Parallax Film Productions has done everything in its considerable power to push the boundaries of Real TV with their series “Battle Castle”, the featuresque documentary that will begin airing in the states this week on PBS. The show is an interactive, trans-medieval journey into castle engineering, bloody siegecraft, and epic clashes that transform mortals into legends. Hosted by UK celebrity Dan Snow, the show takes its viewers over six one-hour timeslots to Syria, France, Spain, Wales, Poland and England delving into the stories of six fascinating castles: Crac des Chevaliers, Chateau Gâillard, Dover, Conwy, Malbork, and Malaga.
Parallax Film founder and the Executive Producer and Director of “Battle Castle”, Ian Herring and his business partner and Series Producer, Maija Leivo brought in London-based Ballista Media Inc. to co-produce the TV broadcast series while the convergent media component was co-produced by Agentic Communication Inc. in collaboration with Starlight Runner Entertainment, a New York-based transmedia company that has worked on projects including “TRON”, “Transformers”, and “Avatar”. The result is an interactive documentary experience which includes a high-concept website, episodic motion comics and a browser-based adventure game.
Dr. Paul Sturtevant from the UK, an expert in media and the medieval period, has this to say about the series: “Battle Castle takes the classical documentary format, including elements like a historian presenter, location shooting, re-enactments, living history and CGI reconstructions, but adds to it a layer of Hollywood-style drama in the form of bloody battle scenes and a soaring musical score. This balance, between gripping your audience and teaching them, is difficult to get right. Battle Castle does this well.”
Peter Konieczny, Medieval Historian and Co-Founder of Medievalists.net agrees: “Viewers will get a real understanding of how powerfully impressive these massive castles were in the Middle Ages. It’s like medieval eye candy!”
Parallax Film Productions, the company that famously sank an aircraft carrier, imploded a sports stadium in 3D and deconstructed Machu Picchu all for the sake of their viewers, spent five years meticulously putting together each integral aspect of “Battle Castle”. In the end they had infused their documentary series with major feature film qualities.
In order to choose the castles to be featured, Parallax had to select six out of thousands from all across Europe and the Middle East. “Each castle had to have a visionary designer and builder behind it,” explains Herring. “The castle had to have been tested through a siege and it had to relate to history-changing events.”
“We were specifically looking at castles and not forts or fortresses because we wanted to harken to the Age of Castles and highlight the ingenuity of an individual visionary,” adds Leivo, herself a Master of Arts in History. “These visionaries became characters through which we told the story of the castles. As such we feature legendary figures like Ferdinand and Isabella, Richard the Lionheart and Edward I of England.”
Each of the castles also represent a technological pinnacle of the age—a time when new ideas were tried and implemented in the bloody arms race of the Middle Ages. But it was not just enough for someone to build these amazing castles, Parallax also wanted to have the castle face the ultimate test by siege to see how the castles held up against an attacking force. Finally, each of the castles had to be recognized as having played a role in the outcome of history, symbolizing the rise-and-fall of empires. “For instance,” says Leivo, “the fall of Chateau Gaillard represents the collapse of England’s power on the continent and the rise of modern France. Similarly, when Malbork Castle holds out against Polish forces, the established power of Teutonic Knights continues for almost another half century.”
Once the castles were selected, Parallax Films wanted to bring all of these aspects of the castles together and make it into something that translated to more than a documentary. “There were six key elements that were needed to bring these stories into cohesiveness,” says Herring. “Pieces-to-Camera, segments shot on location with Dan as the story-teller; Host Experiential, whereby Dan goes to various locals such as Guedelon, France and Caerphilly, Wales to have hands-on experiences with medieval machines, tools and weapons. B-Roll of the Castles; this is the stuff that is going to make people interested in the place. It's accessible. It's a real place; it’s tangible.” Herring continues, “The last three are CGI, whereby we take the viewer back in time to show what we think it actually would have looked like back in the day; VFX which included Green Screen shots of our actors within context of the castle as well as establishing large fight scenes. This we did to augment the Practical Recreations, our sixth key element, which is when we film our actors, establishing our main characters and playing out the battle scenes. This material is what we use to set the stakes, build and pay-off the drama.”
All of these elements to the series were then seamlessly stitched together by the writers and blended with Sound FX and music. Parallax Films included over 265 VFX shots into the show across 6 episodes making “Battle Castle” an extraordinary documentary series.
“By producing Battle Castle as a blue chip-style documentary series we were basically looking to do a drama disguised as a doc,” explains Leivo.
With today’s growing popularity of medieval-themed shows such as HBO’s current TV hit “Game of Thrones” and the recent feature from Pixar, “Brave”, the only difference in “Battle Castle” is in the fact that its story is not fantasy, it’s real.