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Fan Productions Creating our own Trek canon!

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Old April 4 2012, 05:29 PM   #91
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Re: Fan Film Writer's Primer

Maurice wrote: View Post
Speaking of writers, here's me with one last Saturday...



As my dad would say, "Cool, dude!"
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Old April 14 2012, 05:35 PM   #92
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Re: Fan Film Writer's Primer

Put Some Remix in My Trek

Last time I wrote about missed opportunities and the importance of having a strong story editor to spot those opportunities. Fan films either don't employ story editors or have story editors who aren't very good at their jobs. But that hasn't been the only thing bugging me about fan films lately. No no, there's something bigger than just having a story editor that is slowly choking the longevity of these productions — the inability to leap beyond pale imitation.

Creative types all get their start by imitating those they admire. Aspiring comic book artists (and I was once one) try to replicate exactly the pencil strokes of their favorite comic book artists — Jack Kirby, Curt Swan, whoever. Aspiring writers imitate the voice of their favorite writers. When I started taking an interest in writing, I tried to imitate Harlan Ellison, Ray Bradbury or whoever I was currently reading at the time. Years later, as a working writer, I hope my voice is clearly my own (although I can still easily see the influence of those writers on my work even today).

But there comes a point when imitators must move beyond copying and transform their work. In other words, they must leap beyond imitation. If not, they risk failure and stagnation.

Copy, Combine and Transform

I'm a fan of Kirby Ferguson's EVERYTHING IS REMIXED. Kirby argues that everything is remixed, from music to art to movies to whatever. He's right. Even the products we use today are remixed from the past ... that's how innovation begins. Like the iPod, which was influenced by the Kodak camera of the 1920s. Kirby even gave a talk on the subject.

For Kirby, there's three stages of remixing — copy, combine and transform.

Copying, however, is only the baby step of the creative process, but one that fan films seem to be forever stuck in. Fan films, especially those set in TOS, are great at copying sets and costumes, exact replicas copied from the original 60s show. Copied. Replicated. But they rarely take their stories beyond mere imitation of the original show and its spin-offs.

Let's be frank, TREK storytelling over the decades, until the Abrams' movie, had become stale, stagnant junk food. Fan films stories are often nothing more than fast food, recipes copied from a steady diet of TREK and nothing more.

Take STAR TREK: PHASE II. It had the chance to move beyond imitation, beyond a copy of a copy in its two episodes "To Serve All My Days" and "World Enough and Time." Both episodes showed sparks that PHASE II was willing to take risks and move beyond the STAR TREK formula. However, since those two episodes, it's begun a slow decline into entertaining simulacrum, even so far as to using canned music from TOS rather than original scores.

What's needed for fan films is to combine and transform their works. And not in the fannish, fan fic manner that PII has recently gone toward — i.e. trying to knit into the broader "canon", introducing Mary Sue characters such as Peter Kirk (and Chekov has also become a Mary Sue) and pseudo-character arcs that substitute for strong dramatic storytelling.

Like George Lucas and the first STAR WARS or Abrams in his TREK movie, fan films should look to other shows, movies and books for inspiration. TOS fan films should study and dissect other shows from the 1960s (like THE OUTER LIMITS, I SPY, MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE), other movies, books and history for inspiration. Learn other literary languages that they can combine with TOS as Lucas combined Japanese films, WWII air battles and myth to create STAR WARS.

More than that, they need to transform their works, break free of the STAR TREK format, the STAR TREK formula. STARSHIP EXTER's unfinished episode is the closest example of this. EXTER moved beyond mere imitation. Although, it doesn't quite go as far, it attempts to truly transform the format.

In so many words, fan films need to transform themselves or risk slowly dying off. Tell stories that matter, not just film episode after episode where stuff happens, but nothing really actually happens. No longer can they rely on canned music, snazzy CGI, pretty sets and costumes to carry them. If they don't, they'll find that fewer and fewer people will want to donate their time, money and travel hundreds of miles to make these things. Nor will anyone want to watch their treks.
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Old April 14 2012, 08:09 PM   #93
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Re: Fan Film Writer's Primer

BRILLIANTLY said, sir. Brilliant.
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Old April 14 2012, 08:34 PM   #94
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Re: Fan Film Writer's Primer

middyseafort wrote: View Post
I'm a fan of Kirby Ferguson's EVERYTHING IS REMIXED. Kirby argues that everything is remixed, from music to art to movies to whatever. He's right. Even the products we use today are remixed from the past ... that's how innovation begins. Like the iPod, which was influenced by the Kodak camera of the 1920s. Kirby even gave a talk on the subject.

For Kirby, there's three stages of remixing — copy, combine and transform.
Whoa ... it's like he's re-mixing James Burke!

Alright, that's a little too snarky for the actual value of the content. Kirby goes beyond technological innovation and tackles the elements of creativity itself. That was a really neat video.

I'm intrigued by the need to bring in new elements to fan films to keep them from stagnating. Star Trek itself took a number of standard military tropes and set them on a starship in space to create something new for television.

On the other hand, fan films are re-mixing, but in ways that aren't immediately obvious. They're reproducing the look and feel of the original show, but they're doing so on a shoestring budget and utilizing tools and technology that would have been science fiction themselves forty years ago. What's missing is the creative influence of new ideas in story-telling.

Isn't the ultimate accomplishment of what you're describing to take elements of Star Trek, blend them with other influences, and put out something that is no longer Star Trek?
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Old April 15 2012, 01:31 AM   #95
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Re: Fan Film Writer's Primer

As one of the creators of the unfinished Exeter episode (writer, effects, some art design, but certainly not the creative force who made the whole thing happen; that would be Jimm Johnson, obviously, and I can't speak for him) I'm flattered by the notion that we aspired to "transform" what we were recreating but I'm not convinced that it's so, much less that we were at all successful at that. So many of those decisions that were discussed among us (again, not speaking for those made by the producers among themselves) were very much of the "how closely can we hew to the technique as well as the spirit of the original?" For example, our shots of the ship don't look old-fashioned next to Phase II's simply because we didn't know how to light them more dimensionally or animate more dynamically, but because we wanted them to look as much like something you might actually have seen on Trek TOS as we could.
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Old April 15 2012, 02:50 AM   #96
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Re: Fan Film Writer's Primer

Psion wrote: View Post
I'm intrigued by the need to bring in new elements to fan films to keep them from stagnating. Star Trek itself took a number of standard military tropes and set them on a starship in space to create something new for television.
But how it combined those tropes, along with the tropes of pulp SF, was in itself transformative. Thus creating something innovative for television.

Psion wrote: View Post
On the other hand, fan films are re-mixing, but in ways that aren't immediately obvious. They're reproducing the look and feel of the original show, but they're doing so on a shoestring budget and utilizing tools and technology that would have been science fiction themselves forty years ago. What's missing is the creative influence of new ideas in story-telling.

Isn't the ultimate accomplishment of what you're describing to take elements of Star Trek, blend them with other influences, and put out something that is no longer Star Trek?
Not so much blend them completely, but learn the languages of other material than the very material that the fan films are copying so that their approach to storytelling is much more richer. Studying other forms of storytelling than TREK. Learning how those shows construct stories, how they build character, how they resolve plot threads, etc. So that fan film writers and producers can breath fresh life into the stories they tell.

But you're right, what I am ultimately taking about is the creative influence of new ideas into the storytelling. To find inspiration from something other than TREK itself. Take one of my favorite episodes, "Conscience of the King," its influence was HAMLET and MACBETH. That episode was very much informed by studying something other than science fiction.

As for the Abrams example, those folks took the things that made TREK fun and adventurous and combined that with the spectacle of the movies they loved (yes, even STAR WARS) to transform TREK into something that was once again exciting and interesting.

Doing that won't make these films any less TREK. After all, TREK is a format, a vehicle for a multitude of stories. Action-adventure. Dramatic. Thoughtful. The original TREK was much more interesting in its early first season when it wasn't locked into a formula, when it was a pseudo-anthology that didn't limit the kind of stories it could tell.

Hell, let's take a look at two other TREK feature films. TMP tried to combine the thoughtful, esoteric science fiction of the New Wave and 2001 to give us a story about the possible evolution of mankind with machine. TMP combined with these two elements with the TREK format to transform the source material. Whether successful is up for debate, but I admire the attempt.

Now let's take TWOK. Meyer infused that movie with high seas adventure, shoving more of those military tropes into it. However, that movie is very much CAPTAIN HORATIO HORNBLOWER in space, more than the original TREK. Even Meyer admits to lifting the dead midshipman from the Gregory Peck movie. Meyer, not quite understanding TREK, took things that he was inspired by and combine that with TREK to give us his take on the material. And TWOK remains the more popular of the original TOS movies.

That's the beauty of TREK, it can tell any kind of story.

That being said, fan films are like an ouroboros in remixing only TREK, eating their own tails, soon they will consume themselves. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy fan films. They are my guilty pleasure. There is a lot of potential in them, and I'd like to see them take more risks, tell stories that matter with characters who don't merely drift from moment to moment, but drive the action.


My Name Is Legion wrote: View Post
As one of the creators of the unfinished Exeter episode (writer, effects, some art design, but certainly not the creative force who made the whole thing happen; that would be Jimm Johnson, obviously, and I can't speak for him) I'm flattered by the notion that we aspired to "transform" what we were recreating but I'm not convinced that it's so, much less that we were at all successful at that. So many of those decisions that were discussed among us (again, not speaking for those made by the producers among themselves) were very much of the "how closely can we hew to the technique as well as the spirit of the original?" For example, our shots of the ship don't look old-fashioned next to Phase II's simply because we didn't know how to light them more dimensionally or animate more dynamically, but because we wanted them to look as much like something you might actually have seen on Trek TOS as we could.
Maybe, Dennis, I'm a bit overzealous in my enthusiasm for STARSHIP EXETER, which certainly does capture the original spirit of the original. And I love that it does try to replicate the 60s effects, which shows much more imagination to solve a creative problem than throwing up a CGI starship zipping around phasers at full blast, imo.

That being said, I've always felt that the writing was doing something more than other fan films in this particular genre, giving us characters that were actively trying to solve a problem rather than merely reacting to the events taking place. More than that, it feels as if there was also an attempt to play on several TREK tropes, like the pretty yeoman, rather than merely replicate them.

STARSHIP EXTER not only captured the spirit of the original, but gave us something wholly new with its characters and story. Then again, it's the high bar that all fan films aspire to reach for me. Well, that and "World Enough and Time."
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Old April 15 2012, 03:02 AM   #97
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Re: Fan Film Writer's Primer

Well, I'm certainly glad that you admire the writing on the episode, and we did have pretty specific goals in terms of professional construction, etc. - some of which were met, some perhaps not so successfully. That said, we looked a lot at particular events, types of scenes, subplots and so on from TOS as parallels to what we were doing (a delicate way of saying we copied).

I always looked at what we were doing on that outing as largely pastiche (and I admired that about "The Savage Empire"), at least with respect to the writing. If there's one thing that does trouble me about fan films it's maybe the tendency to inflate the importance and influence of what we're doing while not consistently hitting some basic professional targets. As Brad Warner opined in another context, the world is full of folks who want to save the environment but who aren't keen on cleaning their toilets.

P.S. - You're not wrong about our intent with regard to Ensign Richards, I guess. We did want to do a bit of a turn on that one - which we may some day see the payoff to - and I was fairly insistent that she have rank beyond the generic "yeoman."
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Old April 15 2012, 03:57 AM   #98
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Re: Fan Film Writer's Primer

My Name Is Legion wrote: View Post
Well, I'm certainly glad that you admire the writing on the episode, and we did have pretty specific goals in terms of professional construction, etc. - some of which were met, some perhaps not so successfully. That said, we looked a lot at particular events, types of scenes, subplots and so on from TOS as parallels to what we were doing (a delicate way of saying we copied).

I always looked at what we were doing on that outing as largely pastiche (and I admired that about "The Savage Empire"), at least with respect to the writing. If there's one thing that does trouble me about fan films it's maybe the tendency to inflate the importance and influence of what we're doing while not consistently hitting some basic professional targets. As Brad Warner opined in another context, the world is full of folks who want to save the environment but who aren't keen on cleaning their toilets.

P.S. - You're not wrong about our intent with regard to Ensign Richards, I guess. We did want to do a bit of a turn on that one - which we may some day see the payoff to - and I was fairly insistent that she have rank beyond the generic "yeoman."
Nothing wrong with a good pastiche when it's done well.
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Old April 15 2012, 04:04 AM   #99
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I'm a great fan of parody and pastiche - and certainly they can be "transformative" in some instances. The movie Galaxy Quest uses a pastiche of Star Trek as its jumping-off place.
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Old April 15 2012, 07:05 AM   #100
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Re: Fan Film Writer's Primer

My Name Is Legion wrote: View Post
...For example, our shots of the ship don't look old-fashioned next to Phase II's simply because we didn't know how to light them more dimensionally or animate more dynamically, but because we wanted them to look as much like something you might actually have seen on Trek TOS as we could.
Yep. That's actually been a difficult thing to pull off. The whole "weirdspace" thing seen in Act 2 and the end of Act 3 is an example, because part of the design aesthetic of the show is to make it look like it would have if made in 1970 with the techniques available then. Jimm Johnson rejected a number of VFX for Act 4 because they looked computer generated. Act 4 has a lot of effects shots, and just about all of them are amongst the most complicated ones in the show. It's very easy to make them look too modern. In fact, for one effect, I proposed a CGI equivalent to a something Disney studios effects animation department did before WWII, and it looks great, AND it's actually something they could have done on TOS had they thought of it.

This relates to what Middy was saying about bringing in other influences. There's plenty of things people can bring to fanfilms that aren't fanwankery (endlessly connecting the dots and filling in continuity that exists only for its own sake). Look beyond the walls imposed on the franchise and see if you can stretch the format instead of slavishly following the formula.
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Old April 15 2012, 08:37 AM   #101
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Re: Fan Film Writer's Primer

I tend to agree with Middy. One of the things we tried to do with Intrepid was play with the format a bit. I'm not convinced we were terribly successful, but we did try and break from the norm. Ironically, I think we've been drifting back towards the status quo as time has moved on. Must try harder.
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Old April 15 2012, 09:07 AM   #102
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Re: Fan Film Writer's Primer

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Old April 15 2012, 10:06 AM   #103
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Re: Fan Film Writer's Primer

Well, Middy, I'm convinced. Thanks for a really thought-provoking series of posts. Have some karma!

...

Oh. That's right, we don't have karma here. Here, have a couple of approving Bolians, instead.
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Old April 15 2012, 05:20 PM   #104
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Re: Fan Film Writer's Primer

USS Intrepid wrote: View Post
I tend to agree with Middy. One of the things we tried to do with Intrepid was play with the format a bit. I'm not convinced we were terribly successful, but we did try and break from the norm. Ironically, I think we've been drifting back towards the status quo as time has moved on. Must try harder.
Haven't watched INTREPID in awhile, but I did appreciate that you guys were trying to stretch the format. Gotta say tho' the one thing I do like about INTREPID is the down-to-earth quality of the characters. They seem more like working officers, not a bunch of stuffy shirts who spout off the Prime Directive at the drop of a hat.

Psion wrote: View Post
Well, Middy, I'm convinced. Thanks for a really thought-provoking series of posts. Have some karma!

...

Oh. That's right, we don't have karma here. Here, have a couple of approving Bolians, instead.
Thanks, man! Hoping to crank out more of these types of posts. After all, I got my MFA in creative writing so I could teach and I am an editor/writer by profession. So I really enjoy writing these posts. My goal is to help fan film writers improve their scripts, their stories, like Maurice's in starting this thread.
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Old June 15 2012, 08:46 PM   #105
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Re: Fan Film Writer's Primer

An interesting list of the "22 Rules of Storytelling -- According to Pixar" is making the rounds today. I put my current script up against it and fared pretty well (19/22). Check it out here:

And, for posterity/discussion's sake, here it is:

#1: You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.

#2: You gotta keep in mind what's interesting to you as an audience, not what's fun to do as a writer. They can be v. different.

#3: Trying for theme is important, but you won't see what the story is actually about til you're at the end of it. Now rewrite.

#4: Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.

#5: Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You'll feel like you're losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.

#6: What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?

#7: Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.

#8: Finish your story, let go even if it's not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.

#9: When you're stuck, make a list of what WOULDN'T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.

#10: Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you've got to recognize it before you can use it.

#11: Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you'll never share it with anyone.

#12: Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.

#13: Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it's poison to the audience.

#14: Why must you tell THIS story? What's the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That's the heart of it.

#15: If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.

#16: What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don't succeed? Stack the odds against.

#17: No work is ever wasted. If it's not working, let go and move on - it'll come back around to be useful later.

#18: You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining.

#19: Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.

#20: Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How d'you rearrange them into what you DO like?

#21: You gotta identify with your situation/characters, can't just write ‘cool'. What would make YOU act that way?

#22: What's the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.
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