Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Safe Harbors Update

So many of you have been asking me... and it's true—work has finally resumed on Safe Harbors, my 90% CGI feature film. Part of what's taken so long is crafting a backstory with enough layers so as not be cliché, but not brainy and convoluted for its own sake. Maybe one month I'll come up with a great idea, something to add to the layers of the onion to peel back as a major plot reveal, then many months later come up with another cool reversal that adds more texture and unpredictability. Add, subtract, add, subtract, add, subtract. I'm confident the end result will be compelling.

It's helped a lot to listen to Ron Moore's writer room podcasts behind Battlestar: Galactica about Season 3 where you get a glimpse of how one of TV's best sci-fi shows is hammered together one episode at a time. Frankly, I was shocked to discover Moore had such a vague idea of where BSG was ultimately headed. The way I see it, you have to know a little more clearly where you're going than that. But I'm not Ron Moore. Yet.

The plain truth of it is that Safe Harbors' rich setting can generate enough story material to spit out a TV pilot, a series and a major motion picture (or three). So the scope of the backstory, covering hundred of years, was so vast that I couldn't get my head around it. I needed a visual aid, some way to see when events happened and how they affected later events on the timeline.

Our world consists of patterns: scientists uncover the patterns hidden in nature or throughout history and artists create patterns in a story for a viewer to uncover. The best artists forge patterns as precise replicas of patterns found in nature, either resonating some inner truth (the metaphysical) or some outer truth (the physical).

In order to create a story, a real story that's convincing enough to let your characters roam around in, you need to create a realistic history. In my case, quite literally—I needed to create a historical timeline for my false universe. So I found a way to create a mutable timeline in Excel to tinker with dates, moving entire sections of the story forward or back in time as needed. At left is an actual closeup of a part of my timeline, though I've excised the identifying bits so you can relish them later...

Robert Heinlein created an interesting sci-fi universe by writing one story at a time over his career. Heinlein advanced each story slightly ahead in time of his previous story so that he could refer to characters from previous stories, which elevated his individual stories into parts of a much larger whole. While he may not have intended it, his short stories were eventually compiled into a Future Histories book.

Here, check out my Excel spreadsheet timeline:

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