Okay. First, I’m not going to say that ARROW is a great tv show. It’s not. It’s flawed in some pretty glaring ways, unconvincing in others, and not exactly brimming with complex insights into the human condition.
However, it is a compelling show, and I think there’s something to be learned from it.
First, let’s contrast Oliver Queen in the comics and in the show. They have similar origins: billionaire playboy asshole is marooned on an island for five years, where he’s forced to learn how to survive and learns to shoot a bow and arrow with inhuman accuracy.
In the comics, Oliver Queen is blissfully unaffected by this. He puts on a green suit and little Robin Hood cap, then heads out with his bow and trick arrows to play superhero. Worse, most everyone writes him as an old, annoying hippie. I guess there’s a New52 version that’s a bit different, but let’s come right out and say that, according to Science, Green Arrow sucks worse than Aquaman.
The show handles it differently: The pilot opens with his rescue and BOOM, he’s immediately returned to a hospital room in his home city. His mother stands anxiously at the door while the doctor explains that he’s covered with scars and has obviously suffered numerous broken bones. Whatever happened to Oliver Queen while he was marooned, it was really, really bad. The doctor warns her that he won’t be the same guy who vanished five years before.
As Jim Butcher would call it, Oliver Queen has exotic position in this world. He’s famous and infamous. Every new character he meets recognizes him instantly and most think they know everything they need to know about him. Also, the story slowly builds up “the island” as Hell-on-Earth and deliberately does not go into much detail about it. Oliver refuses to talk about it with his family, and as he pursues his plan in the current timeline, flashbacks cover his time on the island where he learned all the skills (and earned all the scars) he brought home.
So he’s a ninja, he’s Robin Hood, and he’s the Scarlet PTSD-pernel (except he targets the upper class instead of rescuing them). Who he is sets him very much apart from the other characters on the show. Exotic position.
If you followed the “exotic position” link above, you saw a note about “Exaggeration,” too. Oliver Queen isn’t just regular guy, he’s heir to billions. And he wasn’t just a spoiled jerk before being marooned, he was a complete asshole: When his ship went down, he was in bed with his girlfriend’s sister. Not only did he cheat on her, it was her kid sis and he’s responsible for her death. Also, the dead sister? Her dad is the detective who ends up investigating the vigilante.
It’s not just one thing working against him, it’s several all woven together. The vigilante isn’t just pursued by the cops, he’s pursued by the cop with a deep hatred of Queen’s family. Queen isn’t just pining for the girlfriend he betrayed (who’s picture he mooned over on the island) he’s forced to keep his distance from her because he’s got the whole vigilante thing going, and she has no respect for him because of the Scarlet Pimpernel-ish playboy act he puts on, and his best friend is in love with her and trying to make it work, and the more she learns about the vigilante the more she admires that dude, who’s trying so hard to help others.
Every complication is multiplied as much as possible. It’s deepened and made more complicated so that the relationships between the characters are incredibly twisty. (More on that in a minute)?
Another smart choice is that rather than just follow the usual model and creating a character who fights whatever generic crime appears, the show’s creators have given him a list of bad guys to take down. In fact, it’s was his father’s dying wish that Oliver undo Papa Queen’s wrongs.
Comic books are generally bullshit when it comes to portraying families. Bendis manages it pretty well, if you can stand the dialog tics, but most comics are all about jumping and kicking and massive battles. In the midst of all that, hashing over family drama is trite as hell.
On TV, the most cost-effective screen time you can get is two characters talking to each other on a pre-built set. There is no better special effect than an actor’s face. There just isn’t.
Of course, there are a lot of shows with friends and family squabbling at each other, but Arrow is really well cast. What’s more, although the dialog is trite and the drama is too often “Second Act Shouted Accusations/Fourth Act Reconciliation”, the actual drama itself is pretty fresh.
There’s a love quadrangle with Laurel, the woman Oliver loved like crazy but betrayed and hurt, his best friend who loves her, too, and the vigilante, who has all the traits (basically, acting like he cares what happens to people) Laurel wished Oliver would show but never does.
Oliver’s little sister grew up into a teenager while he was away, and now she’s becoming the party girl asshole that he was before he disappeared and still pretends to be in his Scarlet PTSD-pernel persona.
What’s more, that list his father gave him of bad guys to take out? Oliver’s mother has the same list, because she’s part of the conspiracy. In fact, it’s clear very early on that there’s a real conspiracy here, not just a catalog of assholes, and it takes a long while for Oliver to catch up.
Finally, the main villain is motivated by revenge for the loss of someone he loved very much.
Back when I was still trying to figure out how to be a successful writer, one of the earliest skills I mastered was the exciting action scene. I could make them inventive and weird, full of unexpected twists and odd moments.
What I couldn’t do was assemble them into a story. I couldn’t connect them.
Once, my friend and (although he might not know it) mentor Bill Martell talked about using theme to create character. Actually, I think he meant the lesson to be “using character to explore theme” but we take our lessons where we can grab them.
As an example: an author is writing a mystery about a wife suspected of killing her husband in a marital dispute. Marriage, amiright?
So, in creating a cast of characters, the author consciously explores every facet of marriage she can think of: maybe the detective is still mourning the loss of their own spouse, who died of Spouse To A Sad Cop Syndrome. The bride’s parents have been happily married for thirty years. The groom’s parents refuse to divorce even though their relationship is a DMZ. The bride’s best friend is in the middle of a divorce. The groom’s BF never married and is ecstatic about it. The neighbors are ooey-gooey newliweds. The detective’s partner is bored with his wife.
And so on. It doesn’t have to be obvious (in fact, better if it isn’t) but it gives the story unity.
On ARROW S1, the theme relates to (as Helena Bertinelli says) “going through a crucible.” Oliver was shipwrecked, watched his girlfriend and his father die, and struggled for five years to stay alive. When he returned home, he was transformed.
The other characters in the show reflect that theme: Thea responded to the pain of losing her father and brother by trying to grow up just like Oliver. Worthless billionaire bf Tommy had never gone through any kind of test or transformation, and he starts the show as the same boy-man he was five years before. Moira Queen, for her part, mourns and moves on with her life, marrying again. Diggle can’t get past the death of his brother. Finally, there’s Malcolm Merlin, the season’s villain, who can not get past the pain of his wife’s death.
Yeah, there are problems. Too much of the dialog is trite and on the nose; people complain about the actors, but I think the scripts are the real problem here. The first two episodes have a really unfortunate voice over, which doesn’t work at all. And the pilot introduces the Queen’s house maid, who was supposed to… actually, I’m guessing here, but I think she was supposed to humanize our good-looking billionaire hero by showing he could be friends with a poor, but it was really weird to see him be so warm with the maid when he was so cold to his mother and sister.
Also, if you can’t get past the idea of a ninja archer who can’t be hit with machine gun fire while he nails baddies with arrows, this ain’t the show for you.
There are also shallower pleasures. I showed my wife a video compilation of all the workout scenes from S1 and she was all “When is this show on again?” Fit, muscular dudes with their shirts off. It’s a feature.
Another thing they’re doing right: integrating existing DC characters and concepts into the show, after retooling them for TV, which is something I said AGENTS OF SHIELD should have done but they haven’t. Deadshot is an obvious addition, and The Huntress, too, (although I thought they miscast the father). They even retooled the Royal Flush Gang, cutting the budget so much the gang only had four members.
(Of course, the head of the Royal Flush Gang had his own crucible, and he made his own choices because of it. More unity.)
So, yeah. There are clumsy flourishes in the execution, early missteps, and action scenes that require reinforced scaffolding for your disbelief.
But! The show handles the lead character’s exotic position really well, and ties everything back to it in a unified, intelligently exaggerated way. That’s why a show I expected to be a dime-store BATMAN BEGINS is one of the few must-watch programs on my schedule.
Complete two blog posts for the week
Clean kitchen floor
Take out trash and compost.
Not to self: Twitter will not help you get any of these things done more quickly.
I’m trying out a new mopey British detective series, and if they main character is surprised by the twist I’ve seen coming for 40 minutes, I’m deleting it from my queue. In ep one he said he goes where the evidence leads without jumping to conclusions. If the twist comes and he does not say “I knew this was a possibility from the start,” I’m out.
The first episode of AGENTS OF SHIELD was passable but the followup was downright boring. For one thing, the rebels coming out of the jungle with their machine guns? Dull. If you want me to give a shit about the rebels, they need to be capturing one of the team, hopefully someone that matters. Even better, one of the bad guy soldiers so there’s actual conflict regarding the Mysterious Device. Making it about a coup in a country we don’t know anything about is boring.
But I’m sure the jungle set was limited and the plane set was already there, so they moved the action into the bottle.
Anyway, Coulson continues to be fun and interesting (Note: when punched in the face he bled red blood, so I’m losing hope that he’ll become the Vision).
Here’s a list of things I’m already over:
Ward insisting he’s a solo operative who blah blah blah.
May’s secret past and her unwillingness to kung fu a bunch of people even though she totally does.
Science geeks enthusing about science.
Anything regarding team dynamics.
Skye and her secret group.
The make-believe that Coulson is fooled by Skye’s willingness to work with him. Is there anyone who doesn’t recognize that he’s using her to expose and ruin Rising Tide?
Destroying powerful resources that would be useful in the next alien invasion, like, say, launching a death ray into the sun.
Things I want more of:
Conflicts that direct outward. When the stakes of a show are high I don’t want to see squabbling. Fire the squabblers and bring in new people.
People with superpowers. Pilot ep, yay. Weird device in the second ep, boo.
A sense of actual changes to the world in the wake of an alien invasion. Politics. Culture. Show me what’s changed.
Characters from the Marvel Comics setting.
About that last thing: I realize that Whedon has said he’s not going to turn the show into an Easter Egg hunt for fans of the comics. And he’s right not to do that. You don’t build a successful TV show by driving fan discussion into obscure trivia. If your Twitter hashtags are full of people talking about how some minor character in the second act is Jonathon Hart who would later become Jack of Hearts, you’re not getting a second season.
However, that doesn’t mean the show should use generic death rays and villains cribbed from the Marvel U movies. The comics are full of wacky, interesting ideas from five decades. Many of them aren’t appropriate for this setting and many can’t be done in a TV budget, but for god’s sake rummage around in that treasure chest and pull out something good because death rays and South American coups are not making full use of the property and it’s not going to cut it.
So the word is out that the Fox Network won the bidding for a Warner Bros. TV series about Gotham City before The Batman shows up. It’ll focus on newly-arrived honest cop Jim Gordon and the Gotham PD, and Fox is so high on it they went straight to the series without ordering a pilot first.
Hey, cool. It’s a good idea for a show, and if the run of Gotham Central is any indication, there are great stories to be mined from a police procedural set in a city full of strange and deadly criminals.
There will be gangsters, yeah. A great many of them. As long as they’re genuinely odd characters, I’m for it. There will also be street gangs; the mutants have apparently been adopted into the continuity, and Gotham City has a long-standing history of street gangs of one kind or another.
But what everyone wants to see are the super-villains and the master criminals. (As a totally fake distinction between them, lets say that the villains are the ones with superpowers or monstrous forms, like Poison Ivy, Man-Bat, Killer Croc, and Mr. Freeze, while the master criminals are the ones who plan elaborate crimes according to their odd quirks, like The Penguin, Riddler, and Joker).
The Joker: This may seem counter-intuitive, but I think they should leave the Joker out of the first season. I really like a Joker who is accidentally created by Batman himself, and there has simply been too much of him. However, I think the show could get a lot of mileage out of Jack Napier.
The Penguin: If there was going to be a villain for a season-long arc, this is the one I’d go with. He’s brilliant, he’s really weird and off-putting, and he kills people. Give the part to Patton Oswalt; he showed he could pull off a creepy, scary Penguin in that one parody film. As long as the writers could create brilliant crimes for him to pull off, he would be fantastic.
Riddler: Riddler would seem to be a perfect enemy for a modern procedural, wouldn’t he? He’s like one of the endless taunting serial killers who litter crime scenes with obscure clues, except he’s not a serial killer. He’s a thief. What’s more, the character hasn’t always gotten the respect he deserves. As a kid, Frank Gorshin scared the heck out of me. Is there someone who can bring back that out-of-control delight? I want that creepy thrill again. This character also needs to be brilliant if he’s really going to work. You can’t let the audience get ahead of him or the cops look like dullards.
Catwoman: Yes, please. The casting on this might be tricky, but a great Catwoman would be out solely for herself… except when she helps someone who needs it.
Mr. Freeze: Too outre for the tone of a procedural, and frankly I think his ice effects would be a budget-buster. Maybe if the show is a hit, he can come in next season when they’re ready to spend some money.
Clayface: There have been a number of criminals who went by this name. Some were shapeshifters with bodies made of living clay. At least one was an actor with an uncanny ability to change his appearance. The latter would fit but the former would not.
Solomon Grundy: This may seem like a counter-intuitive choice, but if the show is going to introduce villains with powers and establish a setting where the impossible isn’t, it’s going to need a transition episode to set an X-Files-ish tone and bring out the freakier occult history of Gotham. Grundy can do that: he’s a zombie who is different every time he awakens. Sometimes he’s strong but dumb. Sometimes he’s weak but intelligent. Sometimes he’s gentle, sometimes violent. If you’re going to bring on some of the freakier villains, a zombie is a good place to start.
Mr. Zsasz: They’re going to need to do a serial killer episode eventually. Victor Zsasz fits the bill.
Killer Croc: Is there an alligator living in the Gotham sewers, or is there a man down there, murdering people and robbing them? Frankly, Croc has usually been treated pretty shabbily in the DC continuity. If the show wanted to do something interesting with him, they could make the show about his lost humanity, turn him into a tragic figure the way B:tas did with Mr. Freeze.
Kite Man: Like Stilt Man in my Agents of SHIELD writeup, Kite Man is absurd on his face. Basically, he’s a hang gliding villain. The reason I’d introduce him is because he would make a welcome change of pace, playing a criminal who frustrates Gordon and the other cops and makes them the object of ridicule when they can’t catch him.
Hugo Strange: We can all agree that evil psychiatrists are super creepy, right? Strange ought to be introduced early when Arkham is established but at some point one of the villains or criminals should dose Gordon with some sort of drug that gets him committed for observation, and forced to undergo Strange’s unique form of therapy.
A short list of bad guys the show should avoid: KGBeast, Hush, Man-Bat, Killer Moth, Bane (as the wrestler, not the terrorist), Catman, and Cluemaster, mainly because they are redundant, refer too closely to Batman, or because they suck. Also: Batman’s numerous martial arts villains like Lady Shiva, Silver Monkey, and King Snake.
A short list of bad guys the show could pull a cool storyline out of: Scarecrow, Poison Ivy, Ventriloquist, Red Hood (not the Jason Todd version, the thing where the hood is passed from guy to guy), Mad Hatter, The Terrible Trio (with their YOU’RE NEXT-style masks), Ra’s al Ghul (but not the silly city-destroying League of Assassins stuff).
I’d also like to see Bullock, Montoya, and a whole host of corrupt Gotham cops. What I’ll be happy not to see is a guy in a rubber bat suit. Batman in the comics is fun. An actor in a Batman suit trying to throw a punch, not so much. I think it’s interesting that Warner Bros is going old-Batman in the Man of Steel sequel but going pre-Batman in this series. I’m guessing they’re worried about over-exposing the character, maybe?
Anyway, as long as they cast a strong Jim Gordon and surround him with strong personalities, and as long as they hit the right tone for the show, this might become my favorite show of the last few years.
As I mentioned last night, the Lego book trailer for The Great Way made by my son (with only a little help from me) has been posted in update 3 on my Kickstarter. The music is all him, and I think he’s getting pretty good.
Since everyone else is doing it, why not me? So, going by the simple criteria of: are they fun/are they doable for TV/would they fit, Here are the characters that I think appear on AGENTS OF SHIELD:
1) Morbius, the Living Vampire:
Hey, he’s not a real vampire, he’s a science vampire. He’s also a tragic figure, a good man with a terrible thirst for blood. He’s also a brilliant scientist. Cast Matthew Gray Gubler, let him be all tortured, brilliant, and dangerous, and you’ll have viewers swooning. Plus, you can bring him back a few times a year to be a scary consultant scientist to milk the concept.
Besides, viewers get the concept of the vampire, and he’s not quite a real one. So it’s easy to translate to TV.
2) Stilt Man:
Yeah, the concept is ridiculous, but that’s part of its charm. He’s a thief in bulletproof armor, and the stilts can do tremendous damage when they kick something. So you have the confrontation with the ridiculous armor that runs super-fast because of those long legs, and you have the protagonists of the show taking a ribbing because they couldn’t catch a guy in stilts in rush hour traffic in New York.
But the fun thing is that it’s just a suit of armor that can be passed from one person to the next–or stolen–just as it is in the comics. Stilt Man doesn’t even have to be a man after all.
So, everyone knows that comics do a terrible job with women’s costumes, and Tigra’s is especially bad. Basically, she saves the world in a bikini that shows off her tiger stripes. Worse, her official origin in the comics is an unholy mess.
However, her enhanced senses and other powers would be excellent for TV and the storyline where she hunts for her husband’s killer is a fine traditional TV plot. Add to that the fact that, for the longest time, she’s had trouble controlling the animal urges that come with her cat powers, and you have a great counterpoint to Morbius. There might even be a scene between them, in which they talk about difficult it can be to control the dangerous parts of themselves, and you have a winner.
As long as you leave out the bikini.
4) The Scarlet Witch:
Wanda Maximov hasn’t been well treated by the comics lately. She’s gone crazy and altered the world. She’s had magic powers and then she didn’t. For the show, I’d take her back to the lost young woman who had the ability to manipulate probabilities. Have her be on the run, robbing ATMs and casinos while also helping people who need it with what are essentially luck powers.
5) Jessica Jones:
She’s a private investigator with superpowers she barely knows how to use. Enough said.
How nineties is that picture?
Bushwacker is a trained government assassin who has two cybernetic arms. Most of the time, they look perfectly normal, but he can transform them into guns. Basically, his hand becomes shaped like a pistol or machine gun, with his skin stretched over it.
In the world of comics, this is scarcely better than being a guy with a gun in his duffel bag, but on TV that makes him an assassin who can sneak in anywhere, shoot someone, and be led out with all the other witnesses. No one is ever going to find the weapon, after all.
So, instead of being a mutant-hating spree killer (which is so boring) he should be a former Hydra agent gone freelance, and make him at least as capable as the SHIELD agents tracking him.
7) Power Pack:
Hey, everyone knows pre-teen kids can be a handful, but kids with superpowers? I’d suggest they show up trying to mimic the Avengers, but being kids they screw up in a big way and reveal their identities. When SHIELD goes to the house to talk with them (and bring them in) the kids have already vanished. Who took them and what will they do with their abilites?
8. The Blank:
This guy is pretty obscure, but bear with me: his only “power” is a gadget, a belt that projects a force field around him that also obscures his face. You can’t hurt him, you can’t grab him (force field) and if he gets into a crowd and shuts the belt off, you won’t recognize him either. Plus, it would be easy to do on TV.
Besides, the truth is that a guy with powers like Cyclops’s–energy blasters–are like gunmen who can’t have their guns taken away from them. And what happens to gunmen when they’ve been in enough fights? They get shot.
Defense is where it’s at.
Oh, god, that freaking picture.
Okay. Ahem. Forget the portentous way this character is always treated, and the goofy telekinesis and translation powers: Devil-slayer is cool because of his shadow cloak. It acts as a dimensional doorway to other places and times: he can step into it and teleport, or he can reach into it and pull out all sorts of things, like futuristic ray guns and battleaxes.
Drop the monster-hunting angle and he can be a deadly thief the team can never catch.
10) Typhoid Mary:
Okay. Um. All right. Oh Christ.
So, one thing the show is going to have to deal with, if it’s a show about superpowers spreading through the population, is what happens when those powers end up in someone violently mentally unstable. Mentally ill gunmen keep popping up every few months, and the show just can’t ignore it.
Now, you can’t count on Marvel itself to handle the issue with dignity. I mean, look at that fucking picture. Can the TV show handle this well? Can the folks behind AoS show a person who is superpowered but not neurotypical without turning her into a fishnet former prostitute karate ninja?
Christ, I hope so.
There’s still time to donate to the Kickstarter (unless you’re reading this a month after I wrote it.)
Most people will be remembering for the years he spent playing a Klingon or many other roles, but this was his most powerful role to me.
I didn’t have a lot of interest in superhero cartoons until this episode and this performance. After years of quipping villains, his Mr. Freeze was electrifying.
A great performance on a terrific show. Rest in peace.
making books The outside world: internet publishing TV words
by Harry Connolly
Check this out: Amazon is setting up Kindle Worlds, which is a way for people to write fanfic and sell it with the IP creator’s consent. So far they’re only going public with three of the shows (and all three are TV shows) they’ve licensed–GOSSIP GIRL, PRETTY LITTLE LIARS, VAMPIRE DIARIES (yeah, I know the last was a book first)–but obviously there are going to be more.
Some thoughts: First, they’re going with their onerous 65% sales commission, which is understandable, I guess, since they’re paying the owner of the IP as well as themselves. Don’t forget that’s based on the net revenue. Quote: As with all titles from Amazon Publishing, Kindle Worlds will base net revenue off of customer sales price
Still, it’s good to see that they’re going to be paying monthly, which is the first of the five big changes Tobias Buckell hopes to see in publishing as a whole.
Second, the books will not be commissioned by Amazon. It’s all spec submissions. You can check out their rough guidelines for the program as a whole and see that they will not be accepting anything with graphic sex or offensive language.
They also won’t accept crossover works, or works that contain a whole bunch of brand names (presumably because they think the writer is getting paid to do so)
Third, they reserve the right to reject work for things like bad ebook formatting and shitty covers.
Yeah, that’s right. The authors are expected to create their own covers for work being published with the consent of Warner Bros. I can’t help but wonder if they’ll turn a blind eye to using actors’ publicity shots.
Fourth, I can’t believe I didn’t see this coming.
So… okay. The way it works is simple: You write (or more likely “have written”) fanfic within a licensed setting out of love for the show. Amazon opens its doors to Kindle Worlds. You create a cover and format an ebook file, then submit it.
At that point, someone at Amazon actually reads it–when they’re explaining that poor customer experience will get a book rejected, they say: “We reserve the right to determine whether content provides a poor customer experience.” I’m going to assume that means they have a reader on staff vetting projects before they’re published, not that they publish everything and take it down later based on reader complaints. Frankly, it’s what I would expect if I were Warner Bros.
If it’s approved, it goes on sale and you start getting the ka-ching (they set the price).
One thing I’m not clear about is whether they acquire all rights to your work on publication or submission. It’s not as though you can sell your GOSSIP GIRL novella somewhere else, but you could certainly change the names around once it’s been rejected for the sexy, and Amazon could make trouble for you if they have your submission in a database somewhere.
As for how I feel about it, honestly I’m conflicted. Some years ago before I was published, I wrote and submitted a story for an open Star Trek anthology. It was a prison story starring that transporter-accident clone of Riker, after he’d been captured by the Dominion and, while I was proud of it at the time and while my rejection was personalized (and quite nice) the damn thing was much too specific to file the serial numbers off.
I think it’s great to open up settings in this way for the fans, and I hope they take advantage. At the same time, writing tie-in novels used to be a way for writers to make a bit of money (and have a bit of fun) between their own projects. With luck, a successful HALO or Star Wars novel would draw in new fans to their original work.
So, does this signal the end of the pro tie-in novel? Probably not entirely, but there is going to be pressure on the market by people willing to write the books (and make their own covers!) on spec.
And for the people publishing their fanfic, it seems like playing small ball. Yes, there will undoubtedly be people who make good money through this program, but I can’t help but think they’d be better off in the long term by filing the serial numbers off and striking out on their own, as in 50 SHADES…
Personally, I don’t have any fanfiction I could even submit. (There was the SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN thing I did in 4th grade) because I’m not part of that community, but it does open up other ideas: will authors be allowed to list their own IP with Kindle Worlds, allowing fanfic in their settings be sold online? Personally, I think that would be cool.
So we’re turning fanfic into media tie-in novels.
It’s an exciting time, isn’t it?
 Big surprise, right? Don’t bother pasting that mpreg into Caliber just yet.
 As my theater improv friends put it, the work will have to be “TV clean.”
 “I am Jack’s attempt to publish fanfic with an anti-consumerist message.”
 No way am I looking at it again.
 At the moment, the only IP I have available are my Twenty Palaces series. The first book is only $2.99.
While my internet fast continues…
Massive spoilers behind the cut, but let me summarize things quickly up front in a spoiler-free fashion: Season one is even better than I remember, with a few small missteps. The arc-long mysteries (Who killed Lilly Kane? Who raped Veronica on the night she was drugged?) are complex enough for the TV format but not as in-depth as you’d find in a novel. They’re also handled with more sensitivity than I would have expected from TV. It works. The short, episode-long mysteries are well-handled, varied enough to stay interesting, and humane.
But the real strengths of the show are the performances, especially Bell’s and Colantoni’s, and the way the relationships between the characters are handled. If you haven’t watched the show yet, you really should. The discs are on Netflix and WB is hosting the episodes online (provided you live in the “correct” parts of the world”. The pilot is a little heavy on the flashbacks, but the complex setup is necessary. Stick with it.
Let’s do spoilers: more »
making books personal The outside world: internet publishing the boy TV
by Harry Connolly
1) I am not and have never been a Night Shade author, but it’s been widely known for quite a while that the publisher has been in trouble and has been working with SFWA to do right by their authors. Word about the new deal they’re offering authors has finally gone public in a public post (now deleted) on Jeff VanderMeer’s Facebook. For the click-phobic, NS intends to sell their contracts to another, more stable publisher, and not all of the contract terms are 100% wonderful.
What little I know about it is all second-hand, but a number of authors, VanderMeer included, want NS to revert the rights to their books before declaring bankruptcy. Unfortunately, that won’t work. The right to publish books is the only asset a publisher has and bankruptcy courts don’t play along when an entity sheds its assets right before telling their creditors they’re going belly up. In fact, it’s fairly common for publishing contracts to have a clause in them that would revert all rights to the author in the event of a publisher bankruptcy, but those clauses are typically overruled in bankruptcy court.
As far as getting rights back from a publisher swirling the drain, that last link is worth reading through to the end. I am not a lawyer, but it seems like a good place to start before getting actual legal counsel.
If there’s one thing I know about a terrible, messy situation like this, it’s that the proposed deal will be a benefit for some and a misery for others, depending on whether books have been turned in, how much money is owed, etc. Night Shade authors are getting together in a closed forum to discuss the issues and I wish them all the luck in the world. None of this is easy.
2) Writing has been at a near standstill while my kid is sick. He had two straight days of vomiting and was finally able to keep down a fair quantity of fluid last night. Today he’s still sketchy but basically okay. I’m glad the Cartoon Network has added so many of their shows to Netflix. We’ve also been watching the Naked Gun movies and, when his belly hurts too much to laugh, the most recent NIKITA tv series.
Of course, the real crime here is that he has no interest in superhero shows, so I still don’t get to watch Justice League, Batman Beyond, or Brave and the Bold. Man, the sacrifices we make for our kids.
3) Speaking of a sick kid, I spent an hour this morning at the grocery store hunting up bad tummy foods like oyster crackers and ginger ale, but one thing I couldn’t find was syrup of coke. All the stupid crap my grocery carries, but I can’t find the one thing that really settles an upset stomach? I left the supermarket confident that I could find a recipe online, and I did. Too bad I don’t keep lavender, star anise, citric acid, etc, etc around the place.
4) This post about humanities PhDs taking a third grade reading comprehension test is right on. When my kid was in kindergarten, they had those silly letter ratings on books. Most of the kids were reading books from A – D mine was reading books rated S. Sounds pretty advanced, huh? Except not, because he was only five and his reading comprehension wasn’t strong enough. Yes to the words. No to the sentences and paragraphs.
The worst thing was reading the teacher who thought kids ought to stay within the stupid letter rating, never going forward or going back. My own kid loves both Ready Player One and Ursula Vernon’s Dragonbreath books. He reaches for more adult fare when he wants to stretch himself (he just bounced off The Road which I knew would be tough sledding). And the idea that kids shouldn’t reread a book they love is poison.
No really, that’s what he said! Good thing he was joking.
If you’re one of those people who have been going around the internet posting comments, tweets, and status updates like “Who’s this Veronica Mars? Kickstart me some more SERENITY!” you should probably click that link up there. He’s not planning to Kickstart a new Serenity movie because he’s tied up for the next several years with commitments, not to mention the commitments the actors have. Plus yada yada budget etc. Give it a quick read.
After that, you should read this post by LEVERAGE co-creator John Rogers, cleverly titled Veronica Mars Kickstarter Thoughts. If you want analysis from someone who is inside the TV business, Rogers is the guy to turn to right now. Until it was cancelled, Leverage was the only independently-owned TV show in the U.S. market, and he has a lot of insight about the nature of non-studio funding, whether Warner is taking a risk by giving the go-ahead, and much more. That’s worth reading.
Remember yesterday when I talked about ALL THE SHIRTS (limited-edition!) the VM people would have to deal with? Kickstarter fulfillment companies.
And, naturally, everyone is jumping up to say what shows should be next on the Kickstarter auction block: Chuck. Pushing Up Daisies. Sarah Connor Chronicles. Terriers. Deadwood.
Personally, none of those shows appealed to me in a serious way, so I’ll be waiting for that THUNDARR reboot.
Okay. Unless something very interesting happens, I’m going to lay off the TV Kickstarter posts for a while. I’ve got to steal time for my books at some point, right?
Currently I’m over 100K words on THE WAY INTO MAGIC, which is the sequel to THE WAY INTO CHAOS. I’m writing it as one long story, which is probably dumb, but there you go.
My life is incredibly dull! Good thing the internet is full of fun stuff.
I wanted to do a little followup on the Veronica Mars Kickstarter. Yeah, they made goal. You can see the current numbers below.
Hey, you could even click on it to toss in a few bucks. I did.
But that isn’t to say that I think the setup is problem-free. I mean, there are issues and it does no one any good to gloss over them.
For example, at the time I’m writing this, Rob Thomas et al are going to have to make and ship over 40,000 “limited edition” T-shirts. That has to happen even if not one more person makes a pledge. They’re also looking at 4500 signed (by the cast) movie posters so far. You want to talk about signing your name seven thousand times (which is the limit for that reward)? I sure wouldn’t want to do it.
So… yeah. That sort of order fulfillment could be a huge drain on time and resources, even if you bring in a couple of out-of-work people (or actors, even) to handle it for you. He’s going to need his own clothing unit. And assuming they max out the poster reward (which looks pretty likely) and that it takes five seconds to sign one poster and move to the next, each actor is looking at over nine and a half hours to sign them all.
No writing hand was made to handle all of that. Just one hour would bring on cramps.
But that’s minor stuff. A great many people have been complaining that this project is just a way for a major corporation (in this case, Warner Brothers) to crowdsource production costs for their new movie. Is this the wave of the future? Will studios “hold their properties hostage” until the fans pony up?
It’s doubtful. The Veronica Mars Kickstarter is doing very well because it has a solid fan base. Also, it’s first. There’s a power in novelty when you’re asking people to give you money, and if it keeps happening again and again, there just won’t be much buzz around it.
Unless it’s THUNDARR THE BARBARIAN. Thundarr will always get buzz.
I can certainly see studios and production companies turning to crowdsourcing to decide if they want to re-up for another season, or bring the old gang back for a movie. Loved VR-5 and want to bring it back? Throw money at the Kickstater! and if it doesn’t happen the studio doesn’t have to be bad guy any more. They can just say: “The fan base wasn’t there. We only made 48% of goal.”
As for turning to fans for money that studios could put up themselves, the studios already do this in spades. They make foreign rights deals, they bring in outside investors, etc. It’s always been a part of doing business.
The big difference is that those investors get actual cash money once the film makes a profit. Fans, not so much.
Would I like to see that changed? Yeah, absolutely, but it’s not as simple as it sounds.
About ten years ago, my buddy and I were planning to make a movie. It was going to be a solid horror film–scary but not stupid–and we hoped it would open some doors for us. (Spoiler! It didn’t). As we were planning it, I did some research on how producers raise funds.
It turned out that there were all these restrictions on where the money could come from and who could donate. As I recall (a decade later) the budget would have to be split into X number of even pieces and each donor would be limited to that amount. There were more rules, too, and they were complicated and annoying. That’s when I realized I was a novelist.
(Digression: How it came out: The director sort of pushed me, the writer, out. He got the money from somewhere. The movie was seriously flawed and went nowhere. The script wasn’t my best but it is online: pdf or shitty html. It’s not my best work)
The point being, there are very strict rules around asking people to invest in your project for a cut of the profits.
However! The Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act (aka the JOBS Act) which was signed into law last year, contains provisions for crowdsourcing an investment in a company, not just in a particular project/product. You can read a description of the law here but just to touch on a few issues, investors are limited to 5% or 10% of their annual income, companies must use an established third party to run things, a great many disclosures are required, and the goal is $1million or less, so it’s not going to work for television anyway. While the law was passed last year, the crowdfunding part is not yet active because the SEC hasn’t finished drawing up a set of rules yet.
So, yes, a corporation is offloading a sizable part of their costs on this project to the fans, but they offload costs as a part of their every day business, and there’s no legal framework in place to allow the fans to invest directly. They only have the option to pledge for rewards, which is essentially preordering the end product, plus swag.
Will this become the model of the future? I doubt it, but even if it did it would be a terrific hedge against piracy and a fine reason to ditch DRM (not that there aren’t already many, many reasons to ditch DRM). Companies wouldn’t have to worry so much about their product being torrented if the true fans had already chipped in.
So! As I mentioned earlier today, I backed the Kickstarter for the Veronica Mars movie, although I probably shouldn’t have. Not because I think there’s something wrong with a WB property being crowdfunded, but because money is tight and KS is a luxury item. I may cancel sometime in the next month.
Which should not be taken as condemnation of the project itself, of which there has been plenty.
This article by Richard Lawson in the Atlantic Wire seems like a good representative sample of the bullshit people are saying about who ought to crowdfund and when it should be seen as unseemly. Have a quote.
But here in the bourgie, comfy confines of wealthy Western society, we’re talking about people like the indie musician Amanda Palmer, who raised $1.2 million on Kickstarter to make and distribute a folk album. That’s all. Amanda Palmer, who is married to successful author Neil Gaiman and has been a prominent musician for a decade or so. Handed $1.2 million because she asked for it. People are free to spend their money however they want, but there’s something so unseemly about the asking, isn’t there? Maybe that reaction is owed to some overly reserved New England quality in me that I should fight against, but I can’t help but feel that Kickstarter campaigns for stuff like this, that is stuff people are having no trouble selling elsewhere, are a bit gauche. Plus it’s too easy.
Of course he has to take a nasty sexist dig at Amanda Palmer. Of course he has to mention that she has married comfortably (The article is obstensively about Rob Thomas’s project, so where’s a mention of his wife? The article fails to mention if he even has one.) Supposedly, Palmer is so successful that she has 100K laying around to fund her studio time and if she doesn’t, well, isn’t she a big enough name to get that money from record companies?
That money comes with strings attached, you say? Awful, debilitating strings? Apparently, that’s a bonus; we wouldn’t want things to be “too easy.”
Let’s consider the Veronica Mars movie: Maybe it will suck or be vaguely disappointing. That first season was so great while the second and third were a bit of a let down.
But the article writer above barely touches on that. His point is that this movie is a Warner property. They own the rights and will distribute the movie once it’s made. Since that’s the case, isn’t it kinda gross to be asking fans to front the money?
I’m going to step up here and say “Not at all.” Here’s why:
Warner does have control of the Veronica Mars IP, and they have no plans to a) do anything with it or b) surrender it to the original creator, Rob Thomas. It’s just gathering dust. After there was no interest in the season four promo video, the show was dead.
That’s why this Kickstarter makes sense: Fan support can make this happen. What’s more, fans want to be a part of it.
Would I be happy to see gross points in the reward levels? Shit yeah. Is having Rob Thomas and Kristin Bell follow me on Twitter for a year for $400 kinda tacky. Sure, I guess. Do I think they’re doing something really cool with this project? Absolutely.
Lawson doesn’t like the idea of seeing money talked about publicly. He wants artists to raise their money from “proper backers and investors” behind the scenes so he doesn’t have to see art mixed with commerce in such a public way. There’s a laundry list of why this is stupid, beginning with the fact that “proper” investors have already shown their disinterest, continuing through the idea that fans are “improper” backers, and finally ending with art and commerce have always been mixed who the fuck are you kidding?
It won’t come as a surprise to anyone that making things is difficult, especially when they require a large capital outlay. I’m pleased to see a movie like this crowdfunded successfully (or it will be at this pace) and I hope to see more.
According to Twitter and other sources, there was some ugly, obnoxious shit aimed at the little girl who was nominated (weirdly, getting an “account suspended” page on that link), plus general awfulness. Apparently, it’s still going on, if you’re willing read the comments. Yeah, comments are ugly but it’s also a sign of who we are.
I’m not sure what’s supposed to be the point of making nasty remarks about the actors and directors whose work has been nominated. Puncturing the pretensions of people who make art? Please. It’s art, it’s supposedly the pinnacle achievement to win this sort of recognition, and generally-speaking people have to do great work for years to get to this point.
There’s this idea that the Oscars need to be entertaining for the masses, which I guess means taking digs at people.
Whatever. It’s just another set of awards, which means it’s pretty much meaningless except to those who are deeply invested in it. I just wish they didn’t judge the value of the ceremony by the ratings, and try to drive ratings with shitty behavior.
In other news, I was unusually active on my blog this weekend. To link back:
Why Libraries Still Matter: I respond to That Article.
EMP Followup I heard back from the Experience Music Project about PanelFail.
In which I deny my son an Xbox . My kid wants to play All The Games, but I expect something more from him.
Okay. Writing to do.
As per annual tradition, here’s the full version of Chuck Jones’s 1971 animated adaptation. It’s got more ghosts per frame than pretty much any version, and my favorite Marley ever.
Plus it’s stylish as hell.
Stupid iframe embedding had better work, but if it doesn’t you can watch it on YouTube.