We here at Crime HQ found the idea of Auror’s Tale fascinating—what could be bad about mixing magic with the old-fashioned New York underworld and nasty gangsters in online webisodes? And the teaser trailer whet our appetites for more, so when Leanna Renee Hieber, who stars in the fan-made series, offered to talk to Auror’s Tale creators Leo Kei Angelos and Cassandra Johnstone for more information about this storytelling format and concept, we jumped. Before we get to that, though, have a look at the trailer—it’s worth seeing in full screen mode:
New York City is a battlefield. Dark magic rules the underworld. The NYC Department of Magical Law Enforcement (DMLE) is the only line of defense. Hawthorne is the force’s newest recruit and the dark criminals’ latest threat. Plunging into the nightmare that his occupation offers, he makes quick enemies of the most depraved wizard gang in America: the ever violent, ever twisted Hellhounds. Auror’s Tale chronicles Hawthorne’s tempestuous adventures.
(Auror’s Tale is not affiliated with J.K. Rowling, Warner Bros., or Time Warner. No existing characters are used in this fan work, which you can help to Kickstart.)
Leanna Renee Hieber: I am excited to see how a familiar, beloved magical world will entwine in a new context; with past and present realities in the city, particularly in terms of crime and law enforcement. Leo, can you speak a bit about where your original concept for this web-series came from and the desire to focus on New York City with a new cast of characters, particularly the “wizarding police” known as the Aurors?
Leo Kei Angelos: I grew up reading. A lot of the books I could get my hands on when I was young were mysteries and detective stories like Sherlock Holmes, and spy thrillers like the James Bond novels. I also grew up with Harry Potter. When I became a professional filmmaker, I wanted to tell stories that would allow me to live out my childhood fantasies. Combining the fantastical universe that J.K. Rowling created with the no-nonsense, practical world of crime solvers and spy agents just seemed like the right fit for me. Setting the show in New York City allows us to depart from the conventions of the British wizards seen in Rowling’s books. It allows us more freedom to play with our own characters. Having to deal with wizards and muggles living side by side in such a confined, tightly knit city is quite a fun and rewarding challenge. In a city with over 8 million people coming from all over the world to coexist, there are just immeasurable ways for crime to transpire, and thus the perfect setting for the most elite of the wizarding defense force, the Aurors, to undertake their work. It also just happens to be the city I live in and love.
LRH: Cassandra, can you talk a little bit about the research you’ve done on crime, how you translate real-life crime into the wizarding world and some of the choices you’ve made in your writing and the subjects it will contain?
Cassandra Johnstone: Early on I realized that if I were to be writing wizards in New York City, the antagonistic organization within my plot would certainly have to be a dark magical gang. Immediately I set about researching street gangs in the United States. A lot of my design for Auror’s Tale is inspired by the classic aesthetic of the 1920s to 1940s in America, so I began my research on gang violence by observing urban criminal activity during that era. That obviously led me to delving into information of the inter-workings of different factions of mafias. I also wanted to make this screenplay strikingly current, so I watched several documentaries on gang life and current gang politics in New York City and California. Hopefully, The Hellhounds, the wizarding street gang I have created, will play out as a marriage of more recent ideas and what one might consider more nostalgic ones. I knew I could not afford to sugarcoat the realities of gang violence and life within one of those organizations, even though I am working within the frame of a world originally created for a children’s fantasy series. While we may not observe the darker realities of gang life on-screen in Auror’s Tale, the honest gravity of many situations will certainly be implied. While, yes, this web-series retains some of the whimsicality of the source material it is based on, as a writer, I hope to bring a rawness and honesty to the villains and their lifestyle.
LRH: There are some particularly New York ideas, fears, realities, and myths that we’ll be playing with, will Auror’s Tale remind us of any of the countless police dramas and procedurals set in New York City through the years?
CJ: Yes, however, there are quite a bit more supernatural dealings that go on in the plot that might make things a far cry from the usual New York City crime drama. I have, in writing this, however, tried to weave in as much familiarity through the fantastic as I can. There are investigations, possible crooked cops, shoot-outs, pursuits, etcetera, certainly; but all revolving around elements of magic. As far as fears that are strikingly “New York,” I’ve had good fun, as a New Yorker myself, dreaming those up and weaving them into the plot. Roaches, rats, city-wide power outages, citizen versus citizen mayhem, re-imagining classic “dark alley”/“alone on a street at night” tropes, and wondering what lies in the shadows outside of a stopped train in a subway tunnel are all ideas that I have gotten to toy with in Auror’s Tale. I do hope that it will effectively make New York citizens delightfully nervous as they watch.
LRH: What’s the one thing you’d like to tell potential viewers to look forward to?
LKA: I love making action movies. But it’s also very important to me that the action works as an element to develop characters and relationships, not the other way around. The very first vision I have of Auror’s Tale (possibly around 6 years ago) is of a lone witch and wizard, perhaps in love, flying away together on broomsticks. They rise above a stormy, cloudy night to find a clear sky full of stars, in order to escape the turmoil of the world they’re embroiled in. I wanted to find out what they were running away from, and what kind of sacrifices they would have had to make. That was more important to me than where they were going and what they would accomplish afterwards. I think that’s one of the main elements of Auror’s Tale story arc that we will discover.
CJ: As much heart as there is action. Yes, this is a wild ride with a lot of chases, arrests, threats, and shoot-outs, but there is passion behind the action. I can promise jolting and shocking dueling scenes as well as very juicy and tangled police politics.
Leo Kei Angelos was born and raised in Vietnam. His childhood was a perfect coalescence of Asian action cinema and American dramas and thrillers. Throw in an unhealthy dose of fantasy novels as an escape from the rigorous educational system of the Communist regime. He now resides in America and is actively working to transform his fantasies into reality through the art of film.
Cassandra Johnstone is an artist who is passionate about theater, film, illustration, the sci-fi/fantasy genre, and costuming. She was the founder and director of the Zero Hour Collective performance troupe in Chicago and is currently working as the screenwriter and designer for Auror’s Tale.
Leanna Renee Hieber is an actress, playwright, and award-winning, best-selling author of Gothic Victorian fantasy novels for adults and teens. Darker Still: A Novel of Magic Most Foul, an Indie Next list and Scholastic “Highly Recommended” title, is currently a 2012 finalist in the Daphne du Maurier Award for excellence in Mystery/Romantic Suspense. She’s very excited to be second-in-command in the Auror’s office.