The Music of DOOM! er, the Doomsday Machine

One of my favorite episodes of the original Star Trek and, I would argue, one of their best overall episodes, was the action-packed season two entry, “The Doomsday Machine.”

A significant factor on why I believe it should be ranked so highly is because of the episode-specific music composed by Sol Kaplan. Viewers may recall the original series re-used a lot of music cues as a cost-cutting technique. The fact that they don’t do so here underscores (pun intended) how a composer can really bring a story alive.

Composer Shem von Schroeck has an hour-long video that goes into the music and the episode in depth. The first 10 minutes are discussing and demonstrating some of the themes Kaplan uses. The next 50 are a special annotated version of the episode itself, highlighting which music is used when. It really gives you an appreciation for how much art and craft goes into composing for the screen.

That Game of Thrones Theme, Tho

I posted yesterday about Marvel movie music, which I found interesting since –while I’ve collected movie soundtracks since I’ve been little, I haven’t gotten around to getting any of the Marvel soundtracks. (Though I do remember the Avengers “fanfare.”)

One recent soundtrack that I have gotten, however, is Game of Thrones, composed by Ramin Djawadi.

Spencer Kornhaber writes about Djawadi, his composing, and his fame, in a recent article for The Atlantic.

Say, what about the Marvel movie music anyway?

So, I talked about comics and Captain Marvel specifically so far this week… and that got me thinking more about the Marvel Cinematic Universe and then I thought of “Every Frame a Painting’s” critique of Marvel’s movie music.

You may recall me raving about the YouTube series on the occasion of its end, but in any case, this approximately 14-minute video gives you a bit to ponder.

Which Captain Marvel is Which?

Both of these comics are quite real. It’s okay if the one on the right is completely unfamiliar.

So, I was pontificating about the future of the comics industry yesterday, but I realize many of you are more concerned about a more pressing issue:

What’s with all these Captains Marvel, anyway?

Perpetual pop culture historian and comics writer Mark Evanier gives an illuminating and succinct account.

Arguing for the Golden Goose, Comics Edition

One trend I continue to follow is the decline of “mid-tier” creative works, whether they be “mid-budget” movies or “middle tier” novels.

I touched on this just over two years ago when I was looking at the film Warcraft in particular and film budgets in general. At the time, I also noted how the erosion of the mid-budget movie and how a similar trend seemed to occur with “mid-list” authors.

Now, superhero movies in general are not likely to be modestly budgeted these days: they’re too tempting to be used as tentpoles by the studios. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has brought in over $7 billion. Disney’s not about to abandon using them as tentpoles.

But what about the the medium where these superhero stories first appeared: comics?

Now, going into the whole state of the comics industry, what the direct market is, and so on, is more than I can cover briefly or authoritatively. Suffice to say, fears regarding a dire fate of the comic industry have been around for a couple years, the direct market business model seems to be poised to change, and, well, stats back up the thought that the market is struggling (even with bright spots).

So all that made the article I read about Marvel comics editors advocating for different tactics recently at SXSW all the more interesting.

Parts of their argument is that comics –even if they aren’t as all-fired profitable as their big screen offspring– serve an important function as idea incubators. In a sense, they’re narrative R&D projects. Certainly, good periodic comic books and graphic novels aren’t the cheapest things to produce — many an indie creator colleague has made me aware of that. But they are a darn sight cheaper than bankrolling a $120 million tentpole movie. And in fact, just about all the tentpole movies owe some of their “genetic material” from the comic form.

Another way they could be thought of is as the “narrative farm teams” for some of the bigger budgeted stories. And, of course, I’m thinking of that mainly for the business folks to better reconcile the numbers. The creativity and storytelling on display in so many comics is not “minor league,” but bean counters usually don’t care if a comic book was emotionally impactful, just how many units it sold. So whatever keeps the presses rolling.

Where Have All the Film Rights Gone?

Continuing on the topic of producing films from Monday’s post on film budgets, what do you do when you –miracle of miracles– finish the film?

Well, you want to get it distributed, of course!

And, just as I want more than theoretical notions and generalizations for distribution, I want to know who likes to acquire what — and as much of their terms and conditions can be shared.

So over at the site Dear Producer, Liz Manashil and Rebecca Green surveyed a host of distributors and compiled their responses.

The resulting list breaks down not only the types of films dozens of distribution companies acquire, but what festivals they typically attend, what their standard term lengths are, and so on.

If you’re like me, you’ve probably heard the sage advice of knowing your distribution plan before you make your film dozens of time. Well, it’s great to be reminded of that, but then there’s the whole problem of knowing –even within a given market– who the best buyers might be.

Yes, I’ll absolutely research the heck out of the individual companies before approach them, but I find this list is a great way to get some companies to keep in mind (or exclude) from the get-go. I hope that’s the case for many of you as well.

By the way, if you’re already in the mode of learning more about distribution for your indie project, Avril Speaks has a great article about lessons she learned about what to look out for when making your distribution deal.

Reminder: If you’re a fellow filmmaker that wants to chat about this or other fun, wonky producer stuff, I’ll be at the VIP Film and TV Summit in April. I’d love to compare notes.

Film Budgets… Through a Film Lifecycle

One wonky thing I’m endlessly fascinated by is film budgets. When you realize that an hour of modern “prestige” TV can top $10 million, yet the average Hollywood blockbuster is over $100 million, you know certain choices are being made and risks accepted.

And yes, I know traditional theatrical distribution and traditional network and cable distribution have business models that can inform and support these widely disparate budgets. However, I lap up little tidbits from behind-the-scenes features and other clues dropped in media interviews for how crafty producers and production staff save money here and there.

Here’s yet another instance where I have to thank my dad for taking us to see no end of foreign and classic movies growing up (TCM before TCM existed, as I like to say). Among all the other lessons I absorbed was the implicit reinforcement that you can have a damn fine movie for less than a blockbuster budget. Don’t get me wrong, things cost money… and there’s always something that costs more than you’d like. But great locations, sumptuous costumes, and even some visual effects work are absolutely within reach of modest or even “low” budgets.

It still might not be enough money.

But I’m not satisfied with the theoretical. I want to know specific tricks to save time and money. I want to know the ratios to use when estimating this versus that. I want to know the types of risks associated with all the different departments making a film.

And while it doesn’t nail down all of that, Stephen Follows’ article about feature film budgets is a veritable treasure trove of exactly that kind of historical data.

Seriously, if you’ve kept reading up until this point, odds are much higher that you have been obsessing about these things too and Follow’s article goes straight to the kind of planning-based-on-historical-data producers (aka project managers) in any industry live for.

Read deep into the article and you will be able to plan risks and contingency budgets based by department. How cool is that?

This is energizing me for attending the VIP Film and TV summit next month.

Meanwhile, in a Galaxy soon to Not be so Far, Far Away…

Unless you’ve been living under a tauntaun, you know that Disney is adding Star Wars sections to its theme parks. And since it’s Disney, they are going all out.

The sci fi news site, io9, was part of a group of journalists that got the tour the attractions, still feverishly being prepared for later this year (summer for Disneyland (California) and Fall for Disney World (Florida). If you’re the slightest bit a Star Wars fan, you’ll read the article with mounting excitement.

Adding to what already sounds like two very exciting rides, is the fact that they’re making the whole 14-acre section of the park immersive. Visitors will technically still be in a Disney park of course, but like Williamsburg turned up to 11, all the Disney staff will behave as if guests are visiting Black Spire Outpost on the planet Batuu. All the swag and food and drink will be “in-universe” swag and food and drink. Nerdist.com has an appropriately exhaustive article on the food and drink to expect.

And, as you might expect, the Walt Disney imagineers are trying to top themselves with Star Wars, as seen with their efforts to make the previously entirely animated space pirate Hondo Ohnaka an animatronic reality.

So, I have to admit, though I’ve never been to any of the Disney parks, the temptation force is strong with this one. Now if only I could figure out how to wait in what will doubtless be one of the longest lines in the galaxy without turning to the Dark Side…

“Our desks were never meant to be our altars.” Work as faith in the 21st Century

Coming off my post on Monday about having hobbies as hobbies and nothing more, I stumbled across an article by Derek Thompson in The Atlantic about the reverence that work and “busyness” has in modern American culture.

America has long had a paradoxical status as a Calvinistic Babylon, to reference historian Michael Kammen. To follow along that allegorical thought, if all hobbies ought to be hustles, leisure time itself is suspect. Being unproductive is almost sinful (and I’ll bet a bunch of you just had “the devil makes work for idle hands” pop into your head just now).

Definitely read the article above if that’s the case (or even if not). Do you work to live or live to work… and what do you get out of it? There’s a bunch of great lines in the piece, but one stands out for me:

“Our jobs were never meant to shoulder the burdens of a faith, and they are buckling under the weight.”

Get Creative… Off the Clock

I had the opportunity over Presidents’ Day weekend (aka Washington’s Birthday weekend for OPM sticklers) to do something I can’t remember doing in a long time, if ever: painting miniatures.

The minis are from a game called Stuffed Fables, in case you’re wondering.

Many of my gamer friends have various Warhammer and related armies and I know my efforts are not remotely in their league. They paint minis regularly. In fact, for several, it’s a bona fide hobby. One preditor friend (that’s producer-editor for the uninitiated) has taken to painting miniatures quite expertly since directing a feature where D&D plays a central role. All but a handful of the denizens in her miniature army are used in D&D games: it’s mainly about the painting. In other words, the journey, the act of painting, is the joy. And that’s what I found here. I mean, I’m really hopeful we have plenty of fun with the game, but just the painting was a lot of fun and relaxing — even as I obsessed about details (though as you can see from the picture, not too much).

In part, it’s nice to be practicing what I’ve blog-preached in terms of being creative while not being expert at such things. It was very liberating to be working on something that doesn’t have to be yet another side hustle destined for some marketplace or part of “my brand” (as I mused about last January — I guess I get reflective about such things this time of year).

It’s good to have the opportunity to obsess about something that isn’t going to be a payday. Hey, this whole blog post comes after reading an article in the Harvard Business Review that mentions hobbies are good for jobs. Time off is good. Time off doesn’t mean you’re comatose or asleep. The brain gets to do things. As Richard Jeffries talks about regarding “care and feeding of a writer,” hobbies allows your brain time off from the monetarily-linked activities.

I’ve also long suspected that a significant percentage of many people’s urges to turn hobbies into hustles is to feed the “must-keep-busy” monster. Speaking as someone whose thoughts have turned to that frequently, that monster is forever insatiable. As Molly Conway writes in an article last month, it’s a trap. Go on hikes without being a guide. Learn to be a better baker without selling your wares at a local farmer’s market. Better yet, don’t feel the need to have any wares if you don’t need to. The enjoyment you get from things that don’t bring money can filter into the the things that do.

Or you might just have to enjoy the leisure time without quantifying it. That works too.