Editorial - January 2013
Authentic Mare & Historical European Fighting Arts on Television? ...Don't
hold your breath
the past two years now I've had the privilege of being under a signed
option agreement with a NY television production company to develop a
program around myself involving the exploration of Medieval and Renaissance
close combat. A few years back they auditioned me and I was fortunate
to not only get the offer to host their planned program, but they then
decided to directly center a six-episode series around my interest in
exploring Mare and HEMA.
I was flattered and also astonished at my luck, given the people out
there struggling their whole adult lives to break into media in some way
or another. Alas, the program never materialized, due first to the economic
downturn, but then because of the new direction producers and cable networks
began heading —i.e., bizarre reality-based shows rather personality-driven
documentary content. The creative side of the cable television production
business is a notoriously fickle one, I found out.
But, on the upside, I've learned a lot about how the business works and
over this time have had direct access to contacts at a number of production
houses to pitch all manner of historical programming ideas related to
our subject. I've even been asked to submit full treatments on the Masters
of Defense, Gladiators, Fiore dei Liberi himself, and the modern revival
of Mare. Who knows if any will ever see light. Over the past two years
now I've been able to pitch all sorts of ideas for specials on subjects
like Paulus Hector Mair's Compendia, George Silver's life and works, Renaissance
fencing history, hypothetical match-ups between historical warriors, knights
vs. samurai (one that's currently alive, fortunately), modern gladiator
sport tournaments, and a few other more extreme possibilities that would
have you either laughing or cringing, or both.
Here's the thing, though; while I'm busy trying to excite industry folk
about the authenticity of this subject and the worldwide interest in recovering
our genuine heritage, their responses have generally been to... well...
push back as to whether any of it can be "idiocracized."
You know what I mean: Does it involve caustic personalities with alternative
lifestyles arguing obnoxiously or behaving like crass idiots in contrived
situations? Can we show highly unusual people in strange settings dealing
with the consequences of their bad decisions? I was asked repeatedly how
the passion for our subject could be depicted as "extreme" or
the people involved shown in, let's say, less than flattering ways. (Think
"Jersey Shore" meets the Renn Fair, or "Medieval Doomsday
Preppers," and "Real SCA Wives.")
It's neither history nor traditional martial arts that producers are
buying or that developers are selling, I've been told. So, I
a few opportunities to present the exploding interest in
martial traditions into what I considered exploitative and
characterizations. "Blade Goons" is not how I want to help them
profile anyone in this subject. There was one conference
call with a production company I will never forget. After some
twenty minutes or so of explaining about efforts around the world to
recover the forgotten teachings of the Masters of Defense, the senior
party present finally spoke up and I was essentially asked if I could
"find quirky characters and unusual people with alternative lifestyles"
who were practicing European martial arts. Dumfounded, I responded that I
was proposing a documentary series exploring exciting real world
history I was literally met with silence at the other end.
It's bad enough we are trying to raise the credibility and legitimacy
of our lost fighting arts in the face of generations of costumed role
play, stunt fencing, and pop-culture misrepresentation; I wasn't about
to sell it out so a few ignorants could thuggerize and trailer-parkify
it. Too many sincere people are working too hard to recover something
serious to let that happen. [Not that I haven't had a few conversations
with would-be developers that had me saying something like, "Uhhh…
monkeys in hats??? …Yes …yes ...That was my next thought too,
exactly what's needed here, that could work, sure."]
I responded to more than one request to re-conceptualize one of my pitches
from an entertaining exploration into what would have been more or less
"Swamp People" with swords. I'm sure there are plenty of bozos
out there dreaming of appearing in such crap, but I'm not interested in
helping depict anyone remotely involved in this subject like that. But
turn on Discovery, Nat Geo, or History Channel, and that's mostly the
kind of programming you're going to find for the next couple of seasons.
(Full-metal jousting anyone?)
Putting together a new show, even a pilot, is an expensive and risky
gamble that is really about selling it to media markets in numerous countries.
To justify the production funds and the labor involved, it has to be something
the decision makers believe will give them a far better roll of the dice
at succeeding in this. They put their fingers up to the wind and make
a guess what will work for now ...until the next time.
And get this, here's what else I discovered: thousands of new cable programs
are pitched every year and hundreds of actual pilots get made, but only
about a dozen or so of these are ever actually aired, with some 8 out
of 10 of these actually losing money when they premiere. ...Whoa. Explains
a lot. So, as the saying goes, "Nice work if you can get it..."
Anyway, I don't let any of this affect me or my work. I've learned not
to be distracted by it. I persevere. If I get a call and there's an opportunity
to present our subject on television in an intriguing and exciting format,
then great. Meanwhile, it's back to work.