Nuka Break, the wildly popular fan-made live-action series set in the Fallout universe recently scored a huge victory with a $130,000 Kickstarter campaign for their second season. Curious to know just what it was that gave season one that special spark I called up Wayside Creations co-founder and creative director Zack Finfrock to talk about avoiding lawsuits, flaming swords, and super mutants.
I share a special kinship with Wayside Creations creative director Zack Finfrock. We are both enormous Fallout fans who didn’t necessarily fall in love with the series playing the first game, but the seminal Fallout 3.
“It was one of the first games where I would sit and lose an entire day and not realize it,” Finfrock explained. “To this day one of my favorite gaming moments of all time is walking out of Vault 101.” This iconic flash of light would signal an obsession not soon shook off.
His passion for Fallout, stemming from the hundreds of hours spent with Fallout 3 prompted Finfrock to suggest a Fallout fan film to his coworkers at Wayside Creations. “I’d always brought up the idea of doing fan films to our group but the general opinion on that was ‘why don’t we just do original content,’” Finfrock told me. However, when he brought up Fallout, the response was overwhelmingly positive.
Bringing a video game to life
With a strong team of proven filmmakers, Finfrock headed out to the Mohave Desert to film the original fan film. The choice to set Nuka Break in the New Vegas area was simply one of economics. “It’s a lot easier to make a wasteland live-action piece on a very low budget without any buildings,” Finfrock explained. Setting the film in DC was never a possibility purely due to the lack of suitable sets.
During the production of the first Nuka Break fan film, Wayside was currently working with webcast company Indy Mogul on another project and was invited to participate in their “Awesome Directors Project.” This gave Wayside the opportunity to expand the story beyond the first film but also constricted their production time.
The entirety of season one was filmed in nine days; the lion’s share of the work happening in post-production. During filming the team faced setbacks such as sweltering desert heat and a fire that destroyed the set used for Eastwood. This last one required a rewrite in the script and disappointment within Wayside, as they had planned to feature Eastwood in season two.
Making a film series of Nuka Break’s caliber isn’t easy, and it’s even more difficult on a limited budget. Indeed, of the 30-person crew that worked on season one, only two were paid. However, this wasn’t entirely unreasonable an industry wherein working for experience is fairly standard. As for the many extras throughout season one, Finfrock reflected, “It’s surprisingly easy to find a medium-sized group of people who are willing to come out for a few days and just walk around in the background for free.” Hell, I would have done it.
Other cost-cutting tricks were employed, such as buying costumes at thrift stores and filming different scenes from the same location; simply rotating the camera a few degrees to a different terrain. The props used are handmade from everyday objects. The shishkebab Twig uses to save the day in episode four was made out of an actual motorcycle gas tank and metal sword covered in lighter fluid. The mini nuke used at the end of episode six was a dolled up football.
But, as Finfrock warned, “We have to be careful when it comes to what props we put in the series. Some of it in real life is a little bit over the top. I was worried the shishkebab was going to be a little bit goofy.” The Nuka Breaker (a neon sign melee weapon added by Obsidian to New Vegas as a nod to the series) is definitely out, as it would break after a single strike. Though, we can definitely count on some awesome props in the next season, as Harrison Krix of Volpin Props (if you don’t know his work, you should) will be contributing a few pieces to the series.
Obsidian and Bethesda – a mutual respect
As for Obsidian and Bethesda’s involvement in the film series, Finfrock told me they have taken a hands-off approach. The team at Wayside has been given the go-ahead to continue with the series; “the only thing is we can’t make money with it.” I asked Finfrock if he has petitioned for official support from Bethesda or ZeniMax (the publisher who owns Bethesda) and as he said, “they’ve told us they’re just not looking to do anything live-action with Fallout.”
Regardless, in an unofficial capacity, the folks responsible for Fallout love the folks responsible for Nuka Break. “We’ve been contacted by people who worked on Fallout 3,” Finfrock said, “and they say they love our series.” Further, Fallout’s lead programmer and designer Timothy Cain and Fallout 2 designer Chris Avellone (both of whom now work at Obsidian) are officially helping Wayside on season 2 of Nuka Break. As Finfrock puts it, “we’ll just keep doing it on our own and hopefully we don’t push it too far where they’ll sue us.”
By that token, Nuka Break tends to not involve much of the Fallout universe beyond the universe itself. This is due to Finfrock’s nature as a filmmaker:
One of the things that I as a gamer like is when extra content is made that doesn’t interrupt my story. And for Fallout, since the whole basis of the game is giving you freedom and your choices really drive the story, we decided to make new characters that don’t actually interact with the story from the Fallout games. I don’t want a player who has played New Vegas to think ‘oh I killed that guy in my game’ so this story doesn’t work with my version of Fallout.’
A story worthy of Fallout
Story has always been a main driving factor in the Nuka Break series. Although the visual aspect is nothing short of amazing, what most likely ensured a $130,000 Kickstarter campaign was a desire to see where the story will go after season one. The story in the first season was envisioned and written by Finfrock and then polished by Brian Clevinger, the author of the award-winning webcomic 8-Bit Theater. “I would write the basic story and then in parentheses, ‘they say something funny here’” Finfrock told me, “then he [Clevinger] would come in and sprinkle his gold writing touch on it.”
Finfrock did his due-diligence in coming up with the tangled story in Nuka Break:
When we came up with that story, I went to E3 in 2010, and I was hoping to meet Chris Avellone there because that was before New Vegas had come out. I told him ‘I was going to do this fan film, here are my ideas, I need to know what you guys are going to do for Fallout: New Vegas and I want it to be as canon as possible and gave him a script. The next day he gave me a list of things like ‘he can’t be from Vault 11 because we’re going to use Vault 11 in New Vegas, so here are the vaults he can be from. Originally Twig was from Vault 11…Since then Chris and I have had a great friendship and he’s helped out since then.
Finfrock explained that the shape he was in at the time of filming contributed to the story he came up with for Vault 10, in which everyone was grossly overfed. He felt without a doubt that the main character needed to be as vault dweller, as “that’s synonymous with Fallout in general.” The story was built on that foundation and with the aforementioned help from Chris Avellonne it became the wildly popular series it is today.
Nationally unacclaimed freelance writer Jonathan Deesing loves video games and puppies. If you can't get enough of his musings, check out his Twitter feed.