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3 things wrong with every screenplay

You’ve done the hard work on your screenplay: You’ve plotted, written, and rewritten it to as close to a near death experience as a screenplay can achieve, and yet it’s just not there yet. When those few amazing folks who actually DO read screenplays get back to you, they don’t have the kind of feedback you need. “How was it?” – “It was good.” – “What do you mean by ‘good’?” – “You know, I liked it.”

dude with russian

“It was far out, man…”

Rarely do we struggling screenwriters ever get the kind of feedback we need; someone to tell us just how badly we pooped the bed and where. Most people who read screenplays aren’t screenwriters, so they don’t have the insight needed to break the truth to you.

I can break that truth to you right now in three points, and it isn’t pretty:

(Or ‘What are the three things wrong with every screenplay?)

 

#1) No Inciting Incident.

Simplest mistake most screenwriters make. Depending on what source you subscribe to (and whether or not you’re a time traveller) the ‘inciting incident’ should appear no later than pg 12, ideally on pg 7, and in this modern era of Michael Bay edits and trick openings, some argue it needs to appear on pg 3. But what is it exactly? The inciting incident is the ‘call to action’ from Joseph Campbells’ assessment, only it applies to your whole story. The ‘Inciting Incident’ needs to mark the change from ‘regular, everyday life’ to the story your screenplay is telling. Without the inciting incident, the story doesn’t get moving, because there is no story to tell until it has come to pass. Princess Leia loading the Death Star plans into R2-D2? Inciting incident. (Without it, the Tantive IV is captured, the plans are retrieved, and ‘Rogue One’ was an ultimately pointless endeavour)  The (original) Ghostbusters encounter with the Library spook? Inciting Incident. (If not, they’d never have the ‘confirmation’ and data they need to prove that their ‘ghost catching’ theory can be applied to real life). In Die Hard, McLean’s choice to go to Holly’s work rather than meet her at home is what sets off his participation in the whole scenario = Inciting incident.

 

The inciting incident needs to be something that clearly defines where the change from the protagonists normal routine to the story you are telling occurs. In discussing a script with a client recently, we were trying to sort through where the inciting incident was in his script. He needed his protagonist to move from not having accesses to the resources he needed to having access to those resources and getting started on his quest. I told him that gaining access to those resources WAS his inciting incident, it just needed to be handled in a cinematic, interesting way. The client suggested that the protagonist could receive a phone call, letting him know he had access to those resources. I did my best to let the client know that unless it was the MOST EPIC PHONE CALL in movie history, that wasn’t going to cut it in terms of piquing the audience (and the readers’) interest. Simply having someone in your story say ‘Okay, go!’ isn’t enough for an inciting incident. The audience needs to know that after the ‘thing’ that starts it all, the protagonist’s world will never be the same again.

leia R2D2

“Wait, it says you’re rebooting. Okay, just need to complete these 74 adobe updates and then the inciting can begin!”

 

#2) Trying to do the Impossible

Working on a horror/thriller with another filmmaker. Got to the point where we needed to start developing the villains in the story, and my colleague became sidetracked by the notion that the villains shouldn’t be ‘villains’. They wanted to create richly three dimensional people whose actions were driven by deep seated motivations and beautifully crafted character moments. Great idea, great intention, wrong genre. When it comes to horror/thriller’s, the villains are integral, but not in the way the main-body characters are. My colleague wanted to place a dramatically developed set of villains into the story, yet wondered why they weren’t meshing with the horror world we were trying to create. Villains require thought and depth, for sure, but they need to operate as per the genre you’re working in. If they’re as three dimensional and sympathetic as the protagonists, what you probably have is a drama, not a horror/thriller.

Working on another crime feature with a writer/director, I learned that it was their intention to ‘switch’ protagonists by the third act, turning who you THOUGHT the protagonist was into the antagonist, and raising a supporting character to the protagonist role. When I asked the writer/director if they could think of ANY examples from existing films where this kind of approach worked, they weren’t able to produce any. (Hitchcock’s ‘Psycho’ is the only example that comes to mind, and this writer/director was no Hitchcock.) This isn’t about telling writers not to be original, far from it, but it IS about making sure they understand the structure and boundaries of what they are trying to do. If you want to make a horror movie, make a horror movie. If you want to make a cop drama, make a cop drama, but don’t try to make it the most ‘thoughtful, in depth examination of the nature of horror between human and monster’ if that’s not what the story is really about. Know your style, know your genre. People upend the status quo when they strike upon something truly unique and inspirational, not when they set out to show everyone just how creative they are. Cliches exist and work for a reason. Use them.

pony death

“Then Rainbow Dash claimed the EVIL Allspark, and knew from that moment her desire to make the greatest pie in the world for her dying mother could not be stopped by mere mortality.”

 

#3) Your Protagonist sucks

Seriously, they probably do. Creating an intriguing protagonist is easily the hardest part of any of this, not because people can’t do it, but because they often don’t realize they have to. I finished a TV pilot a short while back that involved a very much ‘fish out of water’ protagonist with a big secret in their backstory. The main idea was to keep the audience guessing until the 3rd episode reveal of the protagonists big secret. I was so proud of how I interwove the ‘truth’ of this character versus the deception of the feint I was trying to employ, and I awaited praise for my amazing talents from my readers. The result? Turns out my protagonist was the LEAST drawn of all the ensemble. My attempts to keep details mysterious/hidden left the character feeling flat and empty. A great friend of mine pointed out that if the audience KNEW what the big secret was from the start, even if the other characters didn’t know, that would go a long way to generating tension and suspense in their interactions. I was sabotaging exactly what I was trying to do, thinking I was being clever.

But how did I get to the end of a 74 pg TV pilot without realizing this? My protagonist participated in action, drove the plot and made critical decisions all exactly where she was supposed to.  The story that happens around her is big, bold, full of action and peril, but the readers didn’t connect with her. Because I, the writer, knew what her deal was, and I saw all the ways she interacted with the other characters and plot, I completely missed the fact that others who don’t know her deal couldn’t connect with her. I thought my protagonist was the bomb, but she still needed work.

I see this problem, and the flip side of a totally boring protagonist, very often. Scripts that come from ‘a big idea’ or ‘a theme I really want to talk about’ usually have the ‘boring protagonist’ problem: Because the story is so much more about ‘what happens’ rather than ‘who it happens to’. If you’re Star Wars, it’s easy to get away with a boring protagonist (Yes, Luke Skywalker is NOT all that interesting. He’s a whiny farm kid who gets caught up in galactic politics. Good thing everyone and everything else around him is pretty damn amazing, because otherwise the ‘Luke Skywalker: A Star Wars Story’ movie would be a true snore. Now if you’re writing something that involves space-travel, laser weapons, rich world building and space-magic, you can probably get away with having a somewhat dull protagonist. But even THEN, you should STILL try, because you’re doing your work a disservice otherwise. Story comes from character, and if your character is a throwaway or not really important, then your story is probably the same. If the character is interesting, the audience will be on board with almost ANYTHING you want to do.

luke sucks

Just think of Jordan Belfort in ‘The Wolf of Wallstreet’. He’s a greedy, womanizing, profiteering criminal, but the audience loves him. Why? Because he’s interesting. Because we all know someone like him, who will take all the credit and reward but never their share of the responsibility or blame. He doesn’t let the world of high-finance tell his story, he IS the story. What about the ‘The Narrator’ in ‘Fight Club’ (Spoiler alert: The Narrator is Tyler Durden. Ed Norton is Tyler Durden.) He’s a useless, hopeless schmuck, yet the audience relates to how comfortably pathetic he is, especially in the beginning. He is the true ‘everyperson’ the story needs, and is captivating in how much he wants to change his life, without knowing anything about how to do it. How about Ellen Ripley in ‘Alien’? She’s a career crewhand like the rest of her co-workers, but while John Hurt and Yaphet Kotto argue about how much they’re going to make from their latest haul, Ripley is concerned with protocol, following the rules. Normally this would NOT be the sign of an excellent protagonist, but when compared to the other cast membes, Ripley’s moral compass stands out. (And if they had all listened to her and kept Kane, Dallas and Lambert OUTSIDE the Nostromo Lander for 24 hours, the alien would’ve never made it inside and the entire franchise wouldn’t exist – unless you presuppose the events of ‘Prometheus’ have already happened, in which case…)

 

Even if the rest of your film is terrible, the audience will remember a good protagonist. Take time and care crafting yours. You won’t regret it.

Was this unbelievably helpful? Head on over to the Screenwriting Services tab on my website and find out what OTHER kinds of help I am happy to provide.

Writers conquer the world, one story at a time.

BABY DRIVER & GLOW: The FUN is back!

Quick – Desert island, all time, top three favourite movies:

  1. Ghostbusters (1984) – There’s just no question.
  2. Charlies Angels (2000) – Shut up. It’s an awesome movie. I’ll write a blog about it one day and prove it.
  3. L.A. Story (1991) – With a score of 94% on Rotten Tomatoes it seems this film is being appreciated more and more as it ages.

(You would think the request itself would imply that High Fidelity should be on that list, but it just doesn’t have the cojones to stand up to those three power-houses)

What kind of snap, blanket, stereotypical judgements can we make from a list like this? They’re all comedies, pre 9/11 films. Two were written by the main actors. Two are ensembles. One has Richard E. Grant (swoon!)

richard e grant [He’s wearing a scarf and dgaf about it. That man is STEEL.]

In my mind at least, there is ONE factor that truly unites those three films: They’re all ‘FUN’. Uproarious, hilarious, high-paced Eff-You-Enn FUN! Ghostbusters is one inept scientist and his overachieving friends (also scientists) who use quantum physics to capture ghosts. It is equal parts scary and hilarious, and contains some of the most epic ad-libs and improvisations ever captured on film.

Venkman: Egon, this reminds me of the time you tried to drill a hole in your head, remember that?

Spangler: That would’ve worked if you hadn’t stopped me.

hole in the head

Ad-libbed. At least Ramis’ part. Hi-fucking-larious. Ghostbusters is a film that never takes itself too seriously, at the same time as it demands to be taken authentically.  It’s humour, special effects, frights and action all rolled in to one. Most fun I ever have sitting to watch a movie.

Charlie’s Angel’s, though?

Charlies angels.

Kinda in the same vein, except this is a film that makes sure you know from the opening sequence that you CAN NOT take it seriously. You will be very disappointed if you do. McG’s Charlie’s Angels is pure spectacle, and it never apologizes for this. It contains characters with comically complicated personal lives whose independent actions actually shape the course of the story, yet is dismissed as cheap action fare by most. It makes great use of music (ensuring that no film ever again will be able to use The Prodigy’s ‘Smack My Bitch Up’ on a soundtrack without invoking THIS scene.), stages several incredible action sequences and is thorougly enjoyable from start to finish.

L.A. Story?

roller skates in museum

Steve Martin demonstrates the ONLY way to visit a modern art museum. I mean seriously, what else do you need to know about this movie, other than Richard E Grant is in it, it features an intelligent freeway sign and has Sarah Jessica Parker in arguably her greatest role? It’s great. It’s 27 years old. Watch it.

‘FUN’s is my hallmark, it’s what I look for in my entertainment, because by my reckoning, entertainment is for enjoyment, and enjoyment is fun.

In the past I’ve pitched a few stories and concepts to people, and one of the bits of feedback I continue to get is “That sounds a little too ‘fun’ for what we’re looking for.”

Que? REALLY? Who’s pitching these ‘dull’ ideas that are apparently so desirable? I’m not sure about most everyone else, but I definitely don’t pick a movie thinking ‘Good, this’ll be a nice and boring time.’ (Okay, maybe I had that in mind when I went to see ‘Tinker/Tailer/Soldier/Spy’ and I was not disappointed. Love that movie BTW, but it’s about as far away from ‘Fun’ as one can get.)

Maybe it’s my idea of ‘Fun’ that’s the problem. I know some people prefer reality over fantasy. I know some people like deep, heartfelt stories over spectacle. I know that some people simply don’t identify with fringe characters, creative plotting or excessive editing. I feel bad for those people.

I spend a great deal of time talking with other writers and wannabe filmmakers (and a few REAL filmmakers) shooting the poop and talking movies/TV 24/7. Talking about a script the other day, I pointed out that this gritty, reality based crime drama needed a showdown, a scene where the anti-hero and the antagonist finally came together for some sharp dialogue, perhaps while stalking each other through the dark at the end of guns, in a factory of smoke & flame?

The response: “It’s not meant to be THAT kind of movie.”

What ‘kind’ of movie is that exactly? Another writer made the pitch to me the other day (which comes from Mamet or some other such skilled writer) that to simply have two characters who disagree, that makes your scene, that is drama. To tell a convincing story inside that construct, two character sitting across from each other, having a disagreement, is truly dramatic. I reply with ‘Yes. Now put both of those characters on a plane, set the plane on FIRE, and you have a movie.’

It’s called a ‘Motion Picture’ for a reason. It needs to move, it needs to be kinetic. It needs to have a life beyond dialogue. Of course there are exceptions: ‘Glengarry/Glenross’ is a fantastic examination of the social male heirarchy and of the capitalist whitling away of the dedicated worker, told almost entirely on one set through dialogue. ‘Hard Candy’ is similar, an almost-play staged as a movie. And these are both fantastic films.

Fantastic films with a small reach, small audience and small objectives. In my world, story, drama and character are BIG things. Big concepts, big emotions, big actions.

Hallelujah for what has come to us.

poster baby driver

If you haven’t flocked with the masses to the theatre to see ‘Baby Driver’ yet, you are a disappointment to me and every filmmaker who wants to entertain with fun and humour. This movie is AMAZEDOGS. Go and see it. Seriously.

…(waiting for you to see the movie)…

Wasn’t that GREAT!?! It’s a high paced adventure from start to finish. Every character is memorable in their own right, every scene carefully crafted to match the chosen song, and every stunt is real. It’s easily my most favourite movie of this year, and the best time I’ve had at the theatres all summer. I personally live a world with a constant raging soundtrack, and I’ve always envisioned this translated into the films I write. Everything has music in mind, a beat or mood that permeates beyond just filling the soundtrack. In ‘Raptor Pink’ Astrid raids a Human trafficking operation in a stunning spectacle of militarized poi and gymnastics, all while blasting Madeon’s ‘Icarus’ in her ears and on the soundtrack. ‘Monogamish’ opens with a beautiful dance number set to FUTURECOP!’s ‘Superheroes‘ that still warms by heart. And I have epic plans for Dance With The Dead’s (feat. Kristine) ‘Power‘ in the BRIDGEHEAD prequel series. Treating music as an integral element of the plot, rather than window dressing after the fact, always gets my attention.

‘Baby Driver’ came from visionary brit Edgar Wright, a man who has consistently produced hilariously entertaining fare, at least in my book. ‘Shaun of the Dead’ is a modern classic, and  ‘Hot Fuzz’ should be. ‘Paul’ is better than it deserves to be, and ‘At World’s End’ is highly underrated. Now he’s topped himself with a salute to humour, action and all the fun intensity of why we head to the movies. ‘Baby Driver’ isn’t weighed down by overwrought themes. It’s not saddled with a deeply tortured protagonist faced with an impossible choice. It’s about heists and driving very fast through Atlanta. There is romance between Debora and Baby that is so believable and yet still dramatically presented, because I pretty sure nobody in real life meets and courts the way they do.

The movie is about enjoying your two hours, and does that by providing you with a compelling plot, interesting characters and a heavy dash of motion picture spectacle, beacuse when you have the chance to be exciting AND dramatic, you’ve made yourself an excellent film.

how is he not Han Solo

And I mean seriously, look at Ansel Elgort. HOW IS HE NOT THE NEW HAN SOLO!?!?! Everything about him in this movie just SCREAMS that he’s a no-good smuggler with a heart of gold. Somewhere along the line somewhere, a casting director missed their big chance.

Which brings us to the other side of this coin:

GLOW

One of the newest arrivals from Netflix is also one of thier best. ‘GLOW’ doesn’t plummet down a dramatic rabbit-hole the way another female centred Netflix show (OITNB *cough*cough*) has tended to do. GLOW thrusts the audience into the 80’s and demands that you enjoy yourself. It achieves this by generating truly entertaining and unique characters, building a stylized enviroment for them to interact in, and then lets the story unfold.

“You mean, like this?”

the getdown

Whoops, sorry. That description also fits my OTHER favourite Netflix original. It’ll get it’s own post once I’ve finished it.

‘GLOW’ is a comedy with dramatic leanings, for sure, but the drama is never the primary motivator. Alison Brie’s Ruth Wilder is a fantastic protagonist because we both want her to succeed and we feel comfortable laughing at her failures at the same time. Ruth takes herself more seriously than anyone, which serves as a kind of effective innoculation against sillyness in this title.

Because let’s call it like it is: Wrestling is pretty silly. I’m not disrespecting the performers, they do things on a regular basis that would kill most typical humans and I completely respect the effort and skill they put into their performances, but it IS a little silly. The stereotypes, the soap opear stories, the insane aggressive bravado. Even in calling it ‘silly’ I’m not trying to slight it, merely place it in context with my ideas of storytelling as a whole. GLOW gives the audience the chance to be part of a well structured and hilarious journey through the world of professional wrestling, while also providing social commentary on how women are treated now versus 35 years ago.

heel

I mean, make no mistake, but GLOW is about standing up for women’s rights, women’s empowerment and their fair share in the world. GLOW plays off the social inequalities of the 80’s using a modern perspective in a way that lets the audience laugh at the ridiculousness of sexism and bigotry, while making sure it’s understood that these are forces we all combat, even today.

But it tells this tale with colourful outfits, hilarious mismatching of characters and ugly developments meant to pull at our heartstrings. Unlike OITNB there are no darkly dangerous moments, no real threat to life or limb. The characters move from one difficult situation to another, but there is a sense of enjoyment and ease that follows them. GLOW has a lot to say, and uses its sense of ‘Fun’ and adventure to make sure we never find that story too heavy.

So FUN is back. And I am thrilled by this. I want to see more and more titles move in this direction. We labour under expansive cinematic universes and grim storytelling, full of horror, pain and duplicity. Sometimes it’s great to be able to sit down, ready to watch something, and be excited for the ride we’re about to take. Like a roller coaster.

Imagine a play performed where the audience is on a rollercoaster? Now THAT would be something.

Honeycomb, ‘Trek & the Dudeist faith…

Things have changed, and they will never be the same again. Something from my childhood has been irreperably altered and I may never be able to return it to its original form. The forces of modernity and progress have claimed another victim, and a great chapter of our world passes into dust at this moment…

If you think I’m lamenting the new ‘Trek TV show, you’re wrong. But somehow it fits into this great statement my brain is trying to make. No, I’m not frightened about the state of ‘Trek and what Star Trek: Discovery is going to do it. No, I’m not a luddite fighting the pace of progress. No, I did not see your daughter there when I was pulling out of the driveway and I would like to point out maybe she was standing there because she LIKES having her feet run over by a Hyundai Accent. I’m not your daughter, I don’t know what goes through her head.

girl and car

(not pictured: A Hyundai Accent)

What I’m talking about today is going to have a lasting knock-on effect to every man, woman and child (who enjoyed Post’s ‘Honeycomb’ cereal). What I’m talking about today is a sign of the times a million measures stronger than Harry Styles or his musical career. What I’m talking about today goes to the very heart of what I care about and why I care about it.

I’m talking about how Post has changed ‘Honeycomb’ cereal. Just look at the title image. LOOK AT IT! On the left is the classic, old school rondell of carbs and artificial honey flavouring known as ‘Honeycomb’. Much like the Big Red Book That Won’t Fit On A Shelf, Honeycomb was always that outsized cereal box that sat in your cabinet, dwarfing the Lucky Charms, Froot Loops or (god forbid) the Alphabits…

[Sidebar: If you’re an Alphabits or Pro-Stars fan, I respect your choices, but question your taste in artificially flavoured children’s breakfast treats]

Honeycomb was the kind of cereal that was always there, morning or night. Each morning you could come down and rest assured that there was probably enough left in that big red box for one more bowl – that big red box seemed almost endless to a 10 year old. And at night, when you snuck downstairs after Mom & Dad were asleep to watch ‘Politically Incorrect w/ Bill Maher’ (All the kids did that right? It wasn’t just me?) there would STILL be some cereal left for you to go hard, elbow deep in carbs as midnight rolled around. While not my favourite cereal (That is a yet-to-be-fought cage-match between Cap’n Crunch and Froot Loops, but I can’t offer a purse large enough to entice both parties to the breakfast table.) Honeycomb has always been a stalwart standby, tasty and non-objectionable, ready to serve as an early morning wake me up or a late night way of defeating your calorie count. So imagine my surprise the other week when I encountered this:

honeycomb

As stated previously, on the left is the originator, the OG Honeycomb. On the right is the ‘new w/ more honey flavour!’ Honeycomb.

They changed it. New processes, new machines, new Honeycomb. But the ‘same great taste’ so they claimed. We will see about that.

I’m sure there’s a factory somewhere with a bunch of old Honeycomb machines now rusting and rotting out back, replaced by WiFi digital Twittered Instagramming machines that connect to the internet and waste half their day playing Minecraft. It’s a sign, a symbol of progress right? The center can no longer hold, and the new Honeycomb will come slouching towards Bethlehem waiting to be born…

Let’s back up a bit. Who remembers these?

C3P0s

80’s babies remember that cereal. I know I did. Ate it religiously as a child while it was available. It was my first real exposure to Star Wars, especially the stickers that came in the boxes, confusing me as a child by calling ‘Return Of The Jedi’ Star Wars 6 even though even this dumb kid could count to three (now reading was a different matter…) For decades after it went out of print (pressing? What do you call it when they discontinue a cereal? Cereal Murder?) I obsessed about that taste, knowing I’d never be able to recapture it, since that magic combination of oats and honey that WASN’T the Bees property was nowhere to be found. Until some connection in my brain went off telling me that in fact, C3P0’s were Honeycomb, just in a wacko shape. (Note: It seems all the C3P0’s presses were actually shipped to Australia, since they have a cereal brand there that still holds the classic ‘figure 8’ shape – Nutri-Grain it’s called, and it sits in your bowels like thermo-crete.) What a revelation! After that Honeycomb became a mainstay, part of recapturing my magical childhood where TV reigned supreme, there were diamonds to be dug out of my backyard and the local playground was the Millennium Falcon. Finally I was able to reach out and grab something I thought was lost to me forever.

And then they go and change it. Bastards. You wrecked my goddamend Honeycomb. How could you, you heartless monsters!?! I’m sure the executives at Post are just the laziest bunch of assholes you could ever imagine, sitting around, collecting paycheques, not knowing a thing about cereal or what it means to those who eat it. They’re just greedy fat cats only in it for the money, didn’t you know?

“But Steve,” asks the voice I keep on hand to ask me prompting questions, “What did the new Honeycomb TASTE like?”

Who the fuck cares what it TASTES like! Who are you on-hand voice, the integrity police? It probably tastes like Magog’s taint mixed with cilantro. Maybe cow manure processed in a meth lab. What the hell does it matter what it tastes like, when they’ve gone and ruined everything ELSE about Honeycomb that made it amazing? Like its… colour… and dimensions I guess? Shut up. This is an outrage. I’m so mad I could piss glue. Seriously. First a pumpkin king president and now this? Heads will roll, like the song insists.

Okay, fine. I’ll try this ‘new and improved’ Honeycomb. When I go off the rails bitching about how awful it is, I should probably be able to outline just why it’s such an offence to humanity. So here we go, we’re gonna try it.

cereal bowl

[Note: No photo’s seem to exist of the new cereal as yet, so just imagine the Honeycomb in this image smaller, yellow, and full of suck]

Fuck. Tastes pretty much the same. (Caveat: Not 100%, there is a reduction in relative mouth-feel that tells you this IS NOT the Honeycomb you grew up with. Guess new millennial hipsters can’t replicate everything!) Not completely, but enough that any wind in my ‘Honeycombs are the end of civilization’ rant was sucked from my sails. They changed a cereal I loved to accomodate modern manufacturing and production techniques, and they managed to do so without compromising the taste or overall experience. Go fig.

So this put me on to thinking about something else…

st disc

Points for finding a way to link breakfast cereal to ‘Trek.

Trek os

Ignore that.

This fall Star Trek: Disccovery will make it to CBS All Access and spread through the rest of the world. It’s a modern, contemporary take on the age old half-a-century franchise, with a fancy new look, made with current technology and current methods, with an eye towards telling stories in a faster paced, more intense market place. What Post did with my Honeycomb, CBS is doing to ‘Trek.

And I’m excited. I’m well aware there’s a ‘fan’ contingent out there (and I use the term only in its ‘fanatical’ sense, along the same lines as ‘extremism’) that is absolutely against this version of ‘Trek, I deal with their mouth spewing online almost daily.

shit

I do align, or frankly, understand these ‘fans’. Sure, not every ‘Trek is for everyone, and people have favourites. I know a few folks who simly aren’t down with the sci-fi hokiness of Voyager, or the drab political commentary or DS9, or the first three seasons of Enterprise, but they choose what they like from ‘Trek and don’t worry to much about the rest. I encourage everyone to be like them: If you don’t like something, you don’t share or participate in it. That’s simple. I’m not the type to say everyone NEEDS to love every ‘Trek (but I do, and that makes me better than you) but I encourage its constructive enjoyment on all levels.

But then I deal with people screaming for a boycott, whinging about set design and wishing that the show will fail (for real, I know) before it’s even aired. They cry out that this show violates established canon and is therefore more useless than a fifth controller for a gamecube. Being the all knowing, all comprehending LORD OF ‘TREK that I am, I’ve found myself able to easily dispell and quiet any ‘canon’ arguments out of the gate. IMLO (In My Lofty Opinion) the show appears to be set to do a fine job of giving us new ‘Trek while still belonging in the original Prime timeline.

“But their uniforms don’t match those from ‘The Cage!'” they whine:

riker and janeway

Wow. That’s a picture of two active duty Starfleet officers  from the same timeline wearing DIFFERENT UNIFORMS ON DIFFERENT SHIPS!!! Who on Earth thought that was okay!?! Outrageous.

“But they didn’t use different emblems for each ship, like in TOS.”

Explanation is not as neat, but just as effective: The Starfleet delta/arrowhead has been seen in numerous locales and on ships long before this era, especially during Enterprise’s run. The occam’s razor explanation is that each constitution class starship of the era was assigned a different logo as part of a Starfleet change in procedure, but this was abandoned as too problematic logistically a few decades later.

[For nerd reference, The United Earth Space Probe Agency’ was active as early as 2067, so at the tail end of Word War III]

“How can there be a female captain when Dr. Janice Lester said that Kirk’s world of starship captains ‘Didn’t allow for women'”? This argument is stupid. Plain and simple. First off, Dr Janice Lester was a psychopath and she was talking to Kirk about her relationship with him, anything she says should be relegated to the ramblings of a mad-woman. Furthermore, Enterprise showed us that Starfleet DOES have female captains as early as the mid 22nd century…

erika hernandez

I present you Capt. Erika Hernandez, skipper of the Columbia, NX-02, Starfleets SECOND warp 5 ship. Screen canon beats an offhand remark anyday.

“But the Klingons!” Yeah, they’ve changed Klingon makeup in the new show. Some speculate these may be a diffrent community or breed of Klingon. I personally couldn’t care. They changed the Klingon makeup in 1979, ’87, ’93 and ’09 and now ’17, and probably will again when makeup improves once more and all of our TV’s are 16K.  A cosmetic change to an alien race on a show that hasn’t been on TV for 13yrs is inconsequential at worst, and an amazing godsend at best.

“The writers/producers all suck! They don’t care about ‘Trek or the fans at all! If they did they wouldn’t be so lazy and get it right. All they want to do is rape ‘Trek and make money.” Goes the STUPIDEST process of reasoning I have ever come across. I hear a lot of armchair first officers bitching about the new ‘Trek , but you know who I DON’T hear complaining about the limited amount of information on the new show? Creators. Writers. Directors. Producers. The people who actually know what goes into making a show, giving it mass appeal, producing it on a budget and trying to make it the very best it can be. Unless you’re Brett Ratner, you care wholeheartedly about the project you’re working on. In the industry it’s simple math – People who hate what they’re working on usually don’t end up actually working on it. There are so many hard working, hungry professionals out there that there simply isn’t room in television production for ‘lazy people’ who only want to ‘make a paycheque’. The people who make this argument are the ones with the LEAST undestanding of making television, and irony of them spouting off as experts on something they are certainly not is never lost on me.

Because I couldn’t care about their bullshit. I’m not saying Discovery is going to be the greatest ‘Trek ever, because I don’t know, because it hasn’t aired yet. I’m hoping it’ll be great, and EVERYTHING I’ve seen up to now fits that assumption, but I figure before I go and start praising it, I should SEE it. Until then, I will abide.

the dude

Meaning it’s time for a lesson from my other faith, the one I am ordained in. Dudeism. There was a time when I cared THE HELL out of canon and upmost accuracy. This was also a time where I thought a whole show about a war with the Borg would be an amazing achievement. “It would be so cool!” I’d preach to my friends in high school. “If they really cared, they could put like a $1 million into every episode and REALLY give us something spectacular” I would say, terribly naive to the fact that each episode of any contemporary ‘Trek ALREADY cost more an $1 million to make, as if the money was what made it good. I was that guy once, when I was kid. But as I am no longer a child I put away childish assumptions and thoughts. I used to be uptight and rigid. Rules were rules, man. Disorder was chaos.

And then my body got older, and my experiences began to pile up. I learned how damaging hard-line, fundamentalist attitudes were not just to others but to myself as well. I needed to chill the fuck out. I needed to find a new way to enjoy the treasures from my past without letting them make me apoplectic about the future.

I watched The Big Lebowski countless times through University and years after, and found a new way to look at life – through the eyes of an unemployed underachiever, my spirit animal, my doppleganger. The one, the only, DUDE.

dude 2

I connected with something in The Dude which had eluded me my entire life – I was finally presented with a ‘hero’ and example who wasn’t the quintessential action man, person of action. The Dude is the opposite, because that’s like far out and everything.

Relating and embracing The Big Lebowski made a difference to many things in my life, my hardcore nerdism was only one element that needed guidance. As I stopped trying to direct every aspect of life and instead decided to follow a single path and wind up where it led me, I became a far happier, more enlightened person.

TBL isn’t an effective guide on how most should lead their lives. I know my wife would appreciate it if I found a different role model, but it wasn’t the free time or the ‘just above the poverty line’ residence I wanted. It was the peace the Dude had in his life. His world is literally just as he wants it, just as he created it. The Dude had no need for stress, demand or expectations, so he decided to live a life where those things were a non-issue for him. He didn’t care about wealth or power. He cared about his fucking rug that really held the room together. The Dude’s world was his own, and no one could take that from him.

So I followed that example. I wanted to be a screenwriter, so I started to live the life of one, and I’ve never looked back. I didn’t wait for someone to approve of my choice or even for myself to feel ‘ready’ for it. I just took the plunge. I wanted a life where my creativity was my meal ticket, where I could bust my ass for days working behind a computer and yet still wake up with The Price Is Right and go to bed after The Daily Show. So many people want so much out of life, but never bother to actually go and get it. They think they need to accumulate approval from their current life to leverage that into the life they want, and they’ll die trying to gather enough approval to get there. I saw the Dude, realized he had it figured out, and simply wanted to emulate the stark beauty I saw there.

Old Steve would’ve freaked out over the change in Honeycombs. The Dude instead abides. They’re good Honeycomb, Steve. Even if they don’t look the same. Even if they aren’t made the same, they TASTE the same. Same effect, same product, through different means. Almost as if the people in charge of Honeycomb knew they needed to modernize and update, yet took care to ensure that their product did not fall short of its fans expectations. Think maybe this is a metaphor for Star Trek: Discovery?

wow

The leader of the faithful does.

M*A*S*H – ‘Requiem For a Lightweight’/’Chief Surgeon Who?’

{‘Audit Season’ is a segment where I break down my personal experiences and the world building details of a property. Each entry contains my musing on the world building nature of the segments as well as how these stories affected my life.}

‘Requiem for a Lightweight’ – airdate 1st Oct ’72

Director – Hy Averback

Writer – Robert Klane

Hawkeye & trapper & cutler

Now I don’t often do a recap in my writing (just go and watch the damn episodes yourselves, they’re less than 25min long. Do the laundry or something while you watch them, be productive instead of sitting around all day waiting for bloggers to explain 45yr old TV show episodes to you) but I figured I’d give it a go here, just for fun:

“Hawkeye & Trapper find a new toy they want to play with, but can’t agree to share. Margarent sees the toy is distracting them, and tries to take the toy away. The only way Henry will prevent Hawkeye & Trapper from having their toy taken away by Margaret is if they agree to let this become the ‘Boxing episode’, so they do.”

Wow, that WAS easy. And anyone who’s seen and remembers the episode knows I’ve left out one incredibly important part – the ‘toy’ Hawkeye & Trapper are in competition over is Nurse Cutler, played deftly by Marcia Strassman. Now I swear I won’t let each and every audit of M*A*S*H episodes devolve into a finger wagging over blatant sexism, but it’s hard not to point it out here. Cutler is literally treated like a commodity, a prize for Hawkeye & Trapper to compete over. Her thoughts or opinions on her assignment and the attention of the two senior doctors are never explored beyond her mild desire to stay around these two dashing doctors who are just, gosh darn it, so good to her. Margaret doesn’t make things better when her solution to the doctors near harassment of Cutler amounts to sending her away. Now on one hand I try to understand, this IS the Army, and individuals need to be prepared to be re-assigned as part of the job, but through our modern lense we see another woman’s desires and objectives being sidelined by the lascivious wishes of the surgeons.

Now in the M*A*S*H universe, we know that the primary method of addressing this issue, Houlihan dressing down Hawkeye & Trapper for their distracting ways and making them respect her ‘authoritay’ is not going to happen, so the comedy needs to emerge from another source.

Image result for respect my authority gif

Hawkeye & Trapper are not written as characters who will take Margaret seriously, so the accepted understanding we have in our modern age of asking men to be responsible for their interactions with women needs to be put aside. Hawkeye & Trapper want something Margaret doesn’t want them to have. They need to convince Henry to go along with what they want, so he extorts them. All over the assignment of one nurse. Hilarity ensues!

And it does, once you get out of the first part of the episode. Once the boxing story is introduced, it becomes an episode of M*A*S*H I recognize. In fact, this is the FIRST episode in the audit that I distinctly remember watching as I grew up. This episode is chock full of the one-liners and word-play that I know shaped my sense of humour as a child. Things as simple as Radar describing the General’s boxer: “If he wanted to, he could be a platoon.” Or when McIntyre asks what happend to the individual who boxed last year “She’s gone!”

trapper boxing

Which leads to me another interesting point about sexims from this episode: In 1972 that joke about the female boxer would’ve landed because it was absurd. “A female boxer?” You might ask (as I frantically google ‘history female boxers’) “No such thing, just another bit of ludicrousity from the 4077” But watching the show today, that joke has a whole different meaning. There’s nowhere near the same stigma and ignorance around women’s sport today as there was 45yrs ago, yet the implication that in a major military unit fighting in a conventional war, the toughest boxer on site is still a woman, makes me chuckle. I take it as subtle dig at the passiveness and pacifism of the male characters in the show, since Hawkeye & Trapper are both lovers not fighters (as is evidenced by Trapper’s boxing abilities) Mulcahey (wearing William Christopher’s skin for the first time!) is a priest, Burns is an unequivocal weenie, and Blake is a hapless mess.

mulcahey

What a great segway into Colonel Blake! Henry is quickly becoming my most favourite character on this show, I’m sure I never gave him a fair shot in all the years prior. He’s overworked, underqualified and yet still manages to ‘command’ his camp. A good point was made that despite Henry being a complete pushover, he’s still in charge of the 4077, and him slamming the door on Hawkeye & Trapper over Cutler is a great example of this. I’m also in love with his monologue to himself after he first realizes Radar has had him sign half a dozen blank sheets of paper “…to save time.” His soliloquy is amazing considering that it runs under someone elses dialogue and was probably obscured by the laughtrack (if I bothered to listen to that format of the show). What I love most about Blake is how he is both inept and still capable. He couldn’t care less about how the camp is run, as long as it’s run. This makes him APPEAR to be a witless fool, but lets not mistake a lack of finesse for a lack of care. Henry is deeply devoted to the camp he runs and the people in it, evidenced by just how much shit he lets them get away with on a regular basis. The only times we ever see Henry get uptight are when the camp and its workings are threatened. His response to general Barker’s appeal for a boxer is one such instance, since if Henry were to outright decline or refuse, the 4077 would come under greater scrutiny from the General, thus putting its bizarre and manic workings under a much greater microscope than it needs. He is on the side of Hawkeye & Trapper so long as their antics do not threaten the “smooth” operation of his little domain. It’s this kind of pre-dudeist mellow that also allows me to push past Henry’s infidelity.

Blake & general

Though it’s never made a focus, Henry is indeed married. So far his wife has received little if any mention, but she does exist. For several episodes we’ve seen Henry involved in potentially compromising positions for a married man, but these are played off for humour, as so much of the sexist philandering in this show is. Ultimately M*A*S*H was made in the 70’s, a time of major socio-sexual revolution in America, and the laissez faire attitude about infidelity is a sign of the times. In that sense, I see Henry as far less of a pursuant, (unlike Hawkeye & Trapper) and more of someone prepared to make the ‘best of a situation’ when it came to the potential affections of women nurses under his… command. Oh crap, just stepped in another problem…

Won’t go there now, but I will use the previous discussion to outline a larger issue with a more prominent character: ‘Trapper’ John McIntyre is also married. And this is a bigger problem as far as the show is concerned when it comes to empathy for Trapper. In order for this story to work, we need to pit our two lead males against each other, however in any conventional situation, it’s clear who between them should be the primary suitor of nurse Cutler: Hawkeye. Trapper is married, and this has been in the forefront from the pilot episode, yet he pursues nurse Cutler in the same manner a single man would, competing with Hawkeye for her affections. As fun and humour as this is, it hurts our appreciation of Trapper because we as the contemporary audience are actively watching him pursue a morally objectionable act. If this was Rescue Me or Mad Men we would be able to understand his actions in the broader context of a complicated, flawed character, but Hawk & Trap are meant to be the good guys, we’re meant to relate and empathize to them and their need to flaunt authority in the face of horror, but this simple act pushes Trapper back a step. What I come away with, I’m not sure about others, is that Trapper is a great surgeon, a practical joker and a blast at parties, but he may not be the most moralistic or reliable friend. He’s the kind of mate you love to hang around with, but ultimately wouldn’t trust with your money or the task of picking you up from the airport.

 

‘Chief Surgeon Who???’ – airdate 8th Oct ’72

Director – E.W. Swackhammer (dibs on coverband name)

Writer – Larry Gelbart

emperor hawkeye

Among the first of the M*A*S*Hiest of M*A*S*H episodes, this is the one that clarifies just who the very best surgeon in the 4077 (hint: it’s Hawkeye) while setting us up with a third-act premise that M*A*S*H will return to time and time again.

What am I blathering about exactly? Let’s take some time to get there, because I have a word count I’m trying to hit and I don’t like my audits of different episodes to be different lenghts. This episode holds one of my favourite writing convetions, mainly technobabble. I grew up watching ‘Trek (surprise!) so I have a healthy ear for the techno sounding nonsense the characters need to spout to each other when talking about the future world they live in. The term ‘technobabble’ was coined to explain and provide context to this highly structured (but most often nonsensical) way of conveying information to the audience without them actually knowing what you’re talking about. “Rerouting the phase emitters and polarizing the secondary junction shunt should return power to your primary energizer coils!” Says Scotty/LaForge/O’Brien/Torres/Trip whoever, and the ‘Trek audience buys it because we know those words are supposed to mean SOMETHING in context with the universe. In M*A*S*H here we get an excellent example of surgerybabble between Spearchucker (He’s still here, wow) and Hawkeye. It sounds technical, and since I’ve watched ‘HOUSE MD.’ 3 and 1/2 times I’m pretty much a medical technician myself so I grasp what it is they’re communicating to each other, and this scene is used to put Frank Burns on the outside by demonstrating that HE doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Even though the audience is in the same boat as him, it appears to that much more inept because the other characters illustrate how thin his understanding is of the subject matter.

Now of course shows like M*A*S*H, HOUSE MD., Grey’s Anatomy and others have medical consultants on staff who fill in the surgerybabble with applicable and plausible phrasing, (but not on Scrubs, everything on that show that wasn’t Eliza Coupe was a hackjob not worth noting… [then whey did you note it, jackass?]) so unlike ‘Trek it’s not made up by the production designers, the language has a real-life beyond the confines of TV. I grew up knowing a lot of medical terms, what hemorrhage was, what a hematoma was, what tachycardia meant, and was always confused later in life when people were unaware of these medical terms. Guess I need to thank M*A*S*H for A) making me seem like a pretty smart kid when I was 10 and B) making sure my exhaustive knowledge of 70’s surgical terminology made me look like a complete loser when I was 17.

henrys office

So Hawkeye is the new chief surgeon! Hooray! Never mind that in the original novel and film that Trapper was made chief surgeon. The reason for such a change probably had something to do with the charisma and marketability of Alan Alda over Wayne Rogers (but they both so dreamy…) but it does lay the foundation for Rogers leaving in later seasons, feeling that Alda’s Hawkeye was receiving the ‘lead actor’ treatment on a show that was intended to be an ensemble from its first inception. In the context of the show it makes sense that Hawkeye is made chief surgeon over Trapper when one considers the different levels of responsbility we seen from both characters. Henry lays it out pretty clearly when he states that the chief surgeon needs to be able to devote more time than before to patients on all shifts, be available for consults at any moment. Based on the character we’ve had painted for us, Trapper is not that responsible. He may be an amazing surgeon, but between the two of them Hawkeye is the one I would count on to put himself out to help other surgeons or patients. I think Trapper enjoys his off time too much.

We are also painted a beautiful picture of what Frank’s place ultimately is in the show. When Henry establishes that he sincerely believes that Hawkeye is the better surgeon “…when the heat’s on.” cements Hawkeye’s legendary status in the minds of the audience, while finally qualifying that Frank is a ‘decent enough’ surgeon, but will never be the type to inspire confidence in his abilities. By awarding the title of Chief Surgeon to a man ranked lower than he is, M*A*S*H deliberately relegates Frank to the role of ‘punchline’ for the rest of his duration on the show. It works because it gives Hawkeye & Trapper a great target to practice on, but it undercuts Frank’s potential as an antagonist. Margaret serves as a better foil for Hawk & Trap in the future, while Frank is just good for setting up the laugh track (which I don’t hear anyways…)

debut klinger

We get to meet Klinger! Finally! And in all his glory of course, bucking for a section 8 psyche discharge by wearing women’s clothes. Now, when his character gets featured more prominently we’ll talk about the delicate nature of equating wearing gender non-conforming clothes as an expression of mental illness, but for now we can just enjoy his presence as another wacky background character adding colour to the 4077th. His character’s second appearance in the episode, naked, plays better to the mental health angle, but is immediately reduced when he returns to his dresses in later episodes. Henry is right thought when he comments that Klinger “Has the legs for it.” Jamie Farr has a set of calves I know a few gym folk would die over.

There’s insight into Radar here as well, when General Barker discovers him in Blake’s office at 3am drinking his booze and smoking his cigars. Radar’s response to being caught is priceless though: “I thought one of us needed to be reasonable.” It just goes to show how comfortable Radar is with his manipulation of Henry, and it gives a very different kind of Radar than we will see when Potter arrives in a few seasons. That Radar returns to being a very innocent, naive character, while the current Radar is much more sinister and self-motivated. Time will tell which Radar I enjoy more.

So why is this episode ‘super M*A*S*Hy’ to me? The story plays with several tropes that M*A*S*H will return to time and time again in its 11 yr run: The ‘big general comes to the 4077th, finds it to be a den of bedlam and vice, but ultimately warms to the unit and its inhabitants when he discovers how well they ‘doctor’. I’m going to keep track of how often we run with this chestnut in the future, but for now I know we have at least 2 examples, the Pilot and this episode. I will keep a running counter going forward. It’s a story point that works to drive home the purpose and message of the show, but it’s also a very ‘ends justify the means’ message, which can become problematic as we move forward. M*A*S*H is nothing if not replete with conflicting and counter-intuitive messaging.

‘Swarm Of Bees’ is on the case!

So I’ve been running silent for a few weeks, but not because I’ve become besties with my PJ’s and Netflix’s run of HIMYM (I’ll write about that in the fullness of time as well.) but because I’ve been neck deep in a couple projects. Those projects wrapped last week, so here I am now, free and clear to get back to hours of daily writing with no results or successes to speak of.

Those projects are currently battling it out with other projects as part of Storyhive’s latest (and possibly ‘Final’) funding blitz for a cool $100K to make your ‘longer than a short, shorter than a feature’ production – essentially a TV pilot or webseries is the directive here. I signed on to be part of two different teams, and the results are gonna be yuge.

Today I’m here to draw attention to the most innovative of the two pitches: A story about Fred Mulholland, a tough-as-nails homicide detective who’s just lost his best friend and partner in the line of duty, and the detective assigned as his new partner, a hard-drinking, womanizing, swarm of bees in a jar named ‘Swarm Of Bees.’

Swarm Of Bees: The Stakeout

Yeah, you just read/saw that right. A swarm of bees in a jar as a police detective. Look, if they can make Colossal with Anne Hathaway, there HAS to be room in the world of entertainment for a jar full of bees.

But seriously, why bees? Like WHY?

Image result for not the bees gif

I grew up watching 80’s & 90’s action movies (along with just about anything else that was on TV or rentable) – BTW – 80’s/90’s action movies are in serious need of a revival, you don’t get movies like the Lethal Weapons or Die Hards anymore. Everything is a giant tent-pole uber-film that has been shot and re-shot and re-edited until there can’t possibly be any glaring flaws left in the material – I’m looking at you Every Marvel Movie Ever.

Image result for guardians gif

That love for all things shooty/punchy/actiony has left me with a pretty good sense of what makes a good action movie work, and what an audience wants to see in an action movie. I’ve enjoyed playing with the tropes cemented in ’87 (Go back and LOOK at ALL the films released in 1987, it’s seriously like some bizarre locus in movie time, the way 1955 was a cosmic locus for BTTF.) throughout my struggling screenwriting career, but had never found a ‘proper’ way to bring an idea to the masses.

Until one day in film school…

Alasdair, a screenwriting super-carpenter/gay-jesus type, great friend of mine and sometimes collaborator once wrote a script in film school that involved a gag where a character is crushed under a falling bees nest multiple times. Or at least it was once, and we perpetuated the SHIT out of it into ‘multiple times. Man, the concept was so hilarious to my… 25yr old brain. We tried to work it into the final product, but bees have strong unions and there was no way any swarm was going to come on a student shoot for scale, we couldn’t even rustle enough honey for the crafty… Anyways, the bee-hive became a running joke amongst the writers, until one day someone (I wish I could remember who…) just randomly spit out the most epic bit of inspirational dialogue I’ve ever heard:

“Goddammit Swarm Of Bees! The mayor is up my ass about this! You get your shit together or you are OFF the case!”

Was that an angry police captain just yelling at an officer identified as a swarm of bees in jar? Yes. Yes it was.

When the laughter died down (radio telescopes [radio, because they can ‘hear’, get it? Ahh you don’t get it…] tell us that was 0.0004 seconds ago) I knew we had struck literal absurdist gold. “One’s a hardened police detective, the others a Swarm Of Bees.” It’s so beyond the realm of expectation or conceivability that to this day it amazes me the concept has lasted (in our minds). I enjoy comedy, but I don’t consider myself to be a ‘comedian’…

Image result for the comedian gif

Awwe thanks not-yet-Negan!

I write things that ARE funny, but I’m not convinced I’m the ‘comedy writer’ that some are. Like so many folks, I’m better at riffing on existing funny things, airplane food, the differences between men & women, sex, you know, the low-hanging fruit of comedy, than I am at devising my own entirely original hilarious concept. But here you are, hilarious concept achieved.

It IS hilarious though right? I mean, he’s a cop that’s a jar of bees, it SHOULD write itself. And guess what? It kind of did. Because I didn’t set out to write a comedy, I set out to write a five X 20min episode action webseries that featured a swarm of bees as one of the leads. Bees doesn’t talk to the audience (as you can see in The Stakeout – and if you didn’t watch it and read all the way to here, now you’re busted) as such, he buzzes the way R2-D2 bleeps & bloops, and everyone can understand him. Unless Bees is speaking Spanish (he is from south of the second border, which is much further south from our south of the border) in which case he gets subtitled into english (can’t expect the audience to accept a swarm of bees AND speak Spanish, now can we?) The whole point of the hilarity of Swarm Of Bees (or just Bees, as we call him) is that for all intents and purposes, Bees is a REAL, living, breathing character. No one EVER points out that he’s a bunch of insects in a jar. That would be rude, and un-called for. Think of it like BoJack Horseman, only Bees is the only anthropomorphized character.

And Mulholland & Bees, they’re action stars! Car chases! Explosions! Fruit Stands! Fist-fights! (yes, Bees too!) Sexy-Times! The new duo are chasing the man who killed Mulholland’s partner and his boss, the Queen B. Puns! Sooooo many ‘bee’ puns. Cuz’ if you’re gonna make something ridiculous, you should go all out, right?

And I ask this because there are a lot of people we pitch this to who DO NOT GET IT. They stare at us for a moment, and usually follow with a question: “Wait, so he’s a guy made of bees?” or “But… it’s just a jar of bees?” and we know who our audience isn’t. If you saw the initial concept and just thought ‘that’s funny’ then YOU’RE our audience.

Ferengi Rule of Scripting #303 – The audience comes to you. Not the other way around.

I think I just insighted something there. (Insighted is a word in my book – I’m also adding ‘cowardry’, “…committing acts of cowardry“) I’ve spent time lately trying to construct work for an existing audience, and I’m realizing that’s simply the backwards way to go about it. I want to APPEAL to a certain kind, or a variety of, audiences, but I find MY audience not when I show them something they’ve already seen, but instead something that is unique from me. I have so many concepts sitting, waiting to be actioned on. I need to do more with them.

S.O.B (serendipitous acronym…) is me and the team I was part of at our wackiest. (Ugh, I said wacky – anybody ever grow up with the children’s book ‘Wacky Wednesday?’ My grandma used to read that to me all the time. Wack.) We know that Mulholland & Bees are such a wicked combination of the WTF and Huh? that they’re bound to capture the hearts and minds of at least a small corner of the internet. So wish us luck in our knock at Storyhive’s door, and one way or the other, we’ll have Swarm Of Bees out for all to see soon!

(says every filmmaker about every project…)

 

M*A*S*H – Pilot/”To Market, to Market”

{‘Audit Season’ is a segment where I break down my personal experiences and the world building details of a property. Each entry contains my musing on the world building nature of the segments as well as how these stories affected my life.}

PILOT airdate 17 Sep ’72

Director – Gene Reynolds

Writer – Larry Gelbart

I’m not here to synopsize, if you haven’t seen the episode it’s like 45 yrs old at this point, go and watch it for christ’s sake, then come back and read, pretending you never had to do any homework. But yeah, this is the episode where Hawkeye & Trapper raffle off a trip to Tokyo with ‘Lt. Dish’ (of the ‘dishnetwork’ Dish’s I suppose…) to earn money to send Ho Jon to medical school in the US, then find themselves having fallen afoul of Brig. General Hammond when the plan, typically, goes awry at the last minute.

This episode is just about as M*A*S*H as they come, which isn’t a surprise seeing as this is what they sold the series on. All the elements from the original film are here, modified for TV. Everyone except Radar O’Reilly has been recast, so that doesn’t really need to be explored (except for the bizarro-Father Mulcahey played by George Morgan, like he’s from some Kelvin-universe version of M*A*S*H) There are a few slight differences here from the film, most of which I can see existing to placate a few producers who felt they needed to have some kind of input/opinion on the final product; O’Houlihan is now just Houlihan, no longer played by former starfleet officer Elizabeth Dehner, sorry, Sally Kellerman. Instead she’s brought to life by Loretta Swit, and we’re all the better for it. Hawkeye is less his bucket hat and signature whistle, and Trapper seems to have lost his moustache, but the rest of what we see is instantly recognizable. The protracted opening is a perfect call back to the feature, Radar gets to be Radar, Blake is a near Forrest Gump-ified version of his future self, and everything in Korea is as it should be…

I grew up watching M*A*S*H on north american TV, so I cut my teeth on the laugh track. I’m watching off the DVD’s on this audit so I make the POINT of turning it off and enjoying how bizarrely sardonic the humour is. What is LOST in doing that however is the constrast between the surgery scenes and the rest of the show. While the laugh track is offensive to everyone alive who has ever laughed, having it present but then also absent during the surgery sequences was an excellent way to illustrate the duality of how the characters live, and what the show is trying to say. One could choose to view the laughtrack itself as a kind of terrible joke played on the characters, intruding on their lives with its ‘humour’ and where the only safe place is the one location they are using the humour to defend from. One could choose to, if they wanted. But one could also just turn the damn thing off and appreciate the amazing screenwriting without the obnoxious voices of ghosts echoing in your ears (because you can be guaranteed that everyone who’s voice is recorded on there is now dead.)

hawkeye and dish

On the theme of creepy things, let’s talk about Hawkeye and his stalking. Now I’m gonna do my very best to make sure not EVERY article I write about M*A*S*H is obsessed with it’s latent sexism, but it needs to be addressed properly if we’re all going to get out of here with our equality and diversity intact. Hawkeye wants Lt. Dish bad, bad enough to hide out in her footlocker for… “X” amount of time until he opens it up Bela Lugosi style to ‘surprise’ her. Dish, being the calm, cool lithium addict that she is, isn’t fazed at all by a man appearing in her wardrobe storage. She just closes the lid on him again, to wait for… what? I want to see the part where Hawkeye gets out again and leaves “I really have to pee.” This feeds into something though: Lt. Dish spends most of show sending Hawkeye very mixed signals, she says she’s “Engaged and trying to be faithful!” all the while cooing and not entirely pushing back against Hawekeye’s advances. Don’t be mistaken though, Hawkeye is definitely the aggressor here. All Dish can do is “Tee hee, stop that!” to him playfully.

This is important because as an impressionable child who learned all his most important lessons from TV, Hawkeye was one of my first examples on how to treat the opposite sex. Now make no mistake, Hawkeye has nothing but love, affection and (some) respect for his female co-workers, but by today’s standards he’s living on the border of sexual assault and owns a summer home in the enclave of sexual harassment. He reflects the same kind of ‘advice’ that has been passed down from men to their sons for patriarchial years: “Persistence pays off”. I’m not going to refute someones anecdote about how indeed persistence did pay off in the end, but I’m going to say with a great deal of (unverified) confidence that it almost never works the way it should. From TV Hawkeye (not Sutherland Hawkeye either, that’s a whole different discussion – go check out my last M*A*S*H post) I learned that being self-depreceatingly funny while also being sexually aggressive was a surefire way to endear yourself to the ladies. It probably instilled a sense of good humour in me, because truth of it is we see Hawkeye being rejected much more than he succeeds. It works like this; seems to me anytime we enter a scene where Hawkeye is already settled down with a woman, he’s on his way to being a charming success, but anytime we witness Hawkeye trying to make the initial connection, we see him failing. I’m hoping that by watching the further 11 seasons of this show I’ll be able to suss out whether this trend holds up or not. Yes, it’s terrible to learn how to treat the opposite sex from a TV show but what was I supposed to do? It’s not like I could just hide in their closets… No, no I could not do that. Because no matter how much I would think I was being charming or coy, the police would tell me I was ‘trespassing’. So thanks Hawkeye, for giving me such a terrible impression of how women react to being stalked.

Let’s also not forget the entire point of this episode – Hawkeye and Trapper make money selling raffle tickets that entitle the winner to a weekend in Tokyo with Lt. Dish, you know, to enjoy her company and love of cherry blossoms. The show gets around the accusations of prostitution by ultimately pairing Lt. Dish with someone who’s never, ever been accused of sexual wrongdoing, a priest. Of course bizarro-Father Mulcahey is a paragon of virtue and never presented as anything less, so the short term selling of a person as a prize is made okay because the winner is very unlikely to do anything untoward to her. The ends justify the means in Korea! Wait, weren’t we sending a kid to medical school with all this money? Right!

not mulcahey

There’s one final kicker here, and that’s Hawkeye & Trapper’s interaction with Gen. Hammond. This is a trope/theme we will see replayed time and again in M*A*S*H, the ‘Two doctors physically assault another, but are SOOOO good at what they do that the law is powerless against them” trope. Let’s be real, in a *nearly* justified action they drug Frank Burns in order to prevent him from stopping their party, and when Hammond is brought to bear on the issue, his anger is melted by the fact that Hawkeye & Trapper are the best meatball surgeons in the army. Works out too well for them, since they end up stuck where they started, not in jail and waiting for the next set of choppers to arrive. This kind of thing will reappear again in M*A*S*H, mark my words.

The Pilot is an excellent window on what the show will be, feeling just like any other solid episode of M*A*S*H does. Not sure if this is a testament to how well executed the show is, or to how little the show changes over time. The situation demands further audits and investigations!

“To Market, to Market”

Airdate – 24 Sep ’72

Director – Michael Herlihy

Writer – Burt Styler

all gone

This is probably the very first episode of M*A*S*H that feels like it’s own episode, rather than a bite-sized version of the film. It follows the M*A*S*H book of storytelling where a problem is noticed by Hawkeye & Trapper, to which they engineer a truly hair-brained solution, that ultimately blows up in their faces, yet they still somehow succeed. In the same sense that the characters in ‘It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia’  can never manage to succeed due to being terrible, self absorbed people, Hawkeye & Trapper ALWAYS succeed, despite the odds, because they are just so darned lovable.

This episode does an excellent job of making comedy out of a very serious problem facing doctors in this situation, the black market. It’s the strength of this show, it’s ability to find comedy in what it is the doctors do in their situation, rather than searching for it in either the sad racial stereotypes the show perpetuates at this point or in mocking the comically sinister Burns/Houlihan duo. Jack Soo as Charlie Lee brings some amazing acting chops to what would’ve been a charicature role otherwise, and his expressions when Hawkeye & Trapper remove his desk to be potentially replaced by Blakes new desk (You’ll never guess, it’s made of oak!) are priceless, a great piece of acting and directing I think. This episode is FULL of that kind of thing, though the focus on events and characters OUTSIDE the camp rather than inside marks this as a story still trying to find it’s feet, it’s soul. As the series progresses we see more and more stories where the conflict, drama, and hilarious, wicked comedy comes directly from events inside the camp, driven by characters whose names are in the title sequence, and this is when M*A*S*H really starts to shine. I won’t at all fault what we have happening here, because it’s great entertainment in its own right, but it’s indicative of a show that has a long way to go before it finds its true groove.

Which brings me to a deeper issue with M*A*S*H thematics. The show tends to be divided up among fans between two eras; What I call the ‘Feature’ era, which is where we are now, and ‘Later M*A*S*H’. The differences work as such: The Feature era is of course directly connected to the film. All the characters from the film are here in the first season, though Spearchucker and Ugly John are hardly used and eventually phased out because you can only have so many featured characters per episode, and neither Spearchucker nor Ugly John are ever given any real development or chance to grow. Hawkeye & Trapper are truly where it’s at, and therein lies the big change. Some time in the future Trapper will leave to be replaced by BJ Honeycutt, and all of M*A*S*H will turn on this change. Why’s that? Right now, Hawkeye & Trapper are two peas in a pod, two jokers, both wild. They’re the best/worst kind of enabling friends who constantly challenge each other to ‘do better’, to be more outlandish. There’s so sense of restraint or responsibility between them, since neither of them cares to be responsible. When BJ arrives on the scene, he changes the dynamic Hawkeye has with the audience. No longer do we have two maniacs running the show, now we have a Jekyll/Hyde relationship, or more what I like to think of as a ‘Calvin & Hobbes’ relationship. Hawkeye will always be Calvin, brilliant in every way but unable to overcome his own internalized urges and emotions, whereas BJ is a much more refined character, a true Hobbes. He’s still a lunatic, don’t get me wrong, but there’s an honesty and heart to him that Trapper John McIntyre is missing. Trapper is nihilistic (“Bad news from home; My wife still loves me!”) while BJ is a true family man. He plays off Hawkeye’s deeper empathies and brings them to light, whereas Trapper simply trampled  right over them in order to reach the next drink, or prank. BJ becomes the philosopher who Hawkeye must gauge himself by.  By the era of ‘Later M*A*S*H’ we also have a change from Blake to Potter, and Burns to Winchester and these new characters do an excellent job of complimenting the remaining cast members better than their original counterparts do. I’ll touch on this again when we start to see these casting changes appear, but for now it’s enough to understand that the dynamic between Hawkeye & Trapper creates a very different kind of story than the ones we will see in the first and second seasons.

Want to know what’s crazy about these episodes? I’m pretty sure than until I lined them up for this audit, I’d never seen them before. That’s actually saying something because M*A*S*H was a mainstay on the TV growing up, so much so that in recent years I’ve only ever found one other episode in much later seasons that I was sure I hadn’t seen. I remember having a small prejudice against these earliest episodes when I was younger because they still featured characters I didn’t know too well and didn’t stick around (Spearchucker and Ugly John) and something about them didn’t quite feel ‘settled’ yet. Also, with Klinger not yet part of the cast I feel like a very important part of the show is missing. So yes, there are a few episodes even a die hard fan like me has yet to see, and if in performing this audit I can find MORE episodes I never realized I hadn’t seen, I’ll be a very happy individual. Not sure how likely that is after all though, since I’m literally wearing my M*A*S*H shirt as I write this and only a scant few tens of thousands of consumers out there can say that.

IMG_0983

*proof*

‘To Market, to Market’ also gives us what will become another mainstay of M*A*S*H, and that’s the ridiculous sight gag. Henry’s desk, flying away into oblivion is both a beautifully comic solution to our hero’s problems, but also serves as an amazing image on its own. There is a huge part of me that suspects the ‘Flying Lenin’ sequence from ‘Goodbye Lenin’ must’ve taken at least SOME inspiration from the desk sequence here. When you also consider that all the interiors are shot on a Hollywood soundstage while the exteriors were on location in the So-Cal mountains, it ’twas some brilliant directing and editing that managed to link both of these locations visually and continuously without ever creating the impression that the inside of Henry’s office ISN’T also out in the scrublands hills of wherever. We also can’t forget the hilarity of Henry rushing up to his liquor cabinet to check that the black marketeers didn’t take his booze, completey missing the fact both his prized desk and his office wall are missing. It’s the kind of over-the-top visual humour that will keep the show moving long into the future.flying desk

And mentioning Henry brings me to one last point. The lovable father/son relationship between Blake & Radar. In no way am I brilliant enough or have been around long enough to have deduced this myself, but over the years fans have noticed the caring ‘father/son’ thing between prognosticating Radar and ‘out to lunch’ Henry Blake. I see it too, but I’m pretty sure I see it a little differently. I don’t see a loving yet bumbling older father offering guidance to his young, naive son, I see an elderly dementia patient being tended to by his adult child. Think about it, Radar needs to do nearly EVERYTHING for Blake, and Blake can’t even remember what any of it is half the time. I know a few elderly folk fighting the good fight with Alzheimers, and the way Radar tells Blake everything he’s about to ask feels a lot like explaining for the twelfth time that it is not 1972 and this is a different prime minister Trudeau. Blake would be absolutely lost without Radar, and Radar knows it. So of course in true M*A*S*H fashion Radar goes about taking advantage of the situation he finds himself in. Do I advocate having your dementia stricken parent sign papers of which they don’t understand? No, not at all, unless they are Blake and you are Radar, in which case it becomes hilarious.

goodbye desk

One day Henry Blake will be my Hallowe’en costume – essentially as soon as I have a Hallowe’en party to go to and I don’t procrastinate and anm forced to  throw together another iteration of ‘The Dude’.

Until next time M*A*S*H fans!

James Bond – Dr. No: Audit Season!

{‘Audit Season’ is a segment where I break down my personal experiences and the world building details of a property. Each entry contains my musing on the world building nature of the segments as well as how these stories affected my life.}

Looks like I’m running two audits concurrently this time. M*A*S*H will continue on its own accords, and I’ll be adding Bond movies as we go.

As with all my audits, one of my objectives is ‘completion’. In this case I don’t just watch the films, I also scour the extra features on the Blu-Rays, watch with the commentaries and listen to podcasts to say up to date. ( James Bond Radio is one of the best ) I also try to view the property in its entirety, which can sometimes create a few issues.

In regards to Bond, I’ve tried to start as early as I can, but I’m not able to find the 1954 CBS ‘Casino Royale’ with Barry Nelson as Bond, so I will be starting with Dr. No, and proceeding in production order. I plan to include David Niven’s Casino Royale and Taliafilm’s Never Say Never Again after the full run of the EON Bond films.

Now no more talk, let’s explore…

dr no

DR. NO – released Oct 1962

Director – Terence Young

Screenplay – Richard Maibaum, Johanna Harwood, Berkley Mather

Runtime: 110min

Okay so I will admit that until I watched for this audit, I probably hadn’t seen Dr. No in 20 years. (half the reason to do an audit in the first place!) Not since it was part of that VHS set they released in the early ’90’s, the ones where my brothers and I all got copies of different Bond movies but I insisted they all be kept in MY room, for the sake of completion, you see. In many ways I was coming to this film fresh from that perspective, since all I really remembered was the ‘dragon’ tank, Dr. No’s collapsing island base and of course Ursula Andress. (full disclosure: the whole ‘Ursula Andress emerges from the sea’ thing didn’t have anywhere near the kind of affect on me twenty years ago as it would now – I recall it because I’ve been conditioned to remember this iconic image by 55 years of media)

andress

Would you believe Sean Connery isn’t my favourite Bond? I mean he was, until Casino Royale was released. Being a child of the 80’s I was born into an age when Bond movies had lost their way (wait until we get to the later Moore and the Dalton films, I have a whole essay prepared on the perceived soullessness of Bond films in the 1980’s.) What I’m saying is I never had an exceptional association between media culture, sex, and Connery. Until Craig, he simply was the best representation of what Bond was meant to be. I have no hate for any Bond actor, but I often use Roger Moore as a yardstick for making fun of other actors (I consider David Tennant the ‘Roger Moore’ of Doctor Who’s) Lazenby was a forgettable Bond in one of the best films. Dalton was a gritty alternate universe Bond reboot displaced by a quantum fluctuation into our metasphere for two movies. Brosnan was the perfect distillation of Bond’s characteristics for effective marketing, but never seemed to bring ‘himself’ to the role. Craig is my Bond, if only because he runs counter to so many normalized Bond expectations (at least in Casino Royale – by the time we reach Spectre he’s become a charicature of himself all over again, something that happens the longer a Bond stays around) but we won’t go deep into the other Bond’s until it’s time. So today we settle in with my second favourite Bond for his six (out of seven) movies.

connery

In terms of the world Dr. No builds for Bond, most all of the classic elements are here (there’s even a few elements that never get carried forward.) This is definitely the SLOWEST of the Bond films, but that’s a reflection more on the time the movie was made rather than the quality of the movie itself. It can’t be forgotten that the ‘action movie’ was a reasonably recent innovation at this time, it’s first real incarnation agruably being traced to Hitchcock’s North By Northwest three years prior. Dr. No plays more at a classic ‘suspense/thriller’ pace than the more modern breakneck ‘action’ pace. It lacks the quintessential ‘opening stunt’ that becomes the hallmark of later films, but this is a time when the film is still more concerned about ‘story’ rather than spectacle. What it DOES have is remarkable; Bond and Moneypenny’s delightful flirting is on full display, the epic Bernard Lee as M is as British as they come, Felix Lighter is here, even Q is here (if not played by Desmond Llewellyn) so we’re not stepping into un-built world. Bond has a history in his job as well as with other characters. M refers to Bond’s beretta pistol failing him on his last assignment and leaving him laid up in hospital for several days. Rather than being ‘introduced’ to a character and their world, the audience is ‘dropped into’ the action here, and Bond becomes the arrow we follow through the plot.

dr no driving

Bond himelf is introduced during a game of baccarat, tying the casino/gambling/risk taking nature of our protagonist into the audiences first impression of him. One thing that can be said about Bond, especially in the early films, is that one should not look too hard for a ‘character arc’. Bond starts out as Bond, and ends as Bond. In between he is threatened by a tarantula, chased in his car, murders a hitman, sleeps with at least three women, kills some more people, has dinner with Dr. No and orders his captors henchmen around. The point of Bond here is that he’s the very best at what he does. There isn’t anything for Bond to ‘learn’, no place for him to ‘grow’ because the story isn’t about Bond becoming a more complete character, it’s about how Bond stops the bad guys. At this point in the franchise villains who challenge Bond as a character haven’t yet appeared. Dr. No may appeal to Bond’s sense of grandeur and luxury, but he doesn’t posit a real conflict or choice.

plastic suit

Wait, what’s Dr. No’s plan again really? He’s using a nuclear powered magnetic beam (?) to interfere with American rockets, whether they be space launches or missile tests. Interfere to what end? That’s never entirely made clear either. Dr. No feels rejected by both the Soviet’s and the American’s because neither of them wanted him in their rocket programs, so he decides to… damage the reputation of those who rejected him? I mean Dr. No sets the standard for Bond villains with his mechanical hands, ridiculously secret/super base, army of henchmen and attractive women, but he has the weakest plan of them all, or maybe his plan is much more sophisticated, we just never get to find out what the end game is.

Bond’s end game is pretty clear though – and if there’s any question it’s made cystal when he cuts the boat he & Honey Rider are in free from their rescuers. I know I made a huge deal about sexism when I talked about the feature film M*A*S*H and you would think I’d need to do the same thing here, but I’m choosing not to for a very specific reason: Bond’s sexist, womanzing ways are a hallmark of this franchise. M*A*S*H is a hilarious, gritty look at the horrors of war through the eyes of people who live it. It’s about real people dealing with harsh realities, and addressing the sexism used in the humour lets us discuss and understand how attitudes have changed in five decades about what is acceptable and what is not. Bond and Dr. No do not have these concerns or objectives. Bond as a franchise perpetuates itself on Bond’s attitude, his appeal as a womanizer and an alpha male. Being critical of sexism in Bond is like being critical of bad acting in the WWE. It doesn’t make the fanchise untouchable, I just won’t come after it for anything more than the most egregious offenses, and surprisingly Dr. No doesn’t carry an example of Bond’s sexism in any greater proportion than other upcoming films. Sure, he’s pretty heavy handed with the Photographer character, and it’s difficult to escape the ‘woman as subordinate’ approach that was prevalent in the 1960’s’ but I know there will be far more… effective examples to cite as they come up.

dr no lair

The collapsing super-lair. Probably the most emblamatic climax in any Bond film. This movie establishes that trope solidly and permanently. Part of just how mythic all of this appears is due to the amazing production design by Ken Adam. Let’s forget Bond for a minute. Let’s forget the cars and the women and focus on the one element that REALLY stands out as purely ‘Bond’ – the set design.

dent

I mean just look at the lighting in that iconic scene. So much of what ‘Bond’ is to us in the modern age is due to the eye of Ken Adam. In the same way ‘Trek TOS will five years from Dr. No, the choice of bright, solid colours, and diagonal lines creates a distinct visual ‘language’ for what Bond will look like. Though the film approaches itself as if it were a straightlaced spy thriller, the production design speaks to something larger, campier, more ostentatious than a simple game of cold war cat-and-mouse. It LOOKS like a Bond movie before a ‘Bond’ movie had established exactly what that meant.

Essentially Dr. No doesn’t know just what it is going to become, what it’s main character is going to mean to the cultural zeitgiest. We look at it now as a slow, somewhat “A to B” direct story compared to what came later, where as the movie stands on its own in the 1962 frame as an excellent choice for action and suspense. What would become the Bond tradition of visiting numerous picturesque international locations isn’t quite realized here. Jamaica is beautiful in the Blu-ray restoration, but its the ONLY locale in the film. It fits the theme, but not the ‘proportion’ we see in later installments.

What matters is that everything Bond needs is already here. There isn’t any portion of what we consider to be ‘Bond’ that is missing. (Okay the gadgets, he doesn’t really have any gadgets here, but that can be the ONLY missing element) He even starts out with something that would’ve made a huge difference to the early Bond plots: A girlfriend!

sylvia t

Most people forget about Sylvia Trench, Bond’s extremely understanding ‘partner’ outside of work. She’ll show up again in From Russian With Love but that’ll be it. Once upon a time the producers tapped her to appear in the first six Bond films, but I suppose watching your double-O boyfriend head out everyday can get a little trying: “Goodbye dear, I’ll be home tomorrow. I have to sleep with two women between now and then. One will be duplicitous and eventually end up dead, while the other will think she’s coming home with me until after the credits roll.” “Have a good day at the office dear!” It feels like there was a desire to build a bigger ‘home’ for Bond outside his adventures, a place for his character to show; a home, a girlfriend, an easier life to come back to when all the super-spying and lady-boning becomes too much. This is of course abandoned in later films, and even in the most ‘back to basic’s reboot’ they could manage with Craig, they never return to this idea of Bond as a ‘regular’ person, with a regular life.

So Dr. No is actually a more entertaining watch than I expected. Everything about Bond is here and ready to go, and even though the film itself is *painfully* slow in some places, so much of Bond-fun is there that you kinda forget. I am grateful that I’ve decided to take on this Bond audit, because otherwise I’m not sure WHEN I would’ve sat down to watch Dr. No. If it’s been a while since you’ve seen it, sit down and take a watch. It’s better than you remember, believe me.

An ode to Macca’s

(Macca’s is what those daft nutjobs downunder call McDonalds, because three syllables is a syllable too long for most Aussies…)

I am not paid in any way by McDonald’s. I want that known up front. Furthermore, I’m not actually here to endorse their food, international economic model or employement practices. I have received no compensation from the McDonald’s corporation for the following article, however I would accept some if offered…

As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a McDonalds. Okay, that’s not really true. I’ve had very little desire through my life to be any inanimate object other than the original Ghostbusters car, but enough about my pre-pubescent fantasies. But as far back as I can remember, McDonald’s has held a curiously iconic place in my psyche. When my brothers and I were kids, every week my parents would drop us off at my grandparents so Mom & Dad could have a night to themselves to do their taxes and clean the carpets (I presume. Not entirely sure what parents do when they aren’t protecting their children from the ravenous licks of my dog…) I loved both my grandparents very much, but contrary to nearly all expectations, my grandmother was only a so-so cook. Instead of making us sit through a sandpaper steak or fossilized meatloaf, my grandparents would take us to one of the several McDonald’s spread around Richmond in the 1980’s. To this day I vividly remember the playground at the #3 Road location, that steel slide which turned into a solar power reflector during the summer. The backs of so many childrens thighs crisped like bacon in the reflected heat from that slide… good times. It also had the Rube-Goldberg like thing inside where the silver ball would start at the top of the bizarre track and typically make it about 27% through the setup before falling off. How many times did I as a child harass a minimum wage McDonald’s employee to drop everything they were doing, find the key, unlock the Rube-Goldberg case and reset the silver ball, so I could watch it make it through the course exactly one time successfully, before the machine attempted to reset itself and fail all over again. I think I learned something about life from that contraption: The more complicated something is, the more likely it is to go wrong. Also: minimum wage employees will do almost anything if you whine and stomp your foot enough. I’m pretty sure there are wealthy industrialists out there who know this too.

goldberg

What this did was instill a notion in me: McDonald’s is a special thing, a gift, something that is part of the fun of not having to listen to Mom & Dad for an evening. (Because we all know that Grandparents are the minimum-security guards of childcare: “Hey, doesn’t that baby have a handgun?” Grandpa: “Eh, the trigger lock is on. He’s probably fine.”)

What’s the relevance now you ask? Well more than thirty years down the line, I still think like this. “What’s that? I’ve got some extra money?” McNuggets. “Way to go me, writing ‘Fade Out’ on another feature.” BigMac meal. “A bigger dog was mean to my smaller dog.” Double cheeseburgers. “It’s Tuesday.” Quarter Pounder. McDonald’s is still a way of ‘treating’ myself, long after the age of having to wait for my parents to approve has passed. It’s like I’m still afraid there’s someone out there who’s going to come along and say “No more McDonald’s for you.” Oh wait, that person exists, and she is my lovely wife.

You see, being as I am a writer who subsists on hedonistic indulgence, and my wife is an accomplished and successful personal trainer who makes a living denying the self destructive urges of eating junk, we have very different opinions on the place of McDonald’s in our lives. To my wife, finding a charge to McDonald’s on our bank account is tantamount to an Israeli citizen returning home with an Iranian stamp in their passport. She’s asked me in the past “Why do you eat there? Do you like the food?” And the wierdest things is I can’t say “Yeah, I like the food.”

Because I like the EATING of the food, even if the truth is I don’t really prefer the food over anything else. I mean, it’s not like it’s actually ‘good’, it’s just McDonald’s. The consumption of their calories to me is more about the meaning of the food than the food itself: I have money I choose to squander on this grease, and as an adult I have no one telling me I can’t have more. The experience means more than the taste.

Which brings me to the most INGENIUS thing McDonald’s has ever done. Ever. Have you seen those new touchscreen ordering kiosks? Where they have the entire McD’s menu at your fingertips and all you have to do is punch up WHATEVER YOU WANT, pay right there and the order gets sent directly to the kitchen. All you need to do is pick it up at the pass in a few minutes.

kiosk

Now why do I think this is so great? I don’t really mind people myself, so avoiding them in this manner isn’t a bonus. And the staff STILL manage to get orders wrong from time to time, so it’s not for accuracies sake. No, there’s another reason entirely that I think this system will DOUBLE (or perhaps more) McDonald’s sales in the next few years: GUILT.

You see, in every industry there are ‘customers’ and then there are ‘whales’. Whales being customers who spend a disproportionate amount of money compared to what they actually get out of the experience. Much like the casino owners salivate when they see their whales enter the pit floor, McDonald’s franchisees get weak in the knees when I walk through the door with money to eat…

There is a particular pain and embarassment known only to those who have trouble controlling themselves at McDonald’s. It goes something like this.

Me: “I’ll have a Quarter Pounder meal combo, large fries & drink.”

McDonald’s Employee: “Okay. Will there be anything else?”

Me: “Yes, and a 10pc McNugget.”

mcD sideeye

McDonald’s Employee: “Okay. Thank you -”

Me: “And two McDoubles.”

mcD sideeye - Copy (2)

McDonald’s Employee: “Oh, okay…”

Me: “And a Junior McChicken. And two apple pies.”

mcD sideeye - Copy (3)

McDonald’s Employee: “…okay.”

Me: “And a milkshake.”

See that judgement, that guilt? It’s a special kind of pain felt only by people willing to drop $37 per visit at McDonald’s. The self serve kiosks eliminate this guilt completely. Now you can order twelve double cheeseburgers, and the only look you get is the one from the employee who hands you the tray when you pick it up at the pass. And for real, they have no idea those are ALL for you. You could be feeding a Vietnamese tour group for all they know. Complete and total plausible deniability. There has never been a better time for junk food.

As a writer, I often find myself punishing my body as a celebration of acheivement. Or as a reward for a day of hard work. Or because it happens to be a day where the sun rises. My writer/director friend and I have made a sad habit of camping out in the swankiest McDonald’s in the city, living off our $37 meals and free drink refills. The hip place to be seen writing of course is Starbucks, but all the REAL work gets done in a McDonald’s where nobody cares that you’ve set up a tent and drone landing strip, as long as the employees can still sweep ALL THE WAY under your feet while you’re trying to eat. Do cheeseburgers fuel creativity? I’m going to say yes, because then it continues to justify those six hour days spent script editing in a fast food joint. (I wish I was kidding about that.)

“But Steve!” Some fictional person necessary for this example yells out: “How on Earth can you spend $37 on one person at McDonald’s?” My answer: “Shut up. You don’t know me.” We’ve all done things we aren’t proud of… with our money. Hell, I bought an extended warranty on my TV once. We all make mistakes.

But the money I drop at McDonald’s isn’t a mistake in my book. Because I’m supporting an important element of our workforce: The Filipino Shift Worker! Go to any McDonald’s in the Lower Mainland right now and you will meet no less than five hard working Filipino’s, feeding other peoples families to make money and go home to feed their own. This is a shout out to my second family, because in my world being fed consistently by someone means they are family. Based on that assertion, my hiearchy of family goes like this: Wife, Mother, McDonald’s. Truth is they’ve probably fed me more than most. So to all the Laguna’s and Panlaqui’s on shift tonight, to all the Della Cruz’s, Reyes and Ocampo’s, to the Ramos’s, Mercado’s and Aquino’s of the world: I offer you my eternal thanks. I would’ve gone many nights eating just my recommended caloric intake without you, instead of doubling or tripling those numbers.

Recommended daily intake?

rookienumbers

So do I have a conclusion? Not really. I mean I still enjoy visiting McDonald’s all these years on, even when I know the food probably contains a binary poison enabling whoever controls the antitode to control the world, since everyone who’s ever eaten there would be infected by said binary poison, but I’m not bothered by this. Visiting a McDonald’s in my neighbourhood is like visiting the departure lounge in a global-south airport, full of Vietnamese, Korean, Chinese and Taiwanese people who seem they would rather sit in a McDonald’s drinking the same cup of coffee for three hours, watching Sportsnet updates on an eternal loop, rather than go home.

One day I will free myself from this high salt/high sugar super caloric obsession (I keep telling myself) but that day isn’t today or tomorrow. It’s out there, somewhere, hiding behind the next McDonald’s Monopoly game and the matching Boardwalk/Parkplace stickers that are destined to be mine. But in much the same way that Homer was unable to share the good fortune of his Million $ win in ‘Million Dollar Maybe’ (Simpson S21 Ep 11) I’m not sure I’ll be able to break it to Marisa that I won us a million dollars at McDonald’s. She’d probably consider it blood money or something.

 

The Commonwealth Navy

{…from time to time I step outside of the standard blog and into one of my franchise worlds. I bring you an excerpt from The Commonwealth Encyclopedia, the definitive guide to the history of the 57th century… artwork credit Lucas Green @lucas.art.green}

Lucas Green – featured Artist

The Commonwealth Navy

One of the major branches of the Commonwealth of Colonized Systems, The Commonwealth Navy was the very first incarnation of The Commonwealth to be established.

The Commonwealth was Founded in -622cc (2012nc in the old neo calendara system) as a military alliance between the free colonized worlds of Geo Dominicus I, Delta Iona Meridian, and Ultima Thule Alpha to counter the economic and military might of planet Earth’s Kingdom of Heaven. Geo Dominicus had just repelled an attempted Kingdom invasion, but saw their military severly depleted by the effort. At the time the Kingdom of Heaven controlled three star systems outside of Earth; Terra Novia, Trappist Danghara and Perseus Marisol, meaning they had three star systems resources to rely on rather than each free colonies one. The Kingdom had a  history of launching invasions and offensives against the individual colonies, trying tirelessly to return them to Kingdom control. Each time Earth came with great fleets, and while they were repelled in nearly every instance, the cost in resources,productivity and Human lives of defending the colony worlds hobbled the independent governments.

After Geo Dominicus I repelled (barely) the Kingdom’s 10th Armored Fleet in -623cc they were left nearly defenseless. Knowing that the Kingdom could mount a new campaign within a year, while it would take Geo Dominicus at least ten times that to replenish their supplies and resources, the Prime Minister of Geo Dominicus I, Pasha Kincaid, (-673cc – -565cc) offered a deal to the other independent worlds. Put simply Pasha proposed a defence compact between the three star systems. Geo Dominicus possessed the shipyards and manufacturing facilities while materials would be sourced from the extensive mining reserves on Delta Iona Meridian and the agricultural regions on Ultima Thule Alpha. While the politics of the three star systems were still wide apart, the need to mutual defence was an easy sell. No more would one star system watch a Kingdom offensive smash against another’s shores, hoping they wouldn’t be next. Now resources could be pooled and directed across all three worlds for mutual benefit. The Commonwealth Navy was born in a joint political proclamation in -622cc, and fought its first war in -620cc, successfully annihilating a Kingdom invasion fleet bound for Ultima Thule Beta (‘The First Great Colonial War’). Ships from Meridian and Alpha joined the remains of the Geo Dominicus I fleet to create a naval force that outmatched the Kingdom fleet 2:1. Historical myth says that Kingdom Star Marshall John Thomas committed suicide on the bridge of his flagship The Flame Of Truman when he saw the Commonwealth Navy lined up ahead of his forces, a sight completely unexpected based on the evaulations of the Ultima Thule system alone.

Success in The First Great Colonial War was swift and decisive, and set the course for the next 17 centuries of the colonized worlds. Today The Commonwealth Navy has a presence in all 16 Commonwealth star systems and permission to operate in independent sytems Draco Leonis and Perseus Marisol (Perseus Marisol was liberated from Kingdom control and became independent after the Second Great Colonial War; -490cc – 475cc) It’s fleet of tens of thousands of ships protect shipping and travel starlanes, serve as a peacekeeping force in troubled areas on the fringe worlds, and most importantly stands as the first, best line of defence against aggressive actions by the Kingdom of Heaven and other non-aligned forces.

Today The Commonwealth Navy is the most powerful symbol of The Commonwealth across known space. Naval starships are found around most worlds, colonies and outposts. They serve as a reminder of the forces of justice and order that have kept The Commonwealth the efficient, functioning socialist edifice it has been for the past 17 centuries. The Navy has participated in countless wars with the Kingdom of Heaven, as well as conflicts with rogue fringe outposts, separatist pirates and organized agitators. It also serves as a kind of ‘galactic community’ for those who enlist, as it reaches all corners of The Commonwealth and touches the lives of every citizen. All new recruits are taught Algin, the universal battle-language utilized in the Navy to supercede the thousands of local languages and dialects that come from all across The Commonwealth. 18 rote is the age for application to military training academies and combat schools. There are too many select divisions to list here, but the Navy offers education and employment in hundreds of different fields, talents and skills. This includes enlistment in the Naval Infantry. The Naval Infantry are the units of foot-soldiers kept at ready by Naval forces either in garrison bases or on board military vessels. The Commonwealth itself does not have any ‘army’ as such (Individual star systems and worlds construct ‘armies’ if they need them, as they see fit) however it does maintain the Naval Infantry for situations where a large force is needed to be deployed planetside quickly. The Naval Infantry saw spectucular losses during the eight decades that were The Last Colonial War.

The Navy employs more than 40% of citizens who work for The Commonwealth itself across its various units, threads and services. The Navy itself consists of the Naval Force comprised of all vessels with the designations:

  • SSCN (StarShip of the Commonwealth Navy – all vessels equipped with a Nul-Drive capable of making a Fall) All non-civilian vessels registered to the Navy are considered ‘Starships’ if they can make a Fall.
  • CNC (Commonwealth Naval Craft – all military vessels without the capability of making a Fall [Note: all Naval Bolo’s carry the CNC designation as well, despite being essentially Nul-Drive’s with cockpits – this reflects their purpose providing Nul-Drive power and Fall access to other CNC non-Nul-Drive equipped craft] This encompasses all transports, maintennance vehicles, starfighters and other support craft.
  • CNCS (Commonwealth Naval Capital Ship) Capital Ships are a special designation inside the Commonwealth Navy. Where as most ‘starships’ are produced in batches of multiples from uniform design plans en masse, Captial Ships are each designed and constructed as unique, individual one-off vessels. They are usually larger and more powerful than other comparable vessels, and are revered as flagships and banner carriers for the Navy around expored space.
  • MMC (Merchant Marines of the Commonwealth) Designation appropriated to vessels who serve the Merchant Marines arm of The Commonwealth Navy. Their duty is the protection of Commonwealth shipping, goods, ships and crews within star systems. None of these vessels typcially have a Nul-Drive.

The Commonwealth Navy was intended to replace the need for individual star systems to construct their own defensive fleets. Some rare star systems like Quingdao Palakkad and Halliwell Foxtrot still chose to maintain their own separate naval forces, but these are in the minority. Most systems pay for the Naval services out of their taxes to The Commonwealth, with most of the costs defrayed and spread out across sixteen contributor governments. This means that defence of The Commonwealth is largely centralized in the Naval command structure. There are rarely any regional commanders making large scale defence decisions, these duties fall to strategic defence executives in the Naval hierarchy who are able to act without approval or confirmation from The Commonwealth Parliament. It is sometimes argued that The Commonwealth Naval command structure operates outside the controls of The Commonwealth Parliament as a rogue agency, directing Commonwealth policy through the application of power free from citizen supervision. The claims are not inherently wrong, as decisions inside The Commonwealth Parliament can take months if not years to be approved, and military decisions typically need to be made in a much shorter time frame. Like all other official activities of the Commonwealth, military command decisions are evaluated and audited after the fact, and instances where actions have been taken that do not hold an inherent benefit for The Commonwealth and its citizens are logged, reviewed and revised as needed. The Naval command and control structure is subject to the same ‘tri-audit-review’ process as the rest of The Commonwealth authorities are.

The Navy today is in a much better position that it was thirty years ago during the closing time of The Last Colonial War. Fighting a war against The Market on eight fronts, against multiple coordinated enemies,across most of explored space stretched the Navy to its limits. If not for ‘The Thornley Campaigns’ and ‘The Great Push’ The Commonwealth may not be standing today, replaced by the authoratirian profiteering of the corrupt Market. All citizens of The Commonwealth have the Navy to thank for their freedom to live, work, and do as they please.

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