Scott Baker was helping best-selling author Matthew Reilly put together a film trailer for his book Contest when he had an epiphany. The pair had met at a digital video conference in 2004. Baker, who coincidentally had been listening to Contest as he drove to Sydney for the conference, had just written an article on motion capture technology and was already thinking about how the technology could be applied to Reilly’s book.
‘‘And then there we were putting the film trailer together and Matthew was getting really frustrated,’’ Baker says.
‘‘It was about 4am, he was pulling his hair out, saying making a film is so much harder than writing a book.
‘‘He said if he wanted 10,000 Inca warriors to storm a castle it was much easier just to write it, that you didn’t have to worry about how to feed them, or what happens if the camera breaks, or even how to build the castle, or find the 10,000 warriors in the first place.
‘‘It just sort of struck me and I had this moment where I went ‘oh yeah’ and decided to turn the screenplay I had been working on into a novel.’’
That screenplay was The Rule of Knowledge, a rollicking tale of time travel and mystery and action, a story that poses a lot of questions, and stretches the boundaries of what we know as history.
Its main premise is this: how would our understanding of history be different if we could actually travel back in time to see what really happened.
‘‘There’s so much interpretation of time and history that’s gone on,’’ Baker says, reflecting on a discussion he had at high school over the interpretation of what Jesus actually said at the crucifixion and how it has shaped different religions.
‘‘That’s where the idea spawned from, if someone was there with a video camera at the crucifixion and went back with all the knowledge we have today, with all the scientific and philosophical, ethical, understanding that we have, to go back to Jesus, and from that, to other great minds, and ask them questions, find out what they were really thinking, find out what really went on.’’
In The Rule of Knowledge that’s what high school teacher Shaun Strickland does. Through a series of events, through the possession of a mysterious diary, through the bending of time, he learns of a mission to interview great historical figures. Does the diary’s author complete his mission? Does he change history?
There are a lot of similarities between Baker’s book and the stories of his good friend Reilly. The pair have stayed in regular touch and Baker says Reilly was very good at giving him a lot of grounded advice during the process of writing The Rule of Knowledge.
‘‘He gave me great advice about the publishing industry, about perseverance, but at the same time he was great in letting it be my own work entirely,’’ Baker says.
‘‘When I thought it was ready he said read it again, give it another pass, and he kept at me to keep going ... it’s the easiest thing in the world to start something and the hardest thing in the world to finish it.
‘‘It took about seven years to get it published, it was with publishers but for various reasons they would hold off and I got to the point where I thought I would self-publish but then it all happened.’’
Baker has a background in film and television. Born in England, he came out to Australia when he was three and grew up in the Blue Mountains. He studied television production at Charles Sturt University in Wagga Wagga and then at university in North Carolina.
While in the US he worked on a season of Dawson’s Creek and a couple of feature films including Morgan’s Ferry with Billy Zane and Black Dog with Patrick Swayze.
In 2000, he moved back to Sydney and was working with Channel Nine, at the Fox Studios and with Apple as a master instructor in digital video.
In 2003 he moved to Canberra to train at the elite level for taekwondo, hopeful of making the 2004 Olympics, but injury ruled him out of the trials. He lectured at the Australian National University in digital video while maintaining his own film and television consultancy before moving to Wellington to work on The Hobbit in 2011.
He put together his own trailer for The Rule of Knowledge in Canberra, turning the beach volleyball courts at the Civic Pool into a gladiators’ ring at the Colosseum. He scoured gyms look for people who looked like gladiators, he even approached someone in the queue for The Wolverine at the cinema, asking if they’d like to appear in the trailer. His own father appears as Napoleon.
He is savvy enough too to recognise that readers are in touch with the digital world, whether it be online trailers, or websites connected with the book.
With The Rule of Knowledge, readers are able to access exclusive chapters online, chapters that go into a lot of the science of time travel and history, needing a password contained in the book. Baker likens it to the director’s cut concept of filmmaking.
‘‘It’s a fun way to engage readers a little more,’’ he says.
‘‘You get into a book and want to know more, we’ll be able to update the story and there’s an epilogue that leads you into the next adventure.’’
Baker is currently working on the development of two feature films: a sci-fi called Blue World Order and Kick, the story of Olympic taekwondo gold medallist Lauren Burns, as well as the second novel.
‘‘Matthew Reilly said to me once, he said, ‘Some people write broccoli and I write Mars bars and people would rather eat Mars bars.’
‘‘It was refreshing for someone to say give yourself permission to be a bit cheesy to just go with it.’’
And that’s exactly what Baker has done with The Rule of Knowledge.
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