Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Clash of the Gods:
What it's like being a talking head

For additional info on Clash of the Gods, click here.
For Clash of the Gods schedule click here.

Clash of the Gods has been running on The History Channel for a few weeks (Monday nights at 1o p.m. for the premier of each episode). I haven't seen the ones I am in yet, and they're not giving us DVD copies until the specific episodes run, but, having watched some episodes on Greek mythology, I'm feeling pretty hopeful about the ones on Thor (Sept. 14), The Lord of the Rings (Sept. 21), and Beowulf (Oct. 5). The visuals are very good and, although there's a bit of repetition where the series uses the same clips again and again (Zeus sitting down on his throne, for example), the overall quality seems very good. I don't get the impression that the words of the other professors have been twisted into anything they didn't say.

Over at I Just Read About That, Paul concludes that all the guest experts were told to wear black, "or it's an amazing saratorial coincidence." He's right. We were told to wear black jackets and either black or white shirts and then they provided red ties. One expert, who was coming in right after me, didn't get the memo (or chose to ignore it), but they had a jacket for him and were muscling him into it as I was leaving.

The History Channel producers and crew were exceedingly smart and efficient the whole way through (even when they had to call me in last minute). They had a basic script that set up what they wanted to talk about, and I was given the questions that would be asked in advance so I could be prepared. It wasn't possible to have notes because you are looking directly at the producer, who stands to the side of the camera. I had learned, when doing the National Geographic "Behind the Movie" piece for the Return of the King DVD that if your eyes move away from the producer, you look shifty, so I can't imagine how you read notes unless there's a sophisticated teleprompter, which there wasn't.

What I could glean of the script from the questions made it seem pretty decent (which has been borne out so far). The writers/producers had done good work tracking down reasonable information. However, it was a little surprising how much the agenda (as opposed to the actual content) seemed to be set by Wikipedia. For example, I got asked a question about the Canterbury Charm, which I hadn't studied very much. I was impressed at how wide-ranging the inquiry was until I happened upon the Wikipedia page for Thor and found the Canterbury Charm referenced. I'm not a Wiki-hater, but the influence of Wikipedia on the script does give yet another reason why professors in relevant fields should perhaps look at the relevant Wiki entries and correct them if need be (though I, sadly, haven't gotten around to doing this yet).

The producers also were surprisingly good at not trying to put words into my mouth. Producers are generally very strong willed (they have to be in order to get anything done when dealing with a lot of creative people), and they don't like you to say "no." But in one particular case, I was just not going to say that J.R.R. Tolkien used the word "orc" to refer to the Roman god of the dead, Orcus. It's just not right. "Orc" clearly and obviously comes from an Anglo-Saxon word (see Tolkien's introductory note to The Hobbit and his comments elsewhere), and while he never laid out his case for why he thought that "orc" did not come from "Orcus," my inner Philologist-Sense (like Spidey-sense, but different) agrees totally with him that the derivation from Orcus isn't right. (Note also that the orc/Orcus connection comes from Wikipedia). In the end, I said all that, and everything was fine.

Overall the people who worked for KPI, the shop that produced the series, were incredibly professional, energetic and fun. Everything I've ever done for TV is always rushed, and this was no exception, but it was a good kind of rush, when time wasn't being wasted and a whole bunch of people were all bustling around doing things at once. I'm looking forward to "my" episodes (of course I'm just one of many experts) and pretty hopeful that I'll like the final result. Particularly if there really is a CGI Midgarth Serpent fighting Thor while I narrate the battle. That would finally be something my kids care about seeing.


Unknown said...

The fact that they seemed to get some of their information from Wikipedia makes me sad on the inside. I guess they may have been rushed, and just wanted a jumping off point? Still, there are more professional places to go, than a website that anyone can edit.

Anonymous said...

Orc/Orcus have come together in Italian, even if that's not where they started. An orco is a terrifying monster or man - the typical example once given to me of an orco was Bluebeard. But it's also the word used for "orcs" in the Italian translation of LOTR. And orco derives from Orcus, according to the first Italian dictionary I checked.

jeniffercox said...

I was so excited to see your show that I tried to watch it last night! Oops...now I just need to remind myself that it's on next week.

James said...

I was on the road on 28 September, but I just set my DVR for the repeat on 5 October of Beowulf (not to mention Tolkien's Monsters). Thanks for the Facebook post, which jogged my memory! Much like Beowulf himself underwater, I'll be watching with bated breath! :)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the shoutout! I really enjoyed the episodes you were in, and I paid special attention to the Orcs part to see if they messed with you. (Glad they didn't).

I don't know what kind of rating they got for the show, but my blog hits are through the roof. So, who knows, maybe I'll see you on TV again.