When pressed to describe it, the first thing that comes out of the mouth of some of the folks behind the upcoming sci-fi animated series Scavengers Reign is that it is, effectively, an alien nature documentary. At least, according to Sean Buckelew, co-executive producer and writer on Scavengers Reign. More specifically, the show, set to release its first three episodes on October 19 on Max, is an alien nature documentary where injecting humanity into the mix screws everything up.
"I think the whole show is about when you're faced with the unknown, do you let the unknown change you?" says Benjy Brooke, supervising director on Scavengers Reign. "Or do you fight against that? And what happens to you when you fight against change is something catastrophic, generally."
This is perhaps somewhat at odds with the original Scavengers short film from 2016. Co-created by Joseph Bennett and Charles Huettner, Scavengers saw a couple of people stranded on an alien planet using their wits and the local flora and fauna in unexpected ways to survive. Notably, there was no dialogue, and while it certainly told a story, it wasn't exactly about change and the unknown – though there was certainly plenty of the latter.
Scavengers Reign, on the other hand, sees several different groups of people trying to survive and even escape an alien world following their ship being damaged and them evacuating to the planet below. But figuring out how to stay alive is difficult enough, let alone figuring out how to escape or even effectively call for help.
Complicating matters is that staying alive isn't necessarily some sort of us vs. them scenario. There's really no clear antagonist so much as alien nature is both alien and nature. And, according to Bennett, Brooke, and Buckelew, it's more like Werner Herzog's concept of nature being merciless and unforgiving and violent.
"These characters are in such a vulnerable and fragile state because of everything that happened on the ship, and then now they're exposed to this unknown world," says Bennett. "I think it's sort of digging into their inner psyche while they're exposed to this new world. So, it's like Cast Away meets Annihilation."
Into the Unknown
That's not to say the original short has been completely abandoned for Scavengers Reign. While some aspects have been dropped – an initial version of the Scavengers Reign pitch could have had no dialogue, for example – plenty more has made the jump. While some of that is immediately obvious, and the title sequence even features a few bits that look nearly identical, there are others that go far deeper into the core of what Scavengers and Scavengers Reign are and have been.
"The main thing that we took from the short for this was, I'd say, the planet – the character's not so much – but just the idea of a planet that almost kind of has a Gaia-like consciousness and everything, and that like all of these symbiotic relationships are also kind of connected in some way," says Bennett. "Everything is sort of connected."
Funnily enough, the basic premise of the show in some ways mirrors its creation. In the same way the stranded people in Scavengers Reign often sort of figure it out as they go, the people making it did the same.
"I've never supervising directed," notes Brooke, "and none of the directors had ever worked in TV before. It was all just people [that] we love their work. And we're all inspired by the same stew of inspirations. There's a lot of Nausicaä in this, there's a lot of Miyazaki, a lot of Otomo, a lot of Moebius, obviously, but then all of the things that those gods inspired since. It's this trickle-down effect, and then all of our collaborators are kind of living in that headspace. And then when we get together, it creates something new, but also something very familiar for all of us."
"When there are budgetary limitations, you have to be really careful about where you put your efforts," continues Brooke. "And we would just make some pretty unorthodox decisions about where to put that money. You'd put it into like a weird little creature moment that maybe it doesn't seem like it's that important for the story or a really emotional scene, but doing it in a way that's really understated rather than over the top, and just being laser focused about where we're putting our resources. We put our best animators on some extremely subtle acting, because we feel like that'll just make the show feel very unique."
Bennett, Brooke, and Buckelew all immediately agree when I suggest that, perhaps, not knowing what they were doing actually benefited them in the long run, and that some of the most interesting art is made by people who aren't quite sure where the guardrails are.
"We were just pushing all of the edges of what you're supposed to do," says Brooke.
"Testing the fences," adds Bennett.
"It's the power of being an amateur," concludes Brooke, "and you just are willing to take all the risks and not know what the pitfalls are, just running in blind."
As noted above, Scavengers Reign is set to drop its first three episodes on October 19 on Max. Three new episodes will debut each week, every Thursday, through November 9. While you wait, you can always try to stream the best TV shows of all time.