ILLUMINAGENTS: Saving The World, And The Truth, By Stopping One Conspiracy Theory at A Time

Chris Hadley
12 min readJan 19, 2024

In a culture where most rational citizens generally agree that Earth is round, Elvis Presley is dead, the 1969 Apollo 11 moon landing was real and that “alternative facts” clearly mean lies, it’s perplexing that some individuals become attracted to conspiracy theories about those aforementioned truths. With the Internet giving a massive audience to such theories, people who try to disprove them — both in cyberspace and in real life — are consistently disbelieved.

Though it’s still up to individual experts and former believers of conspiracies to help bring the brainwashed back to common sense in the real world, the bizarre convictions of so-called “truthers” are also excellent fodder for comedy, and the award-winning web series Illuminagents combines an amusing but never condescending peek at popular conspiracy theories (Flat Earth, chemtrails, the allegedly studio-filmed achievement of man’s historic first steps on the moon, etc.) with the bickering “buddy cop” dynamic inherent in movies like Lethal Weapon, Rush Hour and the Owen Wilson-Ben Stiller theatrical reboot of ’70s primetime TV hit Starsky and Hutch.

Created, written and directed by Herman Wang (The Spell Tutor), and streaming its full first season on web series platform Seeka TV (link below), Illuminagents’ funny storylines involve the perilous yet hilarious probes of dangerous conspiracy theories by the mismatched team of old-school yet frazzled Agent Nasmith Jones (portrayed in the series’ pilot episode by Werner Artinger, with Daryl Marks playing the character in the remainder of Illuminagents’ six episode first season) and his younger yet inexperienced colleague, Agent Nara Mason (Christina Leonard).

L-R: ILLUMINAGENTS co-stars Christina Leonard (as Agent Mason) and Daryl Marks (as Agent Jones).

Despite the multi-generational divide between them, Jones and Mason are hired by a covert firm called “The Organization” to halt the contagious spread of ill-informed hypotheses about everything from currency to climate change. Yet as their missions progress in the field, they’re threatened by nefarious saboteurs who are bent on convincing society that everything they’ve ever believed is nothing to be believed, and their confrontation in the show’s season finale — a rousing musical episode dubbed “Wiretap Dancing” — is a rhythmic showdown that’s bound to put a song or two in the hearts of viewers. (A link to the episode’s soundtrack on Bandcamp is also at the end of this article).

Concluding each episode of Illuminagents is a series of explanatory animated debriefings (“Learning Modules”, narrated by The Spell Tutor’s Lawrene Denkers) that break down the basics of Jones and Mason’s investigations. With more wacky conspiracies to be tracked by that pair in the show’s second season (which as of this writing is set for a late 2024 premiere), Wang recently looked back on Illuminagents’ remarkable streak of honors from international web series festivals, how every episode pokes fun at the world’s tin foil hat wearers and their views in a deceptively straight-forward way, and how the acclaimed comedy is making believers out of its fans.

Chris Hadley: What inspired you to create this series?

Herman Wang (creator/writer/director, Illuminagents): In 2018, my production company had just wrapped on The Spell Tutor. While the final season was going through its festival run, I started thinking about what I wanted to do next. I was excited to start an original property with what I’d learned from doing this series, and I’ve always felt more passionate about science fiction than fantasy. At the time, Flat Earthers were a hot topic on social media. There were certain things I felt needed to be said about conspiracy theories in general, but I didn’t think that doing so with the usual fact-checking rebuttals would be effective.

That’s where the idea for Illuminagents came in, (using) sort of a reverse psychology approach to the topic: treat the conspiracies as real, take them all the way to their logical extent and use that as a basis for comedy. It was a perfect premise for the web series format as well — short episodes, one conspiracy per episode, and achievable on a low budget.

CH: Since the show is based around two agents — Mason (played by Christina Leonard) and Jones (played by Werner Artinger in the pilot episode, then by Daryl Marks) — who are tasked with protecting the world from dangerous yet popular conspiracy theories, which of those theories inspired the stories for each episode and how did you go about respectably portraying them in all 6 episodes?

HW: The writing guideline for the show was that we would only use conspiracies that exist in the real world. There was really no point in making stuff up when a goldmine of material is already out there, plus part of the whole point (of the show) is to get people thinking about these conspiracies and what’s behind them.

Given that, of course the pilot had to cover Flat Earth (and) there was no getting around that. Others were chosen for either how well-known they were (e.g. fake moon landing, chemtrails) or how richly they could be used for comedy (e.g. fake Australia), or some combination of both. I have a list of over 30 others that are waiting to be used for future seasons.

CH: How was the series developed?

HW: I prefer a short development cycle, (working under an) absolutely minimal time (frame). I feel (that cycle is) one of the key differences that web series have from TV; just get the thing going, don’t let it stagnate in development. For Illuminagents, there are only two main characters. I just made sure they were an “odd couple” pairing to create situational tension that could be harnessed for stories: thus, the older, burnt-out veteran and the younger, eager-puppy trainee.

I also wanted to combine multiple storytelling formats: firstly, the traditional narrative action style that’s standard for fiction. Second, I wanted to have vlog entries. Newer audiences are accustomed to them, and it lets you do things that aren’t as easy with narrative, like exposition and inner monologues.

Third, I wanted the motion graphic animated sections — they’re a throwback to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and the fabulous work of (legendary science fiction author) Douglas Adams. They allow for unique gags and let the show explore just how much would be required to pull off these conspiracies.

CH: In what ways is it similar to/unique from other sci-fi comedy web series?

HW: I remember once someone accused us of being a ripoff of the Netflix series Inside Job, but our pilot was released two years before theirs, so there’s that. My preferred comedic writing style consists of understated, wry humor, which I don’t see in a lot of today’s TV writing. There seems to be a stronger trend towards wacky (and) campy stuff, so our series is unique in that respect. One of the reasons I write is to create the kind of things that I don’t get to see on TV.

CH: How did you find the show’s cast?

HW: We started the usual way, through an online casting post. The first Agent Jones actor we cast actually had to pull out shortly before shooting began for the pilot, so I sent Werner a message as we had worked on The Spell Tutor before and I knew he could pull it off on short notice.

Several years later, the time came for shooting the rest of the season and Werner let me know that he had to withdraw, so I started looking back through other actors who had applied and found Daryl. We had several mutual friends and after some consultation, he was invited to come on board.

As for Christina, when she expressed interest in the role, I told her she could have it, no audition required. She had also worked on The Spell Tutor in a guest role, and I thought she was a perfect fit for Agent Mason. Lawrene Denkers was yet a third Spell Tutor alumnus (as Professor Caltain), who was invited to do the voiceover for the Learning Modules. She didn’t put on her Irish accent, of course, but she’s an important element in the fabric of the series.

CH: What was the production process like for each episode?

HW: The pilot was fairly easy to shoot; it was a five-page script with only a few simple locations. We finished shooting (it) in a few days and released it in late 2019. We planned to go from there to pitching and then prepping for a full season, unaware (that) the pandemic was looming on the horizon. Obviously, when that happened, things were put on hold for several years.

I took advantage of that time to do a lot of pre-production on episodes 2 through 6 of the first season. I wrote scripts and completed the Learning Module animations since that could all be accomplished via remote teamwork. I was also fortunate to be able to invest some savings so that by 2022 when we were ready to step back into limited production, we could finance it ourselves.

Shooting took about 8 days spread out over the Spring and Summer and season 1 was ready by November that year. We held a big team-only screening party at my favorite pub to mark the occasion!

CH: The season 1 finale, “Wiretap Dancing”, was a hilarious and spectacular musical episode. Discuss the production process for that episode, including for the original songs written for it and performed by the show’s cast.

HW: I’m glad you enjoyed it! I’d never gotten to do a musical episode during The Spell Tutor because the pieces just didn’t fall into place the right way, so I was happy when we managed to get things to work out for Illuminagents.

I wanted the audio production not to be overdone for this. I’ve seen musical episodes where the music is produced like a radio-ready recording and the audience is supposed to believe this is what it sounds like in an outdoor setting. It always strikes me as highly artificial and takes me out of the moment, and I wanted to avoid that for our episode. So as much as possible, the audio production is designed to sound more natural. When it came to the Bandcamp soundtrack version, though, we did apply extra audio polishing so that it fits in better with a standard music library.

(Making this episode involved) a very different process from (that of) normal shooting. I had to write the songs and prep demo versions for the cast to rehearse with right at the beginning of pre-production. We also spent a few days at a recording studio during the winter months, when we don’t normally plan shoots anyway. All this was so that we could have finished audio recordings ready for the shoot date. We played them on a portable speaker and the cast lip-synced along to them during filming. It was much more like shooting a music video than a narrative episode. Even the way we put the visuals together was done more like a music video.

CH: At the end of all 6 episodes, we get a narrated explanation of each mission (called “Learning Modules”) and of how those missions tie into the secretive group (known as “The Organization”) that employs the two investigators. Describe how those sequences were researched and produced.

HW: I like to joke that we did research the way conspiracy theories are researched: we used the stuff that supported the gags we wanted to do, and disregarded the rest. There’s a surprising amount of conflicting information on any given conspiracy. It seems like it doesn’t take much for the theorists to turn on each other, so it was more an exercise in taking the stuff that I could use to get the best laughs.

Lawrene told me once that she had been rehearsing the Modules at home a few days before the season 1 recording session, and after a while, her husband came into the room and said “what the hell are you reading?” That’s the kind of reaction I’m looking for!

As for the motion graphic animations, that was illustrated by the team’s designer Mike Morton, who’s done all the graphic work for the series, and animated by me. The feel of it is deliberately primitive compared to the slick designs you see in things like superhero movies. The idea was to convey that the organization at the heart of the series isn’t really on top of everything; they’re kind of dysfunctional, like any large group of humans tends to become over time.

CH: After the show’s pilot episode was produced and released on independent web series streaming platform Seeka TV, you raised funds to produce five more episodes for its first season. How did those funds, as well as the distribution and promotional support provided to you and the show by Seeka, help to improve the series’ production quality and audience reach?

HW: Once we’d decided to fund the first season ourselves, it freed us up to make creative decisions rapidly. For me, that’s another advantage of web series versus television: the agility to get things done without dealing with a hierarchy of executives. Also, we had already decided to work with a minimal-size crew, for pandemic safety reasons, so that helped us save on overall costs.

There were times when the crew was only three people, including myself. We lucked out a few times finding great shooting locations. Specifically I’m thinking of the “control room” in the chemtrail episode which was a pre-made set we rented, and the “UFO” of the alien abduction episode, which was a studio that we had some extra time to decorate. Sometimes it’s just a matter of seizing opportunities that present themselves.

Seeka TV has been a good platform for us, partly because the way it’s structured lets you watch the series without having to jump through a lot of hoops. Sometimes people will balk at even having to create a new account before watching. But with Seeka, a few clicks and you’re watching episodes right away.

Award-winning creator of ILLUMINAGENTS, Herman Wang, holding the trophy for “Best Writing, Narrative Series” awarded to the series by the 2023 New Zealand Web Fest.

CH: Since its debut, Illuminagents has both won and been nominated for numerous awards from international web series festivals. In what ways have those honors helped to boost the show’s profile in the web series community, and how has this success benefitted both you and the series’ cast and crew?

HW: The team is proud to have finished the year at the #7 position in the Web Series World Cup (an international competition that ranks the most award-winning web series each year according to festival results), especially since many of the top ten series are much larger productions than ours. We’ve held our ground amidst some formidable competition. I’m hoping this shows creators that you don’t have to have a huge budget to experience success in the web series world, just a solid idea and a passionate team.

I’m also happy that our two leads, Christina and Daryl, garnered a total of seven Best Acting nominations between them (including from the 2023 New Jersey, Baltimore and Rio Web Fests, and the 2023 British Web Awards). It’s a worthy recognition of their talents. There’s a strong feeling of community at many of the web series festivals. Some of the people I’ve met there I now consider to be friends and peers, which I’m sure will lead to some interesting opportunities and collaborations.

CH: Overall, what are your hopes for the show’s success, and what do you hope viewers take away from watching it?

HW: Primarily, I’m hoping people are just entertained by it. It’s meant to be silly and absurd, just short riffs with some drama and humor. On a secondary level, I hope this gets people thinking in some way about how conspiracy-type thinking has a big effect on social discourse and the way we relate to each other.

Watch all six episodes of Illuminagents on Seeka TV:

For more info on Illuminagents, check out its web site:

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Hear the soundtrack for Illuminagents’ season 1 finale (“Wiretap Dancing”) here:

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Chris Hadley

Writer, @SnobbyRobot, @FSMOnlineMag, Writer/Creator, @LateLateNewsTV