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 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…

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!

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.