Sunday, December 14, 2014

THE LIBRARIAN #103 "And the Horns of a Dilemma" Question Post

Hey all. I think now that the show is up and running, I'm going to use the old form, where I wait to see the questions and then do the behind-the-scenes write up depending on what you seem most interested in.

So, post your questions, confusion, joy and snark in the Comments below.  I'll be posting the answers to last week's questions tomorrow.  If you're new here, check the last post for the posting rules.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

THE LIBRARIANS 101/102 post-game: "and the Crown of King Arthur" / "and the Sword in the Stone"

Wow, this joint is dusty.  Damn Twitter, with its instant gratification.

For those of you just joining us, this post-game was a Leverage tradition which held up pretty well until air dates and production started overlapping, thereby consuming my spare time.  I am sure there will be a fair number of Grifters standing in the corner, glaring at me.  Don't worry, kids, if I'm in here re-arranging the chairs, I'll get to the old business.

So, here's where we usually do a brief bit about how each episode came together, then in the NEXT post answer any questions you may have. If you'd like to see how that usually goes, just click that "leverage" tag over on the right hand side, and those posts will come up.  A few caveats for the new folks:

1.) I tend to swear.  Be aware.

2.) Argue to your hearts' content, but please be respectful of each other. I've never had to ban anyone, and I expect that same level of restraint with the new show.  This is my house, not yours, and I do not consider asking anyone to leave my house "censorship."  Basically, don't be a fuckwit.

3.) It doesn't have to be a question.  Your comment below does not need to be a question, it can just be a comment or a shout-out about something you want to discuss with other fans.  That would be cool.

4.) Us writers, you fan.  I love your input, your questions, your theories, even your disdain when it's amusing.  But end of day, my scrappy writers and I are the ones who have to fill 50 pages of empty paper every week which are simultaneously amusing and shootable on a brutally tight budget and schedule and makes three levels of executives happy.  Basically, know that I dig that you watch the show, we should be pals, but that particular line is not crossed.  Our choices are our choices and we earned the right to make them, even if you don't like them.

Okay, now to the show.

How did this happen?

You can find plenty of videos on YouTube of me discussing this, thanks to some podcasts and bloggers, but here's the short version.

I'd done a rewrite on the 1st and 3rd LIBRARIAN  movies, but really wasn't that involved, back in the day.  I mean I enjoyed them, but they were very much Dean Devlin, Noah Wyle and Michael Wright (the former head of TNT)'s baby.  They were like THREE MEN AND A BABY, but the baby was an adorable family-oriented action-adventure movie franchise.  For years, they attempted to navigate a weird bit of contract thorniness involved in transforming TV movies into a series.  Finally, last summer, they called me.  "We have the rights!  Now lets make a show!"

The trick, of course, was navigating Noah's schedule.  Falling Skies was still going strong, and there are a considerable number of legal whizzbangs in place preventing actors from being the lead on two shows simultaneously. So we knew we need alternate leads.  "Leads" plural.  We didn't want there to be another "Librarian".  We weren't replacing Noah; hell, he was looking at busting his ass to shoot as many episodes as he could.

Oh, and we couldn't have Bob in every episode, nor Jane.  This was getting interesting. (NOTE the 1st: This is always tough for fans.  Roles are attached to specific actors, and sometimes we just can't have them due to scheduling or contracts.  One of the reasons I like animation ...)

(NOTE the 2nd: You can always get Mark Sheppard. Not because he's easy, but because I seriously believe there's three of him.)

We certainly as hell weren't going to do a cold reboot. Those movies had FANS (as we've seen from the premiere numbers, a surprising number), so the challenge was to honor them as much as possible, make the tie-in as tight as possible, but still have a base upon which to build with new actors.

At some point, rewatching them, we said "Hey, what if we did more than reference them?  What if we actually made this in continuity?"  That solved a big problem for us -- Flynn Carsen after a decade of doing this would be pretty good at it, or dead.  So let's make the fact he's good at it a plot point.  It came at a price. Solitude and sanity, to protect the rest of us.

But if he's around, even intermittently, how do we balance the rest of the team?  He's a polymath, what do the rest of them ... do?

Nicely enough, Lester Dent solved this problem for us in the 1930's.  Lester Dent wrote Doc Savage, among a million other things, and very much built the pulp base upon which the rest of us toil.  Doc was a polymath superman, but his friends were specialists who would solve the only nearly-impossible problems in a story while he wrestled Incan cultists (yay!) or lobotomized prisoners to cure them of their "criminal tendencies" (er, boo. yikes).

So we split Flynn Carsen up into his disparate expertise ... ises. - isi? Anyway, we assigned art and history to one, sciences to another, and tech/tomb robbing to a third.  Three neophytes seemd like three identical beats, so again we went back to the movies.  Hey, who ARE all those people on the stairs in the first movie ... ?

Okay, they were geniuses, and could've been Librarians, but weren't.  What the hell did they do with their lives?  That's when the themes of the show began to emerge.  About loneliness, and choice, and how everybody has gifts, but not everybody choose -- or is allowed to -- use them.   There's a complicated bit of business about characters are lenses, and so you should build them in diametrically opposed pairs in order to best showcase your themes, but that can wait for the very boring and specialized book I'll write some day.

All of this was done on an  insanely tight schedule.  Most shows have three or four months to get up and running.  To beat Noah's deadline for returning to Falling Skies, we had five weeks from greenlight to camera roll, with nothing but the first script written.  We shot out of order, on location, so the production team could buy enough time for the paint to dry on the sets. Writers were hired four weeks out, some of the actors weren't locked until the week of shoot.  This was interesting, as it meant the writers were well into episode four writing dialogue for characters that we had no idea how they talked.

As for the actors you haven't met in the movies:

Rebecca was on a short list of potential leads.  One of the signatures of The Librarian movies is the action heroine partner.  Not kidnapped, nor rescued, nor vixenish -- she can and should always be able to kick Flynn's ass.  Rebecca had just done King & Maxwell with Leverage co-creator Chris Downey, and he couldn't be more effusive with his praise.  RR can land a joke, too; in person she's relentlessly dry and funny.  You'll see us tweak Baird's delivery style closer to her own sense of humor over the course of the season.

Kane, well we knew we wanted to go against type for the art historian.  Even the rough ideas we had were close to Kane as a person, and when he turned out to be available it wasn't a hard choice.   Kane's tragedy -- and I tell him this all the time -- is that he's a bit too good-looking to have to rely on his comic timing. Which is magnificent.  Ironically, although the character background is close to his personal background, the role itself is a chance to show off some of his other chops as an actor.

Lindy is one of those actors that everybody in Hollywood knows is good.  Kind of the "player to be named later". The role of Cassandra was a straight audition -- the character wasn't even "Cassandra" at first, because we auditioned all ethnicities and we wanted to keep the concept loose, until we found the right person.  She just frankly out-muscled the other actors.  The audition pieces were the hospital meltdown and the henge mathematics/meltdown.  Those pages ate a LOT of other actors alive, but she blew through them like a champ, and hit all the emotional beats.  So straight-up audition there.

John Kim was submitted on tape from Australia.  We screened the tape, all agreed "Much like Ezekiel's super-power is that he's charming, this kid is charming." It was also his first series shoot, and the other actors teased him mercilessly.  With love.  Usually.  And yes, that is his real accent.

John Larroquette is John goddam Larroquette. We were very lucky he was available.  He brought so much style and tone and unexpected pathos -- seriously, he constantly surprised us -- that we eventually started writing the role much bigger than we intended.  Jenkins winds up with a nice little season arc.

Some cool behind the scenes production facts, and then I'll open the floor to questions.  SPOILERS AHEAD.

The opening sequence
A rather large number of the soldiers around Baird in the opening sequence are, thanks to some friends of production,  actual SEAL team and Delta Force members, past and present.   They have ... been places. The large fellow to Baird's side at the door is Delta.  This amuses me to no end, as I imagine some terrorist watching the show in a bar in Karachi and saying "Hey, wait a minute..."

Oh, and she's carrying a Glock 17, so Baird does indeed have enough in the magazine for that shootout.  Not only did we count, Rebecca called us on it to make sure.

The missing magic artifact lost in an abandoned Nazi store-room very much establishes the tone of the show -- our show posits that there's a secret (INSANELY COOL) history of magic, and its remnants are scattered all over the place.  Very fine writer Ken Hite (@kennethhite) recently wrote a book called The Nazi Occult which is a fascinating piece of work.  It's meant to be a sourcebook for role-playing gamers and others, so it blends real Nazi occult history and practices with fiction, as if everything that could've happened, did happen.  Basically, everything in the book which seems too insane to be believed is true, and the boring stuff's the bits he filled in.  I can't recommend it highly enough.

The sequence was originally set in a church until we found that location, which was also much closer to other locations we needed.  So the bit was rewritten.  Hey, you want your precious words perfect, go write a novel.

Charlene and Jenkins
Charlene was originally in both parts of the launch, but her other show unfortunately meant we couldn't make he shooting schedule work.  She eventually came in and shot all her scenes in a single day at the END of the season.  I think that she winds up with a very nice hero moment instead.  I do miss the original script beat where she's the one who saves Flynn and you discover she was Judson's Guardian, but we'll figure some other way to bring her back ...

Meeting Ezekiel Jones
is in the theater in Portland which served as the Parliament House in San Lorenzo in Leverage. That is indeed the Dagger of Aqua'ba. (whether I mean it is the same prop or the same object ... as I used to say in the Leverage post-games all the time, you choose whichever makes you happier)

The Prosciutto Cutting Torch
Works, more or less.




Excalibur
Of course we know Excalibur wasn't the sword in the stone in Malory's version of the story. Note how I said "in Malory's version of the story" because it was, in fact, a made up thing.  In the Librarian-verse, it's the Sword in the Stone.  Which is fine, because in that case it is still a made-up thing. As a long-standing nerd, this particular style of pedantry always drives me mad.  It is not one of our better traits.

 'Cal was established in the movies as the Sword in the Stone, he's certainly the closest thing Flynn has to a recurring friend. It was Michael Wright who suggested setting these two in a more classic European treasure hunt, and that led us pretty nicely to Arthurian myth.   I knew I wanted to use ley lines as the gimmick with which to return magic to the world, and "ley line" screams "earth, rock, stone" etc.  You can see where this is all intersecting.  His sacrifice was meant more as closure on the past series than as a sacrifice, but we knew something more was going on here when crew members began to cry as I pitched the scene out for the visual effects guy, without even seeing it.

I do suppose we could have been truer to Malory's version (note I do not say "more accurate" as Malory's version was, again, a made up thing) but given the choice between taking a page of dialogue to explain that Excalibur is not the sword in the stone and instead spending that time making you cry over the the "death" of a meter of metal, I will spend my time more wisely. Did you feel something? Good, right choice.  I don't feel beholden to the a plagiarizing rapist under house arrest. Let him write his own damn show.

The Tower of London Stone Heist
is all one shot, if you go back and watch, including John Kim disappearing act as two extras cross. Razor bit of timing, there.

The Levitating Stone
is just the old wire dog-collar trick, with Noah selling the shit out of it.  How professional is he?  He spent time experimenting with different vibrational frequencies, finding the resonance of the wire so the STRING part would flutter and bounce while the Stone stayed relatively motionless, and therefore in focus for the camera even as they ran down the street. I mean, damn.

Stone's run on John Turner
If you stumble across my writing, you notice I reference Turner quite a bit. He's my favorite artist, so I can write character discussions about him without slowing down to do research.

Right, this always goes better when I'm answering your questions, so have at it.  I'll try to answer as many as possible by Sunday, and put up a question post for "and the Horns of a Dilemma" at the same time.

For 10 episodes or 100, it's great to have you along for the ride.

Try not to die.





Monday, June 24, 2013

ARCANUM: What's with this Hiatus, Then?

This technically doesn't happen until Arc Two ...
Basically, I neglected to quit my day job.

When Leverage wrapped, I had two projects to occupy my downtime: the Thrillbent 2.0 launch and the founding of my own production company, Kung Fu Monkey Productions. It takes a good year of development to pull any projects together for TV development, so I figured I had some room to spend exclusively on Thrillbent.

Arcanum is a difficult comic series -- it's meant to duplicate a TV series, which means breaking 13 full interlocking stories per arc, rather than a single serialized story. There's also, for a fantasy series, a ridiculous amount of research. Savvy readers will be able to figure out from the real-world clues already dropped under exactly what location the Arcanum facility is constructed. The full timeline of all the plot links stretches from historical figures of the mid 1800's through World War One to modern times. This is my Big Swing, so to speak. But, as I'd just gone from "A Show Eating My Life" to "Relatively Unemployed", Todd and I jumped in with a certain comfort in the lead time we'd built up.

What I did NOT anticipate was rapidly closing the deal with my friends at TNT for a new pilot or two, my friend Dean Devlin getting the rights to a dream project we'd talked about for years, and the fine folks at Cinemax giving me a call for ... something. Never mind the ruthless efficiency of the young people who work at my company, who scared up about 20 projects I'm NOT writing for development. Essentially, my TV career post-show did not suck at quite the volume I believed it would.

All that to say there was no way we could keep jamming the art through as my Arcanum scripts got farther and farther behind. We needed a gap for me to get the first batch of stories fully completed and give Todd and Troy a chance to do their best work. I'd also like to start doing what the Eighth Seal lads are doing -- offering Arcanum issues on Comixology ahead of their Thrillbent release. 

And so Arcanum takes a rest until September, with the exception of some concept art and research notes we'll post occasionally. In the meantime, the Monday slot will be filled with Todd and Geoff Throne's great indie action book, Prodigal. Supernatural treasure hunters who punch stuff, fight ninjas and dragons, and banter. It was this book which made me ask Todd to come on to Arcanum, and of course you all know Geoff Thorne from Leverage, so I'm sure you'll dig the series as much as I do.

Thanks for your tolerance as we screw around with our little publishing experience, and be sure to check out Thrillbent's other titles.

Monday, May 06, 2013

ARCANUM: The Sausage, as She is Made.


Rather than take all the fun out of the fiction, I thought I'd give you a quick background on how Todd, Troy and I put together Arcanum. Everyone works differently on Thrillbent, but this is the general production template.

I write each episode, defining each slide and generally calling out the panels.  Every now and then I'll just suggest something, not detail it out.  The fight between Cole and the Elven Swordsman in Episode 002 -- or #102 if we're using standard TV episode numbering, which probably makes more sense in this format -- was originally scripted as "Give me as many panels as you think interesting, across as many slides, to show me Cole using stick-fighting to take this asshole apart."  Sometimes I'll call a editing pattern, which Todd then translates into page space. In today's installment, for example, I called for a 50/50 to mimic a cross-cut between Subject Zero and the door to the vault opening. In my head they were side-by-side, but Todd designed it as a top-and-bottom spilt, which worked even better.

Todd then sends me layouts, a sample of which appears as the header for this blog post. I approve, he then does the full art digitally, combining colors and inks and what-have-you, whatever guys like him do to make the pretty pictures. It all seems very difficult, frankly.

When Todd delivers the color pages, I tend to re-script.  Not a massive re-write but sometimes I look at an action or an expression and realize I want to adjust. Sometimes I see that thanks to Todd's art, I don't need certain dialogue.  It's a much more fluid process than print production, a bit more of a conversation.

With the script properly adjusted, each dialogue line being numbered so the letterer knows what goes where, I take Todd's art and export all of that week's installment into a single pdf document. I load that pdf into Goodreader, my iPad doc reader and editor of choice. Using a stylus I lay-out where each dialogue balloon goes, or at least suggest it. Mark taught me how to do this, but I'm a sad dilettante compared to him. He can see the page layout instantly, has an almost musical sense of how comic page storytelling should work. I kind of galumph along.
  Arcanum 006 panel one

This often leads to further tweaks to the script. With all that done, I upload the script, lettering-guide pdf and the original color art to our FTP server. Troy Peteri, our in-house letterer and general file genius, letters the comic, does the final image prep, and dumps it back onto the server.

On the appointed day Lori Matsumoto, our general site coordinator, makes sure the comic goes live, sends out the appropriate texts, emails and tweets, and off we go.

We're a little more complicated than most similar sites as we're coordinating a giant chunk of continuous, new material. But I find it boggling and impressive that most webcomics are a one-person show, a single person tackling all that, often three times a week. There's a reason we use them as our distribution/production model rather than print. That sort of hustle is what you need to move the model forward. Time will tell if we've learned the right lessons. Go ahead and read today's installment here.


Monday, April 29, 2013

ARCANUM: Immortality is So, So Creepy

Even pseudo-immortality, the thousand-year lifespan, has a nasty ring to it.

Not just because of what it might mean for the individual who's rocking the forever-life, either -- and there have been plenty of discussions of that idea, both in the vampire myth and in science fiction. One of my favorite authors to tackle this idea is Richard K. Morgan in his Altered Carbon series. In this universe people are implanted with tiny upload hardware, almost impossible to destroy, allowing your persona to be transferred from body to body. Not quite the traditional view of immortality, but the tone -- the weary, noir sensibility of an endless dream-like loop -- is spot on.  People who've lived too long in the AC universe are fundamentally wrong in an alien way. They have seen and done too much. They've gone past nihilism. There's an ... absence where the fundamental connection to other humans should be.

No, what's even creepier to me is what a society of such people would be. Look around us now. Boomers are freaking out over millenial values, just as their Greatest Generation parents freaked out over theirs. I have people working for me who've never even seen a dial telephone.  Change hurtles ever onward, and the only thing more corrosive than the fact that the future isn't evenly distributed is the fact that there are plenty of humans who don't want this future at all.  It's all too much change, it may be literally too much change to process for human hardwiring. Many older humans are living future shock, right now. It was ever thus.

But the difference now is that those people are alive.

In 1900 the percentage of the American population over the age of 45 was 17.8%. In 1950 it was 28.4%. As of the last census the share of the US population over 45 is 36.4%. Hell, the 65+ share's gone from 4.1% in 1900 to 13.3% in 2010. More and more people still in the society, with greater and greater influence, still constructing societal and legal norms based on emotional, psychological, cultural and technological frames of reference that are less and less relevant.

We'd all like to think we'd reinvent ourselves, re-assimilate, learn and grow along a constantly regenerative learning curve. But most of us wouldn't. We're just not cognitively wired for it. We crave stasis, because our lizard brains crave safety and security.

Now, am I bashing older people in general, painting them all as regressive? No, of course not. But the law of averages is the law of averages, and people are people, and the vast majority of we humans formed our core values in our adolescences, locked our social and political opinions in our early 20's. Grudges dig deep. To call out a specific example: no matter who you voted for, wasn't it a little goddam tiring in the 2000 election to still be refighting the 32-year old Vietnam War records of the two candidates for the US presidency?

Now imagine it was the Civil War.

Imagine it now.  A functional lifespan of, say 200 years.  Working with people who owned slaves.  Trying to negotiate international trade treaties to deal with global warming by reconciling voters who watched their brother's head get spun into a fine red mist by a Boston infantryman or a Georgian cavalryman. Getting funding for stem cell research from voters who grew up believing not only were black people a genetically inferior race, but other versions of white people were, too.  200 years is what Bruce Sterling posits in Holy Fire, a gerontocracy, and it's a goddam mess.

Now make it 500 years.

Nothing ever forgotten. Nothing ever truly passing.

The death of history and the birth of the Long, Eternal Now.

So when you posit a race of beings who stare at us pitilessly, as so much mortal cannon-fodder in the midst of their centuries-long feuds, I do not fantasize about meeting them. I want them to sod off post-haste to the Grey Havens, good and gone.  The prospect of them returning, and dealing with them as an enemy with reality-bending powers and millenia of strategic experience, does not fill me with elfin glee. That's horror, to me.

A new installment of ARCANUM, as usual, can be read here.  And you can browse our other comics, from continuing series to quirky short subjects, here.

Monday, April 15, 2013

ARCANUM: Clarke's Law, Harry Potter and ARCANUM

Or at least Clarke's 3rd Law: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." I have a physics degree from McGill University in Montreal, where several well-meaning humans -- with the exception of a Thermodynamics professor who intentionally posted incorrect office hours -- attempted to instill in me an appreciation for the order of the universe. The problem is, of course, then if you learn to speak the mathematical language of physics, the "order" gets pretty damn weird. Or, as my Quantum Physics professor said on the day we ground out the math for quantum tunneling: "This is the bit where people's brains begin to crackle."

It's hard to understand, as we wander around with cell phones in our pockets, the disruptive effect quantum mechanics -- the physics of the unknowable, or at the very least the physics of the best-guessable -- had on the scientific world in the beginning of the 20th century. Einstein's famous "God does not play dice with the universe!" quote comes out of this era. To put it bluntly, the smartest people on earth were, on a daily basis, losing their shit.

ARCANUM is born out of two impulses. First, blending body horror with fantasy, much as Charles Stross found the inherent harmonies between Chtulhoid Horror and Cold War sensibilities in the Laundry Series. We'll discuss that later. But it also comes out of my love of science fiction, specifically my amusement at how the most important, disruptive moment in most alien invasion movies is tossed over the movie's shoulder. The aliens have come from beyond the stars, they have come for our ...

 ... wait, what? No, they don't want our seawater, they don't want our brains, whatever you -- THEY CAME FROM BEYOND THE STARS?! Assuming that's not a generation ship or some self-replicating/self-perpetuating nanobot swarm, those aliens just BROKE PHYSICS.

Except, of course, in the (mainstream) alien invasion story, they didn't break physics. In every (mainstream) alien invasion story they're here. We can shoot them, and talk to them, and be dissected by them, they're wandering around in our physical universe and so are beholden to the same physics, Newtonian or Quantum, that we are. So that fictional universe has rules, the aliens just ... apparently ... know some better ones than we do?

But faster-then-light travel mucks with such fundamental boundaries of our physical universe that if they can circumvent that, they can damn well circumvent any of the boring rules which would allow us to interact, or perhaps even perceive them. There's an inherent paradox -- if the aliens are interstellar, they are certainly not walking our streets in hacked-together HALO armor gunning down humans. Unless that's, like, a thing they get off on. Which would be double-plus unbad now that I think about it.

For chrissake, in the 21st Century one country is untouchably pounding the hell out of terrorists and unfortunately placed Afghani weddings with remote-piloted drones operated by kids from half a planet away. And we don't even leave our local gravity well except for special occasions.

Those aliens would not be fight-able. They would be unknowable. They would incomprehensible. They would be soul-shatteringly terrifying. They would be terrifying sky gods who rain down destruction on a helpless human populace as if by ... magic. 

So why not jump straight to magic?

This is tied to one of my pet peeves in the Harry Potter universe (stay with me). I am always a little disappointed that Hermione Granger (the hero of the series) at no point says "You know, I rather like science. Has anyone noticed that none of what we do obeys the laws of physics, and yet we co-exist with the world of Muggles where the laws of physics hold sway? I mean, shouldn't we talk to some clever Cambridge blokes about the fact that we gesture and point with a stick and manufacture objects out of thin air --"

 -- THEY MANUFACTURE OBJECTS OUT OF THIN AIR?! Assuming that's not a self-replicating/self-perpetuating nanobot swarm, those tweens just BROKE PHYSICS.

You see what I did there. (After all, the Harry Potter Universe is Secretly Terrifying).



The structure of Arcanum is derived from my instinctive love of that paradox. There are multiple alien invasion styles to choose from, of course. To emphasize the horror aspects, I'm patterning our magic invasion on the slow-burn secret invasions of UFO or The Invaders or the criminally short-lived Threshold. If anything even vaguely resembling alien tech were discovered, you'd see the US government immediately put two programs in play: 1.) a Manhattan project to unravel the broken physics of said tech and 2.) a secret military/intelligence agency to keep tabs on it. Just substitute "magic" into those sentences and you have Arcanum.

Next time: immortality is so, so creepy.

In the meantime: Catch this week's Arcanum here.

Start from the beginning here.

Read Mark Waid's Insufferable, his awesome super-hero meta-story -- what if you were a dark detective of the night, and your teen sidekick grew up to be a douchebag? -- starting at the beginning here. The latest arc, Volume Two, starts here.

Read our gritty, true-life crime thriller The Damnation of Charlie Wormwood here.

And sample all our comics, from our continuing series to one-shot experiments to shorter (8-10 week) series, from the THRILLBENT HOME PAGE.

Monday, April 01, 2013

ARCANUM, Thrillbent & Digital Comics

So my new comic, Arcanum is up at the new, relaunched Thrillbent 2.0 site. Let's tackle things in order, General to specific.

DIGITAL COMICS

For about three years, Mark Waid and I would go to lunch and have the same conversation. Or rather, the same two conversations simultaneously:

1.) John: You need to BRAND YOURSELF. You are value-added, you need to be doing more creator-owned stuff!

2.) Mark: Digital comics are THE FUTURE-BALLS!

He may have phrased that slightly more elegantly. But Waid's had close to 30 years in the comics business, and he'll tell you himself the growing cost of shipping paper around was affecting not just bottom lines but creative decisions at the big publishers (This was before the fine folks at Comixology even existed). Waid wanted to experiment  with digital delivery at some of his other gigs, but the will -- and financing -- wasn't there.

At the same time, he'd become fascinated with the new story-telling techniques being shown off by guys like Yves Bigerel. Waid was really churning a lot of interesting ideas about the economics and the storytelling form.

At the same-same time, I was on my 4GM hobbyhorse -- although by that point we may have crossed into open-source warfare theory. Comics, even the slightly fancier ones Waid was plying with, were dumb files. We all had computers and tablets in our homes. The Coasean Floor was in theory next to nothing. What the hell? Where were all the creator-owned comics being delivered straight to a willing and eager audience?

The answer, of course, is that they were just called "Webcomics" and were already wildly successful. Well, some were. Others weren't.  Same's true in any business. But they were out there, and they weren't paying the distribution cost for 7000 pamphlets to be sent out to 2000 physical stores in order to tell their stories and reach fans.  They were paying very reasonable hosting fees and reaching THE PLANET EARTH.

So we started scrawling on napkins. Little words to live by, like: "Everyone already has a wide-screen" and "Motion comics are the devil" and "The Reader controls the flow of information" and "Information must be dumb." We talked to the webcomics people, trying to figure out what we could use from the single-page comic model in long-form storytelling. Mark made some speeches that pissed everyone off. We put a little money aside, we called some friends. That led us to ...

THRILLBENT COMICS

Mark created a new comic in the wide-screen format we'd come to believe would serve as a shorthand industry standard, and structured it in a pulp update fashion. One page at a time seemed like too little narrative, particularly for a weekly update structure. I'd like to give full credit to Warren Ellis's webcomic FreakAngels here -- we glommed his 6-page format as our base, and tweaked it to be 8-10 "slides" in our format. As usual, Warren's about five years of everybody else. Luckily his drinking inhibits his world-conquering instincts. Various versions of the comic reader we use have existed, this one is just tuned to my obsessive notes about skeumorphics and the physical artifact of the page turn ("No mouse, arrows=page turn" reads on of my blurry little scrawls).

That's a big thing to understand. We're not saying we're "creating" anything here. The webcomics people built the model, Warren created an early model of the narrative structure -- no, we're synthesizers and advocates. We're the guys who are tugging on the sleeves of our friends in long-form storytelling and saying "You could do it this way."

The question, of course, is how you make any goddam money doing it.

We don't know.

That is the sound of my business manager's head exploding.

That's not to say there's no way to make money at it. The trick is, now we have to go figure it out. Comics are learning that, just like music learned and TV is beginning to learn, there's no future in taking the check and just doing your job within the existing structure.  

That's not to say there's no work out there in the established marketplace. I just had lunch with an agent who said "Look, there's a good living in being the Executive Producer who babysits cash-rich network shows." Not everyone's cut out to be a marketing human. But there's something new here, something cool and challenging, that may cost you in time or money but the trade is freedom. It's going to come form the edges, of course -- established people like Waid in comics, or Rob Thomas and Veronica Mars Kickstarter in TV -- but those humans will be good test cases and have the social capital to burn.

Comics in particular is a weird case. The mainstream comic companies have so few people writing so many titles, it may in fact be easier to become a writer on a television show than to become a writer of comic books, by which I mean to say still very goddam hard. But for a medium with far fewer capital requirements, that flies in the face of sense.

So, how to make a living doing this type of digital comics? We're going to try ... everything. Our collections will be on sale on Comixology, of course and we'll have a storefront up soon. All our for-pay installments will have a little extra, some DVD bonuses, as it were. We've got a Thrillbent app in development that will do some very cool stuff, allowing you to read the comic, look at the inks or read the script over layout, all when you buy one issue of the comic collections. 

Most of our titles, when they hit enough readers and chapters to make sense, will Kickstart to physical collections. I've participated in a few successful Kickstarter campaigns now, and I'm impressed at how a particularly well run on can both invest the current fans of a property and create new ones. 

We may also experiment with time-shifting: the weekly installments are always free, but a collection of the next month's or so will be for sale, giving you both the spiffy collected portable version and a jump ahead on your favorite stories.

This may evolve as the site ages and we scribble numbers on index cards with Sharpies and frown -- you know, business things. We may go to a subscrpition model for some content, we may find ways to do ads within the comics reader ... we don't know. We'll be looking at a lot of different solutions, and anyone who has a bright idea, or even some success with their own model, should definitely drop us a line. I'd say "swing by the forums", but we're still arguing about whether we should have forums.

At the same time we're still putting up the pdfs and cbz of each installment for free. Grab the first week of Arcanum on pdf (link down there on the bottom right fo the page), toss it in your favorite reader on "full screen" and "slideshow" setting in the View menu and rock out. We like the "Get it free, but the more convenient form is for a little money, plus it helps us out" model.

We're even making a pretty radical jump with this version of Thrillbent: embeddable comics. Embedding/sharing is what made videos and music go viral, and as I said our comics are dumb files. Share 'em. Put them on your site. Make our content part of your content. As I said at WonderCon, nothing's more important than treating your audience like partners instead of suspects.

ARCANUM

Mark's carried the bulk of the content weight, time for me to share.

Arcanum is a partnership with Genre19 artist Todd Harris. Those who watched Leverage know I'm fascinated with systems. How they break, how they react, how they both define and are defined by the people within them. I wanted to combine one storytelling world system -- counter-terrorism/intelligence -- with one that it was not equipped to handle.

Also, my mind was fried by the UFO-conspiracy show U.F.O. when I was a kid. I LOVED the idea that instead of a giant alien armada invasion, there was a pitched, secret battle going on between one government agency and the mobile, untrackable forces of an enemy who struck in small, subtle ways in order to disrupt our lives, all while refusing to play by the "rules" of modern combat. Anyone who's gone through a TSA line lately will tell you this story has some modern-day relevance.

But what if the enemy literally didn't play by the rules? What if they were so totally alien as to be beyond alien? As a lifelong fantasy fan, I was always struck by just how comfortable we've become with the Tolkien tropes of fantasy. There's even a thriving sub-genre of urban magic where elves and dwarves and other fey live right along in the human world, some secret some not, but integrated.

Call me crazy, but if confronted with a big-brained biped who solved interstellar travel but otherwise obeys all the laws of reason and phsyics or immortal creatures who can bend the laws of time and space at will, I find the damn magic users more terrifying. 

To borrow from Charles Stross's excellent blend of Cold War tropes and Cthulhu (read the essay in The Atrocity Archives), I think the alien invasion story spot-welded to the most traditional fantasy tropes I could find will create some fresh horror. Because Arcanum is a sci-fi horror story. It's going to get very dark. Consider yourself warned. This is a covert war against a hyper-intelligent enemy which shares neither our biology nor our morals.  With all that entails.

Here's the first installment of Arcanum. Click on the image to advance it. You can also check it out, along with other cool stuff, over at Thrillbent.






Friday, March 15, 2013

Veronica Mars Kickstarter thoughts


After my ... discussion with some folks on Twitter the other night, I was interviewed by a very nice reporter from Hollywood Reporter, who had the courtesy to not misquote me (rarer than you think). I'd say, however, that fellow Leverage EP Chris Downey (@chrdowney) and big-time Veronica Mars fan sent me an email about the Veronica Mars Kickstarter which, although it was a question, actually summarized the issue far better than I could dealing with multiple lines of questioning over 5 hours:

*****************
John:

I just tried to follow your Twitter war with the Veronica Mars Kickstarter haters.  What, exactly, is their problem?  

There is a product (VERONICA MARS MOVIE) that is being offered to consumers in exchange for money.  The more money you pay, the more product you receive.   For $35, you get a pretty good deal:  A digital copy of the movie and a script (I think).  For $100 (what I paid) you get that plus some swag and updates about the movie.  And there is an intangible value as well, i.e. the knowledge that but for my contribution, this product would not have been made.  That may prompt someone to pay $200 instead of $35.  That is, I think, similar to the intangible value someone puts on a shirt that costs $450 because it bears a designer label.

Who, exactly, is getting screwed here?

When the kickstarter funded VERONICA MARS MOVIE gets made, does the studio have an obligation to share the profits with the contributors?  Fuck no.  The contributors are receiving fair value for their money.  How do we know that?  Because yesterday, the free market decided that $35 for a digital copy of the movie plus a script was a pretty good deal.  

The fact that I pay $15 to see OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL after it's made instead of $35 to see VERONICA MARS MOVIE before it's made, is, I think irrelevant.  All that matters is if I, the consumer, believe I am receiving fair value.

What am I missing here? 

*****************

The answer, of course, is he is missing nothing. Capitalism is harrrddd.

It's worth parsing out the three primary questions regarding the Veronica Mars Kickstarter I've encountered.

Question 1: Corporate involvement taints this Kickstarter project.

Answer 1: Massive sums of capital are needed to make television and movies. It's gonna come from somewhere -- a private human or collection of humans (that, for tax purposes, will form a corporation) or a production company that feels comfortable assuming the risk because they have distribution channels already in play (a big entertainment corporation). These are your two choices, because true crowdfunding on the scale necessary doesn't exist right now. (There's a running discussion on Twitter right now if a subscription model is bound by the same rules. So far -- unresolved!)

The first generation of these projects are going to be based in exploiting the social capital of established IP's. For legacy reasons those IP's will be owned by an entertainment corporation. The next generation of this sort of thing will be based around creator-driven projects, maybe. Big, big maybe. But those creators will still need distribution channels, and there's no guarantee those problems will be solved at the same time. So odds are, they'll wind up partnering with an established entertainment entity that already has distribution deals.

Also, it's KICKSTARTER. A common business term is right there in the name. It's not a charity site like Kiva (which is awesome, and you should go there). Whether the implication of "small business" or "indie" is hard-wired into the site is a matter of opinion, but I'd argue that once Double Fine raised $3.3 million for a video game, we all knew what the site was about. (Full disclosure: I backed them. Because they are cool and make cool things)

I mean, I hate to break it to you, but Double Fine is not two guys in a garage. It's a successful twelve-year old game studio that's released multiple profitable games into the mass market and looks to have around two dozen employees. You understand that they don't take the Kickstarter money, put that in a separate bank account, and then only draw from it when paying people who make the game, literally dollar for dollar, right? It moves into their overall financial structure as one of their revenue streams, it's used to collateralize loans -- that's just how businesses are run. Any illusions you have that they dumped that money into a kid's saving account and scrawled adorable handwritten checks to coders are your own.

In the Veronica Mars case a superhumanly determined creative person, Rob Thomas (@RobThomas) is using the Kickstarter system to raise funds to convince some fairly hip people in a single division of a very cautious studio that there is a low enough risk in making a Veronica Mars movie that they should invest their own time and money in IP they already own, and then assume all the risk of distribution -- and that risk is real, whether you want to believe that or not. 

Let's get this straight, right up front: the gross cost of making the Veronica Mars movie (getting insurance, completion bond, union contracts, just the fucking accounting etc, etc), distributing it, and then dealing with the expenses of maintaining that IP, from soup to nuts, will almost certainly cost more then the Kickstarter will make, and would be even MORE if it weren't leveraging Warner Brothers' existing relationships and contracts. 

You think Rob Thomas, personally, wants to be writing residual checks for the rest of his life?  The answer is "no", and I am sure of that because my friend Dean Devlin (@Electric44) will be writing Leverage residual checks for the rest of his life, and he is quite vocal about what a pain in the ass that is.

If somehow the thing is in the black from Day One because costs are low and the Kickstarter gets to a ridiculous number, that's cool. Why? Because we spend pretty much all our time in television financing trying to mitigate risk, and one of the ways we do this by getting pre-sales in different markets. This just means there's a new pre-sales market with different, wonky set of requirements. Not a game-changer. But an interesting data point.

Pre-sales are an important part of the television and movie financing process, and there's not a lot of daylight between the nature of the pre-sales contract revenue stream from a foreign buyer and an audience human. We finance movies and TV off audience pre-sales -- for example estimated future ticket sales, DVD sales, or download sales -- already. Hell, we finance based on theoretical profits kicked out by a modeling formulas, often absent actual data.   And we get giant bank loans for that shit. Movie studios don't use the profits from successful movies to make their next movie, because they have to wait a couple years for all those monies to come in. They get bank loans based on projections of that future income of a successful movie. TV financing is different because of the nature of the license fee income and evolution thanks to the increased throughput, but not fundamentally so.

SIDEBAR: I'd note this raises a possibility that most people are ignoring. Everyone's focusing on new IP or old IP. What's intriguing is the idea of bolstering current IP. Edging in a couple extra episodes, doing a much more spectacular DVD release, that sort of thing, may be more relevant down in the 1.x-2.x million per episode budget world. Maybe. You might also argue there's no such thing as non-current IP anymore. But that's a different post. :END SIDEBAR

Do you want cool things? Do you want bigger, more expensive cool things? Then as your desired projects scale up, reliance on the established infrastructure -- both financing and distribution -- will increase. Until a theoretical brand new perfectly democratized financing and distribution system are created, and even then things will gravitate back to cartels and leveraged production because the free market already kind of taught us that's the most efficient way to make big expensive chunks of entertainment.

Note: Some people will say I'm blurring the line here a lot between what are technically different financial organs -- financing, revenue, pre-sales, etc. Agreed. But parsing it all out precisely would take 15,000 goddam words. Let us just say that for the purposes of this discussion Money is Money, people who know better know what I mean, and people who don't know now know more than they did.

QUESTION 2: The investors are being duped/cheated.

Answer 2: People are not idiots, and I see no one intentionally misleading anybody. And trust me, as a guy who waded through 5 seasons of research on high-level corporate scumbaggery, I know misleading when I see it.

I think this is one of the big things people are missing: "intangible values" are part of the deal, and have been a legitimate "part of the deal" for an eternity.  As Chris so adroitly notes, the free market has determined that the people are getting the value they want for their money. As I said in the Hollywood Reporter article: "You pay for value added all the time. In this case, the value added is that the thing exists."

Some people were arguing that this was in no way circumventing the "gatekeepers", it was actually enriching them. (Some people typed that rather hysterically in all caps...) I think that fundamentally misunderstands the nature of "gatekeeping". It's not about who owns the stuff, it's who decides what gets made when

Or, rather more memetically, "People will trade money for control."

Since audience humans do not want to/are not qualified to spend all the time learning how to write, or make television, and probably won't come to a perfect solution that makes everyone creatively happy, they vest that control in someone they trust -- in this case, Rob Thomas. In a government, by the way, that's called a republic.  We are passingly familiar with that system, as a culture.

All that to say Warner Brother is not "getting $2 million for free." They are providing both actual physical products and other intangible rewards that are nonetheless of a non-zero value as established by the free market of Veronica Mars fans. "Free" would mean "we give you nothing in return." You know. Free.

Is there a chance that the movie might not actually get made? Sure. Shit happens. Is there any chance if that happens that the WB, who's holding that money in a production account, would want to be on the other end of a super-high publicity giant goddam class-action suit if they keep the money? You're adorable.

Yeah, the audience might not get what they want. Happens when you buy a book or go see a movie or buy a DVD set based on reviews. Life happens.

Question 3: I wrote a post for a nationally respected magazine that was factually wrong in several places, made a sexist crack about indie artist Amanda Palmer, and made an elitist argument extolling the virtues of exclusivity and relying on traditional financing, then when the internet smacked me down for it I spent hours pretending what I was REALLY saying was I concerned about the mixture of that traditional financing and crowdfunding, completely contra the article I actually wrote. Why is everyone being so mean to me?

Answer 3: The internet is big, mean and smart. Sack up.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

LEVERAGE #509 "The Rundown Job" Post-Game

I promised, and I'll do my best.  I'll get to the finale write-up soon enough, in case you'd like to move on and not read the archival stuff.  But this is the other big write-up of the season so I'll clean it out.  A quick reminder that many of your questions may already be answered on the Leverage10 podcast.

This was the big episode for the year.  As giant as "The (Very) Big Bird Job" was, this topped it by a wide margin.  Bigger budget, longer shoot, more FX shots.  Why? Well, beacause we'd finally resolved ourselves to the cable hell that is the split season.

Nobody -- not even the network who invented it -- likes the Cable Summer/Winter split anymore.  It continues because of inertia and uncertainty.  Can you let a show disappear for 8 months?  The answer used to be "No" until The Walking Dead pulled it off.  Sure, it's better to have new episodes so your viewers don't get out of the habit of tuning into your network, but do you then split your promotional budget and undersell your summer shows?  And if you do that is the winter dropoff in ratings, which happens to every show, justifiable in the drag it puts on the overall year-long ratings?  TV is in flux, and TV is run by corporations.  Who do not care much for "flux".

Nobody wants to live during the revolution.  Before and after the revolution, fine.  But not during.

So our decision was: "The Summer Finale is the one most people are going to see, so we'll make that the giant budget blowout." I mean, we've been soft-scheduling them that way anyway, but why the hell were we doing two-parter season finales only half our usual audience sees in first run?  It's artistically satisfying to close out the season that way, yes, but as I've mentioned before we make Leverage for about 2/3 the budget of comparable cable shows. We need to allocate our resources more aggressively.  So this year's summer finale took the weight and the S5 season ender (and ultimate series finale) was one of our smallest season finales, both in scheduling and budget.

There were a couple highlights to shooting the episode.  First, of course, was the chance to work with Adam Baldwin.  He and Dean are old friends -- they met on My Bodyguard, which Dean's father produced.  We suspected we'd want a Fed to bring Eliot into the fold for the midseason, so he was kind enough to do the cameo in the season opener.  That was one bit I didn't shoot:

ME: "So the scene starring your oldest friend in an action sequence set under a real, actual goddam Titan missile?  You got that for me?"
DEAN: "Oh $%#@ yes."

As noted in another write-up, the plot combined elements of an episode Downey had wanted to do for a long time -- the 24 homage -- and an idea Dean and Kane had come up with while shooting the Season 4 finale.  The room pulled together its usual batch of eclectic knowledge along with some new beats. Although we contact a lot of people for research, this was the first time one of our writers said "I'll call the FBI Agent I did counter-terrorism consulting with." That quote "He doesn't need a lab.  He needs pigs," came directly from a dude with some dead scary security clearance.

The subway location was in the script from the start.  Much like the Evergreen Aviation Museum, Dean and Downey had visited the one, single subway stop on the Portland MAX line on the annual scouting trip (in case you're wondering, that's out at the zoo).  The scout photos went into our location database, then up on the wall as we broke the story.  One odd thing we ran into while trying to duplicate the Washington Metro: copyright issues.  Oh, we certainly knew the logos and signage of certain subway lines were often owned by the city or controlling body, but we were surprised to be dealing with such issues concerning the actual MAPS OF THE SUBWAY LINES.  Although it wasn't as clear-cut a case as the London tube map copyright, we found it best to just fudge the lines a bit.

The subway car was a mix.  For the tunnel shots we brought the extras down to the Zoo Station once the line closed at midnight and shot until the line re-opened at 4am.  Amazing how motivated a film crew can be when you know there'll be a train hurtling at you if you don't make your deadline.  The interiors and close-ups of Beth on the train were done in the MAX line repair bay, on a real MAX car, with greenscreen wrapping the entire car.  That great tracking shot for Christian, Beth and Aldis's arrival on the platform was done by our A Operator Gary Camp while driving a cut-down Segway with his knees while operating a Steadicam with his hands.  I's note that we did not control those trains at this point, and the near-simultaneous arrivals were due completely to Dean's utter commitment to pulling off the fucking impossible on a regular basis.  We just kept shooting, over and over again, until Dean got the take with that train timing.

The explosion, well ... Dean does love to blow shit up.  Kudos to our stunties and Adam Baldwin, who was precisely as close to that blow as he appears to be.  Although we were quite a ways off, that was the first time, in five season, where I felt the explosion like a punch in the chest.  The warehouse explosion in "The Stork Job" may have been bigger, but for some reason this one had more force.

As I noted in a previous post I did some clean-up rewrites based on location, but there are only two scenes I personally take any credit for in this episode.  First, the hidden lab.  It's the most Global Frequency vibe of the whole five seasons, and its based on a weird little foyer in the medical building at McGill University, where I did my Physics degree.  McGill's an old university, and there's plenty of weird memorabilia stacked up in its nooks and crannies.  For example, the original physics building had all its piping pulled out, because they'd been pouring radioactive shit down the sinks back in the 20's before they knew the ramifications.  Those (glow in the dark) pipes and tabletops were still in a basement somewhere, back when I was there.  Or so we were told.  For Chrissake, we had a rickety old cyclotron there.

Anyway, I have no idea if it still exists but deep in the bowels of the Medical school, if you took three wrong turns in a row,  you might stroll into a dimly lit room lined with shelves.

On on those shelves there were endless rows of jars.

Of fetuses.  And other ... things.  From 100 years of research.  WALLS of them.

Fuuuuuccckkk.

Hardison's reaction is drawn from a BBC documentary about the Spanish flu -- I can't seem to find it online -- where they were digging up sailors who'd died of the flu then buried in the Alaskan permafrost.  These scientists were about halfway down, working in shirtsleeves, when one asked "Hey, if we're digging here because we'll get the most perfectly preserved version of history's most murderous pandemic, aren't we in fact exposing ourselves to the most perfectly preserved sample of the world's most murderous pandemic?"  One perfect pause later, they were all in hazmat suits, sweating.

The bit about the missing plutonium is real.  As is the missing hydrogen bomb sitting off the coast of Georgia.  Sleep tight.

The second scene was the one immediately following, where Eliot talks Hardison down.  The scene had some serious emotional context for the show sure, as it was nice to finally say in text what we felt that relationship had become -- brothers.  But it had a second layer.  A very dear friend of mine was in Air Force Combat Search and Rescue right out of high school.  When we were younger, and I was freaking out or insecure or nervous about something, he'd pep talk me.  He'd do that neck grab and tuck my head in, because touching helmets like that, that's as close as you can get in a combat situation.  "Fucking relax.  Smartest guy I know," he'd say, often impatiently.

Well, that friend passed, not long before I wrote that scene.  So I was writing him in that scene. Writing one of the four or so guys who became my brothers, who lived in my house, ate at my mom's table, sat around bullshitting in the Burger King parking lot for hours every night, who kept me from being a nervous, shy physics geek who never wrote, never performed, never joked.

When I explained that context to Christian and Aldis and Beth, I have to admit I teared up.  And then -- and this is why I love them -- they dug in on that scene.  They'd already rehearsed and committed to it, but then they really brought something extra.  Kane in particular, knew he was playing my brother, and ran over after every take to make sure he was landing it.  So know that for every time I say "Fucking Oklahoma..." because of some bone-headed stunt bullshit he did, understand I'll always love him, and Aldis and Beth, for how they acted that day.

Okay, enough maudlin bullshit.  Onto your questions:

@Anonymous: Just curious over Kane's wardrobe - does he have say over what he wears? Asking because the t-shirt he was wearing said "Wolf" in Japanese, and wolf is a recurring theme with him...?

We were looking at a costume redesign for this episode -- Nadine Haders wanted to go very high-style, almost anime, and when we startred talking "Icons" Kane suggested "Wolf."  It's his good-luck animal.


@Gina: 1.) At the sight of Eliot's hair, I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of fangirls cried out and were suddenly silenced.

2.) Wow. Parker's method of saving Hardison is the sexiest thing I've seen in ages.

1.) I think it was actually a relief for him.  He;d actually thought about cutting it before, but always wound up with guest-star and movie roles in between season which required him to keep it long. 

2.) What's crazy is that she did the stunt, and we didn't even realize it until the upside-down flip.  We were out of direct sightline because of the geography of that apartment, and we're watching the monitor, and I think "Hey, that stuntwoman really is a good match for -- holy shit, THAT'S BETH!"

Dan: 1)Was the "Casey Farm" name an intentional nod to Baldwin's most recent role, or just a nice coincidence?

2) Was the fact that Nate and Sophie didn't show up for so long a deliberate choice, or were Tim Hutton and Gina Bellman busy with other projects at the time? I mean, I'm certainly not complaining about some good Hacker/Hitter/Thief action, but it's interesting, especially after last week's Parker-heavy episode.

1.) Coincidence, but fortuitous.
2.) Considering the episodes were meant to air in a slightly different order, they just appeared to be absent.  It was more about spreading the actors out over several very difficult schedules in the best possible way htn any character-based decisions.

@allyone: Totally only goes to support my theory that the team is breaking up. I see some foreshadowing here, my friend. And I don't care how good on single individual episode is with Nate/Sophie and Parker/Hardison/Eliot. In the long term, they're still all better together. 

As we all know how this ends, I can finally say that no, we were never going to break them up permanently if there'd been a Season 6.  I think, though that coincidentally these two episodes kind of softened the blow for the fans.  Like "Oh, we know how this works out.  it works out fine."  

@PurpleOps: 1.)  I like Eliot's short hair - in fact it could be just a tad shorter - but was disappointed that it wasn't explained in the show. I was expecting such a monumental event to have relevance to the plot! What was the reason, anyway?
2. Was "Charles Scalzi" a tribute to John Scalzi, super SF author and subject of Wil Wheaton's audiobook readings? (Check out "Redshirts", everyone!)
3. Loved the love from Eliot of his team throughout, but was a bit surprised at his calling Hardison "The smartest guy I know." From a hacker standpoint, sure, but Nate is the brains. Would that have ever entered into Eliot's equation? Or is Eliot just not that impressed with Nate's smarts?
4. Was Monte Markham's subway disguise supposed to remind us of Nate? It did for me.
5. There was some MAD visual style in this ep, particularly at the safe opening in the beginning. On the other hand, not thrilled with the slo-mo, but I'll forgive it because of how good the rest of the direction was. Yay, Dean! What inspired the rather different and delightful style?
6. Wasn't Markham's final speech just a bit too melodramatic?
7. Eliot walks (or runs) into a bullet? TWICE? And his HIT is a cutaway? To quote from Harry Potter, you "have got to sort out [your] priorities!"

8.) Was there any intention to finger the congressman as a red herring? I really thought he might be involved in the plot, but that dropped off after the blow-up.


1.) Kind of a fresh start for the back of the season.  And I don't think you actually do want to discuss that stuff.  Seems to self-aware.  Which is funny, considering how self-reflexive the show is.
2.) It was a combo of two of my favorite authors, Charles Stross and John Scalzi.
3.) Eliot considers Nate more cunning than smart.
4.) No, but I'll take it.
5.) I think both directors just enjoyed the freedom of high-concept epiisodes that weren't in our usual structure or tone, and matched them visually.  We make a LOT of Leverages every year, and things can get a little stale creatively on a 7 day shoot.  Oh, and personal note -- I hate slo-mo.  I don't mind using it in variable speed ramping, but rarely.  Rare. Ly.  It is indeed a matter of taste.
6.) Eh.
7.) We actually filmed the hit.  it was too brutal.  First screening, we said "Damn, Kane just KILLED that dude." Mad props to Monte Markham, by the way, doing his own fight scenes with Christian. 
8.) We just wanted to keep a bunch of balls in the air.  It was meant to be a mislead, but hey, 42 minutes.

@Codger: Tell me you're kidding. When they first steal the NSA van, Elliot says the sniper was a SEAL, but when they call up a picture from his file, he's not in a Navy uniform. You've got him in an ARMY uniform? There's a big difference between NAVY and ARMY!

Sometimes we fuck up.  I sleep okay at night.

@IMForeman: 
1.) Vance talking about the terrorist teams being lean and tight is them getting inside the government's Ooda loop, yes?
2.) The NSA having no file on Parker. Was she really that far off the grid? How did Nate, Sterling and Dubenich have info on her?
3.) The missing uranium and hydrogen bomb... do I want to know if that's ledger or black box? The Spanish Flu... that I know is real.
3.) How is it that Eliot faced down a room full of heavily armed pro hitters and never got shot once, but facing a crazy science guy he gets shot twice. I guess the difference between a warehouse and a train car is the thing. 

1.) OODA, correct.
2.) She had a shit-ton of aliases, Parker being her "work" name.  Assume Hardison's actually cleaned up the databases quite a bit since they all started working together.
3.) Addressed.
4.) Luck and tight quarters, yes.  And Dean wanted him shot.  So shoot him we shall.

@Anonymous: 1)There's some epic in-verse reason for Eliot cutting his hair, right? It got singed when he was fighting mooks in a burning building or something, a la the Butcher of Kiev. Or wrestling bad guys near the lip of an active volcano.
2) Not actually a question, just thanks for all the competence porn and team love between E/P/H.
3) Hardison was filing away ideas for Lucille, wasn't he? (After he was in the NSA van.)
4)Re: Hardison being the smartest guy they all know, and the Hardison vs Nate debate, I view Nate being the best at predicting people/manipulating them, as well as Xanatos Gambits, but I view that as much to do with his years of experience as his intelligence, whereas in terms of sheer IQ and general and technical knowledge, Hardison outclasses them all, but due to his age lacks Nate's ... lets call them street smarts. Would this generally be correct?
5)Do the kids often handle cons on their own, or is this another Secret Nate Training Plot?
6) How does Nate react when his hitter walks in with two bullet holes?
7) Was Eliot even a little bit scared? Or has he always known how dangerous and terrifyingly effective those three could be together? 

1.) Miranda Zero told him she liked it better short.
2.) You're welcome.
3.) Yep. We were thinking of adding the voice to Lucille in S6.
4.) Nice Xanatos reference.
5.) The diamonds were the tail end of a con -- so easy that it was basically clean-up.
6.) Sighs heavily.
7.)  Eliot doesn't know fear.  Fear knows him. 

Oona:  Strong summer finale for the show ... Parker playing jungle gym on Hardison was cute and all but totally offended my understanding of explosives. (Of course , my understanding is based entirely on what I've seen in movies, so I could be wrong.)

Claymores work on a trigger.  Those wires go right where they were.  They're not usually wired to a pressure plate, granted, but it wouldn't be hard to do.

@Carl: How will hardison ever be able to run his own team one day if he always seems to be freaking out when he faces lots of pressure?

Hardison can handle pressure.  The frikkin' APOCALYPSE is another thing.  All joking aside, I think we've established he doesn't handle being responsible for innocent peoples welfare particularly well.  More afraid of fucking up and letting innocent people be hurt than personal peril.

@allison:  a question/DC nitpick I wasn't fast enough to post to The 'Gimme a K' Street Job. Nothing in the Capitol complex is ever labelled "Congress Hearing Room". From the bit where Eliot tried to convince the Congressman to run for Senate, we were definitely in the House (where, yes, the Reps are frequently called "Congressman" even though technically the term would be equally applicable to a senator). But the House and Senate do not share meeting space ever. In reality that room would have been labelled something like "United States House of Representatives Committee on x" (because the committees don't share space, either). It made it seem as if the show had fallen into the trap of thinking Congress is the other body from the Senate, instead of the aggregate body that includes the House and the Senate. I don't for a second believe any of the Leverage humans actually made this mistake, so my question is - was there some reason legal didn't want you to call the House the House? Someone was afraid of impugning the reputation of the actual chairman of the (I'm guessing) Committee on Education and the Workforce?
   BTW for what it's worth I've worked on the Hill for years and I TOTALLY bought that there would be a Federal High School Sports Commission or whatever it was. We do indeed have commissions out the hoo-ha and many of them are for way weirder things.

It was more for the audience to understand the context than for accuracy.  We often take into account what information we think the audience needs to understand the location, rather than being strictly accurate.

@Sabine: 1. When Parker reminds Eliot that they had all agreed to change together, what change is she talking about? Change from running cons to something else? Change their value systems? Change their hairstyles? Who's in that agreement - these three or Sophie and Nate too?
2. Was Eliot referring to his disturbing career path from enlisted soldier to assassin when he told Vance that obsession makes you into what you chase? Or did he mean he'd been pondering his current career, where he brings down manipulative, dishonest people using manipulative, dishonest methods? Thus leading to the change Parker mentions?
3. (Maybe this is the same question as #2, which is maybe the same a #1) In the flashback from the Big Bird Job, Eliot looked pretty happy to be working with Vance. Now he makes it clear that he's not interested in any more jobs. When did this change of heart kick in?
1.) Change to good guys.  I'd say it's not an explicit statement in S1, but definitely something most of the cast has discussed on-camera in various contexts over the 5 seasons.
2.) He was discussing Vance's similarity to Udall, and roping in Nate's issues at the same time.  Eliot is very aware that Nate walks the line all the time.
3.) Oh, he'll take more work.  Just not on a regular basis.

@aurora: 1.) Why did that fellow try to hire Eliot (other than the obvious of getting the team into the plot) when the baddie clearly already had the sniper as muscle 45 days earlier?
2.) Why was Hardison explaining so much to Eliot & Parker about the Spanish flu? (Really, why do people not take the flu seriously?)
3.) I know you've mentioned her before, but can you remind us who Beth's gymnast stunt-double is and her background? She's really good.
4.) Oh, back when Baldwin did his cameo in the premiere, wasn't that supposed to be something he and Eliot did over the summer? Why then did Vance seem so surprised/Eliot was so insistent that Eliot didn't do that kind of work anymore? They haven't been in Portland that long, have they?

1.) That shooter was supposed to be busy doing another part of the plot -- we lost that in the edit.
2.) Because most people don't take the flu seriously.  Including our audience.
3.) It changes from show to show, actually.
4.) A one-off is one thing, dragging his team and friends into a terror hunt is entirely another.

@Nav: 1). Elliot’s “employer” – one to watch, or just a one-off appearance? Why the sudden call after so long, or are we to assume Elliot’s turned down tons of calls while working with the team?
2.). That dead-piggy scene - did you guys just happen to find a ton of pigs sleeping around or did you fire some birds at them? Damn well shot scene – creeped me out a lot more than I expected, and I have a pretty morbid, disturbing mind. Great work!!
1.) Eliot put out the word a long time ago he wasn't doing that anymore.  The guy took a flier.  BTW, that character was supposed to be rumpled, ex-military.  It was Dean's inspired casting choice to make him prim.
2.) Four butchered pigs from a food supply company, four wooden ones -- those were for the foreground shots --  and a shit-ton of CG. For what it's worth, this episode was when I stopped eating pork.  Not because the dead pigs disturbed me, but because I finally saw first-hand how smart they are.  They crossed the "I can't eat anything smart enough to play fetch" threshold for me.

@medrawt: When Eliot does national security type things on "vacation" for his old buddies, does he use firearms? I guess the end of the episode sort of gives an answer, but I'm curious about the contextual flexibility of Eliot's desire to not use guns / kill people (which we've already seen him do in an incredibly desperate situation, of course). Is it like "not unless the lives of people I love absolutely require it," or is it "nothing I'm doing for Nate justifies that level of violence, but things I'm doing for Uncle Sam still may"?

Eliot prefers knives.  You've seen him in a knife harness in both "Rashamon" and "The (Very) Big Bird" flashback.

@deanangst: We know that Eliot takes his Oath to the Government very seriously. So when Vance tried to use that to get Eliot to help and Eliot resisted. Was Eliot resisting because Vance was trying to force him to do something or was it because he didn't want to involve Alec and Parker.

That expression on his face was more "Shit. you got me." The resistance was very much because he wanted Hardison and Parker clear.

@Kate:  I love the spotlight on how each of our Crew in the Rundown Job handles serious 'life-or-death' pressure. There's the completely panicked look in Hardison's eyes (a la Mile High Job), the almost instinctive-seeming leanings toward Self-Sacrifice for Eliot (Big Bang Job), and Parker... Well, I'm reminded of a dancer who takes a deep breath before breezing onto a stage (...Too many episodes to count, oh leaping off buildings and handling bombs). Is there any post-its for keeping track of that kind of stuff or is it just naturally intrinsic to writing the characters?

Combo, with the actors being the ones who make sure it stays consistent. But after 70-odd, you know what rings true.

@MacSTL: 1) regarding editing down to tv air time. Does one editor have to make these decisions or are options given to a small group (Dean, Editor etc)
2)I love the competence porn with the laser dance.. and I know that you have to leave Parker's hair long to help disguise Beth from her stuntie...but there has to be some way to do that differently because the hair would have hit the lasers...
3) How much time elapsed from when Eliot got the call from Riley to when the team showed up at Riley's work place? Doesn't seem like there would have been enough time for Riley to get the alternate shooter in place.
4) At the trailer in the field... When Eliot called Vance, the phone showed 'Blocked' caller ID. If the Caller ID was blocked, how did Vance know that it was Eliot calling earlier?
5) Just how much of the stunt driving of the 'Vette did Kane really get to do? We know from BTS pics that Kane/Hodge did some of the green screen...
6) On the MAX car... where did Eliot's coat go? (At least on the iTunes version...) Now its there and then it isn't. Not complaining about the gun show mind you... and I know it was a necessary production need...just unexplained.
1.) Dean make sthe call between the longer iTunes version and the broadcast version.
2.) She's just that damn good -- no,we got jammed up on stunt-doubling there.  No way around it.
3.) About a half-hour. When Riley couldn't get Eliot, the hitter became the default.
4.) Who else would be calling?  No, actually, good question.  Got us.
5.) Too much.  Fucking Oklahoma.
6.) Tossed behind him.  You can see him take it off, I think, in the long version.

@the_eye: finally realized what it was that kept bugging me about this episode (namely the rundown job) as well as the love people show for it, saying they'd watch the hell out of a spin-off and so forth:

The military guy we see at the beginning in the congressional committee who is some old mate of Elliots, and who they end up working for during this episode?

He is essentially Oliver North. This is the thing that during that whole episode kept nagging at the back of my head that THEY SHOULD NOT BE WORKING FOR THIS GUY, THEY SHOULD PUT HIM DOWN. I mean apart from the fact that (conscious choice or not) he has an extremely oily, smarmy, self-confident look to himself that makes you wanna punch him, he is the embodiment of oversightless black project things. Which are bad.

Have Mr Rogers politics done a 180 degree reversal? Have I completely misunderstood them? I admit I might, after all I'm looking at all this from a European perspective, i.e. far away, but from everything that I know about how you think, this guy should be a bad guy. So either there is something waiting in a later episode this season where he gets his comeuppance or I'm very confused.

And people on here? THIS IS A BAD GUY. Why do you not see this? I mean seriously?
Well that's a good question/point.  He's I guess comparable to Ollie North in some superficial ways.  But there's certainly a fictional convention in Western spy tropes that you need the lean team moving faster than bureaucracy to fight lean terrorists, and I'm personally very sympathetic to the idea that big governmental responses to crises tend to be ... unwieldy.  I spend a lot of my writing headspace on Leverage getting inside big corporations and governments' OODA loops.
On the other hand, I think (and some Commenters pointed out) that we made sure that both sides were presented fairly.  That tension, between roles, order and action, is a legitimate tension in our society now.  I was the one who pointed out, during the first cut, that the Senator actually SAVES Vance, by insisting on a search warrant.  That delay kept them from opening the door too early.

@oppyu: 1) Is there a reason that Elliot didn't go to the hospital after being shot twice?
2) How much of this episode is based on real people? Namely, are there really politicians who go out of their way to shut down an army officer who (I'm guessing) has a record of actually stopping in-universe life-threatening terrorist acts? Speaking of which, don't insane people who think that America is on the brink of terrorist attack, realise that committing a terrorist attack against America to get America prepared is kind of... stupid? self-defeating?
3) How much of past episodes? Some of the villains just seem pointlessly, illogically evil. The guy who tried to kill a plane full of people to silence an accountant and a hitman? A CEO paying craploads of money to release a drug that kills people, when they could make as much money releasing a drug that... didn't kill people? There's greed, and then there's going out of your way to find puppies and kick them while laughing maniacally and twirling your moustache.
4) Are you bringing back Bonnano or not?
5) How would the series have gone if, by some bizarre happen-stance, Nate stayed in prison and Eliot took over the team? Dude has serious leadership chops; I don't know if Nate could talk Hardison into going up against bio-chemical terrorism.
6) Did anyone ever talk about the fact that a gunman tried to murder a crippled, isolated Parker back when everyone was in Japan? 

1.) Hospitals spend an annoying amount of time filling out paperwork, when he could just be applying ancient healing poultices he learned from geisha assassins.
2.) Rules are rules, and there are plenty of people who believe 9/11 was a false flag operation.
3.) Every villain is thisclose to a real guy.  The pharmaceutical one in particular -- real guy.  I am always frustrated at you people's faith in your fellow man.
4.) If think he's in the novels.
5.) That would have been  ... interesting. I don't think Eliot wants that job though.  he likes being the Outside man.
6.) Sure, they chatted about it.  She was annoyed that they condescended to worry about her.

@Natalie Clemanets: 1) Not that I want to get off the fun train, and I'm normally pretty good at coming up with explanations, but what triggered the trailer bomb? I can't accept it was timed to go off just after everyone runs away after the extremely cool car SOS. Didn't see any kind of pressure plate near the door set off by Vance. Perimeter sensor? Hidden in the grass to account for the 'getting the warrant we weren't going to bother with' delay, then timed to account for getting to the trailer and then the 'what's that car doing?' delay.
2) I loved Eliot's reaction when he found out the warning was in time. How much of that was scripted/improv/brilliant Kane acting?
3) In ep #505 (why not sneak another in?) how much of the Himalayan tree frog was scripted? Hilarious! Especially the sucker feet part. I'd happily have that on loop all day, and it still makes me laugh...

1.) Perimeter sensor with a timer to make sure you got the maximum number of victims.
2.) Simple reaction written, Kane improv on the enthusiasm.  I loved it too.
3.) All improv-ed.  Talented little bastards, aren't they?

@Anonymous: Fot four seasons, we've watched Eliot Spencer take the gun away from a bad guy and immediately empty the chamber to take the weapon out of the equation, including the weapons he used himself at the end of the fight in The Big Bang Job. And we're supposed to believe that this particular time, he completely neglects to disable Dr. Udall's gun? Not only that, he throws the loaded firearm across the subway car AND ends up taking a second bullet because he pays so little attention that the bad guy gets his hands on the loaded gun again?

Actually, that was Hardison's screw-up.  Eliot took the bullet, which distracted him from disabling the gun, and then Hardison kicked it away.  Eliot should've chased it bit hey, bomb.

We actually went back and forth on shooting him the second time.  Dean wanted to make sure there was no way Eliot could catch up with Parker.  Given the geography of the train and tunnel we may not have needed it, in retrospect, but we shot it as scripted.

@Maite: I was wondering who came up with the idea of having the audience "see" Hardison at work, like with the schematics of the vault and Vance's car. It kinda reminded me of Sherlock's mind palace in "The Hounds of Baskerville." Slick and stylish.

Dean, based on a shot he really liked from Sherlock.  We'd been struggling with a new way to open Hardison up visually, and as I've noted before Dean's a giant Moffat fan.

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Bloody hell.  All right, see you in a few days for the next one.  I'll keep doing these until you can finally, gently wean yourself off the show.  Promise.