INDIE SCI-FI – from the basement to worldwide distribution

So, you like behind-the-scenes special features on big Hollywood movies?

Well, in case you were wondering how some broke filmmakers made a ludicrously ambitious sci-fi film, won a bunch of awards, and got it into worldwide distribution, I cooked up these somewhat funny and nutty “making of” clips about my flick, 95ers.

Sci-fi fans, aspiring writers/artists/filmmakers, as well as curious extraterrestrials and time travelers all over the world have been following this adventure.  I hope you enjoy it.  And thanks again and again to all those who supported us!

Episode #1 is a fun overview with life-saving tips and inspiration for filmmakers and creators of all kinds. Episode #2 breaks down some of the zillions of visual effects in the movie, which computery stuff as well as traditional models and miniatures! Episode #3 is a fun look at indie distribution.

Episode #1

(Here’s the link to the video if you’re reading this in an email.)

Episode #2

(Here’s the link to the video if you’re reading this in an email.)

Episode #3

(Here’s the link to the video if you’re reading this in an email.)

(And just a note, as cool as VimeoOnDemand is (which I talk about in this video) it is NOT a place for kids to be browsing.)

Meet J. T. Kennings - inventor of time travel

Portrait by Kip Rasmussen.

Portrait by Kip Rasmussen.

J. T. Kennings was most likely born in the early 26th century, shortly after the First Glimpse.

As an adolescent, he proved the existence of kenons (also called chronotons), authoring the The Laws of Time and other classics.  Shortly thereafter, Kennings developed the operating principles behind the Kennings Time Displacement Engine, thus leading to the First Ender Proposition and the Last War.  He is recognized as the greatest chess master who ever lived, famously defeating Vladimir Karmakov in a controversial match in which Kennings refrained from looking at the board.  Kennings is also a noted culinary expert, greatly influencing the popularization of Napoleon pastries.

It has been reported that during the Paradox of the Fifth Kind at locus 14.543.986.3.12.2465, he told a humorous story to an associate before disappearing in the explosive energy anomaly associated with the paradox.

A Tremor in the Force - Part 5 of 5

1977 Star Wars movie poster

1977 Star Wars movie poster

It’s taken me to episode five of this blog series to finally figure out why I was so disappointed by the Star Wars prequels.  Well, I have untied the knots!  The hyperdrive has been repaired in the nick of time!  I feel the Force flowing through me once again…

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So, I re-watched the prequels, from my own couch. (They were previously banned from entering my house.) My mind was eager. My heart was open.

First of all—standing ovation to the artists and technicians of all kinds who made these movies. As a filmmaker, I know something of the epic audio and visual jigsaw puzzle that is moviemaking—and this is moviemaking on a mighty scale. The visual effects of course pushed the craft forward, establishing the state-of-the-art in many instances and in some moments created truly breathtaking visuals. I personally prefer a few more physical sets and practical effects, but the ambition and skill of these people is amazing. The movie credits should be watched and applauded. From the cinematography to the sound design to the imperial army of oft-overlooked but essential facilitators and bean counters—these movies are an extraordinary achievement.

And of course, kudos to George Lucas for being such a pioneering, iconic force in a storytelling medium I love. May I recommend this hilarious tribute to Lucas by another starfaring legend:

Here’s the video link for those of you viewing in an email: https://youtu.be/SLoua3Ge3iY

Now for my “review”:

2 out of 5 stars for the prequels.

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Many consider Empire to be the best of the series… but it might have a bigger plot hole than any of them…

This is the storytelling I’m talking about, not the artistic or technical achievement. And I’m looking at Episodes 1-3 as single entity. (For reference, IV gets a 4.5, V gets a 4.9, VI gets a 4.) There were many interesting, exciting, or otherwise well-wrought scenes (podrace, duel with Darth Maul, Jango vs. Obi-wan, duel on Mustafar, and others). But for me, everything else fell flat.

I mean no disrespect to anyone who loves the prequels!  If they inspire you to make the world a better place–high five!  Let’s jig together to Figrin D’an and the Modal Nodes.

Many prequel-haters spend their time nitpicking the various plot inconsistencies, when actually the biggest hole is in my favorite Star Wars movie. (I’m sure you’ve noticed the massive time differential problem in The Empire Strikes Back.) It’s true, there’s no excuse for obvious plot problems, especially when you have access to the best storytelling talent in the world. But these are so many B1 battle droids compared to the imploding Star Destroyers of the three central stories…

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Amazing posters illustrated by Drew Struzan.

 

For me, the prequels boil down to these intertwined tales:

1) A love story.

Anakin and Padme. It’s a love story strong enough to bring down a civilization.

2) A coming-of-age / buddy story.

Anakin and Obi-Wan. Anakin grows up, is trained, and must deal with huge changes/decisions thrust upon him before he’s ready—including to follow or reject his friend/mentor/father figure Obi-Wan.

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Obi-Wan is tragically forced to fight his pupil to the death…

3) A fall-redemption story.

Anakin and Vader. The hero Anakin rises, falls, becomes Vader, and is ultimately redeemed—thanks the to the spark of goodness/love in him finally actuated by his son Luke. (Obviously this is wrapped up in Return of the Jedi, but we spend most of our time with Anakin in the prequels.)

In a nutshell, for me, the prequels simply failed to tell any of these in a believable, impacting way.

Story #2 (Anakin and Obi-Wan) was somewhat redeemed by the heart-wrenching, beautifully rendered duel on Mustafar, given an extra special dose of mojo by Ewan McGregor.

My kids, watching alongside me, had the same impression. Most of the time, I found myself wondering: “Wait– Wha– Huh? Why is he doing that? Why would anyone do that?” These were roads paved by completely unconvincing setups and payoffs. It seemed like George Lucas dreamed up a bunch of really cool scenes, and then yanked the characters on and off the stage to string the story together with wooden exposition.

But even the not-so-awesomely told stories aren’t enough to justify my negative feelings toward the prequels. And I’m not here to bash them anyway. On the contrary, I’m here to “let go of my hate.”

Finally, I had the sense to ask myself: “Tom, if you don’t know what these feelings ARE, then what are they LIKE?”

“Good question, Tom,” I responded to myself. “Basically, I feel like I lost a best friend.”

I was on to something. For so many years before the prequels, Star Wars was my pal. Yeah yeah, they’re just movies, but go with me here for a second. Think of a movie or book or piece of art or piece of pecan pie that you really really love—something that connects or comforts or inspires you.

Like a good friend, Star Wars accepted, reflected, and celebrated so much of what was in my kid-to-teenage heart. We had a lot in common—sense of adventure, sense of humor, love of spaceships, politics, spirituality, imagination, ideas about what made a hero and what redemption was about, the certainty that an obscure kid could grow up and save the galaxy, a love for all things lightsabery. And it was all made “real” by characters and events who existed in a consistent—if fantastical—universe that really existed as long as my frayed Beta tapes existed. More than that, because everyone else seemed to love Star Wars, it was a bridge to the rest of humanity. Here was a non-threatening set of values, art, characters, stories, and sundry coolness that I had in common with millions of other people around the world! I could unabashedly parade around using the Force without getting made fun of, because it was dang cool.

I trusted Star Wars to always be there for me.

(Is this getting too weird?)

For that great gift, thank you George Lucas.

But with the prequels seemed to disavow so much profundity (midi-chlorians, etc.), mangle the basic mechanics of human relations (epic love story based on whining, etc.), and confuse manic depressive paranoid schizophrenia with a character development (pretty much anything Anakin does in relation to the emperor and Padme). (I know, I know, there are prequel defenders ready to bury me in tomes of expanded universe explanations!)

Star Wars—my friend—had suddenly turned its back on me.

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Do I have a right to feel betrayed so melodramatically? Only a little. I think the give and take with Star Wars was consistent enough for a legitimate expectation. It was my job to watch and re-watch Star Wars and buy lightsabers, and it was Star Wars’ job to provide an entertaining, inspiring, spacefaring duel between good and evil. Over and over again it told me what those opening titles meant, and then it suddenly changed its mind.

But in reality, this is Lucas’ baby.  This is his art.

And I exuberantly thank him for what he and his cohorts have brought to life in the original trilogy. I have no right to demand anything. The mega-fans who explain away the weaknesses of the prequel movies actually LESS dysfunctional than I.

Yes, the movies were lame in my opinion. Yes, they trampled some things I felt were special. I can and should express my disappointment.

But I have allowed myself to be personally affronted and let down. Maybe Star Wars was a bad friend, but so was I.

Ok, this is so crazily silly and sappy!!! But true!!!

My bad vibes about the prequels were not about the prequels, they were about me. A good friend (assuming they are not whitewashing abusive behavior in a codependent relationship) forgives the weaknesses of a pal and celebrates the strengths.

Now, to be clear, I don’t believe in watching garbage media and just trying to ignore it by focusing on the good stuff. If you are hanging out in Jabba’s palace and he happens to be poisining you, and you just ignored, well, you still get poisoned.  The prequels are neither garbage nor poison, but I probably won’t be watching them again any time soon. And they will not be readily available to my kids…

But, the veil of the dark side has been lifted. So, Star Wars, ‘ol buddy, let’s forgive each other and move on.

I already have my tickets for Episode VIII, and I am dressing up. Clone Wars is on my Netflix queue.

And TONIGHT (November 19th at 7pm MST) I will be a guest on the STAR WARS SPECTACULAR at Dungeon Crawlers Radio — a fabulous geek podcast — to debate all things Star Wars!

http://www.dungeoncrawlersradio.com/

Here’s a fun final video link for those of you viewing in an email: https://youtu.be/ZbV5hn_ET0U

A Tremor in the Force - Part 4 of 5

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Great screencap of Shatner/Kirk from the original Star Trek

What is Captain Kirk doing in a series on Star Wars?  Well, I personally don’t mind a Shatner cameo anywhere, but it actually has a lot to do with my journey to the ______ side.  (Fill in the blank based on your prequel proclivity.)

WARP SPEED HYPOCRISY

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Patrick Stewart (Picard) plays a flute in an alternate life in the classic TNG Episode Inner Light

My Star-Wars-is-a-banquet-come-as-you-please change of heart actually reveals my own hypocrisy. It’s called (and this term I hereby coin) Warp Speed Hypocrisy.

I love Star Trek. I LOVE Star Trek. Every rerun brings me home to my happy place.  From it’s pinnacles of City on the Edge of Forever, Wrath of Khan, and Inner Light, to its less-than-critically-acclaimed “Row, Row, Row Your Boat,” which scene I personally love.  (And a “double dumb-you-know-what” on whoever doesn’t like the whales!)

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Campfire scene from Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.

I’ve been disappointed many times, but less-than-awesome Trek never made me angry like the Star Wars prequels did. And I don’t see much polarization in general Trek fandom. Red-faced redshirts don’t seem to be cursing the new movies or a series they don’t prefer. It’s because trekkies and trekkers already see Trek as a banquet.

So why did/do I hold Star Wars to masterpiece standards?  I’ll try to unravel this with my brilliant summation in the upcoming final post!

At the massive Salt Lake Comic Con of 2013, I led a panel discussion in huge, packed room. The topic? The Abrams-ization of Star Trek and Star Wars. What resulted was a spirited debate on old Trek vs. new Trek and classic Star Wars vs. the prequels vs. the specter of the upcoming Abrams films. And there I crossed lightsabers with Bryan Young. (Author James Wymore was also there.  He loves ANYTHING with spaceships!) At that time, I was stunned, shocked even, at Bryan’s defense of and even love for the prequels.  I also asked the audience what their favorite Star Wars movie was.  The originals won out by a show of hands, but many people voted for the prequels, with a special emphasis on Revenge of the Sith.

Our last distinguished guest is a bonafide expert on Star Wars and Star Wars culture.

Bryan Young is a writer and a journalist. He has a regular column on StarWars.Com and is the editor-in-chief of the nerd news and review site Big Shiny Robot! He’s published three novels, with a fourth scheduled for release later this year.

Are there some sort of basic “categories” or “types” of Star Wars fans”?  If so, what are they?

I think there are really two types of fans. The vocal minority who only love the classic trilogy before 1997 and everyone else. And that’s really it. Beyond that you’ll get people who specialize in different things, but there’s a unifying factor: everyone who calls themselves a Star Wars fan loves Star Wars, so even if we have varying degrees of love for different aspects of the universe, we all have some things we can agree on.

Why do you think there is friction between fans who dislike the prequels and fans who like them?  How are the upcoming J.J. Abrams films entering into the debate?

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Me and a groovily awesome Star Wars fan at Dragon*Con one year.

I think the friction comes from an attitude of entitlement on the vocal few who dislike the prequels. They fail to realize that there are far more people who love them than don’t and I would count myself among those who do love them. The friction comes from a place of disrespect, really. I can respect you if you don’t like the prequels, but in my experience there are very few fans who dislike the prequels that will offer that same respect to someone who does.

It’s unfortunate that there isn’t more love for the prequels since they really are such beautiful films that add to the tapestry of Star Wars mythology in very stunning ways. But there’s only a narrow generational band of fans that have that anti-prequel bias and twenty years from now it won’t be an issue and I can’t wait for that day to come.

As far as JJ Abrams films entering into the debate, I’m not sure there’s much of a debate. The prequels ARE. And so too will these new movies be. We can accept them as part of the buffet of Star Wars or not, but you don’t stick your fingers in the mashed potatoes at the buffet table because you didn’t like them. My hope for these movies is that they do much of what Star Wars: Rebels has done, stitch together the fans of the classic trilogy and the prequel trilogy and give us the best of everything Star Wars has to offer.

What is Star Wars “canon” and how has it changed over the years?

Star Wars canon is something that to me has always centered around the films and what George Lucas says goes, and that’s something that continues to this day. There have been many pieces to the expanded universe, whether that’s novels, games, or what have you, but at the end of the day, what is in the movies (and now the cartoons) IS. And everything else is just an interesting story that may or may not be “true.”

What is/are the Star Wars “Legends”?

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Another pic I snapped at Dragon*Con. How’s this for Expanded Universe… Star Wars Bagpipe Brigade!

“Legends” is what they decided to make the Expanded Universe. For many, the stories in that expanded universe WERE the canon, but the Legends designation clearly delineates them from the official canon. And now, everything taken in tandem, shows, books, movies, comics, will be part of THE canon.

So you’ll start to see books with the “Legends” banner, and those are interesting stories, often well told, that occur in a version of the “Star Wars” universe, though not concurrent with the one we’ll be seeing unfold in future movies.

How do “Legends” and the “Expanded Universe” affect Star Wars fandom?  How do they affect your viewing of the movies?

Well, they affect the fandom in ways that are sometimes polarizing, because there are some who think that future installments should be slaves to the books and the previous definitions of canon and others (like myself) who believe that the new Legends designation will free the filmmakers up to tell the best Star Wars stories possible.

As for how they affect me, I’m a fan of the films first and the rest of the stories second, so as long as they serve to heighten my understanding and enjoyment of the films and the overall tapestry of Star Wars myth, then I am very happy and well served.

A Tremor in the Force - Part 3 of 5

Mark Fordham (Vader) and the 501st with George Lucas

Mark Fordham (Vader) and the 501st with George Lucas

As we re-explore the Star Wars prequels and steel ourselves for the upcoming installments, we need to hear a grounding voice.  A deep, sonorous, awe-inspiring… terrifyingly epic voice.  Sith Lords are notoriously unafraid to state their opinions.

Mark Fordham is an artist, filmmaker, former cop, father of five, husband of a Stormtroopette, seasoned veteran of the 501st Alpine Garrison, and a well-known Darth Vader impersonator.  Mark can be contacted through markfordham.com.  And may I add here that the 501st is much more than an amazing fan and cosplay club.  It is an awesome community service organization that many people (including myself) have benefitted from.

Why do you love Star Wars?

When I first saw Star Wars I connected to it because it was believable.  I grew up watching Star Trek, but it was all so clean and sterile.  Reactors had occasional issues and there seemed to be a recurring shortage of dilithium crystals.  But it wasn’t all that compelling.  In Star Wars, however, there was grease, and dirt, and weathering!  The Millennium Falcon had Hodge-podge paint and bent and broken ventilation louvers.  Things were faded and looked like they had been-there-and-done-that!

Mark takes off the helmet!

Mark takes off the helmet!

Beyond the look of the film were the sounds!  The blasters and lightsabers, and spaceship engines and explosions!  It was all so visceral!  And the soundtrack was unlike anything I had ever heard before.  So mighty and majestic, and hauntingly emotional at times.  Then there were the effects!  Ships flying without strings, plus lightsabers, light-speed…just so much to love!

Then there is the story.  It had great messages and mysteries.  It used an underdog, and we ALL love underdogs.  It was David and Goliath on a galactic scale!  And beyond the main cast, you had so many interesting aliens and lifeforms.  And the droids!  We can’t forget the droids.  But in short, if someone asked me what I liked about Star Wars I’d probably reply, “what’s NOT to like?!”

What is your favorite Star Wars movie and why?

My favorite episode is without question The Empire Strikes Back!  I’ve heard it referred to as the “adult” Star Wars, probably because it’s quite a bit darker and less hero-always-wins.  We see the characters with more depth as they are thrust into complex situations.  And it’s where we get to meet Yoda and really learn what the Force is all about.  Once again, the soundtrack rocks!  Who doesn’t know the Imperial March, right?  Beyond that, we get our first glimpse of Vader under the mask, we learn of the whole ‘father’ thing, but are left wondering if it’s true.  We see the Emperor for the first time (via hologram).  And we get lots of time with our favorite characters and spaceships across a broad variety of landscapes.  It’s just a fabulously well-done film.

Mark (as Vader) and the 501st rocking out on stage with Weird Al Yankovic.

Mark (as Vader) and the 501st rocking out on stage with Weird Al Yankovic.

The Fordhams in my favorite facebook profile picture of all time.

The Fordhams in my favorite facebook profile picture of all time.

How do you feel about the prequels?

Many people are down on the prequels, especially Episode I.  I actually liked Episode I!  Sure, I could have done without Jar Jar.  But we get to see a younger Kenobi, and Qui-Gon is great!  And Darth Maul and his double bladed lightsaber filled the villain role extremely well!  And the prequels are part of the story that has to be told.  Honestly, I think my least favorite is Episode II.  But how can you not like Episode III?  That was the pinnacle of lightsaber fighting!  And we had answered before our eyes the question left by all other episodes; how did the little kid grow from powerful Jedi to Lord of the Sith?  Wouldn’t you know, it was over the love of a woman!  The Force is strong, but I will agree that love is stronger!

How to you feel about the upcoming slate of movies?

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Mark Fordham (as Vader) stealing the show!

I remain cautiously optimistic about the new films.  Honestly, I’m a fan of the original trilogy.  And with each new film, the cartoons, and all the Expanded Universe stuff, I see a dillution of what I grew up calling Star Wars.  So though I am interested to see where the story goes, it will be yet another departure from what Star Wars really is to me.  I am excited to see our old heroes again, and hope to hear more phenomenal music.  But effects wise, I almost feel like it’s all been done.  Maybe J. J. Abrams will break new ground.  But I just don’t feel like this is going to rock the film world the way the original trilogy did.  Geez, listen to me!  I’m showing my age!

Still, it will put Star Wars back in the mainstream and back on the big screen.  It will introduce new generations to Star Wars, and ultimately their journey will include the original movies.  So I see it as all part of the bigger universe, and I guess there’s room in that universe for a lot more Star Wars!

How do you feel about the Expanded Universe, or “Legends”?

I’ve not gotten into the EU myself.  As I mentioned, I feel every tangent distracts from the original movies.  And I don’t feel George’s vision in some of it.  There are some great characters and some interesting stories and back-stories.  But since most mainstream fans aren’t exposed to it, they don’t connect to it or even recognizing it sometimes from a costuming standpoint.  I’ve seen EU costumers do incredible renditions of some great costumes, but then not get the love or recognition from the fans that I think they expect and deserve.

Darth Mark, thank you for your AWESOMELY AUTHENTIC perspective.

Mark mentioned: “And with each new film, the cartoons, and all the Expanded Universe stuff, I see a dilution of what I grew up calling Star Wars.”

There is some haunting truth to this.  The Sith are so good at making ominous statements!

Go to Episode 4, and hear from a very special guest…

Or go back to Episode 2.

A Tremor in the Force - Part 2 of 5

Yoda in Star Wars: Attack of the Clones

Yoda in Star Wars: Attack of the Clones

SO, what was it that changed me from a Star Wars prequel-hater to a… well… something different?

As I debated “Jessi-Wan Kenobi,” (AKA Jessica the Uberfan) on many occasions, she consistently drew upon Star Wars “stuff” not contained in the films—the Expanded Universe.

Here is the definition of the Expanded Universe (now called “Star Wars Legends”) from Wookiepedia:

The Expanded Universe (or EU for short) encompasses every one of the officially licensed, fictional background stories of the Star Wars universe, outside of the six Star Wars films produced by George Lucas and certain other material such as Star Wars: The Clone Wars, created before April 25, 2014. It is derived from and includes most official Star Wars–related books, comic books, video games, spin-off films, television series, toys, and other media created before the date. This material expands and continues the stories told in the films, taking place anywhere from over 36,000 years before The Phantom Menace to 134 years after Return of the Jedi.

It wasn’t the discovery of the Expanded Universe that helped me gain a new perspective.  (I had actually read an EU book about some lizardly psionic aliens that was quite good.)  What brought me to a new understanding was Jessica’s extremely imaginative Kessel Run.  Her Star Wars universe is much larger than mine—and there are no rules, other than those a fan places upon themselves, that govern how large that universe can be.

In short, I discovered that Star Wars is NOT a gourmet meal served in three courses at the sci-fi-fantasy restaurant at the end of the universe. It is a banquet, with more delicacies than you might imagine. Take what you like and fill up your plate. There’s plenty for all and for all tastes.

(This however is NOT the end of the story, as we will see in the remaining posts…  The magic of the originals still reigns…)

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But let’s hear from this uberfan, shall we?

Jessica Champneys is a novice filmmaker and writer from Utah. She has made several short films and is currently writing a Star Wars fan fiction novel. You can see some of her film work at www.almostreel.com. Also, in her spare time she loves to make Star Wars fan films, which you can see on one of her many YouTube channels: youtube.com/damselindamnation

For the reader’s convenience, she included brief and long answers to my questions.

Why do you love Star Wars?

Brief: Because it’s awesome!

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Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith

Long: I’ve always liked Star Wars. I’ll never forget seeing Phantom Menace in theaters for the first time as a kid, or watching the original trilogy on VHS every other weekend with my family. I’ve always thought Star Wars was cool. With cool ships, cool weapons, cool aliens, cool characters (Darth-freaking-Vader!), cool planets, etc. But I didn’t love Star Wars…until I saw Revenge of the Sith.

From Anakin’s tragic fall to the dark side to the amazing, epic duel on Mustafar, I get chills every time I watch that movie. There is an emotional depth and complexity there that no other Star Wars movie has, and I find myself drawn to that. So, in answer to your question, I think that’s the big reason I love Star Wars: the depth. Specifically, the characters; their stories, their emotions, their internal struggles, and all the crazy plots that tie them all together. Even more specifically, the core reason I love Star Wars, is Anakin Skywalker. It’s so intriguing to me how this 9 year old slave boy from Tatooine – who was so kind and cared so deeply for his family and friends – could go from that to becoming the most feared villain in the galaxy. In many ways I sympathize, and even empathize, with his life-long struggle. It’s so very compelling and I can’t get enough of it. Throw in some Star Destroyers and lightsabers and you have sheer awesomeness! 

How do you feel when someone attacks the prequels?

Brief: Sad.

Long: I feel sad for a couple of different reasons. First of all, the prequels (especially Episode III) are so near and dear to my heart that when I hear someone attacking them, it really hurts. At the same time, I feel sad for them. Because I realize that they can’t see what I see. They don’t get the same feelings I get when I watch the prequels, and I wish they could.

Are people who prefer only the original trilogy still worthy fans?

Brief: Yes!

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Han Solo in Star Wars: A New Hope

Long: Oh, yes! In fact, there’s this meme floating around Facebook right now that says something like “You don’t have to love everything about Star Wars to be a Star Wars fan.” I think that’s very true! Of course, I don’t think you have to hate the prequels to be a fan either, but everyone is entitled to their own opinion. And it’s always going to be that way. As the future of Star Wars continues to unfold and more movies and books and games and TV shows are released, there’s going to be a wide variety of opinions among fans. And that’s okay. Because whether you think that Han shot first or Greedo shot first, you still love Star Wars. You’re still a Star Wars fan. 

Does your general zeal for Star Wars cause you overlook some of the less-than-awesome aspects of the movies?

Brief: Probably.

Long: Probably. But I think I go about it a bit differently. When someone brings up a plot-hole in the story or some sort of problem, I’ll think (if I don’t already have an answer from the Expanded Universe) ‘hmm, you’re right. That doesn’t make sense. So what’s the reason for that? Why is that?” And I’ll really think about it, about the characters, the motives, the what-ifs, and really delve deep. Because that’s another great thing about Star Wars is that there are so many layers. You can watch/read the stories over and over and again and you’ll always get something new out of it. It makes for some really fun discussions. But anyways, I’ll go into my writer mode and break the problem down and oftentimes an answer will hit me and I’ll think “oh my gosh, that makes so much sense!” and suddenly this “problem” that was once a blemish in the story becomes a deeper and more meaningful moment to me than before.

So in short, there are no such things as plot-holes. Only wells of information that you can climb into and find an even deeper, richer story than the one you see on the surface.

How has the expanded universe affected your love for Star Wars?

Brief: The expanded universe has definitely expanded my love for Star Wars!

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A wee stack of Expanded Universe or “Legends” books. Credit: Onceuponageek.com

Long: I love the Star Wars movies. Always have, always will. So it’s so great that the adventures in that galaxy far far away don’t have to end there. There are so many more wonderful stories, with characters old and new, in the EU, and it’s so much fun! On top of that, I feel that the EU also adds more depth to the movies. When you’re watching a movie, you can only see what the characters say and do, you can’t see what they’re thinking. But in a book, you can. And when you have that knowledge it completely changes your Star Wars movie watching experience.

For example: in Revenge of the Sith there was a part that, at first, really confused me. When Anakin learns that Padme is pregnant, he realizes that he will soon be expelled from the Jedi order because of this. Soon after this realization, Palpatine requests that Anakin be made a Jedi Master, but the Council refuses and Anakin becomes very upset. While watching this, my first thought was “Why are you angry? One way or the other, you’re not going to be a Jedi for much longer anyway. So why do you care?”

But then I read Matthew Stover’s Revenge of the Sith novelization (I highly recommend this book! If you aren’t a fan of Episode III, read this book and you will be!) and suddenly this scene that I wasn’t very fond of became one of my absolute favorite parts in the movie! Because in the book you can see what Anakin is thinking. He’s not upset with the Council just because he didn’t get the promotion. He’s upset because he’s been searching and searching the Jedi archives for some way to save Padme and hasn’t found anything. But there are some more promising sections of the archives that he can’t search, because only Masters are allowed to go there. So when Palpatine asks him to be a Master on the Council, Anakin feels he’s just been handed the key to save his wife. He’s so relieved and so euphoric…until the Council pulls the rug out from under him. Thus, he lashes out.

Doesn’t that just make you want to go and watch the Revenge of the Sith again? See how the books give the movies so much more depth? And there are many, many more moments like this throughout the EU! It’s so fascinating!

What’s your fanfic about and why are you writing it?

Brief: An Order 66 survivor joins the Sith and is tasked with finding Luke Skywalker. Why am I writing it? Because I need more Star Wars!

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Concept art for Jessica’s fanfic, by Kayli Champneys

Long: My story is about an Order 66 survivor who, instead of going into hiding or helping the rebellion as many Jedi did, turned her back on the Jedi way and joined the Sith to save herself. Upon the Emperor’s request, she became Darth Vader’s apprentice and is one of the few people allowed to know his true identity. But when she is tasked with finding Vader’s son, Luke Skywalker, nothing goes as planned and her entire world begins to fall apart.

Why am I writing it? Probably the same reason I started reading Expanded Universe novels. I need more Star Wars! I actually started coming up with this story a long time ago as part of a role playing game, and later decided that, with some tweaking, it could make a really great novel. We shall see!

Thank you, Jessica, for your heartfelt and illuminating answers.  I take issue only with the statement: “…there are no such things as plot-holes. Only wells of information that you can climb into and find an even deeper, richer story than the one you see on the surface…”  There are indeed such things as plot holes!  In fact, she has very astutely pointed them out in my own work.  So I think seeing them as wells of magic is a bit nutty.  I believe and her own creative powers have made some stories better than they are.  Which is why I’m very happy she’s writing a fanfic…

But before we all dance to Ewok bongos together, let us check in with a Sith Lord…

A Tremor in the Force - Part 1 of 5

The official title logo for the new movie, with a philosophical edit…

The official title logo for the new movie, with a philosophical edit…

Are you ready for the new Star Wars movies? Were you ready for the prequels? Or does your spacefaring heart beat only for the original trilogy?

You see, something weird happened to me. Something which may cause me to lift the ban preventing the prequel movies from getting within 100 feet of my house.

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And lest you think this is just some tired old rant, this little blog series will include interviews with Bryan Young (recognized guru and Con fixture who writes for starwars.com), Mark Fordham (Darth Vader’s clone), and Jessica Champneys (an uber-UBER-fan). These revelations may greatly affect your adventures—past and future—in that galaxy far far away.

Read on, all ye padawans an jedi alike…

Darth Vader says “Moooooow” from We Love Fine

Darth Vader says “Moooooow” from We Love Fine

When I first saw The Phantom Menace, I was on an awkward date so I don’t have an unfettered recollection of my feelings about the movie. But I liked the podrace and the duel with Darth Maul. I do remember shivering with disgust and nearly losing my popcorn at the word: midi-chlorians. My experience with Attack of the Clowns is more vivid. At the end of the movie, I got up in the theater and said in a loud voice, “That man has no business making movies!” Thus prepared for Revenge of the Sith, I rolled my eyes and chuckled at the wooden drama, ludicrous motivations, and general impotence as a precursor to one of the greatest movies ever made, Star Wars: A New Hope. I could not help laughing out loud at the epic ineptitude in storytelling art when Darth Vader screams, “Nooooooooo!”

(Please note that I’m talking about the story and silliness of these movies.  I applaud the many hundreds of brilliant artists and technicians who worked on them.)

Now, before I detail my semi-repentance, let me review my credentials as a Star Wars fan.

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I can quote much of the original trilogy from memory.  I was dressing up as Luke for Halloween long before most prequel fans were born. My house is the repository for an arsenal of light sabers. I made a fanfilm 15 years before YouTube was invented (starring as Princess Leia). I credit Star Wars for guiding my career destiny more than almost any other thing, and I revere much of what George Lucas added to the movie industry. I threw a rite-of-passage Star Wars birthday party for my kids that would put hair on a bald Wookie’s chest. I was cast as the star of an ambitious Star Wars fan film. It was never completed, but it was not due to my lack of Jedi training.

Me as the earmuffed Leia. You can sort of see “Vader” standing guard.

Me as the earmuffed Leia. You can sort of see “Vader” standing guard.

Because I invested so much of my heart into the original Star Wars series, I felt terribly betrayed by the prequels. But something has changed…

You see, I’ve been carpooling with a young and impressionable sci-fi and fantasy fan who loves EVERYTHING Star Wars, to the point of dangerous zeal.

Every time I would present a clearly balanced argument of logic about how stupid something was in one of the prequels, she would counter with: “But in the book it makes more sense…” or “Well that really worked for me…” and again “But in the book…”  She bounced along to Star Wars-inspired rock opera as we drove and she reveled in her flights of fancy into something called the “Expanded Universe.”

Suddenly, on my dozenth attempt to rescue her from ignorant bliss, I discovered something. It was like Jabba’s fist smacked me and I saw new stars…

My Movie Gets the BEST REVIEWS EVER!!!

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Okay, okay, this blog post has kind of a brazen title.

BUT, struggling writers and filmmakers are locked in mortal combat with movie distribution and publishing industries that have a bigger appetite for dollars than for good stories.  We need to remember that if we have something uplifting and interesting to say–the audience is indeed out there.  And it is hungry!

These are NOT reviews from sales agents (one of whom basically said my movie was derivative garbage).  These are NOT reviews from distributors (many of whom passed on my movie).  These are NOT reviews from professional critics (who were actually pretty fair and positive).

These are reviews from the most important people–audience members.  They are complete strangers from all over the world who chanced to watch my flick.  They’ve touched my heart and inspired me.

(These reviews are pulled from Amazon unless otherwise noted.)

FROM BEVERLY (via fanmail):

I will be 74 in a few days, and have loved sci-fi since I was 12, and borrowed my first Ray Bradbury paperback from some Americans who had moved to our small Jamaican town to set up a pottery. And I am still here.
Just saw Interstellar, and liked it a lot, but have just finished watching 95ers: Time Runners and it is BETTER! Warm, clever, helluva story, fine acting, smart direction, camera , sound etc- the whole clock ticks!
Congratulations. Cant wait till your new one comes out.

FROM AMAZON CUSTOMER:

One of the best science fiction I have ever seen…

FROM ROY:

Fun from the beginning. Put your seat belts on, and keep both hands inside your car at all times. This is going to be a crazy, and exciting ride. Don’t overthink it, just enjoy yourself. I will watch it again soon, I am certain.

FROM PAT:

This is a movie that makes you think….it is almost better the second time after you have unraveled the mysteries in the movie & you get to pick up on some of the missed nuances.

FROM LANCE (via fanmail):

Just finished watching Time Runners. Found it as a “midweek extra” at our local Family Video store. The theme on the box intrigued me — wow, what a fabulous movie! I liked it at so many levels.
I did something I’ve never done before: watched the whole movie a second time, listening to the directors’ commentary….
What an incredible story of perseverance (the MAKING of the movie), what a great backstory, what wonderful film-making (thanks, Tom, for keeping in all of the “extra” touches — I even liked Sally’s rewound “learn Martian first” comment being left in!!!), and it was so special you guys letting your kids “interrupt” during the commentary.
Thanks, too, for including the “thank Heaven” and “thank you, Lord” comments at the end of the commentary. May He indeed give you venues for at least a soon novelization of some of the rest of the parts of the story-arc (writing and publishing are quicker than movie-making! You totally captured my interest and imagination!

FROM geotti (via IMDB):

A must see for (scientifically inclined) fans of time-travelling movies that have a longer attention span than the average teenager and like to think.
I’d love to see both a prequel and a sequel expanding on the world the team has created…

FROM ZORAN:

…I would like to say to all sci-fi lovers who decide not to see this movie that they are missing something. Movie is captivating attention from start to the end and makes you think about it for days.
For that I give all 5 stars.
If creators of this movie read reviews here please go ahead make 2nd part I can’t wait to see it.

FROM RANDY:

I admit I needed to restart it several times to be able to get a sense of the storyline, but I don’t think that’s because the story is lacking anything.
Upon reflection, I would say there is quite a bit more thematic material to this story and more drama potential than the rest of the movies you would want to compare it to.
I like movies that give me something to think about in terms of intellectual topics, you know, cutting edge science, psychology, sociology, movie making, so I am well pleased with 95ers: And further the lead actor Alesandra Durham did a fantastic job and so I liked watching this movie very much because of her, and the storyline and special effects for the story are great.

FROM JASON:

Why do I like this movie? Simple enough question.
It was obvious a low budget film but this movie proves that the budget isn’t as important as the quality of the acting, story telling and educating that a movie does in a particular field.
It was one of those movies where the intelligence of the audience isn’t insulted with crass subject matter and cheap language. It is a smart scifi movie that even someone who isn’t “into” scifi can enjoy. I wish I had seen sooner. The true essentials of a quality movie is there. Acting, Story, Subject matter and the complicated explained with an intelligent simplicity.

FROM P. WOLF:

A better understanding of time travel is rarely found.
I’ve studied the science since my teens. This movie follows the principles over loop causality. If you want science fiction that has a founding in real science then here it is.

FROM TONY:

Even a low budget could not stop this movie from being an intricate and thought provoking ride.

FROM V (via Facebook):

Thank you. I haven’t enjoyed a movie this much in ages.
I am watching it on Easter afternoon, seems like good timing. I have a 3 day old granddaughter, new life and beginning, reconnected with old friend, gentle spring rain, fresh blooming scent of a lilac bouquet, soft breeze blowing in open windows, sound of children playing, songs of birds and your movie. Near perfect day. Thank you for the gift, please continue. You are all so talented, its is a sheer joy to have all my senses so wonderfully stimulated, but to have my imagination, intellect and intuition firing simultaneously-just amazing. You were part of an incredible day in my life today and responsible for a large portion of what made it so right.

 

Thank you all!

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Successful People are Weirder – Right?

Her ideal man is handsome but doesn’t know it, brilliant but unassuming, successful and kind. So says Rita (Andie MacDowell) to Phil (Bill Murray) in one of the greatest movies of all time, Groundhog Day.

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But don’t we humans tend to get weirder the more successful we get?

Bill Murray brilliantly smashing his clock in Groundhog Day. Columbia-Tristar.

Bill Murray brilliantly smashing his clock in Groundhog Day. Columbia-Tristar.

Whatever our field of work is, we know “success” when we see it. And we may perceive that career success is sometimes accompanied by some annoying habits.

If you work in the writing and filmmaking universes like I do, you may have experienced the following mysterious behaviors:

1) I make so much money I can’t afford to do low-paying work.

This is kind of a hilarious paradox. Obviously there’s good reason for this—people need to value their time as they see fit and that value will probably go up as their skills do. But when they were broke and there was a cool project to do, I bet they never imagined that having plenty of money could be a reason not to do it.

2) I have so many fans I can’t possibly share them.

Once upon a time I invited a famous creator of beloved works of fiction (see how anonymous I’m trying to make this?) to join a panel at a big nerd convention. We had been co-panelists at a previous gig and had a grand ‘ole time. But this time around, this person couldn’t make it work unless he/she had an audience all to his/herself. Again, I get it. You’ve got limited time and specific goals with your audience. But come on!

3) The only worthwhile collaborators have advanced beyond where I used to be.

The indie artist has finally hit the big time and is forced to leave his/her struggling former colleagues behind because their talent seems dim compared to the his/her new group the luminaries—the luminaries he/she used to scoff at. The rising star has forgotten from whence they came.

4) My buddy never would have made it without me.

A cousin of #3… The magnanimous rising star actually believes that the success of his/her friend is due to themselves because they made a connection or opened a door.

5) You need to pay your dues to get where I am.

How fondly I remember the TV Studio exec who dangled a lucrative contract before me while I slaved a way on a show for him/her, and after its success he/she felt totally justified in yanking the contract away!

Am I exaggerating/embellishing these scenarios? (Well, maybe a little.) Do “successful” people really need to chill, get real, remember how much luck and help they had, and humbly pay it forward? (Yes, many do indeed.) But is this really just a rant, borne of bitterness? (Read on…)

 

Career success is…

…making a living doing what I love to do. At least that’s how I look at it. I can safely say that I have not achieved career success according to my own definition. I flatter myself that I’m only a hop, skip, and jump away.

But somewhere along the way, I have discovered mystical reason why successful people get weird… It’s because weird successful people used to be weird not-yet-successful people.

Ned Ryerson (Stephen Tobolowsky) iconic in Groundhog Day. Columbia-TriStar

Ned Ryerson (Stephen Tobolowsky) iconic in Groundhog Day. Columbia-TriStar

A long time ago in a galaxy far far away, I had a phone call with a former film school mate—who only a couple years out of school was in Hollywood working with a major producer with all kinds of fancy projects cooking. Before I knew what I was saying, I found myself pathetically justifying to him why I was still in nowhereville doing nothing cool. I cringe to think about how lame I must have sounded.

And how many times have I been at parties blathering about how busy I am to make sure everyone knows I’m just on the threshold of “making it”?

Any how many successful people have we seen simply as tools to get us where we want to go?

The cheesy but true reality:

“Successful” and “not-yet-successful” people are in exactly the same boat… they are afraid and need to be loved. But if we wait until we are successful to “get real,” I think we may be in for a much harder ride.

Bill Murray going nuts in Groundhog Day. Columbia-TriStar.

Bill Murray going nuts in Groundhog Day. Columbia-TriStar.

Probably the most professionally successful person I’ve ever talked with—one of the most beloved science fiction authors in the world—shocked me with her sweetness and down-to-earthness as we were talking about possibly collaborating on a film project. I was twitterpatedly telling her what an honor it was for me to be chatting with her when she said: “Well gee, I’m in the phone book.”

I have to assume that her road to coolness and humility began long before she arrived at her first Hugo or Nebula award.

I started writing this post because I was annoyed at some of the things I’ve experienced from weird “successful” people, but the brilliantly successful folks who made one of my favorite flicks helped me to get over my not-yet-successful self and give them a freakin’ break.

Phil stuffs his face in a moment of reckless abandon before his big change in Groundhog Day. Columbia-TriStar.

Phil stuffs his face in a moment of reckless abandon before his big change in Groundhog Day. Columbia-TriStar.

PS. But when I am a big fancy star and I’m acting like a jerk, don’t be so weird y’all—call me on it!

The Most Underappreciated Work of Fantasy Ever – THE SILMARILLION - Part 1 of 3

Turin faces Glaurung on the bridge of Nargothrond. Illustration by Kip Rasmussen.

Turin faces Glaurung on the bridge of Nargothrond. Illustration by Kip Rasmussen.

Part one of three? I expect to keep the reader’s attention for three parts? Am I crazy? I probably am. But that has nothing to do with the fact that any self-respecting fantasy fan or “geek” of any kind would do very well to examine this study of one of the great pillars of geekdom…

Circa 2004—

I inched my way through another dreary commute. Heart yearning for something, anything to distract me from the inescapable life-sucking vortex, I fumbled around on the passenger seat for an audiobook. I had just enjoyed a fast-moving tale from the Star Wars extended universe with a great narrator, and I couldn’t afford something that would put me to sleep. The drive was already hypnotizing me with boredom. I grabbed a tape (yes, a cassette tape) from the pile of “books” from the library and popped it in. It was something I had been meaning to read (“listen to”), if only to educate myself, but it was old and long and could lull me dangerously close to a slumber-induced pileup…

Two minutes later, after a long musical introduction but just after the first sentences came out, my jaw dropped.

It literally dropped.

I remember the moment well—where I was, the scenery around me, the sound of Martin Shaw’s delicious accent as he read, the realigning of my mind as the world changed. The tapestry of beauty, import, and imagination instantly entranced me. And the fact that the words were penned by a mere mortal shocked me to the core.  It began like the quiet strokes of a symphony…

There was Eru, the One, who in Arda is called Ilúvatar; and he made first the Ainur, the Holy Ones, that were the offspring of his thought, and they were with him before aught else was made. And he spoke to them, propounding to them themes of music; and they sang before him, and he was glad.

Was it just a lofty beginning?  A poetic moment in a world-building prelude that precedes many a fantasy novel? No. Something about its confident simplicity told me otherwise. There was a mastery here… a truth, a depth, a something that went so far beyond the imaginativeyarns of a mere book.  This was something both new and ancient. As it went on, concepts ignited that stretched from deepest mythology to cosmic sci-fi, and characters emerged that complex storylines would breathlessly attempt to chase.

As a fantasy reader, the curtains pulled back to reveal a heaping, exotic banquet of living worlds, teeming magic, and unforgettable inhabitants. As a fantasy writer, I knew that I would be forced to measure anything I would ever write against its towering awesomeness.

This was J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Silmarillion.

Thingol and Melian meet under the stars in Nan Elmoth, beginning a portentous love story. Illustration by Kip Rasmussen.

Thingol and Melian meet under the stars in Nan Elmoth, beginning a portentous love story. Illustration by Kip Rasmussen.

 

Some may call The Silmarillion the history of Middle Earth—but how can it be a mere history when it transports you to the plains of Ard-galen, where the dwarf army halts the advance of Glaurung, father of dragons; and to the bridge of Tol Sirion the island fortress, where Luthien Tinuviel, searching for her beloved, strips Sauron’s power with a song of earth-shaking beauty.

Some may call The Silmarillion the foundation of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings—but how can it be just a foundation when it contains those stories and so many more, making them seem almost as footnotes before the grander narrative.

Go I too far? Indulge I overmuch in my slavish devotion to Tolkien? Nay, good friends, nay! Perhaps I gild my prose a bit, but it’s hard not to with epic moments like this running through my head…

…and even as the Moon rose above the darkness in the west, Fingolfin let blow his silver trumpets and began his march into Middle-earth, and the shadows of his host went long and black before them…

A line here and a line there can’t begin convey the epic awesomeness of the stories in The Silmarillion.  The one I quoted above is actually the climactic conclusion of a tale of rebellion, betrayal, tragic love, and heroism set against a clash of cosmic forces.

But here’s the trouble…  Here’s what the naysayers are waiting for…  Here’s why few voices join my cry…

The Silmarillion is hard to read!

The fact is, it reads more like a history book—or the Bible—than a novel.  It’s not something you typically cuddle up with and plow through in a single sitting.  Most fantasy fans and normal humans simply haven’t read it.  But that doesn’t change the fact that The Silmarillion is the most underappreciated work of fiction ever written, and in fact it is one of the mostly underappreciated works in all of literature. How dare I throw around such haphazard superlatives?  How can I make such a grand sweeping statement, without even a corroborating PhD attached to my name? Well, with the mighty strokes of my keys, I just did. But when something so distantly outpaces every other piece of fantasy you’ve read, it deserves some lofty praise.

And I’m not the only madman:

“O Mighty Tolkien! Prince of Fantasists! . . . I have just been reveling in one of the greatest literary privileges and experiences of my life . . . The Silmarillion . . . greater and more satisfying than both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings!” — Richard Adams, author of Watership Down

“A creation of singular beauty . . . magnificent in its best moments.” — Washington Post

The new October 2014 cover of the Silmarillion as found at Amazon.

The new October 2014 cover of the Silmarillion as found at Amazon.

I will not attempt to disentangle the many arguments for and against my grandiose statements, nor will I attempt tasks far beyond me—such as as filling the tomes required to define “greatness” in fantasy and literature, or listing the countless books and movies that owe their vital organs to Tolkien. I will simply try and persuade Tolkien and non-Tolkien fans alike to read it.

In Part 2, I will tantalize fantasy fans with a Middle Earth appetizer that will make you pause the 900 page sword-and-sorcery tome that has you spellbound with cliffhangers at the end of every chapter.  In Part 3, I will provide the mystical answer of how get into The Silmarillion and love it, even if you’ve tried before (which will include a Silmarillion MOVIE).

Many thanks to Kip Rasmussen for allowing me to use his art in this article.  See more and order prints at KipRasmussen.com.

The Most Underappreciated Work of Fantasy Ever – THE SILMARILLION - Part 2 of 3

So, in Part 1, I unapologetically lavished praise on J. R. R. Tolkien’s masterpiece—a masterpiece among masterpieces, yea a towering feat of literary and fantasy profundity: The Silmarillion.

A few of you chuckled compassionately.  A few of you nodded gravely.  A few of you rolled your eyes.  To all of you I say: read it again!

Ungoliant (ancient ancestor of Shelob) traps Melkor, and demands that he feed her the silmarils–the stolen jewels that contain the last light of Valinor. Illustration by Kip Rasmussen.

Ungoliant (ancient ancestor of Shelob) traps Melkor, and demands that he feed her the silmarils–the stolen jewels that contain the last light of Valinor. Illustration by Kip Rasmussen.

And now, as promised, I shall tantalize Lord of the Rings fans with a “Did You Know?” apéritif that should get you to order up the main course at your favorite book store.

Did you know…

…That Sauron is second in command to the real Dark Lord?

…That he used to be quite a handsome chap?

…That he abased himself before a distant relative of Aragorn?

…That Aragorn is not exactly… human?

…That the world used to be flat?

…That there are different species of elves?

…That the first dragons had no wings?

…Why the eagles sometimes sweep in miraculously to save the day?  (People like to poke fun at this bit of seeming deus ex machina, but there are good and cool reasons why it happens the way it does…)

(For those of you reading this post in email, click here for the video.)

…Why ents can walk and talk?

…That orcs are afraid of water?

…Who built Saruman’s tower?

…Why Galadriel is so mighty and so haunted, and that she left and returned to Middle Earth thousands of years before even Elrond was born?

…That there are MANY epic female characters in Tolkien’s universe?  (As my bro pointed out to me, props to Jackson ‘n friends for bumping up Arwen and Eowyn’s roles in the movies, etc., but only the uninitiated could be tempted to say that Tolkien’s work is lacking in female characters…  The Silmarillion is full of amazing ladies.  In fact, perhaps the most dynamic character in the entire book—in all of literature—is female.)

…And, perhaps most importantly, do you know what actually lies in the “West” that Frodo sails off to at the end of LOTR?

(For those of you reading this in email, click here for the video.  And you can get that song here.)

Those are just a few of the countless “Did-You-Knows” that should get any LOTR fan worth their lembas to dust off or buy the book…

(You’re welcome to add any others in the comments section below.)

And if you’re still holding back, in Part 3 or 4 (I haven’t decided which) I’ll tell you the surefire way to get into that thick Silmarillion prose and love it.

(And thanks again to Kip Rasmussen for the use of his beautiful artwork in these posts.)

The Most Underappreciated Work of Fantasy Ever – THE SILMARILLION - Part 3 of 3

There’s a Silmarillion movie in this post…  What?  A Silmarillion movie??

Read on, Middle Earth wayfarer…

In Part 1, The Silmarillion was praised and placed in its rightful place as one of the great works of literature.

In Part 2, Lord of the Rings fans were tantalized with some of the deep back stories that bear up Middle Earth, found only in The Silmarillion.

Here, in Part 3, I now SOLVE the problem most people have with the The Silmarillion, that it’s too hard to read.

The answer: don’t read it!  Listen to it.

My very own copy of The Silmarillion audiobook read by Martin Shaw. I listen to the whole thing about once a year…

My very own copy of The Silmarillion audiobook read by Martin Shaw. I listen to the whole thing about once a year…

But, this nice little picture probably won’t help you much.  To give you a really good idea how fabulous it is, I’ve put together a little video with excerpts from the audiobook, and fabulous Silmarillion art by Kip Rasmussen.

(If you’re reading this in email, you might not see the video, click here for the vid.)

ENJOY!

Revisiting Star Trek: Voyager

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May 23, 1994 – a cheer erupted from a house packed with nerdy (and not-so-nerdy) high schoolers as the Riker-commanded three-nacelled Enterprise unapologetically demolished a Klingon bird of prey.  Star Trek: The Next Generation was about to end.  What was next?

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Shortly after, my brother secured a bootleg copy of the Star Trek: Generations movie script, and as TNG went to the big screen, I knew the heady days weren’t over. On November 19th, 1994, (shamefully missing the premiere by 1 day) I shivered with glee as I sat down next to my patient girlfriend and watched Kirk and Picard save the galaxy together.

Obviously, Kes was originally part of the crew, and Seven came in in season 4.

Obviously, Kes was originally part of the crew, and Seven came in in season 4.

Only two months later, something called Star Trek: Voyager came along.

A female captain? What’s this? A funky new ship design? Not even a homage to Alexander Courage in the intro music? And most shocking, no “Space the final frontier…” intro monologue?

But I of course enthusiastically gave it a chance. The pilot episode “Caretaker” was impressive—classic themes with a slick new set of visuals and a gutsy “lost in space” main storyline, far less worrisome than TNG’s cosmic jellyfish premiere. (Though, upon mature reflection, I have come to really like “Encounter at Farpoint.” It gave us Q, and some very interesting sci-fi concepts and aliens.)

(As a side note, I had given up on Deep Space Nine some time earlier. Trek was about exploration, and being stuck on a space station just didn’t do it for me. I have heard many times from high-brow Trekkies that it is the most literary/deep/gusty/dramatic/etc. of all the series, but I couldn’t get into it. Maybe there will be a “Revisiting Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” blog entry some day.)

Back to Voyager.

College, missionary work, poverty, dating, and cleaning toilets to buy ramen and cereal were worthy/necessary distractions from Voyager—but the fact was the series just didn’t grab me. Every time I was on the Enterprise—Constitution, Galaxy, and Sovereign, I felt at home.  As a young man, not even Seven of Nine could keep me aboard the fancy Intrepid-class bio-circuited flying machine in the delta quadrant.

For me, what was missing was that magical something in the relationships of Kirk’s and Picard’s crews.

 

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I diss no one here… I know many felt that even more with Voyager and DS9. But it didn’t click for me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Years passed and I found myself searching for some sci-fi company in lonely moments. I tried a variety, but my heart longed for the steady pulse of a warp engine.

So, over the last few months, I have been watching tons of Voyager.  And, well, I was amazed. I didn’t find the ten-forward camaraderie I had longed for, but I did find some fabulous science fiction.

Beyond visionary things like tricorders and communicators, I don’t think Star Trek in general gets the sci-fi props it deserves—and that is especially true of Voyager.  Episode after episode—well-acted and produced with many notably great moments—seized upon very cool sci-fi concepts.  As a writer and a producer with an actress wife, I feel like I can appreciate the achievement of producing and performing in an incredible 172 episodes of such an ambitious show.  This is touched on by Shatner’s great documentary The Captains.

But what struck me was the science fiction.

(It of course suffers from some of the normal Trek pitfalls—a touch of the dogmatically “progressive” moral agenda, silly applications of the universal translator, and “aliens” that are more human than my neighbor.  (I do actually believe that the universe is populated by many humanoid-ish species, but I don’t think they’d understand my jokes!)  With a few very cool exceptions, Voyager could probably have used a little more weirdness in the dilithium.)

Species 8472

Species 8472

However, Voyager really delivers some great sci-fi.  Here are few examples:

A parasite disguised itself as a memory, with the ability to be contagious. (Flashback – Season 3 Epsiode 2)

A think-tank-for-hire made up of unusual, powerful aliens.. (Think Tank – Season 5 Episode 19)

Space-born telepathic pitcher-plants. (Bliss – Season 5 Episode 14)

 

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A spacecraft that becomes jealously involved with its pilot, and has its own agenda. (Alice – Season 6 Episode 5)

A planet where time passes millions of times faster on the surface. (Blink of an Eye season 6, ep 12)

The exploration of “photonic” lifeforms, especially, The Doctor. (lots of episdes)

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Pushing the limits of already-established coolness—like the 29th-century borg. (“One” – Season 4 Episode 25)

 

 

The temporal prime directive. (Many episodes.)

A crewperson becoming the “muse” of an alien poet. (“Muse” – Season 6 Episode 22)

A time fracture where different parts of the ship are in different time zones. (“Shattered” – Season 7 Episode 11)

A wide variety of FTL travel.  (Many episodes.)

And it was fun to have characters with “unusual” skills—like cooking.  (Neelix in many episodes.)

And much more…

 

I had a fun, funny, and hopefully slightly mind-expanding chat with my oldest kids after watching one of the original Kirk episodes just the other night—discussing the spiritual aspects of some of the sci-fi ideas.  But in so many shows today, the “sci-fi” is just marketable window dressing.  Voyager was surprising, refreshing, and deliberately thought-provoking.  In a few years, and after carefully curating for kid-friendly episodes as I do with other Trek, I’m sure I’ll introduce it to my cadets.

During my revisit, I found myself staying up late many times, and enjoying not only the sci-fi, but the characters who wove it into a story.

Thank you to all the folks who made Voyager happen.

In conclusion, Star Trek: Voyager boldly went.

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Media Industry Career Trek

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Lots of people ask me: “How do I get a job in the media industry?”

This has always been a tricky question. But something has happened in the last few years to make this even more complicated. Naturally, it has to do with Star Trek…

But first, a little illustrative background

I went to film school and graduated as a screenwriter. My first job was… as an Avid video editor. Then I started producing and directing. Most of the writing I did was sculpting my boss’s politically sensitive interoffice emails. Flash forward past years of intense and circuitous skill-expanding mania—now I write, produce, direct, edit, and mograph (as of this moment I’m making “mograph” a verb) on TV shows, movies, commercials, industrials, docs, and live events. I do good work, get lots of creative control, get paid well, and there have been many rewarding and award-winning projects. But what do I want to do most and don’t have much time for? Writing.

Media careers on the Enterprise

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In a nutshell, for any media project to get finished, a bunch to stuff has to get done. In the old days, there was a person for each bit of “stuff.” And that’s true today on well-funded movies, commercials, etc. and in big production companies. Each project has a producer, writer, director, cinematographer, production crew, editor, graphics guy, sound designer, mixer, colorist, etc. etc. as needed—and theoretically these people are all different people.

The idea is, if someone wants to be editor, they learn how to edit try to find a job as an editor.  Often, folks who specialize get really really good at what they do.

The shift from specialization to non-specialization has been going on for years now…

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Here’s the trick—most projects nowadays simply do not have the funding nor the time to get a full crew.  The mind-boggling democratization of media production power and the insatiable consumption of media by the public have created a new quadrant of the media galaxy, rapidly taking over the others. My first video production boss said: “Good, fast, cheap—they can pick any two.” But come on, have you ever had client agree with that?

In my experience (and rule #1 in this industry is get input from lots of different people), you are much more likely to get a job as an editor if you can shoot and you know some mograph (it’s a noun again). You are much more likely to direct something if you can write and produce. Many production companies these days simply can’t afford to keep a full-time writer or director, let alone editor. A few years ago they could charge $250/hour for editing time on their $500,000 Avid on hard drives that costed $1000 per gigabyte, and shooting HD was a wild extravagance. Those prices don’t usually fly anymore. Not when I’ve got uncompressed 4K raw running on a $2500 machine in machine in my basement baby!  The mighty producer-editor is someone to be reckoned with these days.

The idea is, a Starfleet cadet gets lots of skills and gets a job cranking out good, cheap media.  It doesn’t mean one person wears every single hat (as only Spock could), but the idea is that you make yourself very marketable by becoming a jack of many trades.

So am I recommending the all-Spock approach?

Not necessarily.  It’s just something to be aware of. I was well on my way to becoming an uber-Spock when I offered a job to a film school buddy of mine. He said, basically: “No way, man. I don’t want to get stuck.” Now he makes docs for HBO and directs big commercials. Other guys I know funded their reels right out of film school (by forking over the dough to produce super high-end spec commercials), got repped, and now make insane day rates.

On the other hand, I also know many master “specialists” who struggle to find work, big time. Ultimately, they’ve had to acquire new skills to get enough jobs to feed their families. A super talented actor friend of mine makes a living doing After Effects work. And I remember a high-end Director of Photography—whose reel blew mine away—who came to me for a job, and I couldn’t hire him because all he could do was shoot. Just writing that makes me feel like a jerk!

On the OTHER hand… Just because you have a DSLR and understand depth of field, it doesn’t make you a professional director of photography.  On the OTHER OTHER hand… just because you have an agent, it doesn’t mean you can write a screenplay worth a darn.  On the OTHER OTHER OTHER hand…

Ultimately, I think every media pro should…

…specialize. You can’t be awesome at everything. And I don’t think it would be that fun. For one thing, it’s too much work wearing all those hats! For another, it’s really wonderful to collaborate with others who are stellar in their individual fields.

The real question is, how do you make a living until you’re able to do what you love most?

Most of the biggest movies, TV shows, commercials, etc. are made with a full and specialized crew.  But then again, some amazing things, including feature films, are being made by indie nuts wearing lots of hats.

For me, starting out I couldn’t make a living without wearing lots of hats. And there have been some surprisingly fun moments in my quest for diversity—such as doing things I thought I’d never do, like producing live shows and feeling the energy of thousands of people going nuts.  And when it’s time for some job hunting, I flatter myself that I could get hired in a lot of different places.

It’s worked well for me and my family, but I’ve found that I’m good at lots of things, but not AWESOME at the skill I want most.  I’ve had put off my true passions for years and work ludicrous hours to get an audience with my muse.  Then again, had I focused on a specialty from the beginning, would I have avoided the challenges I had?  Uggh.  It’s maddening!

Engaging the warp drive

Star Trek UNO rocks!

Star Trek UNO rocks!

I’ve duped you into reading all this way and I actually don’t have the answer! Sorry, everyone’s path through this tangled industry is different. I don’t have a ton of advice, just information. But when I got out of film school, I was too dumb to acquire much of either.

I’m fairly certain however that the answer for everyone lies somewhere between these five coordinates:

 

  1. Get advice from lots of people—industry pros, your barber, your kids, grandma
  2. Be nice to people
  3. Have integrity
  4. Network – whether you’re great at one thing or a lot of things, people will hire you because they know and trust you
  5. Don’t freak out. The best things in life don’t have much to do with your career

Thoughts anyone??  Maybe together we can save the next generation of filmmakers a lot of heartache!

Coming full circle

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Well, in timespace we don’t deal so much with “circles” per se.  We get more of these these weird shell-type constructs.  But the connection is the same.  Thanks to some big news that will hopefully come next week… I feel I can safely say that this project is reaching closure.  Years ago when I began chronicling the 95ers indie film adventures in this blog, I wrote about some of the core mysteries and struggles—and grand misconceptions—we were facing.  A reprint seems very appropriate now.  Enjoy!

(To give you a little chronological perspective… It is now 2012.  The following (except for the last line) was written in 2009.  95ers was first conceived in 1998.)

 

“DEATH OF AN INDIE”

When people ask me about my movie, what they usually ask is something like: “So how do you get it out there?”  Or in other words, how does a nobody get their movie in theaters or on TV or at least on DVD?  In fundraising, the most typical question seems to have been: “Do you have distribution?”  And in fact, when I first embarked on this journey, that was the biggest obstacle in my own mind—getting it seen.  Little did I know that was the least of my worries.

For most of the people I’ve met, filmmaker or no, the great and mystical gate in filmmaking where success is on one side and failure is on the other is the gate of “getting it seen.”  Also known as “distribution” or “getting picked up.”  This is the point at which a giant creative blob that seems to be only an eccentric hobby, suddenly becomes something useful and worthwhile.  It is creativity legitimized.

I was fully steeped in this fallacy.

The truth is, as any artist whose creative aspirations have been in the emergency room for most of their existential existences will tell you, the distributor’s gateway is absolutely not the plague an artist needs to worry about.  Most indie movies die horrible deaths long before the question “So how do we get it out there?” is ever seriously addressed.  In fact, I would hazard to say that a careful autopsy of 99.99% of indie ventures would reveal that distribution problems had nothing to do with their demise.  Perhaps the fear of non-distribution plays a role, but rarely non-distribution itself.

And here’s why: INDIE MOVIES HARDLY EVER GET FINISHED.

Here are some of the true terminal illnesses which plague indie movies:

1) Too many great ideas.
The filmmaker has so many great stories in his head, he or she just can’t settle on one long enough to write a script.  These movies die young.
2) The script never gets finished.
The filmmaker realizes the entire script needs to be re-written, and the task is so daunting he throws down his scalpel and leaves the patient dying on the table.
3) The money runs out.
The rich uncle’s blood type is actually not O-negative (universal), meaning he just doesn’t invest in ‘anything,’ and the filmmaker himself only gets $60 a pint when he donates.
4) “Dammit Jim, I’m a pizza delivery guy, not a physician!!!”
The filmmaker looks down at his instruments and his patient and is struck by a sudden fear—what am I doing here??  He is convinced (by himself and/or others) that his lack of training or talent will only lead the project to disaster!
5) Seeing ghosts.
Phantoms, relatives of #4, emerge all over the hospital where the filmmaker is trying to save his movie.  He thinks he’s been given some kind of second sight that allows him to see them.  But really it’s the shadow of his own fear that “opens his eyes” to the ghastly remains of all the creative projects that didn’t make it off the operating table.  Like banshees they croon their singsong tales of woe: “No money!  No time!  Your idea is lame!  Turn back now!”
6) The man behind the doctor’s mask.
The filmmaker is actually a charlatan who has no idea what he’s doing (which in and of itself is not a true reason for failure), and is too dumb or lacks the integrity to fess up.  The fair promises and blustering used to get people on board or string them along eventually reveal themselves and soon everyone is driven crazy, and eventually everyone is driven away, leaving the filmmaker to his own faulty devices and pitiful excuses.
7) The creative team dissolves.
It’s right during the catastrophic organ failure at some stage of the production process that one of the doctors on the elite team realizes he or she hemorrhaging themselves.
8 ) Will to live.
The filmmaker has called the ambulance so many times, and has been in the ICU overlooking the comatose movie venture for so long, he’s forgotten what makes the thing worth saving in the first place.  He begins to search for enough reasons and tries to find enough consolation, to pull the plug.

Indie movies don’t fail because they don’t get picked up for distribution.  For the most part, if they fail, it’s because they don’t get finished.

Thanks to everyone who helped me learn that for real.  95ers will be completely finished next week.  More news to come…

Defending timespace in 3D

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Introducing our new secret weapon: 3D matte painter and VFX artist Adam Kuczek…

(The above image is from the upcoming NEW and AMAZING 95ers movie poster.  Stay tuned for that.)

 

Over the last few years, I have had the great displeasure of spending thousands of hours creating many of the visual effects for the movie…    There is a ludicrous amount of compositing, greenscreening, and fancy particle effects, etc. throughout the movie, payment for which was required in SILVER. Silver hairs.

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Our awesome miniatures and cool sci-fi sets were of course created by Hollywood veteran and time machine engineer/puppeteer Clark Schaffer.  Clark and I are huge fans of traditional in-camera VFX with miniatures, sets, and cinematic trickery of all sorts, a la the original Star Wars movies.

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But lurking in the back of my mind throughout all this time were a couple of final shots…  Shots that had haunted me ever since I did that darn rewrite on the script.  Shots that would be way too expensive to do as miniatures and with motion control.  But shots that I HAD TO HAVE nonetheless!  Shots that would add production value, tell critical parts of the story, boost sci-fi “epicness”, and help sell the movie.  I needed a 3D matte painting, something outside of my realm.  I searched and searched, deep into the portfoliac recesses of the web, and finally found a teacher-turned-VFX-guy from Poland living in Shanghai!!!

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It was this cool shot that first grabbed my attention…

Please welcome Adam Kuczek to the 95ers VFX team!  Frankly, Adam has been a delight to work with.  Not only is he a fantastic talent, he also has a strong sense of visual cinematic storytelling.  I can’t show you the shots he’s done for us yet… but in the upcoming “95ers official trailer 2,” due in about two weeks, you’ll see a glimpse them.  Until then, explore his site and enjoy his reel.

Spaceships in a time travel movie?

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“But I thought 95ers was a time travel movie?  A quantum-delving, soul-impacting, spine-tingling, popcorn-munching paranormal time travel movie?”

It is indeed all those things, folks, and much more.  Time travelers do go to 31st century from time to time.  (Well, technically, in 95ers:ECHOES we only go to the 27th century, but who’s counting.)

 

Very few people, even in the Chronos Protectorate, know much about the “spaceship” component in 95ers.  And at long last, even as I go into meetings with distributors (in fact I have one tomorrow), the final visual effects shots are being completed.  And one of them includes SPACESHIPS!

The grand story arc of 95ers includes pitched battles in space as well as aerial dogfights much more akin to Star Wars than Top Gun.

Over the years various awesome artists have been creating ship concepts for the 95ers Universe.  And in a matter of days, you’ll see one of them come to life in the updated movie trailer.

Here are some early concepts.  Most of this work was developed for what is planned to be the third movie in the 95ers franchise.

Clark Schaffer for 95ers - click to enlarge

Clark Schaffer for 95ers - click to enlarge

Kip Rasmussen for 95ers - click to enlarge

Kip Rasmussen for 95ers - click to enlarge

Justin Kunz for 95ers - click to enlarge

Justin Kunz for 95ers - click to enlarge

Clark Schaffer for 95ers - click to enlarge

Clark Schaffer for 95ers - click to enlarge

Clark Schaffer for 95ers - click to enlarge

Clark Schaffer for 95ers - click to enlarge

Justin Kunz for 95ers - click to enlarge

Justin Kunz for 95ers - click to enlarge

Justin Kunz for 95ers

Justin Kunz for 95ers

Adam Kuczek for 95ers - click to enlarge

Adam Kuczek for 95ers - click to enlarge

 

 

 

 

Here’s a cool full color piece of concept art by the amazing Clark Schaffer.

And here’s one of my favorite early concept pieces, by Justin Kunz.  You can see teeny tiny ships in the distance.

This mega-cool poster concept for a future 95ers project also shows a glimpse of ships (including an old Spanish galleon…).

Finally, here are some LOW REZ UNTEXTURED AND UNLIT looks at the ships you’ll soon be seeing in 95ers:ECHOES—our current project, soon to be snapped up by a distributor.  This 3d model—and I stress that is it only a previz—is compliments of Adam Kuczek.  (Adam is new to the team and I’ll be giving him a full introduction in my NEXT blog post…)

Continuing Madness and Marvels

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Screening mayhem and success… entering the distribution game… broke again and other miscellaneous travails…

(Lots of screening pics at end of post…)

 

I finally have two seconds to send out an update.  Actually, I don’t have two seconds, but you deserve an update anyway!  I will write this in reverse chronological order, as any good time-bending franchise must do from time to time.

–45 DAYS AFTER SCREENING (now–Saturday, Oct 1): Wrote this post.  Racing to finish new movie trailer–to fuel buzz and attract more distributors.  Then to finish screener and send to distribs.

–45 DAYS AFTER SCREENING (now): Still doing greenscreens and other vfx polishing.  Endless hours of rotoscoping.

–40 DAYS AFTER SCREENING: Awesome futuristic matte painting (the shot out the circular window) finally underway.  Should be ready to shoot in a couple weeks.

–4 WEEKS AFTER SCREENING:  Foreseen and unforeseen challenges combine and we’re out of $$ once again, with final post expenses adding up to towering heights.  Weight of doom back on the job. 

–3 WEEKS AFTER SCREENING: Meet with distributor very interested in 95ers.  Also wants screener.

–WEEK AFTER SCREENING: Begin greenscreen compositing and other vfx not done for screening.

–A FEW MORE DAYS AFTER SCREENING: Got some great distribution advice and offers of help from some very cool Hollywood gents.

–A FEW MORE DAYS AFTER SCREENING: Successful indie filmmaker and seller-of-films wants screener.

–A FEW DAYS AFTER SCREENING: Movie rep out of San Fran asks to take movie to American Film Market.  Is patiently awaiting screener.

–MORNING AFTER SCREENING: Go to day job.  Work around clock for next week at day job.

–AFTER SCREENING: Hugs and kisses all around.  Stunningly positive feedback, even from tough critics.  Weight of doom takes a break.

–IMMEDIATELY AFTER SCREENING: Successful foreign markets distributor gives very generous congratulations and asks for screener as soon as it’s ready.

–SCREENING:  Great energy in the room.  Movie looks and sounds super.  People laughing and ooing all at the right times.  Weight of doom lifting.

–5 MINS BEFORE SCREENING: I do my best to give a little thank you speech–and bring back the 80’s with my feathered hair and purple shirt.  (Honestly, I was so happy and grateful to see so many friends and family and fans and cast/crew members from all over–even from overseas!  It was wonderful.)  At the same time, fabulous friends take care of technical difficulties, and hook my computer into the theater projector.

–15 MINS BEFORE SCREENING: I miss the turn-off to get to theater.

–30-MINS BEFORE SCREENING:  Standup comedian Mike Guido keeps the crowd happy during delays.

–AN HOUR BEFORE SCREENING: Ludicrous technical difficulties force me to abandon creating movie file for screening, and instead pack up my entire editing system

–A FEW HOURS BEFORE SCREENING: Frantically trying to finish a few more vfx shots for screening.

–4 HOURS BEFORE SCREENING: Colorist delivers final colored video files.

–THE MORNING BEFORE SCREENING: Download final audio for screening.

–NIGHT BEFORE SCREENING: Nervous breakdowns occurred at my house.  We’re thinking screening will be a disaster.  The weight of doom descends upon us.

–FOR 4+ YEARS: Seemingly insurmountable obstacles appear every couple months.  A constant and bloody battle.  But tons of support from wonderful people.

–MORE THAN 4 YEARS BEFORE SCREENING: Set out to make a sci-fi indie movie.

–MORE THAN 10 YEARS BEFORE SCREENING: Bro James and I create awesome sci-fi universe.

A FEW PICS FROM SCREENING IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER!

Actors, supporters, time travelers.

Actors, supporters, time travelers.

Lovely and hyper-talented ladies.

Lovely and hyper-talented ladies.

Heroes/celebrities.

Heroes/celebrities.

The crowd gathers.

The crowd gathers.

Something strange about this pic. :)

Something strange about this pic. :)

What a cast! Though we're missing a handful in this pic.

What a cast! Though we're missing a handful in this pic.

Anne and Ali and Clark and awesomeness.

Anne and Ali and Clark and awesomeness.

More supersonic power.

More supersonic power.

The Dads.

The Dads.

Ian, Alix, Chris: tripple coolness.

Ian, Alix, Chris: tripple coolness.

Multigenerational talent.

Multigenerational talent.

Crazy fans.

Crazy fans.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Indie film clown car

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When I crammed the final piece of gear into my little car, I had to laugh.  It only fit if I left the windows open.

It’s a truck!  It’s a production van!  No, it’s my faithful little Neon, containing two big light kits, 3 camera packages, c-stands, sandbags, a video switcher, LED light panels, 3 monitors of various sizes, sundry grip/electric stuff, a big camera slider, tripod, a case of water, etc etc.  Insanity.

But providentially… incredibly… ludicrously… it all fit.

 

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And what were we doing with all this stuff?  Working around the clock with bleary yet artistically keen eyes?

Whatever we were filming is behind this giant pie tin…

Help save timespace... SHARE!

Help save timespace... SHARE!

 

 

Posted on July 15, 2011 by 95ers in ECHOES MOVIE NEWS, INDIE MADNESS

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