Monthly Archives: December 2015

Speaking of that other Star Thing

I finally saw it today.

You know, that space movie I was talking about the other day.

I can now roam the Internet freely.

I liked it. That’s about all I will tell you.

If you liked the original trilogy, you should like it. If you liked the prequels, I still don’t see why you wouldn’t like it.

In fact, if you were planning to see it, go ahead and see it already.

Don’t you want to be able to use the Internet again?

Star Trek Fans: We Are Probably Doomed

I meant to post this earlier when the Star Trek Beyond trailer dropped, but holiday obligations meant I needed to stew with the implications for days.

And alas, amid the season where I should be counting blessings and giving thanks, I have some geek-related dread.

(I should note, that I am counting blessings and giving thanks as one might expect. Nothing Trek-related could be that impactful unless I was somehow involved in the creation of Trek and felt I had just created a re-hash of Star Trek V).

My geek-related dread, entirely of my own making, is from watching the aforementioned Star Trek Beyond trailer and –upon finding its contents lacking a certain Star Trek spirit I am accustomed to– trying to figure out solid reason why it is so lacking.

My geek-fuelled research has led to a conclusion of storytelling doom which I feel compelled to share with like-minded fans. So if you’re ready for some gloomy predictions, read on.

First, some context on fandom. Star Trek fans are fans for many reasons, but many definable reasons deal with Star Trek’s recurring overall positive vision of the future (see Trekkies, Trek Nation, etc.). Amid the moral dilemmas and external threats, Star Trek has historically shown us a world where a better world is possible. Even amid the their –and in many parts because of their flaws– Star Trek heroes are those who are trying to do the right thing, both by living to a high set of standards and trying to protect others. Heck, even morally ambiguous characters such as ever-duplicitous Garak has a code of sorts and loves his homeworld of Cardassia. Same goes for Quark. But overall, we’re with the humans of Starfleet. And we enjoy being able to see the nobler parts of ourselves in these characters.

Those reasons have not been large and in charge for the reboot movies. In place of these moments of human-sized heroism have been some of the other reasons we like Star Trek: cool starships, cool tech, cool aliens, and, um — how is this different from any other sci-fi franchise again?

Star Trek does not have to be one thing. Indeed, over the course of multiple TV series and over 600(!) TV episodes –to say nothing of the movies– it has been many things. But there’s a reason we Star Trek fans keep coming back to the table and it’s not because we get a completely different dish each time. You can have action in Trek and reflection in Trek, but the reboot movies seem to be a whole different mixture. I can only speak for myself, but I’m sure I’m not alone when I want the Star Trek movies to be epic in the same vein of Lord of the Rings movies: where great deeds are done and perhaps massive battles fought, but there are small, human moments. Instead, we get this:

Yeah, I know it's kind a blurry, but I think we can conclude Kirk does not seem to be reflecting in this moment so much as being fast and possibly furious.

Yeah, I know it’s kind a blurry, but I think we can conclude Kirk does not seem to be reflecting so much as being fast and possibly furious.

I want to make it clear that I don’t have a problem with Star Trek Beyond per se. I will most likely try and see it in the theater and enjoy it for what it seems to be: Star Trek in full action mode covered in a summer blockbuster sauce.

The question is when are we going to get some non sauce-drenched Trek? There’s still hope that this 2017 TV series will give us something more akin to the best of what we’ve seen in the past half century, but we also thought that would be the case for Star Trek Reboot, the Third. Gone would be the awkward reboot mechanics. Gone would be raiding the old well in the form of Khan and other ill-advised fan service. Now we would have an original story that would surely have action set pieces befitting a movie budget, but perhaps some nice philosophical ideas. I mean, even Star Trek V mused about the nature of God for crying out loud.

Barring some new reveals in subsequent trailers, Star Trek Reboot appears to be all action all the time. So I asked, “Why?”

There’s plenty of smart people working on Reboot Trek. From interviews, they know much of the thoughtfulness and positivity of classic Trek. Isn’t it one of the defining aspects of Trek? Isn’t that part of what separates Trek from generic Sci Fi?

The Trek we love is good business, right?

No.

No, the Trek we love is not supported by those box office numbers.

Come with me to Box Office Mojo and take a look at this chart of franchises:

coist_doomed_chart01

It ranks as #16 in terms of overall take for all the movies. I guess that isn’t bad, but look at where it lies in terms of average take per movie. It’s past number 50! You can do some adjustments for inflations and it still doesn’t look good. It’s got longevity, but not vitality.

Now look at the most recent entries:

coist_doomed_chart02a

If I’m a studio bean counter, I don’t care if this is Star Wars, Star Trek, or ALF. Them’s good-looking star bucks. Whatever we’re doing, who cares what the “fans” say? Looks like we have some new fans. Plenty of ’em, in fact.

The first reboot showed that this approach –which ardent Trekkers felt was a bit Star Warsian– worked. The second film proved –again, as far as bean-counters are concerned– that they’re growing a nice, juicy global market for this kind of sci-fi franchise. Now they’re bringing in Justin Lin, who has shown a penchant for delivering very profitable global action films, which is totally what Star Trek is, right?

Right.

Because look at that first chart again. As a Studio, do I really want a franchise that does worse than the Santa Clause movies? Screw that.

We fans often view our beloved franchises as modern folk tales: creative wells from which new stories can spring and old favorites can be shared again and again. But the people who actually own the intellectual property (IP) see it differently: Star Trek is a brand that has international recognition and that allows them to better make money in the international marketplace than creating something that doesn’t seem to work. We can all quibble about what didn’t work, but I would suggest Paramount sees a strategy to make the Star Trek franchise profitable and few things in the universe can alter the course of a Studio towards perceived profit.

If Paramount had been punished at the box office in their approach to Star Trek, as DC has been with films like the recent Green Lantern, they might work on adjustments. But they haven’t. Star Trek Reboot 1 = successful film. Star Trek Reboot 2 = successful global film. Money is being made. There is not a problem.

Remember, in their world, the Transformers movies are absolutely awesome. Look at how good they are:

Scream all you want, lovers of good storytelling, bean-counters see only gold.

Scream all you want, lovers of good storytelling, bean-counters see only gold.

So this is why I feel dread. What I define as that particular Star Trek flavor of sci-fi has not been in the forefront of the reboot movies — and what I am finding from the cold equations discussed above is that perhaps they never will be again.

As someone very interested in how the global marketplace evolves and how storytelling evolves to compete in it, I understand. As a fan, it makes me feel sad.

I’m completely up for enjoying Enterprises being destroyed, Klingons being bedazzled, and derring-do done with motorcycle stunts — if they’re destroyed well, bedazzled well, and derring-well-done, that is. But it also means separating the name “Star Trek” from the expectations that have grown around that name.

That’s not exactly my way of living long and prospering.

Update: Due to the follow-up blog posts about Star Trek’s future and fandom, I have titled this series “Crisis of Infinite Star Treks.” You’re welcome, pop culture mavens.

Recommended Reading: Facebook’s Latest Quest

Julia Greenberg in a recent article in Wired talks about Facebook’s efforts to be more than a place to keep up-to-date with the doings of friends and family.

Part of me feels like this is the formation of the new networks to replace the old triumvirate of NBC, ABC, and CBS (which vintage radio folks will point out are not as timeless as one might think: here’s looking at you, Mutual).

The Differences between a Policy, Process, Procedure, and Work Instruction

After last month’s deep dive into the realm of writing, I suppose it’s only fair that I touch on the fine art of producing and project management.

Simply put, just as a “risk” and an “issue” are different in the land of project management, so too are documents like a Policy, a Process, a Procedure, and a Work Instruction.

On a very basic level, you could think of them as increasingly detailed versions of the same picture. So:

Policy –> Process –> Procedure –> Work Instruction

However, beyond a simple “high altitude to low altitude” example, there are also considerations as to who your audience is and what you want to accomplish. You don’t need all four levels of documentation.

Explaining where and when you should go that deep can be tricky, which was why I was happy to see someone take a stab at it. Please consult this brief but handy guide to the difference between all four.

I like it enough, that I can kind of forgive them using “it’s” instead of correctly using “its.” Kind of, but not quite.

But before I digress too much about proofreading documentation, I wanted to get back to the importance of defining what level of documentation you need.

I spent a couple years creating and revising business processes for a couple different clients. For one of them, I had the luck of working with an “ITIL Jedi Master” which, though apt, was not his official title.

It was developing documentation for this client where I truly came to appreciate the different goals and different audiences of the four types of documentation.

You always need some form of policy — and luckily, in most organizations, someone has done that. (I say “luckily” — you’ll find many people in the trenches resent the existing policy and their de facto procedures are designed to undercut said policy). You might even have process. The tricky part often comes with procedure and work instruction. Because the differences between process, procedure, and work instruction can seem abstract, you will often find one document trying to fulfill the objective of all three document types — and failing spectacularly. Not only that, the people who need to sign off on the process don’t care about the work instruction level — and can often get confused by it. The cutoff between the procedure and the work instruction level can be very tricky. That’s why I like the example above.

Here’s an example: one of the areas we did a lot of documentation and service improvements was an IT Operations department. We had IT Operations staff who needed the work instruction level of detail for many tasks because they were both entry-level positions with a reasonable rate of turnover and because if very specific instructions were not followed, mayhem could ensue. In some cases, by re-doing a process flow, we were able to identify the process steps that were taking a long time. Re-doing and getting management buy-in on the revised processes gave us the authority we needed to examine what was working and what wasn’t working on the procedure and work instruction level. We could target which work instructions to revise and replace for the biggest bang for our buck in terms of service levels. It wasn’t easy, but by separating the documentation levels — both who the audience was and who needed to sign off on them, we were able to have more far reaching improvements to IT services than we would have otherwise.

You will always find people in an organization that dislike dealing with documentation. Usually, this resistance has one of two causes:

  1. They are the keeper of tribal knowledge related to this procedure or work instruction and feel it is tied to their job security
  2. They have never seen documentation help them

Note that these two causes are not mutually exclusive. Also, consider how much #2 can be because the documentation tries to be a policy, process, procedure, work instruction.

You need to validate policy and get buy-in on process, especially if it’s a revision to the process, but once you have that, you may be surprised how much can be turned around by tactical improvements at the work instruction level. Once word gets around about how you’re helping eliminate headaches, the proponents of tribal knowledge may remain, but have fewer allies.

All right, that’s probably wonky enough for this time of year. Why don’t you go to that new space movie?

Complete Non-Secret: I love Mold-A-Rama so very, very much

In the tradition of the Internet and blogs collectively giving you information and confessions of greater interest to the person confessing than to you, the reader, I give you this glorious article that trigger some of my fondest memories of visiting Chicago.

But whatever my personal connection, let’s face it: Mold-A-Rama is awesome.

It’s only now, with 21st century hindsight, do I realize that, as I was getting models of the U-505 or perhaps a plastic doppelganger of a seal living at the Brookfield Zoo, I was getting 3D printing on demand!

In fact, my brothers and I probably still have some of these surprisingly durable souvenirs gracing shelves here and there.

It pleases me greatly that Mold-A-Rama continues.

Recommended Reading: As Darkness Falls

Okay, actually, within less than a fortnight, we’ll be past Yule and slowly trudging back to the longest day (no, not that Longest Day).

But this piece on Lifehacker by Kristin Wong makes me think about what lighting I need to get through the more-than-long enough winter months.

NaNoWriMo 2015 Recap

Well, that was illuminating.

In the end –which is to say when NaNoWriMo ended on November 30th– I completed 50 script pages: half of the 100 I had set out to do.

Pros:

  • Having all the blog posts finished by October meant I could focus on the script writing.
  • I’m very happy with what I have written — and it’s work I’ll continue and should finish in the new year.

Cons:

  • Hey, I didn’t reach my goal. I didn’t set the goal to not reach it. Bother.
  • I’m not sure when I’ll be able to write as much as 50 pages per month in the near future, let alone 100. Also: bother.

Rather self-evident improvements for next time:

  • Carve out more time in my schedule ahead of time

I relied too much on finding “some time during the day.” This approach is fine to get my 20 minutes a day which has been my hallmark method of writing for about six years or so. I’ve used it because it gets results: maybe one or two pages a day adds up over the course of a year. But to get 100 pages in a month, I need more dedicated time.

  • Have detailed outlines of what I want to write during the month.

In fairness, I did have outlines for the stories, but they varied in their level of detail. And I wasn’t sure how fast I was going to go through the stories. When filmmaker and all-around nice guy Barry Gribble mentioned that he had finished his outlines in October in preparation to write two pilots in this November, I knew he was onto something. He had specific writing goals and had set himself up to best complete them. I do this sort of project management in other realms all the time. And although you want to keep storytelling ‘organic,’ this makes sense in order to move from ‘wanting to write’ to ‘having written.’ A lot of the ‘organic’ for me will come in the planning and outlining. At some point, I need to write that draft. Barry had set the stage so November was writing the dang drafts.

So, I’ll certainly compare notes with Barry and others, but it sounds like next September, I’ll be identifying the story or stories I want to tackle in November. Then, I need to make sure I have a detailed enough outline by the end of October: detailed enough to appropriately rock and roll on a draft in November (whether that draft is any good or not is, naturally, immaterial).