Welcome Gentle Readers

This blog tends to wander from its main purpose -- updates on my fiction. I do have updates and excerpts of my work. But I also write about my obsessions -- food, friends and pop culture and my weird life in Los Angeles. Enjoy!

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Mosh Pits, Updates and Defending TPTB

I was in a mosh pit of sorts on Saturday at the House of Blues on Sunset Blvd.. It was filled with the shortest and most erratic dancers I've ever encountered. Some of them even had pacifiers. The band members in this battle of the bands were pretty short, too. Some of the musicians were the same size as their guitars while others could have used a box to reach their keyboards.

It was the 6th annual Rockstar Music Education Program Battle of the Bands for kids 12 and under. It was...an experience. Here's a promo for the program which is supported by the rock community in Los Angeles. This was the only venue where pork pie hats were appropriate as they were on the heads of many children. Jon and I attended this pint sized battle of the bands to support young Shelton Lliteras (the one with the red, spikey hair), son of Jasmine, PA extraordinaire on Demon Under Glass. Many of my Facebook readers have wondered whose head that is in my profile picture. Here's the whole photo. Jasmine is in the foreground. Gary Lowrance, grip extraordinaire on Demon Under Glass and very scary ex- special forces, is in the background. Shelton is the grandson of Ralph and Marguerite, our long time partners in the production company and our de facto family in Los Angeles (along with the eclectic collection of friends). Shelton's band, Fergus on Fire (I have no idea why) performed Smoke on the Water by Deep Purple. Shelton was quite focused. He had that 'I live only for my music' look onstage. The rest of the band was just completely adorable. He can't wait until next year. Neither can we.

Updates – Divergent and Various

I'm doing the updates next rather than at the end because I'm going get all geeky in the next segment, and there are some of you who'll want to bail or hurl rather than get dragged along. Shame on you! The essay will feature a thoughtful analysis of why network executives should not be considered minions of Satan for canceling a favorite show.

My apologies for freaking out folks with my blog of last week. I still don't think it had even a hint of a notion that I as abandoning any of the projects because of my problems with chemo side effects. This is not the case at all. For longer term projects like The Secret Cancer, it means that the process will take even longer to complete. I have had to cancel my trip to Philadelphia for the Awareness Walk and the interviews I had planned to shoot during the trip. However, I will get to Philadelphia at some point in the future. My family is there, after all. I'm just not going this month. I will begin my interviews out here with the survivors who've contacted me. There are doctors our here that I think would be relevant to the film, like the ones who saved my hide, for example. And I will likely be shooting the interview with Audrey Hepburn's son in Los Angeles. That project is most certainly moving forward. And I am still seeking support for that film. It would help if my readers would click on the banner at the bottom right of this page and then click on the red FEATURE THIS link at the bottom of the perks on The Secret Cancer's Indiegogo.com page. Even if you do not donate (and I hope you will), clicking FEATURE THIS will get the project on the main page which will most likely help us reach our goal.

The horror film, Octodemon etc. is still moving forward. I don't think my role in the project will have to change at all. Because of the way it's currently scheduled, the demand on me would not be as big as it would be if it were three straight weeks. We're working our way through casting the supporting roles and troubleshooting the FX issues. At this point in time, the current start date remains the same – early July.

The Demon Under Glass web series, Demon on the Run, is back on track. We've got a really fun script in the works now that I've figured out what our assets are. Once that is complete – and I expect that to be finished this week or next – we will finish casting. I've put our a call to my fandom peeps for names of veteran genre actors for parts in the flash back and the fantasy scenes in the episode. Our thinking at present is to shoot sometime in August. It is a relatively short shoot (3 days, max), so that isn't very demanding. Two of the major locations are within walking distance of our place. I will be taking it very easy.

There was a little bit of a slow down with the books last week due to the request from the anthology. I had to get the pages to my two readers. Then I had to input the changes they made – in record time. A big thank you to both of you! I am back on track with both books doing a few pages each night on one of them. Slowly they are adding up to two separate novels that I am very excited about.

From Fangirl to Hyphenate

For the uninitiated, a Hyphenate, in this instance, is an individual with a dual role in a film production. I am a writer-producer, for example. On most of my shoots I am a writer-producter-wardrobe-caterer-janitor with room for a few more titles depending on how small the crew is.

But there was a time when I was primarily a fan of TV and films. And then, I became a fangirl of many things (some of those things could haunt your dreams). The difference is the degree of intensity. A fan is someone who simply likes a show and enjoys discussing it on the day after an episode ends. A fangirl or fanboy takes that quite a bit further – typically to the point that it annoys and/or frightens family, friends and co-workers. The intensity of the interest is most keenly manifested when a beloved program is canceled. The manifestation is some sadness and lots of rage typically aimed at the unfortunate sot who canceled the program.

I have been among the enraged at the cancellation of a beloved show. Because cancellation of sci-fi shows seems to happen at a swifter rate than any other kind of program, I have been among those who express dismay and disgust at networks failing to nurture such programming simply because they don't understand it or they hate science fiction or for both reasons. It doesn't help change that point of view toward the much hated The Powers That Be (TPTB) to find articles in which they actually admit things like The X-Files wouldn't have been given a chance to find an audience if it debuted today.

The change in my point of view toward TPTB began when we did our first short for a pitch to TV. The Privateers basically cost us $1000 a minute, but that was under an old SAG contract and getting crew for next to nothing and working everyone like a circus monkey using army surplus costumes for the most part and no alien make-up or hairstyles. You can see the results HERE. In writing the business plan, we had to figure out an average budget per episode. We also had to make an argument that we could attract the minimum number of viewers needed to generate enough revenue to cover the costs. I learned a lot about the cost of a sci-fi show then. I know a whole lot more now – well over a decade later. Yes, incredible advances in software have made insanely difficult special FX possible and more cheaply than even five years ago. Yes, they can be done more cheaply. They cannot be done for free. Almost everything in a sci-fi show is more expensive than other programs. If it is a space based show, then everything save for talent and crew is more expensive. Wardrobe cannot be bought off the rack. Sets are show specific. Then, there is hair and make up. The list is long and daunting.

Despite the blockbuster sci-fi films, TV sci-fi programs have a niche audience. They tend to struggle a lot more than a cop show or a sitcom. Even successful shows have to watch their budgets. On Star Trek: The Next Generation and the Trek shows that followed, an episode with lots of guest stars, new sets or locations were off set by shows that may have a couple or no guests and occur on standing sets. They are called bottle shows. I recall that my change in attitude manifested itself during a panel I was speaking on at a convention. Someone wanted to know why the only aliens on Trek or most other shows were humanoids with something strange on their foreheads. I tried to tell them that the cost of inserting a CGI alien into an episode was cost prohibitive – insanely cost prohibitive. No one wanted to hear it. The audience preferred to rage that TPTB were holding back the creative staff. I actually instigated a panel at Dragoncon about the limits of what fan productions would do as a business model. I argued that they work as a labor of love for all involved. Participants are either donating their time and talent or it is steeply discounted because they want to be involved in the show. Once it becomes a licensed, income generating business, union rates for everything would apply. Such projects would live or die not only from the dedication of those participating, but on the income that it can make to cover real-life expenses. As the panel was filled with producers of such fan content, Jon and I were not popular in that room.

I realized that I had really changed in my world view when I found myself defending SyFy's decision to cancel Caprica. I am not a fan of the SyFy Channel. I have really personal reasons that have nothing to do with being a fangirl. One might even say, I deeply dislike the network. From the fangirl point of view, the network has done little to endear itself to avid viewers. For a number of years, it had a programming director that was widely reported to not like science fiction. I'm sure this dim view of the channels motives was not helped by the inclusion of Professional Wrestling or the sitcom Saved by the Bell in its line up. Saved by the Bell only lasted a short time. The wrestling remains. No love for the network here. And I adored Caprica and everyone involved in the show. I thought it was some of the most sophisticated science fiction ever aired on a weekly basis. I was alarmed that it was on the chopping block. My resentment toward the network didn't help my view of their reasons for even considering axing the program. And then, I was on a live chat with the current programming director. He stated and I later could confirm that the ratings were in the mere hundreds of thousands – not even close to a million. The show would need at least three times the ratings it was drawing to survive. When I heard those numbers, I knew it was over. And it was justifiably over. At the end of the day, this is show business with a capital B. If fans wanted to be enraged, they should be enraged at the Battlestar Galactica fans that stayed away in droves because Caprica didn't have enough space ships. Yes, I have been told that was a reason for not watching the show. It simply was not making enough to cover its bills. They gave it a full season's run and even mounted a Twitter campaign to raise the profile of the final episodes. The fans failed it.

It costs a lot to gamble on producing any new TV program. They take a long time to become profitable. Meanwhile, the money is flowing out. It's an especially expensive gamble on sci-fi shows. Yes, they should find a way to figure out ratings beyond the current systems. And yes, viewers are looking at more content online. The problem with that is that online viewing is still not generating the revenue that broadcast and cable does – not even close yet. When a show gets canceled, it's usually to stop the hemorrhaging of money. So, when my fellow fangirls and fanboys, please keep in mind that programming execs aren't necessarily minions of Satan for canceling a favorite show. It might help the cause to watch it when it airs and on TV.

Stay tuned.

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