• An Interview with TheDarkKnight

    Single Issue XIX

    An Interview with TheDarkKnight (formerly Gen. Chris)
    By Alwyn

    Could you tell us about how you came to join Content. What attracted you to write for the Helios?
    I came to join content much by accident. I wrote a pair of reviews for the Game Review section (on American Conquest and the other on Rollercoaster Tycoon) for reasons I don't remember and I was contacted by Pasan about getting them spruced up and added to the Scriptorium. After a month or so I contacted Hader about joining the Librarian branch and he agreed. This was May of 2012.

    After that I worked for the Scriptorium for at least a year, finding good articles and AARs and adding them to the Scriptorium. It was fun but I always felt that I could do more. I did try out Wiki work (which Tango will definitely remember as my best work ever on the site) but other than that I did not do much. Eventually however I was patronized by Omnipotent Q and also given the role of Content Director in charge of the Screenshot/Video competitions. Soon after that I was also made a moderator just in time for the fun that was the Rome II release.

    As for the Helios, I had for years wanted to write for them but several directors declined as they were not interested in my TV and movie reviews at the time (they were not based on historical stuff) so I worked on my other Content and Moderation duties for some time. Eventually the entire department was void of staff members and I asked Hader (if I remember correctly) what he thought about me using it for historical movie and TV show reviews until we could get a staff up and running again. He agreed so I went on to publish a handful of articles under the Helios banner until you were selected by Flinn to restart Helios completely. It was kind of funny cause I was the sole staff member (and therefore director) of the Helios until that point but Flinn seemed to have forgotten that. It was hilarious but I was flagging as the only staff member so having someone to push me helped a lot in the long run.

    I'm interested in how you learned to be a reviewer. Your reviews are enjoyable to read, informative and balanced - that's not easy. You mentioned your service in the Scriptorium, where you were finding good articles and AARs, I wonder if that helped you to get into the mindset of a reviewer. Did reading other people's reviews help you to learn to write your own? You mentioned that you reviewed games before, I wonder if reviewing games helped you to write reviews for historical TV movies and TV shows.

    Honestly I can't remember when it comes to the Scriptorium now. I know my first non-game reviews started coming out in April of 2012 around the same time of the first game reviews. Those reviews were ... not good. Like REALLY not good. I have been meaning to redo them but I simply don't have the time. It would be a huge project though and Iím not sure it is worth the effort unfortunately.

    I think I remember reading some game reviews to get an idea but I don't recall any specific reviewer getting me into any mindset. However I do remember that after seeing the sheer amount that VOP2288 had written over the years that I did want to try to match or beat him in sheer numbers. I think I have when you combine TV/Movie reviews and games but I'm not sure, and to be fair he has not written one in years so it's hardly a fair comparison at this point.

    When it came to historical stuff, if you follow my thread you will see that for the most part I was all over the place with sci-fi, fantasy, etc. I did not really come to focus on historical writing until I joined Helios. Sci-fi is basically my second favorite overall genre after historical fiction.

    What's your favourite historical TV series or film? What makes it your favourite? I wonder if that has influenced your reviews - do you think that you look for the qualities which that one had, in other series of films?

    It's kind of a difficult question to answer. I used to LOVE Vikings, but unfortunately that has changed as of late. The best season was easily season 2 with 1 and 3 closely behind. After that the series has fallen dramatically. Season 5 alone is such a travesty I donít even watch it weekly. I also loved Spartacus, and while it was nowhere near "high art" like, say, Rome, it was really entertaining and fun to watch. Honestly my favorite most recent full TV series was Black Sails, but my favorite of all time is the miniseries Band of Brothers. Itís tough to describe how amazing that miniseries is. I have been meaning to write a full review for that and its successor series The Pacific but, again ... No time. I do however make time to watch each of those shows annually, though in the case of Band of Brothers it is sometimes twice a year.

    When it comes to historical shows you have to find ways to make the series both authentic as well as entertaining. For examples of a show being one or the other, take John Adams and Sons of Liberty. John Adams is very, VERY authentic to the time period ... but good god is it dry at times. Fantastic all around, but difficult to get through. Then you have a show like Sons of Liberty, that makes the American Revolution "sexy" but ... not very accurate. Both are good of their own accord, but for vastly different reasons. If you want a show that has a good blend of both there is also Turn: Washington's Spies, which was kind of a mess by the end but overall a decent show to turn on and enjoy. It hit all the right historical beats but also provided an entertaining narrative for the viewers.

    The same issues fall on movies. I honestly don't have a "favorite" movie but I do highly enjoy historical films as well. Some of my go-to movies are Kingdom of Heaven, Troy, Alexander (though god is that a mess), Gettysburg and Gods and Generals (controversy over the latter aside), and a few others. I do like my historical movies ... I just wish there were more of them. I also wish they were treated more seriously when writing them ... I know not every movie can be perfect but I also know that these movies deserve better writing and directing.

    I think that your review of Hatfields & McCoys in November 2015 was your first Helios review. It seems as if, even in this first review, you had a clear sense of what you were going to write about - the acting, the characters, the choice of location for filming and the sets, the script, the music and the one downside of the mini-series. I enjoyed re-reading your review while listening to the music video which you attached at the end. It looks like you were very interested in the authenticity of the series, from the material used for the clothing and firearms to the appearance of the set and locations, the body language of the actors and choice of words in the script.

    I think that when it comes to TV and movies it's important to be as true to what happened as possible. I understand that given budget and time as well as other constraints that is not always possible. Take the movie Ironclad, about the assault on Rochester Castle by King John. Because of budget constraints they could not CG nor fully equip thousands of extras on both sides total, so what they did was they shrunk down the forces to much more manageable hundreds on John's side and a couple dozen on the defender's side. It still shows the desperation of the fight from the point of view of the defenders while making sure that the filmmakers can devote their resources towards other things in the movie. Now ... as entertaining as it is though the movie is riddled with story and historical flaws that were conscious choices by the director and producers. I think that is generally where I draw the line; tell the story authentically given the resources you have, but once you start making weird decisions regarding structure and how it involves the actual historical event then I start to have problems. I am forgiving when the producers set out to make something like 300 or Da Vinci's Demons, which are obviously more historical fantasy (and in the case of 300, relies on an unreliable narrator on retelling the battle).

    Another example I can think of is when it comes to movies set in the early-mid 20th Century. I know a few people get upset every time a movie shows, say, a wrong car from the year the movie is set in. I take a more pragmatic approach ... as long as the car is clearly not a 50's era vehicle in a movie set in the 40's, it's not a huge deal. It's not like there are tons of those vehicles still running or in the area of TV and movie productions, so any vehicles from within a handful of years of the story seems fair game to me.

    This might sound like an absurd question, but what makes historical accuracy so important for a historical TV series like this one? How easy is it for us in 2018 to tell how historically accurate Hatfields & McCoys is? I wonder how you learned about the period. Maybe you've seen historical re-enactments? Maybe you've read books on the period, watched documentaries on the vendetta or seen other TV series featuring the vendetta).

    For H&M I generally just know a bit about the period and the specific feud. They were pretty accurate about everything and the only changes they made were mostly those that involved time and money. Again, not a huge deal. The miniseries just looks right on all accounts. The costumes, the sets, the location ... everything is very meticulously detailed. The only shame is that they could not shoot on location because of how modern the area has become.

    At the time of writing, your review of Da Vinci's Demons series 1 has almost 36,000 views. It's by far the most-viewed Helios article. What do you think attracted so many people to reading this review?

    I have no idea. However when I google ďDa Vinciís Demons Season 1 ReviewĒ it used to be one of the top results on Google. Now itís on the second page last time I checked. So I have a feeling part of it may be people who have googled that and opened the page out of curiosity. Taking a quick look at my reviews in general leads me to realize a lot of my reviews are very highly viewed in comparison to other articles in both the Gamerís Gazette as well as Helios. Iím not sure why. To be fair itís probably tons of automated traffic, unfortunately, but I hope that the real visitors have enjoyed what they read. Itís rather embarrassing because I feel my articles are relatively low quality compared to the others, and I feel like those views belong to the other Helios writers more than myself. The topics they cover are infinitely more interesting than the drivel I feel I write.

    You wrote that some of the criticism of Da Vinci's Demons came from fans of Spartacus, who wanted Spartacus to continue. It seems that shows can't escape comparison with predecessors. I wonder if Da Vinci's Demons became, in turn, the one that viewers compared other shows to. Do you think this series influenced the design and writing of subsequent historical fantasy shows, is there a 'Da Vinci's Demons Effect'?

    I canít think of other historical fantasy shows in the same vein. I would actually argue now that the true successor to Spartacus on Starz was Black Sails. But I do stand by the fact that, at the time, people wanted more Spartacus. They STILL do, even. I wouldnít mind a continuation with Caesar in Gaul myself but ... probably a pipe dream at this point.

    In general though I would argue that historical fantasy is relatively non-existent compared to historical fiction shows. Most creators donít seem to take that direction and for good reason ... usually fantasy just is better one its own.

    I also wonder if Da Vinci's Demons set the standard for your subsequent Helios reviews, at least for historical fantasy? However, in your review of Camelot, Medieval Soaps Gone Wrong: A Look at Camelot (2011), you had a different focus, exploring the historical and fictional sources which could have inspired a better series. Would you like to comment on the thinking behind this approach to reviewing the show?

    In my ďMyth in the Making of BritainĒ class, we all had to choose to do a movie adaptation of the King Arthur legends and write a reflection on it concerning sources used, their successes, their failures, etc ... and I specifically asked if I could do this TV series. I had done a similar thing in my Mediterranean history class with the TV series Rome, so she easily agreed.

    Beyond that, I guess part of it is because I find the series to be unique amongst my collection of shows. It definitely has some historicity to it in terms of the writing of the legends. And they had a LOT of material to draw on. Itís interesting to draw the comparisons and show which sources were used and how that affected the course of the series. Itís also a bit unique in that it only got one season to use those sources.

    You wrote that Da Vinci's Demons series 1 was a success, even though it didn't follow historical facts in some ways, and that Camelot suffered from an "almost complete disregard for the source material leads to the series being a shallow interpretation of the Arthurian myths". Perhaps the lesson is that makers of a historical series who use some historical sources in creative ways can get away with adding their own ideas and leaving out aspects of the history, while makers of a historical series who miss opportunities which the sources present will disappoint viewers?

    I think the most important thing that show creators in general need to do is to make their shows interesting in the best ways possible. When it comes to historical topics that can often be difficult because even the most hardcore historian may not want to see everything be put to screen, and not everything should be. History is long, messy, and in some cases exceptionally boring.

    A good example is when pure historical fiction portrays events. For me, there are differing levels of tweaking history that I find acceptable. I find when show producers change historical events around to suit a better narrative to be an acceptable change, especially if it leads to a more coherent story. I will use the TV series Vikings as both a good example and a bad example. In that series events have been fictionalized by basically cramming 100 years of Viking history into a 20-25 year period and shifting historical characters around. In some ways, this is fine; the producers are using the best parts of Viking history to tell the story, and still allowing history in general to be told in a relatively authentic way. The result, in the end, is the same as the historical accounts, generally speaking. Another good example is in the John Adams miniseries when the events surrounding Nabby Adams and her cancer diagnosis and treatment are fictionalized. Not everything portrayed in the series is 100% correct, but the result is the same; Nabby dies of cancer.

    Meanwhile, there are NUMEROUS examples of poor changes where historical events are altered so heavily they ďbreak historyĒ as I like to say to my girlfriend, who often smiles and nods or rolls her eyes. A specific example in Vikings is when the decision was made to kill Sigurd, one of the sons of Ragnar, while he was still a teenager. This is completely ahistorical and actually creates a problem as the historical Sigurd is kind of important later one. This change was done to create drama in the series, drama that is quickly kind of ... pushed aside. So in the end it is kind of an odd change that just did not need to be made.

    I suppose it just comes down to this; adding your own ideas and events is fine, as long as the trajectory of the historical event is not heavily altered. Changing things around slightly is fine, as long as the general results are the same. And a lot of it also comes down to personal taste; some of the changes made to the ďstoryĒ of the beginning of the American Revolution in Sons of Liberty (for example) are downright bizarre, even if the end result is ultimately the same. The finest example of that show is when they turned Paul Revere into a ďwarriorĒ in the beginning of the American Revolution.

    No ... Just no.

    Any advice for others wishing to join Content?

    Write what you know, and also perhaps what you want to know more about. One of the things I had an absolute blast doing in college history classes was the research into topics Iím not familiar with. The investigation and the discovery plus how you put down your own thoughts on the matter can be exhilarating. I actually miss writing historical essays from classes which is why I tried for some time to concentrate that energy on historical fiction reviews. It just isnít the same though for some reason.

    However, Content work can provide a meaningful purpose for that energy for others. The people who come to this site come for one reason: Total War. That means in one way or another they are interested in the history surrounding the settings of the historical series, so it stands to reason that many of them may want to learn more about them. I have always felt that being able to write fluently and competently about topics means you have learned and absorbed the knowledge. So why not do it in a fun yet meaningful way on a site that benefits from such effort?

    Thank you for the interview, Alwyn.

    Thank you, TheDarkKnight - and thank you for your service for the Helios, for Content Staff and for TWC!

    Comments 7 Comments
    1. Swaeft's Avatar
      Swaeft -
      A wonderfully detailed article filled with great advice, especially for those wishing to join content.
    1. Gigantus's Avatar
      Gigantus -
      Always enjoyed the reviews, Camelot and Da Vinci were the most detailed ones I have seen to date. Do keep up the great work
    1. King Athelstan's Avatar
      King Athelstan -
      Good interview! The highest quality on both ends here! I did google "Da Vinci's Demons Season 1 review", and guess what popped up on the second page of results...
    1. ♔Greek Strategos♔'s Avatar
      ♔Greek Strategos♔ -
      Excellent interview! Comprehensive but not boring!
    1. RonaldMak11's Avatar
      RonaldMak11 -
    1. Flinn's Avatar
      Flinn -
      Thank you, TheDarkKnight - and thank you for your service for the Helios, for Content Staff and for TWC!
      Thank you indeed
    1. TheDarkKnight's Avatar
      TheDarkKnight -
      Quote Originally Posted by King Athelstan View Post
      Good interview! The highest quality on both ends here! I did google "Da Vinci's Demons Season 1 review", and guess what popped up on the second page of results...

      Weird, right?

      I have tried with other reviews and I don't think they pop up like that.

      When it used to be on the first page of results it was an odd feeling.

      Edit: The announcement page for the season 2 review of Da Vinci's Demons pops up on page two of search results.