Netflix and Amazon

How many network or cable television shows have you watched recently? Within the past month, it has been two shows, Shooter and The Blacklist. I haven’t watched television shows on their regularly scheduled nights for about two years, the last show being The Walking Dead Season 6, which I always watched with my brother and his wife. To me there is no longer “must watch television” aired on the network and cable television shows. In addition, the week-long break between episodes is daunting because I will forget key moments or main/sub-plotlines. I would rather binge watch content on Netflix or Amazon.

Amazon, Netflix, and Hulu (though I hate their commercials and refuse to pay more for none) have in the past few years changed the ballgame. The content created by these three will only get more expansive and consumed by more people. Growing up I always wanted anything I wrote to become a movie but as an adult in this age of streaming, I would rather my work become a series on Netflix or Amazon. Watching the deals Netflix and Amazon (and the money they are willing to spend) to pick up projects is amazing, they are not beholden to the almighty Nielsen rating and are willing to give experimental projects like The Man in the High Castle, House of Cards, and Amazon’s rumored Lord of the Rings television series.

Outside of loads of money, Netflix and Amazon appear to allow content creators to follow their storyline with minimal oversight or intervention. One of my favorite book series is The Expanse and when I started watching the television series by the same name, I was completely disappointed to learn one of the main characters in book four dies in the first season. I am aware sometimes changes are needed for example, translating a book from a first-person narrative is difficult in television and movies. There are other reasons like in The Man in the High Castle series, there is a resistance movement which is not featured in the book at all. However, based off what we know about resistance and insurgency movements now compared to when the book was written, adding a resistance movement makes complete sense.

There are some changes which make sense and others which are mind boggling but any author wants to see their work faithfully adapted. Writing and having what is written produced into first movies then television came around as a dominant force in the 1950s and 1960s, is a give and take game. There will always be authors who have the rights to their work sold and the story made into a movie or television show, and the story will be changed to fit the needs of the delivering medium. However, there has never been a better time to be an author. Netflix and Amazon have made themselves into forces to be reckoned with and ones which will not go away. In 2017, Netflix spent upwards of 6 billion dollars in acquiring and producing television shows. In 2018, that number increased to 7 billion dollars and will only grow from there.

Though there are a few series which are cancelled before completion Everything Begins with Z and Marco Polo come to mind, series come to end at a natural ending point, which offers maximum closure to the audience. I always imagine what Firefly could have become if it was not prematurely cancelled. Another odd example is The Expanse which like a few other shows has been cancelled by a network or cable channel and found life on a streaming service. Now if only the streaming services would pick-up Stargate Atlantis and Stargate Universe and offer a more concrete ending.

When it is all said and done, if my work is ever offered the silver screen adaption or network or cable series, I would politely decline it. Traditional television series are beholden to the almighty dollar which is primarily earned by key advertising demographics, and a risky show is unlikely to aired during primetime. Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu have shown less traditional shows like The Man in the High Castle, House of Cards, Handmaiden’s Tale, and the series of Marvel comic book heroes works. There is a show for everybody on the streaming services that caters to their tastes and there will only be more content to suit people’s expanding tastes.

More than Science Fiction

What do you think of when somebody says science fiction? Do you instantly think of ships in space, space battles, far away planets and all that jazz? I once had the privilege to attend a hand-selected workshop with an award-winning author from Kansas who has written numerous short stories and non-fiction work.  The author requested a longer submission, approximately 10,000 words, give or take a little if there would be an unnatural ending point. I combed through what I had written and corrected obvious mistakes and submitted the work. A total of three other students were selected in this process, all of whom I remain good friends and in touch with.

After two weeks, the author from Kansas arrived on campus and we had our one on one sit downs. My first friend, an older non-traditional student, ended up taking over two hours in her meeting, and would have been longer had the Department Chair who organized this and selected us not intervened. I was up next and went in and immediately was red with fury but bit my tongue. The guest of honor admitted he did not like science fiction and wasn’t really drawn into a first-person narrative. When submitting the work, I described it as a coming of age, political thriller set in a science fiction environment. I tried to steer the conversation towards thoughts on character development, the story so far and didn’t get much except he didn’t trust the narration of the characters (which is one of the points of first person narration).

I politely endured the hour-long one-on-one because I thought I would gain insight but instead mostly heard him talk down science fiction and say it needed to be more grounded. There is one positive from this awful experience, I changed the prologue’s narration from one character, Philip, to his mother.

Science fiction lets writers explore contemporary issues in a different setting. The re-imagined Battlestar Galactic is more than about the last vestiges of humanity of trying to find Earth, it was a critique of the post-9/11 world and insurgencies where the supposed enemy looks and acts like us. Star Trek the Original Series is more than exploring new worlds and civilizations, it is about bringing together humanity (a mixed cast and other ground-breaking norms for the time).

If the award-winning author took time to read my submission without prejudging it, he would have seen the prologue and first three chapters are about family strife. Philip’s father is away at Mars and in command of bringing an end to a rebellion / insurgency movement (based upon my coming of age of Iraq). Nathan’s father, a Senator is running for President. Tristan, Philip’s best friend, has recently lost his father in a boating accident, which has also scared Nathan and Philip.

The science fiction environment allows for a more open story, one which is unconstrained by traditional environments. Imagine trying to write a story about the effects of not combating climate change in set in the 1970s. Very few people know about climate change in this environment. Or a more current, every day topic, writing about a corrupt, criminal chief executive in the current environment of the second decade of the 21st century.

Why does science fiction explore the past in a futuristic setting? I believe it because there will always be timeless issues which need to be explored and discussed – dysfunctional families, the rise and fall of politicians, independence movements, terrorist organizations, insurgencies, the desire to explore new worlds and star systems, espionage and grappling with right and wrong.