Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Please Stop Singing

I wanted to like Mamma Mia. I really did. I'm a sucker for romcom and based on the previews, this is a movie I would have gone to even if it weren't an ABBA musical. "Bride invites her three potential fathers to a Greek Island for her wedding, and two of them are Pierce Brosnan and Colin Firth? Count me in!"

I never saw the stage show, but I suspect I would have liked it, because I'm betting they cast triple-threats in the main roles. I do think the movie would have worked a lot better if anyone but Christine Baranski could sing. A friend with a better ear than mine assures me that no one was actually off-key, but when he commented that he thought therefore that they pulled off the singing, I could only counter, that maybe they pulled it off, but they certainly didn't put it over. I expect musical numbers to make me want to dance in the aisle, not cringe in my seat. Anything that can make me look away from Pierce Brosnan, has to be bad.

The one exception to my disappointment was the Dancing Queen number, in which the entire female population of the island joins in. This unlikely chorus reminded me of Matt Harding's Dancing Videos, uplifting and moving.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Collaborative Medium

While at ComiCon, I saw the preview of the first two episodes of the animated "Iron Man: Armored Adventures." I thought it was great, at the end of the hour I was eager to see more. There was one complaint at the mike that the storytelling is unsophisticated, which I thought was handled well with the reminder that the show, and the channel, are primarily serving 8-14 year-olds, with adult viewers an added bonus. They're not going to alienate their intended audience by going over their heads. It's refreshing to see some programming aimed at the future Comic Geeks. (Steven Moffat had a similar insightful comment during the Doctor Who panel, about making the show for today's 8-year-olds, not the nostalgic adults. To each generation their own Doctor.)

That being said, as an adult I found the show suspenseful and witty. And I was hugely impressed with its look and feel. Which got me to wondering about the always-hot-topic of Residuals. WGA members are fortunate and justly proud of the gains we've achieved in this area, where a person who creates a storyline or character has an ongoing financial interest, however small, when that intellectual property is exploited. But watching this Iron Man show, I was struck by the extent to which the design of the technology -- most notably Tony's heads-up display -- seemed to have been influenced by the film. In the ideal world wouldn't that Production Designer be receiving some kind of credit or residual? (Not to mention the comic book artists, but that's a whole other column!) What about sequels that draw heavily on the production design of their predecessors? What about all the myriad Star Trek licensed gak that uses the LCARS look? Do Production Designers and Art Directors swell with pride when they see their work influencing ancillary properties, or do they curse the studios and the Work For Hire business model?

Monday, July 28, 2008

Welder Needed

Paramount (and apparently Intel) had an interesting game set up at their booth at ComiCon, which I unfortunately didn't discover until Sunday. Paramount's booth was not near the other big studios and not well-marked on the map, but they did have an ad in the program book, which I finally noticed on Saturday night, urging people to come to their booth to form a Construction Crew and win a prize. The gimmick was, they handed out scratch-off cards every hour, which had job titles on them like "Gravity Engineer," "Electrician," etc. If you formed a team of eight, one of each type, you would win Star Trek laptop bags. They had excellent intentions with this game, which ideally would have resulted in people clipping the cards to their badges and spending the weekend scanning other people's ID to put together a team. In this crowd, this could easily have turned into a self-designed LARP, and lifelong friendships could have resulted.

In the event, the real-life result was that people collected stacks of the cards, and if they managed to put together all 8, they grabbed a bunch of friends or passing strangers and collected their prize. All of this was explained to me by a fellow attendee holding a sign that said "Welder Needed," which I thought at first meant he was an exhibitor with a broken display. But no, he needed a virtual welder to help him build an imaginary Enterprise.

I hung around for the card distribution, hoping to get a Welder card for my new friend, but both cards I was given said "Inspector" on them, which seemed appropriate. Then one of the booth staffers explained to me that I could take my photo at a laptop station in the booth and get a construction team ID, and if I did, I'd receive in the mail a 4-part poster for the new Star Trek movie. Considering that around the corner in the other half of the booth people were elbowing one another in the face to collect that very same 4-part poster one piece at a time, I found this hilarious. (I got two yellows and no blue.)

I was gratified to see that the crew chief I'd been chatting with found a Welder in the crowd. He'd worked for it.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

I Can Almost Smell The Popcorn

Something happened on my last day at ComiCon that seemed like it was aimed just at me. Considering it happened on the jumbotron over the Lucasfilm booth, though, that's pretty unlikely.

Does anyone else remember the preview trailer for The Empire Strikes Back that was released with the Theatrical Re-Release of Star Wars in 1979? I sure do, because 25 of the 27 times I saw Star Wars in the theater in the 70's were during that magical summer. In those days before VCR's, our Star Wars obsession through the intervening years had been fed only by the comics, the novels, the flip-books we'd made out of Topps cards, the dialogue and sound on the Story of Star Wars LP, and of course the Holiday Special that even at the age of 11 we recognized as atrocious.

So the chance to see the film again -- and again and again and again -- was golden. Those 2-and-a-half minutes of preview for TESB were absolutely joyous. We stayed in the theater through multiple showings, enjoying the movie but living for, and memorizing, that trailer. As an avid Han Solo devotee, who considered Luke a loveable but annoying tag-along, I adored the moment when the announcer intoned, "Your favorites are back," and then listed off the characters... and as he said "Luke Skywalker!", instead of the head-credits-beauty-shot that the other characters got, Luke FWUMPED sideways across the screen to thud into the snow. Priceless!

When The Making of Star Wars was released on VHS in 1980, it included the Empire trailer. My father, a news producer, had a VCR before they became common. I saved my allowance to buy that video. I was so excited to have a copy of my own of that trailer I had committed to memory.

Except it wasn't the same trailer. It was similar, but had small variations. And they'd changed Luke's entry. Crushed!

As far as I know, the trailer I remember has not been released on any of the DVD extras. I haven't seen it in almost 30 years. But today at ComiCon, there it was, on the screen above the life-sized Clone Wars maquettes. Thank you, Lucasfilm Archivist Steve Sansweet, for that absolutely visceral journey back to a darkened movie theater in 1979.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Con! Cooooooooonnnnnnnnnnnnnn!!!

Eugene Son has coined the best rallying cry for this weekend. (See his blog.) I can't believe I've never heard this shouted in this context before. I'll never be the same.

(con. text. hee.)

Monday, July 21, 2008

San Diego ComiCon Schedule

I'm not on any programming this year, leaving me free to roam. The panel schedule is so jam-packed with interesting stuff that I don't know when I'll find time to shop the floor! I don't recall there being all this evening programming in previous years. It's a good idea, logistically, but the advantage to the doors shutting at 6 PM was that a person could go collapse and recharge for the next day.

I shouldn't complain, though -- I lucked out with a hotel room you can see from the convention center. Ah, pit stop, sweet pit stop.

There are a few things I'm definitely planning to attend, so if anyone's looking for me, look there:

Thursday, 12:00 NOON, Room 20, the Doctor Who panel. I so admire the writing on this show.

Friday, 7:15 PM, Room 6B, MST3K 20th Anniversary Reunion. It breaks my heart that this is up against Kevin Smith in Hall H, but no way can I miss seeing all the MST guys back together -- including both Joel AND Mike.

Saturday, 11:15 AM, Room 6CDEF Quick Draw! Ever since Len talked me into checking this out two years ago, I am hooked. Laughter is truly the best medicine.

Saturday, 5:30 PM, Room 8 Spotlight on Len Wein. Soon to be Eisner-Hall-of-Famer Len Wein, I'm sure.

I'm also planning to attend the WGA/Animation Caucus reception, always ComiCon's hottest ticket.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Open House

No way! Open your house with a Marvel-licensed key! How cool is that?!

I came across this on an emergency trip to the hardware store -- there's an excellent plumber here today fixing my kitchen sink and the faucet in the guest room. This is the kind of craftsman that's hard to find these days -- a man who takes real pride in his work, goes above and beyond the call of duty, and even thinks ahead in terms of what order to dismantle and reassemble everything so that no time is wasted. It's a pleasure to watch him work, and after he dismantled the Reverse Osmosis system for cleaning, I discovered that I only had 3 of 4 replacement filters in the house, hence the rush to the nearest hardware place.

I was actually tempted by these keys. There were a bunch of Marvel characters and some Peanuts characters, as well. I love visual shorthand and the incomprehensible-to-outsiders jargon that can result -- imagine telling a housesitter a mnemonic like: Wolverine at the front, Snoopy in the back. (My current house keys are color-coded yellow and green, for front door and back, because my house is yellow and my yard is green.)

But is choosing a key graphic like choosing a personal avatar? This isn't a "Wolverine" house, and they didn't carry an "Athena" key or even a "Red Sonja." (I'll accept "Wonder Woman" in a pinch!)

So I walked away empty-handed, wondering whether stuff like this finds a market. Because while I can understand why Len Wein would want a Wolverine key for his house -- and you do, don't you, Len? -- I'm still sorting out who the rest of the customers are.

The Time Machine Project

Sam Beckett likened our lives to a ball of string, all balled up so all the points are touching, and a person could Leap from any point on the string to any other. Before that, Kurt Vonnegut introduced the Tralfamadorean concept of time, a life that can be lived in any order -- and moments, therefore, that are to be experienced in and of themselves, without the burden of impending loss.

In Time and Again, Jack Finney brought to life the idea of Time Travel through focusing on artifacts of a certain era, and excluding anything of the modern day that would interfere with the illusion. This same concept drives the film Somewhere in Time. Not that I have made a lifelong study of such things or anything.

I have started building a time machine in my home. It's a sensory time machine, filled with things that transport me through sight and sound to earlier times in my life. It works remarkably well. I can't affect my own past -- nor would I want to! -- but I can come surprisingly close to re-experiencing it.

Some of the things I've been revisiting recently, which form the building blocks of my personal Time Machine:

Hey Deanie, won't you come out tonight?

To Boldly Go...

What's in your Time Machine?

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Element of Chance

I tend to like having things "just so." I've taken pride in mastering the little systems I've established for myself so they're as streamlined as possible, but I still don't exactly travel light, and my prep time for leaving the house would be a burden or a comedy routine, if not for the fact that I get a meditative pleasure out of the routine itself.

But I am constantly learning the lesson that the world does not come to an end if all my plans and routines are completely short-circuited. Far from it. (The Buddhists say you confront the same lessons over and over throughout your life until they sink in, and clearly this is one lesson I'm still learning.) Recently, to prep for an important meeting, I went out to my car the night before to load the CD changer with the right mental soundtrack for the ride over. I find certain music can really stimulate my creativity -- and I also have certain artists who are my phonic lucky charms, it seems when these guys are on the stereo, I wind up nailing the meeting.

Before the meeting, I had my "lucky breakfast" (there are a few versions of this, all of which involve carbs to absorb upcoming nervous butterfly-juice) and put on a favorite outfit, including one of my "magic jackets." The "magic" in this case having nothing to do with nailing the meeting, and everything to do with the miraculous ability of these jackets to adapt to at least 3 seasons of weather, all while looking great and packing smaller than two pairs of socks. And then I got in the car -- where I discovered that, as part of my careful soundtrack routine the night before, I had left the car's utility electricity on. You guessed it -- dead battery.

At this point I had about 40 minutes to get to a meeting that was 25 minutes away if I hit no traffic whatsoever. This was not good. Calling the triple A would never happen in time. Calling the client to say I had car trouble and would be late was an option, but not a good one.

So. I raced back through the house, grabbing the keys to my truck. If you haven't met Rozinante, let me explain that this 1979 Chevy Silverado is not what I would choose to take to a big meeting! She was bought for road trips and camping trips, and though she's in great shape for her age, she's sun damaged and dinged, and covered with bumper stickers for oddball sports. But, she had a live battery. Unfortunately, she also has a finicky carburetor that requires 5 minutes of precious warmup time in order to drive without stalling.

So now I'm on my way to this meeting in my old beatup truck. With very little time to spare, and without my bluetooth headset, if I do hit traffic and wind up needing to call to say I'm 5 minutes late. Without power steering. Without very good air conditioning. And of course, without my chosen music, carefully staged in the other car.

So. What's the lesson here? Should I be a better micromanager, pre-starting the car half an hour before important meetings, to give time to deal with any problems? Surely that's not it. After all, in this case, the very act of prepping the little details to be 'perfect' is what led to the much larger problem. If I'd missed the meeting due to that dead battery, this wouldn't be a funny story. It would be a morality tale about the person too busy emroidering curtains to notice the house is collpasing.

But it all worked out. I wasn't late. The meeeting was a good one. I'm pretty sure I walked out of it with a sale.

So I guess I'll be taking my "lucky truck" to my next meeting, too?

Why Athena TV?

From the beginning of my TV career, I've been a woman warrior in some traditionally male purviews. At times this has been to my advantage -- I'm told, at least, that being a girl whose pigeonhole is action-adventure has set me apart. I think this was more true when I started out than it is now -- on my last Sci-fi Channel gig, 3 out of 5 writers on staff were female.

Athena is an apt avatar for me -- so much so that when I bought my house over a decade ago, I christened it Casa Athena in honor of the bust of the Greek Goddess that had been installed in a backyard niche by the previous owner. This despite the fact that the bust -- as I later learned from the learned Dr. Amy, Renegade Archeologist -- is actually Aphrodite. Oooops. Aphrodite, I'm sorry to say, was not then and is not now a relevant household goddess in my life.

My other reason for naming my online home after this now-beloved figure stems from my ongoing rediscovery of what drew me to my profession in the first place. Writing science fiction is an opportunity for examining larger questions of humanity in an allegorical framework. The ancient tales of Athena and her olympian cohort are the direct ancestors of our modern "mythologies" of Star Trek and Star Wars, Superman and Batman, and yes, Duncan MacLeod and Nick Knight.

Catching Up On Webisodes

Since there are going to be Emmys this year for short-form-live-content, aka, web content, I thought it would be fun to check out some of the contenders. Sadly not on the Consideration list for the Emmys is my favorite web series, Rebecca Drysdale, Time Travelling Lesbian.

I wish I'd seen The Guild in time to vote for it for nomination. The characters know each other through online gaming together. Clever and sweet.

I'll update this post as I continue this project.

UPDATE July 17: The nominations in this category all went to bonus content for existing properties, which I honestly feel defeats the whole purpose of the award. It's taken the wind out of my sails, at least temporarily, for the Webisode Project.

UPDATE July 20: Holy crap, Felicia Day, writer and co-star of The Guild is the same girl from Dr. Horrible! Well done, Felicia Day, newly crowned Queen of the Geeks.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


Oh My Gosh! Headsets! The ultimate Jim Ladd head trip!

Jim Ladd Headsets

Jim Ladd used to do this new-age-spoken-word-tone-poem late-night radio show on KLOS back in what, the early 90's?

I have a bunch on audiotape, which I've been thinking of transferring to MP3 when I get the chance. But of course leave it to Ladd to be ready for the new Millennium and come out with new Headsets on CD. The only thing better would be an ongoing Podcast.

This guy's voice is a time machine for me, taking me back to late night driving along Mulholland with that sonorous timbre practically vibrating my little car. Even then I knew the show was really aimed at a different crowd, one surrounded by a certain tangy smoke. But even without chemical enhancement, it was consciousness-altering, slowing my pulse and widening my perspective in a life largely filled with rush and focus. In other words, "Oh wow, look at the moon."

I first discovered Jim Ladd through his syndicated rock interview show -- I listened over and over to his interviews with the guys from Styx. Moving to LA where he was a local DJ was like finding an old friend. One of my favorite obscure treasures is Roger Waters' album, Radio KAOS, an apocalyptic rock opera in which the DJ is played by.... Jim Ladd.

I found out about by pulling up next to a parked SUV in Burbank that had a "Jim Ladd Headsets" graphic painted on the rear wheelcover. Maybe I should have stalked that car to see if Jim Ladd was driving it. No reason it couldn't have been....

Click through to his myspace page to hear a sample. *happy sigh*

Call For Comics Trivia

Len Wein put out an amusing call for help from persons with near-encyclopedic comics knowledge. Reminding me that as geekly as I am, I'm not even close to geekly enough for this crowd. Help him out if you can!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Peter Callesen

I find these works in paper absolutely charming.

I'm so pleased to learn he'll be having a show in New York at the end of the year.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

A Tale of Two Subways

Nostalgia for transplanted New Yorkers who miss their Subways.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Lost and Found

William Daniels rocks the Knight Rider GPS! It's about time!

TomTom's been doing celebrity GPS voices for a while. I was tempted by John Cleese and Eddie Izzard, especially since samples on Eddie Izzard's website include such gems as "Thank God you're there, I can shut up now."

But this is the Gold Ring of Geek GPS:

It even comes preloaded with 300 common names! How can anyone named "Michael" resist this purchase?

My friend Larne chimes in with the question, when are they doing one with Majel Barret Roddenberry, the voice of all Star Trek Computers? Another winning concept.

But the Kitt car still wins.