Saturday, October 19, 2013

The Song of My People

The leather wraps scraped across the callouses on Lilylen’s palms as she twisted the wraps around her hands. She tied them tightly. The wraps served as good protection from the wooden sticks she picked up and spun through her fingers. It was time to go, and she was nearly ready.

Lilylen stared out from the window of the holding, counting the rows of soldiers. There were near a hundred, armored and standing at the ready. Those were her chosen enemies. Chosen, yes, because there were so many different men to fight, so many threats to her home and in this case, her soul. The lord in command of these soldiers was a dark mage who had stolen the souls of his soldiers to bring himself more power. Lord Niccen, ruler of the city of Donwyn, what he called himself.

Untrue, though. She stood in the halls of Donwyn now, ready to protect it from his army of soulless men. If her side lost, then he would take over and hold the small city under thrall. This was not what she wanted. Donwyn was not her home now, but it had been for many years. She had no home, and her family had all aged away and left for the northern lights. Still, she wished to protect Donwyn, and her magic was strong.

She adorned herself with her armor now. Silver tips on her pointed ears, twisted and pierced through the skin, were enchanted to protect her from the raucous sounds of battle and hone her hearing. She pulled on a chain shirt and belted it with a leather strap that shone bright when she cinched it - her protection spell activating and spreading over her body in a shield. Finally, she raised her only weapon: her drum.

The drum was a gift from her mother on the day of her turning. Her mother had promised her the moon, and true to her promise, the large drum was made with the whitest of leathers stretched tight and it played the deepest rumbling. Her turning was a celebration of her sixteenth anniversary of birth, and marked the day her magic came true.

Now was no time for reminiscing, though.

Lilylen joined the warriors below in the great hall who all were armored and ready after enjoying midnight feast. There was a small party of adventurers standing in the center of the hall. Her companions were the fighters Dor and Leaf, the magician Wend, and trickster Fig. They had come with her to Donwyn, excited for the prospect of battle and as true friends. She would owe them everything if they won this battle. She raised her voice loud.

“Friends!” She clapped Dor on the shoulder. “It is time for the cries of battle and the victory! Let us feast our eyes now that we have feasted our bellies, and take down Lord Niccen and his thralls!”

Her words were met with a roar of approval from the crowd. Some warriors banged swords against shields in echoing clangs while they shouted and she cheered back at them.

“That’s the spirit, my good men and women! Join me now on the field!”

The warriors began to pour out of the hall, taking their places on walls and near gates. The battle was not long off, and Lilylen’s blood began to rush in her ears.

“Dor, Leaf, Wend, Fig - you are all my companions through battle again.”

“Lilylen, we fight for you as much for glory.” Dor’s eyes were bright behind her raggedy bangs. “Once we finish this, we will go back to the road and beyond.”

Fig slipped something sneakily into Lilylen’s hand. She looked down to see a small jeweled dagger, sheathed in shadow. She looked at Fig, raising one eyebrow in question. Fig just smiled and crossed his fingers.

“To war, to win!”


The adventurers made their way to the head of the warrior’s ranks, and Lilylen called for the gates to be opened. There was a loud creaking and clamoring as the large double gates opened, revealing the battlefield ahead. The warriors and Lilylen’s companions poured out onto the field, readying for the first light of dawn.

The sun rose slow and lazily, peeking through behind the holding and shining light on the thralls. Lilylen spun her drumsticks and rolled them on the drum, creating a deep, low rumble. A light mist fell down from the sky and settled over her fellows, providing cover from the soldiers and putting a protective shield around her fellows. The thrum thrum thrum echoed across the grass, and with that, the soldiers lurched forward, the warriors began to run, and they reached each other in a glorious crash.

The warriors had the strength of their heart and home pulsing through them, and all who heard the sound of Lilylen’s drum were given more power to resist their enemies. She strode forward, slowly, between the fighting, ducking and dodging while Dor and Leaf cleared her path. She had one responsibility only: to get to Niccen.

Dor and Leaf before her ran into the broken ranks of soldiers. The soldiers were technically powerful - precise in movement - but they lacked the intuitive skills of the warriors and adventurers, which failed them. In essence, they were strong only in numbers, just landscape to trample.

Wend walked behind her, casting bolts of mana into the surrounding crowds of soldiers and calling down fire from the sky. Fig was nowhere to be seen, but that was best. His tricks were not to be noticed until they had already been done.

They were nearly through the soldiers, pushing through while the warriors battled against the twice-strong army. At the back of the ranks was Niccen, not even fearful enough to be on a horse, standing proudly as though he were untouchable. He caught Lilylen’s gaze and there was no emotion in his eyes but sneering cruelty. She quickened her pace, leaving Wend behind unknowingly.

She was pressing forward and focused on Niccen, continuing to drum the slow rumble, when she felt a sudden sharp pain in her back. Her breath caught, she felt something within her go empty, and she struggled to breathe. She looked around behind her only to see Fig jump out from behind a soldier and land on another man - a man holding the jeweled dagger she had been carrying. Fig slashed the man’s throat with one sharp swipe, then he collected the dagger and returned it to Lilylen’s pocket.

“Be more careful!” He shouted, and the noise rang in her ears as she gasped for air. She began to lose her footing. Fig’s eyes widened and he placed his hands on her back, whispering an incantation. She felt her heartbeat pumping throughout her body, and slowly felt the pain ease and the air fill her lungs again. The battle pressed in close to them, and there were soldiers moving to attack. Lilylen braced herself.

Suddenly, a clap of thunder sounded and lightning struck, spreading through the bodies of the soldiers, turning them into crisp wastes. Lilylen sighed in relief and doubled her speed, trying to make up for lost time. She reached Niccen quickly.

He didn’t even move. She stood ten feet away from him and all he did was stand there, unafraid, undaunted. She gritted her teeth, and began to pound her drum faster, harder. She opened her mouth, and the sound from inside her was a deep bellow.

Long we fight and long we live,
we do not fear the dark.
Strong we are and never gone,
we do not fear the burning light.
Hold back the night,
the night so cold.

We fight so long,
long will we live.”

She sang it again and again, her voice becoming louder and louder. Niccen stood there, quietly at first, then laughing. He did not notice the red light growing behind him, growing larger with each drumbeat.

“This is your plan?” He yelled above the drumming. “Sing me to death?”

Niccen moved his hands, muttering an incantation she couldn’t quite catch, even with her unique hearing. There were corpses around her from the battle, and they slowly raised themselves to their feet. Her breath caught in her throat, straining her voice. She found her voice again as she spun around with her drum, changing the beat and singing faster as she slammed bodily into the undead monsters surrounding her. They pressed in on her, grabbing at her clothes and scratching her face. Her heart was pounding in her head. She knew she didn’t have much longer until she would lose control, so she stopped moving and planted her feet. The song was sung.

Lilylen’s voice stopped mid-verse, and she banged on the drum three times in succession, and from behind Niccen appeared a giant, red, translucent dragon. The dragon was massive, a full-sized red dragon with a long crest on it’s head. Its flesh was nothing more than red light, the body of a spirit of vengeance. Niccen turned in response to its roar, and Lilylen imagined that his eyes grew wide. The dragon devoured him in one bite, and inside the dragon Niccen tumbled into its stomach. Lilylen felt elation welling up inside her, until there was a loud pop and Niccen disappeared. She spun around in panic, running into the corpses crowding around her who toppled over, the incantation controlling them no longer held.

“Fig! Dor! Leaf! Wend!” She called for her companions, who were fending off the soldiers. “He’s gone!”

None could hear her. In that moment, she felt a gust of wind burst against her side and tear through the leather of her drum. She gasped and turned to face Niccen, who was spinning a whirlwind. The wind blew so hard that it wrested the drum from her hands and took the air from her lungs. She felt as though her very soul was being pulled from her, but she staggered towards him, her face contorted with rage.

Blood boiling and rage overtaking her, her muscles grew and flexed, and her eyes tightened as the irises turned to bright red. She felt the dagger in her pocket and pulled it out, pressing her body against the whirlwind, her rage strength allowing her to resist it’s power. She screamed and bellowed at Niccen, at the wind, at everything that was in her way of tearing the mage apart.

“I will eat your soul!” Niccen cried out, and now she could hear the fear. She would always hear the fear when her rage rose within her. She breached the wall of wind and watched him tumble backwards. The look of terror on his face was all she needed to see. She tackled him and stabbed the dagger into his heart, twisting and wrenching it. The shadow of the blade spread out through his skin in a spiderweb, blackness filling his veins. She watched until the light left his eyes, hearing the crunch of cartilage and bone beneath her weight.

Soon, she felt the blood draining from her face. Her muscles weakened, and she staggered, falling to the ground beside Niccen’s blood-covered corpse. Around her, the thralls fell down, slowly but surely being overtaken by death.

She felt weightless as Dor and Leaf picked her up and carried her off the field. The warriors crowded around as she was taken to the hall. As she drifted off into weary rest, she heard the song of her people. The depth of their voices. The love in their hearts.

“For life! For victory! For Donwyn!


Friday, October 18, 2013

Systir Productions and 616

Today I have an interview with Systir Productions, a production team based in London. Amy and Victoria Howell are sisters and multi-award winning creators of 'The Syndicate' and '616', the latter of which is currently crowdfunding.

What led you to the film industry?

Vicky has worked in film and theatre for the past 15 years. In fact she trained originally as an actor, then got sidetracked into writing and later to directing, but we've both grown up on films of all types - watching horror from probably a much too early age(!) and had often gone over various ideas for stories, but there was a eureka moment whilst back at our mum's house for xmas 2008 when we just said 'we should do this!' Vicky had the industry knowledge and writing experience, Amy had the business experience and the ideas so it was an obvious next step.

What made you choose to work on a webseries?

We started with the intention of making films, to be honest, and the first project we wrote together was actually a feature version of the '616' concept. However, during the course of that script's development we became sidetracked into the story behind what became our first webseries, 'The Syndicate', which again we initially developed as a feature idea. When we wrote 'The Syndicate' back in 2009, there were very few webseries about, especially in the UK, but we did stumble across one which was made by the production team behind 'Torchwood' called 'Girl Number Nine' and this is what introduced us to the concept of webseries. The aspect that appealed to us initially was the ease of distribution and this is what gave us the idea of turning 'The Syndicate' into a webseries. Rather than being at the mercy of a distribution company to get your work seen, you just post it online and control the distribution yourself. And we're really glad we did that, as, if we had tried to release 'The Syndicate' as a traditional feature film we could still be sitting around now waiting for a distributor, while, by releasing as a webseries, it has now been seen by almost a million people, travelled to festivals around the world, won awards and put us in touch with Frostbite Pictures who we are now working with on producing '616'. So webseries have definitely been lucky for us!

What would you say is your favorite project you worked on, and why?

Your first baby is always special, so 'The Syndicate' does hold a unique place in our hearts. It has also brought us a lot of opportunities so we're also really grateful to it and to everyone who worked on it. We learnt a lot through making 'The Syndicate' as well - a baptism of fire in a lot of ways! - and '616' is definitely benefitting from that.

What is '616' about? What makes it worth backing?

'616' is a character driven, fantasy/horror webseries in the tradition of Buffy/Angel/Supernatural etc, albeit less glossy as we're British...! Although it follows in some very established traditions, with ancient evils, magic and end of the world stakes, the concept behind the story, the way this evil manifests, is, so far as we can tell, entirely unique. We've watched many a horror film in our time and we've certainly never come across it before, so that alone makes it worth backing! Like all the best ideas it's incredibly simple and you'll kick yourself when you find out what it is...!

How has your experience been as women in the industry? Do you find any impact on your success?

So far, we've been very lucky and haven't really experienced any overt prejudice or discrimination as a result of being female filmmakers beyond the odd "boys' club" mentality of the occasional crew member. For the most part our gender has been completely irrelevant and that's as it should be! We have been known to surprise festival programmers though as, with the nature of our writing, they assume we're male...

What do you think is the biggest contributor to your success?

We don't give in. Making low and no budget projects can be like fighting bears uphill through treacle - it's hard work, it can be slow and frustrating and there is always something trying to stop you, from the weather to needing to pay the rent, but the trick is to just put your head down and keep going.

Thank you so much to Amy and Victoria! Good luck to them on the crowdfunding for '616'!

About Systir Productions

Systir Productions is an award winning production team, based in London, and consisting of sisters Amy and Victoria Howell. Amy is a writer/producer with a ten year background in project management and Victoria is a writer/director of over fifteen years experience. They began Systir in 2008 and their first project was a multi-award winning webseries, 'The Syndicate', which, due to interest from producers they have now developed into a feature script. The script placed in the finals of the Cascade Pictures Writers' Couch Initiative in December 2012; semi-finals of the Bluecat Screenplay Competition 2013 and was a finalist for the Bluecat Cordelia Prize for best British script. Systir have also produced three short films, two of which, '616' and 'Drawn Together' are live action/animation mix and still in post production - these are due to be finished by early 2014 to be submitted to festivals. The third, '6 Shooter', was made as a competition entry for the Frightfest/Shortcuts to Hell competition 2013.

As a result of taking 'The Syndicate' to webseries festivals in 2012, Amy and Vicky met up with Canadian webseries creator Ivan Hayden, who, with co-creators Jason Fischer and Kirk Jacques, was aiming to establish a webseries studio, Frostbite Pictures, to produce high end webseries content. Systir agreed to become the UK arm of Frostbite and are now working on their second webseries, '616', developed from their feature concept/short film of the same name. However, where the original concept was a B movie, effects laden gorefest, the webseries has been developed as a more mainstream, character driven fantasy/horror series in the tradition of Buffy/Supernatural/Grimm etc. '616' is a completely original horror concept, which has never been done - so far as we can tell! - and Systir are very excited to bring the concept to the webseries world. They are shooting just the first three episodes at present as pilot episodes with which they hope to generate production funding for a full series.

As well as writing, directing and producing their own original content, Systir also collaborate with other webseries creators and filmmakers. Most recently, they directed and helped production manage short film 'Leads and Follows', a love story set in the world of swing dancing, and award winning comedy horror webseries 'The Bloody Mary Show', as well as assistant producing short horror film 'Anna'.

Systir are currently crowdfunding for '616' and would love it if you could help them out! There are some great perks to be had, so please do follow the link and check it out.

For more information on Systir and their past projects please see their website where you can also watch their first webseries, 'The Syndicate'. You can also check out the trailers for their short films on the website or on their YouTube channel. If you're into social media - and who isn't these days! - follow them on Twitter -systiria and 616series - or Facebook - SystirProductions, TheSyndicateWebseries and 616series, or link up with them on LinkedIn.