Any and all situations, dialog, and use of names and places depicted on these here Web pages, as written by the hands of myself, Steven Schwartzstein, are mostly correct, accurate even, except in situations in which they are not. Which is to say, all of what you read is kinda, sorta mostly true.
In the beginning…
“It’s gonna be epic, dude.”
I was in Arizona at my brother’s house. It was May of 2013, and on the phone was my writing partner and friend for life, and not to mention one of the truly great and creative people you don’t often come across in the entertainment business, Steve Conard. Steve was one of the founders of Wizards of the Coast, the minds that brought us Magic: The Gathering and the Pokémon trading card game. If he said something was going to be epic, I thought I’d better listen.
“Okay. What is it?” I asked.
“Something Web-based, we think. But could be an app, like a comic book,” he replied.
“But not a television show?”
“Well, the budget is kinda limited. But the story. Dude, it’s epic.”
When mere mortals use words like “epic,” it really doesn’t pull a lot of weight with me. I mean, is there a more overused term in everyday vernacular for a large-scale adventure than “epic”? How many television shows and movies have even come close to living up to the “e” word?
He said, “The universe is bigger than Game of Thrones. Lord of the Rings.”
Long pause. Okay, now Conard had my attention. And Conard was no mere mortal.
He didn’t go into much detail—the overarching story being simply too darn epic for a single phone conversation—but I knew something was percolating up in Seattle and that it wasn’t just coffee, my friends. But what was it? What could get Mr. Steve Conard so excited beyond is his usual excited state? It would be another eight months before I began to learn what this massive, sprawling, and, yes, epic project was all about.
In the interim, Peter Adkison, founder of Wizards of the Coast, was directing his first short film, The Devil Walks in Salem, the script for which was going through many permutations. Conard hit some snags in the rewrite and enlisted me to help smooth out some details. Later, during the weekend of the first screening, I flew up to Seattle and got to hang out with Peter and Steve.
A little about me: I worked for Wizards of the Coast some fifteen years previously, fresh out of USC Film School’s Graduate Screenwriting Program, and I grew to know Steve Conard quite well, collaborating with him on a few projects. But this was the first time I ever got to really get to know Peter.
All I can say is I’ve had meetings with producers of all shapes and sizes—heads of studios, vice-presidents of productions, development types, agents, managers, blah, blah, blah. These meetings can be daunting and quite, shall we say, Xanax demanding, if not intense. To say the least. Happily, and to my great relief, Peter was definitely not one of these kinds of people; it was apparent right off the bat. He was down-to-earth, humorous, and personable. By gods, dare I say, Peter was normal (in so far as any of us in this project are normal. LOL)
It didn’t take long for Peter to dive in and begin to explain the world of Chaldea to me, particularly as it pertained to the lead character of the story I was about to work on. She was a female military leader, our Joan of Arc character, Sarva. To augment the discussion, he pulled up on a tablet these highly detailed charts and maps with arrows zig-zagging in all directions to show troop movements as they marched headlong into or away from battle. At the same time, I was glimpsing how humans, elves, dwarves, orcs, magic, and monsters interacted in Chaldea. Then there was the role religion played, and the power struggles about to take place as leaders bandied about the world. I mean, I was gaining insight into everything, which was really only a fraction of everything.
And this Peter Adkison guy—he was way into this stuff. Like way. Remember when Doc Brown from Back to the Future created the miniatures of Hill Valley to demonstrate to Marty McFly how he was going to send him back to 1985? That’s what it was like. Only instead of diverting 1.21 gigawatts of electricity from a lightning bolt to a power line, I was having my brainwaves channeled into a story about the beginnings of a massive war that pitted humans and elves against orcs in Salamonica and more. Way more.
Soon—it was so much, so soon, so fast—I just had to take a break. But what hit me like a bolt of lightning was that Peter and Steve spoke with such conviction, such passion, such belief in Chaldea, that I could only reach one solitary conclusion.
This was going to be epic.
And I had to be a part of it.