Thursday, 28 February 2013

Sir Richard Taylor of Weta Workshop - Triskele Toolbox 3.

….. on the need for good storytelling and the importance of cross media in the future of  publishing.

The man who brought you Narnia, Middle Earth, Skull Island among many, many others is probably one of the best placed people to discuss the issue of cross-media and multi-media storytelling. From his involvement in huge budget Hollywood movies to his passion for cartoon creations to his inspirations for up-to-the-minute computer games … everything he develops now has one eye to the future, and the constantly moving target of taking established stories to new readers in as many formats as available.

Sir Richard Taylor is a man who has his finger well and truly on the button of the future.

He is passionate and totally committed to his craft – and equally as enthusiastic about embracing the challenges and changes facing every writer in the future. He believes the need to diversify is crucial. And that as writers, we have fundamental questions we should be asking ourselves.

Once the book is complete, how can we attract as many new readers as possible? How can we address the huge array of formats available to today’s consumer? How can we attract and keep their attention in a world that seems determined to do its very best to offer as many distractions as possible?

And he is determined that even if we find these opportunities daunting – they are opportunities that we must take.

Even so, he is first to recognise the importance of good, old-fashioned storytelling and the crucial role the author plays in creating the acorn that can develop, with love, patience and endurance, in to a huge, sprawling oak.

Gillian Hamer met him at the Frankfurt Book Fair in October 2012. 

It has been said that Hollywood is more interested in merchandising rather than telling a good story. What do you do that’s different and what do you attribute your success to?

No film-maker ever sets out to do a bad job. And Hollywood certainly is only focussed on success. And film-making is almost a black art. If you actually stopped to think about what it takes to make a movie, you probably wouldn’t make a movie. Because it’s such an intangible and complex process.

Having said that, writing a novel, it’s incomprehensible to me how difficult that must be for an individual to go on that journey alone. But it is an individual pursuit, and it’s almost exclusively the challenge of one person. A film on the scale of a blockbuster feature film, is the collaboration, the rallying, of thousands of people. A human endeavour. Almost unprecedented in any other part of the world’s industries, to bring that content to the screen.

And the Hollywood film-maker has the best possible intention of making content that is going to add gravitas and longevity and celebration in the industry and in the popular culture of the world. Sometimes it doesn’t quite work out that way, but in respect to your question, it all cumulates around Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens, because they are great storytellers. Regardless of their film-making prowess, they make beautiful stories.

In the epic, Peter always finds the intimate. That’s the heart of every great story and great film, and something that is sometimes missed in the great blockbusters. The spectacle films that are made these days, is that in the epic, they continue to show the epic. But of course you go to a movie to form a relationship, you read a book to form a relationship, with a set of characters that you can otherwise not get in your normal life. And that will only happen in the intimate. It will never happen in the epic.

So it doesn’t matter if it’s King Kong or if it’s Frodo, as long as you connect?

Yes, you have to offer a unique character, that we want to go on a journey with. A book, arguably, is even more difficult, because you’ve got to go on a multiple week journey, or however long it takes someone to read a book. Or in my case a very long time! And I need to love and even love to hate that character, because that character has to be that engaging. You know, why did we all love Harry Potter? It’s because we grew to have those people as family members in our lives.

You mentioned earlier cross-media in the Storydrive Conference. Does Weta deal with games and other mediums? And how do you think they enhance the storytelling?

We aspire to be involved in as many of the mediums as possible. We haven’t yet made our own game, although we’ve designed for gamemakers, and we are right now in the infancy of developing our first game around the world of Doctor Grordbort.

In answer to your question, it can only enhance, because any piece of popular culture that keeps you immersed in the universe is critical. The way I visualise it, the fan is a lighthouse and the fan sends a beam out across the ocean. When we were kids – I’m 47 now – when you and I were kids, the number of boats in the ocean was tiny. You know, there was Andy Pandy and Sooty and Sweep, there was Basil Brush and Thunderbirds.

Today the ocean is crowded with boats, and that light beam scans across the ocean and you want the fan to lock on to your boat and stick with it. But of course today you have create a flotilla of boats. You have the main battleship, but then there’s all the other smaller crafts around it, which is the game, the e-book, the graphic novel, augmented reality possibilities, the presentation and so on. All of it trying to capture that tiny beam of interest, and of course once you grab them you’ve got to feed them, because there is a ravenous desire for more content.

Because they can access it anywhere.

And they can access any amount of it. Billions of opportunities, and everyone competing.

Do you think about that when you’re designing or plotting Gollum or a WotWot? Do you think how it’s going to work in the next generation, media, or whatever the new release might be?

Yes. It is critical to. For me, at 47, I get it, and I like to think that I can think that broadly, but I have to turn to the young people and our design team for inspirational advice because popular culture sprouts as weeds through the pavements of the world. You can’t just go out and decide to squeeze popular culture out of your brain; it’s got to evolve through a morphic, complex process of it rising up. And then it reaches somewhere where it engages across the world. And it’s youth culture.

Which is maybe a little bit alien to our generation?

To some degree it is. Although, the day that I don’t get it, is the day that I need to pack it in because it’s as critical that you’re tapped into that as much as possible. Going to ComicCon is a critical thing for someone like me. In those three days you can absorb such an unbelievable richness of popular culture, that otherwise you may travel the world for months and never get it. So you have to be very aware and savvy to what’s happening, and it’s incredibly time-consuming. But it’s a crucial exercise and worth it, very, very worth it.

© Gillian E Hamer – excerpts from Words with Jam magazine Dec 2012.

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