The story of Thunderbird, a Purple Rain-inspired drama set in Minneapolis

Categories: Film
A shot from the opening of the first episode

"Summer in Minneapolis. A killer on the prowl. A young woman's personal journey told in disco."

This is the tagline for Jesse Dvorak's new web series, Thunderbird. Its first episode premiered on YouTube through Carbon City Cinema last Thursday, and the series follows Micah, the lead singer for the neo-disco outfit Thunderbird, as she learns more about herself while navigating an imagined music scene during a Minneapolis summer.

"The music is a huge part of the inspiration and narrative," Dvorak said. He's had more than a little experience in the world of indie music, recording and touring with various bands -- mostly electronica in the vein of Moby -- for more than a decade before focusing on film. This shines through in the series' soundtrack, which grabs the viewer from the first scene.

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"I have very broad music tastes, and as a musician I'd always say, 'I wanna do country, I wanna do a post punk, I wanna do all these styles,'" Dvorak says. "Film liberates me in that I can use different styles of music in any film."

Picking the music for Thunderbird was more important to the story than in most series. Since the central characters all perform in bands, matching their personalities to the songs they perform was very important.

So it's no surprise that Dvoark credits the Chromatics, a Portland-based disco-revival band with synth-pop tendencies who are know for their sparse yet chaotic sound, as a visual inspiration for the show's look.

"Nothing really specific," he says, "but they just sparked the imagination." The Chromatics eventually became the band behind Thunderbird, with almost all of the performances by the central band in the series backed by their songs.

Other music was chosen later, to fit with the theme of the story.

"I started with the theme of fear," Dvorak says. "Big fears like fear of death, but also everyday fear like talking to someone you don't know, or opening up to new people."

This subtle undercurrent of fears both big and small is there from the first scene of the first episode. We learn that a serial killer is on the loose in Minneapolis before ending up in the crowded Terminal Bar in Northeast, where we see Last Ring of Jupiter, one of the show's bands, performing "No Secrets" by Chris Millinchak, a subtly haunting dance song about the apprehension that comes before sharing your life with a new person.

It's also clear from this first shot that we're in Minneapolis in the summer -- and not just incidentally. From the beginning, the city was meant to be a key part of the series.

"When you watch Purple Rain," says Dvorak, who used the film almost as a template, "you can feel the Minneapolis of it. I loved that. I love settings as characters."

John Bennett, who plays Nero, the motorcycle-riding bad boy fronting the new wave synth-pop band Black Tie Affair (and a potential love interest for Micah), was also drawn to Minneapolis's central role in the production. He spent much of the summer exploring the city through the eyes of his character.

"I just spent a lot of the month of June and July biking around," he says. "I almost rediscovered Minneapolis, because my question wasn't where would John go to the bar or hang out, but where would Nero go to the bar, who would he hang out with?"

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