Reflections on the 19th of March

(And yes, I know my tenses are inconsistent.)

MORE Farscape swag is up for auction at Con or Bust!

[caption id="attachment_1560" align="alignleft" width="300"]Farscape Auction Stuff Yes, that's an actual piece of one of Moya's interior "ribs."[/caption] The wonderful folks at Con or Bust, which helps people of color/non-white people attend SFF conventions, are once again holding their annual fundraising auction of all kinds of amazing stuff, and once again I've tossed in a few Farscape items that you Simply Won't Find Anywhere Else, including a never-for-sale Farscape T-shirt, shooting scripts for "Incubator" and "Terra Firma," and THREE actual pieces of Moya! See all my Farscape auction items here! So what are you waiting for? Go! Bid! And hurry! The auction ends February 23, 2014. (Oh, and if absolutely nothing in the entire auction strikes your fancy, or the bidding's too rich for your blood, you can simply make a donation via PayPal to help this most excellent cause.) ETA: Thanks to everyone who bid! The auction's now over and these three Farscape lots snagged $490 for Con or Bust! Pizza and margarita shooters all round!

Breaking News!

I've just been enlisted to teach another UCLA Extension course this January: a fast-moving, not-for-newbies Advanced Pilot Workshop. Series idea to pilot script in just ten weeks. Filling up fast, so act now! UPDATE: It's filled, it's up and running, it's too late... but the UCLA Extension Spring Catalog is now out, registration for Spring Quarter 2014 is now open, and I'm teaching Writing the 1-Hour Spec Drama Script!

“Liz Tells Frank” Gets a Foreword by Me

[caption id="attachment_1424" align="alignleft" width="187"]"Liz Tells Frank . . ." cover Click to embiggen.[/caption] For eight years on her blog, Liz Shannon Miller has been telling her friend Frank about TV series, movies, and books that he's missed, helping him catch up on the good stuff and avoid the less-good stuff. Two ebook collections of this noble work have already amused and thrilled countless readers around the globe. I was amused and thrilled myself when Liz approached me to write a foreword to her third "Liz Tells Frank" compilation, though I couldn't fathom why she chose me. (Perhaps because the book includes Andreanna Ditton's "Skip It/Watch It Guide" to Farscape, and writing a foreword would give me an opportunity for pre-rebuttal?) In any case, I leapt at the opportunity, and the result follows. Enjoy the foreword, and then go buy the ebook of Liz Tells Frank: The Skip It/Watch It Guides on Amazon! FOREWORD, by Richard Manning ((I write for television. I never get to use footnotes in scripts. I like footnotes. You've been warned.)) Tens of years ago, when typewriters ((Devices comprising a keyboard and printer but lacking CPU or storage; pressing a key imprinted a character directly onto a sheet of paper.)) still walked the earth and “personal computers” were clunky, cantankerous contraptions that could only beep annoyingly and display glowing pus-green text, when television was still in its infancy—well, okay, out of its infancy but still wetting the bed and refusing to eat its vegetables, when there were no InterNets and people had to walk miles in the snow ((Uphill both ways, naturally.)) to newsstands ((Retail outlets where one could purchase printed “newspapers” (daily or weekly compilations of advertising, comic strips, classified advertising, editorials, horoscopes, advertising supplements, and occasionally news) or “magazines” (weekly or monthly volumes of glossy advertising, fashion photos, gossip, or porn).)) to acquire their porn, the concept of “fandom” was all but unknown to We Who Work in Television. In those innocent yet rococo times, when “cutting a film” meant exactly that—chopping up and pasting together long strips of perforated celluloid, when broadcasters still respected their programming enough not to deface it ((The truly important portions of their programming, of course, remain pristine and untouched to this day; it's only the trivia in between the commercials that gets defaced.)) with logos and animated promos, and when the Great Viewing Public was only dimly aware that creatures such as “television writers” actually existed, WWWiT labored in a vacuum. ((Not literally, of course, because we'd've died, but there's a decent analogy rattling around in there somewhere about the lack of sound in a vacuum.)) Back then, the Creators and the Consumers ((Or, as I like to describe them, the “pushers” and the “junkies.”)) were twains that never met. ((Probably because they were on non-intersecting twacks. I agree that's awful, but the only other metaphor I could come up with was something like “shippers that pass in the night,” which seemed both too esoteric and not apt enough.)) WWWiT would conceive our ideas, birth our teleplays, nurture our episodes, and set them free ((Were this an audiobook, I would likely be singing “Born Free” at this point. Count your blessings.)) into the ether, to be met with a resounding silence. ((“Resounding silence” is a goofy phrase when you think about it, kinda like “a blinding darkness,” but folks keep using it, so who am I to defy the zeitgeist?)) No applause. No boos. No thoughtful exegeses. ((Nor even thoughtless exegeses.)) No floral bouquets nor shrieking groupies. In short, no feedback whatever. Sure, critics would review the pilot and perhaps a subsequent season opener or two, but beyond that? The audience may have been listening, ((As proclaimed by THX™.)) but its speech, if any, rarely reached the ears of WWWiT. However, when the mighty transcontinental series of tubes was completed ((The final connection, of course, took place at Promontory Summit, Utah and was commemorated with a Golden Power Spike. (This joke isn't quite as labored as it might seem; go look up “Golden Spike” and read about the U.S.'s first nationwide media event.))) and the World's Widest Web lurched to life, feedback sprouted everywhere. ((Like mushrooms... some edible, some poisonous. Now there's a nice metaphor. I could do something with that.)) We could now peruse countless discussion boards and discover that viewers had caught the obscure Monty Python reference we'd slipped into an episode... or that they'd mercilessly nailed us on some dubious plot logic we'd thought would pass unnoticed. We could lurk in chatrooms as our episodes aired and revel in real-time gasps and screams when characters kissed and/or killed each other. Some of us rebelled, not wanting feedback that was anything less than absolute worship. Some of us didn't react well, scolding our newly-voiced critics with accusations of “[writing] crap from behind the safety of anonymity” ((JMS v. Cronan, 1998. When they build the Fandom Hall of Fame, my first nomination will be Cronan Maliki Jamel Thompson... and my second will be Emily Salzfass who, like Cronan, left us far too soon.)) or “interrogating this text from the wrong perspective.” ((Rice v. Negative Voices on Amazon, 2004. Yes, it's from the world of literature, not television, but it's too delicious to leave out.)) However, most ((Well, many. Quite a few. Lots. Several. A not insignificant number. Well, me, anyway.)) of WWWiT ((Yes, I know, in this context it should be UWWiT.)) were (and still are) utterly delighted to sample the sprawling internet buffet of reaction and criticism. Some of it's tasty; some of it may be hard to swallow; ((But good for us anyway, like broccoli.)) all of it (yes, even the short and pointed reactions such as “YOU'RE SHOW SUCKZ”) is appreciated. We made something; you took the time to watch; you liked it or you didn't, and you made the effort to say why. Which, at long last, brings me to the motley and prolific Liz Shannon Miller, who's been serving up her own breezy brand of commentary since 2005. ((Good lord, that's a long time. As the Bible sort of says, “Greater love hath no fan than this, than a fan lay down and scan endless sludge so her readers don't have to.”)) Liz's critiques are packed with humor, taste, intelligence, plus a genuine love for the media she surveys—and the results are not only glorious to behold but also a hell of a lot of fun to read. So sit back, relax, ((Or stand up and be tense, if that's how you prefer to read.)) and enjoy Liz's third compilation of The Best of “Liz Tells Frank,” ((Okay, honestly, I don't know if it's really “The Best Of.” It might just be “Whatever Stuff She's Churned Out Since Volume 2.” You be the judge. (And then blog about it! “[Your Name Here] Tells [Some Other Name Here] About 'Liz Tells Frank!'”) )) as she and her outstanding sisters-in-snark Whitney Bishop and Andreanna Ditton ((Apparently they get to cover the stuff even Liz won't touch, like that weird frelling Fire Escape show.)) interrogate the text from the right perspective and separate the soaring eagles from the plummeting turkeys. ((Yes, this is a reference to “As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly”—one of the finest punch lines in the history of television.)) If this book saves you from wasting that hour on that “Very Special Episode” that isn't so special after all, ((Or prompts you at long last to go try out that book/series/movie/videogame you've never seen—and fall madly in love with it.)) the tireless labors of its valiant authors will have borne fruit, ((Were this an audiobook, I would definitely be singing “Borne Fruit” at this point, to the tune of “Born Free.” You are SO lucky.)) and I hope you'll join me in rewarding them with a hearty chorus of “YOU'RE BOOK ROCKZ!!!!1!”

UCLA Extension Writers Faire

[caption id="attachment_995" align="alignright" width="320"]Young Hall Courtyard at UCLA A previous Writers Faire. Feel that writing vibe.[/caption]

Sunday, August 25, 2013, 11am to 3pm, Young Hall Courtyard, UCLA Campus, Westwood

Once again, it's a free day of 24 mini-classes and panel discussions on all kinds of creative writing: TV, features, novels, short stories, and more. And an exhibit mall (opens at 10am) with terrific organizations such as PEN USA, the Organization of Black Screenwriters, WriteGirl, and many more. And an opportunity to register for most fall courses (including the pilot course I'm teaching) at a 10% discount! And a perfect time to purchase  UCLA Extension's brand-new books on TV and feature writing, Inside the Room (with a chapter by yours truly ) and Cut to the Chase! And a chance to see the panel I'm chairing with three other TV writers / UCLA Extension instructors (Greg Elliot, Deborah Joy LeVine, and Christina Lynch) from 11:50 am to 12:30 pm: Writing the One-Hour Drama Spec and Pilot.  From the official description: "Get tips on how to choose a show to spec, how to capture its distinct voice and tone, and on the flip side, how to create a one-hour pilot that can be sustained for 100 episodes and beyond." Or, we might just sit there and swap television horror stories for 40 minutes. Either way, it should be instructional and/or entertaining! Visit the UCLA Extension Writers' Program site for more information. Hope to see you there! I'll be easy to spot as I'll be wearing this famous shirt. (Well, it's famous if you're a Farscape fan.)

I saved the receipt…

[caption id="attachment_1271" align="alignright" width="254"]Receipt of Joy As they say, it's not the initial investment, it's the upkeep.[/caption] ...but I can't seem to find the warranty. Probably expired anyway. Three decades ago today, Cheryl and I tied the noose knot in a lovely restaurant garden in Corona del Mar (and I'm told that, to this day, no grass will grow on that spot). It was my second marriage and her first, which of course means that she had an excuse but I should've known better... and yet here we are. One Valentine's Day when I was in Sydney and she was in Los Angeles, I faxed (yes, children, this was a very long time ago) her a homemade Valentine which I signed "Your first husband." She promptly faxed me back a Valentine of her own, signed "Your last wife." Amen to that.

Top Ten Other Ways Farscape’s Last Episode Could’ve Ended

[caption id="attachment_1194" align="alignright" width="626"]Farscape Episode 88's Last Shot Last shot of Farscape's "Bad Timing" Episode 88[/caption] A little over ten (!) years ago, Farscape aired its last* episode, "Bad Timing." SPOILERS TO FOLLOW: The episode, written by the sadistic genius David Kemper,  concluded, shall we say, not very well for our heroes, with yet another OH MY GOD season-ending cliffhanger, and yet another "To Be Continued" card at the fadeout. And then... we found out that the season-ending cliffhanger was going to be the series-ending cliffhanger, because Farscape had been canceled. Which posed a question: should we change the ending of "Bad Timing"? Should we leave the "To Be Continued" on there or not? The overwhelming sentiment among the Farscape crew was to leave it just as it was, and so the ending of the episode aired without changes, "To Be Continued" and all. However! We did discuss a drenload of other ideas for the last shot other than "To Be Continued"... and here are the top ten!


9.) We Tried to Talk DK Out of This... Okay, Actually, No, We Didn't

8.) Th- th- th- th- th- that's all, Folks!

7.) That's How the Nookie Cookie Crumbles

6.) The Fans Said They Wanted Crichton and Aeryn Together, Forever and Inseparably. DONE!

5.) To Be Rebooted


3.) Had We More Budget, Moya Would've Gotten Zapped Too, so Count Your Blessings

2.) Go Thou and Do Likewise (and Thanks for Watching)

1.) And the number-one alternate Farscape last shot (CLICK TO ENLARGE):Farscape Episode 88's Alternative Last Shot

*P.S.: "To Be Continued" did, indeed, turn out to be prophetic; "Bad Timing" was Farscape's "last" episode only until the astonishing "Save Farscape" fan campaign helped make possible a four-hour Farscape miniseries which concluded the story...


Farscape swag is up for auction at Con or Bust!

[caption id="attachment_1169" align="alignleft" width="261"]Still life with cat and piece of Moya YOU KNOW YOU WANT THIS (the piece of Moya, not the cat, although I'm tempted to throw in the cat)[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1168" align="alignright" width="300"]Farscape Auction Items for "Con or Bust" But wait! It's not just a chunk of Moya, it's ALL this great Farscape stuff! NOW how much would you pay?[/caption] The wonderful folks at Con or Bust, which helps people of color/non-white people attend SFF conventions, are currently holding their annual fundraising auction of all kinds of amazing stuff, and I've contributed a couple of awesome Farscape items that you Simply Won't Find Anywhere Else. A "Season of Death" script! An extremely limited edition T-shirt! An actual piece of Moya! So what are you waiting for? Go! Bid! And hurry! The auction ends February 24, 2013. (Oh, and if absolutely nothing in the entire auction strikes your fancy, or the bidding's too rich for your blood, you can simply make a donation via PayPal to help this most excellent cause.)

RIP Emily Salzfass

"I'm learning to love myself despite my kitten problem." – Emily Salzfass
[caption id="attachment_1150" align="alignleft" width="300"]Em and me at the 2002 Farscape convention Em and me at the 2002 Farscape convention[/caption] A lot of people in a lot of places and a lot of fandoms are grieving today at the loss of Makiko aka Sab aka Makikosab aka, simply, Em. She was many things, but primarily she was an Illuminator of Rooms, the sort of human dynamo universally described with phrases like "contagious energy" and "delightfully skewed" and "fearless enthusiasm" and "one of a kind." Go to Em's Facebook page to read or contribute remembrances, photos, or kittens.    

We’ve Created a Monster!

[caption id="attachment_1127" align="alignright" width="300"]Illustration of alien Pron'xa asleep on the set Pron'xa on the Set, by Barry Spiers[/caption] One of the joys of writing for television is creating new characters and watching talented actors bring them to life. It's even more fun when those characters aren't human. Well, it's more fun for the writer. For the actor, however... The emails that follow are... entirely made up. Nevertheless, the story they tell is True.
From:    BettinaActress23
To:      Mom & Dad
Date:    Monday, December 3, 4:08pm
Subject: GREAT NEWS!!!

My agent got me an audition for a guest role on the sci-fi TV show Space Slayers! They're looking for someone “athletic, preferably with dance experience.” (Finally all those workouts and dancing lessons pay off—fingers crossed!)

Date:    Tuesday, December 4, 3:32pm
Subject: Back from the audition!

The role I'm up for is an alien creature named Pron'xa (all sci-fi names have apostrophes, I dunno why). She's still being designed, but she'll be a full-body “skin” with a prosthetic face and head. Pron'xa's supposed to have an “alien sexiness, grace, and fluidity of movement”—that's why they want an athlete/dancer. Pron'xa's gonna look fearsome, but she's intelligent—and has lots of great dialog to prove it! It's a terrific part.

Too bad I won't get it. Jane Doe-eyed is up for it as well. (She's the [deleted] who got chosen over me for that ballerina gig in the toilet-paper commercial.) Jane's got more dance experience than I do and a much longer résumé, so I'm sure they'll pick her. Yeah, I know, nobody ever said Hollywood was fair...

Date:    Thursday, December 6, 7:27pm
Subject: I GOT IT!

I got the part! Just spent all morning in the Space Slayers Critter Creator Lab! Gail, the artist/technician designing Pron'xa, took molds of my entire body. Then I had to breathe through a straw for an hour while my head was covered in some rubbery goo. I felt like I was suffocating, but I stayed centered and got through it fine.

Now the Critter Creators are using those molds to make a life-size cast of my face and body, and they'll use that to design the form-fitting alien prosthetics. Weird to think there's now a perfect mannequin of me. Maybe I can keep it afterward and make it my silent twin. Then when I get famous, I can loan it out to the Hollywood Wax Museum. Or I can put it in the passenger seat of my car so I can use the freeway carpool lanes.

I asked for a script so I could learn my role, but they told me I should wait for the next draft—it's now getting a “polish.” (They'd better hurry; shooting starts in four days.)

I snuck a peek at Gail's copy of the current draft anyway. I can't imagine what they'll change; it's wonderful as it is... and not just because Pron'xa has the best role! She runs around and kills people (though it's really self-defense), and then has a fantastic death scene with a big emotional speech before she expires. How lucky can an actor get?

Date:    Friday, December 7, 5:42pm
Subject: I'm SO EXCITED!

Space Slayers sent me to an optometrist today for a contact lens fitting. Pron'xa's gonna have bright yellow-red eyes. Cool!

We start shooting Monday. I still don't have a script. The production office said they're gonna messenger me the new draft on Sunday morning. Talk about cutting it close.

Date:    Tuesday, December 11, 11:42am
Subject: First day of filming

Sorry I didn't write yesterday. I know you're dying to hear how my first day of shooting went. Well...

I didn't get a script Sunday morning. All I got—at nine o'clock Sunday night—was six rewritten pages for Monday's shooting. Gail told me it's not uncommon for the writing staff to rewrite a script from top to bottom, even as they're shooting it.

I don't get it. I loved the script as it was, but Gail said the network hated it. Too much talk, not enough action, bla bla bla. Well, I can't believe a last-minute overhaul will “improve” anything. They screwed up my scene—and I'm not saying that just because they took out most of my dialog.

Anyway, my call was for 4:30 Monday morning (yikes). I spent three and a half hours in the Critter Creator Lab. What a process. Plates of plastic glued all over my skin. A skullcap over my hair and layers of latex on my head and face. Then they hand-painted textures on my new alien “skin.” I had to sit still forever.

And I have to say I wasn't impressed with the results. Pron'xa's supposed to look both sexy and horrific, like a walking lobster with a great body (they, um, augmented my natural shape a bit) and six-inch razor claws. But I looked like a girl in a silly rubber suit. Gail reassured me it'll photograph better than it looked. I wasn't so sure...

So I went to the set, and waited. And waited. Delays and more delays. One actor was late, so they had to work around him. The spaceship set was supposed to be under attack, but the pyrotechnics wouldn't work right. One of the cameras broke down and they had to wait for a replacement. The director got into a nasty argument with the actress playing Angela, who was furious about getting massive script revisions on the night before shooting. (I don't blame her.)

The day dragged on. The creature suit was hot. Everything itched. I had to pee, but the Critter Creators would've spent half an hour undoing and redoing my suit, so everybody said it'd sure help if I could just hold it, because they were “just about” to get to my scene.

But they never got to my scene. They wrapped at 7:30 p.m. I was there for fifteen hours and didn't do one thing. And it took them another hour to get my makeup and prosthetics off... so I didn't get home until 10 p.m.

Then at 11 p.m., they messengered over more script revisions. Big ones. The story's getting totally dumbed-down. They're turning Pron'xa into a mindless monster and ruining the character.

Oh. The cameraman told me the producers did pick Jane Doe-eyed to play Pron'xa—but Jane freaked out when they were molding her head. Major claustrophobic panic attack. Only reason I got the job was because they had to replace her fast. I hate this business.

Date:    Saturday, December 22, 2:21pm
Subject: Filming's all done...

...and I'm depressed. Basically all I did was run around, snarl, attack people, and get shot. The rewrites left me a bit of dialog for my big death scene—but at the last minute, the idiot director decided Pron'xa should have fangs like Dracula, so the Critter Creators whipped some up. It's impossible to speak intelligibly with fangs. I sounded ridiculous.

The director must've thought I looked ridiculous too. He shot me in the background or in shadow or even not at all. For half the episode, we won't even see Pron'xa, we'll just see her Monster POV. How clichéd can you get?

I'm sure it'll be the worst Space Slayers episode ever. Thank goodness nobody will recognize me. I'm never going to play an alien again.

Date:    Wednesday, February 6, 11:28pm
Subject: My Space Slayers episode

I just got home from the cast-and-crew screening of the finished episode.

The good news: It's excellent! They totally saved it in the editing. The monster-POV stuff actually works great. Pron'xa's terrifying because we hardly ever see her. (The director was right: it's scarier to let the audience use their imagination.) And they edited it so the story's mostly told from Pron'xa's point of view—and they wrote a ton of voice-over narration so you hear Pron'xa's confused thoughts and emotions, which really gets you into Pron'xa's head and makes her death scene tragic.

The bad news: Because of those silly fangs I had to wear, they had to “loop” (re-record) all of Pron'xa's dialog... and because of all the new narration, the producers decided to pick someone else with more acting experience to do the looping. So guess who they chose for the New Voice of Pron'xa? That's right: Jane Doe-eyed. I hate this business.

Date:    July 20, 10:32am
Subject: Mom, Dad—Guess what?

Space Slayers wants me to come back and play a brand-new alien creature for their big season-ending two-parter!

They're in a huge time crunch (as usual), and Gail suggested that because she already had my body molds, they could start right in on the creature design instead of auditioning people and making all new molds and such.

Better yet, this new alien character is an interstellar diplomat who doesn't kill anybody or get killed—and the producers are already saying that she might just come back next season as a regular cast member.

The script's on its way. I can't wait. I love this business.

(A version of this post originally appeared in Dreamwatch magazine (now Total Sci-Fi Online), accompanied by a phenomenal illustration (shown above) by the amazing Barry Spiers; visit his website Barry Spiers Illustration for even more excellent artwork.)