People have asked me where the story of “Witch Hunter” comes from and when they do, I shudder. Not because there’s anything wrong with that question, but simply because it makes me think back on the long, long road to the version we are currently making: the final, ultimate, superduper edition of Witch Hunter after which we will make no more, promise! Here follows an overview of the road we took to the creation of “Witch Hunter”, starting today with the inspiration.
Part 1: Inspiration
The inspiration for this story started with a number of visual images. This may seem like a paradox, since we’ve called our enterprise Audio Epics and everything we make is in the medium of sound, but I think it is quite appropriate. My initial inspiration for a story has always been an image. In the case of “The Will of the Woods”, it was my love of the visual style in the animated films of Don Bluth (in particular his masterpiece “The Secret of Nimh“) coupled with the art of Brian Froud and a weird tree in a forest near my home. For “Witch Hunter”, one of the key sources of inspiration was the game Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. If you have never heard of this game and you like “Witch Hunter”, you might like it. It’s a tabletop roleplaying game where players sit around the table throwing dice and bringing stories to life using their imagination. The Warhammer game uses a lot of imagery that is really an exaggerated, gothic version of renaissance Europe. Witch Hunters are recurring characters in this world and to be honest, the very first thing that drew my attention to them was the hat. I know it sounds silly, but hey, Cate Blanchett admitted she wanted to play Galadriel because of the ears. I wanted to write a story about a witch hunter because of the hat. Nevertheless, I didn’t want it to be too reminiscent of Warhammer and so I kept the idea in my mental refrigerator for a while. Another part of the inspiration is my love for the Cathedral of Our Lady in my home city of Antwerp. That building inspires real awe in me, and I wanted to tell a story that somehow incorporated the feeling that this building gives me. The third part really came when I saw the 2004 film “Van Helsing”. That movie is a really tacky approach to the witch hunter type and while it entertained me on a very basic, straightforward level, I felt it really missed the opportunity to do something deeper with such a character. That’s when I started really thinking about a story about a witch hunter set in a city with majestic gothic architecture.
I wanted to tell a story that was about more than just killing monsters. I wanted to write something with an emotional core. Around 2006, while we were still finishing up another Flemish-spoken audio drama, I started listening to a lot of film music that had the kind of feel I was looking for. Grand, operatic scores like Elliot Goldenthal’s music for the otherwise totally non-gothic Final Fantasy. Listening to music was a sure way of bringing up new images in my imagination.
This may sound weird but certain colours came up a lot… Golds, reds, browns… I imagined a world that smelled like burning wood, where the sky was always dramatic, never clear, where everything was ancient. The image of a massive black bird came to my mind, as well as a figure in a scary mask with a long beak. A sickle held by a bloody hand came to mind, and a tall dark tower with a yellow light shining from the window of its tower chamber. Finally, a dark-skinned girl appeared in a white dress, running around on bare feet in the dark alleyways of the city.
I had an environment, a feel and a number of characters. I knew I wanted my witch hunter to be a hero with a human heart. When I thought of the girl, I suddenly realised that it would be really fun to have a secret romance between a witch and a witch hunter. Initially, that’s where I wanted to take the story. In the end, the bond between the two characters became more platonic and I think more powerful because of that, but the groundwork was laid.
I also knew I wanted the religion to play a huge role in the story. I wanted to transport the listener to a world where the presence of the divine and the diabolical are both very obvious and undoubtedly real. Nevertheless, I also wanted religious debates and controversies to be important. This was a world where people still cared about their beliefs and were willing to fight for them. They didn’t treat them as relative or as personally held pet theories. They were real and serious. And I wanted it to be apocalyptic, to have the frightening sense of a great civilisation coming to an end by rotting from within, because I think many of us deal with that fear and there is an element of catharsis to playing that out in fiction.
I knew I had a pretty dark story on my hands, but there was one ray of light in it: that little white witch, an innocent girl caught up in great events. I started building the story around the interaction between the witch and the witch hunter, and everything grew from that.
In 2007, I finished the script for the audio drama version of “Witch Hunter”. Only three years later would it finally be released on the internet in the form of the podcast audio series “The Witch Hunter Chronicles”. The road from there to now is still a long one, but more on that in the next installment of this series of articles.