Winter Storms, AntiNanowrimo and Christmas on the Satellite of Love: a stirring from the grave

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There's a winter storm outside -- the first solid evidence of Winter in the first week of December for several years. The New Hampshire tourist industry -- by which I mean the ski industry, the snowmobile industry, the ski industry, the ATV industry, the ski industry and did I mention the ski industry -- is breathing a sigh of relief, as it looks like we might actually, y'know, have a ski season before February this year.

(Not that they were taking any chances, mind. I've driven by a bunch of phallic "look at our new snowmaking equipment" billboards since early September. By God they were going to be skiing this year whether we liked it or not! And, of course, I like it fine though I myself haven't gone skiing for at least fifteen years. Probably more like twenty, now that I think about it. Christ, I'm old.)

It is the Christmas season, though very few people seem to care this year. Including me, though I'm well ahead on my Christmas shopping for the first time... well, ever. (I am entirely in favor of fiancees who have well developed Amazon wishlists. I have a well developed Amazon wishlist too, but that's less for my fiancee and more for my family, who love me dearly and haven't a clue what sort of gizmos to buy me. I'd post a link for the curious but it would seem crass, and I like to wait at least four or five posts into a revival after a multiple week hiatus before I appear crass.)

For the most part, all is well. We wait patiently for the government to let Wednesday and I get married. (We could get word any day, or it could easily go into February with no word a'tall. We keep the lines of communication open to the single greatest immigration attorney in the world, and we check the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services website, and we wait and we hope and I get up there whenever I can (she can't come down here until she comes down here to get married. That's just the way the law works.) and we talk every day, and that's what that is right now.

There's a winter storm outside, but the home fires are burning well. Having weathered financial issues aplenty over the Summer (as I'm sure you all remember), everything is fine now. I actually have some money in a savings account. Not a lot, but some, and that builds with every paycheck. There's always more unexpected events on the horizon, but barring the same kind of sudden, rapid smackdown of them that started the summer travails, things should just be okay.

I have it on good authority that the Month of November was, for me, essentially an anti-Nanowrimo. Which isn't to say I've gone negative on Nanowrimo. I've enjoyed it when I did it, and I enjoy seeing it when others do it. But for me, it was a month where I generated... well, essentially nothing, both here and on Banter Latte. Almost certainly I needed that. If you use your brain for writing too many days in a row without a break, it gets hot and eventually the RAM fails.

But it's December now, and it's the Christmas season, and we're heading to close the year out. There's things happening, in the world and on the web. The Russians own LiveJournal, the Primary is a month away in the state I live in, and Chuck Norris has embraced the meme in more ways than one. Halfpixel has become a full on online guild a la Dumbrella, bringing the Blank Label collective down to a tight six In Mystery Science Theater 3000 news. Rifftrax has started doing heavy advertising in targeted media, the Rifftrax crew has also formed "the Film Crew" which is doing the MST shuffle, which means the Mike Nelson/Kevin Murphy/Bill Corbett version of MST3K is fully back in production only minus the muppets and the SciFi network. At the same time, the original MST3K team of Joel Hodgson, Trace Beaulieu, Josh Weinstein, and special bonus not-quite-original-but-still-seminal Frank Conniff have launched Cinematic Titanic, which somehow doesn't make any reference whatsoever to Rifftrax or the Film Crew (and vice versa) even though Mary Jo Pehl has done work now for both groups. And if that wasn't interesting enough, Best Brains, Inc., in the person of Jim Mallon (the original executive producer and the voice of Gypsy) has spun up some truly crap web cartoons 'continuing' the story of the Satellite of Love, alongside some old school folks like Paul Chapman, who we all remember as Pitch. Right?

Okay, the crappy webtoons are clearly just designed to get you buying DVDs, but still! It's... something....

That's right. Three entirely distinct entities of former MST3K folks, all cheerfully suckling at the teat of a show that went off the air in 1999. Three collectives of entertainers, writers, gadabouts town who all have legitimate claim to some of the MST3K legacy. Three separate performing troupes that are not acknowledging the other two's efforts in any way, shape or form, absent a brief mention on the Cinematic Titanic website that Josh Weinstein was the guy who actually hired Mike Nelson in the first place.

Yeah, there's no behind the scenes 'fun' going on there. None at all.

The interesting thing is, for all three of these groups... we're actually seeing models that the webcomics world pioneered in play. The MST3K site, with its free crappy Flash animations (seriously, guys, I know that the art is supposed to be 'stylized' but it looks... um... bad) is drawing eyeballs to sell videos. Rifftrax works off of -- I swear to Christ -- Micropayments, and from all accounts it's been monster successful. That's right. Someone made micropayments work. With, I would add, podcast technology and absolutely no DRM. It looks as though Cinematic Titanic may do the same, though we don't yet know. The Film Crew is straight online distribution -- they don't advertise in traditional places, their production facilities are essentially a minimal set possibly made in someone's garage, and they're clearly selling DVDs briskly.

Everyone still reading these words will recognize the models at play. And clearly everyone involved with MST3K has the advantage of a massive cult phenomenon from the 90's (probably the defining cult phenomenon among geek culture of the 90's, all apologies to Babylon 5 -- Buffy was transitional into the 21st century so nyah) to give them a continuing fanbase. But the simple truth is, it's not costing them much money to make Rifftrax. You or I could do it with scriptwriting time (and talent we might not possess, of course) and our personal computers. Admittedly, Nelson partnered with Legend Films who's shouldering the website costs, but come on.

Put yet another way? Other media besides comics have begun to figure out the whole web thing. Between that and the rise of direct-to-DVD stuff... and the fact that both Amazon.com and fucking Wal-Mart have come out as anti-DRM...

...well, it's an interesting time to be on the web.

But then, winter storms are always fun to watch from the inside.

16 Comments

I hadn't thought too much about Rifftrax and the relation to micropayments, but they do seem to have made it work. Perhaps the secret to mp's is that the buyers must feel an inherent value in each individual purchase. Buying a single page of a webcomic seems stupid, but a humorous track to go along with the movie is worth paying for. Perhaps micropayments could work in webcomics if the story was split into mini-arcs which served as the base payment unit. That way the buyer feels that each purchase "gets" them something.

Or it could just be that there's not been "riff tracks" available for free (that I know of), so there's no difference of perceived value.

If having you take a month off brings back the snark and the webcomic goodness then by god you take that month!

I've been very pleased to hear about the MST3K news in recent weeks, and I'll have to take a look once I have time to again. Still, there's a handful of "What the hell?" in what you wrote up there.

Mostly: Russia, LiveJournal? Completely out of left field -- I'm still not sure what to think of that.

And: Wal-Mart? Freaking Wal-Mart is anti-DRM now? I guess evil can sometimes be good, if the winds are right, but... Wal-Mart?

Tell you what, I'm going to leave now and reboot my brain. I think that broke it.

Just a note: The Film Crew is actually old stuff, done a few years ago. They got some nasty legal letters from whoever owns Best Brains's brains these days (Viacom or something) and had to stop after making the four that are currently out, but they did finally get permission to sell those four.

Wal-mart?

As Lewis Black said, "Bush now believes in global warming. As a result, I'm not sure anymore."

Dave -- what's your source on that? The initial annoucement and the contest for the Film Crew's movie release schedule was last year, and was pretty loudly proclaimed, so I have some trouble believing they were under a cease and desist at that point. I hadn't even heard Film Crew rumors before that, and... er... Bill Corbett's... size in the FC releases corresponds to recent appearances. (As does Kevin Murphy's grey hair. Mike Nelson is, as we all know, Dorion Grey.)

Oh, and the other thought -- what possible cease and desist or nasty legal letter could they have been sent? You can't copyright ideas, and the idea of asserting ownership of the idea of 'making fun of movies,' especially since the high concept of the Film Crew is entirely different than the high concept of MST3K, I think any legal letter would fail the laugh test. If they'd tried to portray themselves as being out in space as robotic puppets, there might be a case there, but recording a DVD commentary for an eccentric millionaire who communicates with them a la Charlie from Charlie's Angel's? Nowhere near close enough even for government work.

Last thought on this one. Best Brains is currently wholly owned by Jim Mallon, and the MST3K rights (not counting the movies themselves, which are different issues) are theirs to negotiate, largely through Rhino. There's no large conglomerate that has the rights to MST3K.

Absent a source from, say, Kevin Murphy directly or the like? I think we have to call this one an urban myth.

Ah, MST! Something I know a little about.

First, it's Paul ChapLIN. Nyah.

Second, if Rifftrax is using micropayments, then so is iTunes, IMO. I thought micropayments were supposed to be really really teeny tiny things, that users would set aside money for in chunks, to be mediated by the magic of the Internet. I've never seen anyone argue that paying 1 or 2 bucks for a particular creative work was unfeasible, probably because people have been doing that for quite a while now.

Third, the mst3k.com web-toons are . . . well, I watched the first one, and now I'm afraid to go back and watch any more of them. (sigh)

Fourth, I'm not sure one can automatically diagnose behind-the-scenes unrest as the reason for no cross-promotion. I think a lot of it has to do with the circles that the groups travel in, really.

Fifth and last, while I don't know much about the Film Crew DVDs, I did hear some vague mention on Usenet a while back that there wouldn't be any more after the recent release. Why, or whether that's even true, I dunno.

Eric,

Dave's story regarding the Film Crew releases are pretty close to the ones I've heard on the Rifftrax and MST3k boards. The main difference between the stories is that the Film Crew discs originally began as a project between the guys and Rhino, who were planning to release it. However, Jim Mallon got wind of it and basically told Rhino that if they released them, he'd pull the MST3k license. So they sat in legal limbo for a few years until Shout Factory decided to release the discs. It wasn't a direct legal threat, just a "Doing this will make me angry" threat.

And employees at Rifftrax have confirmed that the Film Crew stuff was shot in 2004/5.

In other news, in the next Rifftrax release, they'll be riffing the Star Wars Holiday Special. Yes, the one with Bea Arthur. And Joel's Cinema Titanic premiere is at ILM this Friday, so there are rumors that his first release is Lucas related as well. But we'll find out about what they're actually riffing on Friday.

And a Women Webcomics Collective has started up as well. The Founding Seven are definitely well worth reading, and over 40 other comics have joined in as members as well... and their forum has taken off like wildfire. Quite amazing considering the forum isn't a Forum Community like the Wotch Community Forums (which hosts a score of comics) but rather is a varied topic discussion group for women cartoonists and fans of those comics.

It's well worth checking out: http://tomgeeks.com/

Take care,

Rob H.
Tangents Reviews

Yeah, Matt has it, and more details than I could remember.

Sadly for them, the Film Crew guys have reached that nebulous age where their appearance need not change for a decade or more. Undefined Middle Age Blues, with a slide into Doughy Guy.

His details also have the advantage of A) shedding light on the behind the scenes "happiness" between the various groups, and B) having a more plausible ring. Note that no one is using cease and desist or other legal threats. Instead, Jim Mallon is using a financial threat. Which makes a lot of sense.

And is a monumental dick move, but that's as may be.

Regardless, the Rifftrax shuffle seems to be going well for them, and if their stuff sells well at Shout Factory, there's no reason they can't do more if they want -- since Shout doesn't have a MST license to begin with.

OTOH, it's possible that if they don't already have more Film Crew in the pipe, Cinematic Titanic will be too big an iceberg to go around, and they'll stick with the podcast format.

When you do get the go ahead, I want there to be an entire one-time only con centered around your wedding. Hey, it's a way to pay for your wedding.

Seriously, though, I loved MST3K for the longest of times, and still lurks the livejournals and newsgroups that fellow fans have developed for the show. I just wondered how did it get to be so bitter between them?

On one hand, I'd love an idea like that, to get the chance to see everyone. On the other hand, if I was in Eric's shoes, I'd have a near-panic attack if the suggestion was even floated about my wedding. Though to be fair, I tend to get anxiety attacks around events when I might get tons of attention.

For the MST3K people and how bitterness might have sprung up... I don't know, but I do know of two factors that are common in cases like this.

1) They had to deal with each other for too long, and they can't really stand each other anymore.

2) Each thinks the others have spoiled the legacy of their fine work.

Mind you, those are just two that I could easily see being the case. Not that either are true or untrue.

The interesting thing is, for all three of these groups... we're actually seeing models that the webcomics world pioneered in play

It's been an interesting evolutionary process for them, but I'm convinced the successful webcomic creators have this whole "internet" thing figured out better than just about anybody else, and it's about time that people started to figure out it's nothing unique about the nature of comics that makes their methods viable.

Dear goth in heathen, if I had a nickel for everybody who told me that the webcomic model wouldn't work for prose... it wouldn't add up to anywhere near the money I'm making by doing that. Seriously. I learned this weekend--in the process of being told that I'm The Devil and that people will always need copyeditors, damn it!--that in the last six months, I've I made more money by giving my work away for free than the average professional author makes selling theirs in a year... and more in one month than the average e-published-only author makes in a year.

"But that's good, for e-books!"

I'm told.

In a semi-unrelated conversation, somebody suggested I put DRM on my e-book downloads because otherwise "one person would buy them and put them on Pirate Bay and then who would ever buy them again?"

I responded, "You know we're talking about the same story I'm already giving away for free on the webpage, right?"

It's a different world, and it belongs to the people who recognize that.

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