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The Dragonriders of Pern® Television Show
from Alliance Atlantis and Zyntopo

Information comes from the DragonCon panel done by Anne, and Joanna Robinson & Eric Weymueller of Zyntopo.  In 1996, Zyntopo acquired the motion picture and allied rights to Pern, and has licensed the game rights to Grolier, and is working with Alliance Atlantis on the television show.  How did Zyntopo stumble in to the rights?  Well it all started because of a cat...  But you can read about the cat on the official site (though I may mention Fluffy again later...)!

The show is due to hit television screens around the globe in Fall 2000, which is appropriately the Chinese Year of the Dragon.   Negotiations with television networks are currently underway; by September they may know their U.S. tv partners.

Many deals for a movie based on Anne's Pern books have come and gone, either because Anne was unhappy with how the books were being adapted to film, or with the current technology for bringing the dragons to life.   I believe that at least six different film adaptations have fallen through because Anne wasn't happy with the scripts.  The technology is finally here to do justice to Pern, and someone finally brought up the idea of a television series rather than a movie.  Anne hesitated at first, because she's dreamed about a movie version for so long.  But it would be very difficult to squeeze just one Pern novel into a two-hour movie--the series lends itself much better to a twenty-two hour multi-part series.  Eventually Anne was convinced!   Of course there are challenges on having a television sized budget, rather than a feature film budget...more on that later.

The story-line for the series will start with the events in Dragonflight, and the series will work it's way through the Ninth Pass novels.  In order to adapt the books to television, some adaptations and alterations are necessary--but Anne told us several times with a big grin and great booming voice "You will not be upset!"  I, for one, trust the Dragonlady; if she's happy, then I'm happy!

If this series really takes off and lasts beyond the first year, then we can expect them to eventually dip into prior timelines (like Dragonsdawn and Moreta), perhaps on the big screen!  Yeah!

Anyway, back to the story-line.  Although they'll be following the events laid out by Anne in the Ninth Pass books, there will also be new stories to tell--don't expect a carbon copy of the book plots; instead, expect some original scripts.  Individual episodes should stand on their own, and not be strongly interlinked from week to week (like Babylon 5 was, for example).  Eric said the series will be structurally most similar to the X-Files: mostly stand-alone episodes, with occasional two-parters and scattered 'big picture' episodes.  Confused as to how that'll work exactly with what we know of Pern?  So am I, but just remember, Anne said "You will not be upset!"  And you should be happy to hear that the television folks have reportedly read all of the books!  Zyntopo would like the very first episode to be a two hour show; since that's a wish and not a plan, I'm assuming it must be contingent on the TV network's allocation of a time-slot for it.

Will Anne do any of the script writing for the show?  --"If I learn how [it's done]."

When asked what genre of television shows this will fit into, they called it a mixture of drama and science fiction.  (Aside: the person who asked this question phrased it differently at first--he asked if it's going to be a soap opera.  Anne threw her hands up in the air in disgust, and made a flabbergasted noise that I couldn't spell if I wanted to!  Aside2: The person who asked was Stefan, of Stefan's Alter to Anne; boy does he feel embarrassed now!).

One challenge which Atlantis has had to work around producing a quality show to Anne's standards on the limited budget of a tv series, rather than an enormous film budget.  Anne told us a few times 'I'm sorry, but the budget won't stand for Sean Connery as the Masterharper.'  (Unless the audience/fans starting donating money towards that worthy cause!)  Another challenge is to create a whole planet--because people fly around Pern, this is more necessary than for other sci-fi shows set on other planets.  They'll be using a lot of 'virtual sets'--sets built only in the computer in two or three dimensions; but there'll also be a lot of sets built in miniature.  Also expect to use 3D atmospheric sets done on computer.  There's a lot to the world of Pern--many sets to build to show all everything they'd like to.   Erik expects that this show will have more animation (computer and creature) per hour than any other current tv show!

They think it'll take about five more months of work until they're happy with all the details of the computer-generated dragons.   Once upon a time, they thought they'd use animatronics for close-ups of the dragons (like was done in Jurassic Park), but now expect to fully digitize all dragons!  Fire-lizards may be done both with animatronics and cg.  What will the dragons look like?  Don't expect them to be modeled after Michael Whelan's artwork--they would have to negotiate rights with him to do that, and though Anne thinks his images are beautiful, they don't match her vision of a Pernese dragon.  And they definitely won't look like the dragon from Dragonheart!  They said that the fact that it's a computer model dictates some of what the dragons will look like.  They're working it out in bits and pieces from nose to tail, and getting Anne's approval for each part!  The illustrations in the Dragonlover's Guide to Pern are a partial guideline for them.   The DLG is also used as a reference book by Atlantis.

Music for the show has not been done, or even really thought about yet.  That's one of the final aspects in developing a new tv series.  In eight to nine months, they might hire a music director.

It was suggested that Anne voice the introduction in the opening credits (assuming there is a voiced intro).  Both the folks from Zyntopo and Anne seemed to like that idea.  When the suggestion was made, Anne spoke in a deep voice "In a galaxy far, far away..."  

Should we expect a cameo by Anne?   --"You better believe it!"  Perhaps as Manora in the lower caverns...

The Zyntopo folks said they definitely intend to put Anne on a dragon--they got some footage of her on their saddle mock-up when she visited last year.  The saddle was mounted on a boom; Anne got to fly through the air and loved it!  Because of her hip (which has been replaced), Anne can't ride astride, so we'll probably see her side-saddle unless they do some digital editing.  The saddle is one change made between the books and the show, which is necessary to meld the images of the live rider with the computer-generated dragon.  Anne fully approves of the change, but they did have to modify the saddle design to appease her.  It took a few steps for a rider to mount the original saddle design, and Anne objected because she's always thought that any rider 'worth their salt' could simply vault to the back of the dragon.  After modification, this is now possible!

Casting has not been done yet, but may start this September.  Look for them to cast unknowns, but have celebrity cameo appearances.  When Anne was asked if she'd have veto power over the casting, she said there was no need as Eric and Joanna see things the same way she does.  Will there be open casting or a chance for fans to appear in the show?  Eric and Joanna said they've been getting lots of inquiries, and that there will be announcements on the website as they get closer to casting...

They were also asked about what sort people they'd be looking for in casting:   gorgeous skinny women and beefy hunks, or more ordinary, 'real' people .   Unfortunately, I missed hearing the full answer, but got the impression that they intend a balance between the two.  A cast full of uglies <my word> wouldn't attract an audience, but a bunch of pretties wouldn't look right for Pern, and definitely isn't what their looking for.

Dragon voices will likely be done by their own riders, with some digital modification.

In the private panel, Anne was asked how Threadfall will be handled.  Anne's retort was "I don't have to worry about it--that's a digital problem!"

Should we expect toy merchandizing?  Oh, yeah!

Well, that's pretty much it for my notes.   Unless a question sparks my memory on something that didn't make it to paper during the panel.


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