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Writing The Hero

Ginjer, Josepha, Gillain and DonnaThis was a panel session, featuring Gillian Horvath, Donna Lettow, Ginjer Buchanan and Josepha Sherman. Mostly, the session consisted of contributions from Gillian and Donna, with the occasional chip in from the other two. They opened by saying that when David Abramowitz dreams, he looks like Duncan MacLeod. They said this was a feature of the show, that everyone thought they were "the frigging Highlander", even down to the props guy who chose the records for the loft. This said that the writing of the characters continues long after the words are put down on paper - for example, there's nothing in the script for Something Wicked which says that Methos drives a Volvo. Similarly, the T-Bird says something about Duncan. They said that, prior to the filming of season six, the Citroen had died and a new car was needed. This provoked a lot to debate - Ken Gord felt that Duncan should drive a Jaguar, but Adrian felt that this was too ostentatious and wanted a Range Rover.

Ginjer Buchanan said that she assumed it that in writing for the An Evening At Joe's anthology, the actors would write for their own characters, but she wondered who the others had chosen to write about. Gillian said that Don Anderson wanted to be Methos, but she could see in all the stories that people had been thinking about the characters. Josepha Sherman said that the advantage that the novels had over the original series was, in effect, an unlimited budget. Donna smiled and said that Ken Gord would have liked the idea of filming at Massada.

Gillian said that writing the hero meant writing him with the parameters that were set. You had to start from what he can do and situations that were recognisable, but also that were filmable and were familiar to the viewer. It wasn't out of the question to draw on your own experience, for example, to understand the feeling that an Immortal would have when they lost a parent, (and it's only when that I've actually seen this in print that I realised what she could be talking about). She said that End Of Innocence had its genesis when Richie realised that the world can change and that people he trusted could change. She said that the script had to be about how Duncan MacLeod reacted to a normal situation, as opposed to, (say), Xena. She said it was important for the writers to know the history of the characters and take those histories seriously. Ginjer said that she felt that the novels were able to use settings beyond the reach of what could be filmed and that, when they showed the Immortals as being most like us, that was when they were the most interesting. Gillian said that it was necessary to present real jeopardy to the Immortals other than the threat of beheading. This was why, from season two onwards, there were more regular problems for MacLeod to solve, more mortal stories where he was never in danger. Ginjer Buchanan noted that MacLeod never had Kryptonite and Josepha called this the Superman factor. Ginjer said that, in White Silence, she had found it interesting to pit the Immortals against forces of nature that were more powerful than them, but against which they can't fight back. Donna noted that killing MacLeod and throwing him in the river in The Zone constituted a little light relief in Highlander, whereas for most of the series, putting the hero in that kind of peril constituted high drama.

Josepha said that, for one of the novels, the present day storyline had been set in New York, for which everyone has a mental image, whereas the flashback was set in ancient Egypt, which gave her more freedom. They said it was interesting that all the novels had been set in the dojo and Seacouver warned and none had been set in Paris. Gillian said she liked the idea in season one of Duncan always arriving back at the antiques store from exotic locations and she was sorry that this had been lost in later seasons.

Ginjer it said it she admired the fact that Duncan MacLeod made mistakes and that they had always kept him as the Boy Scout. Gillian said that Adrian had been willing to explore weaknesses of MacLeod's, whereas leading actors on other shows would ask for more moments of angst to be written for their characters, what would balk when the script arrived, saying that their character had to be perfect. She added that the Duncan in season one was a lot wiser and consequently more of a pain in the ass that he was in later seasons, when he was not so perfect. When the hero can handle every situation, you lose some of the immediacy in the plot. She said that, with Band Of Brothers, they had introduced Darius, but that they had gained something equally important. Adrian filmed the fight and the build up looking like he could lose at the writers were given licence to use that. This kind of thing is very important to writers. Ginjer noted that Sylvester Stallone had changed the end of First Blood because "Sylvester Stallone does not die in his movies". Josepha said that she felt that Chivalry was a good set of all-round character studies.

Donna said that we all know that MacLeod will be back next week and when you can't really put your heroes in jeopardy, as in Highlander, the jeopardy they face is emotional, so that the viewer is left wondering if MacLeod is going to be the same when the story is over. She said they were lucky that the hierarchy on Highlander allowed them to change the character. In a lot of episodic television, anything could happen, as long as everything was back as it started by the end of the episode, so it episodes could be shown in any order. As an example of a series which didn't do this, she quoted Buffy The Vampire Slayer, where the characters do change, as for example with Willow's sexuality. As an aside, she quoted Joss Wheedon saying about this that Willow was going to change and was no longer going to be - Jewish. Apparently, he added that Seth Green's departure meant they were all becoming gay!

Ginjer Buchanan said that if Highlander had degenerated into endless repetition, it would not have lasted, but that change had been forced upon it by the premise of the show. Gillian said that the early stories of season one had to be repetitious so that they could establish expectations with the viewers and the show needed a standard from which to deviate. A show needs a formula which generate expectations before it can switch them around on the viewer. Donna added that MacLeod had a lot of friends gone bad, but that all of these stories led to set up Blind Faith, where MacLeod was faced with an enemy gone good. Ginjer asked if, when they were writing the episodes, they knew what Duncan knew and when he knew it. Donna said that Adrian had kept charts for the length of Duncan's hair and which swords he used and that they had put together a time line at Adrian's request at the beginning of season 2 which showed where Duncan had been, when and to which Adrian had added details of his accent. When they were doing the time line, Donna said they realised that there was one 15th century flashback in season one, which didn't fit anywhere, but in the main: they had been able to narrow down a likely time-slot based on the costumes used and the dialogue. Over five seasons, they had managed to avoid MacLeod being in two places at once, although Gillian noted that 1919 was a really busy year! Ginjer said that there was very little on Methos, but she felt there was just enough on Fitzcairn to put together a background for her novel. Donna said that one of the things that helped them was the Travels Of Duncan MacLeod map that has given away by the Highlander store with the videos of one of the seasons. It was looking at this that made them realise that there were patterns to Duncan's travels, for example that post Culloden he was depressed and travelled East.

In full flowShe said that even after he realised that wars were not the answer, he could not stay away from them whereas Amanda would not be so interested and she could easily see her spending a war on a tropical island. She said that Amanda and Methos had both seen people do what Duncan does, before. Josepha speculated that this was because they were both survivors but Gillian was not sure this was true and said that we only see what they are now, although she felt it was fair to say that Amanda never had an idealistic phase.

Josepha said that she felt that Duncan was clinging to his upbringing in the Church. Gillian said that continuity in Highlander was not as straightforward as in a novel, where you can review the end and then go back and fix the beginning before it's done. In TV, you're stuck with the start and what has gone before. She said it that very few series were conceived as a single story arc like Babylon 5, where J Michael Stryzynski always seemed to know what was going to happen. She quoted Jerry Doyle, now standing as a congressman for Sherman Oaks, who said of other shows that "they don't buy green bananas", meaning that most series never sow the seeds of what is to come later in an episode. Donna said that Highlander threw out banana seeds all the time. They said that, sometimes, ideas didn't work. Gillian had wanted to do a trilogy of episodes in one season with three tied flashbacks which developed a story, but that it never worked as the earlier parts of the flashback didn't make sense on their own. They couldn't do it when they tried to do it deliberately, yet the Sioux flashbacks with Little Deer worked because they paid attention to their own history.

With a little time left, the session moved to a Q&A. They were asked if they felt there was any grounds to the often-expressed view that Methos started the Watchers. Gillian said they never decided things like that until they needed to and Donna said that she didn't like this theory. The only thing we know for sure is that Methos knew of the existence of the Watchers by the time of the Renaissance. Donna believed that Methos was telling the truth in his little story before the Watcher Tribunal in One Minute To Midnight. However, if they didn't show it on screen, it was always subject to adjustment, even if it had been "set down".

Asked how they felt Amanda would have reacted to Richie's death at Duncan's hands, Gillian said she didn't think that Amanda would have been devastated and Donna said that she felt Amanda's reaction would be Duncan-centred. Gillian said that she felt that she would have known by the time of To Be / Not To Be and that Joe or Methos would probably have told her. Whereas with the Star Trek novels, the books are not canon except the ones written by Jeri Taylor, with Highlander the books are canon until they are not! Gillian said that they always felt free to contradict the novels on the show if they needed to, although Bill Panzer approved the books are. She said that the books couldn't contradict the show, but the show could contradict the books. Ginjer said that in writing White Silence, she had been asked to make references to several Highlander episodes and an at-the-time unbroadcast episode of The Raven. Donna said it that both David Abramowitz and Bill Panzer had approved Marcus Constantine's death in Zealot. She said that Bill Panzer had wanted to bring the character of Marcus Constantine back at one stage and that David Abramowitz had had to remind him that "we don't like him".

Next, the Endgame Panel