When Kc Wayland was deployed to the Middle East in 2003, he adjusted to hostile territory, dealt with satellite transmissions between Iraq and the Pentagon, and recorded footage for a future documentary.
Amidst all of his multi-tasking, he was also taking notes for an epic tale of the impending zombie apocalypse.
Wayland is the writer and director behind the 48-chapter audio drama, "We're Alive: A Story of Survival." The podcast pulls in roughly 5,000 downloads a day, was named to iTunes "Best Of" list in 2012, and gave Wayland enough fans and exposure to get funding for his upcoming spin off series "We're Alive: Lockdown."
"We're Alive" and the upcoming "Lockdown" companion series are set in Southern California, but the initial inspiration for Wayland's zombie realm took root during his time overseas. He shaped the original "We're Alive" tower after a hotel his Army detachment was stationed near in Iraq, and pulled character traits from his commanding officers and peers. Though he began crafting the tale during his tour, he didn't start writing it until well after he'd returned to the States.
"I was letting little things go, things I might have seen or experienced, through the story," Wayland says of his saga, written at night after teaching film at Costa Mesa High School and Coastline ROP in 2009. "My wife kept telling me it was like therapy, my journal in a way. I feel like I've improved a little bit, because I had some PTSD coming back from overseas. I still have it in some ways, but ["We're Alive"] gave me an avenue to get it out there."
The storyline of zombies ruling the earth is raging through pop culture, largely due to AMC's juggernaut "The Walking Dead." But Wayland feels what sets his story apart–released a year before "The Walking Dead" aired–are his characters, zombies included.
Wayland's monsters aren't typical, mindless numskulls. He prefers his hordes of flesh-eaters to have opportunity for intelligence, making them a more formidable foe. He also takes pride in his living characters, the military roles in particular, which he feels break down military stereotypes and offer insight into the people behind the uniforms.
"We're Alive: A Story of Survival" has racked up more than 35 million downloads, pulled in guest performances from of Seth Peterson of the USA Network's "Burn Notice," and found a foothold in Chris Hardwick's Nerdist network. It also provided enough momentum for "Lockdown" which features actor Steven Weber ("Wings") and begins production this week.
"Lockdown" took flight thanks to a Kickstarter campaign Wayland initiated in early June. The series was originally slated to receive funding from a private donor, but after the investor fell through, Wayland made the decision to launch a Kickstarter. The campaign surpassed its $50,000 goal, bringing in just enough to support a behind the scenes documentary in addition to the six-hour podcast.
So what inspired people to collectively donate more than $50K to ensure "Lockdown's" production? The expectation of an equally compelling storyline is the obvious answer, but it's arguably Wayland's approach to recording that resonates with listeners.
Wayland prefers to record his actors simultaneously in one room, allowing them to feed off one another's energy. If this sounds like a method that lends itself to film and television, it's stemming from Wayland's background. After acquiring a degree in Broadcast Engineering from the military, Wayland earned a degree in Writing and Directing from Chapman University where he currently works as the Digital Applications Specialist.
While working at Chapman, Wayland updated and restored parts of the sound studio, where he creates the majority of his sound effects. He also mounted a computer inside of the actor's recording space, so he could direct alongside the cast.
"If we're trying to revive this art style you have to have some authenticity to it," Wayland says of his audio dramas. "You have to really start to try and reinvent things."
Considering an hour of finalized BBC audio runs around $32K, Wayland's six-hour project is operating on a shoestring budget. He expects to wrap recording by the end of next week, and with the release of "Lockdown" targeted for October, he's prepared to spend the ensuing months immersed in sound effects and post-production.
The 32-year-old says that he originally envisioned his tales for the screen, which is no surprise given his approach to directing. And while he loves creating audio dramas, he admits that he's still aiming for film or television before adding, "This is only the beginning."