Like most ’wannabe creators’, my formative and scholastic background is in writing and directing, yet I’ve realized over the years that my personal passion is to understand the core nature of humankind and where we’re headed based upon critical past events and troubling current trends.
Back in 1999, I was working as a Producer at Electronic Arts Canada, a division of the huge videogame company EA, I had been there for three years, on franchises ranging from Need for Speed, to SSX Snowboarding, to James Bond, as well as many other fledgling videogame prototypes.
I soon became tired with the position – here were all of these incredibly creative people and we weren’t doing anything to truly harness our skills and tell really important or powerful interactive stories. We were just making slightly better versions of the same thing year after year after year!
Sure...there was nothing really wrong with it – the money was good and I was learning so much in the job – but I felt like I was dying inside. It was the end of the Millennium and I honestly felt like I had a very short time left to tell a fairly important story that would touch a lot of people.
So I quit my job, cashed in my stocks and went traveling overseas for six months with a backpack – you know, the typical Peter Pan response. I went to Australia, New Zealand and a lot of the usual places a wayward late twenty something would go once they abandoned their livelihood.
But I surprisingly spent the majority of my time in the remote islands of the Fijian chain. And it was there, surrounded by the warmth of these incredible tribal cultures, that the story for Broken Saints started to really take shape.
I was inspired by the positive side of humanity for a change and my thoughts started to drift to modern technology and where it was taking us as a species…and what was happening to our spiritual natures as a result…and how we might be able to make the world a better place in the end (even if it has to get much worse in the short term). The idea started to take shape…
Time to write a book?
I had originally planned on writing a book (I still want to do a novelization of Broken Saints at some point) but after I returned from my trip, I realized that there were some incredible authors out there who had already written about similar themes…not the same story at all…but these were established authors and I couldn’t even dream of having a publisher yet!
I started taking contracts again at EA when I came back, I was painfully short on money and they set me up with a high-speed connection so I could work from home. It was at this time that I really started surfing the Web and discovering the strengths and weaknesses of what was out there.
Exploring the web
Most of all, I watched LOTS of Flash cartoons and realized that they were mainly just being used for advertisements or mindless animations that didn’t really try to tell a ‘story’ of any kind. And THAT is what I really missed doing, what I complained about during the peak of my production years, I wanted to tell interesting stories.
I did more research (which is to say I spent days on end surfing the backwaters of the WWW) and saw that online narratives hadn’t really caught on yet. So I became really intrigued by the possibilities. But I knew that this was clearly something I couldn’t do alone…
Creation of the team
Andrew West, the Art Director for Broken Saints, was the first to approach me. We had been friends for years (he used to come into a videogame store I owned in Vancouver) and had talked for ages about doing something creative together. When he found out I was back in town, he asked if I wanted to work on creating a comic book with him.
I was a HUGE graphic novel fan (Sandman, Watchmen, Dark Knight Returns, V for Vendetta, the Invisibles) and thought that maybe the story in my head would work best in this format that I had adored since childhood. We talked about self-publishing but then Andrew introduced me to Ian Kirby, our Technical Director, who was making websites and playing around with Flash at the time.
He gave me a demonstration of what Flash 4 could do and what its strengths were, it was really good at manipulating images, text, and audio and the idea came to me of doing an animated comic set to music! The essential elements were all there! The timeline…the raw components…the idea…and, I hoped, an audience that would be hungry for thoughtful, long-form narratives.
Essential ingredient, the soundtrack
All that was left was the music, we wanted to have a hypnotic original soundtrack and luckily I had a VERY talented cousin. Tobias Tinker had 4 classical and ambient collections completed that were never mass published, so he gave us complete access to the HOURS of compelling material, which became the basis for the Broken Saints soundtrack! And that’s the condensed version of how the BS team came together and how our skills fused to create this simple but very unique narrative form.
Many people have tried to give a ‘category’ or name to what Broken Saints is, either ‘animated graphic novel’ or ‘Flash comic’ but I like to call it ‘Cinematic Literature’. This works because the story in Broken Saints is not simple, it’s very complex and very driven by the language and the narrative…it’s LITERATE. But I also worship films and wanted the chapters in Broken Saints to have the quality of ‘cinema’ in their transitions and flow.
Most online comics are just ‘click-through’ panels that are static…and most traditional animations online are simple 1-3 minute cartoons but we present Broken Saints as a LONG-FORM animation that isn’t clicked through…it is EXPERIENCED. In the end, it’s a fusion of many influences – comics, anime, film, music, poetry, novels, art – but “cinematic literature’ sums it up best from my limited vantage point ;)
The legacy of Broken Saints
Broken Saints succeeds by speaking of how technology has expanded to rule our lives, how all of our communication and commerce and activities have machines and tech involved and how we have lost touch with what is TRULY important: our cultures, our fellow man, and our spiritual truths. And the story shows what happens when to people, to a global culture that has been pressured to fear ‘terrorism’ and pressured to fear its neighbors, when you open their eyes to the biggest truths that are rarely discussed anymore in polite company.
With that said, the legacy of Broken Saints is twofold: not only is it an interesting and emotionally resonant use of a modern and accessible technological tool that has reached a global audience (4 million + visitors and counting) but it’s a reminder to all generations that you cannot continue as a culture, as a species, or as a single human being if your life is completely ruled by fear.
But the only way we can overcome that fear is to connect on a spiritual level, to use our respect and our love for each other to shine a bright light and push the darkness away. And maybe, someday, technology could be harnessed to help us all do this!
The DVD collection
And, of course, there’s a practical side to things (heck, we can’t be complete altruists…eating and having a roof over one’s head still holds sway over us weaklings in the West). Recently, thanks to the generous support of the Canadian government and our loyal fan-base, we completed a completely upgraded 4-disc DVD collection of the entire 12-hour series, along with copious behind-the-scenes extras and new exclusive features.
Basically, we compressed the 3 years of development time on the online version to 9 months of round-the-clock art, effects and audio revamps to take advantage of a new medium and let the longest-running Flash series live on in style!
Realising the dream.
Like I said in the beginning, all I wanted to do was tell an interesting story and so many things ‘fell’ into place to make it possible… the team, the technology, the timing of it all.
And I look back on that comment in the first line about the whole ‘wannabe creator’ thing…and I think about the truth in that statement; for the first time in my adult life, I truly wanted something – in every fiber of my being – and it came to pass. Synchronicities and serendipities. Unseen machinations…
Be careful what you wish for…
But be thankful when it comes true.
About the author, Brooke Burgess
Brooke Burgess is the wizard behind the curtain. Previously a Producer for entertainment software giant Electronic Arts, Burgess’ background in journalism, advertising, theatre, film, and poetry prepared him for his current challenge. Holding an Honours BA in Communication and English from the University of Windsor, he is now entering into a new phase of profound humility, where he prefers to let the work speak for itself.