Wednesday, April 30, 2014

I Enjoy Coffee

Though perhaps not quite as much as Lorelai Gilmore.

Herewith, three presentations of a relevant scene:




By the way, that's episode two of Gilmore Girls. As in, the second episode ever. That show knew its voice from the very start, and it's a crying shame that creators Amy Sherman-Palladino and Dan Palladino were not able to conclude the series the way they had intended.

On the bright side, Ms. Sherman-Palladino did get to make a full season of Bunheads. And that bittersweet finale is perfect in so many ways. The whole series is now streaming free on Amazon Prime and well worth eighteen hours of your time, if you like that sort of thing:


Wednesday, April 23, 2014

I Followed the Oregon Trail to Find Terry, Who Apparently Has Very Poor Impulse Control

A few days ago, I noticed several of my Twitter-friends retweeting this:

At the time, that post had already garnered well over 500 retweets. But looking through the same account's other tweets, this one didn't quite fit. No disrespect to Jimmy, but it clearly wasn't his voice. Had he heard the joke from someone else?

It's not uncommon for bons mots to appear on the Internet without proper attribution. And in most cases, it's not important who coined a particular turn of phrase or who first photoshopped a particular meme—but it is interesting, to me anyway.

And so, as I have done in the past, I started a research spiral to see if I could identify the original wit. (Spoiler alert: I did.)

First, I went for the low-hanging fruit: previous tweets that included the same joke (I focused on the pun "dissin' Terry"). And I was able to find three independent posts, the earliest from February of 2011—over three years ago.

(Note that the two older tweets don't introduce the full context of the Oregon Trail video game, and the link in the 2011 tweet is now defunct.)

That was the end of the trail, so to speak, until I tried a full-web search on "dissing Terry" (no contraction). And that led me to the jackpot—the "Terry made it to Oregon" installment of webcomic Hello With Cheese, published by Darren J. Gendron and Obsidian Abnormal on November 1st, 2010:

(For the sake of completeness, here's the chain that got me there: a Google search for "dissing Terry" turned up an archived post on, which linked to a t-shirt that no longer exists on Swag Shark. But even though the product web page returned a 404, searching for the URL itself turned up a backlink on Dern's tumblr, which in turn pointed me back to, where I was able to track down the original comic and get more details about its creators.)

So why did a random tweet from a high school student in Texas get so much traction on Twitter, when the original piece—created three and a half years ago by an accomplished creative duo—didn't? Who knows. The Internet is as the Internet does. Memes are random and unpredictable. It's The Bacon Cat Law of Internet Popularity.

I can only hope that Hello With Cheese gains a few more fans because of this blog post. They've definitely earned it. (Maybe they'll even re-issue that t-shirt.)

In related news, did you know that you can play the original Apple II version of Oregon Trail right in your web browser, using an emulator plug-in? It's true! I spent a few minutes reliving my childhood, and even though I survived to the end, the results weren't pretty:

Yeah. I think I'll stick to the writing thing.


Tuesday, April 22, 2014

SnoutCast #204: Andrea Phillips

This month, we talk to @andrhia—the creator of Captain Lucy Smokeheart—about ARGs, the state of transmedia, some guy named Satoshi, spiders, and more!

[ Download mp3 ]

Show length: 45:39
File size: 41.8MB

Stuff and things:
Follow @andrhia on Twitter for more!

What Else?

Tell us we're wrong on the Internet! E-mail or post a comment at

Music: instrumentals from "Code Monkey" and "Skullcrusher Mountain" by Jonathan Coulton

[ Subscribe to SnoutCast / iTunes link ]

Curtis DeeAnn Andrea

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

I Have Anger Issues...

...and I love Superman. Those two things are related. Let me explain.

Last Saturday, I rewatched Man of Steel, because why not. And it turned out to be a more enjoyable film on the second viewing, partly because I knew what to expect and was thus able to think more about the filmmakers' intentions—to reverse-engineer the storytelling, so to speak.

It's not a perfect movie. It's probably not even a great movie, as far as such things go, but I have to give producer Christopher "Dark Knight" Nolan and director Zack "300" Snyder credit for their audacity: they did not, in fact, make a Superman movie. They made a science fiction movie which leads to Superman. And they did a pretty good job of setting up what I hope will be a halfway decent movie series.

First, let me acknowledge all the bad stuff:
  • Yes, there was excessive and senseless destruction of property (and loss of innocent lives).
  • Yes, Zod talks too much, and most of it is ham-fisted exposition.
  • Yes, the gratuitous callbacks to Superman II are distracting.
  • There are too many flashbacks.
  • There's not enough humor.
  • And yes, the movie is about 20 minutes too long, mostly at the end.

Now let's talk about the good stuff. In roughly chronological order:
  • Weird-science Krypton!
  • That smash cut from spaceship to fishing trawler is genius, and you could only do it in a Superman-origin movie.
  • Clark's first X-ray visions.
  • "You are my son."
  • Lois Lane, the smartest person in the room.
  • Learning to fly in the Arctic.
  • "The truth about you is beautiful."
  • The whole surrender sequence.
  • Emergency Holographic Jor-El.
  • Clark not giving up intercut with Perry not leaving.
  • "Welcome to The Planet." (Or, as I prefer: "Welcome to the planet.")

That, by the way, was a perfect ending line for the whole damn movie. Because it's a prequel, you guys. (Even the music signals a prologue: we never get an actual fanfare, but we get a slow build toward something.) As my friend Tom says, this title character is not Superman yet; this Clark Kent has never even considered becoming a caped crusader. The movie is about why Clark becomes Superman. And its thesis revolves around what, for me, are the two most resonant things about the Superman character: anger and choice.

Man of Steel cribs quite a bit from the Superman: Birthright books. There's no Lex Luthor in the movie, but there is an alien invasion of Metropolis, and Clark is first introduced to the audience during his "angry young man" years. He's immature, inexperienced, and struggling to find his place in a world where he can't really be himself. As we saw in Frozen, it's not enough to have amazing superpowers; you have to know when and how to use them—and you have to control them even when you're angry.

We all have powers we're not using. We all have abilities that we can push to the limit when we want to, or when we feel we need to. We can run faster when we're threatened or chased; we can think harder when there are great rewards or dire consequences on the line. And we also choose whether to use a particular skill or talent for fun, for making money, or not at all.

Some people complain that Superman isn't an interesting protagonist because he's too powerful. But for me, that's one of the most interesting things about him—he's not a hero because he's compelled by some inner demons or past trauma or external pressure. He's practically invulnerable; he can do whatever the hell he wants. (Which, by the way, is the question explored in the classic Red Son and the intriguing Irredeemable: what if Superman went bad?)

I have a temper. I've put my foot through a door and my hand through a plate glass window (I still have the scar). I've kicked in a minivan door. I once made another kid piss blood after a schoolyard fight (I didn't see it, but he told me about it the next day, and I felt terrible). In a very real sense, I have—as the saying goes—used my powers for evil. But I've learned from my youthful indiscretions.

And so does Clark Kent. As Superman, he chooses to fight "a never-ending battle for truth and justice"—and he is driven to that choice by his anger.

Those two motivations collide in that train station at the end of Man of Steel, during Clark's final confrontation with Zod. I hope the filmmakers address that in the next movie, even if it's just one line of dialogue. I hope that they intentionally set up that defining moment to explain why Superman doesn't kill people. (Linked image from Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?, the brilliant "imaginary tale" which wrapped up DC's Superman titles before the 1987 reboot.)

I have anger issues. I recognize that, and I'm working on it. Meanwhile, I do my best to avoid being a dick.


Wednesday, April 09, 2014

I Sometimes Notice Odd Things

(Contains very minor spoilers for Captain America: The Winter Soldier.)

On Monday, DeeAnn and I saw the latest addition to the Marvel Comics film universe: the second Captain America movie—which, in my humble opinion, would have worked better as a more personal story for either Steve Rogers (who had a strong connection to the title villain) or Natasha Romanoff (who had an even stronger connection to the "A" plot), but it was still enjoyable. The story is not what I want to talk about.

What I want to talk about is the vending machine.

See, there's one particular scene, right around the end of act one, which finds Rogers standing in a hospital corridor, momentarily dumbfounded. And in that shot, there's also a guy in a service uniform kneeling to one side, restocking a vending machine. I was hugely distracted by this, because the moment I saw the vending machine guy there, I knew the vending machine was going to be an important plot point. It couldn't have been more obvious if there had been huge neon arrows pointing to it, underneath a sign saying THIS WILL BE IMPORTANT LATER ON.

The directors, Anthony and Joe Russo—brothers, and they're also attached to direct Captain America 3, so good for them—have mostly done TV work in the past. I don't know how much that has influenced their visual style or sensibilities, but I suspect they're pretty good at getting things done on a tight schedule. Deadlines are great motivators.

Now, I'm not saying there was anything in particular wrong with that shot. It did its job perfectly well, conveyed all the necessary information to the viewer: "Captain America is thinking about doing something, and there's a vending machine right here." No fancy camera angles or complicated blocking required. All I'm saying is, there was something about the way that shot was framed, something about how the scene was set up, that communicated the directorial intent to me with complete transparency.

I can't quite put my finger on exactly what it was. Maybe the vending machine was a little too close to Cap, and there was no reason for that other than to get it onscreen and foreshadow its later involvement. Maybe the service person restocking it was a bit too much in the foreground, emphasizing the fact that he didn't need to be there unless... well, you'll see if you watch the movie. It could have been a combination of subtle cues which I can't fully explain.

Back when I was a kid, and cartoons were still hand-drawn and cel-animated, I could tell which objects or parts of the image were going to move in most scenes because the foreground elements were always painted differently than the background plates. (I've heard other people talk about seeing this too, and I'm glad it wasn't just me.) And often when I watch movies or TV shows, I'll recognize cameo appearances not because I have any idea who the celebrity is, but because I can tell the shot was framed to feature them especially prominently.

I sometimes notice odd things. That's all.


Wednesday, April 02, 2014

I Hear Your Voice

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On Monday night, DeeAnn and I watched the Veronica Mars movie at home (which was awesome, and I can't wait for the day when all TV shows and movies are distributed on-demand, but that's another blog post). I was happy that the movie continued the TV series' judicious use of in-character voiceover narration, especially during that scene in the car with Logan. You know the one. We could have guessed what Veronica was thinking at that moment, but the words added important depth. And the show's practice of juxtaposing the mostly-delivered-straight VO with its trademark snarky dialogue is also great, but again, that's another blog post.

I tweeted about this, which started Twitter and Facebook threads, and that got me to thinking about the different kinds of voiceover a show might have. It could be an announcer, who is explicitly addressing the audience outside the context of the story; a narrator, who may or may not be one of the characters but is clearly within the world of the story; or a character like Veronica Mars, offering commentary in real time or not, possibly unreliable, and ideally providing some counterpoint to what we can already see and hear taking place. (There can, of course, be many variations on and hybrids of the three types, but I'd argue those are the basics.)

There's an old saw in Hollywood about voiceovers being the laziest possible way for a screenwriter to do exposition. (Not true, by the way: it's actually title cards.) People always point to the Robert McKee scene from Adaptation, or Harrison Ford's uninspired VO performance in the original theatrical version of Blade Runner. I suspect the sentiment continues to propagate because "film" has always aspired to be more than television—another cliché I hear a lot is TV denigrated as "radio with pictures."

There's nothing wrong with making words and images work together. You just have to know why and how you're using each element. Comic book and graphic novel creators know this, and I am continually dazzled by the things that people are doing in those formats, from Chris Ware's insanely detailed designs to Jim Williams' gorgeous Batwoman layouts. Seriously, man, if you're not reading comics these days, you are missing out on some great art.

But I digress. We were talking about voiceovers.

In October of 2005, Entertainment Weekly ran a piece titled "What's with all the TV voiceovers?," where Gary Susman pointed out seven new shows debuting that fall—including How I Met Your Mother—which "use voiceover narration or feature a character who breaks the fourth wall to address the audience." I'm not sure 7 out of 354 constitutes "a plague," but whatever. He remarked that "the rise in voiceovers has coincided with the rise of single-camera sitcoms...filmed and edited in such a way that there was no room for a laugh track" and concluded that "if self-consciously clever voiceover narration was the price I had to pay to get rid of laugh tracks, maybe it was worth it." (All I'll say to that is: How I Met Your Mother. Laugh track. Nine seasons and a spin-off.)

In June of 2010, the more upbeat Chicago Tribune article "Voice-overs rule TV" proclaimed that "we're in a Golden Age of Voice-Overs...because they're being used with more artistry, eloquence and flair than ever before, to set moods and tones, to deepen and sharpen characterizations, to mystify and beguile as well as to explain and elucidate. The voice-over is now a distinctive—even crucial—feature in many popular series." Writer Julia Keller calls out In Plain Sight, Burn Notice, Desperate Housewives, Grey's Anatomy, and Dexter for using "voice-over as a dazzling creative device, fit for far more than mere exposition."

Speaking of Burn Notice, did you know there's a web site which has organized all of Michael Westen's spycraft voiceovers by topic? It's pretty groovy.

Finally, there's the recent news that starting with this year's Primetime Emmy Awards, the Television Academy has split the "Outstanding Voice-Over Performance" category into two different awards: "Outstanding Character Voice-Over Performance" and "Outstanding Narrator" (my emphasis). I suspect this actually happened as a catty attempt to keep that particular statuette from going to animated series nearly 80% of the time, but let's hope it also has the civilizing influence of recognizing different artistic applications of the same storytelling tool.