Even though this movie is a work of fiction, the suspension of disbelief must be facilitated by reality. I realize how completely incoherent that sounds – so I’ll try to explain. The Alchemist Agenda has a wish fulfillment premise presupposing that there is a formula to unlimited wealth and ultimate power. It also has two lead characters with superior skill sets that qualify them for this adventure, and who are also blessed with significant flaws that they will need to overcome in order to fall in love and save the world. So there’s a lot at stake for two extraordinary people with precarious pasts, and they must forge an unlikely partnership in order to prevent a global catastrophe. Therefore, the world we create must have a good amount of believability for the audience to take the journey – to suspend their disbelief for two hours.
One way to do this is to present easily understood rules in the first act, adhere to them throughout the second act, and reconfigure them (in a plausible way) as we head into the resolution. Remember Gremlins? In the first ten minutes we learn that these new pets cannot get wet, cannot stay up after midnight, and cannot eat certain foods. We know these creatures don’t really exist, but we watch the rest of the movie because we want to see what happens when they break the rules. We also know people don’t really leap tall buildings in a single bound, but we enjoy superhero movies if the rules are clear in the beginning. One of the challenges in The Alchemist Agenda script was to set up rules that the audience is more privy to than the heroes are, at first, but once they overcome all obstacles and reveal their true selves, they will be more privy to the possibilities than the audience, and then fashion a more satisfying resolution than the audience thought possible.
We often hear that a hero must change in order to complete their arc in a story. A former teacher of mine put it in a different context. He used to say, “Characters don’t change, they reveal themselves.” That’s a subtle, but profoundly different way of looking at the character arc. And as long as you don’t pull the rug from under the audience’s feet, if the characters reveal themselves in conceivable ways, the audience will go along with the twists and turns.
In addition to character behaviors, the details of their journey should also be as credible as possible. Charlie Rocklin is the hero in The Alchemist Agenda who has been in hiding since his tour in Iraq had gone bad. He has masterful Team 6 abilities, but he also has several enemies who still want to eliminate him. Ariel Ellis is the heroine, now a history professor with the most in-depth knowledge of the alchemy legend, but she is also a former Mossad agent who still needs to avenge the wrongs done to her family, and she won’t be content until her revenge is complete. These starting points create conflict and obstacles, and in order to sell them to the audience, the character backgrounds, as well as their actions, must be accurately represented. To help with authenticity, I reached out to Dave Powers, a retired U.S. Army Special Forces “Green Beret” combat veteran and Navy SEAL Dive Supervisor qualified operator. He is also a federal agent. I could tell you how I found him, but then I’d have to kill you…
Mr. Powers had poured through the details of The Alchemist Agenda script with enthusiasm and gave much insight about military procedures, spec ops inputs and intelligence community (IC) jargon – everything from special op processes to types of weapons and equipment. Our artists have stayed true to these details, just as they have consistently drawn accurate locations where the story takes place.
One other visual element that has helped create our world is the colors we’re using, and the way we’re using them. Early on in the planning of this movie, we decided that color would have an important impact. But we didn’t want to use color in a traditional way. We really liked the black and white style of the drawings, and didn’t want to do use conventional full color, which could feel too cartoonish. So we decided to keep the focus of each frame in black and white, but color in the backgrounds to reflect the emotion in every scene, as well as the location and time of day. Color has had such an impact on our process that we have regarded it as an important “character” in this movie. This, of course, carries over into all the mise en scène, all elements added to the film, and is especially significant as we work away on our music score.
After all, it’s all in the details…