When Robert Kirbyson’s Ctrl Z won the Delta short film competition at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival, he had little idea that his quirky story about a magical keyboard would spawn NBC’s first original Web series. Reuniting most of the original cast from the short (including Tony Hale of “Arrested Development” and Emy Coligado of “Malcolm In The Middle), “Ctrl” revolves around a nerdy office drone (Hale) who discovers his computer keyboard has the ability to manipulate time and reality. In each five-minute episode, a different facet of the keyboard’s power is explored, including invisibility and telekinesis.
MM recently caught up with Kirbyson (who serves as writer, director and executive producer of “Ctrl”)—and executive producer Thomas Bannister—to discuss their crazy year.
Kyle Rupprecht (MM): “Ctrl” features a pretty far-out premise. How did you come up with it?
Rob Kirbyson (RK): The original short film, Ctrl Z, was part of my application for the Mark Burnett/Steven Spielberg reality series, “On the Lot.” With no time or money, I needed a big concept we could shoot in one day and finish in a week using props I had available to me. I had this old feature film idea about a guy who invents a time machine—but it only goes back in time a few seconds… essentially an “undo” button. It really didn’t work as a full movie, but it seemed perfect for a short film. I obviously didn’t get “On the Lot,” but the short film has led to even better opportunities.
MM: If the Web series is successful, is there any chance we might be seeing “Ctrl” as an NBC TV show in the future?
RK: Absolutely! That’s my immediate answer if NBC ever asks. The cast and crew are certainly talking about it.
I’d especially like to see these actors together on a network series. The chemistry between Tony, Steve and Emy is magic—we could see it within the first hour of shooting. These characters and the idea of having extraordinary events like the magic keyboard in an entirely ordinary setting like an office would make for a great show… but I’m not sure the keyboard alone is enough to sustain a series, so we’d have to develop new supernatural events.
The magic keyboard works so well in these short films, I guess my dream scenario would be to finish exploring the “Ctrl” idea in second cycle of Webisodes, and simultaneously develop a similar but new network show with this cast.
Thomas Bannister (TB): I saw Ctrl Z at Sundance in 2008. My company, SXM, was producing Easy To Assemble, a series which we had convinced IKEA to sponsor and we initially thought that Ctrl Z would be an ideal sponsorship vehicle for a computer brand. We ultimately partnered with NBC Digital, run by Cameron Death, who did an amazing job in packaging the short for a brand. Ultimately that brand was Coke’s Nestea, who saw the series as a great way to reach millenials seeking empowerment. In terms of challenges, getting a brand or a big network to get behind your project is never easy. We also had a very short window in which to produce the show but I think this was ultimately beneficial as it added to the spontaneity of the content.
MM: This has been a busy year for you. In addition to the “Ctrl” series, you’re also in post-production on your feature directing debut, Snowmen. When will the film be released, and what can you tell us about it?
RK: It’s amazing, just over a year ago we almost gave up our Hollywood dream because we were so far in debt from so many projects falling through at the last second. And then the feature happened, and the Web series and, best of all, my wife and I had our first kid. My cup definitely overfloweth.
Snowmen is a family film. It’s a coming-of-age story about three misfit boys who find adventure and purpose in their attempts to set a new world record. We have a cast of A-list young actors: Bobby Coleman (Martian Child and starring in Miley Cyrus’ next movie), Bobb’e J. Thomspon (Role Models, That’s So Raven) and Josh Flitter (Ace Ventura Jr.). Plus stellar performances from Ray Liotta and Christopher Lloyd.
It’s a deeply personal story for me. And even though I watch it every day at work, I still find myself choking up. I hope that’s not just me… certainly the test audiences seem to love it. We’re hoping to release this Christmas, but the date isn’t set yet.
It’s funny, I’ve been getting meetings all over town to do comedies because of the “Ctrl” series. I wonder what will happen when this very heartfelt family film comes out… And wait until people start reading my sci-fi scripts.
MM: If the Ctrl button on your keyboard had a magical power, what would you want it to be?
RK: I think the “Ctrl” series is my way of exploring that question. Just like the Stuart character, if I were bestowed any magic power, it would just be a matter of time until I screwed everything up. It’s fun to imagine “what if?”, but in the end I always come to realize that I have everything I need… Yeah, it’s cheesy. But I think cheesy is underrated.