Behind the Scenes – The Orange Marble

Earlier this year, I created a science fiction series called The Orange Marble. During its creation, I jotted trivia points detailing how ideas came to be that I’ve decided to upload here. Full spoilers. Enjoy.

General

  • The idea for The Orange Marble was surmised at approximately 5am on June 23rd, 2016, while reading people’s Twitter responses to the just announced Brexit decision (this is alluded to in episode one, as this is also how Michael finds out the result). The idea was originally brainstormed and planned as a novel, however some time passed and the idea was ultimately scrapped. However, the idea was returned to the week of the 2016 US elections, expanded on and changed to be written as a miniseries. The core inspiration was the hysteria surrounding these events. Everyone was acting like these were the end of society as we know it, which led to me creating The Orange Marble as a “what if?” scenario – what if Donald Trump becoming president really is the worst thing ever? What if Brexit really does destroy Britain? That’s why I never refer to Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton by name in the series, because this is intended as a fun hypothetical rather than any sort of political statement.
  • “A World in Flames” was considered for the series name, however I ultimately went with “The Orange Marble”. “The Orange Marble” was chosen for a few reasons, including 1) because it plays on the common metaphor of the Earth as a (blue) marble, the connotations of the premodifier “orange” reflecting the apocalyptic state of Earth in the future (and playing on the “A World in Flames” idea), and 2) because it foreshadows one of the series’ catalysts and centerpoints, Donald Trump (“orange marble” can be interpreted as referring to Trump’s head, as he’s known for having a orange face tan. It referring specifically to Trump’s head is noteworthy because it foreshadows him being assassinated with a headshot.)
  • The 2011 novel and its 2016 TV adaptation, 11.22.63 was a big inspiration for The Orange Marble. Season 20 of the animated comedy, South Park also influenced it.
  • Names considered for the protagonist include Tom, Michael Anderson and Trey Michaels. Tom was inspired by the series initials (TOM) and the latter’s first name was derived from South Park co-creator, Trey Parker. Some of these ideas made it into the series, through one of the people Michael reads a Brexit reaction from being called “@TomAnderson27”, and one of Michael’s college bullies being named Anderson.
  • Marie and Wendy Drake (Michael’s mother and grandmother respectively) are inspired by my real life mother and grandmother.
  • When I started writing, I was unsure whether the series was going to be six episodes or eight. It ended up being six because, due to Christmas approaching quickly, I wanted to wrap up the series before it.

Episode 1 – The Pilot

  • Michael’s college bullies Gary, Anderson and Parker weren’t originally characters, however they were added to help enforce Michael’s lack of confidence (an element that helps with Michael’s character development over the course of the series). By extension, Michael’s college was never intended to be a location other than, at most, something mentioned in dialogue, but it was put in due to the bullies. Prior to this addition, Michael was going to go to 2066 at the start of act two from his bedroom, however it was moved to the college for various reasons (because of the bullies idea, to make better pacing and narrative progression, better season structure, etc.). Before act three was written, I contemplated removing the bullies and rewriting act two again, as I was unsure whether there’d be time to pay it off later, however the idea ultimately remained.
  • At one point (before the bullies were thought of), I contemplated making this episode six acts long as opposed to the usual three (every other episode would have had three, just this episode would have had six). This was decided against after some narrative changes (the bullies, college addition, etc.).
  • Zoe was originally going to have blue hair, however I changed it to red because I felt it suited the character better.
  • The episode title, “The Pilot”, is a reference to most first episodes of TV being called a pilot. This is referencing the literary/TV script hybrid format the series uses.
  • The episode title was originally “Pilot”, however it was retroactively changed to “The Pilot” after the decision was made (in between the writing of act two and three Episode 2) to have every episode title start with “The”. Episode 2’s title was also changed because of this (from “Catalyst” to “The Catalyst”).
  • The future date Michael first goes to, 17/11/2066, is exactly 50 years after the start of the writing of The Orange Marble (17/11/2016).

Episode 2 – The Catalyst

  • “Answers” was considered for the episode title. I also contemplated something with the word “truth” in.
  • The episode title (“The Catalyst”) foreshadows the end of the episode; Michael and Zoe finding out the catalyst of Earth’s downfall.
  • “Catalyst” was originally considered to be the title of Episode 1 (symbolising that Episode 1 is the catalyst of the series), however it was changed because I felt it suited Episode 2 more (due to the foreshadowing mentioned above).
  • Zoe mentions settlements in act one, foreshadowing where they head to later in the series.
  • Marie was originally going to be the character that sees Zoe’s bathroom fiasco in act three, however it was changed to Wendy at the last minute (because I felt it’s funnier for an old woman to witness it).
  • Zoe is loosely inspired by the character of the same name in the 2006 video game, Bully.

Episode 3 – The Journey

  • Act one was originally going to include Michael and Zoe hijacking a robot to get across the wasteland (they’d ride on its back), but it was scrapped because it would have messed up the pacing.
  • Zoe was originally going to attempt suicide by hanging herself, however it was changed to the gun because hanging had just been mentioned in the scene about Sanjid’s death. Using it for Zoe too would have been repetitive.
  • Zoe’s full name was originally going to be Zoe Parker, however it was changed to Zoe Piper because Parker was already being used for the name of one of the bullies.
  • Zoe’s suicide attempt was almost scrapped.
  • Sanjid’s full name is Sanjid Longnameitis. I didn’t mention it in the series because his full name would have only been mentioned in very serious circumstances (e.g. his 2066 profile showing him being hanged), so it would have detracted from the tone of the scene.
  • Jacob Axiom’s last name is inspired by “Trevor’s Axiom”, a concept in the South Park episode “The End Of Serialization As We Know It”.
  • The third act was originally just Michael and Zoe journeying through the wasteland, with them collapsing being at the end of the episode and them waking up and being introduced to the settlement being at the start of Episode 4. This was changed because I wanted to use Episode 4 to advance Michael and Zoe’s relationship, thus the settlement introduction being pushed forward to the end of this episode so that more room was available to focus on the duo in the fourth episode.

Episode 4 – The Settlement

  • The events of act three were originally intended to happen in act two, with act one of Episode 5 being the third act (of this episode) instead. This was changed during writing because I realised it would have felt rushed or compromised. Also, only a few elements of Episode 5 were planned out, so this small shift was inconsequential.
  • One of the main purposes of this episode was to progress Michael and Zoe’s characters and relationship. Although this is the central focus of the series anyway, it was especially emphasised in this episode.

Episode 5 – The Enemy

  • Other titles considered for the episode were “The Juxtaposition”, “The Showdown” and “The Turning Point”. The first wasn’t chosen as it has the same initials as Episode 3 (in hindsight, that’s a really stupid reason), the second wasn’t chosen as it felt too spoiler-esque and the latter wasn’t chosen because it didn’t match the other episode titles (two words, this has three). “The Antipeace” was also considered after the fact but was also scrapped for being too spoiler-esque.
  • The reveal that Jacob Axiom is Zoe’s parents’ killer was surmised in the moment. I originally considered the killer an unnamed character(s) that attacked them during a riot (like Sanjid), so I loved this idea because it made their death more than a random throwaway.
  • Act three’s opening scene (Michael in Axiom’s prison) was originally going to feature him, melancholically, singing The Weeknd’s “Valerie” to himself, specifically the lines “because I love you… and I need you…”. I cut this because it felt corny and on the nose.
  • This is the longest three act episode of the series. The only episode that’s longer is Episode 6 because it has four acts.
  • During the writing of act three, I considered making the episode four acts because of how long the act was becoming, however I didn’t due to time restraints (I wanted to complete the series before the fast approaching Christmas Day).
  • This episode has the highest kill count of the series, on screen or otherwise. The deaths include Ben McGraw, numerous Survivalists members (both on and off screen), numerous the Antipeace members (both on and off screen), multiple of Jacob Axiom’s servants (both on and off screen), three other settlement members (one from The Edgelords, one from The Capitalists and one from The Socialists), numerous the Antipeace arena guards, numerous arena animals and Jacob Axiom.

Episode 6 – The Moment

  • The first and only episode of the series to have more than three acts.
  • The act one description of 2016 (after they return from 2066) is copy and pasted from Episode 2. This is done not only as a form of mirroring, but to reflect how Michael now appreciates 2016 the way Zoe does.
  • When I considered the series being eight episodes, this episode was just going to be three acts, with act one being the assassination, act two being the part at the police station and act three being him returning to 2066; Michael and Zoe saying goodbye for the last time (before Michael enters the building of the debates) would have been the previous episode’s ending. Partway through the writing of the season, I changed it to six acts. The three acts prior to the assassination would have focused on Michael and Zoe appreciating their time together before killing the president. However, as writing of the season progressed, the episode was planned to have five acts and, near the end of the writing of Episode 5, the plan was cut down again to four acts. This was because, by that point, I felt that Michael and Zoe’s relationship had been developed enough, so having three acts focusing on that was unnecessary.
  • When this episode was still planned to have six acts, Michael and Zoe’s act one “I love you” exchange was going to be said on top of a ferris wheel while the two were at a carnival. Despite this, them going to carnival is briefly mentioned.
  • Act two is the shortest act of the series.
  • The act three Presidential debate was inspired by a similar scene in the South Park episode, “The Damned”. That scene features an (exaggerated) debate between Hillary Clinton and (Donald Trump stand in) Mr. Garrison.
  • During the writing of act four, I considered having a guard let Michael out of prison, it being revealed that the guard was a future Michael from the timeline where Michael was convicted. Michael was originally convicted for the assassination and served life in prison, so the old Michael from that timeline goes back in time to free his past self. This idea was not used due to how convoluted it was, and because it would have detracted from the flow of the story and unnecessarily overcomplicated the series’ climax. If used, one scene thought of was a scene where, after Michael is let out, he would have walked out and seen the old man from Episode 1 and chased him into an alley. He disappears due to that timeline being erased. This cemented my belief that this was unnecessary and overcomplicated.
  • The act four description of the new 2066 is a copy and paste of the description of the original 2066. Like the copy and pasted 2016 description noted above, this is done to show the parallel (in this case, the fact that everything’s the same).
  • Michael’s act four line “someone you used to know” was the last line written for the series. It was written on 04/01/17 at 7:30pm during proofreading.
  • This is the first and only episode of the series to have an epilogue.
  • In the epilogue, the reveal that the old man is Michael was originally done when he first turns around. This was changed to what it is now because it feels like a far more effective reveal and ending. Below is the original epilogue:
In 2066, Sanjid Jr., son of Michael's friend Sanjid, enters a building.
Sanjid Jr.: Michael? Michael Drake, are you here? It's Sanjid, don't leave me hanging haha.
Sanjid Jr  sees Michael in the corner.
Michael: yeah yeah, I hear you.
Michael turns around. His face is that of the old man who gave him the time travelling watch in 2016.
Sanjid Jr.: what are you up to?
He gestures to the watch on his wrist.
Michael: I just gotta stop a time paradox, I'll be like five minutes.
Sanjid Jr. nods. Michael activates the watch, triggering a blue light to glow around him. The light flashes, launching Michael into the past.
  • I originally labelled the epilogue the “prologue” by accident. I corrected it on 02/01/17, after watching a video of the prologue of the 2016 video game, LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens on YouTube. What a story.
  • The series ends with Michael as 68. He was two other ages over the course of the series – 18 (for most of it) and 55 (in the ending before the epilogue).
  • If the series was done again, one thing that would be done differently is the length of each episode; the episodes were done with the idea of all having three acts except for the finale (which would have at least four acts), however this led to some potentially bigger areas not being expanded on as much as they could have and the pacing of some parts of the narrative being sped up slightly. If done again, Episode 1 and Episode 2 would maybe be merged, Episode 4 would have four acts (so the settlement and Michael and Zoe’s relationship progression there could have more time and focus), Episode 5 would maybe have four acts (so The Antipeace settlement, arena fight and settlement escape could maybe be fleshed out even more) and Episode 6 would probably be restructured (e.g. the pacing of act two would possibly be altered and act four could probably be tweaked a bit too; the scenes at the police station and detailing 2016 post Trump assassination for example) – these are largely nitpicky, but are elements that would likely be done slightly differently if done again. The description in Episode 2 as to how Trump’s election caused the apocalyptic future would also be redone and detailed more extensively.
  • If a second season was ever done for the series, it would likely have something to do with Mars (e.g. a lot of people have moved to Mars after Earth has gone to shit); at least part of the season would likely follow a character trying to get there, including them entering space for the first time, their journey to somewhere where they can get to space, etc. As well as tying in with the series name effectively (“The Orange Marble” ties well with Mars given it’s a red planet), the idea expands perfectly on the world established in the first season (Earth being unlivable, it would explain why such sprawling areas of land are just unoccupied, barren wastelands, why technology has seemingly remained stagnant or even regressed on Earth, etc.). This idea is loosely inspired by season 20 of the TV show South Park; going to Mars (partly because of the state of Earth) is a running theme and joke of the season.
  • Leading on from the above trivia point; in between the act one lines “[…] standing directly on it” and “as the city becomes a blur”, a line by Zoe (in regards to the city view from the plane) saying “it’s… it’s beautiful. I’ve always pictured what it’d look like from above ever since I first saw the first rocket flying away to Mars, but it’s more majestic than I ever could have imagined” was going to be added to hint at the potential Mars related second season, however the dialogue was cut as it partially impacted the flow of the scene (Zoe cries after this due to Michael noting “it’s almost the day”, however the inclusion of the aforementioned dialogue made it unclear whether she was crying because of that or the view, thus detracting from the impact of the moment). Despite this, a reference to people going to Mars in 2066 was ultimately included in act two.

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