Zero Point: Cliffhangers at SVFF 

Shifting viewer trends inspired Idaho-based series, premiering at SVFF

Zero Point starts on a two-lane southwestern Idaho back road that winds through a canyon of foothills dotted with sagebrush and wildflowers. It's a sight instantly familiar to anyone who has driven the Gem State. It's also a sight many will see as they travel to the Wood River Valley to see the Saturday, March 7, world premiere of Zero Point at the Sun Valley Film Festival, screening at Ketchum's Magic Lantern Cinema.

Nothing can compare to Zero Point's journey, though. A troubled teenager is instantly killed when he jumps in front of a car. The unsuspecting motorist, Dr. Alex Embry obsesses over what drove the teen to suicide. Working from a gritty Canyon County motel room, Embry pieces together an investigation that ultimately points to a series of other mysterious incidents involving teens.

Embry is played by Lisa King Hawkes, who works for a local advertising agency. Hawkes has done some acting, mostly voice-overs and commercials, but said she has never done anything quite like Zero Point. The transition wasn't easy. Hawkes, bubbly and talkative, is the polar opposite of her Zero Point character.

"Embry is so pensive and so quiet," Hawkes said. "I am so all-over-the-place, like I'm going a million miles per second. But I had this little ritual that I would do every day to get into my character. I brought myself into this small place that I thought of as Embry. I wouldn't get very chatty on set because I wanted to stay there. It was hard because I really liked everybody, and I wanted to chat and have fun, but I needed to stay in that place."

Embry was created by filmmaker Gregory Bayne, who came up with the idea for Zero Point two years ago. Bayne, a documentarian, said he was interested in creating a near-future, sci-fi, episodic drama. He took his idea to local filmmaker Christian Lybrook.

"I like series because you can live with them and get into the characters and really breathe it in over years," Bayne said.

Lybrook felt the same way, and the two started writing.

Zero Point follows in the footsteps of AMC's Breaking Bad, Netflix's House of Cards and the podcast Serial in that it is "platform agnostic," according to Lybrook.

"Now everyone under the sun from Yahoo to AOL to BitTorrent, Amazon to Netflix—everybody's looking for original programming and they all want serial, episodic format," Bayne said. "You get to grow with the characters over time, and [it becomes] something truly engaging."

Bayne and Lybrook crafted a storyline set in the American West in a world beset by "human colony collapse." They imagined a disease with symptoms that present as teen angst but the results are something much worse. The pair collaborated with a medical consultant to explore how their faux-virus might play out in real life.

"It's a scientific leap, but it's only this much of a scientific leap," Bayne said, holding his thumb and his index finger a few inches apart.

After receiving a grant from the Idaho Department of Commerce's now-defunct Media Workforce Development Grant program and cobbling together a little more than $10,000, Bayne and Lybrook started shooting in July 2014. Filming took 10 days of intense work.

"We had one [day] where we started at two in the afternoon and got done at six the next morning," Bayne said.

"It was one of those things where we were like, 'Eh, we'll be done at one or two [in the morning] at the latest.' Then we walk out and the sun is coming up," Lybrook said.

Now, the Zero Point cast and crew will see their project on the big screen at the Sun Valley Film Festival, March 4-8. Lybrook said no more than 50 people have seen the pilot. In one night, that number will grow to hundreds.

"We feel really good about this," Lybrook said. "We're hoping people will see this and they'll go, 'What TV station is this on?'"

Therein lies the filmmakers' biggest challenge: Zero Point isn't on any traditional cable network or media platform, and if it's to see further development, it needs to find a channel, producer or investor willing to fund the rest of the first season. Lybrook doesn't think anyone at SVFF will hand them a blank check. Gone are the days, he said, of being discovered at an independent-film fest.

Bayne has a bit more hope.

"We think that the pilot shows the quality of storytelling and the production," Bayne said. "It's a difficult task to go from zero to AMC, but there are the Vimeos of the world, getting into producing episodic stuff."

CORRECTION: Dr. Alex Embry is not the motorist who killed the teenager in the pilot episode of Zero Point.
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