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Straczynski/Wachowski Sense8 on Netflix


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Tiny bit of new info on Sense8, the upcoming Netflix series by J. Michael Straczynski and the Wachowski siblings.

I have a feeling we'll be talking about this show with every episode, so just putting down a summary of things revealed so far.
From the above interview and other sources, here's what we know:

Five year arc. Season one focuses on getting to know the characters, their origin story. They are all the exact same age.

JMS will be directing the London and Iceland sequences.

From io9:

It spans the globe in setting, but each character telepathically connected while they dream so frequently "see" each other and talk. Set and shot in London, Seoul, Mumbai, Nairobi, Berlin, Mexico City, San Francisco and Chicago. [sounds like they've added Iceland too.] Actors will be cast from each location as well. Not Americans playing other cultures.

The eight dreamers include "a closeted Mexican telenovela hunk, an Icelandic party girl, a German safe-cracker, a Korean businesswoman, an African bus driver and a transgender American blogger."

So a vision or dream will likely connect these characters, including two interesting roles titled the "visionaries." The two sound like the yin and yang to this "vision." One character is named Jonas, an African-American character who is allegedly the good guy. And his evil counterpart is named "Mr. Whispers." One of them wants to unite the eight dreamers, the other wants to destroy them.

From this:

In an interview with Spinoff Online, Straczynski explained, “We started out at one point talking about how evolution involves creating ever greater circles of empathy: You belong to your family, then you belong to your tribe, then two tribes link up and now you have empathy for your people on this side of the river, and you’re against the people on the other side of the river… on and on through villages, cities, states and nations.” He continued, “So what if a more literal form of empathy could be triggered in eight individuals around the planet, in India, the U.S., London, Mumbai, Nairobi and elsewhere, who suddenly became mentally aware of each other, able to communicate as directly as if they were in the same room.”

Begins shooting in late June / early July in San Fran. To be released late 2014 or early 2015.

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It seems like a dream pairing. Both parties on the top of their game could produce something spectacular. On the other hand neither of them have really been great over the last few years. I'd say the Wachowski's have been improving and for JMS it may really be a case of TV is where he is best as his comics are all over the place in quality.

I'll definitely give the show a chance though as it has the potential to be very big.

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Five year arc. Season one focuses on getting to know the characters, their origin story. They are all the exact same age.

JMS does seem to like his five-year story arcs.

The concept doesn't especially grab me so far (sounds very light on the SF/F elements) but I'll definitely give it a try given the people involved.

The plot does seem a bit vague at the moment, but I'll definitely give it a try. Even if it starts off light on SFF elements I can see them expanding as the series goes on, JMS' shows do tend to get more complex over time.

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Yeah, I'm not interested in telepaths/empaths/woo in general but it's used to tell a particular story about "how technology is used to both unite us and divide us" as well as what author David Brin has previously noted as the cultural expansion of empathy horizons. If it's starting out as a more sophisticated story than most of the SF we get in media, so I have to support that.

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His idea of empathy is nice but I'd sincerely hope they cover the fact that when your family empathises with the other family on your side of the river then there's usually a group on the other side of the river you don't trust (and so on up the chain). I'm not really convinced much would happen if 8 people could directly communicate from around the world instantaneously - we do that already with twitter and telecommunications in general.

It also sounds a bit like "touch" when they talk about that. But with a 5 year arc I'm certain there's an escalation in plot. Like WilliamJ says Babylon 5 started out as a UN in space.

The casting and quality of the leads is going to be very important as is the strength of each story. Thinking about it the Wachowskis already played with this concept in Cloud atlas (and I thought the way they cut the stories was expertly done from the book)

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Establishing empathy is hard work, I imagine. Just having a new communication channel isn't enough. The process of empathy involves forming a theory of mind of another person. But nothing about that requires one's perception of another to be a positive one. To be able to defeat an enemy, you have to understand that enemy's mental states. Empathy is very useful for that. ;)

I'd guess the 8 won't be the only ones, just maybe the first. And they will have enemies. The emphasis on their exact same age is suggestive of being born on the same day, perhaps genetically engineered to have their abilities. If this ability expands to much of the rest of the world, whatever it is really, then surely there will be social, cultural and political implications.

Twitter can be blocked by oppressive governments. The internet can be firewalled against other nations. I imagine this ability cannot. If someone in North Korea had a private unblockable channel to others in the world, I imagine her government wouldn't be too happy about it.

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Nor does this sound like the sort of thing I like either.

Worse, there is so much preaching head and pseudo deep spiritual inquiry and philiosphy in both Straczynski and the Wachowskis, which get worse the longer one of their productions continue. Gads, it darned near overwhelmed B-5; one Matrix was more than enough.

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  • 4 months later...

Cast announced.

Darryl Hannah (Kill Bill, Splash, Blade Runner)

Naveen Andrews (Lost)

Freema Agyeman (Doctor Who)

Brian J. Smith (Stargate Universe)

Doona Bae (Cloud Atlas)

Tuppence Middleton (Jupiter Ascending, Sinbad)

Terrence Mann (Bob from The Dresden Files)

and others.

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  • 5 months later...

At Loscon JMS revealed the following (as told by JMSnews.com admin Jan):

There's a lot involved and I'll write more when I've had a chance to listen to the recording again at least a couple more times but here's some tidbits. This is gonna be SOME show!!!

Some good news: After seeing what was being shot, Netfilx has broadened this from 10 to 12 episodes. There's no set length, though Netflix gave a minimum and maximum number of minutes so each episode should be able to come to a pretty natural stopping point. Interestingly, JMS told how Netflix can track when people start and stop and he said they told him that people tend to watch a couple of episodes at a time and about the first ten minutes of the third to resolve the last cliffhanger.

'Sense8' (or perhaps sensate) is what these people are, as well as the title of the show that plays on the number of the main characters. There are other's of their sort, and they come in clusters of various numbers. Each member of a cluster can/does experience everything that the others do, including taste and other sensations (yes, *those* sensations!) and can also take on the skills of other members in the cluster. An example JMS gave was when one member of the group in Nairobe was attacked by a gang, he was able to use the skills of another member in Seoul who's a kick-boxer.

The show's going to explore many areas of sexuality and identity and culture and (IIRC) will be seen entirely from each characters point of view. JMS said that what they did was called 'block shooting' where each character's point of view was filmed in each location so that when things were edited together, a (for example) punch could begin in Seoul and finish in Nairobe. Because each character could assume aspects of the other cluster members, the actors had to become familiar with each other's mannerisms for the times that they were using each other's talents or skills. He said that knowing that each one would be in the spotlight made for very supportive work among the cast along with a little healthy national pride. In most cases, they moved the entire cast around to each location but hired mostly local crews for each location. This lent a truly international feel to the show and spotlighted the culture of each location.

Here's a cool/creepy bit about the bad guy/villain/antagonist. He's able to project himself into other bodies - but only if they're 'vacant'. So there are blanked/lobotomized bodies in various places around the world that he can 'activate' and 'occupy' at need.

JMS's excitement was completely evident throughout the panel. And a really nice touch was that he was so pleased to do the first panel talking about this show in detail at Loscon because it was these folks to whom he'd shown the very first footage of Babylon 5 back in the day. The affection he has for them is very much reciprocated. I heard from many of the attendees over the weekend who 'they were there' back in the day.

That's all for now. Look for more in the days to come as I have time to listen more.!!>


And some hype from JMS (back in October 13 on facebook):

I have been online, talking about the work, the various TV series, and the behind-the-scenes stuff, since November 20, 1991. (Technically, I was online far earlier than that, logging onto usenet groups with a 28.8 modem, but that’s when I officially started talking about Babylon 5.)
From that point to right now, 23 years later, I have always been very judicious in the things I say about the work I do. I don’t make claims that later turn out to be false, and when I evaluate the coming work I’m always painfully honest, detailing both where it succeeds, and where it falls short.
For 23 years I’ve kept every promise I ever made online. Which is why I don’t make many of them. I want to be *sure* before I open my yap.
When we did Babylon 5, we were the first series to create a five-year-arc, and I said at the time that other shows would follow up on this model. This has come true with a vengeance in shows like Battlestar Galactica and Lost and many others.
We were the first TV series to use CGI extensively for spaceships, alien worlds, virtual sets and CGI creatures. We said it was the coming wave. Lots of folks made fun of that and said that models were the way to go. Now it’s the dominant technology.
We were among the very first TV series to shoot 16x9 format, which has now become the standard.
We were one of the first series to produce an aggressive 5.1 audio mix for TV at a time when most shows were barely handling stereo, and said it would become the standard. It has.
We did everything we said we were going to do. Every promise we made, we kept.
And now that we’re about a month from the end of shooting on season one of Sense8, with vast amounts of the footage now in hand, I’m sufficiently confident with what we’re doing to make another promise.
Sense8 is going to debut on Netflix in 2015. And it is going to change the way you see television, in terms of production values, storytelling, scope, scale, and action. All of it.
We are going to tell a story on a planetary scale. No cheats. In ways no one else has ever done before.
We are going to treat subjects that most TV series, and pretty much all SF series have avoided.
We are going to present visuals and action in ways that you have simply never, ever seen before. Anywhere.
In 2015 we are going to blow the doors off the television business.
Count on it.


The other aspect of all this: it's me and the Wachowskis writing all the scripts (in addition to them doing the lion's share of the directing), and this is the first time since B5 when the writing process has been left to its own devices. We've been given total creative freedom. Put the minds who made the Matrix movies in the same room with whatever I bring from B5, plus a big budget, terrific network support, and vast tracts of creative freedom, and well...you'll see the result for yourself.

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  • 3 months later...

The JMS promise has raised my hopes. I actually have no dount that the Wachowskis can make this look mindblowing and if JMS is mainly in control of the story (with someone ironing out his "jokes") it may rein in some of the Wachowskis weaknesses. He's probably correct in the sense this will be one of the first sci-fi shows with the liberty to do things other shows haven't - largely with respect to content. JMS is maybe taking advantage of that as you could see aspects of B5 where he was pushing content to the limit. Some of his mature reader comics, especially "supreme power" showed he could explore mature themes. Seeming though no-one else from showcase, HBO, etc have tried their hand at sci-fi it technically will be a first. Hopefully not just robots cussing and boobs in space though.

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The JMS promise has raised my hopes

Some of JMS's claims in that promise are...questionable at best. For example, they only shot the live-action stuff in Widescreen. The composites were lower-res and the full CGI scenes were only shot in 4:3. It makes it highly questionable if the show can be said to really be in Widescreen if so much of it isn't. And all of that future-proofing was a waste of time if the show can't be updated to HD/Blu-Ray (which at the moment appears to be impossible) as shows even considerably older than B5 can be.

Also, his planned five-year arc bore very little resemblance to the show we ended up with, because the studio wouldn't give him ten years and two shows to do it justice. What we ended up with was great and far better than his original outline, but it's not the case that what he had planned in detail in 1991 was what we ended up with in 1998.

Also, the only show to my knowledge with a pre-planned five year story arc that came after B5 was Dark Skies, which was cancelled after one season. Certainly Lost made most of it up as they went along, as did BSG (they had a rough plan which covered maybe the first two seasons and nothing after that).

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I'd still say it was largely true that long format story arcs became more common after B5 tried it - even if it wasn't exactly as it was initially planned. Then again the creators of DS9 could make the same claim retrospectively,

I'd also cut him slack on the other claims if no other show filmed anything in Widescreen or used CGI model effects at that time. I think that's probably true even if the show wasn't 100% of either.

The only thing I'd expect to be fulfilled from his new show guarantee is the storytelling. There's no doubt it will look great but in terms of visuals there are a lot of shows that look like films already,

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Some of JMS's claims in that promise are...questionable at best. For example, they only shot the live-action stuff in Widescreen. The composites were lower-res and the full CGI scenes were only shot in 4:3. It makes it highly questionable if the show can be said to really be in Widescreen if so much of it isn't. And all of that future-proofing was a waste of time if the show can't be updated to HD/Blu-Ray (which at the moment appears to be impossible) as shows even considerably older than B5 can be.

Also, the only show to my knowledge with a pre-planned five year story arc that came after B5 was Dark Skies, which was cancelled after one season.

A proper widescreen, HD version would have been a lot easier if the CGI files hadn't been lost; the intention was always to re-render the CGI for widescreen at a later date. As far as I'm aware B5 in HD isn't impossible, just expensive.

And he didn't say anything about "pre-planned" in that quote. Though it's a pity other shows haven't followed the planning example; the B5 plan changed over time, but it always had a plan, and that resulted in a much more effective arc than Lost or BSG.

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  • 2 months later...


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