Five months ago, I began the journey of AURELIA. It seems like I’ve lived a lifetime since then. From hiring a creative team for the first time, to recruiting actors (many of whom quickly became friends), to traveling to Los Angeles and being featured on a Huffington Post blog to experiencing the ups and downs of a story that went exactly where I thought it would (and nowhere near it at all!) . . . it’s been a whirlwind of a journey.
Along the way, in the spirit of Kelly’s latest post, here are a few things I’ve learned, from a showrunner’s perspective:
1. The world is always deeper.
Whatever I thought I knew about Aurelia from Rise of the Tiger, the Aurelians always found a way to challenge it. Sometimes it was as simple as a really smart question that set me thinking. Those questions often led to clarifications or even adjustments to my personal (or our collective) understanding of the world. At the end of the day, the deeper the world, the more for actors to play with. Don’t be afraid to confront those gaps.
2. Collaboration enhances story.
As writers, it’s so easy for us to be possessive about our worlds, or obsessively anxious about our “intellectual property.” While common sense is always good, I think for most of us it goes too far. The digital age, and digital storytelling thrive on that cheesy acronym TEAM: “Together, Everyone Achieves More.” If you’re not willing to create together, you can’t achieve the “more” that’s waiting.
3. Detours are part of the journey.
As a showrunner, it’s tempting to want to get somewhere . . . fast. The story has to hurry. The actors have to hurry. Everything has to hurry, or we don’t think we’ll make our deadlines. If I learned anything, it was to slow down and let things unfold naturally. Often, in that time, the actors would invent whole new plot lines or take things in a completely different direction. And nine times out of ten, that direction was better than what I had in mind.
4. Characterization is exaggeration.
Aurelia’s best characters weren’t strictly “everyday people.” They were the people who evidenced a particularly exaggerated trait or two that colored their every appearance on stage. Now that I’m going back to my usual writerly “grind,” I’m taking that principle and filtering every character through it. Before, I understood characterization at an intellectual level; now, I’m beginning to understand it from an experiential level–having lived characters and watched them unfold through others.
5. Questions drive storytelling.
At the end of the day, human beings love mystery. The more mysteries you can spin, and foster, the better off your story will be. Not that showrunners (or writers) should invent things superfluously, but if the more you can build organic mystery into your story, the more invested your audience will be as the story unfolds. And as an added tip, I’ve found that questions involving people’s true loyalties (ie: political/social intrigue) are the juiciest, and most polarizing.
And with that, it’s time to wrap up Aurelia. I hardly know what to say at the end of the journey. Except that it’s been phenomenal. Our actors, audience, and partners at Theatrics have been more amazing than I could have ever hoped.
May the City of Aurelia live on, in many more stories, and in our imaginations.
Rise Above, Citizens of Light.
Today I’m pleased to formally announce the development of an Aurelia Bestiary: a compendium of monsters, machines, mutants, and mythic creatures that inhabit the City of Aurelia and her surrounding plains.
This 32-page (comic-sized) volume features creatures from the original novel Rise of the Tiger, new additions from the show Aurelia: Edge of Darkness, and even a few never-before-seen horrors from Aurelia’s deepest, darkest mad science labs! Written as if by Aurelian scientist themselves, the Aurelia Bestiary will include original field notes, poetry, scientific analysis, and other fun tidbits in the style and tone of our infamous world-in-crisis.
Aurelia Bestiary will be released by City Beast Studio, the sequential art and multimedia development cooperative I helm, along with my co-conspirators Terry Reed and Cole Norton. The release date has been set for the end of Aurelia’s current season: October 17th.
This past week, the Daily Steampunk blog reached out to us for an interview about Aurelia. We happily obliged and discussed steampunk’s influence on Aurelia, among other things. It includes contributions from Lisa, Kelly, and the Marketing Director for Theatrics, Nick DeMartino. Read the interview yourself by clicking the image:
Aurelia is, however, a lot like playing chess.
Given the cloak-and-dagger nature of Aurelia, individual plots tend to unfold like a carefully-plotted chess game. Characters have competing—even hidden—motivations. Some actors plan their characters’ stories weeks in advance, while others work out the details as they shoot. All strive to move across the board on their own terms. Yet they must work together and against each other.
In such a checkered landscape, how do Aurelians ever collaborate?
Here are a few of the most popular methods:
1) Video Tagging
The Theatrics platform allows actors to “tag” other actors in their video posts. Many actors use this feature regularly to notify another actor via email that s/he has been mentioned in a video. Often, this is the start to a more extensive series of back-and-forth videos that represent a kind of “subplot” for that actor’s story.
2) Out-Of-Character Dealing
Actors have two easy options to contact each other “back stage” as we call it around Aurelia. The first is through our closed actor Facebook group, which serves as a home for general announcements, out-of-character discussion, and a springboard where actors can find and friend each other for deeper conversations.
The other option is our Public Discussion forum on the Theatrics platform. This feature uses Disqus to power a similar type of interaction to Facebook.
3) Surprise Challenges
In this instance, a character challenges another character to take a particular action without prior notification. For example, in a recent video, noblewoman Eugenia Sphazomai begged scientists, Marius Menchevit and Nicodeamus Barzimon, to shelter her fugitive son. Will the actors behind these scientists choose to take Eugenia’s son into their storyline? Or will their characters refuse to help him? The actress playing Eugenia (and incidentally, her murderer too!) doesn’t know. She awaits her opponents’ next move, so she can plan her future story installments accordingly.
Starting to understand why I compare Aurelia to chess?
In Aurelia, I make a move. You make a move. We ponder our options and make a different move. And suddenly, somehow, we find ourselves moving across the board.
Today, I happily returned to the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design to provide feedback on illustrations-in-progress for upcoming episodes of AURELIA. John Matson and his fantastic pre-college students shared their wide-ranging work and a fresh new vision for Aurelia that will delight our actors and audience in weeks to come.
Over the next week, they’ll be producing concept art, symbology and location designs inspired by the landscape of our fair mountain-bound city. Thanks to instructor and talented professional fantasy illustrator John Matson (whose credits include Magic: The Gathering and Game of Thrones) for coordinating the partnership, offering his students a taste of professional concept design.