Created by Scottish Folklorist and author Amy Hoff, “Caledonia” is a great example of the cultural components of the web series movement. Watching the show is very much a look into two distinct worlds, the world of Glasgow Scotland, and the hidden, magical world of fairies and other such creatures.
As much as I love to talk about the cultural importance of web series there are some noticeable hang ups with this series that need attention first. When a folklorist and some theater actors get together and decide to commit a story to “film” rather than the stage there is a bit of a learning curve.
“Caledonia” suffers from the mistakes of a first time filmmaker. While I have to commend the “let’s just fuckin’ do it” attitude of the production the final product is marred by poor audio, a lack of lights, and some sort of intangible missing element in the blocking and staging. The latter is something that just comes from experience, from filming over and over, watching movies, and television shows constantly. The other stuff though, is something that just takes a conscious decision to make sure it gets done properly. Typically that takes time, money and effort, but you’ll never catch me saying that it isn’t worth it.
While the execution needs work the ideas are there, and in a lot of ways “Caledonia” is a big bite of Scotland for the uninitiated. In fact I think I learned more about Scotland today than I ever have in my life. For myself, and I imagine many typical Americans we associate Scotland with the William Wallace of Braveheart fame, and it’s connection with England. Who cares that most of that stuff happened hundreds of years ago, and really bore little resemblance to actual events!
The show is based on novels written by Hoff, and there is a large written component to the series available on the shows website. There are half-episodes in writing, micro-stories told through the main characters’ perspectives on Twitter, and pages from character journals. There’s also a cryptopedia on Scottish folklore in case people are unfamiliar with some of the creatures and terminology. The additional content is really necessary to get full enjoyment out of the video segments. After watching the series I found myself spending a lot of time fascinated by the folklore included in the supplemental content and I really wish I had gone through it all before watching the series.
At its core “Caledonia” is an allegorical tale of Glasgow, it’s perception throughout the world juxtaposed with the realities that one experiences living there. The show features a mix of beautiful landscapes and downtown touristy areas with dark and bloody violence. The setup is taken directly from Hoff’s own personal experience. “One night I came home to the entire first floor landing covered in blood, empty needles, etc. Someone had been stabbed to death in the staircase and I was the one that found it – I called the police four times, and they never came. I even walked down to the police station and demanded they come have a look, and they told me that there were so many other violent incidents at that time that they had dispatched four cars, all of which had been diverted to other murders already in progress.”
For an outsider like myself I found stories like that one, and the story told in the series to be quite different from my expectations. That alone makes ‘Caledonia’ worth adding to the ever growing collection of culturally relevant web series. That said the show’s general execution doesn’t stand up well among the ever improving output of the web series community. While we once acknowledged our mistakes as what should be expected of a still learning group of creators the last couple of years has seen the bar raise to the levels seen in Hollywood, just without the big budget effects and big stars. Unfortunately the allegorical nature of the story seems to apply to the series itself – not unlike Glasgow “Caledonia” is a mixture of the light and the dark.