Summer blockbusters “busted,” cancelled television shows, and how audio theatre can save good ideas from Hollywood: the AudioComics version
November 29, 2010 Comments Off
Lance, here: once again, the rilly big nooz:
STARSTRUCK IS ON iTUNES! I repeat, STARSTRUCK IS ON iTUNES! Here’s the link: http://bit.ly/hQgVxd!
Okay, that said and out of the way: on my other and soon-to-be-defunct Play it by Ear Productions blog, I wrote an entry about…well, you can read the subject heading, right? As that blog will soon go the way of the dodo, and as the idea generated is one that AudioComics, LLC will be pursuing and tweaking in the coming year, it seemed only right to “transfer” and expand ‘er here. Some of you have read this already, but for most of you it will be a new and exciting experience that you’ll tell your grandchildren about someday so let’s get right to it:
This past year we saw the end of a great idea that hit the ground running and lost a lot of viewers along the way for a variety of reasons, chief among them a complex plot and network interference. I’m talking about ABC’s Flash Forward. The show had a life-span of three seasons to tell its narrative, and now it’s ending two seasons early. A lot of questions remined unanswered and will remain unanswered. We will ultimately never receive proper resolution.
Again, it had a long and complex story a la Lost with a lot of characters (some of whom were, sorry, just not that compelling), and that turned a lot of people off. But it doesn’t end there. How many show runners, including Flash Forward creator David Goyer, got canned by ABC during the series’ single season? Not putting anything new against the Olympics, also not a smart move. “Leave well enough alone” is not an acceptable device. Network “decisions” have spelled disaster for a lot of shows. Once and Again. Now and Again. Jericho. Everything Joss Whedon ever created/produced on Fox. The existence of The Jay Leno Show and the Conan O’Brien debacle that followed its crash and burn upon re-entry into the atmosphere. How many networks turned down 24? Global Frequency wasn’t even given a chance when the CW went in a “new direction” and now there’s how many Gossip Girl and Top Model clones?
I’m not just talking about network TV, this also extends to cable. Anybody remember The Pretender? TNT aired two TV movies, and then pulled the plug. Almost ten years later we still don’t know Jarod’s fate. I remember a unique (and well-acted) sci-fi thriller with Peter Weller called Odyssey 5 on Showtime. It too was toast with plotlines dangling in the ether after a whole half-season aired. And now you can add another casualty to the list, and that is the AMC series Rubicon. I’m probably among the minority who liked Rubicon. Yeah, it was slow in its delivery, but to me, that’s what made it work. You really had to focus, and considering we’re a short attention society, well, deep focus was probably too much for some people. And again, we’re left with unresolved storylines.
Well, with that fresh in your minds, let me now direct your attention to big budget movies. Monty Python alum Terry Gilliam once directed a great film called Twelve Monkeys. I remember an interesting comment (either from Gilliam or co-star Bruce Willis) which came out not too long after the film’s release: the belief was that somewhere in Hollywood is a hidden vault where all of the truly brilliant and visionary scripts are locked away by film producers, never to see the light of day, and the fact that Monkeys saw the light of day was by no means a miracle. Other projects by Mr. Gilliam: The Man Who Killed Don Quixote. Ran out of money. Will we ever see Time Bandits II? The Defective Detective? With the way Hollyweird works, they may never be made. Do them as comic books? Well, at one point Virgin Comics was going to do something with Gilliam’s properties, which in turn could have whetted the industry’s appetite, but Virgin ended before it even really began.
Then we come to the biggest bomb of the summer of 2010, the Russell Crowe/Ridley Scott Robin Hood. According to the Internet Movie Database, there are over a hundred Robin Hood movies in movieland. This one, however, was going to be something completely different. How many of you know that it was originally called Nottingham? The original screenplay was written by Ethan Reiff and Cyrus Voris, and yes, it was the Robin Hood legend, but from the Sheriff of Nottingham’s point of view. He was depicted as a lawman in an English village using period forensics to capture the hooded outlaw committing crimes against the wealthy. CSI: Sherwood Forest. The longtime antagonist was now the protagonist. Why hadn’t anyone thought of something like this before? Like, I dunno, me? Anyway, like I said, it was different. Different enough to spark what every screenwriter wishes for: a bidding war in 2007. Seriously, Hollywood LOVED this script. Everyone wanted Nottingham, but ultimately Universal Pictures was the winner, having paid a million dollars for it. It’s fast tracked for release with Brian Grazer of Imagine producing it. Russell Crowe was lined up to play the Sheriff. Ridley Scott was brought aboard to direct, he being one of the few directors the notoriously temperamental actor will work with. And that’s where things began to…devolve…
Ya see, Scott decided he didn’t like the script. He didn’t want the long-established villain as the lead. He wanted a film about “archery.” Yes, Ridley Scott can be wrong. But even though he was wrong, he was right. He’s the director. They can’t afford to lose him (or, potentially, Crowe). Production is postponed so he and Grazer can start changing the very aspects of the script that made it such a unique property in the first place! Brian Helgeland comes aboard for the dreaded re-write…and decides to try something interesting: make Robin and the Sheriff the same person. Robin kills the Sheriff early on and then assumes his identity, thus sabotaging the King’s plans. Not bad, but not good enough for the director, and eventually its re-written and re-written and re-written some more until you have a Robin Hood that looks like every freakin’ Robin Hood before it.
And Nottingham? The screenplay everyone fought tooth and nail over in Hollywood? We will never see that movie because it was “made” but into yet another Robin Hood. Unless…
Yes, there’s an “unless…” at play here.
If a system is broken, you work outside the system. It’s as simple as that. Radio stations rarely air radio drama in the US. So we hear them on compact discs and on our iPods. Hollywood has been broken for a long time with the wrong people making the wrong decisions then wondering what happened when it all goes wrong (although that could also be said of a lot of radio programming directors…politicians…oil executives). And Rubicon ends prematurely and Nottingham is watered-down to nothing. Or are they…?
HEY, YOU! YEAH, YOU! DO THE SCRIPTS AS FULL-CAST AUDIO!
At my very first National Audio Theatre Festival Workshop, I finally met (in person) Richard Fish of the Firehouse Radio Theatre program in Bloomington, IN, who helped guide me through the process of putting up Norman Corwin’s We Hold These Truths in Pacific Grove, CA in early 2005. When you’re putting together an audio drama, this is the guy you want in your corner. He proposed an idea that I never considered before: struggling writers who can’t get their scripts in the hands of Hollywood agents and producers should instead consider turning them into audio plays. Audio is a great way to sell a script. Moreover, it’s a way to immortalize what you have created in its purest essence: your script as you wrote it before someone takes it and messes it about. We could yet “see” the Nottingham that should have been made. It’s just done in completely different medium, one that is STILL A VISUAL FORM. And a form that costs less to make! It’s just so damn simple!
This was actually done in the first year of the International Mystery Writers Festival in Owensboro, KY. Fish was part of the cast for the inaugural season, as directed by David Ossman and Judith Walcutt of Otherworld Media. Four radio plays were performed and recorded before live audiences. They didn’t start out as audio dramas; they were screenplays, adapted to the medium in order to make them more accessible to audiences, more exciting that the same-old same-old reading. And they were successful; not just for the Festival money-wise, but successful for the screenwriters who heard their creations presented as written. If any changes were made, they were made in order to make the translation easier, and they were made with the writer’s approval. So what if Russell Crowe wasn’t in it?
So when you want to shop around that script, you don’t have to give the industry big-wig yet another 120-page script that will lay on an assistant’s desk gathering moss. Save a tree: give him a CD of your work that he can pop into the car stereo; he can ascertain the merit of your blood, sweat, and tears while driving home from the office, only to find himself stuck on the freeway with no forseeable escape. An audio play of a screenplay provides a dimension different from that of a script read.
What? You only have a treatment? Turn it into a CD “scriptment.” Narrate the story yourself, and include bits and pieces of dialogue from the script where applicable, performed by actors with background music and SFX. A little more music behind your narration, and you’ve got a finished product. And if they are not interested, you have a great audio play. And as for television? Forget the Buffy and Firefly fan fiction podcasts, how about reuniting the actual honest-to-God casts of The Pretender or Now and Again in a recording studio and for peanuts compared to what it costs to put it on the air, record the never-before-seen finales and add them to revised DVD releases as special features? Or you have the aforementioned Flash Forward; it’s an ABC Studios Production, eh? Okay….end some of the subplots, focus on a select few as they relate to the overall story arc, bring the actors into a studio and record 13 eps apiece available to hear exclusively on the ABC website! Why not? IT COULD BE DONE! If the system is broken, you work around the system. You start a new system.
This is why I am pleased to announce that Bill and I will begin developing and tweaking a new division of AudioComics; with any luck, we should be able to get it going next year, 2012 at the very latest. In addition to The AudioComics Company, you will also have Audio Screenworks. If the script is related to the genres AudioComics works with (sci-fi, spy-fi, horror, thriller, fantasy, superhero extravaganza, etc.), we will turn your script for that short film, half-hour or hourlong pilot, or feature film into an audio drama that you can use to push your project in the television and film industries. Understand that this will be a work-for-hire service, but what we will give you in return is a polished piece that stays true to the written word. The screenwriter’s word. And who knows where that will lead…an option for the client and an opportunity to do Season 2 of Rubicon in a recording studio?
So…who knows any AMC execs? Anyone have access to Ethan Reiff and Cyrus Voris? And Mr. Gilliam, should you ever want to do Time Bandits II as an audio drama…I know of this top-notch audio theatre production company…
November 23, 2010 Comments Off
A couple quickies for you: first off, Starstruck is now available as a pay-per-download through both Amazon MP3 and Napster. Here are the respective links: http://www.amazon.com/Starstruck/dp/B004BWVIQI/ref=pd_rhf_p_t_1 and http://music.napster.com/artist.htm?id=13436780. You have to register with Napster to purchase music from them, but that’s pretty standard with everybody these days. iTunes is not far behind, and we’ll let you know as soon as it becomes available.
Second, we like WordPress as our blog home. Unfortunately, WordPress does get more than its fair share of spammers, some of whom manage to make it past Akismet and post frivolous comments so you can see their penny stock sites or download free TV shows. This is why, from this point onward, we will permit comments for the first two weeks of a new post. After that, comments will be closed. Just erring on the side of caution. Or in this case, keeping the riff raff out.
Third and final note of the day: we’ve been getting a lot of requests from actors about voice-over opportunities in future AudioComics productions. The answer to that is the following: right now, we prefer to work with actors whose work we know, who we have artisitic relationships with. You will hear news about some new collaborators in the new year, and likewise they prefer to work with their groups of actors. There is a reason as to why Christopher Guest and Woody Allen work with the same actors again and again: the synergy works. Right now, in these formative years, we need that similar synergy with these first projects. Now, as time goes on, that could change. The best advice we can give you: keep checking the website and keep comin’ back to the blog. Yeah, that’s pretty much it.
November 14, 2010 Comments Off
We all prayed for rain, and got a warm, sunny day in Santa Cruz. Which for many businesses is the kiss of death. Who wants to be indoors when its nice outside? In November, no less! Businesses in Santa Cruz tend to reap the rewards when it’s rainy, misty, overcast, and generally crappy outside. So as we pulled onto Mission, we knew we would be looking at a small house, and decided, “let’s just have fun. No matter what happens, let’s just have fun.”
Well, guess what: we did. The “cast” included myself, Ami-Sue, David, and Geoffrey, as we read two scenes interspersed with two scenes from the Starstruck CD, and presented a recap of everything that happens in the middle. And as we were told later, everyone had as great a time as we did. And after my “what do you want to hear” at the end of our performance, we wound up with some recommedations for titles to adapt (Invincible being among them). You’ll be able to see snippets of the presentation on Atlantis Fantasyworld’s site very soon; I’ll let you all know when it’s up.
I also have to give SERIOUS props to Joe Ferrara and his staff for making us feel so at home. Joe is one of the coolest people I’ve ever met in the comics industry (yes, retailing is an important aspect of it), and someone who loves his work almost as much as his customers love him. We’re already talking about a return appearance for his 35th Anniversary (on Wednesday new release day, no more pleasant Saturday afternoons if we can help it), and you better believe we’ll be there for him. I should add that another signing is in the works, this one for New York, co-inciding with the release of the collected hardcover, and again you will get plenty of advance notice through our handy-dandy blog.
If you find yourself in Santa Cruz, and you’re near Cedar Street, take a little time and visit AF. You will be very glad you did. Geoff wanted to move there.
November 6, 2010 Comments Off
What you are looking at is the realization of almost two years of work, following three years of projects started and stalled, hitting the wayside. Sometimes with little fanfare, sometimes violently. It happens. This one went through. To your left is Starstruck in compact disc form. The pay-per-MP3′s are also available; you can buy the download (in it’s handy-dandy Zip folder) through ZBS and the AudioComics store; and you purchase these lovely compact discs through ZBS (for retailers). By Thanksgiving, CD’s will be available through CD Baby, who will also carry downloads…along with iTunes, Amazon MP3, Zune, Rhapsody, Napster, etc. And we may have another CD distributor next year, but we’ll get to that when and if the time comes. Mind you, I’m saying “when” more than “if” these days, simply because we a) have a great product, because b) we have incredible talent behind it.
Now, this was also our “trial and error” period. Bill and I worked through timing issues, which we know now to avoid with subsequent Starstruck projects, with the forthcoming Men of Mystery series, and with the dozen-or-so projects we have in the pipeline. For now, we’re putting our energies toward promoting this first outing. CD Pre-orders have gone out, review copies are in the mail or on the reviewers’ iPods, we’re putting out our list of award shows to submit copies to together, WMPG is readying airtime for the radio debut, and already three other audio drama showcases across the country want dibs on the next airings.
And then there’s the release of the Starstruck hardcover March 1 of next year from IDW. The momentum won’t be stopping anytime soon. Cross-pollenization in the form of websites, t-shirts, signings, a special convention appearance in the works, and the postponed-but-will-happen live performance of the stage play in Florida. You will be seeing and hearing a lot more in the coming months, and it continues here: today, our good buddy Fred Greenhalgh posted a Starstruck special on his Radio Drama Revival! series, which you can download at the link. You get interviews from a very zonked Elaine and I (it was Sunday, after all), and you get two scenes of the play, but even better…you can see what we did.
And Brent Askari on why it’s fun playing a total bastard.