Creating the Story & World of Sky City Haya
In a world ravaged by climate change with a third of the human population living as refugees, what would it be like to live on a floating island platform a few hundred meters above the sea? You might get “sky sick” when you first arrived due to the slight movements of the platform within the air. Perhaps you’d feel special to be one of the hand-picked few to live in this human marvel of engineering. You might sip wine made from grapes grown in Scandanavia, while your apartment rotates 360 degrees throughout the day and you watch the flying vehicles pass, guessing their make and model.
The air is warm because you are over the Mediterranean Sea and climate change has made sure it’s quite toasty. You enjoy a roast beef sandwich made of raw fish guts farmed in fish farms below. Studies would show that the most common issue you would likely speak with your therapist about would be the yearning you would feel to live back on land among thick forests and spring meadows. Hence your interactive wall display might feature a live video feed of a jungle somewhere down on earth for you to digitally enjoy.
The hovering digital billboard would play advertisements for the upcoming “Skai Sity Inishativ” with English written phonetically making it easier to spell. Your commute might be via a “sky train” merely gliding to and from work as part of your daily routine. Modified seafood would be your diet since importing food would be expensive in such a hostile world. If you were poor such as the laboring Denationalized refugees of the city, insect-based food would be your daily cuisine. A cricket crunch bar anyone? Sure, the wealthy would have grand living roofs representing lush natural gardens, but that’s not you. A mechanized, artificial setting would be your neighborhood. If you worked in city waste management, you’d fly under the islands in the early morning Mediterranean air while the wind brushed against your face as you collected the excrement of the living population above. You might take the island platform you live upon for granted, oblivious to the technology and maintenance that goes into the massive upkeep. The very island that keeps you and your family up in the sky, safe from the world below. The one that gives you that sense of exclusivity for belonging to the cutting edge of human evolution and grandeur.
These are just a few of the curiosities I have had that motivate me to create the world of “Sky City Haya.” This project has taken me from the depths of my imagination to the practicalities of putting this world on-screen. Seven years ago I moved from the San Francisco Bay Area to the wonderfully medieval and gothic city of Prague, Czech Republic. During this time I have worked as a video director, editor & animator, enjoying my fair share of travels and adventuring to many exotic and lesser-known destinations. The excitement which I feel when I meet new people, taste new cuisine and hear new languages is something I have endeavored to infuse into my world and into my characters.
How It All Began
In 2008 my friend Michael Franchetti invited me to live in Prague, Czech Republic in order to work with him and his colleague Jan Gregor in video production shooting promos, travel videos and more both in Prague, all over Europe and in the Middle East. I had also begun writing the backstories of several major characters such as Adrien Rousseau, which ran 15 to 20 pages. The world was beginning to take shape – my characters were gradually coming to life.
In 2009 I started writing “The Plant Dealer” which is the pilot episode of the series. However I began writing it in prose instead in a screenplay format so that I could freely explore exposition and internal character thoughts which I thought would help me fill in the world. During the same year, the company then called Turnhere, Inc. now Smart Shoot’s founder started a new company called Vook. Michael Franchetti and I were enlisted to travel to London to shoot videos which would accompany an iPad version of Sherlock Holmes short stories. Later that year we were flown to New York to shoot videos based on a thriller book entitled “Embassy.” We also wanted to present the idea of shooting sci-fi videos that would accompany my Sky City Haya story, however at the time the story had not been as fully developed as it is now and unfortunately they passed.
In 2010 Michael Franchetti returns to the bay area and I visited during the holidays and in early 2011 we decided to create our own interactive video ebook for Sky City Haya. We wanted to mix videos and reading within the application. We chose a goal of $40,000 but unfortunately we underestimated how much preparation was needed to raise the money and create an online following. We ultimately raised 12,000 and failed to successfully complete our campaign.
From there on I began to work on the project solo once again as I continued to write and re-write “The Plant Dealer.” I also began writing the 2nd episode entitled, “The Garbage Woman.” I fleshed out the overall story structure for an entire first season miniseries. In 2012 I met Tim Spreng on a friend’s feature film shoot. Tim was the Director of Photography. Later in 2013 I met with him and convinced him to work with me on my science fiction story, which he was excited about.
In 2014 I wanted to start casting and Tim referred me to Lindsay Taylor who I had met previously She was heading a group of actors and filmmakers called PFTC. We met and discussed my project over Czech beer, as is typical in Prague. Our conversation was initially going to be about casting a group of actors for my concept promo film, however she was impressed by the amount of work, conceptual art & story development that she guided me very well through the process of the best 2 day casting session of my life!
I was raised in an Assyrian Family in California, speaking the ancient language of Aramaic. The word “Haya” comes from the Aramaic word for life. Among us was also a community of Iranians and Americans. I studied Spanish and traveled to Mexico and Spain. The multicultural setting with which I have been raised as well as the adventurous lifestyle that I have chosen has found its way into this future world, floating in the sky where you can meet people from just about any walk of life. This world is rich with activity, ambition and hope. Yet it is also deeply flawed. It serves as both the best and worst example of human progress and decadence.
The Diverse Cast & Crew
During my time in Prague, I have met a collection of colorful characters, many who have become my colleagues and dear friends. From these people, I formed my excellent and talented team. My video production mentor and friend Thom Wineland since I was 17 also traveled to Prague to help me produce this epic concept film shoot. My friend & colleague Jan Gregor with whom I worked over these last 7 years in Prague has helped me to facilitate the locations that this production desperately needed in order to surpass the medieval surrounding with which we were blessed with here. We shot in such unusual locations as a garbage incinerator plant, the lookout room of a TV tower, the indoor garden of a business park, a cargo container yard and a moving train.
The cast of characters we found to play the roles in the story were equally diverse and highly talented. Somehow life had imitated art in an unexpected but satisfying fashion. The energy with which the team collaborated was supremely rewarding and humbled me greatly. Suddenly a lifetime of dreaming had inched its way into reality. I finally knew it was possible to create this beast of a project.
There were a few things I learned while working with such a diverse crew. The balancing act it took to satisfy everyone’s expectations was a difficult one indeed. I had to be flexible to a variety of differing personalities, cultural habits, language barriers, speeds of working and so one. Catering to one person’s demand might disappoint another’s. So I quickly realized that being receptive but firm in my decisions was the best way to go. There were a few heated arguments on set and one crew member even walked off but later returned and we discussed the issue. Another thing I learned was that the diversity of the crew also helped to bring everyone together. Something about the multiculturalism of the set made everyone excited. We felt as though we were better representing humanity with our small sliver of folks. Everyone felt included and special to be part of such an international project. Many would spend their downtime chatting with each other asking questions about their experience in other sets or about their country of origin. There were many languages on set which included: English, Czech, Russian, Spanish, French, German & Polish. We also had decent gender diversity as the casting director/coordinator, costume designer, pre-production manager and stylists were all women. If I had to work this way again, I would in a heart beat. There’s nothing like a few dozen people with differing perspectives to serve as a rich landscape of creative ideas from which to choose.
Creating The Visual Effects
I have to say that getting the visual effects completed has been the single most difficult aspect of the endeavor. There were several major bumps in the road from arguments with my vfx to hiring a guy based out of LA who scammed me for $1000 and delivered nothing. The most valuable lesson I learned is that visual effects artists are often times taken for granted. Alternatively production people are much more likely to be flexible because they want to be part of creating a unique story and there’s a smaller time commitment. Visual effects teams will needs to work for months to make things look great. So it’s best to approach them with respect for their time, clearly communicate the expectations and make sure everybody is on the same page. All in all, I must say, the outcome has been great!