To Sleep, Perchance to Die
Stay awake for Rooster Teeth's new series Day 5
Meteors. Zombies. Giant ants. Humanity has ended so many ways. But in Day 5, the newest online series from Austin's Rooster Teeth, the end of civilization comes not with a bang, or a whimper, but a deep slumber.
It's an apocalyptic thriller with one very simple rule: Don't fall asleep, because even 40 winks mean a permanent dirt nap. The basic idea has been gestating for around five years, well before showrunner and writer/director Josh Flanagan joined the Rooster Teeth team. He said, "At the time, they were trying to come up with an apocalyptic thing they could do on a low budget. Well, if everyone just died when they were asleep, then there wouldn't be barricades, there wouldn't be all this apocalyptic imagery. The streets would just be empty."
Over time, the story morphed dramatically. First it was envisioned as a full-length movie, and then a shorter character-driven piece written by Flanagan and RT regular Chris Demarais. However, at a 45-minute runtime, it was too long to be a short, and too short to be a feature. Flanagan said, "Eventually, they saw enough potential in that to blow it up into an entire series, and so Chris and I were back on it again."
The six-episode, hourlong format is the latest development for Rooster Teeth, the Austin studio that in 2003 started doing short, downloadable Halo spoofs. This was before internet video became commonplace, two years before the launch of YouTube. Yet, it was a risk that paid off, as RT has become one of the biggest creators and distributors of online content. Last year, they broke into moviemaking with their Indiegogo record-breaking comedy Lazer Team, and this coming September they'll launch their new high-concept sci-fi comedy Crunch Time. Now Day 5, which launched on June 19, is their first foray into long-form drama. Flanagan said, "We just approached it first and foremost as just making a good show. Really playing off the concept and having characters you care about. It is dramatically different, even humorwise, from what Rooster Teeth does. The perk is that, at least for the audience, there's been an anticipation for this brand-new direction."
The drama riffs on other postapocalyptic shows, clear nods to iconic moments like London's empty streets in 28 Days Later. After seeing how many road races could close large stretches of Downtown Austin, the producers reached out to the city and found out that a permit was surprisingly affordable. They then waited until their annual convention, RTX, and put out a call for attendees to get up at 4am and lie in the gutter. So unlike Danny Boyle's zombie classic, where the only things on the street were trash and abandoned vehicles, Day 5 filled an empty Congress Avenue with 1,800 willing dead bodies.
Amid all the darkness, there is still comedy. However, breaking Rooster Teeth's established brand of sight gags and witty puns, Flanagan said there is "a gallows humor. To me, that's more true to life, and it's a big differentiator between us and a lot of other apocalyptic shows. It's almost fatiguing after a while when everything's so grim and everyone's so serious. No, they'd be cracking jokes on the precipice of death."
Actor Jesse C. Boyd sees the show as further blurring the line between traditional broadcast and cable TV, and the once-maligned format of web series. He said, "95 percent of the world watches their television on the web. They might be plugged in to their Apple TV or Hulu or whatever, but they're watching it on the web."
When the action starts, Boyd's character Jake has already been up for almost a week, but Boyd admits he's never lasted more than 24 hours in real life. He said, "I've had plenty of two-hour nights, and been fine. But to completely not sleep, I'd just be insane."
Flanagan's personal sleep-free record is a two-and-a-half day stint when he was in the Army. Similarly, co-star Stephanie Drapeau managed a couple of sleepless days in high school, but, she adds, "It got weird." She plays Ally, a doctor who survived the great extinction because she was working the night shift. Drapeau said, "She's a little bit more of the stable minded one, who's always looking for the cure, and trying to find the solution to what's going on with all these crazy cats for all these other reasons."
"Yeah," said Boyd. "I was not up in the middle of the night for a late shift at work." Jake's reasons for being up for almost a week are far less altruistic, and it's only when he leaves his apartment to find a lighter that he discovers sleep has become lethal. But while more normally level heads are panicking, Boyd said, "He's built for the apocalypse. He's got experience of staying up late at night and running away from problems."
"And creating challenges for other people," Drapeau interjected. Not that being up for five days straight doesn't have its own challenges, as the survivors struggle to find any way – exercise, adrenaline, drugs (both prescription and recreational) – to stay awake for one more minute. However, when researching her character, Drapeau found that extreme sleep deprivation is still a mysterious area. "One guy didn't sleep for 11 days, and there was one kid in college who tried to make it a week but couldn't, but there's very little research, outside of torture tactics. So the beauty is that we can be a little more creative." For her, that unpredictability is what the series is about: "It's a band of people from totally different walks of life. ... Would they pull together? Would they lose their shit? Would they try to do it alone? Would they join forces?"
The first episode of Day 5 is available now for free at www.roosterteeth.com, with new episodes available to subscribers.