Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Joel Shepherd's "Sasha"

Joel Shepherd was born in Adelaide, South Australia, in 1974. He has studied Film and Television, International Relations, has interned on Capitol Hill in Washington, and traveled widely in Asia. His first trilogy, the Cassandra Kresnov Series, consists of Crossover, Breakaway and Killswitch.

Here he shares some ideas about casting opportunities for a film adaptation of Sasha, the first book in the A Trial of Blood and Steel series:
One giant plus for any movie made of Sasha, is that unlike my previous ‘Cassandra Kresnov Series’, Sasha would be relatively cheap to film. Yes there are some quite big battle scenes at the end, but most of the story is character driven rather than action driven, so aside from the costs of shooting in some very pretty, wild terrain (New Zealand? Canada?), I can’t see any prohibitive expenses. There’s also no magic or dragons or other giant, flame spewing monsters, so special effects would barely be needed (and wouldn’t that be just wonderful, to see some character based fantasy that didn’t just rely on eye candy?).

Since characters drive the plot, by far the most important part of the film would be casting. And for my main character Sasha, I have exactly the same problem I had with the Cassandra Kresnov Series -- there’s very few actresses in Hollywood who have established themselves playing tough female roles. There are probably quite a few who could do it, but haven’t been given the opportunity. But I don’t know who they are.

As a character, Sasha is something of a force of nature. She was born a Princess, daughter of the King of Lenayin, and was a very wild kid. In any other circumstance she might have had it beaten out of her, but Lenayin loves individualists and Sasha’s older brother, Prince Kristoff, was a little wild himself and encouraged her, perhaps unwisely. But Kristoff was killed when Sasha was eight, Sasha was heartbroken, and went to live with Kristoff’s old mentor Kessligh, greatest warrior in Lenayin , to take Kristoff’s place as his student.

Any actress playing Sasha would have to get into the shape of her life, think Demi Moore in G.I. Jane. Swordfighting in my novels isn’t some magical gift -- talent perhaps is (as Tiger Woods or Roger Federer could tell you), but talent has to be worked at, and Sasha works hard. She’s only an average sized girl, twenty years old in the novel, but she’s got muscles all over. She’s not bulky at all, because she relies on speed more than power, but has technique to achieve both.

She fights with an exotic swordfighting style called the svaalverd, the like of which I’m not sure has ever actually existed with swords, so I’m not actually certain that it’s possible, I’m just presuming it is. It’s inspired by the Wing Chun style of Kung Fu, which was created by a woman (the story goes) named Yim Wing Chun a long time ago in China, and was designed specifically to enable a weaker fighter to beat a stronger one, using the power derived of form and technique to overwhelm the inferior power of size and muscle. Or in other words, it was designed in part to allow women to beat men, by using a man’s greater size and strength against him (the irony being that these days far more men practise it than women). To portray this in a movie would be fascinating, and would require a very good fight choreographer with an excellent imagination who grasped the concept. Sasha’s blindingly quick, has amazing footwork and balance, and parries often with an angled blade so she’s not meeting force with force, but deflects her opponent’s blade past its target, leaving him open for the next cut. The more power her opponent uses against her, the better she likes it, because a big swing that misses its target will leave him completely exposed on the follow through.

Another key character is Kessligh, Sasha’s mentor. I’ve always imagined him as a guy with a very rugged and memorable face. Michael Douglas comes to mind, though only in a general sort of way. Kessligh’s an even better fighter than Sasha, not quite as fast any longer (he’s about fifty) but deadly experienced. He’s a philosophical guy with a hard edge, whose emotion when you get it out of him is that much more valuable because it’s so rare.

Sasha’s most prominent brothers, Damon and Koenyg, could be played by any number of tough young Hollywood guys. Damon is taller, more cynical and less self confident. Koenyg is a brick wall, average height but built like you might see in the WWF, and with similar attitude.

And then there’s Sofy, Sasha’s younger sister, intelligent, sophisticated and ‘girly’, an utterly different personality to Sasha, yet somewhat worshipful of her all the same. She has no interest in being ‘just like’ Sasha, but has huge admiration for Sasha’s strength of character. Sofy is the peacemaker in a world filled with warriors, and it is a struggle for her to retain her youthful optimism in the face of all her world’s troubles. As a character type, I don’t think she’d be difficult to cast compared to Sasha, but again, her character’s surface simplicity becomes more and more complicated the further the story goes, so some real acting talent would be required.

Lastly, I think Sasha the movie would require some awesome cinematography. Lenayin is a very rugged, beautiful land, rather like its people in that it can be difficult, dangerous and wonderful all at once. The native Goeren-yai are animists who believe spirits live in all things, and beautiful photography could capture their sense of wonder at the land around them, and help to convey why it is that they are like they are.
Read an excerpt from Sasha and learn more about the land of Lenayin. Visit Joel Shepherd's website and blog.

My Book, The Movie: Crossover.

The Page 69 Test: Sasha.

--Marshal Zeringue