We recently had a chance to catch up with the very busy Aaron Dembski-Bowden, renowned Black Library author and the writer for The Lord Inquisitor.
He's taken some time from his hectic schedule to respond directly to some questions that everyone's been asking us about!
We're not going to lie, we're just excited about his involvement as you are.
What first attracted you to the project and how did you become involved?
Like pretty much everyone in the world, I saw the trailer when it came out of nowhere, and it just destroyed me. The detail in it; the obvious passion for the lore... I was freaking out. I didn't dare comment, because I was fairly sure it was doomed. No one person was going to finish a movie like that. It felt like I was looking at something along the lines of Half-Life 3: it'd be amazing if it ever came out, but it was too big a deal, too much effort, and we'd never see it make it out into the light of day.
That changed when Erasmus started recruiting likeminded souls onto the team. The morning I saw the recruitment drive, I was checking my mail in bed on my iPad, still lying down, barely even awake. I typed my email to him right there, asking (read: begging) to help or do anything (even make the tea...) on the project.
I didn't demand to write it. That's just luck.
How has the response been so far for the news of your involvement?
Scarily positive. I get asked about it a lot at book signings and conventions, and every week I'll get a slew of new questions about the film on my blog and Facebook page.
I had no idea it was going to be this big, I just thought it'd be a badass side-project to get involved in. I think the original YouTube trailer is up to about 600,000 views now, or something.
So, no pressure, then.
Was there anything you had to clear with Games Workshop or The Black Library before you could join the project?
Not really. Extremely boring answer: Engaged.
I'm not an employee of Black Library, it's more of a two-way street - like any author and publisher relationship. I pitch them ideas for novels set in their intellectual property (or they'll ask me after a project if I want to pitch something again because they like my work), and then they contract me to write the book if they like the idea.
Then comes production, distribution, royalties... all the normal stuff at the publisher's end.
At the risk of sounding really cold and dull, in a professional (and legal) context, Games Workshop would only have had a problem with my involvement is if I tried to make money from using their IP. The same way any license-holder would object, because that's why license-holders hold licenses in the first place: they hold the rights to their intellectual properties to use it in their businesses, the same way George Lucas uses the rights to Star Wars, and so on.
There's no malicious conspiracy going on. Since none of us are trying to make money on The Lord Inquisitor, and no legal loopholes that threaten IP ownership, there's no need for Games Workshop to bring out the big guns. We're all working on it out of love, in our free time. I'm daring to hope the guys in the offices will actually love the project when we get it done and out there.
Will you be working with either of them in regards to the story you're developing here, or do you have free reign over the material?
Naw. I mean, I'll probably ask a few guys for lore clarifications if I have an idea out of left field, but it'll be all the usual informal stuff I'd ask any of my friends in the office about my army lists or whatever. Games Workshop and Black Library themselves have nothing to do with the project, though like I said, I'm daring to hope they're curious about the endgame.
What's different about writing for The Lord Inquisitor compared to your other projects and normal writing process?
Scripting is a different beast to prose, but that's not much of an issue, because I did a lot of screenwriting on my writing degree, and a good idea is a good idea (same with bad ideas...) no matter how you write it down on the page. The main issue we're all having is essentially time.
Since this is all done in our spare time, it's a struggle to keep pace, sometimes. It takes me almost a year to write a novel, which is pretty slow for professional novelists in the grand scheme of things, but there's been a recent phase of getting everything moving forward in the last few months. Different iterations of the script; adding resources, and so on.
To tell you the truth, I did the first draft of the script without even really talking to Erasmus, and it was a disaster. Imagine 40 minutes of fairly plain, direct battlefield stuff. I'd never make a novel that bland and combatty (that's not a word, but shut up) but I was running under the assumption that's what we needed to aim for here. I hated it, but sent it to Erasmus anyway. He hated it, and sent it back. That's when we first talked.
Since then, everything's been awesome. It changed my entire outlook on the project.
More on that below.
Is there anything that has surprised you about the production?
Oh, hell yes. I've worked in films and video games before, and I know every project comes with its own unique set of resources and limitations. Even so, heading into LORDI was like going in blind. One of the biggest challenges Erasmus and I keep discussing is what can go in the script, and what can't, in terms of the final movie. If I write a scene about 10,000 people all yelling at once, we'll need to simulate 10,000 voices, and the animators need to render and animate 10,000 separate faces. That'd take forever. It's not that we need to keep it small-scale, but I'm trying to keep conscious of our resources. Thankfully, our resources are actually pretty comprehensive, given Erasmus's talents and the team he's putting together.
It's also worth noting, it's me - not him – who's a bit more conservative in this regard. He's the one saying "Stop worrying, we can handle it," when I say "Uh, is it too much if I put in one of these?"
So I guess what's surprised me most is how willing he is to include the massive-scale stuff. The other day we were talking about a massive warship graveyard taking up most of a planet's surface. I suggested it with this cautious, hesitant tone, and he was actually all for it.
What do you find appealing about Coteaz's character?
He's the ultimate puritan. Zero tolerance. No compromise, no surrender.
In a galaxy filled with shades of grey, he sees everything in black and white. It's fun to deal with characters so hidebound and ironclad in their perceptions, but it also offers a lot of depth when they deal with characters who have a more... uh, 'fast and loose' morality. Every inquisitor has to choose, day to day, whether to compromise to get results, or stay absolutely pure, no matter what.
Inevitably, almost every inquisitor will takes a step or two towards compromise at some point in their lives. They use the weapons of the enemy to destroy the enemy, or they use forbidden secrets to solve a mystery that couldn't be solved any other way.
Just once, they tell themselves. It had to be done. But just once, and never again.
Once that door is opened, is it so easy to close?
Coteaz has never made that compromise. Even more importantly, he hunts down and destroys those who have.
Are you going to be treating him any differently than what's already been presented in Games Workshop's materials?
In fairness, there's not a wealth of lore about him - it comes down to a few Codex mentions here and there, hitting the high points of his career and outlining his personality. That's pure gold for us, as it gives us a great guideline without listing everything and anything he's ever done.
I can say The Lord Inquisitor is set before 999.M41, so it's before the current write-up in the latest edition of Codex: Grey Knights, but it's after he's judged Inquisitor Laredian, and ascended to the rank of Protector of the Formosa Sector.
Games Workshop has a pretty rabid fan-base. Are you ever worried about getting something "wrong"?
Yes and no.
I'm as much of a fan as anyone. I live and breathe Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000. I love it enough to make it my career, as well as my main hobby. But once you're 'behind the curtain', so to speak, you realise a lot of fan assumptions about how the license works are just that: fan assumptions.
Games Workshop is very, very careful with its licenses. That's not to say mistakes don't happen, because mistakes always happen in any human endeavour. A three-second glance at any site listing the hundreds of errors in any movie's production will tell you that. But Games Workshop shaped Warhammer and 40K to be open to interpretation, because a massive chunk of the hobby is bringing your own lore to the table.
"Canon" doesn't really exist in Warhammer 40,000. Not as it does in other licenses. The very point of the setting is to offer some structure, then open it up to personal interpretation.
Yeah, there are hard and fast rules. A Chapter descended from Rogal Dorn's gene-seed is unlikely to ever develop a Betcher's Gland, given it's not in their implantation process. Because of that, as an example, the Black Templars can't spit acid. We know that.
But the setting is set up with countless holes for your own army background and lore perceptions to neatly fill. The battles listed in every Codex aren't the only battles and characters - they're not even all of the major battles and characters. They're examples, taken from a spread of ten thousand years, across countless millions of worlds. They're slices of lore to use wholesale, or peel bits off and use as examples.
These are future histories. It's all already happened, but the reports we get from that far-flung era are unreliable, corrupted by distance and time and a billion unreliable narrators who know a fraction of what the rulebooks tell us.
Games Workshop actively encourages that attitude - the idea of everyone coming to 40K and seeing something slightly different: the same thing from a different angle. An author can say Character X was on World Y in Year Z, and another author might contradict it in something else written several years later if he or she has a different idea. Choose which you prefer? Assume both are false sightings and Character X was nowhere near either world? It's your call. That's the point. There is no canon. There are several hundred creators all adding to the melting pot of the IP.
Where The Lord Inquisitor is concerned, I'm not worried. We're not trying to rattle the cage in terms of lore. I'm sure there'll be a few people that say "ships leaving the Warp don't look like that" (or whatever), but those are things that come down to personal interpretation.
Can you give us any hints about where the story is going?
Here's the tie-in to Question #5 above. I've been reading a lot of John le Carre spy novels, for a start.
We have a very specific theme and mood we're aiming for. This isn't the story of a tabletop battle - as tempting as it might be for me to write my 40K army into this, even I'm not that vain. It's not the tale of 2 Troop Choices and an HQ fighting an equal number of points, though between you and me, me and my friends write up our games like that into fiction for our 40K campaign all the time.
This is a personal, close look at Warhammer 40,000. A mystery needs to be solved, and a traitor will fall.
We want it to be a glance into the daily existence of those poor bastards living inside this universe's dark and hateful confines, as they expose a heresy threatening to break out across the Formosa Sector. A heresy that might destroy Coteaz's warband from within.
There will be massive battles (hey, it's Warhammer 40,000) but they're the spice, not the focus. This is a film about morality, compromise, betrayal... and revealing the truths in a universe where bloodthirsty gods are real - and really want to eat your soul.
In our first talk, I said to Erasmus: "You know, the people expecting an hour of explosions will hate us for this."
He paused a moment, and just said: "Warhammer isn't just about explosions."
That really resonated with me. I don't dilute my novels like that, and it was the most reassuring thing when he said he didn't want to dilute the movie. I'd come into this thinking he wanted Starship Troopers, and instead he wanted Alien, Silent Hill II, and Jacob's Ladder.
I can roll with that.
I hope that explains a little more of our process.
Thanks for taking the time to talk with us!
No worries. As the project gets closer to completion, I'll obviously be able to say (and show) much more. There's a lot coming down the pipeline in the near future.
We're really excited to finally get Aaron's thoughts on the project out to you guys. We're going full steam ahead and we're hoping to have a lot more to show of the project in the coming weeks. Expect a few more interviews, Q&As, and contests in the future.
Stay tuned to Facebook for further updates and more looks behind-the-scenes.