AP Exclusive: On the set of MTV's 'The Shannara Chronicles'

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Posted: Dec 01, 2015 9:59 PM
AP Exclusive: On the set of MTV's 'The Shannara Chronicles'

KUMEU, New Zealand (AP) — MTV's new fantasy series "The Shannara Chronicles" is set in the future but features elves and gnomes and promises plenty of old-fashioned adventure.

Best known for its reality shows, MTV hopes the new series will become its flagship scripted show after its Jan. 5 premiere. The network granted The Associated Press exclusive access during filming earlier this year in the town of Kumeu, in New Zealand's scenic wine country. Here's what some of the cast and crew said:

— Poppy Drayton (who plays Ameberle Elessedil and whose previous credits include "Downton Abbey"):

"Well in Downton I wasn't head-to-toe in leather, for one. It's a lot more action-packed. There's sword-fighting and there's running through the woods and there's trekking through mountains and through treacherous terrain and fighting demons and fighting gnomes. It's all this sort of wonderful fantasy stuff."

— Austin Butler (who plays Wil Ohmsford):

"After finishing filming here I would have spent a year of my life in New Zealand, which is pretty wild. It's just such a magical place. Whenever I Skype with friends back home or anything, I'm always just going, 'The locations that we're filming on. I'm swimming in a waterfall today, or I'm looking at this majestic landscape.'"

— John Rhys-Davies (who plays Eventine Elessedil):

"The casting is wonderful. Real eye-candy, and real young actors with an ability to act ... The question mark for me is, since it is a new venture for MTV, can they find the audience and can the audience find them? If they can do that, then this is going to be a real hit show."

— Brad Turner (co-executive producer and director of four episodes):

"We've focused entirely on making the show cinematic. We're shooting with lenses you'd normally shoot for a movie, in a movie theater. We're using huge cranes, we're going to distant locations that normal television shows wouldn't want to because the logistics are so complex."

— Ivana Baquero (who plays Eretria, and who spoke by phone):

"It's rare to be able to act and see on film such courageous, capable female characters. She (Eretria) is this really resourceful, feisty badass, who's also struggling emotionally throughout the show."

The show is based on a series of books written by Seattle-based author Terry Brooks.

"I grew up in a time when boys read science fiction. No one read fantasy," he said. "I didn't get to Tolkien until I was 21. It was transformative."

He said reading J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings" opened up the possibility for him of writing in another world, one that was reminiscent of the fairy tales many people read growing up.

He said he was still a raw author when he began writing the series and for that reason is glad MTV chose to focus on the second book, "The Elfstones of Shannara." He said he considers it better than the first installment. For one thing, he said, he introduced two strong female characters after readers wrote to him complaining about the lack of women.

Brooks said movie studios have optioned his books over the years but have never followed through by making a movie, perhaps because technology hadn't caught up with the story's complexity.

He said many people were surprised he didn't choose to make the series with a network more well-established in the genre, like HBO. He said MTV ended up making the most aggressive offer and came up with the best production plan.

Mina Lefevre, MTV's head of scripted development, said the network had invested a lot in the series and hopes to raise its profile in scripted shows. She said she hopes the 10-episode first season is successful enough to warrant future seasons.

"We really want to make a big statement. We want the audience to know we are here and willing to take some risks," she said. "This is definitely a big show for us and a big swing for us."

Lefevre said the target audience is those aged 18 to 24, although she thinks younger teens and older fans of the book will also enjoy it.

"It's kind of like 'Game of Thrones', it's kind of like 'Lord of the Rings' but it's also unique to what it is," she said. "We're giving viewers an adventure that's filled with action, emotion, and human coming-of-age stories."