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May 13, 2019

Boundless Stories

Doug Liman’s impulse is to embrace YouTube

Samantha Gilbert
  • Courtesy Doug Liman

Acclaimed producer and director of films such as Swingers, The Bourne Identity, and Edge of Tomorrow, Doug Liman finds his sci-fi action web-series, Impulse, is happily at home on YouTube Premium and is looking forward to its second season.

Impulse is the third science fiction novel based on author Steven Gould's Jumper series, but stands apart from the original chronicle with all new characters in a completely different setting.

It follows the story of Henrietta "Henry" Coles (Maddie Hasson), the new kid in town with a somewhat justified chip on her shoulder and a unique ability that is unknowingly sleeping dormant inside her.

Not until she has a traumatic encounter with a classmate does Henry unwittingly unleash her power, having to then confront the immediate consequences of its effects on not only herself, but also the people around her.

No stranger to action packed stories mingling with extraordinary abilities, Liman first visited the idea of teleportation in his 2008 movie adaptation of Gould's Jumper.

"That was my one movie that I felt I didn't get exactly right; I'm kind of a perfectionist and can't stand the idea of leaving something not in its perfect state and Jumper was a movie that I just wasn't as happy with as I wanted to be."

Liman continues, "I thought the solution was to go and do a TV series set in that world, but FOX, who has the rights to Jumper, wasn't interested, so I managed to get the sequel rights from the author (Gould)."

But, interestingly enough, Impulse wasn't immediately conceived as a TV show or web series. Technically savvy and self-proclaimed gearhead Liman initially thought the story would have potential in the world of Virtual Reality.

"I have a company, 30 Ninjas, that does VR and works with nonlinear and nontraditional formats, so I thought I could run it through there and play around in the environment; maybe do it in VR 360 at first and eventually build it into a TV series."

Liman took his idea to YouTube and Global Head of Original Content, Susanne Daniels.

"I was pitching it to YouTube because they were playing around with VR, but Susanne said they were starting a Premium channel for scripted shows and they'd buy it."

Liman laughs, "Normally when we pitch a TV series there's a whole other big process that goes into it and I called my partners and said, 'I think I just sold a TV show!'"

As a filmmaker who has worked in nearly every degree of storytelling from short films and commercials to independent films and major blockbusters, Liman is continually fueled by finding and telling unique, quality stories.

"I like using super powers and extraordinary events to elicit the most interesting aspects of humanity in very human characters. In the case of Impulse, we're taking someone whose superpower arrives during a moment of trauma, of sexual assault, and she forever associates the superpower with the trauma…I was really interested to see how a character would deal with that."

What unfolds in Impulse's first season is a story layered with self-discovery and the realization that you cannot control the things you do not understand; including, but not limited to…the ability to teleport, and the ramifications of having such a gift…or curse…

Liman expands on his passion for storytelling, "I make movies and TV shows to entertain the audience. But more than that, I want to tell good, meaningful stories that aren't empty calories; that ultimately, have substance." And substance in a story knows no platform boundaries.

Liman embraces the modern audience, connecting with YouTube users and viewers in a very real way.

"The thing that is so cool for me is that YouTube has had a real influence on my filmmaking." He elaborates, "I like making action films and I'm not really interested in fake-CG action, I'm more interested in actors doing proper stunts and the reality is that my bar for that isn't watching Marvel movies, it's watching YouTube."

"I was excited to make a Premium show for YouTube that married the two worlds."

With a career that began in independent film, Liman brings a rule-breaking approach to his filmmaking, regardless of platform.

In season two of Impulse, he is looking to broaden the more contemporary tone in the series and back off from using the traditional rules of visual storytelling.

"I really tried to get myself to a looser place and forget everything I ever learned about filmmaking to get back to something that's more raw and honest." He expands, "People who are making things for YouTube aren't doing traditional coverage, they're just pointing the camera where they think it should go and using their gut to edit it together and I really wanted to try and embrace that rawness."

Finding new ways to stay honest and relevant are of utmost importance to anyone working in a creative field. YouTube Premium has allowed Liman to embrace a fearless mentality in his quest to do just that with Impulse and, on such a platform, he is able to receive audience feedback immediately, almost as you would in a crowded movie theater, just in a different way.

"With Impulse on YouTube, the communal experience comes through in the comments section; and the feedback is so important to me."

Liman understands that there may be an element of evolution to today's audiences, especially when it comes to more contemporary platforms on which media is being viewed.

"20 years ago an audience maybe needed to be spoon-fed the story, but an audience today has seen enough movies that we can spare them the MacGuffin plot."

Liman not only credits the YouTube Premium platform and its audience for the freedom to be able to shoot a series in such a nonconventional way, he lends genuine praise for Impulse's writing team and its cast.

"Lauren LeFranc and her writing team have created such an amazing story that that I don't need to figure out how to manipulate it, I just need to cover it the way some kid with an iPhone shooting something to put up on YouTube would shoot it."

"And we have such a phenomenal cast; they've settled in a groove in terms of their characters, so it frees me up as a filmmaker to approach the show with that level of honesty."

"With Impulse I was really trying to embrace the "kid making something for YouTube" because that person isn't thinking about a career, they're just telling a story. It's where I started on Swingers, just telling a story, not thinking about a career, not thinking anyone would even see it.

Making a movie you don't think anyone is going to see is liberating because you're not afraid; you figure you might as well go for something great or awful because no one will go and see it if it's between the two."

Impulse is produced by the independent production company, Hypnotic, which was launched in 2003 by Liman, David Bartis, and Gene Klein. Hypnotic is the creative producing force behind most of Liman’s past and future film and television endeavors.


Currently shooting in Toronto, the second season of Impulse will debut on YouTube Premium this fall.


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