If you were at Comic Con last week, or even just the San Diego airport, it's very likely that you saw some of Syfy's advertising for their upcoming series and video game Defiance. In addition to a giant ad on the side of the Marriott, there was a diner near the Convention center covered in Defiance advertising, including on and in the menu, on the tables, on the soda fountain behind the counter, on the napkins. Everywhere you looked, there was Defiance.
Syfy and Trion made SDCC attendees aware of the series and video game's approaching existence with their advertising, which extended all the way to the airport. And Defiance was also featured in a panel at the convention. For those who missed out, Defiance is coming in 2013, in video game form and in the form of a sci-fi original series at Syfy.
Syfy was generous enough to host a breakfast and press conference for some of the press during Comic Con, and in addition to showing us the trailer, the cast (Grant Bowler, Julie Benz, Stephanie Leonidas, Jaime Murray, Tony Curran and Mia Kirshner), executive producer/showrunner Kevin Murphy and SVP, Development, Trion Worlds' Nick Beliaeff answered some of our questions about the project. Here's what we learned…
The story is set in the future, on earth, where seven alien races have joined the human race among the survivors of a universal war, settling in the city that was once St. Louis, but is now called Defiance. Based on the trailer, there's a western-sort of texture blended with sci-fi. And the alien races are semi-human looking, but definitely stand out as being different in appearance. From what we're told, the being living together have come to immigrate, not to conquer. This is a "universal story of people starting over."
"It does have the sci-fi element and the frontier element, but also at its heart, it has a family element," star Julie Benz told us. "You have a love story at its heart as well. It deals with so many human issues that we face. Racism and discrimination and rebuilding your life… For me, I see it from a more humanity aspect than an actual sci-fi/frontier [story]"
Watch the show. Play the game. Change the world.
One of my biggest concerns about Defiance, beyond seeing the ambitiousness of the endeavor of making a TV series and a game that coexist in the same world and play off one another in a sort of synthesis, was that it might be an issue for those of us who aren't exactly gamers. I might give the game a try, but when it comes down to it, I'm in this for the TV show, and I'm not sure I'd love the idea of having to play a video game in order to follow the drama on the show. Apparently, that won't be an issue.
In discussing the tie between the series and the video game and the issue of maintaining continuity between both, Kevin Murphy broke it down by using a comic book analogy (fitting to the setting of the press conference), stating:
"Comic book companies have been doing this for years. You have editors whose job it is to maintain continuity with 25 different titles and making sure things aren't banging into each other. Superman is doing what he's doing in Metropolis, Batman's over here in Gotham City, but you need to make sure nobody's contradicting each other. And then when you do World's Finest, it's super-double-awesome because of the fact that "Wow, now they're together and it's incredible!" but you have to maintain the mythology. So, I think for a video game and a television show, it's not hard to do. It's just a different muscle that most television shows and I think video games aren't accustomed to having to do."
He revisited the analogy when addressing the topic of whether or not we'd need to be invested in both the game and the show in order to either.
"If you like Batman, you can read Batman. You never actually have to buy Superman. If you like Superman, you can read Superman. And if you like them both, you get a broader experience.
So, it sounds like those who play the game and watch the show will get a fuller, more enhanced experience, but it's not required to do both in order to follow one.
Challenges of doing a game and TV show together.
One of the interesting things spoken about with regards to the game was the challenge of creating great concept art for the game that could be built for the series. A cool vehicle in the game, for example, would need to be brought to reality in some form for the show.
There's also the matter of keeping everything straight. Things that are built into the story of the game need to merge with the design of the story for the show. This apparently requires a "mythology coordinator," who I expect is tasked to keep it all straight and help maintain that mentioned "synthesis." So the TV show can pick up where the game left off and vice versa.
Beyond the setting, there's a focus on the various main characters, including Grant Bowler's Nolan, who sounds like a somewhat selfish character. Bowler describes him as a scavenger and a ne'er do well. "My character's objective is to kiss all the girls in town. And his motivation is, in order to steal all the money," Bowler told us. Though he also noted the one decent thing Nolan has done, which is to take in a young Arathean (alien) girl named Irisa (Stephanie Leonidas).
"They have a rather fiery relationship," Leonidas said. "They're fiercely loyal toward each other. they really look out for each other, but as any kind of father/daughter relationship, they have their ups and downs and I guess it's very similar to any human father/daughter relationship but with knives."
Leonidas also told us that Irisa isn't thrilled to be in Defiance, and that she's quiet and smart, but you wouldn't want to get on the wrong side of her.
Julie Benz plays Amanda Rosewater, the Mayor of Defiance. "Amanda's a little in over her head," Benz said. "Trying to keep peace among all of these alien races and the human race." Amanda is sister to Mia Kirshner's character Kenya, whose job has its own kind of authority (complete with a fancy title). Kenya is like a madame or a geisha. Her technical title is "pleasure master."
"She inhabits this - I don't even want to play underworld - but she inhabits a world where she can cross over between different species," Kirshner told us. "And she runs this club that she's created herself (called a "need-want") and every fantasy that you have exists within this club. I would say that she's a very magical, dangerous, pretty naughty character."
Jaime Murray plays Summer, wife to Tony Curran's Datak Tarr. This couple has an interesting back-story involving their differing social classes on their origin planet. "It's a caste system, that I come from," Murray said of her character Summer. "And I'm very high caste. It's a patriarchal society. Women don't have a lot of power, but I don't think that sits particularly well with my character, so she finds her power in other ways, which is fun and interesting. So she'll come at things sideways - find other ways of getting her way."
It sounds like their differences suit each other, from the way Curran describes Datak and his relationship with Summer. "He is from the lowest caste and the lowest rung of the ladder imaginable. He's a smart individual but he's more of a - she's (jaime) more of the words of the relationship, I'm more of the action." - "Datak tends to get a bit aggressive and on the front foot."
There are some strong female characters in this series, from what Benz told us.
"I've worked a lot in this genre - in what we refer to genre shows - and what I really love is how strong the female characters are. And in this show specifically, the men are great but I think the power lays with the women. It's what really resonated with me. Each female character is so well formed and well thought out. We each have our power. There's no victim here."
The bottom line.
I went into this press conference intrigued, curious and hopeful and left feeling about the same, with maybe a bit more optimism and enthusiasm to go with it. The set-up for the story and the attempt to bring gaming and a TV series together all show a great amount of potential. I think it's great that Syfy's taking a chance on this project, and I'm especially excited at the prospect of a new sci-fi focused series on Syfy. Hopefully they'll put the trailer online soon enough so you can get a look at what the characters and the setting looks like.