Recently, I had the pleasure of interviewing Recursor TV’s CEO, EJ Kavounas and News Editor, Michele Chiappetta. In case you haven’t heard of Recursor TV, it’s a new video streaming service that features independent science fiction short films and web series. It’s basically the indie, sci-fi version of Netflix.
It’s Kavounas’ passion project, which makes sense because he’s been geeking out over science fiction books by Larry Niven and Ursula LeGuin from a very young age, even before geeking out over sci-fi was cool. Chiappetta shares his fondness for sci-fi. She started out by reading books by Anne McCaffrey and Frank Herbert, and her enthrallment went on to include Star Wars, Star Trek, and Battlestar Galactica. With over 12 years of experience as a writer and journalist, Chiappetta oversees the online news content at Recursor TV.
EJ Kavounas (CEO), who’s worked on Babylon 5, brought onboard Stephen Tao (CMO) and Edouard de Lachomette (CFO) to help him create Recursor TV and be executive producers on his new sci-fi web series. Stephen Tao is an experienced TV/Studio executive. His credits include Walt Disney Pictures, ABC, HBO, and J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot. Edouard de Lachomette worked at Automatik Entertainment, and helped to produce sci-fi movies like Midnight Special and The Signal.
Kavounas started Recursor TV because he wanted to create a hub that focused on independent science fiction, and science fiction that was more grounded and realistic like Black Mirror or Battlestar Galactica. Although sci-fi shows are streamed on platforms like Netflix and HBO, such platforms cater to other genres, not just sci-fi. Recursor TV caters to such sub-genres as alien encounters, artificial life, augmented reality, cyberpunk noir, military science fiction, multiverse, post apocalyptic, post human, space opera, and time travel.
Recursor TV launched on October 18, 2016, and features a number of scripted shows, both licensed content and their own original material. Kavounas would like to work with other sci-fi filmmakers, help them produce their shows, and stream them on Recursor TV. He is working on an anthology series similar to Black Mirror in regards to tone, and the impact that technology has on humanity.
Recursor TV’s first original web series, Nina Unlocked, is a talk show with an artificially intelligent twist. Its host, Nina, is an android that has lost her memory, and intends to unlock the mystery of her existence by interviewing real life scientists, authors, educators, filmmakers, engineers, and other experts. So far, Nina has interviewed robotics engineer Bill Egan, science fiction filmmaker, Eli Sasich, and award-winning horror director, Darren Lynn Bousman. In the future, Nina will interview female NASA scientist, Dr. Jamie Molaro. Kavounas hopes that someday Nina will get to interview John Wong, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Elon Musk, and Bill Nye, among other scientists, filmmakers, innovators, and great minds.
Nina is played by Lana McKissack, an actress, producer, singer and youtuber. Kavounas described the young actress as wonderful and fun to work with. They had auditioned 30 people for the role, and many of them were very talented, but McKissack really stood out. Recursor TV wanted someone who could think on their feet and improvise well, since the series is unscripted. I was surprised, and impressed to find out that a lot of what Nina says and does is masterfully improvised by McKissack.
McKissack plays Nina as powerful and robotic, combined with moments of humor, levity, and even empathy for her “vertebrate” interviewees. One of my favorite moments is when Nina’s interviewing robotics engineer, Bill Egan, and she picks up on the fact that he may have felt slighted by something she said. She offers him a “perfunctory hug.” She says, “Come on. Bring it in. But don’t touch. I am very expensive.”
Nina Unlocked features a female lead because Kavounas wants Recursor TV to also promote women in sci-fi. It’s why Nina is portrayed as powerful, intelligent, and self-aware, holding her own in conversation with the creative, intelligent and innovative guests she interviews. It’s one of the reasons Kavounas looks forward to having Nina interview female NASA scientist, Dr. Jamie Molaro. Kavounas wants to promote the portrayal of powerful women because he wants his daughter (who is currently in the STEM program, a curriculum based on the disciplines of science, technology, engineering and mathematics) to see numerous examples of what she can aspire to.