An Interview with Tyler Ford of New Castle, Delaware: The creator, writer and producer of the Web series River Ridge

Thirty More Seconds

Tyler Ford is the creator, executive producer, writer and director of a new Web television series called “River Ridge.” The drama was filmed last fall in Old New Castle—where Ford was born and raised—and the show premiered on in mid-January.

DT: How did you get into show business?
TF: After I graduated from William Penn High School in 2003, I moved to Los Angeles and went to college and started building my life out there. Even when I was in high school, I had an agent out there and I was traveling to Los Angeles to work. And then I came back east for family stuff and I just kept working. Then I started writing this film called “Cope” and while I was writing the film I started working with the producers of “Crash.” That was about two years ago, and then all of a sudden, this show came about. I wrote the show very quickly and was getting around to agencies in L.A. and New York. Then the response was overwhelming. It took off in terms of people wanting to get their actors cast. It was unexpected.

DT: What were you doing in L.A.?
TF: I was writing. I’ve always been a writer. Since I was 5 years old I knew I wanted to live in L.A. and be a writer. So I’ve always been on that journey. Even when I was younger I’d been around Hollywood people and have had a lot of good mentors in the industry.

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DT: So you just knew what you wanted to do and did it.
TF: Yeah. When I was in school, all the teachers would say, ‘You’re such a rarity because you have the blueprint.’ Now obviously, life happens. I didn’t plan to come back here, but that’s the interesting thing, coming back. When I left, I left because I thought I couldn’t do what I wanted to do in Delaware. I moved to L.A. I loved it out there. When I came back for family stuff, I had a perspective, an appreciation. I think that’s what’s so surreal about the show, is that I actually filmed it in the place I didn’t think I could film it and all these actors are here. I thought, Wow, I’m actually filming on the streets where I grew up.

DT: You couldn’t have written it any better.
TF: Some people say writers write what they know. I always rejected that philosophy. I like to create things that interest me, not necessarily my experiences. When I started writing the film “Cope,” I injected my experiences subconsciously. It wasn’t intentional. But when I was done with it, it was my best work. I thought, Maybe I need to write what I know. So with “River Ridge,” it was very intentional to write a show about what I know, about stories that I experienced either directly or indirectly from this place. So this place really inspired all these stories. That’s why, when I finished, I said, “I have to film here.” I think bringing actors here from L.A. and New York, and then filming in real locations that inspired the show, elevated their performances. There’s authenticity when you take them out of a sound stage and take them to a real location.

DT: It was exciting when I watched the trailer because I recognized most of the places in the scenes.
TF: The actors were so excited to come here. Some of their agents were like, “Where am I sending my actor?” I said, “It’s not Afghanistan. Don’t worry.” The actors had read the script and when they arrived in Delaware, they said, “Oh my god, it’s exactly like I pictured it in the script.” It helped them get into a deeper place with the characters.

DT: So is the show finally going to make Delaware famous?
TF: We’re putting Delaware on the map in a big way because it’s a character in the show. “Beloved” was a big deal when it came here. But when you watched the movie Delaware was in it for like a minute. If you blinked, you missed it. Old New Castle, even though it’s named differently on the show, is a character in the show. My cast is amazing. When people see their acting, they’re going to be blown away. But there is no star of the show. The town is the star of the show. It’s almost like ER, where they did it for 14 years and people came in and out of the hospital all the time because the hospital was the star. In our show, the town is the star.

DT: How did you keep filming in Old New Castle such a secret?
TF: When we filmed, we were very secretive. Our filming schedule was very tight. So we had to get a lot done in a short amount of time. We filmed in five days last October. So it was in and out. The only people who knew were the police. We were very stealth. We tried to be very secretive, but it’s not a secret anymore.

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DT: That’s a minor miracle that you could do that in a place as intimate as Old New Castle.
TF: I know. There were times when actors got done a shot and the driver picked them up in a van and some people stopped and asked what they were doing. They would joke and say, ‘We’re filming a mayonnaise commercial.’ And people said, ‘Oh, my gosh. That’s so cool,’ and keep on walking.

DT: You put together a pretty impressive cast. I remember Signey Coleman from “The Young and the Restless.”
TF: Signey has quite a background. She started modeling when she was 17 and moved from San Francisco to Paris. After about five years she returned to the States, Huey Lewis put her in his video, “I Want a New Drug.” They’re still good friends. Then she started acting. MTV exploded, before she knew it, she had casting directors calling her modeling agency. She ended up starting with Santa Barbara in the ’80s and kept going. When she came on our show, she went above and beyond every day for the show. It wasn’t just about acting. I said, “You need to be a producer.” It just evolved and now we’re a complete partnership.

DT: You also have some other well-known actors on the show.
TF: Julie Pinson won the Emmy in June 2010. Then “As the World Turns” got canceled. She finished taping in August, then in September, she joined “River Ridge” and came right to us. So that was kind of crazy. They’re very eclectic. We have Shannon Sturges, who is kind of an Aaron Spelling baby. She was on “Savannah” and a lot of Aaron Spelling stuff. She was like a Lifetime movie queen and when she came to Delaware—everybody at the hotel loves the Lifetime movies—so she was really big here. It’s an amazing group. Most of the time, when I tell people about it, they at least know one person from the cast. Most of the guys know Danielle (DiLorenzo) from “Survivor.” She was on it twice. So people know at least one person. It’s crazy.

DT: And they’re all good-looking, too.
TF: (laughs) Actually, another thing, too. We get labeled a soap opera all the time because we have some soap people. It’s a drama series. When you watch the show, you will see it’s a drama series. It’s very gritty, very authentic. We wanted to show things how there were. Reality is so big right now. We feel like, well, let’s make it as real as possible then. It’s very authentic. We had a premiere screening at Tribeca in Manhattan two months ago. We had a lot of industry people there. After the screening, everybody just left loving it, which made us feel great. That was the thing that they said, that they knew these people in the show. The characters are so relatable.

DT: You call the show a “hyper-cinematic drama.” What exactly does that mean?
TF: My buddies at “Crash,” coined the phrase. What it basically means is that there are a lot of different stories and some intersect and some collide and some don’t. Hyper means there are a lot of different stories. It may be because I have no patience. As the screenwriter, it helps me when I have so many people on the canvas I’m really able to not get bored with one story. It’s how you weave them. It’s like a quilt and you’re weaving in and out these different stories.

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DT: Why the Internet and not “regular” television?
TF: In the beginning, I turned down a network development deal. People thought it was crazy. People in the industry respected me because they knew why I did it. I wanted it filmed in Delaware. I wanted the cast I wanted. When you go to one of the bigger networks, obviously you have more freedom with a Showtime or HBO or Starz. But when you go to the other ones, it’s very much more their ballgame. I knew that they would not let me film in Delaware. They would have probably got rid of my whole cast. So it was about freedom, about having a say in it. I said, “You know what, no. I’m going to do the first season my way and release it that way.”

TF: They have such a history and a space. The guys that own the network—their day job is television. They’ve produced and done a lot of shows in the past. But what I didn’t know when we first got into a discussion with the network was that they had the first Web series in 1995. I said, “1995? Oh, my gosh.” They partnered with AOL and AOL sponsored the first series they produced. So they understood the space completely. Not only do they have all the connections with the major studios and networks, Universal is one of their big connections that they work with all the time. Now all of those studios that they work with, their attention is on the network. They want to see what they’re doing. Universal called them and said, of all the trailers of all the shows on the network’s lineup, that “River Ridge” was the most appealing to them. They thought it would have the most life span.

DT: How do you develop an online audience?
TF: We already have a built-in fan base. Most new shows’ biggest challenge is finding their fan base. Who are our viewers? Who should we go after? We were lucky because our show came with a built-in fan base. We have millions of people around the world who adore our cast members. So we are lucky that we can just build upon that. It’s nice to have eyeballs already attached to your project.

DT: I see that you’re doing an interview just before the premiere.
TF: We’re doing “Soap Central,” a radio show. We’re the first Web series that they’re covering. Soap Opera Weekly and Soap Opera Digest, the national magazines that are at the checkout aisle at every store, we’re the first online show and network that they’re covering every week. So that’s a big deal. “Soap Central” has two million listeners and “One Life to Live” goes off the air tomorrow. We’ve taken a lot of heat because some of “One Life to Live’s” fans thought that our moving the premiere was intentional, I guess to try to woo their fans, which is not the case at all. We have a lot of friends at “One Life to Live” and we’re just as devastated about everybody losing their jobs. For some of these fans, it’s tradition. They’ve been passed down from their grandmothers to their mothers to them. It’s very sad, what’s happening and all the jobs lost. And “One Life to Live” was the last show in New York. Their cast is going on “The View” tomorrow for a tribute show. And they’re going on “Soap Central” live for a tribute show. So we got a crucial spot after them, an hour premiere party leading up to our premiere. So it’s important that we let the “One Life to Live” fans know how much we respect the show, how devastated we are that it’s going off the air and that we’re not trying to steal any fans. We’re really hoping that if things are shifting that they do know that if they want to, they do have a home with us and they may see some familiar faces on our show.

DT: So where is this Internet TV thing headed?
TF: Two shows premiering this week in a lineup style like a television network…it’s a big deal. I think everybody is trying to wrap their brain around it. I think no matter what happens, us being on this network this week and launching with the way we’re launching and scheduled programming—it’s history. We’re the first that are doing it this way. It’s basically like the invention of the radio and then all of the sudden television came along. At that time in history, people didn’t embrace television. People were so used to the radio. Here we go again. Over time, television expanded to cable and that was another big thing because you went from three stations to 500. I think now we’re in another transition period in our times. New media is taking off. Whenever there’s transition, people get scared. Some people don’t understand or it takes a while to catch on. But it’s been happening for the past five years really intensely. People now really are embracing it. Obviously, because there are all of these award shows. I mean the Emmys, we’re not eligible this year, but next year we’re eligible for an Emmy because the Emmys now have a category for our shows. There’s the Academy of Web Television, which has its awards tonight in Las Vegas and they’re broadcasting them. It’s happening and it’s real and it’s exciting to be on the forefront of it all.