Sunday, December 13, 2015

MEMORIES OF A GALAXY FAR, FAR AWAY....

Yeah, I know it's been a long time between entries, but Force knows when I'll be in the mood again, so let's get on with it...
Above is a picture of one of the finest movie theaters I've ever been to, the Eastwood on 6800 Pendleton Pike in Indianapolis, IN. Today, it stands an empty husk, abandoned in the midst of a Menard's lumberyard, forgotten by all but those who went there. But in the summer of 1977 for at least two months, it was the only theater in the Hoosier state where you could see STAR WARS. And for those of us who showed up that first weekend, absolutely unaware of the nature of that movie, it was a moment that would change our lives forever.

But first, let's zip back to the summer of 1976, when I picked up my first issue of Starlog, issue #2, during a camping trip with my grandparents. Buried on Page 7 of "Log Entries" was a mention of "20th Century Fox's latest science-fiction blockbuster" and that critics who had already seen the film said that the movie had "everything in science-fiction you've always wanted to see on the screen but knew no one would ever put there."

It was a curious thing, but I immediately moved onto the Star Trek and Space:1999 coverage.

Well, more and more things started coming my way on the Star Wars trail. The novelization came out shortly after with that gorgeous painting by Ralph McQuarrie, designed when the original first draft was called "The Star Wars: The Adventures of Luke Starkiller". Still, that awesome black armored helmet of the character destined to become the most iconic sci-fi villain of all time drew me to buy the book at our local bookstore. To date, I've never finished that book. Maybe one day....

Then just a couple of weeks before the movie was to open, my latest comic shipment arrived with Marvel Comics' adaptation of Star Wars. To say the least, I wasn't impressed. The artwork by Howard Chaykin was a real rush job and was honestly coming off to me like the various movie adaptations Marvel was producing at the time... which were pretty bad.

Now, in full disclosure, they were working under a handicap... Fox had only sent Marvel a bunch of stills, the basic script (minus the cuts they made of Biggs and Luke's pals), and a nearly impossible deadline to keep. And, considering the artwork did get considerably better in the following issues (Chaykin got some decent inkers), I'll cut'em a lot of slack.

Anyway, so I put it out of my mind until the following week, when I opened the Indianapolis Star and was struck dumb by a full two-page spread in the movie section:

Okay, that got my attention.

So now I'm wondering just exactly what kind of movie this was going to be. It certainly didn't look like another cheap pile like the Edgar Rice Burroughs movies by American-International. But I've seen movies with fantastically-rendered movie posters that dragged you into the theater and turned out to be the cheapest celluloid bile. The previous year I got skunked by Logan's Run, which bore resemblance to William Nolan's novel only in that there's a guy named Logan and he's running because he's reached the age limit. After that...

And then there were the awful Edgar Rice Burroughs film The Land That Time Forgot, which probably left ERB spinning in his grave. Finally, that Christmas, gave us the much-ballyhooed remake of King Kong. Wanna know what the difference is between that movie and the worst Godzilla Man-in-Suit flick ever made? Rick Baker. Despite the horrible campy script by Lorenzo "Comics are Trash" Semple, Jr., the even worst directing, the amateurish acting by young Jessica Lange (the money she made off this film afforded her much-needed acting lessons and later an Academy Award), and the complete lack of dinosaurs on Skull Island, Rick Baker's amazing Kong suit and him in it made everything else... less intolerable.

So, smoked three times in '76. What good could come from a barely noticed small film from the guy who did American Graffitti?

That Friday, I woke to my usual dosage of Good Morning America and eagerly awaited Rona Barrett's review of the film. I knew my friends Mike, Rick, Rick, Terry, and several others were heading up Saturday, but, of course, I was working until Memorial Day, so I'd at least get an honest opinion from them.

Rona practically slobbered all over herself singing praises over the movie, declaring it a surefire nominee for Best Picture of 1977 at the Oscars and describing it as our generation's Wizard of Oz... a film that embraces pure imagination on a scale never seen on the screen before.

As if I had to tell you, my Spidey sense was tingling off the hook.

Saturday evening, I got a call from Mike, usually the calm, yet cynical, voice of reason. Not so much this time. He avoided doing any spoilers, just telling me "Oh, God, Mark! Oh my God! It's a Marvel comic book come to life!"

"Of course it's a Marvel comic book," I replied. "And not a very well done one at that."

"Oh, screw that comic! They got it right! Oh, my God, they got it right! You gotta go see it!"

So, on that ringing recommendation (that I'd trust over a dozen movie critics any day), I started trying to figure out how I could get to the Eastwood.

Our first big problem would be transportation. The old '66 Lincoln station wagon was okay for trips around town and maybe a trip out to Newburn to pick up Deena for a date, but a fifty-five mile trip to upper Indianapolis? Probably not. Being Memorial Day weekend, Grandma and Grandpa were in Edinburgh at the campgrounds along the river with our camping club and out of contact. No cellphones in those days. Universal communicators were still the fictional plaything of Star Trek.

So I started the cunning plan that six years later would be rivaled only by Ralphie's ultimate plot to possess that B.B. rifle by Christmas. I would pick up Deena in the morning and we'd head up to the campgrounds and try to talk Gramps into loaning us his Ford pick-up for the afternoon to get to the theater. Sounded like a great idea... until I told Mom what we were going to do.

"Take your brother with you."

Words that, any other day, would be the death knell of a date. But Dee was okay with it, and Kenny, now at ten years old, was at an age where he could love a film like Star Wars, no matter how good or bad it might be. And he might just get a glimpse into why I was such a fan of comics and science-fiction. A giant step into a larger world.

Huh? Where did that come from?

So Monday morning, I picked Deena up at her home in Newburn, ran by my mom's house to grab Kenny, and we headed up to the campgrounds.

We lucked out. Gramps trusted me to take care of the pick-up, so we jumped in and headed up to Indy.

About an hour later, we found ourselves exiting 465 onto Pendleton Pike, and moments after that we found the AyrWay plaza and, sitting just a few dozen yards away from a Dairy Queen in the parking lot, was the Eastwood Theater. We arrived about 12:30 PM for the 2:00 showing, as I had already heard there could possibly be a line.

Well, there were a couple of folks sitting at the curb, but no massive gatherings, so I figured maybe we could all grab lunch before any serious folks arrived.

No sooner did we get a table and our Brazier burgers did the cars start arriving. And right before our eyes, those two or three folks on the curb become 20-30 in no time at all. We slugged down our food and hurried over just as the line became a little over fifty. And still with over an hour to go.

Now, it's necessary for folks here to understand: there was no cosplaying or toy blasters, T-shirts, or any of the things we've all come to expect today at gatherings such as this. Fox literally had no idea what they had on their hands, and, in fact, had structured the film's finances as a sort of tax write off, in case, as they suspected, it would bomb big time. So, unlike Paramount's overblown King Kong movie. there was no massive effort to supply stores with tons of paraphernalia. Not one action figure. Not one toy. Nothing. In fact, it wasn't until February of that year that an inner office memo from one of Fox's distributors who had seen the movie clearly encouraged the studio to put an increased effort (and more money) into publicizing the film.

To wit, they did put out a few T-shirts and produced a handsome program book to sell at the theaters. But other than that...

What we didn't realize until many years later was that we were seeing a fandom growing right before our eyes, the likes of which was destined to be unparalleled. Bigger than Star Trek, Bigger than maybe even Jaws. None of us had a clue to what we were about to watch, and how it would effect us. Today, so many of you whipper snappers out there (assuming my old grouchy neighbor voice now) talk about first seeing Star Wars on television. By cracky, we had to spend money and stand in line for hours to see the gull-danged thing, and we were thankful after that! (spit)

Anyway, we finally got inside and got our tickets. I bought the program book, which was colorful and insightful about the film. And, low and behold, this theater had another feature that I'd never seen before... free refills on your popcorn and soda. I wondered if the Columbus downtown mall's cinema had heard of this, those money grubbers.

So then we headed in, and what we saw blew our minds.

An auditorium that seated about 600 people, at the end of which was a gigantic curved screen. Behind it were two story-high speakers, and just above us, along the sides were smaller box speakers lining the edge of the ceiling. Whatever was going to be in this flick, it was going to be wired for sound.

So we kicked back, still about a half hour to go, and we watched the crowd come in until every chair in the joint was filled. In very little time after that, the lights dimmed and, without any real previews or bumpers, the 20th Century Fox title and fanfare filled the theater, along with a plain blue logo designating it as a Lucasfilm Ltd. production.

One little aside... now that Disney owns the Star Wars franchise lock, stock, and barrel, any new films will, of course, be sans that magnificent Alfred Neuman fanfare. It's going to be strange walking into a Star Wars and not being greeted by it.

Anyway, you all know what followed that. "A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away..."

That explosive first note of John Williams' immortal score and the Star Wars logo filling the screen and vanishing into the stars rattled everyone in the theater, actually getting a smattering of applause. Kenny, Deena, and myself were hanging on for dear life to the backs of our chairs. Then came that wonderful roll-up, obviously a nod to the old chapter recaps from the great movie serials of yesteryear, Finally, the pan downward of starry space, the bare surface of Tatooine at the bottom of the screen. Then... the Princess' shuttle zipping into space, trailed by that breathtaking Star Destroyer, which kept going on and on and on....

At that moment, I was aware of a mass pants wetting going on behind me, and we actually had to raise our legs to allow the flood of pee to come down the slope. Whispers of "Oh, my God!" could be heard everywhere.

And for the next two hours, we were thoroughly caught up in this fantastic, otherworldly adventure with the most colorful heroes and villains ever seen on the screen. The Star Wars theme was ringing in our heads as we drove back home. And the next day I called my friend Mike and told him, "That was the greatest movie I've ever seen in my life! And it ain't gonna make a dime!"

Well, what else could I say, given that all three of the major sci-fi movies of 1976 crashed and burned (though for King Kong I was roasting marshmallows on that sucka). What could this movie do to reverse science-fiction's fortunes?

Well, by August it had surpassed Jaws as the No.1 box office champ and there was still no end in sight of the masses returning to see it again and again. The Eastwood theater kept the film for a full year before finally letting it go. By the end of 1977, Star Wars was on the lips of every man, woman, and child with a flicker of imagination.

And me? I ate an exquisite cuisine of crow and delighted in every morsel.

So how did Star Wars change my life? I mean, I was already a sci-fi, horror, and comic book fan, How much more could it change a character like me?

It made me appreciate the efforts that were made at every level of film producing, from the writing and the direction to the art department, the set building, the kind of cinematography used to film on the sets and the location shoots. It made me realize what a vital part music plays in the momentum of a film's narrative, and what better teacher than the master himself, John Williams? After Star Wars, I couldn't wait to get the latest scoops from Starlog Magazine or SFX on production of the next episode and so many other films like Close Encounters of the Third Kind (yep, 1977 was a double whammy for guys like me), Alien, Superman the Movie, and so many others. Remember, this was a long way from the Internet, and fan magazines were our only real connection to the behind-the-scenes details. I also became aware of names like Kurtz, Spielberg, Baker, Winston, Matheson, Kasdan. And when I heard them, I paid close attention.

But mostly, it made me really want to be a part of this incredible rise of fantasy fandom and wonder what in the world the future would bring us next. And while I doubt I will ever see the unbelievable success that the above-mentioned folks have had in their lifetimes, I can honestly say they inspired me to some of my finer moments in life. And for that, I am forever in the debt of George Lucas and Company.

Tune in next time when we deal with The Empire Strikes Back and learn how not to spoil a movie.






Sunday, September 15, 2013

DOC SAVAGE - THE RADIO SERIES CONTINUES! NOW COMES THE SOUNDTRACK...

With the script for The Fortress of Solitude finally in the can, I started putting together the soundtrack, complete with a music score and sound effects. To put together the various elements, I used Nero Soundtrax, a very handy, if imperfect, part of Nero 8 software.

As with the previous radio play, I cribbed the score from Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, which I've always considered a great Doc Savage score that wound up in a well-meaning but lifeless movie. Many of the sound effects I utilized were available for free on line, and those I couldn't locate I put a little money into on iTunes and pretty vast collection of sound effects.

It's a crazy process, trying to coordinate the script, the music track, and the sound effects into one cohesive whole. I basically read the script aloud until just the right cue, pause the track and insert the effect. At times I've got one that just isn't loud enough for the given effect, so I boost the signal a bit, sometimes even using some of Nero's interesting effects to enhance it.

Edward Shearmur's glorious score encompasses every conceivable element you would want in an action-adventure thriller... pulse-pounding suspense, thrilling battle music, the heroic theme, and even some lighthearted humorous rifts. With a little judicious editing, it makes for a fabulous whole.

Now the big problem forthcoming is getting my three other actors synced up to the finished track. We'll see how well that will go in our next episode.





Thursday, August 22, 2013

DOC SAVAGE - THE RADIO SERIES CONTINUES!

Okay, so regular readers of this blog (I think there might be a few of you still out there with the patience of Job) know that I am very into Doc Savage, the pulp magazine prototype of Superman, as could be seen in the last YouTube video I posted featuring myself, my partner Mike Walt, and Who-Net member and friend Terry O'Connell. We performed my adaptation of Lester Dent's 1934 pilot script for an early Doc Savage radio series and based on the first of the 181 Doc Savage novels, "The Man of Bronze" at last July's InConJunction convention in Indianapolis.

Though it was a small crowd, and although we had a few hiccups in syncing our performances with the soundtrack, the live radio play went over great, and I was approached by many of the attendees asking if I was seriously going to do the follow-up that was teased at the end of the program. It didn't take a week after the convention for me to pull down Doc Savage Double Reprint Novel #1 and start re-reading "The Fortress of Solitude".

For those of you not familiar with the plot, I'll try to not get too spoilery:
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At a remote gulag in Siberia, a mass prison break occurs freeing several dozen murderous characters, one of whom is a mysterious, almost hypnotic gent named John Sunlight, who holds many of the escaped convicts in a grip of fear. Seizing an icebreaking freighter stopping off near the gulag to drop off supplies, the ship breaks down and flounders in the ice flow, taking the helpless crew far into the northern reaches.

Near starvation, the crew and the ship run aground and they are met with an awesome sight... a giant blue dome in the middle of the wintery wastes. Sunlight becomes obsessed to find out what's inside, and finally discovers a secret door. As it turns out, the dome is Doc Savage's remote retreat, The Fortress of Solitude, containing many of his incredible inventions, vehicles... and weapons.

A year later, Doc, unaware of the events at the Fortress (no vacation for the Man of Bronze!), and his men Monk, Ham, and Long Tom find themselves in the middle of kidnapping, blackmail, and murder due to what Doc is sure is someone using his deadliest weapons for their own ends. Sunlight has an ultimate plan... one that threatens the entire world!
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Of all the 181 "supersagas", as Philip Jose Farmer described them in his book Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life, "Fortress" almost always lands at the top of the best. The reason for that is simple: its unlike many of the Doc novels, which were written to a pretty rigid outline that rarely ever wavered. "Fortress" not only breaks from Dent's outline, it practically throws a brick through it.

It is one of the few novels where Doc isn't as triumphant in the end as usual. In fact, he downright fails. His greatest secrets are splayed out in a very public forum before not only his best friends whom he kept in the dark for most of the story, but also an army of criminals and convicts, among them possibly the devil incarnate. It forces him to take extreme measures to secure the secrecy of the Fortress, measures I didn't quite find believable in the original prose, but I eventually came up with a slight twist to make it work in the radio play to remain true to Dent's original ending.

And of course, it's the only novel in the series where the villain returns to fight another day.

Street and Smith's rules with their hero prose novels is that each one would stand alone, as they believed that each issue was someone's first issue. Only the Shadow actually had a recurring villain in Shiwan Khan, who appeared in several of the Shadow novels. Maybe the exception was the bi-weekly publication schedule and the speed with which Walter Gibson and his assistants banged out one riproaring novel after another. They needed a familiar antagonist every now and then to face off against the Dark Avenger. Dent had no such intention of taking on such a grueling schedule, even though S & S pressured him to do so. But for some reason, an exception was made in the case of John Sunlight.

So the conundrum I faced is how to turn a 55-plus page novellette into an hour radioplay, or approximately four twenty minute episodes. The first step was, indeed, worry about chapterplays later, just do the best job to translate Dent's epic tale into radioplay format.

The first thing I needed was a tantalizing opening that would engage the listener. Dent's opening describing the prison break worked well in the novel, but would take far too much time to introduce John Sunlight and his crew and leave the audience bored waiting for action. With that, I felt bringing two new characters, a pair of Soviet pilots chosen to fly over the area, the perfect foils to reveal the horror of the break. From there, we cut to months later, with the icebreaker floundering and the crew starving.

From there, I stuck fairly close to Dent's original narrative, with the only real big change being the attack on Sunlight's island fortress, which, in the long run, did nothing the forward the plot, and those few important elements could be dealt with as Doc and the Brotherhood of Bronze made their way north.

I also thought that the blindness bomb should be given a distinctive name, thus "The Indigo Pulse", thereby planting the first seeds of doubt in the minds of Ham and Long Tom when Doc lets its name slipafter the attack on Serge Mafnoff's compound.

Another element I really wanted in the story, although she doesn't make any appearance in the original novel, was Pat Savage. That came about when I was trying to figure out how to transfer the incident at the nightclub with the "playboy prince" (whom I finally named Shamar) into a workable scenario for radio, and suddenly brainstormed that Pat could easily disguise herself as a 1930's party girl and somehow mingle with the prince, and then insinuate herself into the adventure.

A few more edits were required from the novel, such as the attack on Doc's advanced skiplane flown by Ham and Long Tom as backup (which I designated "The Bronze Angel"), but very minor changes. A more tragic consequence for Doc's lack of security measures and then a sentimental ending to assure that Doc's bond with his crew was everlasting. And the script was finished in less than a month.

So next... the making of the soundtrack.

To be continued....

Friday, July 12, 2013

De Boss Rules the World: Episode 6 - Who-Net at InCon

Yep, I'm back after a long InConJunction-enduced hiatus, and here's some of the highlights of our time at Indianapolis' biggest sci-fi convention! Many thanks to our Who-Net helpers Julie and Jeffrey Lee, James Robinson, and my partner-in-crime Michael Walt for his camera work!

Monday, June 10, 2013

De Boss Rules the World Episode 5

Yep, been a while since the last post, mostly due to all the big tech changes around here, including a new laptop, but here's the latest posting of my video series, including the acquisition of a new family vehicle....

Sunday, May 5, 2013

De Boss Rules the World Presents The Crossing Open Mic Nite 4/26/13 Part 4

As usual, having no clue as to when enough is enough, De Boss lays waste to Pink's "Just Give Me a Reason" and "Try", while an overachieving smoke machine tries to do what a reticent audience won't...

Monday, April 29, 2013

De Boss Rules the World Presents The Crossing Open Mic Nite 4/26/13 Parts 1-3

At last, you lucky people get a taste of the wonder and musical talent that assembles Open Mic Nite, which assembles generally the third Friday night of every month at the Columbus, Indiana church The Crossing. Opening the show is my brother Tim and his musical partner from their 80's retro duo Ta-Daaa Angela Adrian. Then I step up to bat, providing a fifteen minute set that's the most fun you can have without launching nuclear missiles.