Sanctuary is a Web pioneer

Guinness recently recognized a Vancouver production as holding the world record for the highest budget for a direct-to-Web broadcast. That broadcast–the first sequence of episodes for Sanctuary, a new series from Stage 3 Media–was completed for $4.5 million.

Sanctuary is an action drama blending steam-punk and gothic fantasy with a bit of Arthur Conan Doyle's Lost World and H.G. Wells's The Island of Doctor Moreau. It takes place in our world but supposes that the creatures of myth and legend are real.

The show is being distributed on-line. Four webisodes, ranging from 15 to 20 minutes in length, are available on the show's Web site ( Another four will be released through the summer, starting later in July. Single episodes cost $2.25 for the standard version ($2.79 for high-definition); a bundle of the first four costs $8.19 ($10.25 for high-def).

Damian Kindler, executive producer and writer of Sanctuary, told the Straight that the financing for the show came from several sources, including Stage 3 Media and the Beedie Group. "Then, through the Stargate production team, we basically shot what would cost a U.S. network 10 to 15 million dollars for under three million," Kindler said, on the phone from his Gastown office.

Kindler, who was a coproducer of the Vancouver-made Stargate SG-1 and a writer for both that series and its spinoff Stargate: Atlantis, speaks highly of the support Sanctuary received from the local film/television industry. "They rallied around this chance to do something new, something creative from one of their own, something locally created, locally produced, and also something that was technologically new," Kindler said.

Kindler formed Stage 3 Media with two others: Marc Aubanel, formerly an executive producer at video-game developer and publisher Electronic Arts; and Martin Palacios, a senior executive with several high-tech businesses. Given the principals' experience, it's no surprise that the company claims that "television, video gaming, and social networking will combine to become a single, powerful entertainment medium."

The social component of the show is supported by a fan site (, and there are links to forums, blogs, and even fan fiction. Amanda Tapping, who not only stars in Sanctuary but has taken on an executive-producer role, told the Straight that fans have already set up Web sites and forums to talk about the show. Tapping became a cult icon as Lt.-Col. Samantha Carter on Stargate SG-1 and is familiar with the impact of science-fiction fandom. "Premiering Sanctuary on the Internet makes absolute sense, because we are speaking to that fan in their own form."

Sanctuary draws on gaming technology to create its sets. Traditionally, green-screen production adds two-dimensional backgrounds to footage shot with actors. Kindler explained that Sanctuary takes this process further by replacing two-dimensional backdrops with fully rendered three-dimensional environments.

On set, Kindler continued, the actors can refer to a computer monitor to see the environment in which their scene is happening. "It's literally adding a third dimension and the ability to move through it," he said.

"We constantly had people visiting the set from other production companies," he explained, "checking out this technique. It's one of the ways we were able to shoot so swiftly and quickly and create such amazingly new looks."

Creating the Sanctuary world digitally means that that world can be used not only in future productions but in other media as well. To that end, Stage 3 Media is looking to form "strategic alliances" with video-game companies, Kindler said.

While the show is being distributed on-line, that's not to say that it will only exist on-line. Said Tapping, "We're looking at distribution for television. There's certainly a huge interest.”¦And then, of course, DVD sales."