I think of the world in Living History as being entirely different from the one we live our day to day lives in yet at the same time this world is still grounded in that of the present day. I view Living History as a prism. It is a prism though which we can look at our world and ask questions. It is a prism that shows us many colors but it is also a piece of art and like any piece of art what you see or interpret from it largely depends on how and where you are viewing it. Someone once suggested that history is a bit like a fountain that we drink out of when we run out of new ideas. Though that person was me I still think it rather good advice even if it does come from an imperfect messenger.
When I first started thinking of Living History I wasn’t entirely sure what it was going to be. I don’t know a lot of artists who sit down knowing precisely what they’re about to create. Some outline or plan might be available but ultimately the artists vision is created from the scattered thoughts and whimsical notions that exist in the author’s mind at the time of the piece of arts creation. Everything is a product of its time in one way or another and that can be either a grave misfortune or something that enhances its meaning it all depends on how the artist chooses to use it. From the beginning all I knew was that it had to be a TV series or mini-series. It simply didn’t fit the mold of a film and trying to fit it into that mold frustrated and angered me to no end.
“These characters cannot be shackled to convention!” I shouted on one of the first days I sat down to write. Everyone in the mall food court where I was writing turned and looked at me while I simply stared at the page. “That was a John Adams response,” I thought. I started laughing like some sort of deranged psychopath because I loved the idea that my characters were mentally unbalanced much like their creator.
“Adams would need quite a bit of Xanax to function in today’s world” I recall a historian once telling me. I couldn’t agree more. So there I was in the foot court shouting out random thoughts and laughing like some sort of Dickensian villain as I wrote my characters onto the page. Bewildered parents and frightened children passed me by. I was approached by mall security at one point because apparently the mall was “passed closing time.” If it was passed closing time then they should be closed, no? The mall police didn’t find this very amusing. No one in a position of power ever finds my jokes to be particularly but I suppose that’s because they usually come at their expense. This is precisely the reason that I hate going out on Sundays: everything closes so early.
I walked out to the park that about a half mile from the mall and I had a great idea for an opening scene. I sat at a bench and watched two old men bicker with each other until one challenged the other to a race. It was a perfect scene for the series. I set it at Yellowstone National Park and had the bickering occur between Franklin and Jefferson (though the historical Jefferson likely would have been too polite to engage in this kind of chicanery) and it was in this scene that I realized the kind of creative license I would need to use throughout the series. The founders had to be charicatures of themselves not entirely fastened to their historical personas otherwise the show simply wouldn’t be any fun. And of course Jefferson would have easily beaten Franklin in a foot race as Jefferson was a relatively young man when Franklin was alive so obviously Franklin would have to be suing “a few skillful advantages” as my grandpa used to put it and that’s how I came up with the Franklin character. He was a hybrid between the historical Franklin character, a competitive gambler and my grandfather. He was a delightful character to put together and his scenes are always the most fun to write.
I knew that Franklin and Adams would be my favorite characters to write from the get go. Jefferson and Washington had to keep everyone together and even Hamilton had to have a vision for the future since Washington was so dependent on him politically. Adams and Franklin became the wildcards. Whenever I needed something funny to balance out the drama I found myself turning to them. It was much more difficult as the series wore on because I wanted Jefferson and Washington to have a sense of humor as well (though both men were, as far as historical figures go, pretty serious.) When you have an ensemble comedy though it doesn’t work if you only have a few characters who can provide the humor. The audience must be willing and able to laugh at all of them.
The biggest hurdle that I faced and this persisted for some times was: what’s the story? By this I don’t mean in the traditional: what’s happening? mold, I’m talking about the challenge that those people face. I thought about writing the show like Parks and Rec where it’s like a day in the life of a re-enactor and I still like that concept. In fact, something very similar to think will turn up as the main story for season three of the show, but knew that, especially in the beginning, I wanted to focus on the politics and current events. That’s why I made them re-enactors who thought they were the people they were portraying. Not only does it make a better joke but it makes for a better story. In writing as in life one should always do what makes for the better story.
In season one; despondent over a recent break-up a melancholy George Washington finds new life when he decides to run for Mayor. Season two deals with the results of the election and the new lives the men begin to lead. Season three is about the re-enactors coming to terms with who they are. Season four follows the founders around the world as the founders embark on a lecture tour of Europe, Russia, China, Japan, Sub-Saharan Africa, and South America. There will be exactly four seasons of the show and most of the show has already been written only a few shows from season four remain outstanding. The possibility exists that the show could expand from its’ original thirteen show season to a twenty-five show season and the decision on whether or not to pursue this option will be made by the mid-point of season one. I know that personally I would prefer to write a twenty-five show season.
Since I started writing Living History in 2011 I’ve approached the writing of the show like a full time job. Some people come up to me every now and again and say something along the lines of: “oh, I didn’t know you were a full time student.” I am a full time student. I am also writing a feature length film script, I’m editing a book and I’ll be starting work on a new book shortly. I have wasted a good deal of my life engaged in rather trivial matters and frivolous pursuits. The great thing about this show, to me at least, is that its like another world to me. I wake up in the morning planning out scenes and creating backstory. Much of my day is spent working on dialogue, thinking about the visual and aural aspects of the show and my nights are spent writing and revising my work. It may sound like I don’t make much time for a personal life but I can assure that I do. It shouldn’t matter to the outside world though how I balance my time. I always think of the Coco Chanel quote that I’ve grown quite fond of over the years: “I don’t care what you think about me. I don’t think about you at all.”