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Defiance Preview

Defiance’s Executive Producer Kevin Murphy and Trion’s VP of Development Nathan Richardsson spoke to us reporters to preview Defiance.

Could one or both of you fill us in on how this all started?

Kevin Murphy: I’ll jump in on that. It’s been five years in the making. About five years ago, Dave Howe from Syfy and Lars Butler from Trion got together because Syfy had made a large investment in Trion and they were looking for a project to do together.So they looked through the various properties that, you know that Syfy had in development and they settled on this sort of a world. It took five years of development to get the videogame up and running, which is not unusual for a videogame, as I think many think, you know, can attest. And it took that long to kind of figure out how it would work as a television show. I came on board the project about two years ago and kind of got us over the finish line, in terms of the shared world.And the big idea really was about, “How do we create a big universe with two distinct portals that would allow you to enter that world?” And by creating a new world it gave you sort of an infinite sort of number of permutations of ways to tell stories and ways to find characters.

Nathan Richardson: Yes, also part of it of course is that it’s happening in two different geographical locations so that instead of the problems that you have with licensed games and licensed shows, is that they’re usually restricting each other, so with geographical difference, and also of course selecting the right kind of world and intellectual property that actually fit for both mediums, both parties are actually quite free to tell pretty compelling stories.

Kevin Murphy: Yes, what’s really special about this is that, unlike an adaptation, rather than one intellectual property being iterative of the other, the game and the show are equals. And they’re – and because they were developed together, the mythology is seamless.And whenever there’s something that serves the needs of the game, we work it into the mythology of the show. And if there’s something that’s important for the show, the game works it into their mythology. And that allows for, I think a better gaming experience and a better, hopefully, television viewing experience.

When you – you’re putting all of this together, how do you draw the line or tell where the line is between what’s going to be strictly game focused and what’s actually going to make it off the screen, and then what’s the conversation like in terms of how those two are going to play off of each other?

Kevin Murphy: Well one of the things that we learned early on, that we needed, was a way to keep the mythology of the game and the mythology of the television show up to-date and current because we were having real trouble communicating.Because at Trion they would do a big beautiful bible of everything that was going on in the game, and we would use that as a reference. And we would pull something out and – like some creature or some political figure – and they’d turn out say, “Oh sorry, that’s not it anymore, we took that out.” And they would have the same frustration with us.So we created the position of a mythology coordinator who serves as kind of an editor between what goes into the game and what goes into the television show and helps define connections.     And make sure that there’s nothing we do in the show that contradicts the reality of the game to make sure that when we do an episode with Hell Bugs in the television show, that we’re being accurate as to the biology and what they look like and how they breed and what the various subclasses of Hell Bug are.And that everything that we’re doing is exactly so that when a gamer watches the show, they really have a feeling of recognition that this is the same monster that they’ve been having fun fighting and killing in the game world.Nathan can speak to this too, but that’s really been a big help in terms of keeping everything straight and keeping everything unified.

Nathan Richardson: Yes, I think that the way that this is actually happening is that we have this repository –  the world in its entirety, but it’s also simply talking quite a lot together, to say the least.

Kevin Murphy: Yes, we’re like on the phone like at least like about like 9, 10, 11, 12 times a day.

Can you talk a little bit about the original language created for this show?

Kevin Murphy: Sure, sure. So David Peterson is not only our language creator but he’s also our Cultural Consultant on the show because he really has a mind for that sort of nuance. And from his perspective, you can’t really create a realistic language without knowing a lot about the culture of the language – the language creators.David Peterson, prior to Defiance, is best known for creating the Dothraki language on the HBO series Game of Thrones. And this presented an even bigger challenge to him because the Dothrakis on Game of Thrones are illiterate; they don’t have any written form of their language.We asked them to come and not only create a spoken version of Irathient, but also a written version; a spoken version of Castithan; he’s also done Indogene; and Liberata is a work in process, we don’t use that as much. But at this point, last time I checked, we were at 1,962 Irathient words and counting.And there are complete rules for grammar, syntax, verbs, and irregular verbs; there’s an 150-page orthographic document that he’s created. And along the way there are things he’s created in terms of what our alien cultures are and who they were on their home world that I don’t even completely understand.Like every now and then when he was creating the Irathient language, I would get this weird phone call from David and he’d go, “Is it okay if the Irathient home world sky was kind of red?” “Okay David, sure.” “Great, that’s going to make everything work.” And I had no idea why a red, Irathient sky made the language work but I know that David knows, and that’s what’s important.So any time we have a question about culture… He created the Castithan caste system, which are called liros, and all of that is all in that magnificent brain of his.So that’s really how we do it day-to-day, and Nathan could speak to how they do it in the videogame. But in the show we basically write in English and we put carrots around it and say what it is we want the character to say. David chooses the appropriate language and then makes up the words and the syntax and then adds it to the overall vocabulary. And the languages get bigger and bigger and grander and grander.

Nathan Richardson: Yes I mean the way that we do it in the game itself is essentially not to the same extent. It’s more that we pick up individual, for example, swearing and stuff like that from different languages which add a certain type of flavor to the conversations that are happening in the cinematics in the game itself because obviously you aren’t required to know caste to be able to play the game.

I assume when you buy the actual game that there’s like an endpoint. So if somebody finishes the game right away, how do they still get kind of that crossover content? Can you still play in world or do you got to start over or?

Nathan Richardson: No. I’ll jump in first and say like that, there’s actually a couple of angles to that question and the answer itself, simply because that the game is based on a main storyline, of course, which is telling the story and getting you immersed. But it also has so many other different aspects of the online aspect, which provides much more longevity in game play.What happens there is that we have the crossover elements of course between the show and the game, but there are also live events happening in the game itself when it all continues. So you’re still affecting the world itself, even though the show has actually finished its last episode.I mean what happens essentially in the game is material for actually what would happen on Season Two. So the opportunities, like the number of opportunities that we have to actually work with how we play the game and how we work with Season Two is essentially too many options.

Kevin Murphy: Yes, one of the things that’s really exciting now that we’re going through the process of beginning to think about the shape and form of Season Two, is now that the game is actually up and running and the TV show is up and running, we’re now going to be able to really plan, you know, things for Season Two that we can be setting up because a lot of the game is being created as we go along because it’s constantly changing and there’s new levels and new missions being introduced.So that’s something that, you know, we’re really looking forward to, because as we move forward we’re able to really sort of make the convergence between the two even more – even deeper and more meaningful as we get into a Season Two.

I also wanted to ask  if you can you kind of just talk a bit about how the different designs for the races came about.

Kevin Murphy: Well when we were first figuring out the races for the pilot, we had the initial sort of like idea came from Trion, but then because we had to figure out, okay, we could only have so many races that are CGI just because of the limits of the budget and the limits of technology in terms of acting.So we knew that we were going to have to use flesh and blood actors. So we really had to look at, “What can we do that’s cost-effective?” And some of the decisions about how the aliens look, like for the Irathients, we decided that we would do most of what they do with makeup and we would use a forehead prosthetic.And so that affected the way that Irathients look in the game. Of course in the game you can do anything because it’s an entirely digital domain, but that’s a case of the game sort of cooperating with us.The Castithans, we decided we would settle with contact lenses. And we did a lot of experimentation with makeup to make them glow, but they don’t actually have any latex.The Sensoth and the Liberata are very expensive suits, so we see fewer of those aliens. And the Indogenes are also very expensive because they’re an entire latex head.But we really had to look at, “How do we make it not look like rubber suits?” We looked at sort of like the way that we were painting the latex to make sure that it didn’t shine under stage lights. And all of this had to get sort of reverse engineered into the look of the game. And this is a case where the game was incredibly, you know, they were generous and wonderful teammates in kind of adapting to our needs.On the other hand, one of the other things that we did was we used – we appropriated the Volge from the videogame for the pilot. And they appear in a couple of other episodes.But what we discovered is, when you put them in kind of a photo-realistic environment with, you know, with actual flesh and blood actors, they looked a little too Buck Rogers, they didn’t look grounded.So Gary Hutzel, who was our Visual Effects Supervisor, sort of did some tweaks to the design and then ran it back with the folks at Trion. And happily, the folks at Trion really loved what, you know, what Gary did and so they incorporated those changes into the design of the game.And I think we ended up with something that was better than we would have come up on the TV show on our own, and it was better than the original first pass that Trion had and the gamers as the beneficiary of that sort of cross-pollination of the artists.

Nathan Richardson: This is one example of where these two different mediums and we have something that could work better than either of them, but actually getting better to know each other and going back and forth like that for example with the Volge, it ended up it being a much better result in the end so that was kind of a pleasing surprise for both of us I guess.

Tony Tellado: Hi gentlemen, great to talk to you. Very excited. I wasn’t at the press tour but I was in San Diego where we had breakfast, and that was really neat with the actors and everything, really enjoyed that.I want to ask you, as far as crossover is concerned, how much crossover will there be during the first season from characters in the series into the other city and the other – in the actual game?

Kevin Murphy: There’s a fair bet. I’m going to be a little coy about it because I also don’t want to – I don’t want to lay it all out and create a situation where we have spoilers.

Tony Tellado: Sure.

Kevin Murphy: But we are passing several characters back and forth in both directions. And one of the things that we have to be very careful about is, I like to – if you remember from like old like high school probability class or whatever, where you had the Vin diagram where you would have the two big circles with the intersecting middle.If you imagine that there’s one circle that is – that’s gamers, and another circle which is television viewers, and you look at the point where they intersect, those are sort of our super-fans, our people who are going to immerse themselves completely in the world.And what we want to do is create an amazing experience for all of our immersive super-fans, while at the same time making this enterprise accessible to the people who are just interested in the television show or just interested in playing the game. And hopefully over time we intrigue them and tickle their curiosity and get, you know, them to you know, get a bigger and bigger sample and create more super-fans.But to do that we have to be very, very tricksey (sic) in how we go about creating our crossovers because we have to make sure that when we do a crossover element that the, you know that the one side doesn’t feel that they’ve missed a chapter or they don’t feel frustrated or, “I can’t enjoy this television show if I’m not also playing the game so I’m not going to bother watching the television show.”So like to give you a for-instance, because I think a lot of you have seen the pilot, if you – when Nolan and Irisa get the terra-spire at the beginning of the pilot, they take out a glowing little GEM, which is not really commented upon. Nolan refers to it as a whatchamacallit and – or, “Do you have the whatsit?” And they put it into the terra-spire and that’s what allows them to get the Terrasphere, which is the big deal later in the pilot.If you’re a television viewer, that moment will probably pass by you without incident. But if you’re a gamer, you’re going to have a huge emotional connection for that because that is a big part of a mission in the game that the players will be playing.And that before Irisa crossed from the game into the show, that is – that’s the piece of loot that they – that Nolan and Irisa help (unintelligible) get. And Nolan and Irisa appropriate it from the player at the end of the session before they come into the game.So if you’re a gamer, your reaction to that is going to be like, “Oh my god, those bastards stole that from me. I’m mad about that.” But – and I’ve got this emotional connection to the object so later, when the object gets stolen again from Nolan and Irisa, it’s kind of cool for the gamer. But again for the television viewer it’s not – they don’t feel that they’ve missed a chapter.So we’ve had to be really, really careful at making sure that our crossovers are done in a way that they work on two levels, that they work for (unintelligible) viewer and the super-fan.

Nathan Richardson: Yes, I also think that the crossover simply is a very good descriptive word for it because we literally are crossing over the storyline back and forth between certain elements there.  And it’s important to emphasize that you don’t have to play the game to watch the show. The individual on each side will – won’t be without context for you.

Tony Tellado: Very cool. I think what’s also appealing is the storyline, the father and daughter. Also a Romeo and Juliet kind of storyline, and you know, two families kind of going at each other. And this – just all of that. The planning stage must have taken…

Kevin Murphy:      The father – you mentioned the father and daughter, the inspiration of that – for that was actually one of my favorite movies, is Peter Bogdanovich’s Paper Moon.

Tony Tellado: Cool.

Kevin Murphy: And that’s kind of who I based the Nolan/Irisa relationship on, was Ryan and Tatum O’Neal’s’ characters.

Tony Tellado: That’s really cool. The planning must have taken like months to get all that storyline – all those storylines, kind of probably spending a few nights in the writer’s room getting all that together.

Kevin Murphy: Absolutely. I’m standing on the shoulders of a lot of really, really talented writers and creative people that came before me. And it’s – and it was – it just you know, getting this right was really, really important. And it took – you know, we did not squander the five years it took.

Tony Tellado: That’s great guys. My – so far the character that I like is the doctor. I just love her sarcasm.

Kevin Murphy: I love her. That was – a little bit of story and she was actually the – worked for the Casting Director and she was the person who read the off-camera lines against the people who were auditioning. And she really, really wanted to have a shot at a role. So I said, “Okay, we can read her.”And she went through many, many, many auditions because the network was very dubious. She didn’t really have any credits. She was a newbie, she was unknown, she was the girl who read the casting sides and she really stuck with all the auditions. And I was so proud of her when she got the part.And she is – I agree, I think Trenna is a big standout in the show. And I’m happy.

Tony Tellado: Thank you gentlemen, really appreciate your time.

Special Thanks To The SyFy Channel

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