A Goodbye to Vast: Hopefully Not Forever, But For Now

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This is hard for me.  Honestly, it might be one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to write.  And given that I make a modest living killing my darlings, that’s saying something.  But I’ve put it off and put it off, and now (for a lot of very good reasons having to do with schedule and production) can do so no longer.  In fact, I’ve put it off too long already.  So I’m just going to say it; try to keep this post as brief as possible, because if I said everything I wanted to say, deep down, it would never get written, and I’d be letting down people I care about deeply.

I’m sorry to report that, given time and other commitments, I will not be returning to Vast this season.  I’m honestly heartbroken.  I think I can say without hyperbole, and with total respect to anyone who ever enjoyed my performance as Hans, that however disappointed you feel reading this, I’m more disappointed to have to write it.  I can only tell you that there were aspects of this decision that were outside my control.

This totally sucks, but there are so many projects I want to get out there.  Vast has taught me how much I like interacting with an audience directly, without the barriers of studio or network.  Honestly, being a freelancer will always mean a certain amount of gunslinging, and I’m cool with that, but watching the passion you all bring to the show has been inspiring.

It was a new experience, putting out the deepest and most vulnerable part of myself, and watching people react.  It’s true what Arthur Miller said, “The best work anybody ever does is that which is on the verge of embarrassing us, always.”  I want to use this time to deliver more experiences like that, for both of us.  As much as I wish there was a better way to go about doing that, for right now, there isn’t.

For what it’s worth, Jack and I are already talking about ways to keep me involved.  And I have no intention of leaving the #vast community, and all you wonderful people.  I want to throw my support behind the cast and the show.  What I know of what’s planned for Season 2 is a mind bender.  Keep watching — I know I will.

Most of all, I’m grateful to the fans.  You’re what makes this show special.  I can’t thank you enough for the time we spent together.  I hope we get to do it more.

The eye shines bright — stay metal.   I love you all.

– Jon “Hans” Callan

Broadcast VAST (Or Where Can I Watch Your Spaceship Show?)

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I wanted to write a post about VAST.  Something I could direct people to when they inevitably asked me where they can actually watch this wonderful show we’ve been making.

For those who don’t know, VAST is a live-streamed weekly role playing game featuring a truly astounding collection of writers, actors, and nerdly tastemakers.  It’s run by my friend and cohort Jackson Lanzing (Joyride, Hacktivist) and involves two parties (or crews, to use the sci-fi parlance) in opposition.  Each with very different goals and a universe-ending threat in between.

It’s based – in rules and spirit – on a homebrew game of an existing science-fiction property.  It’s a game we’ve been playing for years.  One that’s become slightly mythic in certain (nerd) circles around LA and which people actually wanted to buy.  Jack told these certain people that this would be a bad idea, for a number of reasons – not the least of which is that this certain franchise can’t be owned by anyone except the people who own it.

He had an alternate pitch.  What if we delivered to them an original science-fiction universe?  One where the characters and underlying IP could be owned by the people who funded it?

What would work about this model are those things that would make us different from a normal roleplaying game: two ships.  Two crews.  Asymmetric gameplay.  Imagine The Hunt for Red October or Balance of Terror played out as two separate, but interconnected games of Dungeons and Dragons.  Now imagine that chase took place across the entire universe; each decision made by each party reverberating across to the other game and back; like a seizure, traveling from one hemisphere of the brain to the other in unstoppable feedback loop.

Like Pandemic Legacy, the game you end up with permanently scars the landscape.  Player and audience fundamentally altering the universe, even as they discover it together.

If that sounds fun to you, your next question is likely: where can I watch it?

Well, it turns out that’s complicated.  Not crazy complicated, but as the old models of television go extinct and are replaced, there’s a lot to figure out.  So let’s run through it, shall we?

Vast is one of the launch shows for Geek & Sundry’s Alpha subscription service.  Once that service is ready, it will be available for a monthly fee of $4.99.  That’s in addition to other Alpha-exclusive shows.  (If you’re a regular twitch subscriber, don’t worry.  You’ll already be getting six months of Alpha free.)  And the platform will host regular Geek & Sundry content 48-hours before it goes live by normal means.  In addition to all the rest, members will get access to a variety of special events, prizes and discounts.  (Don’t ask me what.  No idea.  But I bet it’s cool.)

One more thing.  For a number of good reasons too complicated to get into here, it was decided VAST would be launching before Alpha does.  That means, right now, you can only get an Alpha subscription through invitation (though that’ll be changing soon).  This is actually good news for you.  Because it means the first four episodes of VAST will be made available live through Twitch and on YouTube for a limited time.  This gives you a reasonable window to try the show, get wildly excited, and decide to give Geek & Sundry their $4.99 per month, plus whatever else they want to keep beaming it out onto your interwebs.

I will say, I’ve seen a bit of Alpha and the coolest thing about it is all the things you can’t do on Twitch, most of which involve audience interaction.  These are things VAST intends to take full advantage of: viewers brought into the game space, puzzles and riddles that are too much for players to solve on our own.  The first to crack these cyphers actually get brought onto our crew as science and intelligence officers.

By way of some final word, I’ve loved this game since it was homebrew.  We often joked before it was a show that it was methadone for the writing and acting we did in our day jobs – all of that sweet high, none of the pain.  Which is actually very dangerous when you think about it, given that we make our living through that discomfort.  (If it was easy, everyone would do it.)  But if we’ve done our jobs and translated even a piece of that experience into something the audience can share, I have no doubt this series will be very special.

Please watch.  And, if you like it, let people know.  It really is like nothing else.

Original IP.  Original characters… original VAST.

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WGA Elections – David Slack

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I did something today.  Something I’d like you to do, too.

I voted.

If you’re a WGA member, you’ve already received the materials you need to vote for your new Board of Directors.  You have until September 19th to complete those materials and there’s a lot of good choices this year.  (I don’t know Glen Mazzara personally, but I’ve been impressed with his no bullshit attitude and his dedication to true diversity in the writers room.)

The candidate I do know personally – and whole heartedly endorse – is David Slack.  No one will fight harder for you or be less likely to back down from that fight.

I know this because David has done work for us at the Animation Writers Caucus.  (That’s the Writers Guild committee dedicated to getting animation writers covered by the WGA, the same as the rest of their peers, instead of as animators, which is how the system is set up now.  It’s a group I also dedicate my time to, and a worthy cause.)  He’s been a speaker, a mentor, and a friend to many I know personally.

David Slack use to be an animation writer, just like a lot of my friends.  He wrote and produced the fantastic Teen Titans series for Warner Bros. in 2003 before moving on to a career in live-action,  working his way up through the ranks on shows like Law and Order and Person of Interest.

Some move from one level to another, higher echelon and forget the world they left behind.  Not David.

He shows constant interest in the working conditions for animation writers, and, speaking personally, has given enormously of his time and expertise, answering endless questions, and helping me strategize my career.  And for no other reason than he used to be in my shoes.  That’s the kind of empathy and solidarity you want from someone representing your interests.

Let’s face it: this job is hard.  All too often we’re exploited: for our love, for our passion, our fear  – that there are others out there willing to replace us, the younger, the more willing, or that that path ahead to bigger and better things get narrower, if not non-existent, for those that rock the boat.  But we have a built-in counter-weight to the ugly prospect of speaking up as a lone entity, and that’s speaking up collectively.

We are stronger together than we are separately.  That’s not the notion behind any union – and that’s the notion we need to keep in mind now, in 2016.

So please consider making your voice heard in our union this year, and voting for my friend, David Slack.

https://davidslackwga.wordpress.com

24 Years

Apparently, twenty-four years ago tonight, the Batman: Animated Series premiered. I watched it. I loved it. It taught me about Batman and the DC Universe as a whole by extension. But given that this show presages Justice League Action and the best phase of my working career, my gratitude and admiration for the work done here is deeper than even I thought possible.

24 years of Batman everybody.  And we’re still not done. 🙂

Outrage Porn and the Commodification of Fan Spaces

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This is great.  If you haven’t read it, I recommend you do.

There’s a lot to it, not all of which I agree with, and much of it comes from a very different culture than is the river in which I generally swim (to borrow a parlance from Gary Panter).  I don’t put much stock in the idea of queer-baiting, for instance (at least as it relates to properties like Sherlock and Supernatural; which, it seems, have an established interpretation that a small, but vocal subset of fans choose to ignore, and then get mad when the show does not legitimize their reading).

To me, the important point is the degree to which the passion of fandom can and does become commodified.  And not in the usual sense of the people who sell us t-shirts and Enterprise model kits.

What’s different now is the people who profit off passion in the form of controversy: the outrage machine and its click-based profit motive writ large over nerd culture.  Make no mistake, it’s a business to these people.  They need your shares.  Which is why the manufactured controversies are becoming more frequent and less substantial with each new cycle.

Just look at the recent example of Barb and Stranger Things. In all other respects, the recent Netflix prestige series is celebrated as a well-written and even female-friendly show.

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Justice for Barb, I guess?

Not every character can be the hero of the story.  Audiences intuitively understand this.  If the story were about Barb, it would require its own sacrifices, characters cut down before their time, just as unfairly as Barb was.

But it’s not about story, it’s about politics.  And our politics are about our passions.

I have my own theories on this.  I believe it goes way beyond fan culture.  The world is a messed up place.  People have legitimate grievances.  And voicing those grievances in the form of theoretically righteous indignation feels good.  So good we might actually be addicted to it.

Just look at this data, from Weibo, the Chinese social media platform that’s essentially China’s Twitter.  It indicates anger spreads faster than any other emotion in web sharing.

We’re becoming increasingly segmented – victims of the bubble – and the controversy-makers pit our bubbles against each other to drive traffic and ad revenue.

And believe me when I say, they’re counting on your addiction.  Controversy-peddlers don’t care about your issue.  In fact, in many cases, they’re actively opposed to it, or have a vested interest in trivializing it.  That’s how thousands of fans end up going after Nick Spencer for (allegedly) making Captain America a Nazi.  That doesn’t benefit them, however legitimate their grievance might (or might not) be.  It benefits advertising revenue, and possibly Marvel, who keep their product in the public eye and at the center of the conversation.

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Seems legit.

So what do we do about it?  Unlike the author, I don’t believe we can put the genie back in the bottle.  Nor do I think it would be morally or ethically right to return fandom, and its otherwise voiceless groups, to safe spaces only, free from economic exploitation.  I think it might be foolish to even think those spaces exist.  The suits know about Tumblr now and they’re not likely to forget fandom’s home address.

The best thing we can do is talk about it.  We need to be aware of ourselves caught in the gears of the outrage machine.

No one can tell you what issues should or shouldn’t be important to you.  There is injustice in the world, objects worthy of your ire.  But next time, before you click share, it might be worth asking, “Who benefits?”  Because it might not be who you think.

A Milestone for Comics

I yearn to be able to one day contribute as much to the conversation (about everything: race, class, society, life) as Dwayne McDuffie did. Does anyone know if the Milestone books are available on Comixology? If not, they should be. It seems that with the national conversation where it is today, they were frustratingly, brilliantly ahead of their time. And it seems that almost every other week there is a think piece about a new reader discovering that.

I am proud by the way, enormously, heart-wrenchingly proud, to count Matt Wayne as a friend and teacher.  A man who was there for Ground Zero of a movement that tried to change everything about comics, without laying a finger on the things that worked.

http://io9.gizmodo.com/the-superman-crossover-that-perfectly-explained-white-p-1785744977

Opening Up The Archives

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Lots of changes to Exit.  I’ve added a new page that includes a smattering of the spec samples I’ve written over the years.  Not all are perfect (there’s a lot I would do differently, being a different writer now than I was then), but I’m proud of something in each, and hopefully, they can serve as learning tools for you.

The Ghost of Scripts-mas Past

Occasionally, I’m asked to share “spec” scripts (material designed to show my skills as a writer, but not contracted by any company or official persons).  I’ve written several.  I’ve decided to include these to give a sense of the process.

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, “All Tomorrow’s Parties”  My first spec.  This was a terrible sample, in that it made no attempt to mimic the voice of the series. But it was a pretty good indication of what I’d do with the premise.  In that sense, and in the sense that it got me work, it has served me well.

Part of what inspired this was the obvious question of sex between Cameron and John, which the show seemed determined to slow burn, but which felt to me something that had to be dealt with from jump.  Terminator 2 always felt like a perfect metaphor for puberty.  You’re already struggling with all that anger, and then someone gives you a robot that can burn the world.  Making the robot look like Summer Glau just makes the metaphor more explicit.

Because it’s science-fiction, the issue of teen sex revolves around a time travel paradox that re-orders our understanding of cause and effect in John’s timeline, as well as posing the question of just who keeps reprogramming all these robots to begin with?

Wolverine and The X-Men: “Weapon 12” – Funny story (maybe I’ll tell it in detail another time), my first job as a writer in Los Angeles was supposed to be for Wolverine and the X-Men, on a season two that never materialized.  I found myself with a lot of free time and everyone thought I was already working on the show, so…

This is an adaptation of a few different arcs from Grant Morrison’s run on New X-Men (including “Weapon 12” and “Assault on Weapon Plus”) with the aim of introducing Fantomex, in all his arrogance, improbable powers and charm, into the continuity of a show that is admittedly for children, and shouldn’t get near a character like Fantomex.

Fun fact: Fantomex was based on the Diabolik character from Italian comic strips and grind house cinema, who was himself based on the turn of the century criminal master mind and French answer to Sherlock Holmes, Fantômas.

This is a very early sample from before I knew the rules of writing for animation, but it’s still worthwhile as an artifact.

Film: “The Lucky Strike” – A script for an abandoned short adapted from the story of the same name by Kim Stanley Robinson.  What might have happened if the fateful flight over Hiroshima had gone a bit differently?  I regard this mostly as practice, though it was shot.  The film was abandoned when the production couldn’t secure the rights to the footage they had.

I like this one a lot.

Fringe, “On the Subject of Genies and Bottles” – This is pretty self-explanatory.  I had just read Great Mambo Chicken on the recommendation of Warren Ellis and my head was buzzing with nano-swarms.  Still one of my favorite books.  Script is good, too.

Doctor Who, “The Martian Invasion” – The Doctor meets young Orson Welles on the night of the War of the Worlds broadcast.  But what’s the real invasion and what’s the hoax?  Clever idea (though some people have pointed out it plays in territory similar to The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai, which I’ve never seen), and putting the Doctor up against someone as brash and arrogant as him was a lot of fun.  I still like this, and may do something with it one day.

More to come, particularly for those of you interested in writing.  Stay tuned.

Am I Crazy, Or…

There is something important in this story. About a million important things. At this time of night, I don’t have the insight to identify it or the faculties to express it once identified, but it’s there, for certain. Is it the finally-realized result of a decade and a half of terrorism? The strange condition of the human animal, wherein we behave worse in a fake crisis than a real one? Reading about this feels like reading about the Stanford Prison Experiment in real time and if it was an accident. It has the surreal quality of a Twilight Zone episode. Some post-9/11 Monsters Are Due on Maple Street, with a heaping dose of the bizarre banality and boredom of a Beckett play. I’m grasping at straws.

http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2016/08/the-terrifying-jfk-airport-shooting-that-wasnt.html