Fangirl Fridays – Outlander Television Series
I’ll never forget the day I first saw Sam Heughan.
The story is that a Starz intern prematurely tweeted the news Sam had been cast as Jamie Fraser, and I just happened to be online. I watched his showreel, posted by an attentive fan site. And at 1 minute, 44 seconds into my agonized chorus of OMG, NOOOOOOOOOOOs—because his early roles and promo shots were decidedly un-rugged—I suddenly saw the passion and intensity of Jamie Fraser peering from the fierce, dirt-streaked face of a flying ace.
Sam Heughan then
Jamie Fraser now
That was the moment when I first believed the seemingly Herculean task of bringing Outlander to the screen might be possible. Me, a devoted fan of the Outlander books, who had thought no one could ever play Jamie Fraser. And then the crazy began.
I’m here to fangirl about watching the Outlander tv show come to life today. The creative team, the fandom, and the whole transformative, helluvaride phenomenon. Because it has been a singular experience for book fans that in many ways is ending, as the result of all this intensive effort debuts on Starz’s website starting August 2 (T.O.M.O.R.R.O.W!!!) and on U.S. tv screens starting August 9.
Are you a fan of the fabulously addictive Outlander books? Excited to see your favorite scenes on the flat screen? Or perhaps glad there’s finally a tv show so you don’t have to read all those pages? Are you mystified why so many people who otherwise appear perfectly sane are going nuts over a show that hasn’t aired a single episode yet?
I hope you’ll join me for a little reminiscing about the joys of watching season 1 come to life. Don’t worry, there aren’t any spoilers for those who haven’t read the books.
Here’s what I wrote last July, bad metaphors and all.
Is it too soon to start fangirling over Sam Heughan, the actor cast to portray Jamie Fraser in Starz Network’s upcoming Outlander tv series? ... A sensible fan might wait. But one thing I have never claimed to be when it comes to Jamie Fraser is sensible.... I clicked that Play button feeling like a balloon eyeing a sharp object headed directly for it. This was where any hopes for a tv series got dashed, because no one could play Jamie Fraser. And my initial reaction wasn’t terribly thrilled by what I saw. That baby-faced, freshly shorn kid was not Jamie. No way. Soaring U2 soundtrack notwithstanding. And then I saw him walk away from a Spitfire. I saw anger. I saw passion. I saw mettle and courage and strength. I saw someone beaten to shit get right back up to fight again. And wonder of wonders, I saw the potential to be Jamie. And when I kept watching, I saw other glimmers of Jamie, in turns charming, eloquent, brash, loyal, playful, and cocksure.
I was pretty darn excited all of a sudden. I wanted more. There wasn’t more. Starz said the announcement was premature. Then Diana Gabaldon said a few verra interesting things… including this tweet:
She didn’t have to convince me, though she continued to try.
But if I’d needed my arm twisted, this is all it would have taken.
I never finished my fangirl post, because another verra excited fan wrote this, which pretty much said it all—perfectly!!
And then Facebook exploded with fan groups, support networks were born, and the whole production team allowed us to follow along. During last year’s Comic-Con in San Diego, forward-thinking fans chatted online about how Outlander would be a huge presence next year. Soooo far away. And here we are—next year—following every little tweet and post from fans who were lucky enough to attend: a Starz castle with humming stones, kilted hunks passing out swag, panel Q&As, Bear McCreary’s musical score, and Outlander’s splashy, tartan-carpet premiere!
In some ways it seems like the last year has taken forever, and yet the most amazing transformation has occurred. The actors have stepped into their roles and become their characters. The photos, sound bytes, and scene snippets carefully fed to us by the devious Starz marketing team literally make my jaw drop. Being familiar with the story, a single photo that newbies might (deservedly) admire for its beauty and authenticity can rip my heart out.
I am exceedingly grateful to have been allowed to follow along vicariously in the process of creating Outlander. As a writer, I am fascinated by the visual adaptation process, the changes made to tell the story effectively in another medium. As a reader, I am overjoyed to watch the characters slowly come to life. Each milestone has been a thrill: seeing them in costume for the first time, hearing a familiar word (Sassenach!) or phrase, exploring a new setting, recognizing an entire favorite scene in a photograph.
In an extraordinary year of unexpected delights, here are a few of the things I’m most humbly grateful for.
Our favorite story, Outlander, which has firmly rooted itself in our hearts over the years. The characters are our family, their struggles and triumphs our own. We’ve laughed, cried, won, and lost with them. We’ve grown to love them inside and out—through their inner dialogues and the eyes of others. We’ve explored Scotland’s rich history and culture. We’ve learned what spurtles and sporrans are for, 30 uses for a plaid, and unusual antibiotic applications for Roquefort cheese. We’ve journeyed across lands and seas, plotted in Parisian salons, battled alongside Highlanders, Mohawks, and General George Washington, forged a home in the wilderness, and loved passionately through a long and fruitful lifetime. This story encompasses such a large cast of characters, in such diverse geographical and temporal locales, that we should be glued to our tv screens for decades!
I’m also grateful for the Starz creative team’s Fan Zer0. I believe he is writer and producer Matt Roberts, who read these books and passed them along to others.
Including co-executive producer Maril Davis (a fellow Oregonian!) and costume designer Terry Dresbach, who in turn passed them along to Maril’s production company partner/Terry’s husband/executive producer/series creator Ron Moore, who recognized immediately that Outlander was a “ripping good yarn” that would make a fabulous tv series. And understood the sanctity of the task he was agreeing to undertake.
Undertaking the monumental job of bringing this epic to the screen. I am in awe that creative masterminds had clarity of vision on the immensity of scale required to select, train, clothe, create settings for, and put words into the mouths of each and every character with painstaking attention to detail. As fans, they had an emotional bond with the characters and the story, and a mission to bring the best version possible to our screens. It takes great commitment to move to a new country and spend more than a year traipsing around in the rain and mud to tell a story, but that’s what this team has done, and I will feel just a wee bit guilty about their discomfort every time I watch them from my cozy living room couch.
Terry Dresbach, costume designer extraordinaire, whose team created an absolutely stunning array of clothing that is beautifully detailed and absolutely authentic in appearance, right down to the buttons and the bum rolls.
The 1940s fashions are timelessly elegant. And no zippers mar the authenticity of the 18th-century clothing, unlike costume dramas I won’t name. But Outlander is neither a costume drama nor a fashion runway. It ushers a clan of Highland warriors, farmers, and castle servants onto our screens. Words like “flawless” and “brilliant” get bandied about when people describe Terry’s creations. She even has a team of “artists” whose job is to destroy clothing with a blowtorch, so that it looks appropriately soiled or ragged for particular scenes. I’m delighted that Outlander characters won’t be finishing long days of farming, fighting, and rustling kine attired in perfectly pressed, spotlessly clean clothing—a particular peeve of mine. But authentic doesn’t mean ugly or boring. I’ve seen the official portraits. These clothes are works of art. Flawless and brilliant.
Over the past year, Terry has shared some of her costuming challenges with fans and discussed clothing through the ages, particularly women’s. I’d never thought much before about the amount of research and work required to create authentic costuming. One of the many examples of the costume team’s dedication to authenticity: they designed custom tartans that are woven with traditional methods and dyed using indigenous plants that would have been available to 18th-century Highlanders.
The dress Claire wears when she goes back through the stones was a unique challenge, since it had to be both respectable and naughty. Here Terry shares a little about how she handled this challenge.
Capturing the Light and the Landscape. In a recent promo, series creator Ron Moore told us that in the Scottish Highlands, “the Light has a particular quality”. Caitriona has said that the light “adds this amazing quality to the filming”. And although “this amazing quality” might be an elusive element to capture on film, based on the trailers and photos, I think our marvelous production team has done exactly that. This quality of light, the magnificent Highland landscape, and the ancient, mystery-shrouded soul of Scotland are truly characters in the story, every bit as real and important as Claire and Jamie. Bear McCreary’s musical score infuses all this goodness with traditional Highland songs and instruments that enrich the sense of time and place—something we never had as readers, even while listening to the wonderful audio books! (I get the feeling that I am finally going to learn to appreciate bagpipes while watching this show!)
The stellar cast of Actors who have brought to life these characters we hold so dear. They often endured grueling workdays, inclement weather, and verra long hours. They didn’t get much time off. When they wrap up shooting season 1, some of them will have been actively filming this series just shy of a year. There’s nothing glamorous about the gritty realities of daily filming, especially in remote Scottish Highland locations during winter—and I appreciate so verra much the lengths to which these intrepid men and women have gone to bring us an Authentic story.
Somehow, many of these dedicated actors still made time for their fans—to tweet teases and share selfies, attend fan gatherings and charitable events, and provide occasional peeks behind the scenes. Even the drivers, writers, and costume team joined in. I’ve enjoyed being a part of this little online community and kind of hate to see it end. Who knows whether it will continue during season 2 production, because by then our stars will probably be mobbed by the millions of new fans they’re going to have.
Not taking the easy way out. Staying true to the books, even if it means Claire is in almost every scene. (I once watched a show, supposedly based on a book series told from the lead female character’s POV, whose creators said they had to make up a bunch of irrelevant, stupid plotlines because the lead actress couldn’t possibly be in every scene. Well, apparently she can.) Telling a story on this scale is daunting, and telling it all through the eyes of a single character presents a special challenge. I’m glad the Outlander team (and especially Caitriona) loved the books enough to make that extra effort to tell it through Claire’s eyes.
Diana Gabaldon, the woman who made it all possible. Who discovered these characters deep within Herself, befriended them, and shared their story with us, with meticulous attention to detail. Who generously worked with the Starz Outlander team to provide background information and feedback every step of the way. While actively defending casting decisions, answering questions and interacting with a large online fan base, and gestating and birthing a verra large bouncing book #8 named Written in My Own Heart’s Blood. Herself has devoted more than two decades to creating this story, and it is wonderful to see her well deserved enjoyment of this high-quality, faithfully adapted, loving tribute to her masterpiece.
Embracing the book fans—enthusiastically—and allowing us to watch the story come to life. Right from the beginning, the creative team reached out to the fans, to reassure us that this show would be lovingly crafted by fans and for fans. Online fan groups proliferated, sharing news about the show, raising money for charities, organizing events in various cities around the world. We’re like the camp followers, lurking around the fringes of the army, keeping an eye on things, sending baked goods and whisky, and cheering on the team as they work their magic.
I don’t have much fangirling experience to back this up, but the interaction between the book fans and the Starz Outlander team feels verra special. I’ve certainly never been a part of anything like this before. I’ve grown quite fond of some of our traditions: Matt Roberts’s lovely #POTD photos; Maril Davis’s #HeardonSet tweets; selfies from whisky bars, hikes, and kilt walks; banoffee pie (which I had never heard of before) updates; Pocket Jamie; How to Speak Outlander lessons; and elaborate fan contests and events.
Well, I could babble about the Romance, which is epic, but I won’t because everything else is epic, too. This series has been sidelined in the romance section for too long, hiding its wealth of other story lines. Though the heart of the series will always be Claire and Jamie’s enduring love.
Instead, I want to give a resounding round of applause to Ronald D. Moore, the other King of Men, whom I’ve become a huge fan of. My initial reaction to hearing that a veteran of science-fiction spaceship serials was in charge of Outlander—and I say this as a devoted, lifelong fan of Star Trek and Star Trek TNG—was tepid at best. But my fears were put to rest when he started making his casting selections. He really “got” these characters! (And it doesn’t matter whether they’re on a spaceship, the frozen Arctic tundra, or an 18th-century Scottish hillside, he knows how to make us care about them and their stories.) His unwavering dedication to making a show for the book fans has completely won my heart and earned my undying respect. (I will also be watching all seasons of Battlestar Gallactica in the near future. Maybe I would have had more faith in him from the start if I’d seen the series he’s famous for breathing new life into.)
This man had the vision to imagine how several hundred thousand words would look when transformed into 16 hour-long episodes on a premium cable tv channel. He took command of the helm, assembled “his gang”, and made it so. And I hope he continues to make it so for many, many years.
It makes my heart sing me a song of a lass that is gone to type these words—we’ve waited for so long—but the fruit of our obsession is just around the corner, and it’s pure genius!
In some ways, it feels like the labor of love that our global Outlander fan community has nurtured for all these months is finally leaving the nest and flying off into the Great Big World. Though I’m a wee bit reluctant to share, I hope that millions more fans will fall in love with these characters and actors we’ve had to ourselves, and that we’ll all get to watch Claire, Jamie, and their friends and family grow old together sharing many adventures over the years.
But for now, on the cusp of Outlander’s inaugural season, I wanted to pause for this moment and say how much I’ve enjoyed these past 12 months as an Outlander fan. It has been the most amazing experience to see my favorite characters come to life before my eyes, and the world around them be rendered in exacting detail. Every single thing about what I’ve seen online is so much better than I ever dreamed possible. Practically every photo, every scene brings tears of joy to my eyes. If what we’ve seen so far is any indication, Outlander the tv show is as beautiful a work of art as its literary inspiration. The fact that I’ve been allowed to follow the artistic process from afar has made it truly memorable for me. I feel like I’ve been given a most precious and unexpected gift, and I want to thank everyone associated with this production from the bottom of my fangirl heart.