The Enquiring Hitchhiker Interviews Daniel Knauf Creator of the TV Series Carnivale

 

This week we are proud to bring you an interview with Daniel Knauf. You may remember Daniel as the creator of the hit HBO show Carnivàle. He is currently working to recreate the story telling genre with his Bxx internet format. Bxx presents a non-linear method of telling a story in which the viewer can follow the story from multiple angles, out of sequence, or even follow specific characters through the story.

 

The Hitchhiker asks…

Question 1- Tell our readers a little about how you broke into the entertainment business. I have read a little about how Carnivàle was discovered and I would like to hear the story from your side?

I was an employee benefits consultant by day, writer by night. I’d had some limited success in the ’90s, but things hadn’t really gone anywhere in the long-haul. In 1998, I was in what I like to call “the crest of a slump.” I was closing in on the big four-oh, and I decided to take a last run at the whole silly screenwriting thing. I created a website called unmovies.com as an online resume’ of sorts, where I posted the first acts of all my unsold scripts as writing samples. In 2001, a young development exec, Robert Keyghobad, working for Scott Winant, an Emmy-winning television director-showrunner, found Carnivale at my website. We developed it together, took it to HBO and the rest is history.

Question 2- Many of our readers are older science fiction and fantasy fans. For instance I am 41. I know you broke into the business later in life meaning in Hollywood after your twenties. Was it hard to do that in a town obsessed with youth and what are your words of wisdom to someone like me just now trying to work my way into the entertainment field at this late date?

It helps to be talented. Know your craft. Deliver promptly. When an opportunity presents itself, seize it with both hands and ass-rape the shit out of it. I mean that. Don’t go for half measures. Keeping that fire blazing in your belly when you’re middle-aged is the hardest part of the battle. If you can pull that off, you should see a measure of success.

Question 3- You have been writing for comics for some time now. What is the real difference between scripting for a TV show or Movie and writing for a comic?

Comics are much harder to write. Like haiku, it’s a very unforgiving medium by virtue of its brevity. The disadvantages are that you can’t really depict movement. You’re writing a story with a series of stills. Also, you can’t rely on an actor or a deft edit to make your dialogue play. Everything is on you. Plus, comics pay way less than TV and movies. And there’s little or no back-end, so you totally get shafted out of any profits from movies that may be derived directly from your work. It’s a lot like how things used to be in the early days of rock-n-roll; a lot of terrific artists get terribly exploited by the big comic-book publishers. But the one big advantage to comics is the creative control you have as a writer. The editors pretty much leave you alone and let you create.

Question 4- Explain for our readers your latest project Bxx Haunted and where you want to take this? What kind of media would you like to see developed from this innovative approach to entertainment?

I created Bxx because, though the internet has been around for a couple decades, no one had devised a narrative format that exploited its characteristics. Sure, people post stories and videos, but they make no effort–other than, perhaps, length–to adapt them to the internet as a specific medium. An episode of television, for instance, can’t really be called “internet content” simply by virtue of being uploaded; it’s still just TV you passively watch on your computer. You’re not interacting with it the way you interact with actual internet content. I wanted to create a narrative form that the audience would access the same way they access other content on the internet, that is by instinctively clicking when their interest is piqued, receiving information in various media–video, text, images–and viewing it in a multitasking environment via multiple screens.The key difference between the internet and, say, film or a book, is that the internet is non-linear. The order in which you access content is dictated by each individual, not by some,external physical mechanism such a one page following another, or frames of film running through a projectors gate. The user defines how an what and in what order he or she wants to access content. So the first thing I had to broom what the idea of controlling how my story would be experienced. That’s not to say that there couldn’t be a three act structure–a beginning, a middle, and an end. In fact, that structure is immutable and unavoidable in life as in fiction. However, in traditional storytelling, the writer controls the sequence of events, parses them out in a very specific order that can be manipulated to maximize their impact on the audience. Since the internet is intrinsically non-linear, so too should be any narrative format adapted to that medium.So I considered other types of narratives that are experienced non-linearly. Ancient history, for instance. Artifacts are discovered, and a picture emerges of an epoch. Additional artifacts are dug up, and that picture changes. Artifacts don’t present themselves in linear order. History unfolds with massive gaps that gradually get filled as more information presents itself. Memories are another type of non-linear narrative format. We smell cut grass. We feel good. It evokes a moment in our own history, which then triggers synapses that connect us with adjacent memories–some connected by time, others by the people involved. And so in a few seconds, a scent can trigger a chain of memories that begin with our first kiss and end with blowing a math exam in college.A more technical type of non-linear narrative is the story contained on an airliner’s flight-recorder. The story begins at take-off and ends with a crash. The flight-recorder captures an uninterrupted real-time record of everything that occurred in the course of that story on multiple media–cockpit audio, radio transmissions, avionics, technical logs. The story of the flight is then accessed by investigators, not necessarily in chronological order, but in whatever way it is necessary to determine why the crash occurred.The flight recorder–or black box– became my model for the box-narrative format.As a proof of concept, I created an event that unfolded in real time–in the case of HAUNTED, a paranormal investigation in which the team is compromised and/or possessed by the very entity they are observing, leading to a tragic outcome. Like any drama, it was scripted and rehearsed. However, this drama lasted 32 hours, and was captured by 16 video cameras. We literally called “action,” and 32 hours later, called “cut.” We then put everything that was captured during the course of that drama–video, text, stills–on a website and developed a user interface that would allow the audience to navigate and access the content.Though the result is imperfect, it was much more compelling than it has any right to be. Without any promotion to speak of, we’ve generated a fairly large audience. Hopefully, we’ll get a shot at doing it again with a decent budget and better hardware.

Question 5- I am a big fan of Andrew Breitbart. He said, “Our culture is the most important front. And the three most important pillars of that culture are Hollywood and pop culture, along with education and the media. Those three are absolutely controlled by the left.” This website was created because I realized the truth of those words and I want to take back my segment of popular culture from the left. I know you were a friend of Breitbart and you suffered for coming out of the conservative “closet”. Please tell us your opinion of this quote and tell us what exposing yourself meant in Hollywood?

First of all, coming out as a conservative revealed the sheer vastness of the army behind me. I got so much support and so many kind letters, I was deeply moved. Meanwhile, I’ve gotten very little hate. I’m sure the decision has costs me a gig or two, but it hasn’t cost me any real friendships. Despite all the loudmouths, the majority of liberals in Hollywood lean closer to the center than you might think. All that said, as an artist, I serve truth and beauty, not right or left. If a narrative leads to a dark place with mature content, I’m going to follow it there. Injecting politics into a narrative is the sleaziest kind of propagandism. Yes, the Left does it all the time, and frankly, I think their work–and, btw, its effectiveness as propaganda–suffers for it. They have to twist reality grotesquely out of true to convey their values. So you end up with silly movies in which the “bad guys” are all big-business types of European descent, and all non-whites are portrayed as inherently noble–even magical. Nobody buys that stuff. It’s absurd. As MLK asserted in his “I Have a Dream” speech, character is not defined by skin-color. Bad guys and good guys come in all colors, races and creeds.Conservatives get that. Most people get that. It’s only the liberals that feel this need to PC everything up.To realize Breitbart’s words, you don’t fight leftist propaganda with rightist propaganda. You don’t fight fire with fire. You fight fire with water. The dramatic narrative is inherently a vessel for conservative values. The very construct of a classical “hero”–that is, an individual struggling against a collective, external menace–is deeply conservative. So my job is, in a way, easier than that of the modern Hollywood propagandist. All I have to do is tell a ripping yarn.I can tell you what I won’t do, though. I won’t ever write a gratuitous scene that makes the audience feel like a dupe because they go to church, or salute the flag, have pride in America and believe in its exceptionalism, or cherish the Constitution and the liberty it defines.

Thank you for the interview.

About Jonathan David Baird

Jonathan David Baird has worked as an archaeologist for the past fifteen years throughout the Southeast. He left full-time field work in 2011 to finish graduate school. In 2012 Jonathan received a master's degree in English literature from Fort Hays State University. His focus of study was the development of late Victorian Gothic horror. Currently working on second masters in American history and applying to PhD programs.
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Jon, that was just a great interview. I didn’t know the guy before, but he’s quite a mind. Thanks for posting it.

Ed Raby Sr says:

“You don’t fight fire with fire. You fight fire with water.” excellent quote. Have to check out the Bxx thing, it sounds interesting.