We have same-sex marriage now and it is being legalised all over the West. In the next ten years it could be everywhere; in twenty years school kids with never have known a world without gay marriage and in thirty-two years, why would it be a problem? I felt this was such an important point to make and I wanted Sebastian to talk about his late lover like anyone would. There is no shame or trepidation in how he talks about Josh, simply because there wouldn’t be. It might be difficult to imagine now, but in our lifetimes, there is a huge possibly that being gay will be no different from being straight.
The other theme is war. Is the web series in any way meant to reflect the current situation in Gaza?
The key issue in Apocalypse is war and it has a lot to do with what is happening in Gaza. It has a lot to do with every war there has ever been, because they all about the same things: religion and power. There is a huge difference in Apocalypse though; the religious war ended in 2044, two years before Sebastian was forced into his bunker. The war that rages above him now is no longer about religion, but the self-destruction of the human race. I don’t want to give too much away as this isn’t explained until much later in the series but I do feel passionate about the social and global issued raised in Apocalypse and these are seldom discussed.
Are you shooting daily episodes and allowing yourself the freedom to change the narrative as you progress or have you shot the entire series in advance?
I actually wrote Apocalypse as a complete story arc from beginning to end. This means that there was no need for last minute changes and, as it’s set in the future, it was never going to be affected by current events. Amazingly, all thirty episodes were actually filmed in one day. To create the illusion of time marching on, I filmed everything backwards and trimmed my beard throughout the shoot. It looks like my beard is growing when actually no time has passed at all.
We live in a very immediate world where artists and celebrities are speaking directly to their audience via social media – did you consider using social media to allow your audience to engage more directly with the story?
I welcome any form of communication from the audience. At the moment it is very much still in my friend bubble through social media, and so the majority of messages are from friends and family. I raise quite a few issues and would love to talk to or listen to other people’s perceptions of them. Apocalypse is on all social media platforms and when it breaks into a wider audience, I hope to be hearing from a lot more people.
How many people are involved and was it a conscious decision not to bring on a director on board?
Yes it was a conscious decision to go director-less – the lack of money! Plus, as it is all video diaries, I wanted it to look raw and realistic. I think I made a reasonably good director and, having written the story and starring as Sebastian, I knew exactly how I wanted it to look. My friend James is a make-up artist and so worked on episodes fourteen to thirty with me before he had to leave – it was a long day’s shoot! Another friend David, a graphic designer, created the titles, backdrop and camera icons. The editing I have done myself and I’m self-taught in this area. The only other person involved is my mum, who provides the voice of the computer, Matrix, in two episodes.
What have been the main hurdles to overcome in creating a project like this?
When I first penned the idea for Apocalypse, I didn’t factor in what a huge project it was. Filming everything in one day is one thing, but editing, sound effects, visual effects, the weekly recaps and uploading all take so long to complete. But I find the biggest hurdle is getting an audience. With no money I have no marketing budget so I can only use social media to promote it. I have 400+ friends on Facebook and my theory was that if everyone shared my videos, they would go viral in no time, but of course only 1% of your friends will share your videos. I have released trailers, blogs, tumblr feeds and covered all social media areas, and it is only now finding its feet. I knew it would be harder to sell a sci-fi drama online; but it is good and I kept the videos short so that people could follow it without being too overwhelmed. My hope is that Apocalypse will go viral as it really does deserve to. I am starting to receive messages from people who are not on my friends list too. In fact, former Doctor Who scriptwriter, Chris Bidmead, recently watched Apocalypse and took to twitter to congratulate it, which was a great confidence boost.
Is there a plan to expand Apocalypse in the future? For example is the web series a pilot for a bigger vision of the story?
I have written a completely unique and original piece of sci-fi set in the not too distant future. This is something that is rarely seen in the sci-fi world. Ideas are copied and plagiarised all the time, but I wanted to write something new but not beyond the realms of reality. The world Sebastian describes is incredibly detailed and ultimately I would like the money to be able to show that world. But to do that, I would need some serious investment and a major studio to distribute it. Is it possible? Yeah, why not? What’s life without dreams and ambitions? I have created something new and exciting and I would love to be able to show that in all its glory.
What other projects do you have lined up for the future?
My immediate goal is to get work. Three years without money is too long; I am too creative and full of life to be stuck inside any longer. I am always writing though and creating videos for YouTube. If you notice at the end of all my videos it says ‘A HydraMedia Production’. Hydra is a screenplay I have been working on for a while and hope to see come to fruition in the not too distant future. It is too big a project for YouTube though.
There is also a second series of Apocalypse planned. I already have an idea and what will happen in the sequel, but I’ve not actually committed anything to paper just yet.
You can watch Apocalypse from Episode 1 on Terry’s YouTube channel here.