All plans and no followthrough makes David edgy

I spent 2009 planning and scheming and writing and talking and thinking. Lots of thinking!

This was all good stuff to do, in addition to the freelance work I had. But I did very little MAKING of STUFF!

I made a zine of some of my old articles and prose writing and took it to the National Young Writers Festival.

I made a little cartoon advertising a series of comics forums we put on at the Comedy Festival. I made it in one day and quite a lot of people saw it.

I made a few pages of comics and an interactive Youtube survey and a helpful example of lazy storyboarding.

But that’s all I made, and it’s not enough.

So 2010 will be a “making” year. I’m having a lot of trouble deciding what to spend time making. Some are things which I hope will move me closer to getting the Precinct animated series happening, and some are just things I’ve had “on the shelf” for years.

Here’s my list so far:

  1. Series of one minute Precinct shorts introducing the characters
  2. Precinct-themed video for new John Farnham song
  3. Precinct drawings for survey winners
  4. Printed collection of that weekly thing I have nothing to do with – coming along
  5. John Howard’s Knees (short musical cartoon) – written
  6. Gay Cannibal Grand Final (very nasty Up There Cazaly parody) – mostly written
  7. Herman, the Legal Labrador children’s book story
  8. Revised Precinct pitch/bible/promo (good idea, but NOT A REAL THING!)
  9. Herman kids series pitch/bible/promo (again, this is PLANNING, not a REAL THING)
  10. The Precinct: Playing To Win – mostly boarded
  11. Make Love To The Trees (short musical cartoon) – song recorded
  12. New Mr Flig animation – partially written
  13. “Animation collective”?
  14. Precinct/Herman-themed online choose-your-own-adventure – started
  15. POWAAA! – DONE: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hEdtcGWOPd0
  16. Animation based on that weekly thing I have nothing to do with
  17. Ask Dillon what happened with that other thing
  18. Cat vs. Mouse
  19. Live performance of CYOA story
  20. Keep making animatics (worthwhile?)
  21. Keep writing Precinct episode scripts
  22. Precinct avatar creator app

I’m going to try to do/finish many of those things this year!

I will need assistance with some of them, so my apologies if I come and bug you and ask for your help or advice; it’s only because

  • I think you’re great
  • I’m MAKING STUFF this year and nothing is going to stop me, least of all my own shyness/slackarsedness

Huzzah!

Adam speaks

Guest blogger Adam Wajnberg

Guest blogger Adam Wajnberg

I asked Dave if I could submit my own blog post for the show, the idea being that I could draw in interested parties that know me, and not Dave, and to introduce my own voice to existing followers as the other creative party at this point. So allow myself to introduce myself.

I’m Adam Wajnberg, and I’m the co-writer of The Precinct. I say co-writer and not co-creator, because this has been very much Dave’s baby from the start. Dave and I have been mates since high school, and it has seemed inevitable for years now that we’d end up working closely on something together. It was usually me insisting upon a partnership, because Dave has a much better work ethic than I do, and I wanted to take advantage of that.

My own training is in screenwriting. I completed RMIT‘s Professional Screenwriting course in 2006, a feat which has led to much call centre work with some of Australia’s largest corporations. I have also previously worked with Dave as a voice actor and general sounding board on Herman, The Legal Labrador. Dave has animated a short I wrote called Badlands, which has won much praise despite (or because of) it’s 40-second run time.

Dave was already up and running with The Precinct when he asked me to come aboard. I was unsure if I could add much. I’m a fan of cop shows, but not to the obsessive degree Dave is. Moreover, I recoil at the procedurals and prefer the narrative (so I’ll devour The Wire, and never sit through a whole episode of say, Law and Order). But a couple of walk-and-talks revealed that I had an angle on determining a plot thread that Dave had never really had to do before.

For those who are interested, the working relationship between Dave and I looks like this: we both fall into the “misanthropic, out-of-shape Jewish man” type, a figure riddled with redundancies. Thankfully, we differ in the details. Dave is calm and workmanlike, I’m hyper and lazy. I can burst with a good 15 minutes of productive ideas and then fall asleep, Dave will concentrate for 2 or 3 hours before needing to take a sip of water. Dave agonizes over each beat, I prefer a quick and dirty approach.

"Either we get this scene right or we watch some Daily Show"

"Either we get this scene right or we watch some Daily Show"

More to the point, Dave insists on creating as much realism as possible, while I move more towards creating a cartoony wonderworld. This goes back to Herman, where I insisted on characterizing the voices (ie. making them higher pitched) while Dave wanted the voices to be normally pitched. Dave gets his way most of the time, which is fitting as he’s the director. But if I make a particularly good case, he’ll go with my suggestion. That doesn’t happen often, because I’ll be dozing and/or playing darts rather than articulating why I think a scene should work a certain way.

Beyond that, it boils down to strengths. I’m better at creating plot, but Dave is better at keeping an eye on continuity. We’re both natural dialoguists, but Dave is better at keeping things succinct. I usually err on the side of fewer swears to give them greater impact, while Dave likes to whip them out with impunity. Dave likes a challenge, I prefer praise — so Dave gets encouraged by a scene that doesn’t work, with the mindset being “this needs to be better”, and I prefer to be egged on when things are working. Dave gets stuck with a lot of the re-drafting, because I lose faith when things don’t work right STRAIGHT AWAY.

But overall, we work well together, and much of that comes from the friendship and very similar world-views. I think we’re both looking forward to when we can work at it on a daily basis, in an office, with rolled up shirtsleeves and suspenders and a big whiteboard with random mugshots and scribbles bestrewn on the surface. And mustaches. And steamy parmas.

Anti-Procrasto Week

This week is a big week: it’s ANTI-PROCRASTO WEEK.

Live Yo Dreams, Shitbag

My workload lightens up a bit this week so I’m setting myself some tasks to take care of, the stuff that gets pushed back when I’m being paid to draw talking penises or animate moustache demons.

1. Precinct scripts

We now have three scripts at complete first draft stage, and two more itching to be polished up to that standard. This week I’m going to make eps 3 & 4 presentable.

2. CYOA scope

Our cross-platform strategising is going swimmingly. We had two extra long “break-the-back-of-it” meetings last week, which have got us well on the track to finishing the strategy document and report for Film Victoria. What I need to do this week is write up an informal scope document outlining the brilliant Precinct Choose-Your-Own-Adventure game/project/experience so Eskimo can write up a budget for the thing.

3. Secret proj

I invented myself a NEW EXCITING SECRET PROJECT based on our strategy talks. There’s someone very important we need to get involved if this series is going to work, and I’m going to make that happen by blowing his mind with some custom animation. I won’t get it done this week but I will make a start.

4. Nakedfella Productions website

Not Precinct-related, except that I need to keep work flowing in if I’m gonna take time to work on my own thing as well. So I gotta set up a lovely but simple new site promoting ME, the animation gun-for-hire.

5. Herman pitch materials

Since going to MIPCOM, I’ve known something very important: kids shows are stupid, and usually based on stupid premises. You wouldn’t believe some of the crud that gets on TV, unless you have kids and you’ve been forced to watch it.

So it’s not impossible that a semi-decent kids show or movie could be made starring my character Herman, The Legal Labrador.

Herman, the Legal Labrador

He’s a dog who’s a lawyer. I made a twenty minute short about him and his sad-act owner, Chuck. It was reasonably successful despite its length. I think it’s got legs, personally. So I’m going to start pitching it in earnest.

“Nu?” Media

The current Precinct news is that we’re going to be sitting down to create a “cross-platform strategy” for the series — a report on how we’d integrate “new media” elements into the show (a tie-in website? games? stuff you can interact with via your mobile device?).

This is going to be very interesting because most new media tie-ins I see are boring and stupid.

Example A: I bought a Paddle Pop the other day. The stick told me to log on to paddlepop.com.au to claim my “free digital prize”. I assumed it’d be something crap like a Paddle Pop wallpaper or something. Sarah checked it out and it was, in fact, a PDF of a chart showing us what prizes we didn’t win. That’s brilliant. When the guys at Streets open their mailboxes and find wet pharmacy brochures, they must think they’ve hit the jackpot.

Example B: I once read an outline for an interactive animation series which appeared to have been written in English, auto-translated into Japanese and then auto-translated back into English again. The concept was shot through with bullshit animal rights themes designed to make their thing look “worthy”. The document was liberally sprinkled with buzzwords and doublespeak designed to impress your grampa who’s never used a computer, or perhaps the head of a national funding body. It impressed both, and the series may yet be made.

Suffice to say you won’t be seeing any Precinct characters “speaking directly to you via their online website blog!!!” or asking you to vote on some bullshit by sending an SMS.

NEW MEDIA TIE-INS WHICH AREN’T BORING AND STUPID
Donnie Darko website
– Extra mini episodes of The Wire and The Shield
– Little Breaking Bad e-mail video where the main character tells YOU not to waste your life

What is good about these? The Donnie Darko site (whatever you think of the film) is an intriguing bit of interactive video art which plays on your knowledge of the movie and adds to it by revealing extra clues to what Frank Zappa called the “conceptual continuity”.

The mini-episodes of The Wire and The Shield appeared as corporate tie-ins (with amazon.com, Budweiser and Maxim’s websites), and helped fill in character background and motivations (in the case of The Wire) and previewed the following season’s plot (in the case of The Shield).

The little Breaking Bad thing is mostly just a cute bit of programming, but nicely in character (and it fits with the storyline).

Now let me get all thesis on you for a sec.

Homestar Runner is an entirely “new media” phenomenon. It is not an online spin-off of a TV show. It is a series of little animated things in various formats (the most popular of which is Strong Bad E-mails, in which the character “Strong Bad” answers e-mails sent by actual viewers).

They do “tie-ins” to their stories in the form of playable games. These games are both fun games and extensions to the narrative world. The games include jokes which CAN NOT be made as effectively in a traditional narrative format!

They also do “spin-offs” in the form of songs, cartoons and merchandise. These spin-offs usually have as their basis an offhanded joke made in a Strong Bad E-mail. Their cartoon series Teen Girl Squad is supposed to be “created” by Strong Bad. The character “Trogdor” is a mini-empire unto himself.

The upshot of all this is that every piece of the Homestar Runner world, in whatever format, comes about because (a) the creators thought it was funny, (b) the public demanded it, or (c) the public helped create it themselves. THAT is engaging (though moderated) interactivity!

To my mind, this is not a TEMPLATE to follow. Our show’s not as free form as theirs. It’s just worth remembering that all the elements of our “digital strategy” should exist because they ADD to our story — plotwise, characterwise –- and should be funny.

So here’s something I’ve been thinking about for The Precinct: an online “choose-your-own-adventure” story (or, as it’s called by dopes looking for new media funding, a “multi-threaded narrative”).

A while ago I started to write one based around my short Herman, The Legal Labrador. When I began writing a new Herman story upon finishing the film, I found that I had a lot of different ideas I wanted to work into it, and had trouble figuring out a way in which I could make all these possible concepts and characters fit together. When I hit upon the idea of forming them into an interactive story I knew I had found the best possible vehicle: one without narrative limitations, and scope for incorporating virtually any storytelling medium — sound, animation, text, game — I could want.

The Herman character can’t talk (he’s a dog), so a typical passage goes,

3. Suddenly, you hear a small squealing noise coming from the next room. It is followed by a heavy CRASH! You wonder what caused it.

To investigate, go to page 4. To run away, go to page 5.

4. You head for the next room. Pushing the door open, you see what caused the noise: your owner, Chuck, has knocked his alarm clock onto the floor. Chuck is a 21-year old journalism student who was out late last night. He must have forgotten to turn off the alarm.

“Ugggghhh”, says Chuck.

To say, “Woof!”, go to page 8. To say, “Woof woof!”, go to page 13.

13. “Woof woof!” you say. Chuck looks at you through bloodshot eyes. “Oh, hell yeah,” he grins. “Pancakes sounds great.” You shuffle into the kitchen and start making your famous Honey-Buttered Maple Short Stack. Chuck eventually walks in, wearing a shirt for a change.

Eventually, if you make the “right” decisions for Herman, he goes looking for help from the police:

36. You call a very special friend and arrange to meet for lunch. Two hours later, you stroll through the door of an elite crimefighting unit in Melbourne’s inner suburbs, a unit known as “The Precinct”. You observe a large room full of desks, pot plants and self-absorbed police officers. Most of the cops are yelling at each other. One sees you and takes the time to yelp, “Dude — there’s a dog wearing pants!” Everyone turns to look.

Turn the page.

37. A shadowy figure peers out of the locker room and growls, “He’s with me.” The other officers look at each other for a moment before going back to their bickering. The figure strides into the light. It’s your friend, Sgt. Ben Ackersley. Ackersley is well known as the lonest of lone guns, a cop perpetually on the edge. His mullet hairdo looks particularly unkempt today. He greets you: “What’s new, mouthpiece?”

To respond seriously, turn to page 48. To return his jab with a similarly casual retort, turn to page 48.

48. Ackersley grimaces, much as he always does. “Come on,” he whispers, as though the words are being choked out of him by a painful childhood memory, “let’s talk in the kitchenette.”

Turn the page.

49. Ackersley delicately pours boiling water over your teabag, then throws the semi-filled kettle through the closed window in rage. As he settles down with his cuppa, you tell him you suspect a politician is dealing drugs, but have no proof. “Proof is for Girl Guides and Hugo Weaving,” Ackersley declares over the top of his mug, which reads “World’s Best Dad”. A gruesomely symbolic-looking crack splits the word “Best”. He stands, silhouetted against the smashed window. “That bastard’s going down.”

To accept Ackersley’s help, turn to page 51. To suggest he’s flying off the handle! he’s a loose cannon! he’s too damn close to this case!, turn to page 54.

I really enjoyed writing this and I think it’d be fun to do something similar based specifically around The Precinct as an adjunct to the series.

The Precinct functions as ‘80s cop action taken to the “nth” degree, partially parody and partially serious. An online interactive Precinct story (let’s call it “Midnight Beat” for now) would function on another level: as a parody of the interactive story itself. Having been exposed to many variations of the medium, including:

  • Choose Your Own Adventure® books from the 1970s and ‘80s
  • early ‘80s interactive fiction adventures such as Infocom’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy
  • ‘80s and ‘90s text-and-graphics games such as Leisure Suit Larry, King’s Quest, Maniac Mansion and Sam and Max Hit the Road
  • Multiplayer online games for BBS systems, such as Legend of the Red Dragon and TradeWars

… I find I’m highly immersed in the language of what you might call “consumer-level interactives” (“LOOK ROOM. LOOK DOOR. READ SIGN ON DOOR”).

Some features of Midnight Beat (as an Adobe Flash-based online experience) could include:

  • Story pages — the text of the story itself. This is accompanied by audio narration of the text, including voice acting of character dialogue. We would also see an illustration or animated loop appropriate to the action. These are, of course, accompanied by the call to pick an option to continue. Hypertext links placed amongst the text may link, as elsewhere on the Web, to helpful information about the word clicked or relevant outside websites, but could also take the user to amusing secret video clips or even hidden action paths.
  • Comics/animation pages — cutting to a comics page or animated segment to better progress the story. Might be used, for example, for a car chase, for a particularly important conversation or just because it’s fun.
  • Puzzle pages — giving the user an actual exercise to do, i.e. a parody of an activity book maze, a driving game, or something completely aside from the narrative (“What sort of hat does Sarge look good in? Draw Sarge’s hat, then print out your masterpiece and put it on the fridge.”). User may or may not need to adequately complete the puzzle/exercise to progress.
  • Interactive features — allowing users to leave their mark on the story in various ways, such as asking they grafitti an alleyway which can then be seen by the next user to happen along.
  • Jukebox — providing the user’s choice of 8-bit video game style background music.
  • Chat module — allowing users to chat live with other people currently playing.
  • Store — depending on the business model, could include an online shopping cart for purchase of Precinct merchandise or even offline versions of the interactive (i.e. DVD-based or book form).

Maybe we could get “special guest” writers to do their own plotlines. Andrew Rule and John Silvester could write the section where the Carlton Crew try to buy off Balanovis and Seidman. I’d enjoy Shane Maloney‘s description of Sarge’s explosive encounter with some sleazy city councillors. And how could we tear ourselves away from Shane Black‘s tale of murder, revenge and Jessup gone rogue, armed with homemade Molotov cocktails?

Or we could write it all ourselves, which is fine. An interesting thought is that, were we to start work on writing Midnight Beat, what we came up with could actually inform the animated series, not the other way around. Since there could be any number of simultaneous plotlines, it could work as a testbed for all of them! The best ones go in the series!

Obviously this is all pie-in-the-sky, but part of the point of this “cross-platform strategy” exercise is to think about what COULD be done, had we time and money.

Do you have any thoughts? What sort of new media crap could we launch with the series? Does any of this sound good? What would interest YOU?