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AH On Screen: Wider Acceptance or Latest Fad?

Tabac Iberez

Impetious
Published by SLP
#21
My big issue with onscreen Alternate History is that a screen presence demands a narrative- something you don't often get with AH. Once you have narrative, you then need a story to tell if you're telling a more conventional story (if you aren't then accusations of making propoganda, or worse, documentaries, start flying) and then you start running into the devil of genre conventions. At this point, the alternate history has dropped from the focal point to being a setting, and from there who cares when a few corners get shaved? It's a setting, and building a setting is damn expensive when you're buying props and building sets. Try and bring the alternate history back into focus, though, and you can start losing the character that really draws the audiences in.
 
#22
My big issue with onscreen Alternate History is that a screen presence demands a narrative- something you don't often get with AH. Once you have narrative, you then need a story to tell if you're telling a more conventional story (if you aren't then accusations of making propoganda, or worse, documentaries, start flying) and then you start running into the devil of genre conventions. At this point, the alternate history has dropped from the focal point to being a setting, and from there who cares when a few corners get shaved? It's a setting, and building a setting is damn expensive when you're buying props and building sets. Try and bring the alternate history back into focus, though, and you can start losing the character that really draws the audiences in.
I've always contended that there are three elements to telling an AH story: the setting, the characters, and the plot. Or, if you prefer, the "where it happens, who it happens to, and what happens." It can be an issue in AH that writers focus on explaining the setting, and how this particular setting is different from OTL, and sometimes the story gets neglected.

Those who have read my stuff will know that I suffer from the other end of the issue; I focus on the characters and the story, and the AH gets revealed - and sometimes neglected - as a consequence of the story. I've always taken the view that, first and foremost, an AH story is a story.

When thinking about building a setting for the screen, and the costs of buying props and building sets for the AH setting in question, I suspect (without any actual experience, I might add) that one needs to look at costings in a manner similar to that of producing a non-contemporary setting. One example might be the conversion of Terry Pratchett's Going Postal from book to film. Leaving aside how well or otherwise the conversion works, we see a version of the Clacks, golems, and a myriad of little snippets that told us on-screen that this was not simply a Victorian setting.

Going to on-screen costs. I can write an AH story involving an airborne assault involving thousands of airships parachuting 100,000 men to grab key-points to break the deadlock of the trenches of the Western Front in WWI, and let the reader's imagination fill in the details. I suspect it might prove prohibitively expensive to film the shot of thousands of airships rising into the air and settling into their formation as the Heroes set off for the Market Garden like attempt.

Different audiences self-evidently want different things. Not long ago, I wrote a vignette for the monthly challenge. It had no characters, no narrative story, nothing except an exposition in the traditional format of book and newspaper clippings of an event; simply, it was detailing a consequence stream from the premise that bad weather kept Japanese planes from Force Z near Singapore. It proved popular on this forum, because this forum is - almost by definition - interested in consequence streams. Outside of this forum, in the wider world of the generally interested reader (who, if you say "Repulse and Prince of Wales", would have a 10% chance of recognising that they were warships, probably RN) the story would have - if you'll pardon the phrase - sunk without trace.

If one is going to attract a sufficiently large audience to justify the cost of producing an on-screen AH story, then that story has to appeal to a sufficiently large audience; that means the audience has to be grabbed by the story.

Which is a long-winded way of saying "I more or less agree."
 
#23
The mention of documentaries brings this to mind (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/C.S.A.:_The_Confederate_States_of_America), and questions as to how such a style (serious or spoof) might work in terms of audience appeal. The above mockumentary was a decent attempt, but was noticeably handicapped budget-wise; if this had been solved, I have the feeling it could have gotten much wider notice, either as a TV movie (minus the offensive fake and REAL commercials) or on the independent film circuit, perhaps avoiding the "fad" concern to a certain level. Being a history documentary fan (mostly History Channel, pre-2004 :D), I admit to possibly being biased, but it seems to me that this style could at the very least provoke laughter and thought, and at the most encourage more interest in history of any kind, actual or alternate.
 

Tabac Iberez

Impetious
Published by SLP
#24
The mention of documentaries brings this to mind (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/C.S.A.:_The_Confederate_States_of_America), and questions as to how such a style (serious or spoof) might work in terms of audience appeal
From what I learned at TV school? Poorly. The entire reason the History Channel died in '04 was because the documentaries market hit saturation and started shrinking, and the market they targeted went poof. A mockumentary might work, but you still need to get a director with a solid feel for the narrative and visual elements you're selling, and we're right back to the Battleship Equation on the topic of TV: Visuals, writing, accuracy: pick two.
 

Charles EP M.

Well-known member
Published by SLP
#25
The mention of documentaries brings this to mind (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/C.S.A.:_The_Confederate_States_of_America), and questions as to how such a style (serious or spoof) might work in terms of audience appeal. The above mockumentary was a decent attempt, but was noticeably handicapped budget-wise; if this had been solved, I have the feeling it could have gotten much wider notice
Mocku's do seem to do okay, if they're good and targeting something with an in-built audience - people rate American Vandal, spoofing true-crime docs on Netflix. I could see an alternate history mockumentary doing well but probably not as a subgenre, as each one would need its own specific angle, audience etc. The people who like C.S.A., with its barbed comments about America's history of race relations and history of the media about it, won't all show up to watch a mockumentary about (say) Ireland and an alternate history of church control.

(Thinking about it, mockumentary's like C.S.A. are the cinema equivalent of AH timelines that are written as various in-universe book excerpts!)
 
#26
The entire reason the History Channel died in '04 was because the documentaries market hit saturation and started shrinking, and the market they targeted went poof.
I always figured it was the channel drift that really brought HC down (Ancient Aliens, IRT, Pawn Stars and all the rest of that crap). Good point on the director and equation issues; where exactly does the latter come from?
 

Tabac Iberez

Impetious
Published by SLP
#27
I always figured it was the channel drift that really brought HC down (Ancient Aliens, IRT, Pawn Stars and all the rest of that crap). Good point on the director and equation issues; where exactly does the latter come from?
The channel drift was to pack things up after the demographic issues happened; instead it made things worse. After the market dropped out, the money to make documentaries fell through too, and shortly after that came the prestige drop. Once that happened, the pool of directors stopped replacing and a lot of them retired, and it all crashed from there.

The Battleship Equation, meanwhile, comes from naval designers. Given a fixed mass and cost budget, the three defining characteristics of a battleship are speed, protection, and firepower. Spending more mass and money on one reduces the amount of the others you can use, so historically you'd get ships that focused on two things and did them fairly well.