Amy Fox (she/her) is a creative producer and tax witch who figures out how to create (and pay for) film projects. She also does bicycle commuting, diversity strategizing, tabletop gaming, and stuff with lasers. She lives in collective housing in Vancouver in the terribly-named province of “British Columbia” on Coast Salish lands that are both unceded and underhoused. She has a side gig in the Naval Reserves. She loves the future, because that’s where the possible becomes the real, and looks forward to seeing y’all there.
Hello Amy! You are the showrunner of Synthesis, an “optimistic science fiction” television show about an underfunded mutual aid organization in space. What can you tell us about the show?
Synthesis is an optimistic science fiction story that shows us multiple, differing utopias and asks, “How do we build a better world when we don’t agree on what that looks like?” Some utopian science fiction TV series (ahem) default to a bland office building future where we have all the materials that we need all of the time and use heavily armed “science” vessels to fix social problems, all within a naval hierarchy. Which is no good.
Our show is about an underfunded interstellar non-profit/mutual aid organization trying to help a huge variety of extrasolar habitats, all of which have pursued radically different kinds of utopia and aren’t sure how to work together. For example, Earth has dug into deep green politics while pursuing Indigenous sovereignty while Rumah loves tech entrepreneurship as mediated by Sharia-based financial laws. Verdant believes in pastoral family life, while Chandrasekhar is an anarcho-syndicalist moon. The show itself has a procedural space adventure format with characters from each world exploring unfamiliar settings and dealing with hard questions about society. Because they work for an underfunded aid organization, the group has to cut corners, which leads to some…socially responsible heists.
In what ways does Synthesis address gaps that are often found in traditional sci-fi stories?
Synthesis demonstrates that we can create radically different utopias and disagree with each other, because in our differences, we will find strength. That’s new. I like talking about characters who aren’t all powerful and don’t have all the resources they need. It’s going to be hard to solve problems – so what can you do? And why is that meaningful? All this is a radical and necessary thing to say about a better society.
That sounds truly amazing, and I want to watch it immediately. What stage of “in development” is Synthesis in?
We have shot a trailer that we’re using as a proof of concept, and we are putting together a pitch package.
When we took the idea to a large streamer, they told us to dial back the scope of our sci-fi vision for practical reasons. As an alternative response, we are using virtual production, which involves a 20-foot cube that can track where the camera is and render backgrounds accordingly. With it, we can shoot fourteen locations in four days – thus bringing a series of this scope in reach for Canadian indie production. To our knowledge, this will be the world’s largest independent virtual production.
Synthesis is “cozy science fiction” that focuses on characters first. A lot of the time, science fiction relies on story and spectacle first, but when a show obeys its budget and makes a bottle episode just about the people, those often turn out to be a better story. If you have good characters, you’ll have good stories. That isn’t to say we won’t have spectacle! It’s really amazing what we are able to do with virtual production.
If everything goes as planned, we hope to begin shooting in 2022.
Amy, you are passionate about living up to the utopian ideals of your stories. What does that mean for you?
One of my goals is to change the unhealthy power structures at the center of how television gets made. A show about a brighter future that is made in a shitty way undercuts its own point. The message shouldn’t stop when the credits roll. We’re moving into an age of greater literacy of the production process, beyond just box office stats. As a society, we are learning about the social effects of production – how people are treated on set – and that affects what it means for a project to be a success.
For example, we all know how weird it feels to watch a Woody Allen film. The badness creeps into his film; his actions affect the finished product. Conversely, the creators of Jessica Jones and other recent series intentionally hire more female directors, production designers of colour, and this approach means that even if you as a viewer don’t know who is making the art, you can tell that the art is better. Our first show “The Switch” was made by and for gender diverse people. You can see this at work there. If we had made an uplifting story about human rights for marginalized peoples who will not be appearing in it…that really undercuts what we’d have done.
With Synthesis, I worked with the lead producer of our previous show The Switch to reinvent how we created a team. Did our writers reflect the intersectional diversity in our show? Often people worry that this value will jam their creative freedom, but we find that collaboration makes for better art. Likewise, were we providing both leadership and introductory opportunities to a range of people? We tested out this approach on our trailer and it worked. We also shortened our camera days to 10 to 12 hours instead of the film standard of 12 to 16. All this worked.
Which science fiction stories have most influenced you as a creator?
- Star Trek. I love that people take different things away from the show. Some people love the special effects; I loved the idea of knowing what clothes I’m going to wear with people I like doing work that matters to us.
- John Varley writes queer sci-fi books.
- Octavia Butler. She is not afraid to talk about real issues and real complications.
- Ursula Le Guin. She followed her parents as they moved from culture to culture, and that is reflected in her writing.
- Star Wars. The production design and world building is inspirational.
- Babylon 5. It is an incredibly ambitious show with early serialized storytelling in the 90s.
Do you have any other television related projects that you’re working on?
In early 2022, we will be shooting the pilot episode for a spin off from The Switch called Doom Ball. It’s about queer nerd sports and will star Nyla Rose as well as Nathania Bernabe and Jackie Hanlin from Affair of Honour.
You’re also developing a tabletop game called Burn about social hierarchies, burnout and solidarity. What can you tell us about it?
Burn asks the question, “How much stress, damage, and complications are you willing to inflict on yourself, the people in your community, and the people you have power over in order to accomplish your goals?” It’s about deciding to get hurt and who gets hurt. And I don’t just mean being bitten or stabbed – but social and economic harm. And it’s about making change.
Right now we’re two rounds into the play testing phase.
What is your history with TTRPGS?
I started by reading the Choose Your Own Adventure stories and Fighting Fantasy. When I was eleven and had pneumonia, my mum accidentally gave me a tabletop RPG setting version of the latter. I started playing at my twelfth birthday so I’ve been able to see the hobby change in so many ways. Online communication and access to digital tools for writing, design, and editing has opened RPG creation to more people. This has also led to large designers realizing that they need to look at intersectionality and design.
Is there a commonality of theme across the projects you work on?
Narratively and practically, both of these projects are about the wise use of resources to create change in a community.
We live in a society that is not interested in the wise use of resources; we want to think everything is unlimited. We also don’t believe in community. So I think exploring these themes is very necessary.
Do you have any recommendations of queer nerdy content?
- Any RPG by Avery Alder. Monster Hearts is her most famous, but you should also check out the others that she has made.
- Porpentine is a surreal trans game designer and flash creator. I should give a trigger warning for their work – not for anything in particular, but it will make you uncomfortable.
- Behold Her is a tabletop podcast about femme gamers.