Back when the Netflix fantasy series was filming in Budapest last year, I had the opportunity to visit the set along with a few other reporters. While there, I got to witness first-hand how much time, effort, and money was being poured into making author Leigh Bardugo’s world come to life, and I left the set thinking Shadow and Bone could be a very cool show that had appeal far beyond its YA book fanbase.
If you’re not familiar with Shadow and Bone, the series takes place in a war-torn world where a lowly soldier and orphan named Alina Starkov (Jessie Mei Li) accidentally unleashes an extraordinary power that’s been residing in her that could help save her land and set her country free. What you also need to know about Shadow and Bone is this world has magical soldiers known as Grisha that have different powers, and a massive black cloud (known as the Shadow Fold) that runs hundreds of miles north and south that is extremely dangerous to cross due to the creatures inside.
The series actually combines two of Bardugo’s book series – the fantasy-adventure trilogy Shadow and Bone and the duology Six of Crows, which chronologically takes place after the events of Shadow and Bone despite being set in the same world. Heisserer said that in order to make this work they essentially invented prequel stories for the key Six of Crows characters this season — Kaz, Inej, and Jesper — to fit alongside what is happening in the Shadow and Bone storyline.
During a group interview with Heisserer while on set, the showrunner shared how he first discovered the books, the way he pitched Netflix on a three-season plan, and how thanking people on Twitter for work you enjoy can lead to a possible job.
“It was a three-year plan that I laid out, or three-season plan,” Heisserer said. “It came about in a really interesting way because it all came from a New Year’s resolution that I had three years ago, which was to do more pleasure reading. I just wasn’t doing enough of it, and there’s something about when you’re reading for work, you always have that part of your brain on, like, ‘Ooh can this be adapted or…’ And I’m like, I just want to have fun.”
The author says Bardugo’s book series came from a recommendation from a friend:
“I reached out to one of my friends from Oklahoma, who has nothing to do with the business, who I trust implicitly, and I’m like, ‘Give me something cool read,’ and he’s like, ‘I got your number.’ So my way in was Six of Crows, that was the first [Leigh] Bardugo Grisha first book I ever read. I just ate it up. What I’ve done as a practice is when I consume something that I love, whether it’s music or movies or TV or books or whatever the comic books, I then go find the creators, the artists that are behind that and just on social media, engage them, and say, ‘Thank you, this was phenomenal, I had such a good time.’ Because I see the ratio of good to bad feedback that any artist gets is pretty depressing. So I’m trying my best to help even out a little bit.”
As it turns out, a simple “thank you” tweet to Bardugo is what caught Netflix’s attention and got him in the room to pitch his take on Shadow and Bone:
“And then it was a year later, that I got a call out of the blue from Netflix and they said hey, ‘We know you tweeted the author a year ago.’ You know, so I got past like the Big Brother paranoia and Leigh just remembered that. It really stuck with her. And she’s like, ‘Well, we can get the guy who wrote Arrival maybe, you know, ’cause he likes it.’ And I went in with this big plan, and midway through the first meeting, they stopped me and said, ‘Oh it’s nice that you have grand designs, but we only have the rights to Shadow and Bone, you don’t have Six of Crows’ and I said, ‘Well, that’s it for me’ and I just walked right out.
Heisserer wasn’t interested in leaving out the Six of Crows characters, so he walked away from the pitch thinking that was the last of it. Then two months later, Netflix snagged the rights to both book series:
“Part of the reason why I think I was just so arrogant at that point was that I thought that I had another job lined up. And then, as I’m driving out of the parking garage, the phone rang and my agent was like, ‘So that thing just fell through, so hopefully your Netflix meeting went well’ and I was, ‘Noo, why did I swagger.’ But sure enough, two months later, Netflix called and said, ‘Alright we got the rights to the whole thing now so let’s go and see if we can crack this.’ And then we were off to the races.”
Heisserer told us that the series now airing on Netflix is the original plan he pitched in the room way back when.
While I think we can all agree social media has led to more problems than it has solved, it’s always nice when something positive can come out of Twitter -— like a job showrunning what could potentially be the next breakout Netflix series.
Shadow and Bone arrives on Netflix on April 23 and also stars Ben Barnes (General Kirigan), Archie Renaux (Malyen Oretsev), Freddy Carter (Kaz Brekker), Amita Suman (Inej Ghafa), Kit Young (Jesper Fahey), Sujaya Dasgupta (Zoya Nazyalensky), Julian Kostov (Fedyor Kaminsky) and Danielle Galligan (Nina Zenik).
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