Alabama students, alumni create popular web series



When Tim Sutton, Troy Wagner and Joseph DeLage set out to make the web series “Marble Hornets,” they never dreamed it would become an Internet sensation, but four years and millions of views later, they are talking with a Hollywood film studio about creating a feature film based on the web series.

“Marble Hornets” is a found footage documentary about a student filmmaker named Alex who is working on a film that shares the web series’ title. After three months of shooting, Alex abandons his film with the intention of burning all the footage. Alex’s friend convinces him to allow him to keep it. As he begins to watch the footage, it becomes clear that Alex was being followed by a mysterious paranormal figure known as “the Operator” and now he is falling victim to a similar fate.

The series was created in response to a thread on somethingawful.com titled “Create Paranormal Images” where people could post edited images of ghosts and other paranormal happenings. User Victor Surge posted a picture that involved the slender man, a now-prominent paranormal figure in Internet horror. The slender man was the inspiration for the Operator, “Marble Hornets’” paranormal villain.

There is a lot of mythos surrounding the slender man, who has become one of the most prolific monsters of Internet horror. The slender man is typically depicted as a tall, faceless male figure wearing a dark suit. The slender man is known for stalking his victims for years and subjecting them to mysterious psychological torture, just as the Operator does the characters in “Marble Hornets.” It is unclear what the Operator does to his victims, but the creators of “Marble Hornets” said the uncertainty is what adds to the overall creepiness.

“I think people are attracted to [the slender man] for a lot of reasons. I think part of it has to do with what it isn’t as much as what it is. It isn’t a grotesque monster. It doesn’t involve a lot of gore,” DeLage, a sophomore majoring in music performance, said.

Sutton, a senior majoring in telecommunication and film, agreed the mystery of what the villain does is where the horror thrill lies.

“You never really see it do anything, but when it’s around something bad tends to happen,” Sutton said.

The “Marble Hornets” creators never thought anything would come of their web series other than the chance to share their spooky idea until they were approached by their producer Kirill Baru three years ago. Since then, ideas about what the series would become have evolved from possibly turning the series into a TV show to a feature film. Throughout the process, DeLage said their studio, Mosaic, has remained true to the original concept.

“The people over at Mosaic have been very receptive and great throughout everything. They definitely take note of our input, which is something we were frightened about at first,” DeLage said.

“The main creative team behind [the film] are some fairly fresh faces with previous experience in the genre, so I think they can bring some great stuff to the table,” Sutton said.

“Marble Hornets” is not the only YouTube series that has gained recognition outside of the Internet. The popular web series “The Annoying Orange” is now a Cartoon Network show and others such as “The Guild” and “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog,” starring Neil Patrick Harris, are filmed with near-TV quality. With the improved production values of some web series, “Marble Hornets” may represent a growing trend of web series being picked up by mainstream media.

“It’s getting easier and easier to make something that, at the very least looks pretty,” Wagner, a UA graduate, said. “It’s easier than ever to get your work out there and I think Hollywood is definitely starting to take notice of that.”

Though professional level equipment is, in some ways, leading to better quality web content, the simplicity of “Marble Hornets” demonstrates the storyline is still key to quality content.

“We didn’t have a ton of professional equipment at our disposal,” Wagner said. “We had a Handycam and a weird idea, that idea being a guy making a bad movie with his Handycam that also happens to involve this supernatural element in the background.”

As for web videos, “Marble Hornets” may not be the last we see of Sutton, DeLage and Wagner. The trio said they have over a hundred ideas for individual videos, which if they pursue them, will probably be posted on their other YouTube channel youtube.com/Troyhasacamera.

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