I started training to be a projectionist in the year 2000. Unofficially, though. I hadn’t applied to the union or anything. That would come later. I just happened to know one of the projectionists at Westhills cinema, conveniently one of my favourite theatres, and he said we were free to come visit him in the booth any time he was working. He’d even get us free movies and drinks when we did.
The first time I entered a booth it was like stepping into Narnia. The projectors hummed all around me, the lamps flickered in the dim light of the booth, vintage movie posters hung everywhere, and for someone who loves movies like I do it was a magical place.
These were the glory days. Free movies, chilling in the booth, or just going from projector to projector and watching trailers through the window. “Trailer hopping,” I called it. I felt I could hang out there forever.
So when my friend offered to train me, I jumped at the chance. Also I hadn’t had a job in like two years, since quitting the Winter Club (hates it, hates it forever) with a vow to never work banquet service again. Seriously, banquet service is awful and I hate it. Just so we’re clear.
After a few months working with him, I applied for a job with the union. Took a little while to get it, but once the person they hired instead of me washed out (I’ve gotten my share of jobs because their first choice was terrible but then I turned out to be awesome… ladies) I started training officially, now with Doug, the union’s business agent. I practiced running the booth at Canyon Meadows, a discount theatre that was once the flagship theatre for Cineplex Odeon in Calgary (how times do change) while learning theory with Doug. And some days I’d still go and do some time at Westhills, learning all I could so that I could start actually getting paid faster.
The Vagabond Permittee
In the spring of 2001, I finally knew enough that Doug was comfortable scheduling me for work. Solo. And hours weren’t hard to come by. As soon as I was an official permittee, that is, not a member of the union but someone the union allows to work, I worked 11 days straight, again bouncing between Canyon Meadows and Westhills. It was during my Canyon Meadows shifts that I learned I truly never get tired of Ocean’s 11: for three days straight I ended my afternoon shift by rewatching it through the window, and cleaning projectors when Julia Roberts showed up.
I do not like Julia Roberts. Not positive why.
Over the months that followed, I’d work nearly everywhere. I spent a month working at what was once called the Colosseum, a theatre so far south I had an anxiety attack the first time I drove there (“There’s still city down here? Who lives this far south? How? And WHY?”), where I learned that customer complaints are not always right.
“AI is out of focus,” the staff would tell me. I’d reply that it was a soft focus scene, and their issue was with Steven Spielberg, not me. “Jurassic Park 3 is dark,” they’d say. I’d reply that it was a night scene. This was great practice for the Moviedome, where I’d learn that 95% of the time, if a customer was complaining that their movie hadn’t started yet, they were in the wrong theatre.
I had the best time of my career working at Westhills that September. In the off season, they didn’t even run movies on Monday, Wednesday, or Thursday afternoons, so working Monday and Wednesday was a pretty easy gig. I’d show up at noon, clean a little, do trailer work if necessary, go to Chapters and read Star Trek novels for two hours, come back and thread all the projectors for the evening, get dinner, and be back in time for everything to start running. The best of times for me, if somewhat proving the corporation’s point about not wanting to pay us for 80 hours a week anymore.
Not every job went so well. One night at Canyon Meadows, I decided to leave before everything was done (having been told that was an option), only to have Count of Monte Cristo grind to a halt due to problems with the platter motors.
The manager had to hand out a lot of refunds. I didn’t work a lot of shifts there after that. On the other hand, the regular guys got more paid hours as a result, so…
Anyway. That year I lived as a vagabond, going from theatre to theatre, wherever someone needed hours covered. I never bothered to get to know the staff anywhere, in case I was whisked away somewhere else. Also because spending the whole shift alone in my booth was A) second nature, being a bit of a shut-in at the best of times, and B) encouraged by management. If something went wrong with a projector, they preferred I be right nearby.
Point is, at the big theatres I never really got to know the various staff. Not even at the Sunridge Spectrum, which in the fall of 2001 became my home for twenty hours a week. A few supervisors, sure, but not the ushers or concession staff. Not the girl with the multi-coloured hair who smiled at me whenever we passed and called me “Vagabond” in a flirtatious tone. And she’d have been my exact jam if I’d been single, younger, and possessed of even the base elements of self-confidence regarding talking to pretty girls. (erm… ladies…)
I was alienated enough from the staff that it was only years later that Ian, of Dan and Ian Wander Europe, realized we’d worked at that theatre at the same time for months, and never crossed paths.
Finding a home
As months passed, I began to settle down. My friend at Westhills eventually left the theatre, and shortly thereafter the union, and the glory days of being able to hang out in the Westhills booth came to an end. I started splitting my time between the Spectrum and the Silver City, one of the city’s two largest theatres. And then my 20-hour per week shift at the Spectrum got jacked by someone with more seniority, and I ended up working full time at the Silver City.
And then the Spiderman incident happened. And it was time to go. And that’s how I ended up in Calgary’s other discount movie theatre, the Moviedome.
Been a couple of months since I last did one of these. I could say that I was enjoying the spike in comments following my post office blogs, and tried to shift to topics of more general interest. Might even be true. But there’s another reason. Deep down, I was avoiding returning to this topic because I knew that it would mean talking about how a script managed to go from “this is the best thing I’ve done” to “this is too embarrassing to show people.”
So buckle up for the rise and fall of the Jade Monkey.
What’s it about?
Jordan Bleachley, a shy, awkward graphic designer for a local newspaper, is living a quiet life, typically alone in his office, until the night Maya Tarlington crashes into him. Maya’s a globe-trotting woman of mystery, roaming the world having adventures, and decides that as long as she’s here, she may as well insert herself into Jordan’s life. Soon he and his two closest friends, investigative reporter Travis Thompson and travel columnist Saisha Porter (also Jordan’s ex), are pulled into Maya’s latest adventure: finding both halves of the legendary Jade Monkey, said to make whoever wields it unstoppable, before would-be supervillain Helena von Drax beats them to it.
Yup. Soon the whole gang is tracking the second half of the monkey to Indonesia while Jordan and Maya try to figure out if a timid shut-in and a globe-trotting madwoman can make it work.
So why’d that happen?
I had a dream. A dream involving a… mildly sexual encounter with an exotic woman of mystery who my dream-friends immediately distrusted. Despite their misgivings, I decided to help her on her quest, attempting to find a better reason for this choice than “I saw her breasts the night we met and if I help her I might get to see them again or maybe even touch them.”
Now, I’d recently joined a writers’ circle led by the playwright-in-residence of one of the big professional theatre companies in town, and in this group I confirmed something I’d been afraid of: as of Knoll, I’d grown stagnant, leaning on dialogue riffs and wacky premises instead of properly developed characters and emotion. I decided that this dream, whose details stuck with me throughout my shift at whatever movie theatre I was working at that week (odds favour Westhills), would be the script where I started to push myself to inject some real passion into the love story.
The love story that still involved a wacky premise. And a meet-cute. And an intrepid reporter. And like four comic-relief characters written to be played by one actor.
I’d have probably been shocked, maybe a touch offended, if someone back then had implied that Jordan was based on me and Maya was the personification of my secret desire to be a) swept away and b) found interesting by an international woman of mystery. I know this because people implied characters were based on me all the time and I at least acted shocked and offended each instance, even when it was blatantly true. And in this case, I didn’t think Jordan was secretly me at all.
And yet it is demonstrably the case. Right as my marriage was beginning to crumble I suddenly write a script in which the lead character is a quiet, shy, shut-in who runs across a bold, inhumanly friendly woman of adventure, who sees how deep and creative he is behind his awkward exterior and decides that not only is he worth knowing but she’s also going to bang him? Merciful Zeus, the wish fulfillment is just dripping off this thing.
But maybe I missed it because I was so enamoured with Travis Thompson, a character I’d experimented with in writing classes because Trasmetropolitan’s Spider Jerusalem made Gonzo journalists on a crusade for the Truth look so damned cool, and I wanted to write one. And including Saisha gave Travis a romance plot of his own, because why wouldn’t the crusading journalist be just as useless as me at telling girls he likes them?
I included a role I called the Titanically Talented Bit-Player, who would play Helena’s faithful Manservant, Jordan’s editor, an informant named Jerry the Snitch, and Jacques the pilot, who flies the gang to Indonesia at the top of act two. This was inspired by the extras from Supervillain. I decided this play needed some minor, often single scene characters, so why not have them all played by one person, and why not make all of them just as entertaining as Supervillain’s delightfully bitter cocktail waiter?
As for Helena, and her trusty Manservant, this was my first attempt to write villains who were both funny and menacing. Because any villain out to reunite the halves of the Jade Monkey has to be a little silly, right?
How’d it turn out?
Oh man. Where to start.
In 2002, when it was first staged, I thought it was great. I’d pushed myself to add more depth and passion to the love story than I ever had before (not hard, I think my only successful romantic pairing by that point was Illuminati, and we all know what I think of that one), and I was proud of that. Thus, I thought it was good enough to take to the 2003 Edmonton Fringe Festival, despite the fact that most Fringe shows are 60-75 minutes and this one came in at two hours including intermission. But during the not very successful Fringe run, one of the cast put the idea of filming it as a movie in my head, and I started thinking of what I’d change to adapt it for film. And I began to see problems. So many problems. Because I had pushed myself into new territory… and the first time we try something, there are usually some kinks to be worked out. On that note.
The meet-cute is terrible, even for a meet-cute, and what’s worse it’s excruciatingly unmotivated. Second worst I’ve ever done, possibly, after Illuminati in Love. At the time of writing, I suspect I’d been influenced by a Kevin Smith blog from a series about the casting process on Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. In said entry, Kevin Smith talked about how the studio had put pressure on him to cast Heather Graham in the female lead, but she’d balked at the role because she didn’t understand why the character falls in love with Jay. Smith had trouble answering, because, as he put it, who knows why anyone falls in love with anyone? The only answer he could think of was “Why does her character fall in love with Austin fucking Powers?”
And thus did I decide I could use the same logic to skate by the question of why, exactly, a world-travelling treasure hunter could possibly decide to hook up with a graphic designer who barely leaves the office. But I couldn’t. Because, 11 years later, it stinks of the aforementioned wish fulfillment and I want to punch their flirty scenes in the face.
Flirty scenes which, by the way, are nowhere near as engaging as they needed to be. It takes this thing until the end of act one to get out of first gear. Right before the act break, everyone escapes a trap laid by Helena and leaps onto a plane to chase down the remaining half on the Jade Monkey. Right after the act break, Jordan and Maya sit on the the plane and exchange backstories for at least ten minutes. Once we had to cut the intermission for time at the Fringe, it became all too clear that this little narrative choice killed the show’s pace like an overly wordy pause button. Any momentum we’d gained was brutally murdered by exposition and monologues.
Wow. Four paragraphs and I’ve barely scratched the surface here… time for an “everything wrong with this script” speed round.
1) Nearly every scene that the villains appear in features Travis complaining about how stupid the plot is. Admitting the plot is lame doesn’t make it not that.
2) Speaking of Travis, I thought his angry-ranting-but-he-really-cares shtick was pretty good… until I saw Dr. Cox from Scrubs do it about 50 times better. I thought “Oh, that’s what I was going for,” and was sad.
3) Half of the Titanically Talented Bit Player characters serve no real purpose. Mitchell the editor provides details that get repeated, and Jacques is only necessary for the plane scene, which the play would be better off without.
4) The Titanically Talented Bit Player also breaks the fourth wall at least once, which is not something the rest of the play does, so it kind of sticks out.
5) “Travis most of the time” and “Travis crushing on Saisha” are like two different people. A switch flicks and he goes from bargain-basement Spider Jerusalem to stammering mess on a freaking dime.
6) I’ve written my share of quiet saps who end up in shenanigans, but Jordan has to be worst of them. And by worst, I mean least interesting to watch.
7) But at least I made sure to have a conversation between Saisha and Maya establish that Jordan’s great at sex. Because that was necessary, apparently.
8) “Tarlington” would be my least favourite last name I came up with for a character if I hadn’t also come up with “Bleachley.”
9) I wrote this thing and I have a hard time getting invested in anything that happens. What chance does anyone else have?
I will say this. I do kind of like the resolution of the jade monkey nonsense. In front of everybody, Helena reunites both halves of the monkey… and nothing happens. Because, as Jordan puts it, “It’s not modular. It’s broken.”
Because fuck every movie in which some ancient artifact was broken into pieces but can be magically reunited every five thousand years or when the planets align or whatever. Because really, honestly, who thinks like that. If you’re going to break something because it’s too dangerous, YOU LEAVE IT BROKEN.
Would you stage it again?
We staged this one twice. We went through no less than five Mayas over the two productions. The two people who directed it left theatre entirely afterwards. I used to think it was because the show was cursed. Now it’s because I think the script is shit.
Trying to think of how to rewrite the script into “Jade Monkey: the Movie,” I came up with so many flaws (as you’ve seen) that I decided there was only one solution: burn it to the ground and start over on a white piece of paper. Because I still liked the concept, just not the execution. Watch the skies… we’ll get to how that turned out.
But as for re-staging Jade Monkey, in short, no. No a thousand times over.
Repeated theme alert
This was my first attempt at funny-yet-menacing villains. But not the last.
“Man and woman cannot be friends.” Travis and Saisha spend the whole show crushing on each other, and Manservant’s got it bad for Helena. Which makes even less sense than Maya liking Jordan.
Pop culture references: Why a Jade Monkey? Homer the Astronaut. The whole B-plot is born of a Simpsons reference, and its resolution is a near-verbatim recreation of my reaction to the climax of the first Tomb Raider movie.
“Let’s swap backstories for fifteen minutes like that’s not pacing Kryptonite!” I was still doing that last year.
The Quiet, Shy Protagonist The Ladies Still Unaccountably Love. Somebody shoot me.
Is it apparent yet that I take a particular interest in comic-related properties? Especially the ones from DC? Well, we’re back on that topic for the nonce. What’s key this week is that we had another announcement from Fox regarding its upcoming series Gotham. Apparently it’s young Bruce Wayne, not Captain Jim Gordon, who will be the main character of this show about Gotham before Batman.
I keep waiting for some piece of news about this series to make me in any way excited to see it. No, that’s not true… I keep waiting for someone involved in this series to say “Just kidding, we’re not making this show at all. Can you imagine? Wow. That would be awful.” Because everything they’ve announced has sounded terrible so far.
“It’s about James Gordon before Batman, featuring Bat-villains before they were the Bat-villains!” No.
“Twelve year-old Bruce Wayne will also appear on the series!” NO.
“Actually he’ll be the main character! The series will follow him from childhood in the first episode to finally putting on the cape in the last episode!” NO. “We’ll have early versions of the villains too! It’ll be just like Smallvi–”
I watched Smallville. I watched Smallville for an entire damned decade. I have, in weaker moments, considered picking up the complete series box set on DVD. But I don’t want to do it again. One of the things I love about Arrow, one of the things that’s made it easier to convince others to watch it? It’s not Smallville. It’s an improvement on Smallville in nearly every way, most notably in that Oliver might not be calling himself Green Arrow yet, but in the very first episode he was still fighting crime with a god damned bow and arrow.
In short, of all the projects circulating based on comic properties, this one is the absolute least appealing, and yet it’s the one that’s basically guaranteed to be on TV screens by year’s end. They’ve been greenlit without even shooting a pilot. The Flash series doesn’t have that kind of guarantee. Millions of dollars will be thrown at a series that has the most “This is a bad idea” red flags coating it since they made a TV show about cavemen from an insurance commercial.
So, here’s five TV series based on comics they could make instead that would be nigh-infinitely better than ten years of Bruce Wayne, Selina Kyle and Edward Nygma dealing with high school and peer pressure.
1. Gotham Central
This is the one that occurs to literally any DC comic fan a few seconds after they hear about Gotham. So let’s start here. It’s about the Major Crimes Unit of the Gotham City Police Department, attempting to solve crimes without leaning on the Bat-signal. This almost was a TV series back in 2003, but after Birds of Prey crashed and burned Warner Brothers put a halt on all Batman-related TV (well, live action, anyway). So here’s how they could make this a great series.
Premise: Commissioner James Gordon (who wasn’t in the comic but we’ll put him in the show as a recurring character) struggles to root out the corruption that infested the GCPD prior to his appointment, in a cautious alliance with the Batman. His greatest accomplishment in the public eye, the Major Crimes Unit, is also the biggest source of tension in the department itself, as key positions were given not to GCPD veterans, but to transfers from Metropolis, such as openly gay Captain Maggie Sawyer. After one of their own is killed in a drug bust that brought them face to face with Mr. Freeze, MCU detectives Marcus Driver and Rene Montoya make an appeal to Sawyer and Gordon: no Bat-signal. They’re going to catch Freeze themselves, to prove that Gotham cops can solve Gotham crimes… even if some of them, like Montoya’s new partner, are more used to the squeaky clean streets of Metropolis.
Now, you couldn’t have Bat villains every week, and sometimes they wouldn’t be able to get the win without Bat-assistance, so this could descend into a bland “procedural with sci-fi elements,” like Agents of SHIELD in the first half of its debut season. So to avoid this, let’s have some long plots. Specifically, something you often see in better Batman stories: the growing tensions between established organized crime families like the Falcones and the newly emerging “freak mafias” under figures like Oswald “Penguin” Cobblepot, Roman “Black Mask” Sionis, and the real crazies like Joker, Scarecrow, and Two-Face. Make Penguin, Black Mask, and Carmine Falcone regular players to give the MCU some big bads to contend with as they struggle to shut down the gang violence.
Cast: –Jason O’Mara (Life on Mars, Terra Nova, Vegas) as Detective Marcus Driver, GCPD veteran out to redeem the department by proving real cops don’t need the Batman to solve crimes for them.
–Paula Patton (Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol) as Renee Montoya, personal protegee of Jim Gordon who as a uniformed officer dealt with the worst Gotham’s streets and precincts had to offer.
-as long as I’m dreaming, Idris Elba (The Wire, Thor) as Montya’s new partner, Crispus Allen, a Metropolis transfer disgusted by the corruption that still infests the GCPD.
–Sarah Jones (Alcratraz, Vegas) as Maggie Sawyer, head of the MCU, who transferred from dealing with crimes involving aliens, monsters, and Superman in Metropolis to worrying that every unsolved homicide might be the Joker in Gotham.
–Victor Garber (Alias, Eli Stone) as Carmine Falcone, fighting a two front war against Gordon’s attempts to root out his crooked cops and the Penguin’s attempts to rule Gotham’s underworld, all while trying to keep his son Alberto’s growing psychosis hidden.
–Mark A. Sheppard (Firefly) as the Penguin, Gotham’s second biggest (and rising) mob boss, whose vicious and unforgiving nature makes him a terror despite being short and seemingly harmless.
–Peter Krause (Six Feet Under, Sports Night) as Jim Gordon, Gotham’s top cop on a mission to redeem his department and his city.
–David Marciano (Due South, the Shield) as Jim Corrigan, the corrupt head of CSI, whose side business of selling key bits of evidence is endangered by Gordon’s crusade. He’ll be driven to greater and greater lengths to keep his activities hidden.
Other stories: With the Falcones in the cast, make season two a loose adaptation of The Long Halloween; no adaptation of Gotham Central would be complete without including Half a Life, in which Montoya is outed as a lesbian and kidnapped by an amorous Two-Face, and Soft Targets, in which Joker starts picking off cops and civilians with a sniper rifle; the Black Mask launches a savage and destructive bid to make himself the king of Gotham’s underworld, which forces an uneasy alliance between Falcone and Cobblepot, but will the MCU play ball with the devils they know to stop something worse?
God this series could be so good I just depressed myself.
One of the best superhero comics of the 90s, featuring reluctant legacy hero Jack Knight.
Premise: Decades ago, scientist Ted Knight created the cosmic rod: a weapon powered by cosmic radiation Knight was able to harness. For a brief time, he used the rod to fight crime as Starman, defender of Opal City, until his mental breakdown. Now he’s passed the rod to his son David… but when David is shot dead by the son of Starman’s oldest enemy, the Mist, it falls to Ted’s younger son Jack to take up the mantle and save the city from the Mist’s comeback crime wave… with the unexpected aid of immortal supervillain the Shade.
Cast: Arthur Darvill (Doctor Who, Broadchurch) as Jack Knight. He’d rather just buy and sell antiques and collectibles, but after his brother’s death he makes a promise to his father to carry on the mantle of Starman part time, growing from reluctant protector to true hero. Alan Alda (MASH) as Ted Knight, genius inventor, who struggles with depression and guilt over misuse of his earlier inventions. Jack’s promise came with a catch: Jack will be Starman if Ted tries to turn the energy he uses for the rod into a new, global energy source. Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock) as the Shade, an apparently immortal villain with deadly shadow-based powers. When Ted Knight was Starman, the Shade was robbing banks for fun, but comes out of retirement when the Mist’s crime wave threatens his preferred home, Opal City. He becomes an ally to Jack. Rooney Mara (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) as Nash, aka the new Mist. The Mist’s son Kyle is his heir apparent, and his daughter Nash a shy, stuttering disappointment. But when Jack kills Kyle to avenge his brother, Nash sets out to make herself a true villain, becoming a more deadly Mist than he brother ever was.
Mark A. Sheppard (Supernatural) as Jake “Bobo” Benetti, a former small-time supervillain who, after a few bank robberies, decided being super-strong and tough didn’t mean evil was the life for him. Becomes a reluctant hero in his own right.
Other stories: A series obsessed with the past and future, you’d have flashbacks to Ted’s Starman days and, why not, a season set in space as they adapt the classic arc Stars My Destination. Also of note is the O’Dares, for whom being Opal City cops is the family business. Black sheep Matt is corrupt at first, but his past life as legendary Opal city lawman Brian Savage calls out to him, and with the Shade’s help he works to undo the damage he’s done to his city and family name.
3. The Boys
Based on the graphic novel series by Garth Ennis, in which… oh, who am I kidding. This is a series about super heroes that makes Game of Thrones look like the Gilmore Girls, no network would touch this thing.
3. Top Ten
Another cop series, this one set in a world where literally everyone has powers. Not just powers, but costumes and code names to match. In this world, Top Ten are the cops.
Premise: Like I said, everyone in the world has some sort of power, so the local precinct of Top Ten must deal with crimes involving aliens, robots, gods, and super-powered serial killers. All part of a day’s work.
Cast: The book has a huge cast. I’ll stick to the highlights.
–Amber Tamblyn (House, the Unusuals) as Robyn “Toybox” Slinger, the new girl on the force with a small arsenal of toy-sized robots suited for light combat, forensics, and other tasks.
–Adam Baldwin (Firefly) as Jeff Smax, Robyn’s partner, a grizzled veteran officer who happens to be a massive, blue, super-strong, nigh-invulnerable half-ogre from a fantasy realm who joined Top Ten after a failed career as a dragon slayer. Oh yes, he also has an intimate relationship with his twin sister, because in his home dimension that’s apparently okay.
–H. Jon Benjamin as the voice of Kemlo “Hyperdog” Caeser, the talking dog in a human-shaped exoskeleton that’s the sergeant in charge of the division.
-Mark A. Sheppard (Battlestar Galactica) as Duane “Dust Devil” Bodine, a cowboy-themed veteran trying to break in his rookie partner.
Other stories: Avoid the trap of being just a procedural with powers through the original book’s long arcs. A murder in the robot ghetto that leads to a drug lab and a conspiracy that goes all the way to Top Ten’s bosses in Grand Central, an alternate reality where Rome never fell (although the locals claim everyone else is from “an alternate reality where it did”), and the serial killer known as the Libra Killer, which connects to legendary “science heroes” the Seven Sentinels. Beyond that? Keep the tongue in cheek homages to classic comic characters and stories flowing. Make sure to include the story where Balder, brother of Thor, is killed by Loki in the God Bar, causing Smax to deliver the classic line “Nobody move in a mysterious way.”
Also the one officer who delivers the “official warning” before raiding a drug lab: “Ahem. Hey you in there, you’re dead.”
Spinning out from the woefully short-lived series The Pulse, reporters Ben Urich and Sally Floyd start the news site frontlines.com to report on what’s really happening in the super powered world.
Premise: Ben Urich becomes a leading force on reporting on the new, stranger world that has arisen in the wake of the Battle of New York (which we know as the climax of the Avengers), but is let go when his paper downsizes its reporting staff in favour of pulling stories off the wire. Sally Floyd convinces him to become a more responsible Rising Tide, investigating the hidden stories behind SHIELD, AIM, the Dark Elf incident in Greenwich, and everything else happening in the Marvel cinematic universe, only through journalism instead of cyber-anarchism. So basically, all that stuff we thought Agents of SHIELD was going to do.
Cast: –John Schneider (Smallville, Dukes of Hazzard) as Ben Urich, veteran journalist out to expose the truth behind this new wave of heroes, gods, and monsters.
–Eliza Coupe (Happy Endings, Scrubs) as Sally Floyd, who pulls Ben into the world of cyber-journalism.
-Mark A. Sheppard (Leverage) as their contact at SHIELD, who sometimes gives them legit scoops and sometimes feeds them disinformation for his own ends, and it’s hard to be sure which he’s doing at any given time.
Other stories: We all thought Agents of SHIELD was going to be the glue holding the Marvel cinematic universe together. Well, it isn’t. But the fact that we’re this disappointed that it isn’t shows there’s a market for that. And with four new street-level series hitting Netflix soon? There’ll be even more to glue together. Frontline would do what the various Frontline miniseries always did: show us what’s happening off camera during the big events.
Warren Ellis’ classic cyberpunk graphic novel set in a chaotic dystopia that’s uncomfortably similar to the modern day, starring rage-filled journalist Spider Jerusalem.
Premise: Renegade gonzo journalist Spider Jerusalem is living a quiet life hidden in the wilderness, having become disgusted with society in the aftermath of the previous presidential election. Sadly for him, he still owes his publisher two more books, and when they track him down to his mountain hideaway to remind him of his debt, Spider returns to The City, a sprawling metropolis where consumerism, sex, and drug culture have run amok. With the aid of his “filthy assistants,” as he calls them, Spider attacks the establishment through his articles, eventually being drawn back into the political arena as his old nemesis, “the Beast,” seeks re-election against a charming challenger, Gary “the Smiler” Callahan (largely believed to be a satire of British PM Tony Blair).
Cast: –John C. McGinley (Scrubs) as Spider Jerusalem, the crazed journalist out to save or destroy society by shoving its face in The Truth.
–Yvonne Strahovski (Chuck) as Channon Yarrow, the original “filthy assistant” who also served as Spider’s bodyguard.
–Mila Kunis (Black Swan, That 70s Show) as Yelena Rossini, his second “filthy assistant” who gradually grows into his apprentice.
–Louis CK as Mitchell Royce, Spider’s long-suffering editor and the one person who might qualify as his friend.
-Mark A. Shepard (Doctor Who) as “The Beast,” incumbent president.
–Michael Sheen (Masters of Sex, Frost/Nixon) as The Smiler, the opposing candidate who seems like the lesser of two evils… at first.
Other stories: In addition to Ellis’ long-plot of Spider and the Smiler, do what sci-fi does best, man. Hold a mirror up to society and show us what we’re doing wrong. Wield The Truth as forcefully as Spider Jerusalem does. Take particular aim at cable news, as broken and dysfunctional an industry as you could name. And make Yelena’s transformation from “rich guy’s daughter with an internship” to “woman who could destabilize a government with an op-ed” one for the ages.
So, there you go. Five TV shows that in a just world would each be ten times more critically acclaimed and as much as twice as popular as “Smallville with Batman.” Six seasons and a movie for each one or we don’t deserve nice things.
And yes, Mark Sheppard has to be in each one. Because that’s how it works. You make a show with geek appeal, and then you putMarkSheppardinit.
And the best part, Warner Brothers and Marvel Studios? One or the other of you already owns every single character, title, and major plot I’ve mentioned. You can take any of these ideas and run with them, and not owe me a damned thing, and I’ll just be happy the project is happening.
Although, that said… if you need a cheap showrunner, I’m available.
So before I get into random tales from my projectionist days, let me run you through what a projectionist actually did in the pre-digital days.
Now most of the day was spent running the projectors: theaters I worked had anywhere from nine to sixteen screens, each of which ran on average four shows per day (five for kids’ movies short enough for three matinees, three for longer mofos like Lord of the Rings). For each of those shows I had to clean emulsion (the tri-coloured goo that is used to make the images) off the projectors, thread the film through the various cogs and gears, then typically be at the projector at the appointed start time in order to hit the start button. At some theaters, the projectors would start themselves on schedule, but I would still try to be there to make sure the movie was in frame, in focus, and that I hadn’t accidentally threaded Freddie Got Fingered instead of Pokemon. That… that didn’t feel like a mistake you got to make twice. Fortunately I’m ridiculously paranoid and would compulsively triple-check that sort of thing.
Makin’ my crazy brain work for my benefit for a change. Living the dream.
On Monday and Tuesday, that might be all I had to do. Thread all the movies, start all the movies, take a breather until the movies start ending, repeat. At a smaller theater, like Westhills (ten screens) or the Moviedome (nine screens), the break between waves would last long enough to watch some trailers, or part of a movie, or get some writing done. Wrote a lot of scripts in projection booths. But at the Silver City, with its 16 screens… well, the pause was shorter. It still typically existed, but not for so long that I minded not having a proper desk.
Now. As to the movies themselves.
The illusion of movement in film in caused by showing you a series of images so quickly that it appears to be one moving image. Specifically, you’re seeing 24 frames per second. Well, unless you’re watching the extra-high def version of the Hobbit, where they double that.
Twenty four frames is a foot and a half of film. So your average two-hour movie is 10,800 feet, or about 3.3 kilometers long. Now, it doesn’t come like that. That would be insane. Films arrive in 20-minutes reels, a length determined way, way back in the dawn of cinema, when the lights they used to project the image only lasted 20 minutes, so you had to keep switching from one projector to the other while whittling new carbon filaments. In my day, you only needed one projector, and the bulb would last for months.
So. Depending on length, you’ve got anywhere from four to ten reels of film that need to become one print. New movies showed up on Wednesday or Thursday, and opened Friday, giving a potentially narrow window to get the prints assembled. And the end of Thursday night, all of the prints need to move to their new homes, as less recent releases are moved further into the back.
You did not want to drop one of those prints. Think of a tangled garden hose, or set of Christmas lights. Imagine how frustrating it is to untangle it. Now imagine the hose is three kilometers long and razor-thin. Fun times.
Starting Friday, everything that’s closed needs to be broken back down into individual reels. We typically had until Sunday to do this, as the film canisters would be picked up Monday morning. Unless a specific print was going straight to a different theater. In which case some poor schlub is staying late to break down the print so that it can be picked up early Friday and driven across the city to some other poor schlub who’s starting early so that he can get the movie made up for its first showing.
Got all that? Monday/Tuesday’s quiet, Wednesday/Thursday build up the new releases, Thursday night shuffle all the prints around to their new theaters, Friday-Sunday break down the movies that closed. And through all that, keep the projectors going.
And then sometimes it all hits you at once.
The Spiderman Incident
I had just taken over the 40 hour/week bid at the Silver City, a 16-plex. I’d been working there 20 hours a week for a while, so stepping up to 40 didn’t seem so bad. Even though when I met the guy I would one day replace in this gig, the spark of humanity in his eyes was long dead, replaced with a burning glow of madness. However, this being a union job, once I took the 40 hour shift, it was mine forever. Stability! That’s good, right?
Also a more senior projectionist grabbed the 20 hour bid at Sunridge I wanted, so this was basically the only game in town.
And it seemed mostly managable. As long as I didn’t think too hard about when I’d find time to do any maintenance on the projectors. When your shift starts thirty minutes before your first movie, you have time to thread projectors or vacuum the cooling vents, but not both.
Then Spiderman happened.
The week Spiderman opened was a perfect storm of build ups and breakdowns. The prints arrived at 6:00 on Thursday, giving me one night to build up four prints of Spiderman (and one of a mostly forgotten gang movie called Deuces Wild), each with a mostly fresh set of trailers and corporate ads, each set of which took nearly as long as a full movie. And if that wasn’t enough (it was) I was also supposed to break down two prints of the Scorpion King. Thing of it was, my shift ended at 11:00, and my predecessor had indicated that the Silver City was stingy on overtime. So I did the one thing that seemed logical. All prints assembled on time, I went home at 11:00.
This caused some kerfuffle the next morning when the delivery guy arrived to pick up the Scorpion King prints, which were in no way ready.
Thus did the Silver City complain to the union, and for the fourth time in my, at that point, year-long career, the union officials had to question me regarding a complaint. But as the end result, the theater stopped trying to short-change us on Thursday nights. So, yay?
Shortly thereafter I left the Silver City, and the union, for the calmer fields of the Moviedome. But we’ll talk about that next time.
An old friend, Tim, once said he envied me my dreams. Particularly since he himself always seemed to be much cooler in my dreams than his. An example: in university I dreamed that people were being pulled one by one into a shadowy alternate Earth. Upon arriving, I tried to find Tim, only to see him driving a car for a bunch of gang members, already sporting a backwards cap, sunglasses, a blinged-out necklace, and a huge smile. “Well,” I thought, “He seems fine.”
For those who don’t know the Reverend, it should be noted that Tim, currently a minister for the United church and one of the most pleasant people you’ll ever talk to, couldn’t get further from “gangsta” with a map and a mission statement.
Still, based on that snippet of dream, Tim was convinced my dreams are awesome. Well… not always. Let’s take a tour of the good, the bad, and the weird things that rattle around in my head at night.
My dreams often wake me up in the middle of the night, and not just the bad ones. Admittedly it was a bad dream that woke me up the other night. I dreamt that a good friend was sick. Very sick. Sick enough to scare me into waking up.
Actually it took a couple of tries. First I just “woke up” into a different dream, and the same friend was next to me on the couch. “I dreamed you were sick!” I said, and she was all “Yeah, I am, actually,” and then I woke the rest of the way up. Nice try, subconscious, but no cigar. Well, except for the “waking me up in the middle of the night” thing.
I got back to sleep, but it was still a throwing dream. And when I have a dream like that (typically about something bad happening to my dad), I often want to check in with the person in question just to reassure myself it was only a dream and everything’s fine. But it is always a little awkward telling someone you had a dream about them. It’s even more awkward to tell them “I had a dream about you, and you were really sick, and it scared me a little.” And it probably goes without saying that “And your skin was smooth like polished marble” just makes it all much, much worse.
(Oh, relax. It wasn’t you. Probably.)
That’s what bad dreams are for me lately. Something bad happens to someone I care about. Sometimes it’s my fault, sometimes it isn’t, in any event I wake up rattled. Sometimes rattled enough that going back to sleep is clearly not an option. Once I had multiple nightmares that someone I cared about deeply was in great trouble, gave up on sleep, and decided to clear my head before work by catching up on Doctor Who. Which episode was next in the queue? The hotel full of nightmares. THANKS. BIG HELP.
It’s enough to make me miss the nightmares of my youth. What was weird is that when I was a kid, nightmares would rarely be scary while I was having them. Chased by a four-story Frankenstein monster? I was just angry that out of all the kids at the zoo it picked me to snatch up. Zombie Fraggles? I’d just do my best Hulk impression and hurl them out of the bed. Freddy–
Yes I had a recurring nightmare about zombie Fraggles.Yes, RECURRING. Want to fight about it?
Where was I. Freddy freaking Krueger? The dream itself was just deathly boring. The devil shows up because I made an ill-advised wish after a big win by the Justice League because I figured they were on a roll, and thought fighting the source of all evil might be a good idea? Well, having second thoughts about it now, but here he comes, so better get to punching. None of them scared me until I woke up, my face flushed, my heart pounding.
When I was very young, there was a recurring nemesis to my dreams who could show up at any time, any place. Whatever the dream was about, I’d get hot, hear my heartbeat, and I’d know… he was here. He found me. And we had to run. Who was he? The Thing from Readalong.
Yes, Readalong. Yes, the kids’ show with the talking boot puppet that taught kids to read. Yes, the Thing was basically just a beaver that talked in growling sounds. When I was two or whatever, it was too scary to watch, scary enough to inspire nightmares. Like everything YOU were scared of before you started kindergarten makes sense.
Anyway, these days bad dreams aren’t typically the ones waking me up.
The fact is that while bad dreams can throw off my whole morning, good dreams are waking me up far more often. I think it comes down to a couple of things: my conscious mind’s resistance to good things happening, and my subconscious being a jerk.
Okay. This might get a bit gloomy for a paragraph or two, so here’s a baby numbat.
If a dream gets too happy I wake up right away, regardless of the time. If something good is happening to me in a dream, like, say, the TV series I’ve been pondering for years actually getting shot, it wakes me up like an air horn. It’s like my mind can’t wrap itself around something that good actually happening, realizes it’s all a dream, and rejects the dream by ending it. Seems like enough potentially good things in my life have turned out to be dead ends or traps (for example, the woman who comes to chat at the bar in Vegas is clearly a prostitute) that I jump right from “that would be amazing” to “where’s the catch,” and that reaction kills dreams dead.
But sometimes it is just my subconscious being a dick. It will wave some amazing place at me, some Shangri-La of good times, and then make it impossible to get there. Or in the dream I will know, for a fact, that I can fly, or shoot lightning, or something impressive, and then it won’t work. The dream will establish some manner in which I am awesome, and then turn it off. Oddly this doesn’t wake me up, it just turns everything into a battle of wills between me and the dream. I typically win, but this means I would not call myself a lucid dreamer. Lucid dreamers rarely talk about the dream fighting back.
But the oddest thing my subconscious has ever done to take back something good happened in junior high. Back then, in the late 80s, there was a game called Bubble Bobble. Those who know it, remember it fondly. Those who don’t, it was great and the premise isn’t important. The point is, I wanted Bubble Bobble to play at home, on my still cutting-edge original Nintendo. One night, in the summer of ’89, I dreamt that not only had I gotten Bubble Bobble, but I’d gotten an actual stand-up arcade game of Bubble Bobble. Even better than the Nintendo version.
“Oh man,” I said. “This is one of those dreams where I get what I want then lose it, isn’t it?”
“AND SO IT IS!” shouted a booming voice. “So let’s take it NOW!” At which point a tornado swept in, sucking away the game, the building, the surrounding countryside, and I woke up.
I am not making that up. Swear to god, this is what my brain does to me.
Even weirder? One night when I was a kid my dream went into a test pattern. A “Sorry, technical difficulties” test pattern. The dream ended and was replaced by a still image of my bedroom door with light peeking through the frame, and a voice or text crawl saying “Your dream will resume in a moment, please stand by.”
I have no idea where that came from, but years later I’d read a comic in which the main character is informed by Sandman (supposedly from the Neil Gaiman comic but dressed like the Justice Society member) that he’s blown his dream budget, and will now have to dream about seashores for the rest of the month. Made me wonder just a little.
Now, it’s far from terrible in my brain at night. Sometimes the dreams are fun. Sometimes I dream of an adventure that’s interesting enough to be worth remembering (as much as I can, dreams being difficult to hold in your memory), but not so fun that I mind waking up. I’ve gotten four scripts out of dreams, as we’ll learn when Danny G Writes Plays resumes.
And sometimes I dream that one of the whitest people I know is now the driver for a black gang in an alternate dimension, and having the time of his life. And at least he found that entertaining.