A minute into the third episode of “The Line,” a comedy about the passion and perversion of fans waiting 11 days for the premiere of a science-fiction film, the actor Joe Lo Truglio declares, “I’m going line crazy.”
His partner, the “Saturday Night Live” repertory player Bill Hader, promises to get water. Then the “SNL” writer and occasional actor John Lutz delivers candy bars for the theater and falls victim to the line, leading the theater manager (the “SNL” comedian Jason Sudeikis), to call the fanboys “animals.”
This is how much of the “SNL” cast and crew spent their summer vacation. Inspired partly by three months of picket-line-walking during last fall and winter’s writers’ strike, Mr. Hader and the “SNL” writer Simon Rich created a buddy comedy about the long wait to see “Future Space,” a vaguely described sci-fi drama. In May, when “SNL,” the NBC late-night sketch comedy show, went on summer hiatus, the “SNL” actor and lead writer Seth Meyers signed on to direct.
MultimediaWatch "The Line"
In July, for four steamy days in Brooklyn, the creators collected a veritable Who’s Who of the New York comedy scene to film seven short episodes for Internet distribution. “SNL” crew members operated the camera, made the costumes and handled hair and makeup. Three weeks after filming, the series started to unfold on youtube.com, crackle.com and other online video sites. The characters reach the end of “The Line,” figuratively and literally, on Tuesday when the final episode will have its debut.
The ability of “The Line” to attract name-brand talent reflects the increasing number of writers and actors who are showing interest in original Web video. “The Line” was the first straight-to-Internet series to be produced and financed by Broadway Video, the production company founded by the “SNL” executive producer, Lorne Michaels. But it won’t be its last: the company says it will produce other Web series created by and starring “SNL” cast members, and Mr. Michaels also intends to produce Web performances by Jimmy Fallon this fall, as that former “SNL” cast member prepares to replace Conan O’Brien on “Late Night” next year.
For the writers and stars of “The Line,” the Web was a proving ground. “We wanted to have an experience of shooting something on our own,” Mr. Hader said in an interview. “This is a good medium to do it in because it’s a very low-stakes medium.”
Mr. Meyers, best known as the co-host of “Weekend Update” on “SNL,” was lured by the opportunity to tell a tale with cliffhangers at the end of each episode, while still keeping each part to a Web-friendly four minutes. “On the Internet, it seems like things work better when they stand alone,” Mr. Meyers said. “The Line” is a test of whether viewers will come back for a serialized story. The first six episodes have drawn a wide range of views, from 15,000 to 158,000, on YouTube.
Mr. Hader and Mr. Rich, son of the New York Times columnist Frank Rich, wrote the script during the strike (Internet work wasn’t forbidden under the strike rules) and shared it with Mr. Michaels’s production company. They were assembling a cast and crew when the strike ended and “SNL” resumed taping, putting the project on hold. But after the season ended, Broadway Video revived the idea. The series signed a sponsor, Sony Pictures, and integrated the posters for three new Sony films into the backdrop of the episodes.
The staging was rather simple: all the action occurs along a red concrete-block wall outside the Cobble Hill Cinemas in Brooklyn. But there were peculiarities nonetheless, Mr. Meyers said, like “waiting for the baby strollers to clear the lens.”
The series unfolds not unlike an “SNL” digital short. Mr. Sudeikis stands out as a manager who treats moviegoers as a menace. He often calls them “you people,” as in “You people need to start washing your bodies, or I’m going to call the police.”
Along the way, Liz Cackowski, a former “SNL” writer, appears briefly, and Paul Scheer, a recurring cast member on “30 Rock,” turns up as the spoiler who tries to ruin the movie for the fans. Everyone who was asked agreed to participate, Mr. Meyers said. “That was the fun of it for us — being able to work with friends.”
Mr. Hader and Mr. Lo Truglio, who also appear together in the new film comedy “Pineapple Express,” are the heart and soul of the episodes. “Eleven days of glorious, glorious ‘Future Space’ anticipation,” Mr. Lo Truglio announces in Episode 1, suggesting that the drama of the wait will rival any drama on screen. They fight sword-wielding fellow fans, grapple with the five-minute rule (as in, five minutes out of line forfeits your spot) and try to fulfill family obligations.
Mr. Hader knew the part he was writing. He waited in line for “about 20 hours” to see “Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace” in 1999. During that wait, he watched a woman break up with one of his fellow moviegoers, a fate that befalls his character in Episode 2 of “The Line.”
Mr. Hader also lined up for the two “Star Wars” follow-ups and for the three “Lord of the Rings” films, but he now sees films at more reasonable times — say, Monday at 2 p.m. for “The Dark Knight.” Why? He said, “Now I have a wife.”