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Nuka Break - Turning Fan Fiction Into Reality

Nationally unacclaimed freelance writer Jonathan Deesing has written an article about Nuka Break, the Fallout fanfiction series that all the kids seem to be crazy about. Anyway here's the articles.

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.

Kickstarter success stories have become ubiquitous in the video game world. Consequently it seems that too many independent companies now turn to the popular crowdfunding site expecting the type of overwhelming success achieved only by a select few; namely Double Fine Adventure. However, Nuka Break season two is entirely deserving of the success and support it saw last month, receiving over $130,000; 205 percent of their $60,000 goal.

Mo’ money, less problems

Finfrock was equally surprised and grateful for the wealth of support Wayside received and is excited to use that money to make an even more badass season of Nuka Break. When I asked him off the top of his head what they were looking to add now that they were so generously funded, he responded simply, “I want to say more details.” He went on to state, “for season two we’ll have more money for production design.” This includes more props, actors, and sets.


Though the set that hosted the delightful town of Eastwood burned down during filming of season one, Wayside still has their eyes on a number of other great locations in which to shoot. They’re looking at locations close to Los Angeles, and some as far away as the border of California and Nevada. Regarding places to shoot, Finfrock explained, “as cool as Eastwood was, we couldn’t put a lot of money into it.” However, the large amount of funding Wayside received has opened the door to any number of possible locations and sets.


“We were putting a lot of effort into season one and no one was getting paid to do it,” Finfrock explained, “and that’s going to change for season two.” This means more money for filming and post-production. “In season one most of the stuff from the Fallout universe was done in post [production] with visual effects.” This time around, Finfrock is looking to include a lot more props and sets to lend a more realistic feel to the series.

Perhaps more important are the actors, whose memorable performances endeared fans to the series in the first place. My personal favorite actor of the past season, the great Doug Jones (who played the touchy-feely mayor of Eastwood) is slated to make a return to the series next season, though whether or not he will be returning as the mayor remains to be seen. “We’ll let the story explain what’s happening,” Finfrock told me ominously.

Wayside will also be in talks soon with a number of big-name actors like Doug Jones that they hope will star in the series. Their organization and excellent planning were a big part of the reason Jones signed on in the first place. “These days it’s just as simple as emailing a script, offer and a time frame to a manager,” Finfrock explained, so don’t be surprised if you see another famous face in season two. In fact, you may be seeing a lot more faces, period, as Finfrock expects season two to have even more extras than season one. He hinted that there will likely be raids, battles, and any number of scenes featuring a large amount of actors.


Here’s the story…

“Season two will definitely wrap up this storyline,” Finfrock assured me. That is, the storyline of Scar’s involvement with the slavers of Caesar’s Legion. From there, he was hesitant to reveal any of the storyline, and I’m not sure I would want it spoiled for myself. But with the writing help of Tybee Diskin (who played Scar), Chris Avellone (senior designer for Fallout: New Vegas), and Timothy Cain (senior programmer for Obsidian); season two is sure to feature some astounding writing.

Further, the team is no longer working under time constraints as they were last season, so there could very well be more than six episodes this time around. As Finfrock told me, “we’re not limiting ourselves this time.” Ideally, the team hopes to have the series out before the end of the year, hopefully sometime in the fall, but Finfrock is committed to airing episodes on a weekly basis, even if that means delaying the release until every episode is 100 percent.

Beyond season two, Wayside hasn’t really made any other Fallout plans. After wrapping on Nuka Break’s most recent season, the team plans to take a break from the fan film and do some of their own original content. When I asked Finfrock if this is a financial decision, he politely rebuked me:

Fallout has been so great for us and Wayside as a whole, where we now have a fanbase and are recognized as filmmakers, so when we start doing original content we already have a built-in fanbase who are looking to see what we can do besides Fallout. So yeah, we can’t earn profits from Fallout directly, but because of Fallout, we now have a chance to make something with our own original content.

The future is bright

For Finfrock, Nuka Break was a labor of love, and money was never really the end game. He told me confidently, “the only thing I want from Bethesda is a nod that our stuff is canon. That’s it.” He’s also open to the idea of producing more Fallout videos at a later date, depending on the fan community. Always wanting more and not ready to give up on the Bethesda front, I asked Finfrock if he would be willing to produce content for Bethesda in an official capacity. He told me:

If they came to us and said, ‘hey we want you to do this for Fallout 4’ I would be more than likely be on board. But again it just depends on the project. It also depends on the creativity and freedom we have because one thing I love about doing Nuka Break is there is such a giant world and characters and universe that we can use.

As for what we might we from Wayside Creations following the last episode of Nuka Break, it’s all up in the air. I was told we can expect an announcement around the time the team is in post-production for season two. Whether they will maintain their current trend toward the geeky is yet to be seen. Some members of the team lean toward drama while others (like Finfrock) would love to keep the tone of their videos dorky and funny.

I for one would love to see Finfrock staying close to his roots—the nerdy ones. Indeed, when I called him up for our interview, he had forgotten the time amid a session of SWTOR. I explained that I completely understood and we discussed the game’s most recent patch for a few minutes. Listening to him talk about games for an hour made one thing clear: if you love video games, you should root for this guy to make more videos.

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.


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