Dolcetto o scherzetto (Trick or treat)

Greetings from PJOTV headquarters in Vancouver, and a Happy Halloween to all those who will be celebrating! Becky and I are delighted to be back on set. It seems particularly appropriate  that as Halloween approaches, we are filming some of the scene work for the Lotus Hotel and Casino, which is about the trickiest and treatiest place I can imagine.


Annabeth (Leah), Percy (Walker) and Grover (Aryan) continue to amaze me with their great work. Filming this season has been its own kind of quest, and our team of actors has come together like true heroes to deliver some fantastic scenes. Wait until you see the Lotus . . . you will know this part of the adventure well if you’ve read the books, but you will also find lots of fun details, new scenes and Easter eggs that make the experience even better.

The Vancouver weather has taken a turn for the cold and rainy, as one might expect in late October, but this is not dampening the spirits of the cast and crew. The Percy project remains a happy and exciting place to work. It’s a pleasure to come to set each day!

Here’s a look at where we are, and what we’re juggling at this point in the season:

We are continuing principal photography, which will probably go through mid-January, as I’ve said before. This means the cast is on call most weekdays, working from call time to last shot, while our young stars also balance their school work with acting. As I write this, I am sitting in my producer’s chair, watching the scenes unfold on our monitors in real time. At the moment, this happens to be a scene with Percy and Annabeth, directed by the incredible Jet Wilkinson. Aryan (our Grover) isn’t in this particular scene, so he is on set, but doing his schoolwork in the portable school room. Walker and Leah will do their scene perhaps four or five times, then the crew will change the cameras and move all the equipment around so we can film the same scene from a different angle. Only a tiny fraction of the filming will actually make it into the final episode, but it’s important to have a lot of angles and takes to choose from, so we get the best of the best. It’s a lot of work and a long day for our stars, but they are true pros and find ways to make it fun. I just happened to look up and saw Walker clapping the slate, “Take two!” while Leah laughs in the background. Each scene requires over a hundred support personnel to keep the show running, the cameras rolling, the equipment functioning, the catering truck operating, and a million other things, plus a large cast of background extras to make the space feel busy and real.

While all this is going on, the production team is also looking both ahead and behind. There are planning meetings each day to discuss what will happen in future episodes: the scenery, the props, the stunts, the visual effects, everything that will need to be in place before we actually film. We are now planning the end of the season — the episodes that will bring home the action described in The Lightning Thief. The scripts are all finished, but of course they will be changed many times until the scenes are actually filmed. Rest assured I read every draft of every script and give input whenever needed. (Real time commentary: I just looked up again and we are doing a scene change. This means Percy and Annabeth have left the set to relax for a few minutes or get a snack while the cameras are moved. In their places are two stand-in actors, just so the camera crew can continue to adjust the shots and know how the actors will look on screen when they return. It is a little bizarre to glance up and see stand-in Annabeth and Percy who are like twenty-five years old, though!)

At the same time, we are reviewing footage that has already been captured for the early episodes and putting together the best possible ‘cuts’ of that footage. This is a huge process in itself. The director does a cut. Then the producers recut it. Then we share it with our studio and network partners (who are awesome) and we keep editing the cut until we all agree it is the best it can be. What do you keep? What do you remove? What do you change? Which angle looks best for this particular shot? The back and forth on giving notes, editing, and re-editing can take weeks or months per episode. And this is even before any of the special effects are added! This makes sense, if you think about it. Every special effects shot is hugely expensive, so you don’t want to do a whole bunch of high-end visual effects before you know which shots you will actually end up using.

All of this has definitely taught me a lot, and changed the way I think about storytelling. When I’m writing a novel, if I want twenty dragons to appear in the sky, blowing fire, all I have to do is write that: “Twenty dragons appeared in the sky, blowing fire!” Boom. Done. If you want to film that sequence, however, things get real complicated real fast. How are you going to create the dragons? Do they all need to be different? Do you really need twenty of them? Do you see them from a distance, or do the actors have to interact with them? Each answer could mean thousands of hours of work and millions of dollars. (That is a random example. We do not have any dragons in this season.)

All of this is my way of saying: Everything is going well. We are on schedule. But this is a huge, complicated project and it takes a long time! When it is finished, though, I’m confident you will love it.

In the meantime, there are a lot of other things going on.

Other film projects

We just turned in our newest draft of The Red Pyramid script to our partners at Netflix. I think it’s in great shape, but as always, the process will require lots of notes, conversations, revisions and polishing before we have a script that is ready to move into production. If you’ve been following my updates, you know that we’ve been developing this script for over two years now, with two different writers. That time frame is not at all unusual. Like I said above, things just take a long time!

Aditi Kapil and I are also working on the script for The Daughter of the Deep. Aditi has the ball at the moment, and is working on her draft, which she will then hand over to me for my pass. I’m not sure when that script will be ready for the studio to read, but it’s going well so far!

I am also working on a potential series format document (a ‘Bible’) to bring Finn Mac Cumaill to television, based on my story “My Life as a Child Outlaw.” Very early days on this project, but I will let you know more details when and if the series finds a home!

And then there’s my day job . . . writing books!

New Riordanverse novels

As you may have heard, I will be releasing a new Percy Jackson book: The Chalice of the Gods, next October to celebrate the upcoming TV show. This will be a classic, novel-length Percy/Annabeth/Grover adventure, from Percy’s point of view, set during Percy’s senior year. It will be shorter in length that the later spin-off books, more in keeping with the length of the original five-book series. I am working my way through the second draft now, so I have a few months to go before anyone, even my own family or my editor, will be able to see pages. I’m also hoping that our young cast will be willing to be my beta-readers before the book comes out. It’s nice to have kids in my target age-range working on the show, so I can get their feedback!

I hope you all enjoy the book when it comes out. Will it feel the exact same way it felt when you read Percy Jackson for the first time? Well . . . probably not, because you can only have that first-time magical feeling of discovering a new world once. However, if I do my job right, it should feel like visiting old friends again and having a wonderful time with them. When I have more details to share, I will post them to my blog. In the meantime, though, we have The Sun and the Star to look forward to this spring, and that Nico di Angelo adventure will be its own kind of amazing ride, thanks to the incredible work of my co-author Mark Oshiro.

Italian and Irish

Also, I’ve been able to continue my language studies in my spare time, though not as much as I would like to!

On the Italian side of things, I finally finished reading Dante’s La Divina Commedia in the original text. It wasn’t easy at all, but it was well worth the effort. The poetry and the meaning really can’t be fully appreciated in translation. I’m glad I got a chance to see just how groundbreaking Dante’s imagination was when he decided to write a guided tour of Hell, Purgatory and Heaven through the lens of popular culture in 14th century Florence.

I’ve now stepped sideways into medieval Italian prose, and am about a third of the way through Bocaccio’s Decameron, which served as a model for Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, along with many other works. The Decameron was a hot bestseller in the 1300s because it has lots of spicy adult content, so it would definitely have made the banned books lists of the Middle Ages. (Its controversial parts, as always, only made it more popular.)

A few fun things I’ve learned about the Italian language over the last few weeks:

As the title of this blog post indicates, ‘trick or treat’ in Italian is ‘dolcetto o scherzetto,’ (sweet or joke). Halloween was not traditionally celebrated in Italy, as its pagan roots were frowned upon by the Catholic Church, but in recent years I understand it has started to be celebrated more often with trick-or-treating.

Another fun phrase I didn’t know: ‘prendere un granchio.’ Literally this means ‘grab a crab,’ but the idiom implies ‘making a huge mistake.’ As best I can determine, the phrase comes from fishing, when fishermen would bring up their nets, hoping for fish, only to find that a crab had taken their bait. Also, grabbing a crab is a truly bad idea because, well, pinchers. I can attest to this from personal experience. So next time you mess up, say, “Wow, I really grabbed a crab that time!”

On the Irish front, now that the filming has settled into something of a regular schedule, I’ve recently been able to pick up my Irish lessons again after a six-month hiatus. It’s great to get back into it!

My favorite recent discovery: the Irish verb that you use for adapting is cóirigh, as in “Cóiríodh an úrscéal don teilifís,” The book was adapted for television.

Cóirigh literally means to ‘arrange’ or ‘dress.’ It is the same word you use for:

Arraying troops for battle.

Mending/repairing something.

Exaggerating a story.

Laying out a corpse for burial.

I think that pretty much covers all the possible outcomes of an adaptation process!

I hope everyone has a safe and happy Halloween. Keep reading and eat some candy corn for me!




Rick Riordan