In the years since he played Primeval’s resident genius Connor Temple, Andrew Lee Potts has branched out behind the scenes, forming Keychain Productions and writing/directing a series of short films. His latest project is Wireless – a webseries about police officer Jacob Crow (Potts) and his revolutionary AI partner Unit White (voiced by Primeval’s Lucy Brown). The show is currently six episodes into its first series, which you can watch for free right here. Intrigued? We spoke to Potts about creating Wireless, and what’s in store for the rest of the series.
How did Wireless come about?
It originally came about when me and a writer I work with a lot called Alex Moss, who's the co-creator of Wireless, got talking. I've directed since 2006, short films and stuff and I thought about developing a TV show, so we started to talk and came up with this idea for a buddy cop movie with a robot and a disgraced policeman. I know everything's gone robot crazy now, but this was a fair few years ago, it was more vampires then. It's funny because I remember saying to Alex, "Honestly, I think robots are going to be the next thing." And they were!
So we started developing it and once we started it went really quickly. I also worked with Nick Willing, who’s done a lot of sci-fi – he directed me in Alice. I had a few meetings with him and he talked me through what I'd need to do to develop it into a TV show. He was giving me a lot of advice and saying, "Be prepared that they're going to take a lot away from you." And as I talked and talked I realised that I didn't want to give anything away, because it was such a passion project. I've got a day job where I spend my life being told what to do creatively (while trying to put my own spin on it, but within a narrow window sometimes) as an actor, and I'd like the whole vista to play with. So I pulled it back before we went to pitch it, and then we just sat on it for a while before deciding to do it as a web show, so I could have complete creative control.
Did the show change in the transition from TV to webseries?
I had to tweak the story and the robot who was with Jacob Crow, my character. I thought, “How can I do this on a limited budget?” So then it became an AI that was wirelessly within my car. It's not just that, but that's how it starts. Basically Jacob’s back after a six month suspension for reckless driving on duty, he's a bit of a loose cannon and he gets put with this experimental unit, Unit White, within this car and it's about them surviving the day, basically. Unit White has been designed by a young guy called Casper, who's pretty much the Banksy of the hacker world. He got recruited by the police because he developed the first computer game that responds to emotion, so they used what he knew. The reason it's called Wireless is because as the day goes on and Unit White grows it can transfer itself wirelessly to anything with a wireless connection. We've just started filming episode seven and now it's in a drone that's following Jacob around, so we're not just stuck to the car anymore.
Much of the first six episodes are set inside Jacob’s car. Did that force you to get creative with your camera?
Yeah, we always knew that halfway through we were going to jump out of the car, but I wanted to solidify that relationship between them in a trapped environment. That's how you get to know characters, when they're forced together like that. So it's a really useful tool for us. But I also wanted to surprise the audience who thought it was just going to be a cop in his car, because it's not at all, the world gets a lot bigger. I did have to be creative with it but it suited it really well. Because of all the cop shows on TV people are used to watching cameras in cop cars, GoPros all that stuff... Incidentally, I shoot the entire thing on GoPros and grade it from there.
Do you shoot episode to episode? Or do you already have the first series in the bag?
We shot quite a lot of stuff out of sequence just because of actor's availability, so I've got a lot of stuff that's for down the line already shot. But yeah, primarily episode by episode, work permitting, and everyone’s schedules. Luckily, because I've acted for so long, I've got a lot of friends who are really successful actors who are all doing it for free, but obviously I need to work around their timing when I'm not working. So it's a very organic process. It can get a little bit frustrating in the sense that you can't shoot exactly when you want to shoot, but it’s part of the little Wireless world. It was funny at the start when I was trying to explain it to people they were like, "Yeah, I don't get it." I was like, “Trust me and stick with it.” And now actors are phoning me and going, "Can I be in Wireless?" It seems to be picking up pace and people seem to understand the world now.
Is AI a subject that particularly interests you?
As much as I think it would interest anybody. In the last episode that's online, number six, Unit White starts to show aggression, which is interesting. One of the good little inspirations when I was thinking about it was Her, the film. I just thought that was fascinating, how that relationship developed in a very Black Mirror-type way. It does fascinate me in that sense.
How far has technology progressed at the time the show is set?
No more than is generally known. Obviously if there's anything to do with robots, films like Ex_Machina, I'll definitely watch that straight away. But I'm very much a person who – I do this when I act as well – if I can get away with it, I’ll not do a huge amount of research! Obviously if I'm playing a character with history then it's very useful, but because we're creating a new world, there are no rules. For instance, the drone that follows me around is called Ghost and it’s the smallest drone ever made and you can't see it because it’s got this stealth tech. Now, I don't know how that works, but you have to take artistic license sometimes. So I wouldn't say I've gone crazy on the research, just watched the relevant films and stuff.
So it’s set five minutes in the future?
Yeah totally, it could be tomorrow for sure. But let's be honest, there's a lot of tech that we as a general public don't even know about yet. You hear about stuff and you're like, "I didn't even know they'd developed that." Military as well. Our story starts in the Gulf War, and that's the first time you see one of the robots which becomes one of the baddies later in the season. It’s a primitive version of what Unit White can achieve, but still very dangerous. It all adds to the conspiratorial factor of it, which is how we wanted it to feel. That's why we could get away with the CCTV camera type stuff because I wanted it to feel like you never really know who's watching. The Gambits are about to come into the Wireless world, and they're five elite hackers from Europe. Our main one, called Skimmer, is a little bit like Fagin. He's put together these young hackers who together can pretty much crack anything, but are they blackhats or whitehats? He's not entirely sure.
It sounds like the show opens up in a big way after episode six…
It's because we developed it as a TV show in our heads, so we needed to write the bible. We did everything we needed to do to take it to the point where we could pitch… we just didn't pitch. So we do know where we're going. The fun thing now is turning it into the web show. We've got our big TV version of it, now how can we achieve something like that? I'm proud of the fact that, even though it's shot on GoPros for barely any budget, I've tried to make it look high end or have that feeling about it, as far as web shows go.
How many episodes are left this series?
We don't know exactly because every time we do an episode it pushes things on. We go, “Oh, actually, we need to put that in the next episode.” So it keeps growing. But we've been saying around 14/15 episodes to get to the end of the first day, which is installation date. It's funny because we've already got so many ideas for the next season, so there's some really cool stuff that we're starting to introduce that I'm not sure how we're going to do it if we don't get a bit more money. That's how I originally got a lot of the actors involved, by telling them where it was going and where it was heading. So there's a lot of things to look forward to for sure. There's a lot more AI and there's a lot more technology and also the people who are pulling the strings...
Do you see a life for Wireless beyond the web?
We're in the official selection of Raindance, which is nice because it's the first thing I've entered it into, so that was a good response. I've been approached by quite a few producers who are interested in developing it further. But I said I'd do it for a year before I started letting anybody else in on it. I've been asked a few times if I would want it to be a full on TV show but, like I say, at the moment it is a passion project. It's my baby and letting it go would be a bit scary.