How the creators of the new YouTube Original Origin are crafting a global sci-fi series

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Nov 7, 2018, 3:30 PM EST

When the YouTube Original sci-fi/horror series Origin drops on November 14, it will be only the fifth drama launched by YouTube Premium, but perhaps the one that best reflects the subscription service's worldwide reach.

Now available in 22 countries, YouTube Premium is leveraging its global reach (and ubiquitous use across all demos) to get serious about competing against other, better-known streaming services such as Hulu and Netflix by making its own TV shows.

Origin was created by Mika Watkins and developed by Left Bank Pictures executive producers Rob Bullock and Suzanne Mackie, as well as the China International Television Corporation (CITVC). The series also boasts a truly international cast including Natalia Tena, Tom Felton, Sen Mitsuji, Nora Arnezeder, and Johannes Johannesson.

After a career in development and TV series writing, Origin is Watkins' first show ordered to series, one born of her personal fear of what the inky black expanse of space might hold for humanity.

"It's about a group of strangers who wake up on a spaceship, which was bound for another planet, to find that everyone else is gone, and they don't really understand why," Watkins told SYFY WIRE. "So, it's about their discovery of what happened, and why they've been left behind.

"But the audience will soon discover who they used to be and why they got in the ship — because there's this core idea of the offer of going to this planet is that you get what they call a 'blank slate.' In every episode, we spend 40 percent of the time going back into the past of one character and finding out what made them want to sign up for that."

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Tom Felton in Origin

And that's where Origin's international cast comes in as the show unspools the characters' personal stories to flesh out the diverse, eclectic lives of the people onboard the spaceship.

"What was exciting about this was Mika knew right from the beginning that this would travel both well beyond the solar system, but around the world," Executive Producer Suzanne Mackie told SYFY WIRE. "Because those people came from different parts of the world, it was never constructed to be an international show, it just was. And that was particularly interesting to me."

Mackie's executive producing partner, Rob Bullock, adds: "One of the distinctive things that Mika did with this project was she wrote stories that took us to seven different countries. We filmed in the native language of four different languages, so, there's a real scope and scale to the breadth of worlds that Mika takes us to when we leave the ship.

"And what was so thrilling... When you see the actors, we've got German actors doing whole scenes in German. You've got Nora (Arnezeder) doing whole scenes in French. And it's not just going to these countries, but actually blurring yourself into the language. It brings an authenticity immediately to the whole thing. I've never done a show that's had this sort of scope. And it was always there in the idea, but it was just great to see it come alive."

And unlike many U.S.-based networks and streaming services, Bullock says YouTube Originals was encouraging of Left Bank and CITVC to make programming that would pointedly appeal to global audiences.

"What's great about YouTube Originals is that they are this young, innovative, new platform with all the excitement that that brings," he says. "But they've also got this backbone of really experienced, seasoned professionals who bring that heft, and storytelling experience as well, which is why it was such a pleasure working with them as we developed the scripts."

With a 10-episode first season order, Watkins is hoping Origin successfully manages to use horror and sci-fi to dive into the collective fears that unite all humans, regardless of language.

"I've never seen a show set on a spaceship that also takes you off the spaceship for such a significant chunk of every episode," Watkins says. "I think it's fun to be able to use sci-fi and horror to tap into what the audience really likes, but also combine it with telling stories of so many different genres and different natures because every episode is its own sort of film."

Origin premieres on YouTube Premium on November 14.