Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Now what?

I'm never as interested in what I'm doing now, as I am in what I'm doing next.

Now that I have finished Les Voyages Fantastique, I'm on the lookout for my next creative project. I took out my notebooks and determined that I have 53 ideas I would like to pursue.
It might seem like a lot, but it's pretty easy to narrow these things down. In the years that I've been making lists of projects my tastes have changed, my style has refined, my interests at this time have a particular leaning and my current working conditions make some projects more do-able than others.
I've narrowed it down to about a half a dozen projects I'm really interested in, and one that particularly strikes my fancy is a project I started a couple of years ago - Flash Gordon.
When I performed King Kong as a storytelling show, I presented it as a ninety-minute story and as a three-part serial. After that I wanted to do a longer serial, and since I love of old-timey science fiction, I decided to start work on Flash Gordon.
I worked out the first episode, but then I got busy with other projects and just left poor Flash to languish until someone booked him.
Well, time's have changed: my POV is much more focused, my style is more mature and I have a my own monthly venue where I get to perform whatever my heart desires.

Flash Gordon comes with his own challenges, firstly is setting. Not the physical setting, that's the planet Mongo, but the temporal setting. And not just the temporal setting of the story, but the temporal style of the writing. You can only guess what the future is like based on the present.

Case in point, a different Buster Crabbe serial, Buck Rogers: Buck and his buddy Buddy wake up in the 25th century. Dr. Huer verifies their story by looking it up in a book. In 1939 when the serial was developed there was no such thing as a computer, let alone an interconnected network of computers containing every bit of data, so the writers could imagine things like teleportation and inter-planetary travel, but not something really far-fetched like the digitization of personal data.
Or, in the 1956 movie Forbidden Planet, Leslie Nielson and his crew fly to Altair IV in a faster-than-light vessel, but when Nielsen addressed his crew, he did so by talking into a big microphone with a long cord. A radio that transmits to a ship flying faster than radio waves is imaginable, but a hand-held wireless microphone just simply didn't occur to the writers.

So, I want to portray the story as if it was told in a different time period. In the 1930s there were no man-carrying rockets, heck the only rockets didn't even look like rockets as we know them. The only flying machines anyone might have even a passing notion of was an aeroplane (not even an airplane, an aeroplane).
Things like this were just guessed at, and that is what makes it so gosh-darn charming.

In addition to the temporal style of the telling, there's an aesthetic quality that I need to take into consideration as well. I talked a bit about this when I covered the development of LVF, there's a "look and feel" that applies when a story is told.
Sometimes you can throw this to the wind for affect - when I tell the story Cobweb Christmas, it's obviously an old-world setting, but when Father Christmas sneaks into Tante's house late at night, I describe the TV as going "ssssshhhhhhhh" which is so out of place that it's jarring, but anyone who grew up in the world before 24 hour cable TV laughs out-loud.

For look and feel I'm toying with three different ideas, each one brings it's own temporal setting:

The classic 1930s serial - sparkler-spouting rockets, lots of fisticuffs, and every scientific device has a Jacob's ladder sticking out of the top.
1980s plastic toy setting - big, colorful spaceships, chunky ray guns, TV screens and big, clunky computers - think Buzz Lightyear.
19th century - Jules Verney, HG Wellsy. Imagine the original illustrations from War of the Worlds, and 20000 Leagues Under the Sea - big clanky machines with lots of rivets (remember, welding wasn't used on a wide scale at that time), rocket pistols and the mysterious power of electricity. Again, the attempt is to portray the story as written in the period, not in retrospect. In the book the Nautilus is plain and cigar-shaped, not at all like the cool Disney version.

With all that in mind, I must also remark that I'm honestly not interested in doing science fiction, I'm more interested in what they call "Sword and Planet" - not so much science as romantic high adventure - which is really what I'm all about.

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