• Hi Guest!

    The costs of running this forum are covered by Sea Lion Press. If you'd like to help support the company and the forum, visit patreon.com/sealionpress

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.
 

David Flin

A home of love and laughter.
#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."
 

MAC88

Active member
Published by SLP
Location
WI, USA
#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!)
 

MAC88

Active member
Published by SLP
Location
WI, USA
#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.
 

MAC88

Active member
Published by SLP
Location
WI, USA
#28
Just a couple of "food-for-thought" questions, to keep this thread going:

1. Does AH ultimately translate better to the screen as an (apparently or bona fide) original idea (Ex: For All Mankind), or from written works (Ex: Man in the High Castle)?

2. Given how much more widespread AH is used in gaming (or appears to be, by comparison), and how it seems to have a wider potential/actual audience, is this the likelier and/or ideal "screen" medium for this genre, instead of TV, movies, or streaming?
 

Tabac Iberez

Impetious
Published by SLP
#29
1. Does AH ultimately translate better to the screen as an (apparently or bona fide) original idea (Ex: For All Mankind), or from written works (Ex: Man in the High Castle)?
Always, always, always presume a dedicated script for screen has more power than a conversion. Those are messy, and I wouldn't be surprised in the least if there was a raving MITHC fan out there polishing his gewhr for a chance to whack the incompetent dimwit who cut out his precious subplots and memes.


2. Given how much more widespread AH is used in gaming (or appears to be, by comparison), and how it seems to have a wider potential/actual audience, is this the likelier and/or ideal "screen" medium for this genre, instead of TV, movies, or streaming?
This is a harder question by far. Considering AH is basically a tag in terms of consistency (that is, almost none) we have to narrow it down a lot. Is Wolfenstein AH? Is Kingdom Come: Deliverance AH? Can Otome games be technically AH with some fast window dressing? We need to corral this question in some before we can start answering it.
 

napoleon IV

Big Structural Bailey
#30
Just a couple of "food-for-thought" questions, to keep this thread going:

1. Does AH ultimately translate better to the screen as an (apparently or bona fide) original idea (Ex: For All Mankind), or from written works (Ex: Man in the High Castle)?

2. Given how much more widespread AH is used in gaming (or appears to be, by comparison), and how it seems to have a wider potential/actual audience, is this the likelier and/or ideal "screen" medium for this genre, instead of TV, movies, or streaming?
IDK about number 1, but I think that a big advantage that games have over movies and TV shows is that they can engage in a lot more worldbuilding and explore the setting more (this is particularly true of RPGs). Of course, the downside to this is that if the creators aren't good at worldbuilding it's a lot easier to notice with a video game than a TV show.
 

Tabac Iberez

Impetious
Published by SLP
#31
IDK about number 1, but I think that a big advantage that games have over movies and TV shows is that they can engage in a lot more worldbuilding and explore the setting more (this is particularly true of RPGs). Of course, the downside to this is that if the creators aren't good at worldbuilding it's a lot easier to notice with a video game than a TV show.
A game also has the crux that if the gameplay sucks and is overly-separated from the story, you loose a lot of the impact. One of the best things I ever saw that nailed the story/gameplay inclusion was in Solarmax: throughout the game, you constantly order units into bloody Lancasterian combat over countless worlds. You build and bleed ships by the thousands, from the Moon to the far ends of the universe. In the last mission, as your fleet defends Earth and dozens of ships sacrifice yourself to bring down the three motherships, you finish the campaign and get a 'good job' screen. And then you get the memorial- to the hundreds of ships and thousands of lives that were in your hands, defending earth from the cataclysmic terror you yourself unleashed three missions ago. It's a great way to drive things home, unlike "RPG Worldbuilding" which is short for "Filler material in case anyone looks at it funny"
 

MAC88

Active member
Published by SLP
Location
WI, USA
#32
This is a harder question by far. Considering AH is basically a tag in terms of consistency (that is, almost none) we have to narrow it down a lot. Is Wolfenstein AH? Is Kingdom Come: Deliverance AH? Can Otome games be technically AH with some fast window dressing? We need to corral this question in some before we can start answering it.
True, it is a very broad question. I haven't played Wolfenstein, but from what I've seen, it doesn't become recognizably AH until the 2009 game, and much more so in the most recent games; prior to that it looks like a standard shooter, blended with open world and secret/occult history elements. A cursory study of Kingdom Come says it's more historical fiction than AH, but there may be aspects I missed. Otome, through the same study, seem more like the SIMS and other such games, so I don't really think they're AH.

Ultimately, I believe what constitutes an AH game is where the story revolves around an explicitly altered event (Ex: World In Conflict, Command & Conquer Red Alert), and isn't merely set in a particular period and lets you play it out how you like, with or without historical events occurring when, where and how they did (Ex: the Total War series, Civilization).
 

Thande

I could not fail to disagree with you less
Published by SLP
#33
I have a feeling that for an AH film - specifically a film - to become mainstream, it'd have to actually be a time travel film but where the time travel happens at the beginning and then the protagonists spend the rest of their time living in the changed world. The problem is that the inevitable plot structure is working out how to change it back again, not exploring the new world that results. A good ISOT-based example of this (as opposed to 'come back to the present to find it's different') would be 1980's The Final Countdown.
 

Alex Richards

Tends to eat truffles once found
Patreon supporter
Published by SLP
Location
Derbyshire
#34
I have a feeling that for an AH film - specifically a film - to become mainstream, it'd have to actually be a time travel film but where the time travel happens at the beginning and then the protagonists spend the rest of their time living in the changed world. The problem is that the inevitable plot structure is working out how to change it back again, not exploring the new world that results. A good ISOT-based example of this (as opposed to 'come back to the present to find it's different') would be 1980's The Final Countdown.
Actually I think I can see a good variation on this. Basically go for something along the lines of 'there's a group of like maybe three-five people, one just keeps finding that things have gone wrong for them and they can't cope and want to go back but someone else is like 'but Grandpa is actually alive in this world. And they never cancelled 'tv show x'. And nuclear disarmament was achieved' and wants to stay. And then you don't do the 'oh by the way the government's running death camps' pull, it really is just a case of what different people want from life'.

Have a whole plot about the disputes between them and so forth, and then sort of tease a 'many worlds' interpretation at the end.