An Interview with H+ John Cabrera

If you are a devoted Sci-Fi fan, you must already know of the currently airing on YouTube web series „H+“. SciFi.bg seeked out its creator, John Cabrera, and asked him a few questions related to both his project and the development of web series like this one in general.

An intriguing web series caught my attention recently – I got hooked on „H+“ and I had to seek out its creator John Cabrera. Knowing the show’s intriguing sci-fi premise and how expensive it looks, I expected to have some difficulties with my task, but John turned out to be very open and friendly. He was kind enough to answer my questions about his revolutionary show, the big investments in it and his plans for the future. Those of you who might want to create something similar one day will definitely learn a thing or two. In the meantime, fans of „H+ the Digital Series“ can get to know its creator better and take a look at some new promo pics, exclusively sent to SciFi.bg. Enjoy! (за българския превод кликнете тук).

SciFi.bg: Hello, John and thank you for agreeing to this interview! Tell us more about who you are and what you do.

JC: Hey Peter. It’s my pleasure. Well, I’m one of the two writers and creators of H+ The Digital Series. I live in Los Angeles where I’ve been working in the entertainment business for about 12 years. I started as an actor. I was on a TV show called Gilmore Girls for many years. And then in 2007, I transitioned into writing, directing and producing. Now I mostly write.

John is young, clever and creative - he sure has a bright future.

SciFi.bg: “H+” is a very exciting series! Tell us more about it?

JC: I’m glad you think so. We’re all very proud of the project. We’ve been working on it for about 6 years. It’s a near future tale about a world connected by nano computers, sort of like if we all had tiny iPhones in our heads. But we begin the series with something going wrong and about 33% of the world (everyone who had the device) suddenly dying. And then we spend the rest of the story trying to understand what happened.

SciFi.bg: Is it your first big project?

JC: I’d say it’s my biggest project so far, yes. I’ve been working on it for so many years that several other projects have actually passed through the process of H+. Like about 2 years ago I wrote and directed an indie rock musical series that took me away from H+ for a while. But this is my first project at a major studio, so I’d say it’s my first „big“ project.

SciFi.bg: Bryan Singer seems to be the biggest name in your crew. How did you get him interested to be your partner for the “H+” project?

JC: We just shared the idea with him and his producers many years ago and they all loved it. At that time we weren’t sure if it would be best for TV or film. We didn’t have a script. Just an idea. But we really wanted to tell the story in these small pieces. And Bryan really wanted to explore creating content for the Internet, so it seemed like the right fit.

When the implants of several billion people suddently kill them, the ones who survive will definitely have a hard time coping with the damages.

SciFi.bg: It looks great on YouTube, but something puzzles me. It seems a lot of people have worked on it and a lot of money has been spent. This is not typical for a web series, is it?

JC: No not really, although I think audiences will start to see more of this in the near future. Our director Stewart Hendler, for example, went on from H+ to direct the HALO web series for Machinima. It premieres in October. And there are some other great channels putting out high quality premium content. But we like to think that we are one of the early channels creating at this level for the web. At least on YouTube.

SciFi.bg: Having spent so much money on “H+”, how do you plan to refund your investment? Obviously you don’t have subscription fees, because YouTube is free. How else can you make it earn money?

JC: The series is advertising supported, so the hope is that the series sees enough views over time that it’s able to recoup its investment through ad sales. But honestly, this is very much an investment in Internet series in general. A long term investment. So the goal more than anything is to build an audience and fan base, and maybe to prepare audiences for a new way of telling stories. Warner Brothers wants to be prepared.

Kenneth is the programmer, who created the H+ implant. Although he never intended to reduce the Earth population by 1/3, he is wracked with guilt for having an important part in the genocide.

SciFi.bg: Who is “H+” aimed at? I mean, usually the Americans aim their series at themselves, but here we have people from different parts of the world speaking different languages and living in different environments, which gives a very global feel to the series.

JC: That was the idea. In fact, we made it a point not to set the main company HPlus Nano in the United States. We felt that it wouldn’t be honest to the world we now live in: a global community. Also, the other writer, Cosimo De Tommaso is not a US citizen. He’s Italian. So he brought a great deal of global influence to the project. We wanted it to feel very international and tried very hard to keep language intact with subtitles where we could. That’s something you rarely see done here on American television, but the Internet gives us a lot of creative freedom in that way.

SciFi.bg: But if you want a broader international audience, you must also have multilingual subtitles for those, who are not native English-speakers?

JC: As far as I know, Bulgarians (particularly young Sci-Fi loving Bulgarians) have a high English proficiency, but yes, our videos do have captions. Right now they are in Spanish, but they can be translated from Spanish to Bulgarian with a pretty good accuracy. Our English captions are coming very soon, and they will of course translate to Bulgarian even more accurately.

SciFi.bg: Any plans to introduce a Bulgarian character? We’re good-looking, smart and good with technologies 😉

JC: Well, the Bulgarian community will have to keep watching, won’t they. It’s certainly a possibility 😉 We expect this story to go on well past these first 48 episodes, and a big concept of the series is that we explore different characters around the world and understand the differences they saw in the years leading up to and after the event… as well as the things that make us all the same, regardless of our home countries.

One of the stories takes place several years after the event. Padre Matteo guides the survivors of Oria, Italy in a post-apocalyptic world.

SciFi.bg: Speaking of the characters, the first 6 episodes introduce more people than the minutes it takes to watch them. How do you plan to develop them all in the short screen time that a web series provides?

JC: Well, that’s part of the fun of this particular series, because it doesn’t behave like a typical TV show. These are not episodes in the traditional sense. They are more like puzzle pieces or building blocks. And part of the character development is purposefully left blank in places… We think there is enough information around the blanks to figure out what’s needed for a personal development of the characters. Viewers can rearrange these small pieces and build larger episodes out of them. And there is no right or wrong way of constructing them. It’s just what feels right to you, the viewer. And if a viewer doesn’t want to build these longer playlist episode, they can just watch one of the ones that we are creating every week… or ones that others in the community are creating. Again this isn’t TV. In fact we have another site (HplusDigitalSeries.com) with even more pieces to the full experience that we consider just as important as the episodes (images, videos, text articles, fake web sites). This is an experience that lend a lot from gaming and puzzle solving.

SciFi.bg: So do you think it’s easier or harder writing scripts for 3-minute episodes, compared to a TV-episode of an ordinary 40-minute length?

JC: It’s just different. In television, the breaks come about every 7-10 min depending on the number of acts. And since acts typically are the breaks between commercials, it’s not much different from the format for writing on the web. You need to come up with endings of each act that keep the audience intrigued throughout the commercial break. Here it’s a bit more difficult, since we have to keep their interest across an entire week. But basically in that sense it is similar. The main difference for H+ is that we are not writing mini narrative arcs like you see in many web series. And what’s more this story is told completely out of order, so the larger narrative arcs need to be discovered.

A few years before the event, in Finland, Manta and Topi find love, while trying to keep their secrets and hidden motives from each other.

SciFi.bg: The first episode currently has more than 700,000 views. Is that a good or a bad result for a project of this magnitude?

JC: It’s great. Remember, what we are trying to do here is build an audience over time. A viral video is great but it’s really just a big marketing boost. The true value lies in the real fans of the show. There will be plenty of people who watch the first episode and say that this show just isn’t for them. But those who love it, stay with it as loyal viewers. And these are the people who are most valuable to us. These are the people we care about and listen to the most.

SciFi.bg: So you’re currently planning to put 48 episodes on Youtube, right? What then? Will the 48th finish the story or will it have an open ending?

JC: We are about to start writing the next chapter of H+ at Warner Brothers, and the same team is attached (including Bryan), so the plan is definitely to continue on. This first 48 will answer some questions, but leave others open. The plan has always been a multi part story.

SciFi.bg: But do you have a clear idea of how and when you want to end the series?

JC: I will say, we know the answers to most if not all of the the biggest questions. And even if they are not handed to the audience by the end of this 48, they are there… hidden in some cases. Future seasons would simply show you where they were all along.

Leena is a poor woman from a small town near Mumbai, who is hired as a surogate mother by a corporate shark and her husband. After she gets impregnated, she also gets implanted with the H+. However her pregnancy is not an ordinary one and is related to the genocide which follows.

SciFi.bg: Do you have any other exciting ideas or projects for your future career?

JC: Yes, I’m actually writing a feature film right now. I can’t talk too much about it yet, because it hasn’t been announced, but it’s with another studio, and will be my first big feature film. All I can say right now is it’s Sci-Fi.

SciFi.bg: More Sci-Fi? That’s awesome! We wish you good luck with H+ and all your future projects, John! Thank you for this interview!

JC: It was my pleasure! And thanks to all the Bulgarian fans watching the series. I know I can speak for the rest of the filmmakers when I say we are so lucky to have such support.

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