Things Accomplished this Holidays:
*Made one 49 hour film as practice for the 48 hour film contest
*Many hours spent editing school horror film (assemble edit complete, most sound effects in place, some ADR added, colour correcting mostly done. Completing ADR, music, final sound FX to come)
*Sleeping in achieved twice, I think (where sleeping in is defined as staying in bed for more than an hour after one’s usual getting-up time)
*Watched several DVDs/Films – 300, most of QI season 4 (thanks Jenni and Lee), some of The Wire season 2, rewatched V for Vendetta, Underworld…)
*Did much ‘research’ for the 48 (watched the remainder of 2005’s DVDs that we hadn’t seen, watched disc one from last year)
And the one that gets the most attention today,
*Played an excellent game of PTA (Prime Time Adventures – a roleplaying game where the story you’re creating takes the format of a TV show, and you act as writers and ‘actors’ in your creation)
Phoenix (season 2, episode one)
Phoenix is an ongoing game about a small town where a cult coexisted with the town for many years, before withdrawing its children from the local school and becoming more sinister. The first season (of which 3 episodes were played out, the rest only discussed) dealt with the build-up to a confrontation/siege at the cult compound, and how certain children inside the cult, the sheriff, and a local school teacher dealt with the events.
I was an audience member for the final session of season one – the climactic siege at the cult compound. I found the game to be incredibly tense, really moving, and very well acted and constructed. As an audience member I got to frame scenes (players take turns doing this – choosing whether the scene will be plot or character focussed, where it will happen, who will be involved, and what the agenda is), and play occasional NPCs. It’s one the most hard-core gaming experiences I’ve seen, with people deeply in character, whilst simultaneously working together to create a compelling TV structure, knowing that a suitably awesome climax had to be coming, but not knowing what it would be until we got there.
One technique that was oft used was the posing of question after question, to delay the final reveal of what was going on. I loved this – you find the medical file for the sick character – it says he’s currently at Stage 5. You ask the technician what stage 5 is – he tells you that he doesn’t know because he’s never heard of anyone going past stage 4. They’re answers that aren’t really answers. They just make the audience want to find out the next piece of the puzzle.
Working this way allows different people to layer aspects into the mystery or plot, that can be explained later on. When you reach the moment when someone sees a way to connect several pieces of the puzzle in a satisfying way, everyone present gets the sense that there’s something coherent going on, that it all means something, and that informs everything that has already happened. You get to have the audience moment of “ah, that’s what was going on”, enhanced by the authorial satisfaction of “man, all that stuff I put in has really paid off, in a way that is way cooler than I could ever have imagined.”
As you can tell, I was well impressed with the game, and felt like I had really tuned in and was contributing during that episode.
Season 2 was a slightly different experience, as I joined as a cast member/writer for the show. The cult compound had been destroyed, the cult leader arrested at the end of season one. This meant that season 2 was going to have to be a little different in terms of focus.
After 1 hour of recap (what happened last season), and 1 hour of prep (what do we want to see this season, how have things changed), we started the episode. I was playing a doctor who had adopted one of the cult children (Saul, played by Luke).
I have much I could say about the experience, but I suspect other people will be talking about it over on NZRaG, so I’ll finish briefly here.
The game was cool. We hadn’t planned out much of what would happen in season 2 (we had a general feel, some issues to kick around, and a set-up), so the first few scenes were tentative, exploratory ones. And they were awesome. Debbie’s character wagging her first day of school to go to the ruins of the compound and mourn for her dead boyfriend (whom she accidentally shot at the end of season one) was incredibly chilling. Morgue’s character Boyd, a teacher, being confident and in charge at school was a refreshing contrast to his doubt and uncertainty in season one. Saul, the 8-year-old protégé of the cult interacting with adults as if he were one of them continued to be creepy, and the sheriff Molly struggling with her new fame as a Hero Cop, and with the responsibility of being Debbie’s character’s guardian, was fantastic to watch.
Best thing? The show keeps on surprising me. We talked about aspects of the show in advance, but it keeps coming out of left field with powerful ideas and unexpected revelations about characters.
The other best thing? My character fit into the show well, and despite the intimidation factor of joining such an awesome game, it all went well.
More Phoenix is planned for next month, and I can’t wait.