Friday, April 29, 2011

Why Firefly Sucks... and so do you (Part I)

OK, now many years ago two friends of mine who I won't name but have the initials Daryl Boling and Ato Essandoh got into a debate about the merits of the movie Kill Bill. Either party took fairly strong positions on whether the movie was "awesome" or it "sucked" and it got me to thinking.
If two people, people whose opinion on things dramatic I trust, can disagree so fundamentally, what in the world is going on?

Obviously, different people respond differently to the same dramatic presentation. Even non-crazy people may feel very different about a movie or a play or a book or whatever.

Now my idea is that different people weight different factors when they decide if they like something or not. Many people are story snobs. The story must be exact. Sometimes that means that the story has to work out exactly right. Other times it means the story can knowingly twist up the story. But story is ueber alles. (This, oddly, is the trouble most screenwriters -- myself included -- seem to have.)
But other people are all over the acting. They don't even care about the story as long as the moments are right. And many others are genre addicts. They'll watch every zombie picture or space adventure they can get their hands on.

Most people are a complicated amalgam of these things. They weight different parts of the dramatic experience differently. And perhaps the increase or decrease in quality of one of the parts of the dramatic experience also affects how important the other parts of the experience are.

I made some visual aids to demonstrate some ideas of what I believe some people might feel, and their relative strengths. I used Wordle.

 So when one sophisticated person says to another "I can't believe you liked Firefly. It sucks" we might perhaps do well to look into why they might say something suchwise.

In our particular case, a man who I will give the pseudonym David Ian Lee expressed the idea that he simply couldn't get into the Firefly series but he was aware that Nat Cassidy and I did, in fact, like it.

At first Mr. Lee dismissed us as (in essence) of having such a strong genre bias toward science fiction that we would overlook any of the other issues in the series. But I disagreed because clearly Nat and I watch many other kinds of things that do not have a sci-fi genre to protect them and we are largely too sophisticated to let a genre get in the way of our reason and judgement.

But something David said about his "not being able to get into it" reminded me of something Alex Epstein wrote on his blog about the Firefly series.

I'm convinced that FIREFLY failed not because it was a space western, but because Joss Whedon's storytelling might have been a bit too surprising for the broadcast audience. You just never knew where an episode was going to end up. And on broacast, that's not necessarily a plus.
I was watching Firefly on disc. Is it just me, or do the acts sometimes just go flying off in an entirely new direction from the previous act?

I've watched maybe half the episodes, and I have no idea what the template is. No idea what a "typical" Firefly episode is. No idea what the flavors of the acts are.

That's good and I also see why that made it harder to get an audience. It's good because you really don't know what's coming. Even on Buffy you could figure out where the episode had to go. There were surprises (he killed Jenny Calendar!!!!) but the act structure was fairly normal.

That means the story is more involving. You can't complete the story in your head. You really have to pay attention.

And from the comments:
Genre plots are so ingrained that you can’t really get rid of them. It seems like Joss & Co. were fond of the bait and switch: you think you’re watching a “submarine story” (stock scifi plot) when really you’re watching an origins/love story (stock wagon train plot); you think you’re watching Mal the reluctant husband teach his young bride to be a strong woman in the frontier (stock Dr. Quinn-type) when really she’s a black widow and the whole crew has already been caught in her literal net (stock spy intrigue, but it’s not what we thought we were watching). The stakes for each genre interpretation are different, and the act breaks you mention are the moment when they pull out the rug and tell us what we’ve really been watching. It’s a good surprise, but I have had a suspicion that it only really works with people who are similarly well-versed in what to expect from genre TV.

So... I'm not saying one person is right and another is wrong. That's pretty boring actually. But I am saying that one person really liking the way the structure is changed might lose someone who thinks "everything that happens here is random".

Which, if I were a better writer, I could explain better.

And so endeth the first lesson about Firefly, taste, and TV.

Thursday, April 28, 2011


My renders are taking nigh on 5 minutes a frame today. So I'm working on other things.

Like for instance, the Pandora Machine Wiki. The Wiki isn't quite ready for prime-time but it's getting there. And it sure has improved the content on the Pandora Machine homepage.

I'm going to go into more detail about this eventually but Plural Eyes is working for us! Woo!

Now to re-sync a pair of acts which got really messed up by one of our editors. Where they trashed the link to the original dialog. Right now I'm listening to camera dialog. I may end up going in there and re-syncing each clip by hand. Ahem.

Here's David Campfield's Dog Whisperer.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

How Do You Know When I Am Rendering?

The answer is, I blog like this.

So, the other evening I drunkenly emailed James Knapp, the author of his pretty brilliant "zombie" trilogy: State of Decay, The Silent Army, and Element Zero. You see, he killed a character I liked. So, being around midnight and these Pear cider bottles in the 'fridge colluded in in the act of my writing the author of those books an email. I, at some point, threatened to put "Leichenesser plasma flechettes" in Android Insurrection. James Knapp countered that they should be "laser-guided leichenesser plasma flechettes" which is, of course, patently ridiculous and overkill. Unless, of course, you don't want to deal with wind velocity and gravitational force affecting the trajectory of your flechette rounds. I'll have to talk to our cast about that. I kind of like not having to take the curvature of the Earth into account when I'm taking out a Mark IV combat drone...

Lookit Jeff Wills' blog. He talks about Chinese food. Plus apparently he's making some movie.


Tuesday, April 26, 2011


I can seriously watch this baby elephant all day long. The way his ears make like air brakes makes me laugh every time. And check out his fishtailing as he goes back into the grass...
Math Babes is a good idea. But it could be better. Like doing math actually calculates the volume of breasts or something. Unfortunately it does not help with my Serenity problem. I even asked on Reddit and got good answers... if I knew math.


Monday, April 25, 2011

I Have Decided to Become King of England

But you have no legitimacy.
I have an army.
You can't do that. The British Constitution clearly states...
States what? I don't see any Constitution.
OK, maybe I went off half-cocked about that "Constitution" thing but you can't just go declaring yourself King.
Yes I can.
How do you go about doing that?
The way everyone else has. By declaring myself the lawful King.
And what if no one believes you?
Remember that army I was talking about?
So you plan to use military force to take the crown from its present owner?
That's been the plan every other time someone who wasn't a son or daughter of the previous King or Queen has done it. How do you think their ancestors became King?
I suppose there is a precedent...
I'm thinking about invading from Normandy. Sort of a reverse WWII.
Or... a Norman invasion?
Hey, it worked once.
And what do you plan to do with the present royal family?
I'm thinking Australia. Maybe New Zealand.
So, exile?
I'm ruthless, but not without mercy.
And what about the Magna Carta and all that?
I didn't sign no Magna Carta.
So you're just going to march in there and tell everyone you're King and that's that, huh?
What part of autocratic dictatorship do you not understand?
Any special laws you intend to enact as the new Monarch?
Anybody calling a redhead a "ginger" will be smacked by an officer of the Crown. Also, I'm going to eliminate the aristocracy.
Um. Er.
I'm the King. I can rule as I like.

Answer the Question

So, apparently in our cast and crew we are divided by gender in respect to who has seen Blade Runner. Sigh. Where did all the girls go?

Anyway, we ask that cast fill out a questionnaire for the contact list and such. And at the end I usually put a funny question. Or at least a question I think is funny. Here's the question, and the (randomly ordered) responses:

Q. The tortoise lays on its back, its belly baking in the hot sun, beating its legs trying to turn itself over but it can't. Not without your help.*

  • Robot turtle will eat me.
  • i'm busy blowing shit up, little girl!
  • Am I wearing sunblock
  • What do you mean, I'm not helping?!
  • I don't want salmonella
  • Because I can't get to it or something.  Otherwise I'd help it.
  • 1100110011111010110
  • Bellware has me tied up? How the hell am I supposed to Flip the tortoise?
  • I'm in a committed relationship. That slut turtle's just gonna have to wait.
  • it owes me 100 bucks
  • Wait, what desert am I in?

*Note that I messed up the question a little bit 'cause I was doing it from memory.

Stake Land Box Office

The box office for Stake Land is in at Box Office Mojo. One screen, $6900. That's pretty respectable, ain't it?
The movie is pretty sweet. It's certainly one of, if not the best, horror pictures you'll see in a theater this year.

Saturday, April 23, 2011


Who re-patched the output to the speakers on the Mac?

You realize you patched the speakers into a 1/8" audio input, right? No?


OK, that's not what's important, what's important is that I wrote an IMDB review of Stake Land, which I saw again last night. For some odd reason I ended up in the Special Thanks. No idea why. But I stand by my review in any case. The movie is very cool.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

While waiting for clothes to dry

I am not being stalked by a Russian stripper.
There are five editors, not including me, working on Earthkiller.
It looks like the movie we're shooting now is going to be called Android Insurrection. Even though if it were up to me we'd call it "Android Insurrection 3020 AD: The Fall of Mankind".

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Friday, April 15, 2011

Today in the Pandora Machine

I quit Buzz. You can too.
Tom Rowen's puppy. She's cute, but farty.
Tom Rowen edits Earthkiller.

If you buy this book you get two free cookies. Unfortunately that deal is totally worth it. I wish it were a further walk to Milk&Cookies because then I'd get more exercise.
The talented and handsome Vinnie Marano tries to prevent Tom from getting any work done.

Puppy Falls Down

If we're going to be honest with ourselves "Puppy Falls Down" is what we should call the entire internet. That, or "Hampster With A Grape Dot Com."

I'm a wee bit excited about software subscriptions to the Adobe suite. Our man in Birmingham, Chance, gets the old hat tip for that one.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Bunnity Video

This little bunny rabbit is a good relaxation video if you're feeling a bit stressed.

Check this out

Here's a short that was shot (mostly) at Theatresource. It's from the "Corrupting the Classics" series.

This episode was written by Naomi McDougall Jones.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Lines in the Show

Ghost in the Shell makes me physically tense to watch. The dialog is so on-the-nose that I become agitated. Both the writing and the performances are excruciating. And I mean that literally.
I may have inadvertently forgotten to post this picture of my sister's dog.

Which is odd, because I'm sure the actors aren't actually that bad.

We've been doing a lot of dialog reduction on the movie which will likely be called "Termination" but is now "Alien Robot Holocaust" just because, well, don't you want to see a movie called "Alien Robot Holocaust"?
Anyway, every time there's a line and we think "Why do we need to say this?" we just cut the line.

Monday, April 11, 2011

I don't always know where to put things.

I've probably been over-blogging over at
Here is the fabulous Rebecca Kush editing Earthkiller while I hold up the metal Colonel's pins we got for David Ian Lee's character "Colonel Bellware". Greg Bodine bought them for us because he's just an awesome guy and he went to the Army Navy store and they were having a half-off sale today. Which means that both of them were only $3.98.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

So... there's this duck

It's a ceramic duck in the hallway of my parent's complex. And for whatever reason, I like to turn it around whenever I come over. I just make it face the opposite direction.
Baby duck, shell, daddy duck.
Somebody usually turns it back to face the same direction when I'm not looking.
My sister found a new baby ceramic duck from somewhere. And set this whole thing up with an eggshell. My dad is apparently responsible for making the eggshell just so... like a duck popped out of it.
And that's the news from Princeton.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Where are you now?

You realize that I, rather idiotically, have four blogs?
There's this blog, Pleasure for the Empire, which is basically as random as things go.
There's the blog for my sci-fi micro-studio Pandora Machine.
There's the blog for my rock band, Tyrannosaurus Mouse.
And there's a blog about politics where I essentially ramble incoherently.

The important thing here is that there are entire web sites devoted to naked women and cats. Ooh, and in the background: guitars. Pretty much all the important things.

In any case, My blogs are mostly not-safe-for-work. Except maybe Puppies and Toast (the politics blog).

Thursday, April 07, 2011

My Two Things

OK, via Chance Shirley, this is freaking funny:

Why does this picture amuse me so much?
It's OK that I have a crush on Helen Mirren, right?

Time, Lexicon, Nehru

A time calculator. Not a timecode calculator. But very handy nonetheless.
Why is "nonetheless" one word? Is English German now? Heck, I don't even think the Germans would do that.
I've been holding onto this page for a while because of this nice jacket. You can't actually buy this jacket.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Why Bother With Kickstarter?

For whatever reason, Stu Maschwitz is pushing this dude's Kickstarter project. It's the guy's first feature film. And he's trying to get donations of $30,000 to shoot it.
Every single thing about that is just wrong to me.
Now I realize, that being I'm on the "genre" side of the indy business I sometimes get a bit short with the "art-house" side of the business. And I suppose if you don't need to ever worry about making your money back, because it was all given to you with no expectation of return, then you also don't need to worry about ever selling your picture.
Still, for a personal project, you're way over budget here at $30,000. Way.
I'm going to get another drink.
There. Now let's go over the budget breakdown from the kickstarter project, my comments are underlined:

  • Location fees,
Location fees? Seriously? Stop shooting at places that charge location fees. There. Budget item eliminated. This is the kind of thing where the filmmaker just says "The story needs to take place in blah-blah-blah..." And it totally doesn't. You don't need a supermarket. Or an infirmary ward. Or City Hall on a weekday.
  • Permits,
We shoot in New York so we're predjudiced against location permits. But just don't get permits. Make the damn movie.
  • Insurance,
That should run you about $600 for 12 days.
  • Additional gear,
Like what? You don't need any additional gear.
  • Costumes,
Your costume budget is $250. Hell, my costume budgets are usually $250 and I make off-world sci-fi movies.
  • Production dressings,
Find stuff around the house. Don't buy stuff. Seriously, how much specific stuff is actually needed for the story that you don't already have? A telephone answering machine? A wine glass?
  • Catering,
Should be $15/day/man unless you're in overnight locations then thing $30 or so. Does that start to get expensive? Then reduce your crew. Think "crew of 3". That's about right.
  • Consumables (from gaffer tape and gas, to batteries and make up supplies)
If you're spending more than about $100 on this you're over-spending.
  • printing, photocopying, phone calls, internet
You really don't need to photocopy anything. Phone calls and internet should really be the same item. You need to print your contracts. Do not print more than one copy/person of the damn script.
  • Travel and accommodation for people who could afford to donate their time but not all their costs,
  • Music licensing
No no no no no. Do not licence any music. It is only a waste of money. I know you think that song is really cool and you'd love to have it in your movie. But you can't. Get over it. It doesn't make your movie any better. Some local indy band will provide music which is just as good. Ask them to deliver a mix without vocals.
  • Professional Sound mix
Can't argue with that.
  • Color grade
You're paying for this? Just do it. On the editing computer. Use Colorista or something. Without whining about it. The DVRebel Tools are free for cryin' out loud.
  • Conform, Online and Master
Conform? You're on drugs, right? Online? You're not shooting film here. Do all this stuff on your own damn computer. Look. I'm actually getting more cranky. Why is Stu recommending this project when they aren't even making lip service to the Rebel's Guide?
  • Website
  • Festival Submissions
You will get exactly zero sales from your website. I sure hope you know someone who's a program director at a film festival that buyers actually go to. Because as far as I know, that's the only way to get in.
To me, though, the worst part is the insistence of shooting on the Red camera with fancy-pants "anamorphic" lenses. So what? The Red isn't some kind of magic camera which will suddenly make your movie look mysteriously awesome. It will however, cost you a lot. Nobody will look at your footage and say "Oh clearly this was shot on a Red". No, instead they'll say "Oh, clearly, nobody bothered to do a re-write on the script."

Shoot the movie for eight thousand bucks. Without name talent in the lead you haven't a prayer of getting distribution right now.

UPDATE: I have nothing in particular against the Red camera. As I point out in the comments, some of my best friends have made features with the Red. Of course it was not their first feature, and they'd actually got distribution on earlier features. You know, so they knew they could afford to shoot on a Red.

Dorkus Problem

OK, so I have big dorkwad issues. And they aren't met by my math abilities.

The Firefly - class ship Serenity is purported to:

can achieve an acceleration of 4.2 g, and has a maximum range of 440 astronomical units when carrying minimal cargo.[9]

OK, that being the case, I've figured that "g" is about 9.8m/s/s.  4.2 g's (9.8 times 4.2) would then be about 41.2m/s/s.
My sister's dog Chien. AKA "minimal cargo".

If the Serenity can start instantaneously at 4.2 g's, how long does it take to get 440 astronomical units (one AU is 149,597,870.7 kilometers therefore 440 AU's is 65,818,663,108 kilometers)?

I am afeared calculus is needed to comprehend this. I mean, I could add up each second's speed (the first second we're going at 41.2m/s, second is 82.4m/s, etc.) But I don't really know how to do this as one formula.

  • At 4.2 g's, how long does it take to travel 440 astronomical units? 

And to make life more exciting, what if you have to do your acceleration and deceleration at the same 4.2 g's? So does that mean that if you're going 440 AU's, 220 of them will be accelerating and the remainder 220 are decelerating?

Virginia Logan as Foxwell in Robowar.

  • Math is hard. Does anybody understand this?
  • Does it require calculus?

Monday, April 04, 2011

My Review of The Killing

At first I was thinking "Did they really color-correct this whole thing a stop-and-a-half below exposure?"
The answer is no, not when they went a good two or three stops below exposure*.

Here's some example dialog:
Detective 1: "Mumble mumble mumble?"
Detective 2: "Mumble mumble."
Detective 1: "Mumble. Mumble mumble."

The dialog mix was like a bad indie film. And it looked like some of the scenes were shot in broad sunny daylight but they inserted cloudy skies.

But really. AMC. There's a thing. It's called 500 Hertz. Please pull about four dB of it out of all the damn dialog.

*It was like they shot in Log C and just left it there.
**Although I don't know if that would help. How is it too sibilant and unintelligible? Mumble mumble.

Linkedin, I Quit You

And this is how. It seems if you have fewer than 250 connections (which I do) it's easier than the trouble found by the author of this article.

Why? Why did I finally quit? All because of Jack Donaghy's remarks on the 100th episode of 30 Rock. Yep, the media brainwashed me.

Jack: I tracked him down to an address in Brooklyn. He's on LinkedIn, Lemon. He might as well be dead.

(Read more:

But seriously, what's the point of Linkedin? A bunch of yappity glad-handers "networking" with one another. I don't want to "network". I want to make movies. Maybe a television show. To do that what I need are props. At least today is "props" day in the Pandora Machine.

Specifically I want large red watches. So I'm hitting the toy stores.

OK, Look

I'm the stereotype of a middle-aged white boy. I've been watching and thinking a lot about the Firefly series lately.

Yes. I admit it.

That's the first step on the road to recovery.

What have I learned?

1. White space copters do not composite very well. Even if they're photo-real they just don't look good.

2. I need to keep the camera moving -- even in simple over-the-shoulder shots. And I have to stay wide.

3. We don't need to worry about jump-cuts in Robowar. That might be the best way to edit the picture.

4. Hey, don't we need watches in this movie? And shouldn't they all be red?

5. Speaking of red, that seems to be the color we're using on everybody. Why? Because it looks cool, that's why.

Friday, April 01, 2011

A General Note About Theater

You show up at the theater at twenty minutes past 8. All theater all around the world starts at 8pm.

You: Is this the box office?
Me: Well, it would be, but there's nobody here now. The show has already started.
You: Can I come in?
Me: There's nobody here. I don't work here. I just answered the door.
You: I'm with the cast.
Me: Well they're all on stage.
You: It's double-cast.
Me: [So you're late for call?]
You: Can't I just come in?
Me: You would have to walk across the stage if you came in. The general manager is upstairs watching the show and I have to presume there's no late seating.
You: [in a huff because I simply don't care about you] Well I've never seen a show that didn't need an audience before.
Me: Goodnight.

If you showed up just before 8pm for a 7pm show (7pm shows do happen sometimes) then I have a modicum of sympathy for you. Really. I do. But if you can't show on time for an eight o'clock show? Nobody. Nobody cares. And you're a bozo. Go put away your clown nose and watch HBO tonight.