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David's Essays

A collection of David's thoughts, musings, and writings that didn't really fit anywhere else...so we collected them all and put them here for you to peruse at your leisure! 

July 2013 Honor Harrington Movie Update

  • Series: General
  • Date: July 31, 2013

So, Sharon and I got back from LA late Thursday night, and very glad to get home, we were, given how worn out we were (and how badly we need missed the kids  ). The trip was absolutely, totally, completely worthwhile, though. We spent three solid days meeting with the folks at Evergreen Films on the Honorverse movie project, and it was as exciting as it was exhausting. (If you want a better feel for exactly who Evergreen is, I invite you to go take a look athttp://www.evergreenfilms.com. I know I was impressed when I did.) J

We’re still at a very early stage of creating the imagery for the movie, and Evergreen needs to consider the fact that to make a movie a financial success requires expanding viewership well beyond the fandom base even of a series which has been ongoing as long as the Honorverse has. At the same time, they’re very respectful of the existing fans, for several reasons. One of them happens to be that Mike Devlin, Evergreen’s CEO, is himself a major Honor fan, which has a lot to do with why Evergreen snapped up the rights to the project. I’ve had a lot of talks with Mike, and I think he truly understands Honor’s character, the personal relationships which are critical to who and what she is, and the importance of characters, background, and — for want of a better term — texture to good storytelling. Although Evergreen is very much cutting edge in CGI and 3D technology, in the opinions of the people we just spent a week talking to, all of the geewhiz special effects take second place behind the need to tell as compelling and absorbing a story as possible. (Not that they don’t have some really neat geewhiz stuff. Part of it is a proprietary software system — they call it the “prototyper” — that duplicates actors, sets, camera angles, and lighting before they ever shoot the actual scene. Essentially, they can produce a “dry run” on screen before production even takes place, tracking every actor, every camera, every lighting angle, every lightingvalue, etc. The only other folks who have anything even remotely similar at this point are James Cameron and George Lucas, and Evergreen’s is newer and takes advantage of intervening advances. What I’m trying to say here is that it’s really, really cool.  )

Inevitably, at such an early stage, we’re still feeling our way in several aspects of the entire project, but a very coherent skeleton is already emerging. One part of that skeleton is Evergreen’s strong desire to have me involved and to have my input integrated into their thinking as broadly as possible. It doesn’t mean that I’m going to have creative control of the project, which only makes sense, since it’s a medium quite different from the one in which I normally work. It does mean that they are showing me art, asking for my opinion of it, asking for my input on how it might be changed or improved, discussing character mixes, how best to show the interaction between characters — especially Honor and Nimitz — and where and how to begin the first of what they hope will be several movies. There are so many books in the Honorverse, and so much historical background both inside and outside of Honor’s personal experience, that a moviemaker has a really broad canvas to work from, and Evergreen wants to maintain that feel of . . . spaciousness, perhaps, in the movies, as well. That offers us some options that a standalone book adaptation wouldn’t have, but it also offers the potential for pitfalls if we aren’t careful, and everyone at Evergreen seems determined to avoid the aforesaid pitfalls.

For those of you who have been wondering, we’ll be beginning withHonor of the Queen, not On Basilisk Station. There are some solid reasons for that, and I came down in favor of that decision well before Evergreen finally made up its mind which starting point to choose. I love OBS, but the nature of the tension between Honor and her crew in that book, the way in which her command style wins the crew over, and the basis for the conflict between her and Klaus Hauptman, the politics behind Basilisk Station being regarded as the RMN’s dumping grounds, and the nature of the Havenite threat in that book all make it much more problematic, in my opinion, as the basis for a standalone movie. Going with HotQ (probably with at least some flashback toOBS) gives us a story line and a conflict which will be much easier and “cleaner” to set up in a medium which doesn’t allow the amount of narrative explanation which can be achieved in a novel.

There’s general agreement at Evergreen (which I share) that certain aspects of the visual imagery are going to be especially critical, and Patrick Tatopolous (who’s worked on “Stargate,” “Underworld,” and “I, Robot,” among other projects), who’s been chosen as Art Director, has that firmly in the front of his mind, as does Scott Kroopf, Evergreen’s chief creative officer. Scott’s executive produced or produced over 80 movies, including “The Chronicles of Riddick,” “Pitch Black,” and “The Last Samurai,” which gives him an interesting breadth of experience, I think.  

Frankly, the number one issue is going to be bringing Nimitz to the screen and integrating his relationship with Honor into the screenplay in a way which will allow people not already familiar with the books to recognize that Nimitz is far more than simply a pet. I’m sure nobody will be surprised to learn that the “Evergreen Nimitz” isn’t going to look exactly like anything we’ve already seen in print. Partly, that’s because Evergreen is going to be able to do things in terms of modeling musculature, skeleton, facial expression, the movement of ears, etc., that simply can’t be done by a cover artist. Partly it’s because movies are such an intensely visual environment that they almost have to do more in developing the treecats’ physical appearance because of how long he’s going to be on-screen and how critical his relationship with Honor actually is. One consequence of that is that Nimitz will almost certainly spend less time on Honor’s shoulder than he does in the books. There are several reasons for that, including the fact that without the internal POV a writer can inject into a novel, a lot more about understanding the relationship between characters — especially when one of them is incapable of speech — is going to require much greater visual cueing, and having Nimitz spend more time moving on his own will probably help to defuse any perceptions that he’s a dependent appendage of Honor. Readers already know that he’s a capable, fully sapient character because of the time they’ve spent “inside Honor’s head,” but that’s going to have to be communicated to movie viewers who lack that advantage from external, visual cues. 

Another factor, of course, is that combining a CGI Nimitz with a live actor Honor as a passenger on her shoulder presents both technical challenges and a lot greater opportunity for failure of the viewers’ ability to suspend disbelief. I don’t think we’ve quite hit the exact Nimitz we want to use at this stage, but the truth is that it would be astounding if we had. I do think we’re headed very much in the right direction, however, and developing the nature of the relationship between the Nimitz and Honor of the movie will be a bit tricky. No one’s going to play fast and loose with the chronology of that relationship — that is, no one’s contemplating anything which would alter or undercut the transformational change which occurs in the assassination attempt at Protector’s Palace — but it’s going to be necessary to clearly establish for a newcomer that Honor and Nimitz were already exchanging information on complex, cognitive levels before that event. In the books, Honor knows that Nimitz understands Standard English quite well and we have examples of his responding to questions from her with clear yes, no, or maybe gestures. That aspect of their ability to communicate will probably be punched up somewhat in early scenes to underscore it for those who have not read the novels.

Another point that established fans are going to have to deal with will undoubtedly be the physical appearance of the ships. The Honorverse ships which have appeared in the books in prose description, and the illustrations BuNine produced for House of Steel, etc., were designed around a particular set of constraints imposed by the physics of the Honorverse. This tended to produce nearly identical hull forms, much as the constraints imposed by, say, Atlantic sea conditions impose nearly identical hull forms on wet-navy warships which all use the same system of propulsion. One of the problems with shifting from a literary to a primarily visual storytelling medium, however, is that the viewer needs to be able to distinguish between ships — and especially between the navies those ships belong to — from purely visual cues. Moreover, viewers need to be able to do that from very brief glimpses of those ships. If a scene shows the exterior of a cruiser for no more than a second or two, the distinguishing cues between a Manticoran and a Peep heavy cruiser need to be sufficient to register on the audience. Perhaps the best way to put it would be to say that the navies need to be plainly “branded” enough for the movie audience to keep track of them.

Because of this, there’s going to be a significant degree of “reimagining” the ships, although I think I can guarantee that the redesign process won’t step on the established physics of the Honorverse. We had a conference which lasted just over an hour with Patrick, Mike, Scott, Richard Browne (Evergreen’s Executive VP for Gaming and Interactive), and me — and in which Tom Pope participated via videoconferencing from the perspective of all the work BuNine’s done on the Honorverse — which gives me quite a bit of confidence at this point. I don’t say that the final product is going to be something which would have occurred to me on my own, because it won’t, but the nature of a movie is collaborative, and the people Evergreen’s bringing in to deal with this aspect of the project are far better versed than I am on its graphics/visual aspect.

In addition to the movie itself, Evergreen is planning a cross-platform approach to the Honorverse as a whole. The intention is to produce a franchise which is deep enough and broad enough to sustain multiple movies, which is one of the considerations that makes the broadening of the fan base a primary consideration. At the moment, we’re looking at a graphic novel, to be produced by Top Cow Production, which will be very strongly based on the existing novels. In addition, there will be an iOS/Android game, developed by Idol Minds in Colorado, scheduled for early 2014, which will not seek to be a comprehensive presentation of the Honorverse. Instead, its function will be to provide something which is relatively quick-playing (but with enough challenges to make it interesting) and is intended to give people who never heard of Honor Harrington or the Honorverse a “once over lightly” introduction to them. At a later stage, a game designed around storylines set in the context of the novels, although not re-creating any specific aspects or scenes of those novels, will be introduced. By then we should be well into the finalized graphics for the movie, which will provide a deeper and more complex gaming environment which will also do a much better job of allowing the gamer to experience the Honorverse more fully.

The graphic novel — “Tales of Honor” — will be written by Matt Hawkins of Top Cow with significant editorial input from your humble servant. Matt and I have had a couple of conferences now, and I’m feeling about as confident as anyone can before words are actually on paper that we’re very much on the same page. I think I’ve come up with a very good “window” into Honor’s story that’s going to work well both with the story of the novels and with Matt’s storytelling style. The artist who’s been proposed for the project does beautiful work, although I haven’t yet seen any examples of how he handles the sort of technology-heavy environment which is going to be so much a part of the Honorverse. If he does half as well with that as he’s done with the aspects of his work I have seen, however, this is going to be a very, very satisfying visual experience. Season 1 of the graphic novel will be released in “traditional” format by Top Cow in January 2014 with the digital comic released through Comixology. Season 2 would be scheduled for July-November 2014, Season 3 for a January-May 2015 schedule, and with ongoing expansion beyond that as we get closer to (and possibly following) the movie release date.

There are still some questions which are unresolved at this point — which, again, I emphasize is a very early stage in the creative process. For example, will there be webisodes? Will there be a fully developed console-style game coordinated with the movie’s actual release? How are we going to structure the supporting website? One thing that does seem likely is that I’ll be producing some additional, original fiction for the website and that we’ll be developing our own wiki-style site with a layered approach that will allow the newcomer to skim once over lightly and those who are interested in more detail to explore more deeply.

Evergreen will be attending Honorcon this November, at which time they’ll be prepared to present a quick \"script teasers/where we stand\" panel, along with “work in progress” artwork for sets, costumes, etc.; work in progress on the graphic novel; a preview of the initial iOS/Android game; and a preview of the Honor Harrington movie site. They’ll also be there for the specific purpose of soliciting fan input, so if you want to get your two cents worth in, Greenville would be a good place to be in November. J  

For those of you who are interested, Scott, Alison Haskovec (Evergreen’s VP for Development), and I did an interview with D6 Generation which will be the basis for one of their podcasts sometime Real Soon Now. Between this and that interview, I think you’ll be fairly well brought up to date on where we are on this at the moment.

As I say, I’m excited. Every author has to feel some trepidation when someone suggests turning his book(s) into a movie, but in this case trepidation very much takes an extreme backseat to the enthusiasm I’m feeling right now.