Anthony Zuiker on ‘Cybergeddon’

The creator of “CSI” talks business with us regarding his Yahoo original web series.

Fred Topelby Fred Topel

The latest techno thriller is not coming to theaters. You can watch it right now on Yahoo. “Cybergeddon” stars Missy Peregrym as an FBI agent framed for a cyber-crime, on the hunt for the real hacker.

The series is available in nine parts at, along with shorter zip videos that were launched in between segments. “Cybergeddon” was created by Anthony Zuiker, creator of the “CSI” franchises for CBS. We got an exclusive one on one interview with him after Yahoo’s presentation to the Television Critics Association.

CraveOnline: What do you think of this new frontier for entertainment?
Anthony Zuiker: I think this new frontier is necessary. I think that there’s been a significant behavioral shift in how we’re consuming content based on the golden age of technology of what Apple has done, and other great technology companies.

I feel like based on our behavior to want to consume content on the go, anytime, anywhere, any device, it was necessary for a movie like this to come out around the theater system, be a-traditional, give it tremendous scale and see what we could learn as to how we tell stories of tomorrow.
CraveOnline: Why is Yahoo better than, say, VOD which would still work on devices and via iTunes?
Anthony Zuiker: We met with everybody. They all wanted this which was really, really great. I think it was scale. Yahoo kind of got this space, they understood the power of scale, we liked what they could bring to the table. Could this work on different mechanisms like you’re saying?

I think it can. I think it probably will. It may go to on demand after this first initial run with Yahoo. For the most part, the biggest global splash we could make was with Yahoo so it felt like the sound decision to give them distribution.
CraveOnline: How is working with Yahoo different than working with CBS?
Anthony Zuiker: Well, CBS was very hands on with “CSI.”
CraveOnline: All three of them?
Anthony Zuiker: Absolutely, they’re very hands on, they’re a great network, we’ve had tremendous success with CBS. I think with Yahoo, it’s a little bit more distance of letting us do what we do in delivering them a great product.

We’ll give you a great movie. You go ahead and show the world. So it’s more of an artist’s medium and more of an interactive medium and more of an experience medium compared to a traditional network and that’s fun for us.
How does the budget compare to your TV budgets?
Anthony Zuiker: I think honestly it’s comparable right now. Based on where we ended up and what we do for the traditional TV shows, it’s [on] par.
CraveOnline: Like two “CSI” episodes?
Anthony Zuiker: No, like one.
CraveOnline: So for 90 minutes it’s the cost of one “CSI.”
Anthony Zuiker: Yeah, you do the math.
CraveOnline: This was your first major venture since “CSI.” How long had you been attempting to do things outside “CSI” and what made now and this the right time?
Anthony Zuiker: Well, I’ve been developing traditional TV shows beyond “CSI” through ABC so we’re very excited about that but for an artist like myself, I love motion pictures. I just don’t necessarily love the motion picture system in place.

And because I’m such a fan of technology, I wanted to combine both those and do the biggest movie we possibly could based on the budget and go around the theater system and scale. It was very exciting to me.
CraveOnline: How do you mean the motion picture system that’s in place?
Anthony Zuiker: Well, in the motion picture system, there’s a lot of cooks in the kitchen. There’s a lot of rewriting, there’s a lot of voices in the movie. There’s no guarantee what you’re doing is getting into the theater.

Those are all bummers to me. I feel like for us, you go to [executive producer] Bill [O’Dowd], you pitch him a big movie, he green lights it, you know it’s financed, you know it’s going. Where that puts a creator mentality wise on the page, as a producer, as a writer, as a director, as a promoter, where that puts you psychologically is completely night and day because you know it’s going.
CraveOnline: And you wouldn’t necessarily have to follow FCC restrictions, but you decided to make it comparable in tone?
Anthony Zuiker: Yes. Pushing the envelope doesn’t necessarily mean you have to subscribe to vulgarity. We wanted to make sure, because this was scaling so big, that we were able to offend as little people as possible by using foul language, that we were responsible with our violence which I think that we are. We minimize the sex this go round. It just wasn’t necessary for the story.
Is the interactive component participating during the film segments?
Anthony Zuiker: No, the standalone segments if you will are 8, 9, 10 minute and those will just be standard viewing, but you could really interactively find out deeper storylines inside of that on the immersive side.
CraveOnline: So while you’re waiting for the next episode, there’s more to do.
Anthony Zuiker: Sure, those’ll be the zips, those clips where you can watch extra content that goes into different backstories and front stories of specific characters that may pay off in the movie which is fun.
CraveOnline: Is there a line you won’t cross for artistic integrity, so people don’t play around while they’re watching?
Anthony Zuiker: Well, this is true. I think there’ll be some content someday where it commits to the interactivity inside the experience, but that’s way down the line. Once people want that, we’ll build that for them. There’s ways to do that. But for now, we want to be able to give them the best movie possible and have some interactivity within the experience that doesn’t necessarily overly step on what you’re used to which is watching something great.

CraveOnline: Is there a lot of action, fighting and chasing in “Cybergeddon?”
Anthony Zuiker: I think it has a healthy share of that but it’s definitely not the whole movie. We wanted to be able to say, “Here’s what you can do for a specific price point.” It could feel big, it could feel Jason Bourne, it could have the scale of an Armageddon, it could tell a great story all wrapped into this one experience. We wanted to show a bit of everything there.


CraveOnline: Seeing computer screens in movies can be unsatisfying. Sometimes they have the hackers talk their chat sessions. How do you handle computer screens in an age where audiences are very familiar with how computers work?
Anthony Zuiker:
Well, we want to be able to sex up the computer industry inside the movie to make it feel very contemporary, very proactive, very tomorrow so when we do commit to any sequences on the computer, it’s done in a very cool, slick, fast way.

As you know in “CSI,” the CSIs don’t necessarily go talk to victims, walk through the lab and put people in jail. We’ve made that artistic leap in the “CSI” show so we’re just making things sexier and cooler so it doesn’t feel static.

CraveOnline: How did the technical research for “Cybergeddon” compare to crime scene research?
Anthony Zuiker: Oh, it’s comparable. The contact, Kevin Haley over at Symantec was so well versed in the minutiae of cybercrime from a consumer level that’s completely fascinated with the fact that we would learn those things and put that in the movie for a level of edutainment to make Norton happy and to educate the public.

When I talked to the NSA, the one thing they told me was, “If you could just tell people not to use ‘password’ for [their] password, that would be half of our budget.” So we’ve definitely done that in the movie.
CraveOnline: The password thing that’s frustrating now is it has to be an upper case, a lower case, a number. It’s such a complicated combination I can’t remember it.
Anthony Zuiker: Right, I just had this problem yesterday with my son overhearing my password and it getting out. The rule of thumb is throw a couple of numbers in there if you can and that should do it. That’s where you go from there.
CraveOnline: Some sites make you change your password so often, I’m out of things I’ll remember.
Anthony Zuiker: Well, there’s technology in there that can remember your password, that will give it back to you in case you forget, which again most people have no idea.
Do you have to worry that at some point there might be content congestion? If there’s so many more new media, there’s only so much we can watch.
Anthony Zuiker: Sure. As more people flock to the space, there will probably be an algorithm system in terms of how to. It’s kind of like Google, right? I feel like at the end of the day, no matter how much cyber litter is thrown into the marketplace, it will need to be sifted properly based on how good things are and how sharable things are.

We can’t stop people from making good content. We can certainly make sure that when you type in something on the Google search engine, that you find the very best articles. I think they’ve done it right there.
CraveOnline: Well, I’m happy that there are so many new unique voices in movies on VOD and stuff, I just hope people are watching them. It’s my job to watch them, but I mean for people whose job it’s not.
Anthony Zuiker: I think inevitably, it’s almost like buying land, right? You build a theme park and the land begins to go this way in terms of the sale of land. It’s the same thing geographically in terms of how people will watch. It’s just going in that direction. Whether they’re watching it today or tomorrow, the future is people are just consuming more stuff online, whether it’s VOD or streams. It’s just the way it is.
CraveOnline: How did you find director Diego Velasco?
Anthony Zuiker: We talked to CAA, we were slipped [his film] La Hora Cero [and] we loved the filmmaking style. I think he shot that film for $400,000 and it looked like a $10 million movie and we just loved the filmmaking part of this. We had a conversation with him. He loved the concept, brought us a great treatment based on how we would shoot this and we said yes relatively quickly.
Just a few questions about your other job, is there any chance fans of “CSI: Miami” could get some closure on an ending?
Anthony Zuiker: I don't think so. I think the show’s over unfortunately. If there’s a CSI movie someday, perhaps there’d be some answers there, but currently there’s really no means to do that. Unless it‘s done on some other show.
CraveOnline: What were your feelings on how that just suddenly ended?
Anthony Zuiker: Obviously disappointed at the fact that we couldn’t bring closure to an audience, but television shows get on the air and go off the air. That’s kind of their job. Sometimes they’re unscheduled to be cancelled and sometimes you’re prepared. This one was a little bit of a surprise and we’re just thankful we have two more on the air.
CraveOnline: But that’s a major show for CBS not to give you a little something.
Anthony Zuiker: Well, we had some inkling that things were on the bubble obviously, but I have a lot of trust and faith in Les Moonves. I think he’s an extremely bright man. I feel like he knows what’s best for his network. He made a decision and I stand by it.
CraveOnline: How much more life do you see in the base “CSI?”
Anthony Zuiker: There’s no crystal ball but obviously our thoughts and our hopes are that we tell stories on CBS for a long, long time, as much as the audience will sustain and it’ll be financially viable. Our biggest job is keeping those two shows on the air for as long as possible.
CraveOnline: Has adding Ted Danson changed it enough that there’s a lot more to tell for many years?
Anthony Zuiker: Again, it’s hard to say in the future but I will say Ted Danson and Elisabeth Shue are humongous acquisitions for the franchise and for “CSI” so we couldn’t be more pleased with their performances. We’re honored to have TV icons on the show.