Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Visionary: Prouty was right


Olive Higgins Prouty wrote the novels on which Now, Voyager and Stella Dallas were based, and she helped out the young Sylvia Plath with money and thereby wound up as "Philomena Guinea" in The Bell Jar. I know all this from Wikipedia, which I consulted because I just watched Now, Voyager.

Wiki says:
Initial production of the Prouty novel had to take into account that European locales would not be possible in the midst of a war, despite the novelist's insistence on using Italy as the main setting. Her quirky demands for vibrant colors and flashbacks shot in black and white with subtitles were similarly disregarded.
Okay, it was quirky to expect Warner Brothers, or anyone in Hollywood, to get so lively in 1942. But it still sounds like Prouty had a good idea. Color for the present, black and white for the past -- yeah. I mean, it makes so much sense that by now it may be a cliche. Subtitles, well, I'd have to see what she had in mind, but still ... could work, could be useful.

Overall, it sounds like she was going for something a bit Oliver Stone-ish but decades before he and psychodelics were ever introduced. I like Oliver Stone, so I'm impressed. "Quirky." The three-name lady was right. 

The  book/movie is a document of the early therapeutic culture. Wiki says Prouty had psychoanalytic leanings, but I didn't see much of them here. Now, Voyager celebrates the idea of emotional therapy, just emotional therapy in general -- not even the talking cure, let alone something as specific as Freudianism.

The movie is about Bette Davis's nervous breakdown and her subsequent vigorous rebirth thanks to enlightened therapeutic practices. That is, Claude Rains runs a country sanitarium, she stays there, and while she's there people treat her nicely and she's away from her horrible, browbeating mother. Then she loses weight, dresses up sharp, and goes on an ocean cruise where nobody knows her and she can be her new self. Before she sails, she reads a note that Claude Rains left her. His voice says: "The untold want by life and land ne'er granted / Now voyager sail thou forth to seek and find." Apparently the words are the whole of a Walt Whitman poem called "The Untold Want," to which Prouty added a comma for her title.

The movie centers on three basic beliefs undergirding the therapeutic mentality: that persistent emotional misery can be explained by what a person experienced as a child (most especially by the behavior of mom and dad); that the unhappiness can be cured by someone who has a medical degree or something near and who uses the equivalent of modern medicine's hygenic operating environment (the sanitarium in Voyager, the impersonality required of practitioners of Freudian analysis, the "safe place" idea in modern-day talk therapy); and that no cure will happen unless the patient takes a risk, makes a stake in his/her life, decides that he/she is going to get more out of it than he/she has been getting -- you've got to start living out loud, as the saying goes. 

Friday, October 23, 2009

Progress report: 10'16 thru 23

I've kind of lost track of the day-by-day. But I've lined up 95 episodes in a shooting order that I find plausible. Forget how many I had to invent on the spot -- plenty, since I decided that some of my favorite previously invented episodes were too character-driven to keep the network happy. The network wants alien spectacle and "planet shows," the same demand Star Trek got from NBC.

Bronson-Gann.  Here's a side of things that I like but that any eventual readers may not care about. Star Trek is about a space ship, Sky Frontier about a space station, so I have to think of ways to bring situations to the station. One is the space storm, otherwise known as a "time-warp disruption." It's gobbledygook but useful, and it pops up more often as the series goes on. Eventually a script gives one space storm the made-up name of "a Bronson-Gann disruption," and the name surfaces a few more times, though scripts also revert to "time-warp disruption" and simple "space storm," depending on the attention being paid by the people in charge. Years later "Bronson-Gann" becomes a continuity staple of the franchise and penetrates fan talk ("He's having a Gann" means someone is acting like a flake or pitching a fit).

Mission Tube.  Last night, among other things, I worked out which episodes would feature space storms, disruptions, or Bronson-Ganns. I also worked out which ones would feature the Mission Tube, another contrivance for making plots possible. Sky Frontier should have started out with a teleport device, like Star Trek did. But it didn't, both because I want the two series to be different and because Sky Frontier's creator is a stubborn sort who wants people to come to him. But before the first season is up, he and his team hit on teleporting as a storytelling crutch. Instead of the streamlined teleporting used by Star Trek, theirs is quite a production. A machine with a man-sized portal sets up a high hum and the characters jump thru the portal and into whatever situation they're supposed to get into. The effect is much like The Time Tunnel, I think (because I haven't seen that show). The Mission Tube is not the surefire device the Star Trek crew enjoys; it can send you to the wrong place and is subject to interference from difficult local conditions. "We can scramble them there," the engineering man says tensely. "I just don't know if we can scramble them back."

Titles.  Here are some I came up with. You'll see I got pretty ripe:

"That My Hands Shall Know Their Maker"
"Half a Blindfold"
"The Stars that See, the Sky that Forgets"

Thursday, October 15, 2009

A writer after my own heart

I never thought I would identify with a member of Obama's crack communications team. But:

... less than seventy-two hours before the speech would be delivered to a live audience, Favreau was sitting alone in an unfurnished group house in Chicago when the boss called. “I’m going to give you some stream of consciousness,” Obama told him. Then he spoke for about forty-five minutes, laying out his speech’s argumentative construction. Favreau thanked him, hung up, considered the enormity of the task and the looming deadline, and then decided he was “too freaked out by the whole thing” to write and went out with friends instead. 

Favreau is Jon Favreau (not the Hollywood guy, a speechwriter) and the speech in question was the big one, Obama's response to the flap over Jeremiah Wright and "God damn America!" It got written in the end, which I hope is a portent. The article is by Robert Draper in GQ, via Sullivan, of course.

Progress report: 10'13, '14 and '15

Today's Thursday, so the dates work out like this ...

Tuesday:  4 hours writing notes, mainly about the show but also with a section about two of the characters, CG and Olsen, and how they deal with personal appearances. Back in the '60s tv actors could make more money doing weekend appearances at shopping malls and small-town harvest festivals they made from their tv work. For instance, Leonard Nimoy was a bear about scheduling appearances around the country every weekend, then driving straight from the airport to the studio for shooting. Of course he had a certain amount of stardom; Koenig, Takei and Nichols, for example, didn't have much to say about appearances in their memoirs, most likely because they didn't do as much of that work. For whatever reason, I read their memoirs a few years ago and Nimoy's not until last December or so. Once I had read him, I realized I had to make p.a.'s a bigger factor in CG's and Olsen's lives, and now I think I've figured out how to do that.

The other notes had to do with my show's credits sequence and core gimmicks: the look of the space station, its set-up (Deck 8, Deck 7, Deck 6, etc., all the way up to Deck 1, Command, the High Deck -- the special h.q. with the screens and blinking lights and the regulars sitting at their posts), the neat tricks it can pull (protector rings, offense beams, etc. -- I don't have the notebook with me, but I worked out some pretty good terms).

I was very happy with what I decided for the credits sequence and the station's look. I've been noodling with both questions for God nows how many years, and now I've got answers that I like. They seem plausible for mid-'60s tv and plausible as winners with the people watching the show, and I managed to work them out in enough detail for them to feel solid. 

Wednesday:  Not much at all. I spent half an hour with my notebook while traveling by subway. Unfortunately all I did was write nonsense phrases for fantasy stories: "The red cut glass of the goblin's triangular stare in the dark." Reason: the night before I had read LeGuin's "From Elfland to Poughkeepsie," which contains a few quotes from fantasy authors whom she likes. Not much of a reason, but it turned out to be enough.

Today:  Four hours selecting and rewriting the first 15 episodes to be shot. I don't mean rewriting scripts, because I'm not fool enough to write those, just blurb descriptions. Eighty to go and I'll have enough. I've got a bunch written up, though a count revealed the bunch was about 15 short of what I had expected. The job now is to decide which episodes were shot when, to write more as needed, and to fix the ones I already have if they need fixing. Not fix them too much, because I might get lost in the project and never come out, but enough for me to feel that each episode could have been broadcast and to give me an idea of what the production staff and actors would have had to do to get the thing made.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Progress report: 10'12

Think it was 3.5 hours. I'm trying to decide which episodes will go where in the first-season shooting schedule I made up.

(Clarification if needed: so far the schedule is just a set of dates. The fourth episode starts shooting on a given date, the fifth starts on a given date, etc. But which episode goes fourth? That's the side of things I'm working on now.) 

Exercises in meme sharpening

If the Republicans can't win, they want America to lose.

My own phrasing, and I hope the DNC sees it somehow. I think that's the ultimate in pithification for the line being pushed here. Also, it probably would have been best if the DNC had made the Taliban parallel a backup talking point rather than the lead.

More advice, this time to the Young Democrats. They have a letter harping on the vote by Sen. David Vitter, a client of prostitutes, against Al Franken's bill to let employees of military contractors use the U.S. court system if they are victims of sexual assault. "What exactly is David Vitter's problem with women?" the letter wants to know. That's subtler than saying "David Vitter hires prostitutes, therefore he hates women." But it's not as good as hammering at the fact that Vitter gave no reason for his vote. List all the common sense points that make the bill a matter of simple justice; leave Vitter's vote as a mystery he refuses to explain. "Dave, at least tell us why" would have primed the reader to say, "I know why" and out would have popped the memory of the sex scandal.

Sometimes not only do you have to avoid drawing connections, you have to let the audience supply one of the dots. Otherwise, as in this case, you wind up looking a bit cheesy.

Progress report: 10'8 thru 11

Okay, Oct. 8 thru Oct. 11 work out this way:

Thursday:  Nothing.

Friday:  4.5 hours figuring out shooting schedule for third season.

Saturday:  2.5 hours drawing up final schedule for third season.

Sunday:  5.5 hours drawing up final schedules for first and second seasons.

Yikes, but at least now those schedules are done. They look pretty neat; if I scan the things, I'll put them in Photobucket and link to them. But it was hair-raising work and I had to feel my way, with the result that a good deal of time was probably wasted. Muddling is a bad approach to precision work.

Argument with my father

"Possibly the truth lies somewhere in between." Do people still say that? When I was a kid you heard that a lot on the tv, always voiced by quietly smiling gray-haired men who were purported to be experts on the political life. From my father too -- if not the phrase, then the sentiment. He was a Democrat but very much a moderate Democrat, and he loved the idea of centrism. He believed you should jab your finger at the midpoint between American liberals and conservatives and figure that would do the trick.  The "somewhere" signified that you didn't even have to hit your target, the line that ran exactly down the middle. Landing in the neighborhood was enough for everyone to muddle through.

But, taken strictly, "somewhere" means nothing but "somewhere." The magic point of rightness doesn't have to be at the midpoint. Maybe it lies two notches away from one of the poles. Or maybe the rightness point doesn't have much of a penumbra and must be pinned down precisely by means of detailed thought and the processing of technical information. Or possibly there's no special reason to take the American liberal and conservative positions as the two poles that keep rightness between them. I'm for universal health care and gays in the military, so in the U.S. I'm quite progressive. But those positions wouldn't do the trick in Europe.

My father had a classic centrist temperament, whereas I see myself as a moderate conservative whose views on political issues line up with the liberal wing of the Democratic Party. How do you tell a classic centrist from a moderate conservative? I was horrified by the Lewinsky mess and what the Republicans got up to -- the government was being destabilized because that way one side thought it could score points. My father never even thought about stability. He saw the whole business as a drama concerning an individual, Bill Clinton, who had broken the rules (meaning perjury laws) and now was going to pay.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Progress report: 10'6 and '7

Nothing yesterday, meaning 10'6, and today just a couple of hours. After numerous calculations and recalculations, lean toward the third season having 163 production days for a per-ep shooting time of 6.7 days. In other words, looks like Trek's third season reverted to the 7-day shoots of season one and the first part of season two. This would be the case even though Trek remained on very thin ice for season 3, ice that got thinner every week -- after all, the show was  canceled. The books all say that Trek's budget was cut quite deeply in season three. But unless Trek had 26 days off that I haven't accounted for (days on top of the usual: Thanksgiving, etc.), then we've got the old 7-day schedule again.

Shatner says in one of his books that the series cut back to 5 days per ep, which sounds plausible to me, but see above. I should also note that Shatner tends to be unreliable. His Star Trek Memories gives the wrong month for when his father died.

I may have Sky Frontier, my series, cut back to 5 or stay at 6; either way, forget 7. The point of studying all this Star Trek lore isn't to replicate the history of the series; it's to judge what is plausible when it comes to making up stuff about an hour-long network s.f. drama back in the 1960s. The books all say that shooting time costs a lot of money; if the program has to save money, losing a day's shooting makes sense. 

But could a 144-day shooting season (6 x 24, which is the number of eps) really start on May 21, 1968, and finish on Jan. 9, 1969. Think I've shown that it couldn't. Aw damn.

Left out "Whom Gods Destroy" from my third-season lists of episodes (one has when they were aired, other when they were shot). So a lot of redoing needed tomorrow plus the above mentioned mystery about the 7 days vs. 6. Fuck, and the first two seasons worked out so nicely.

Two brilliant but nasty right-wing comments

Andrew Sullivan pulls up comments about him from an Ann Althouse thread. I'm reprinting a couple of them here. First:

Here is a human whose sexual desires fight against the flow of life itself. Cursed by a disease that may wither him to a shrub of what he once was, he screams for more attention. It's all about taking down the societal purity the Palin represents.


Please. One ought always to refer to Sully by his true and complete regnal name: Her Divine Majesty Queen Mary Jane Milky Loads, Sultana of Sodom, Governess of Gomorrah, and Empress of All Urania.

You can read the whole thread if you're curious; I haven't. I'm just struck by the viciousness of the selected comments, which Sullivan certainly notices, and by what Sullivan doesn't bother to mention: namely that, at least in these two cases, a remarkable level of writing is on display. I think liberals, as a whole, are usually right but not too good word with words, and that conservatives, as a whole, are deluded and often nasty but gifted with an above average run of verbal ability. The comments above are further evidence. 

That "Milky Loads" passage is a wonderfully crafted verbal sequence; it puts to shame all the prefab orotund rant one runs across nowadays (for example, the vogue a few years ago for gerund strings: "latte-sipping, omelet-driving," etc., etc.). And the "shrub" remark, centerpiece to the first comment, is a killer. It is a beautifully compact and poetic phrase that condenses the whole course of a disease and combines it with a suggestion that the victim is no longer human, that the man or woman is now just a remnant. What a cold, nasty sentiment and how powerfully it's put across. Probably someone with a poetic enough turn of mind might have sat at a bedside and watched AIDS do its work, and then would have thought of the phrase and thereby summed up his or her hatred for the disease and what it caused. But instead a commenter with a poetic turn of mind came up with the phrase simply to express contempt for people who have AIDS.

There's a whole "life/antilife" philosophy at work, as you can see from the rest of the first commenter's remark. Ideas that big cause people to lose what bearings they have, especially when the idea is as much an emotional state as it is anything (and especially when that emotional state is panic). So not only do you get the inhuman nastiness, you also get the heavy-think delirium:

Sarah is a fertility goddess, and that magic power intimidates the death-loving, poo-pounding Sully. He rejects life, life-giving, and life-bearers.

I would guess that statement was half a joke, which means it is half lunacy. The most generous interpretation: some nut thinks modern life is a pageant of symbols being enacted to determine if our society goes pro-life or pro-death, with Sarah as symbol-in-chief for the good side. Either that or the person thinks Sarah Palin is a fertility goddess.


Monday, October 5, 2009

Progress Report: 10'2 thru 10'5

Friday:    5 hours on episode schedule. Two key sets of figures don't match

Sat: I do nothing.

Sun: 4 hours on episode schedule and leafing thru source books. I'm trying to figure out my number problem.

Today: 3.5 hours of same, plus hour of googling to turn up phone numbers for old Star Trek hands; I figure maybe they'll know the answer; no phone numbers turn up. Around about 11:30 pm I hit on a possible answer to my mystery.

The big question was how many days it took to shoot a Star Trek episode. (My novel is about people making a science fiction series back in the 1960s, and books about Star Trek provide my chief guide for guessing how a network prime time drama was put together back then.) The books about Star Trek all say episodes took 6 days' shooting apiece; Shatner's Star Trek Memories says that in the third season the figure dropped to 5. But sit down with calendars for the years in question and the 6-day figure doesn't add up.

Because of the books, and because of the fine Trek site Memory Alpha, we have hard-and-fast dates for when each season's shooting started and decent enough information for when the shooting ended (sometimes dates, sometimes phrases like "mid-February"). Count up the number of weekdays in a given season, subtract holidays, and you come up with far more days than you'll get by multiplying six by the season's number of episodes.

My guess.  Star Trek took seven days to shoot an episode for the first season and most of the second season. Then it switched to six days per ep for the second season's last batch of episodes. The switch happened right when the show was waiting to find out if NBC was going to yank it at mid-season. NBC kept the show, but (I speculate) from that point Trek was on thin ice and trying to keep its costs down so that Desilu wouldn't lose too much if the series didn't make it to syndication. 

Run the numbers that way and it's possible to go thru the calendars and map out a series of shooting dates that doesn't conflict with the fairly scattered information we have on when specific episodes were done. That's for the first and second seasons, anyway. I have to go thru the third season tomorrow.

A journey.  I discovered my numbers problem on Friday and should have just shlepped home and started looking thru my books. But instead I tried to fix the problem by allowing for more days off. No good and a long, tedious process that involved a lot of counting forwards and backwards along rows of dates.

Over the weekend I started on my source books. Grace Lee Whitney's The Longest Trek helped a lot. She was on the show such a short while that her memoir notes exactly when her episodes were shot, from date to date. She says that during the first few months of season one the show had to overlap the shooting of 4 eps: that is, one ep would be finished in the morning, the next started would start shooting that afternoon. Go by her dates and the overlapped eps were all shot in 6.5 days apiece, with the episodes just before them taking 8 days apiece. So it looks like the aim was 7 days. Take a 7-day shoot as standard, and the calendar for season one adds up.

Nothing else turned up until I stumbled across p. 357 of Inside Star Trek, where associate producer Robert Justman recalls the show's brush with death during the second season. In doing so, he quotes himself telling an exec that the series would have 16 episodes filmed as of Oct. 5. Count each of those 16 eps at 7 days apiece, and the remaining 10 eps at 6 days apiece, and season two adds up.

Now season three. 

update,  I should note that Grace Lee Whitney cites Justman as her source for the shooting dates in The Longest Trek. So I owe my grand sorting out entirely to Justman-derived data. 

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Progress report: 10'1'09

Yesterday and today spent a total of 7 hours working out when different episodes were broadcast and in what order of production.