Archive for May 6, 2012

Riffing Advent Children

I’m a huge fan of RiffTrax . If you’re not familiar, it’s a thing where three Mystery Science Theater 3000 alumni have banded together to produce downloadable commentary tracks for movies. They’ve been at it since 2006, and have done over 100 feature films, and a ludicrous quantity of shorts (of which ” Drugs Are Like That ” remains my absolute favorite).

In 2008 they launched a thing called ” iRiffs ,” where other people can sell commentaries through their site. iRiffs are all over the place of course, but a few really excellent ones have emerged too. I really like Cinester Theater ‘s riffs of the Back to the Future trilogy and Total Recall , and Blame Society has also done some top-tier stuff. Riff Raff Theater ‘s crowdsourced riffing has also produced some great riffs. More recently Team Four Star (the guys who mainly do Dragon Ball Z fandubs) put out a richly-deserverd iRiff of Dragonball Evolution .

Not unlike with RPGs, with riffs I see a dearth of anime/Japanese stuff, which got me motivated to try my hand at it. I recruited my friend Mike Mallon to help with the project, since in my experience solo riffs just aren’t as good, even when Mike Nelson is doing them. Mike Mallon is one of those people who can barely stand to be serious for five minutes, and for a while did he did a “Great Teacher Largo” panel at various anime conventions, where he would basically do in-character improv comedy for an hour at a stretch. For me watching YouTube videos of the GTL panels from FanimeCon is surreal because it’s the exact same humor he throws around in everyday life, so to me it doesn’t feel like an act exactly. There’s a certain kind of internet humor that he’s immersed in and really grasps in a way that I struggle to keep up with. He can also do the Group X voice pretty much perfectly.

While MST3K concentrated on obscure, terrible movies, RiffTrax has let Mike Nelson and company take a crack at big, mainstream titles that beg to be mocked. For both ventures (not to mention Joel Hodgson’s excellent Cinematic Titanic ) I’ve found that what makes a movie good for riffing isn’t being bad exactly, but being ridiculous, especially if it does so with an air of self-importance. That’s why the RiffTrax of movies like 300 and Avatar turned out so great, while the riff of Daredevil was so-so. It’s also why our riff project is going to be of Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children . It’s a fun, entertaining movie, but it also treats most everything as Serious Business.

I think you ought to know I'm feeling very depressed right now.

I don’t expect to make much of any money from this–iRiffs are a niche within a niche after all–but it’s been a fun project to work on so far. Plus, maybe between our respective followings Mike and I can at least get some people to give it a chance. Last night we gave the movie a once-through, and it highlighted how different our styles of humor are. Mike is incredibly spontaneous, while I have to craft and script things more often than not. 20 minutes messing around with Wikipedia gives me a couple of solid sentences of joke, while Mike effortlessly comes up with these amazing running gags. From here the plan is to get heavily into the writing, and after that we’ll be getting into recording and editing, for which I’m going to have to buy some equipment (which fortunately will be useful for podcasting too).

Awesome Robot Stuff

I’m still plugging away at I Want to be an Awesome Robot , and I figured I might as well put together another blog post about what I’m working on.

Dr. Science
I mentioned before that Dr. Science was one of my big comedy influences, especially for the whole “saying made up shit with a straight face” kind of comedy. Since then I’ve acquired a Dr. Science CD (“Get Smart!”) and two books ( The Dr. Science Big Book of Science and Dr. Science’s Book of Shocking Domestic Revelations ). Dr. Science’s humor is kind of hard to explain. Some of it is his animistic and decidedly non-scientific view of the universe as he tells listeners about what kinds of bars subatomic particles frequent, how unintelligent oranges are compared to other fruits, and about how most dogs are possessed by Satan. He also has a strange wistfulness, and at turns yearns for and despises the way things used to be. As a character he’s larger than life, but in a strange and somewhat pathetic kind of way. He claims to live on vitamin injections and caffeine instead of food, and despite having several ex-wives has no particular interest in anything like normal human contact. His scientific knowledge is eccentric to say the least, and his most exceptional quality is his spectacular arrogance. And yet, he seems motivated by a desire to enrich the lives of his listeners. Sometimes this is friendly advice (from his warped perspective), and sometimes it’s from a desire to elevate them to his own kind of scientific enlightenment.

Artwork, and Kurumi

Fire the Orbital Friendship Cannon!

Books in this genre more typically use lots of stock photographs and public domain stuff. In The Dr. Science Big Book of Science they were particularly adept at finding odd National Archives photos and giving them weird captions. Awesome Robot is going to have a fair amount of that sort of thing, [1] but also some original art.

I have a muse/mascot character, a bunny girl named Kurumi, who I’ve already commissioned entirely too much artwork of . Since the book is going to have a section about her (one of the embarrassingly personal parts), I got Sue-chan to do the first piece that’ll go into the book. There have been two versions of Kurumi, and since the essay on her has kind of a retrospective I wanted art of both versions of her. (Though I’ve wanted something like that for a while regardless of whether it’ll fit into a book.) Sue-chan was the very first artist I’d ever commissioned to draw Kurumi, and although there are more technically proficient artists out there, she has a rare gift for for drawing with a certain joyful quality.

Today in Geek History
“Today in Geek History” is one of the more ambitious and creatively masochistic parts of the book. Inspired by Hodgman’s calendars in More Information Than You Require and That Is All , I started putting together a thing that gives some partly made up nerdy thing for each day of the calendar year (plus one for January 0, plus 12 extra entries because I felt the need to add a Yo Dawg reference). I’m more or less on the home stretch of this, or at least of the first draft of it, and I’ve hit a certain rhythm. I started out looking for different things to include as they occurred to me, but now I’m mostly going through month by month and filling in dates in sequence. My basic strategy now is to look up a date on Wikipedia, Wookiepedia, and Memory Alpha to see if there’s anything of interest, and failing that looking at the front page of Reddit for something I can make up, or just going with whatever pops into my head. I’ve put in a couple different narrative threads, notably about Abraham Lincoln traveling through time to fight History Crab, and about Gary Gygax going on a quest for the Rod of Seven Dice, plus some things about the secret World Nerd Council and the historic accomplishments of catgirls.

It’s kind of interesting to see the patterns that emerge when you try to do 378 discrete bits of comedy. A lot of them start out laying out stuff that’s perfectly factual and then swerve at the very last second. Other times the whole thing is nonsense, but regardless I often find myself having the swervy part be either an unexpected anachronism or a sudden veering into supernatural elements. Sometimes I just get really sarcastic and snippy, though I’m trying to limit that.

This part of the project is up to around 20,000 words so far, and it’s reached a point where a it looks like lot of my other creative endeavors are going to be at a standstill until I finish the first draft. Thankfully it shouldn’t take too much longer. Then I start bugging my friends for help revising it. Next year I’m aiming to do a daily podcast of the calendar, which should be pretty goddamn insane.

[1] My favorite idea for this so far is that there will be a section on weird D&D monsters, which includes a monster called “Evil Pants.” Next to that I’ll have a photo of an ordinary pair of blue jeans captioned, “A trap!”