My Favorite ‘Scape

Thinking of last week’s post and the general notion of sharing creative work that excites, I stumbled across an interview with Rockne S. O’Bannon about Farscape, the sprawling space opera that ran on TV from 1999 to 2003.

How much do I like Farscape? Let me put it this way: I’ve introduced many, many people to Firefly: lent them the DVDs, pestered them via social media when it’s been streaming on Netflix. If I learned a new installment of Firefly existed, I would schedule some time to watch within the next few weeks.

If I learned Farscape was back, I would body-check man and muppet on my way to tune in. I wouldn’t even care that’d it’d probably be “on demand.”

(And yes, I know comics “continue the story” for both. I’ve checked ’em out and I still want the screen versions).

So why would I recommend Farscape?

It’s continually visually inventive. Beyond what you’ll probably hear that Farscape revels in getting weird –which is both true and delightful– both the visual effects and the creatures cooked up by the Jim Henson company are astounding again and again. It blows the Next Generation’s minimalist “forehead variation” makeup out of the water. I’ve heard from some people who can’t abide by anything slightly Muppet-like, so if Dark Crystal isn’t your bag, there may be moments of dislike. I’m biased, of course, but I think any of those moments are far outweighed by true “wow” moments.

It is equally at home with comedy and drama. Much like Deep Space Nine, Cowboy Bebop, and, yes, Firefly, it contains narrative multitudes. And importantly, it is driven by the story. The episode where they switch bodies is just as ridiculous as you’d expect and the episode “Season of Death” fully lives up to its title.

The heroes are heroic in spite of constant screw-ups and curve balls. Much in the tradition of Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark, the heroes aren’t compelling because they win all the time, but how they deal with losing. And they get very inventive at trying not to lose. The fact that the very first episode shows the main hero thinking his way out of the episode’s dilemma is refreshing (though he proves to be quite adept with a pulse pistol).

The stories keep moving. They pack what might have made for an older TV show’s two-parter into a lean 45 minutes — and their three parters were usually wondrous. Just as you’re thinking “what if they…?” they go ahead and do it. It’s like the writers wanted to cut to the chase and get all the ideas on screen while they still could. Viewers of Castle in its prime as well as the best of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. will recognize this breakneck pace. It’s exhilarating.

So there you have it. It’s sadly no longer on streaming Netflix nor Amazon Prime, but it is available on DVD via Netflix (I’m not the only one who uses that, right?)

Doing Without Bile

Blogger, and fount of seemingly endless pop culture knowledge, Mark Evanier had a post earlier this month, right before his birthday. It was about getting older and just not caring about… I guess we could call it “irrational umbrage” about certain pop culture things like specific comics or movies or music or whatnot. You can read the post here.

One of my brothers has a habit that I’ve tried to cultivate in myself: when someone expresses adoration for a work you don’t like (e.g. a film, a book, a TV show, etc.) ask them what they like about it. Granted, in order to be a less-than-obnoxious conversationalist, you usually do need to own up to the fact that the work didn’t work for you and then segue into your query. This approach also lends itself to being less snarky, which also tends to help in being a better conversationalist.

People who revel in being brusque — and generally dislike using the words ‘brusque’ and ‘conversationalist’ — will find this crazy talk.

And, of course, maybe you don’t want to have a conversation, you want agreement — or possibly snarky argument. I suppose that’s valid, but as I get older, I’d rather have discussion — especially if it’s a choice between discussion or vapid agreement. And if we’re not going to actually have a discussion about some work, why don’t we get back to our own work? Alluding to the post above, I’d rather work on my own crap as opposed to spending a lot of time talking about how some other work is crap. I guarantee there is someone out there who will deem my work crap when it goes out into the world.

There’s enough crazy and negative stuff in the world besides all the creative work we and others try and produce. In other words, there’s plenty of stuff to drag us down. When it comes to creative works, I’m way more interested in what pulls you up.

A Look at the State Of Publishing: Traditional, Indie, and Self

I know author Kristine Kathryn Rusch mainly from her short stories in various science fiction magazines, but the truth is she writes across multiple genres and –apparently because sleep bores her or caffeine works particular wonders on her nervous system– she also edits, publishes, and shares all sorts of insights about said writing, editing, and publishing.

So when someone posted her thoughts about state of publishing in 2017, I thought it was worth a read… and you might, too.

Voiceover Update: And Bjorn Munson as the Vorta

Last Fall, the launch of Jabberwocky Audio Theater was still over half a year away, so I decided to throw my hat in the ring to act in a Star Trek fan production. I got the opportunity to play a Vorta, one of the Dominion’s genetically engineered races. The Vorta might be described as the carrot to the Jem’Hadar‘s stick, but let’s be honest: Vorta are perfectly happy to abandon the carrot when they can make a veiled threat in a voice that would make Dolores Umbridge swoon.

Anyway, I naturally looked to the portrayal of Vorta in official Star Trek for guidance. The wonderful Jeffrey Combs, in his portrayal of the various versions of Weyoun sets the standard for Vorta and unctuous menace (seriously, how he comes across as both a people-pleaser and a pitiless martinet is marvelous). However, I also noted Gelnon (played by Leland Crooke), who first appeared in “One Little Ship” as a good model. He seems to take quiet satisfaction in furthering the Dominion’s ruthless goals — which, I guess, is my way of saying this Vorta is not a nice guy.

Ruthless Vorta aren’t the only familiar thing you’ll hear in this series. If you’ve heard or watched other Star Trek fan productions, this will ring true. Shields will go down. Evasive maneuvers will be made. Loyalties will be conflicted. And all of it will connect to events and characters you’ve seen in official Trek.


The Nitty Gritty of Writing a Non-Fiction Book

As I mentioned last week, I’m giving a talk tonight for actors on mass auditions and indie casting. And I’ve previously written a lot on my company website about indie casting.

So, it probably comes as no surprise that I’ve thought about distilling and refining those thoughts into book form (and several people have suggested it — leading me to believe it’s a decent idea).

Enter Joanna Penn’s exhaustive article about how to write a nonfiction book. I especially like the time she takes on breaking down why one would want to write a nonfiction book and how that would translate into the audience one goes after. That’s one of those angles that can be all-too-easy to forget until you have 20/20 hindsight. I also appreciate the way she demonstrates how a book can factor into selling your overall brand or business, which should probably be part of one’s strategy.

It might be time to revisit the notes I’ve made about potential casting books…


Actors and Cats

I have a number of events coming up in the next 30 days, so I fear my posts may become a tad more erratic. Luckily, indomitable blogger Mark Evanier had a post this past week that perfectly meets my needs: how actors are like cats.

Yes, I know many actors who are dog lovers. Don’t worry guys and gals, you can still love your dogs (just as surely as they love you), but you’re still cat people. I’m with Betty White on this one.

As it happens, I’m speaking at the Women in Film & Video (WIFV) Talent Roundtable next week about something of a related subject. I’m mainly going to talk about mass auditions, since I’ll be running one the following week. But part of what I’ll be talking about is how actors can remain sane while looking for their next acting gig.

Hey, I know it’s not easy. Just refer to what Betty White told Mark Evanier. However, it’s doable. For more details than that, I’ll see ya next week.

Peak TV, Sci-Fi Edition

Somewhat riffing off my post from Wednesday, I’m once again considering our current golden age of television (aka Golden TV Age II: Serial Storytelling Boogaloo).

There’s so much great television to check out, there are whole series that have come and gone that I haven’t gotten to yet.

Alison Herman over at The Ringer delves into what this means for science fiction –and “genre fiction” in general– as they hold greater sway over pop culture on both the big and small screen (and yes, the screen definitions are becoming more moot in some ways). It raises many big and small questions. For example, will people who’ve read the Silmarillion more than once feel vindicated by Amazon’s 4,000 Tolkien series? Will Adam Savage make another appearance on The Expanse? Will I ever get around to watching more than the first episode of Lost?

As always, stay tuned.

You Can Get There From Here… After a Long Journey

Working on a long, long term project due to launch later this year has me thinking about various film projects stuck in development hell that have finally seen the light of day -er- distribution.

The new hotness that is Altered Carbon (on Netflix as of February 2nd) was adapted from a 2002 book. Several friends have already mentioned about the differences from the book (some bigger than others), but I only recently learned more about how long it’s been in development. Basically, it was optioned the same year it was published and, as with so many projects, found an outlet via Netflix’s mad rush to create content. If you’re not averse to Game of Thrones level sex and violence, it will definitely scratch your cyberpunk itch (and did I mention Max Headroom himself (Matt Frewer) makes an appearance?).

Also on Netflix as of last Fall, is Scott Frank’s western mini-series Godless. This project appears to have started in a similar form to Altered Carbon, albeit as an original feature film vs. an adaptation. In both cases, the creators found the feature film format wouldn’t hold the story and so they expanded things to fit a larger canvas. Scott Frank goes into the long process of bringing this project to some form of screen on a great episode of Scriptnotes from last year. If you enjoy westerns that comment on westerns, like Unforgiven, you’ll probably like this (if you want it to live up to its marketing as a woman-centric western, you’ll likely be disappointed).

Finally, on a note closer to home, the indie period horror/mystery Dinner with the Alchemist has VOD distribution as of yesterday. I know a bunch of the people both in front of and behind the camera. And even though indie filmmaking is invariably an entrepreneurial activity, there are plenty of ups and downs — and persistence plays a huge part. In this case, the screenwriter, inspired by historical documents, has been working to bring this story to the screen for over six years. The project was thundering into production, got halted, and started again. And you’ll notice from the IMDb page that it’s in one sense from 2016 — and yet they needed to keep working until now for online distribution.

So here’s to light at the end of the long journey — or I guess in the case of all three of these examples, dark tales.

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone!

Fun with Redistricting

Addressing the problem of gerrymandering and generally getting more people out to vote is something I’ve mentioned a few times on this blog (most recently being rather depressed by the solutions or lack thereof).

Well, the wonderful wonks over at FiveThirtyEight have an interactive map where you can see different strategies for redistricting and what that does, either on a national or state level.


Quid Pro No

Mark Evanier added to his long-running series on “Rejection” last month. This one is about his own personal experience that writers (and others) don’t actually get hired by friends who then hire them back.

I’m not going to lie, I probably like this because it scratches me right in the confirmation bias. Nevertheless, his personal experience rings true with mine. People like to work with people they know, sure. But they also want to work with someone who can deliver for the project in question.

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I’ve experienced being on both sides of the equation. I know that sometimes I’m not the best choice. And when I’m called in as a “pinch hitter?” You better believe I do my best to make sure that even if I’m not the first choice, that I’m not a bad choice (one acting role with a couple hours notice comes to mind).

It also helps that, 26 years running,  the people I’ve met who insist on this baseline “you hire someone simply because they’re a friend” are uniformly schmucks.