TV

Shannara isn’t perfect, but gives me hope

Ever since the movie versions of Lord of the Rings appeared, I’ve been living in hope more epic fantasy novels will roar to life onscreen.

I love the LOTR movies so much, will never be tired of them. They represent everything I most love about the fantasy genre (and value in life) — adventure, discovery, magic, heroism, deep friendships… The fantastical world first envisioned by Tolkien is brilliantly brought to life by Peter Jackson and his team in those movies. I wanted (still want) more!

Next came the HBO TV adaptation of Game of Thrones. I was excited by this at first — a whole multi-book series of big fat fantasy in TV serial format. It had me salivating at the prospect. It didn’t matter that I never really liked the first book much, back when I first tried to read it it 1999. A TV series would prove a far more digestible format and save me from reading them…

As it turned out, no. Despite the fact that half a world of non-fantasy enthusiasts have become obsessed with GoT, this lifelong fantasy enthusiast could NOT get into it. I tried. Desperately, I tried. The production values are incredible — brilliant acting, fabulous screenplay, amazing visualisation and representation of GRRM’s imagined world on the screen. For those alone, I resolved to watch it, even if there weren’t any characters I actually liked…

In the end, I couldn’t go the distance. The violence — sexual, psychological and physical — did me in. Like several people I’ve spoken to, I made it up until the point where Joffrey gets killed (huzzah! oops, spoilers) and then gave it away.

So disappointing.

The Hobbit movies came and went. I didn’t hate them — they do have the same amazing artistic production values as LOTR; but the plot is shallow compared with the depth and complexity of LOTR. They cannot compare.

There are so many amazing fantasy stories out there. Books I absolutely adore. How about a super sexy adaptation of Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel series? Or a vivid imagining of Robin Hobb’s Liveship Traders? Or a poignant depiction of Guy Gavriel Kay’s The Lions of Al-Rassan?

They would all make brilliant television.

It often seems, however, to be Young Adult or children’s books that are adapted into movies… Not counting the current trend for YA science fiction movies, I can think of Eragon (fantasy) that was made into a movie… And of course, Harry Potter.

Much as I do love Harry and friends, can we have more adult fantasy adaptations please? Preferably without the excessive violence of GoT?

This all brings me to the Chronicles of Shannara, which is what prompted me to write this post.

I got Netflix last week. (Yes, a bit slow on the uptake, I admit.) I was exploring all the options (where to start? OMG) when I came across the TV series, Chronicles of Shannara, which had been mentioned by a friend of mine, just the week before.

Ha! A new fantasy series on TV! Yesssss.

The Chronicles of Shannara is a recent fantasy TV series based on the “classic” books of Terry Brooks (the first books were published in the 1970s). (Actually, technically it’s not fantasy, being set in a post-apocalyptic earth that has lost all tech, but it feels like fantasy, with elves and magic and stuff.) So I thought I’d check it out.

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I almost didn’t make it past the first episode, which was… pedestrian. Visually it’s quite an attractive and interesting representation of our technological world gone to the vines, but the acting was pretty wooden and the screenplay kind of stilted. Not to mention a derivative plot (which is why I never did read these books).

A couple of things stayed my hand from pressing the stop button — and indeed drew me through the entire 10-part series to the end.

Female main characters — not one, but two. Young women who are enterprising, resourceful, determined, competent, fully clothed (mostly — but discreet nudity is shared among the genders). In this TV series, female characters are not an obligatory afterthought, nor limited to a single main character. At the end of the series it’s these two young women who save the world, through trial, friendship and sacrifice. There’s a guy there who helps a bit.

Quest and adventure — Quest-based fantasy may be considered passe these days, but I still love it. I love exploring new worlds — or in this case a post-apocalyptic north-west America that’s now dominated by elves, trolls and gnomes. And I love the dynamic of a group of characters, finding their inner heroism, struggling to fulfill some sort of mission to save the world.

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Don’t get me wrong, this show is still B-grade on all levels. It will never compare with GoT or LOTR screen adaptations. But it does have a whole lot of heart and a cast of heroic, likeable characters. I would still rather watch that than GoT any day.

What I really want is a TV adaptation of epic fantasy that combines the slick production of GoT with the heart of Shannara. Please?

Musings on secret preview TV viewing versus feedback reading

I’ve done my fair share of reading and providing feedback on short stories and novels over the years. It’s much easier to be objective and analytical about someone else’s work — all in the name of being constructive and helpful, of course.

In such cases you know the author will take onboard some suggestions, discard others, depending on how it aligns with their grand vision or whether there’s consensus. Because everyone is unique, responds to stories differently.

What is clear to one reader will be confusing to another. Plot holes may only be glaringly obvious to a tenth of your audience (although a tenth is probably still too many). Some readers will happily go the journey and trust something will be explained; others have less patience.

Whatever happens, it’s up to the author to revise and play with the words on the page. No one else needs to get involved.

It was recently impressed upon me that it’s not quite so ‘straightforward’ in television and film.

This week I attended a secret preview screening of a new Australian TV mini-series that’s in post production, scheduled to hit local screens later this year. Having signed a non disclosure agreement, I cannot say anything about the show itself. But I can talk about the interesting experience of providing feedback in this very different medium.

The production team had assembled a small group of about 15 people (referred to as ‘civilians’, by which I think they meant non TV industry) and sat us down to watch the first two episodes of a six-part series.

After each episode, we filled out a questionnaire on issues such as pacing, characters, logic, clarity of plot etc. Most of it was exactly the same sort of feedback authors ask for. I was right in my element!

Except, as I filled out my answers, I couldn’t help feeling perturbed by the fact that the scenes had already been shot, with actors. Going through my mind was the recurring question of how much they could actually change at this point?

They emphasised that it wasn’t a final edit, and I’m aware there’s probably tons of footage currently on the cutting room floor. But… what if it’s a story hole and there’s simply no way of fixing it without reshooting some scenes? Or what if it’s just bad acting?

I should say at this point that these thoughts were hypothetical about the industry, rather than specific to the particular show in question. But I certainly wasn’t holding back with my comments (which were mostly positive) or hesitating to make suggestions, just as I would if it were simply words on the page.

Following the questionnaires, an objective facilitator led us in a group discussion for about half an hour, which went much as a group critique of a story does — different people picking up things I hadn’t noticed, or didn’t necessarily agree with. Debating what things meant, what might happen next. All very familiar.

But when you get a group going like that, it’s inevitable they end up ‘rewriting the script’ so to speak (as one participant jokingly said). How do the producers weed out the real value from this type of feedback, when so much of it is obviously not feasible? How do they identify the gold?

I will be really interested to see the final cut of the show when it’s aired later this year, just to see how much it changes. To see how much it can change at such a late phase of production.

The whole experience has given me a new appreciation of the TV and film industry — as in just how many people have an input into the final product. How many instruments need to be tuned before music is made.

It makes the solitary art of fiction writing seem unbearably simple. Although I know it’s NOT — and this is because the author has to effectively play and tune all the instruments herself!

In any case, I’m certainly interested to see the rest of the show… a mere two episodes out of six, kind of sucks.

Let’s talk about choices

Tonight I chose to watch Legally Blond on TV instead of working on my WIP. My plan was, of course, to write during the movie, which I’ve seen multiple times. I’d opened a bottle of wine and decided that a position stretched out on the sofa, laptop on knee, would be far more comfortable than sitting perched at my desk. It had been a hard day at the office, after all. The movie — which I happen to also own on DVD — would be no more than a backdrop to my productive tap tap tapping.

As it turns out, I would have been better served to inject the DVD and watch the movie without advertisements. At least then it would have finished more quickly, leaving more time with the TV switched off for me to resume productivity… Because I did not produce one word during the two hours I sprawled in front of that movie. I watched the entire program avidly, commercials and all.

So… Let’s talk about choices.

I blogged recently about the craziness of having two careers. My conclusion was that I write because I can’t not write, but this is perhaps a convenient perspective. A writer friend of mine has regularly stated on her blog that she will not complain about her crazy schedule because she chooses to live her life this way. That struck a chord in me.

Everything in our lives comes down to choices. Whether or not to run a red light. Or visit our family. Or turn up to work. Or make it to the gym. As writers we become fixated on choices during storytelling. The choices our characters make define the plot — and the characters themselves.

Thus do I choose to write, to have two careers. This decision defines me. I must not complain either.

Sometimes it is hard, however, when one is about to explode from all the activities one has chosen to fit into one’s life, not to scream with the frustration of it all. Right now, for example, I am tearing my hair out trying to determine how to squeeze exercise into my schedule. When every waking minute outside of career #1 is accounted for — currently a combination of working on my WIP, blogging, reading/showing support for other WANA112 participants’ blogs, plus a news and Dr Who TV-dinner allotment of 1.5 hours per day — where is the workout to go?

Again, I have to make a choice.

Which brings me back to tonight’s choice. What possessed me to try to write with Legally Blond on TV? I love that movie! Deep down, I knew when I put it on that my productivity would suffer. (I did, however, manage to squeeze in a half-hour walk before dinner.)

Sometimes the choices are hard, and this is perhaps where discipline comes in. I have previously discussed the whole ‘bum on seat’ concept, and usually, if I make it as far as opening my WIP document, I produce the goods. Thus I am a little bit mad with myself for wasting a writing opportunity this evening.

However, I also recognise that I am currently tired and emotional (for various reasons). I tell myself that, just as we can choose to take on a second career and have a crazy life, so can we also choose to take a break every once in a while.

How about you guys? How often do you cut yourself some slack and give yourself some chill-out time? How closely related are ‘choice’ and ‘discipline’?