Tom Hanks Unveils His Sci-Fi Internet Series, ‘Electric City'

September 30, 2010


When Tom Hanks imagines the future, you might think he sees a desk strewn with Oscars, Emmys and the scripts for a dozen more World War II projects. But the far-flung earth that Mr. Hanks will present in a new Internet-based animated series called “Electric City” will be a more complicated one and yet – not surprisingly, given its creator – an optimistic one.

“Without a doubt, everything has changed, but not necessarily for the worst,” Mr. Hanks said in a telephone interview. “In fact, a good life and good world has been created out of the usual end-of-life scenarios. It hasn’t degenerated into an Orwellian society – just the opposite.”

On Thursday, Mr. Hanks and his producing partner, Gary Goetzman, said their Playtone company will bring “Electric City,” which Mr. Hanks is credited with conceiving and writing, to the Web early next year. The project, which its creators hope will eventually be spun off into other media, may also offer a preview of Hollywood’s future: it is being produced as a joint venture with Reliance Big Entertainment of India, a media company playing a growing role in global entertainment properties.

Mr. Hanks said he had the idea for “Electric City” nearly six years ago, imagining it as “a very gripping, almost film-noir, very serious look at a future that was not a dysfunctional dystopia, that an awful lot of the future things are.”

Also, for some reason, he tried to make the series using marionettes. “We wanted it to look incredibly different and yet familiar,” Mr. Hanks said. “We found out a number of things. It’s very hard to do and it takes forever.”

After several more years of development, “Electric City” has evolved into an animated series that will be shown on the Web in 20 three-minute installments, and focus on socially conscious themes like energy consumption and the freedom of information.

Among his creative models for the project, Mr. Hanks cited the original 1960s television incarnation of “Star Trek,” which he called “an awfully good adventure” with “a bunch of cool stuff that you can latch onto.”

“If we animate this in high style,” Mr. Hanks said, “the end result is we get the freedom to tell any story we want to, exactly as we want to.”

But after shopping the project to several American studios and networks, Mr. Hanks said, “They all have different plans for what they want to be.”

Instead, “Electric City” will be produced with Reliance, the Mumbai-based company that last year provided $825 million to Steven Spielberg and his DreamWorks studio to create films for an international audience, and which was cited earlier this year as a possible partner for the debt-addled MGM studio.

Mr. Hanks said of Reliance, “They immediately came to us, and said, look, in India alone, there are like 700 million people who speak English, who are very much used to looking at things that last about three minutes on their phone. What they haven’t seen so far is a true story that they stay up with. So it’s an electronic version of ‘Little Dorrit.’”

Mr. Hanks said the “Electric City” franchise could be expanded into graphic novels or an online role-playing game, among other properties. “It’s all about how good it is and how much traffic it draws,” he said.

In the meantime, Mr. Hanks seemed to enjoy the opportunity to speculate about what may yet come, and at the same time glance back at his past.

“I remember the first story I read by Robert A. Heinlein,” Mr. Hanks said, “which was ‘Have Space Suit – Will Travel.’ I literally thought, where has this guy been? Then I read everything of his that I came on, and I discovered this whole new racket. This is the most fun you could possibly have with a typewriter.”

By Dave Itzkoff

Source : The New York Times