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The big bad list of interference


Jms once posted a mail he'd sent to TNT as an example of what they were trying to do to the show. I don't believe it has been posted here, so here it is:


>The only MAJOR changes were in "War Zone" and the other episodes, discluding
>the last five, were only minor changes. Correct? They weren't something like
>what they did in "War Zone"; they didn't change the plot/whichever that was
>in WAR ZONE. Right?

This is a greyer question than appears at first blush.

You need to understand that the notes-giving process was ongoing, that every
day was a fight, and every day there were pressures from WB and others to
accede to those requests and notes. We were told repeatedly, "Look, give 'em
the show they want for the first year, then you can make it your way in the
second season."

I've always had a policy that if a note makes sense, whoEVER it comes from -- a
network, a grip, a carpenter, whoever -- then I'll listen to it. So I tried,
where possible, to listen for any notes that made sense in the whirlwind of
ka-ka that came our way. Some who were not there said that I was acting
unreasonably, and that only the one script WarZone was really affected, that
the other scripts were already written and thus not affected. But nothing
could be further from the truth. They were all whittled at in big or small

If a note didn't make sense...then the answer had to be No.

The "big no" meeting was specifically about a small percentage of the
scripts...and only one meeting out of many. They kept at us *constantly*.

As Michelangelo said, "Trifles make perfection, and perfection is no trifle."
Sometimes the notes nibbled at big issues, sometimes at small ones, but there
are profound effects either way. Sometimes doing something as small as
changing the rhythm of a scene can destroy it. Take a particularly memorable
piece of classical music (I won't even name it to illustrate the point further)
that begins "dah-dah-dah-DAAAH."

Now change it to "dah-dah-dah-BLAAAT." It's only one note difference. You can
say it' s just a teensy change. But your gut says it ain't right, something
there doesn't work.

Just for the hell of it...I'm going to reprint now one of my memos to TNT,
omitting the name of the person involved. This is emblematic of some of the
exchanges. (This memo was widely distributed to TNT, WB and Babylonian folks
involved in the creative stuff, so it's by no means private.)

Message follows.


From: Joe Straczynski
Date: December 8, 1998
Re: Latest Notes on Cuts and Scripts


We've had a chance to review the latest batch of comments, and have some
thoughts on how some of them can be done. Others, as will be examined below,
are more problematic.

Prior to that, though, a general thought: when the notes process began in
earnest subsequent to 105, we voiced the concern that we seemed to be getting
conflicting reactions?on the one hand we received requests for action, on the
other hand we got requests for more dialogue about what the stories mean to the
characters, scenes that allow them to express their feelings to one another.
Prior to then, with the possible exception of a few scenes in 101, we had been
primarily an action-based series.

We said at this time that we needed clarification: did TNT want more action, or
more dialogue scenes/exposition? Since then, the script notes have been
primarily oriented toward creating more dialogue scenes, more background on the
characters, their feelings toward one another and the situations they're in,
and the emotional consequences. Essentially, expository scenes of one sort or
another. We have complied with those notes as much as we possibly could.

So you can understand my concern when, having done as TNT asked, we get notes
on the cuts that essentially pillory us for having a slower pace. The pace is
in large measure the result of adding in those expository scenes. If TNT asks
for new scenes or to expand scenes in which characters talk about their
feelings, it's going to perforce slow down the action aspect.

I feel it's unfair to take us to task for doing what we were told to do.

The Senator scene in 108 is particularly emblematic of this. That scene was
originally much shorter. TNT asked for more information about how this was
affecting people back home, how they felt about it. We did that, and now are
being told that the scene is too long. It wasn't too long when we started with
it. It only became too long after we added in all the things that TNT asked us

It is both confusing and demoralizing for all of us involved in the production
of Crusade to receive contradictory notes. As I mentioned in our previous
meetings, there has to be consistency; if the goal post keeps getting moved
around the field, we have no idea what to move toward.

To be honest, the pacing that the current notes seem to be asking for is most
embodied by episodes 101-105, the kind of show we were making prior to the
hiatus and notes process.

Anyway, that's a general reaction that I think we need to address at some point
in the future. Meanwhile, on to the specific notes.


(jms note to reader: a producer's cut is made after the episode has been filmed
and we edit the thing.)


"The opening seems slow. Is there a way to open with the scene in which Galen
convinces the crew to go to the Well of Forever? This scene will catch the
attention of the audience."

There are only two scenes in the opening: a walk-and-talk scene with Matheson
and Gideon, in which we learn that Matheson is going to get tested to ensure
that he has not been improperly scanning people telepathically, and the
convince-the-crew scene. The most we could do structurally would be to flop
the two scenes in sequence.

Both are dialogue scenes. The first one keeps us in motion, and sets up that
Gideon is en route to a meeting; the second scene is that meeting. We cannot
edit out that part because it comes at a point where the camera is moving and
we're well into the scene. It seems to us best to start in on movement, to
pull the audience in, and end on the conference scene, because that sets up the
mystery: no one has ever come back. To have that moment, and then the
walk-and-talk, would eliminate the dramatic end of the teaser, which we're
hoping to use to make the audience want to come back after the commercial

So on careful reflection, this one can't really be done without actually
working against the overall pacing and structure of the episode.


'The pacing of this episode, as well as 106 and 107, is consistently slow."

While there may be some validity to this as far as 106 is concerned, about
which more later, I find "slow pacing" a very difficult concept to apply to
this episode.

WAR ZONE contains 25 interior shots, 52 exterior shots, and a total of 115
scenes over 43 pages, averaging 3 scenes or major shots per page, which is
something of a record for a script on this or just about any other show. It
has stunts, fights, hand-to-hand combat, air-to-air combat, air-to-ground
combat, sneaking, shooting, and buckets of other action. It is, frankly, the
most ambitious and fastest-paced episode we've ever produced, rivaled only by
103, which is in your hands now, and which is anything but slow.

I believe that, as with 103, the pacing will become more evident once the CGI
and other effects are in.

"The fight scene in the opening?is choppy and unrealistic." We did the best we
could there with what we had in the dailies, which were also sent to TNT. It
was a small set, and we really only have the two scenes with which to play.


* I agree that there are some places where a couple of transitional shots (such
as the downshot, and the crew running out the door coming into the stairwell
scene) are a bit awkward, given the coverage we had. We jumped into the scene
a bit faster because we wanted to speed up the pacing, get into the
confrontation with Gideon quickly, rather than wait for them to start at the
top of the stairs and come all the way down.

* We can try to further expand the fight by lengthening the first piece, but
only by double-cutting some of the footage we have from B-camera and grabbing
bits of side-action, but this will add more cuts and that may also make it more

* If you want additional fight stuff for that scene, it would have to be shot
as new material, and there will be costs involved in doing that.

"?the scenes which include the senator's speeches need to be cut back." As
noted previously, this scene was expanded to meet TNT's earlier notes.
Virtually all of the information presented here is necessary for the audience
to understand what the show is about: the plague, the blockade, why Gideon was
chosen, and what the mission is.

* However: there is a small piece or two that can be lifted, about 5-15 seconds
worth, which may help to pick up the pacing. It would, however, mean
eliminating some of the material asked for in earlier notes. So if TNT is okay
with that, we can trim up the scene and add those seconds to the fight scene in
the teaser.

If "unrealistic" could be better defined for us, that would be very helpful,
because that one has us kind of stumped.

* One other thing we can do in future episodes that will help the pacing is to
work more closely with the directors, who tend to loved their long panning
shots to open up a scene, rather than just jumping into it. (We sometimes get
stuck with those long pans because coverage tends to start later into the
scene, leaving us unable to cut into the scene any later.)

"Gideon doesn't seem to have an understanding or a rapport with his ship."

So that I can better understand the note, at what point does Gideon indicate
that he doesn't understand his ship?

As for "a rapport with his ship," in this episode he is assigned to the
Excalibur for the first time. He's only been there for a few hours; it seems
unrealistic to expect to build a rapport with a place in just a few hours.

"There are also logic problems. How does he know where the conference room is
on the Excalibur without some investigating?"

In the first Excalibur scene, Matheson escorts Gideon to the bridge. Gideon
can see the conference room from his chair. Since it is in his clear line of
sight, I'm not sure how much further investigation is required in order to find

"Introduce Trace by name earlier."

* We don't have any footage of this, but we can add an ADR line using his name.

Regarding the Chambers scene?here we must agree to disagree. Her letter to her
sister seems very emotional to everyone here and at WB. Further, it's not a
crying scene because that scene is about encouraging her sister about their
intention to find a cure. She has to be strong for her sister, not fall apart.
This had to be done as a recorded letter to her sister because we couldn't
afford another actor at that point.

Also, that scene was sent through in script, and everyone was fine with it at
the time.

Regarding 106 and 107?as we noted in our conversation prior to their
publication in script form, having done massive action shows in 101-105, we
needed to have a couple of smaller, quieter shows in order to balance out the
costs involved. So yes, they are slower episodes, as I noted at the time they
would be. You can't produce every episode at a screaming pace and expect to
stay on budget. Some are loud, some are quiet; the key is just to do more
louds than quiets.


(jms note to readers: this refers to scripts that were then in the
preproduction stage)


"Can we have one of our primary characters become inhabited by the being
instead of either Rice or Janey?"

This is not possible; in order to provide the solution to the problem, we need
Chambers, Eilerson and Matheson outside, and free. I chose those individuals
specifically because they're the ones who together work out the solution. If
you take any of them out of the equation, you don't have the people necessary
to resolve this. So they can't become inhabited.

If we choose another character from our roster of regulars, that means a
substantial rewrite and increased cast costs?and we have further problems
because we only have access to a limited number of episodes per cast member,
and we're trying to spread them out for maximum effect. So this one we can't
really do.

"It might be fun to play up the comedy with (the fashion consultant)?have him
get the crew into more trouble, not out of it."

That would be kind of the cliché way to go, in my view; to have him even
inadvertently help the process is a nice surprise. Also, to create a thread
where we have to set up a third problem in the script (the changes being asked
for by Earth being one, the infestation being the second) and pay it off
requires more room than we have in 43 pages, and is an unnecessary beat.

"Can we heighten the crew's annoyance with the changes being made on the ship?"
The changes are not actually made until the end of the episode, which makes
this rather problematic. We can add material in which they voice their
concerns about what might be done, but this will again add expository dialogue
that will slow down the pacing of the episode, and that seems to contradict
what we are being asked for elsewhere.

* Re: "decoding of 'the air is human,'"?I'll look at that and see if we can
extend the discovery of what he's trying to communicate to make it clearer
about how they get there. Be advised, again, that this will add time and
exposition and slow the pace.


Regarding the recap of the request to edit down the Jehanne dialogue on page
13, expressed at the time because it seemed too "far out"?as noted later in the
script, we are using the actual dialogue of Joan of Arc in the script. So if
we are to retain our historical accuracy, we can't really change that material.

"Henderson's murder at the end of the teaser needs to have more physical
action?have it become more of a hand-to-hand struggle."

We have already had to pull back on some of the stunt work in that episode due
to budget limitations, and adding one more here is not within the limits of
what we can do. Also, the suddenness of the attack is what we're looking for,
dramatically, rather than a prolonged struggle with someone we've never met.

* However, I've spoken with John Copeland about this (he's directing this
episode), and he will do what he can to maximize the action of that scene
without having to add stunts or other costly elements.

I hope that this will be of assistance in clarifying the situation. We will
certainly try and do what we can in the areas where we indicated we have some
room to work, but as always, the degree to which we can make modifications is
dictated to us by the budget, and we have an obligation to both WB and TNT to
stay within those limits.


Joe Straczynski


Back again.

Hardly the picture of someone who is being hostile, I'd say. But it does show
that the notes process was ongoing. Every script meant defending against the
addition of exposition and dumb scenes (such as a scene in which Matheson shows
Gideon where the conference room is, which is 10 feet from his chair, because
somebody at TNT thought it would be confusing to the audience otherwise to
figure out how he could know it's there.)

>Meaning, you'd be pretty damn proud of those episodes [The Path of Sorrows,
>Patterns of the Soul, Rules of the Game, ect.] that were only slightly

I'm proud of pretty much all of them, because of what they required. If
someone hands you a palm frond, a blender, and a car battery, and says, "Make
me a radio out of this," and you actually DO it, you're proud of the result.
It ain't as pretty as it could be, but given the conditions under which you
were laboring, it ain't bad.

Some succeed more than others; but all would have been better *without* the
kind of interference we received, the day to day battles, the war of attrition,
the confusing and contradictory notes, and so on.

That's why 101-105 are overall the best episodes, because they were troubled
the least by outside forces.


B5 Official Fan Club at: http://www.thestation.com
I have read most of these messages before, but the cumulative effect of reading them all at once is really quite interesting.

It is easy to read the rather sarcastic tone in JMS's words, although he tends to maintain that he was sweetly reasonable all the time.

Having constant interference on minor details would be extremely irritating. He is also right that each change makes the cost go up on the limited budget he had to work with.

Many writer/producers would have caved in and done just was asked of them, which may explain why there are so many bad shows on tv. Heaven only knows what TNT would have made of the change of direction that JMS was going to take by the end of year 1.

<BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, arial">quote:</font><HR> Many writer/producers would have caved in and done just was asked of them, which may explain why there are so many bad shows on tv. <HR></BLOCKQUOTE>

But, you Can't cave in when you've been give two (or more) sets of mutually contradictory orders.

That was the whole point of the memo. JMS was trying to point out to this person that he could only follow One set of suggestions at a time.
And asking: "Well, which of these instructions do you want me to follow? We can only do so much in 45 Minutes."

Yes, I like cats too.
Shall we exchange Recipes?
That was interesting. The site just hicoughed.

[This message has been edited by bakana (edited September 09, 2001).]
<BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, arial">quote:</font><HR>Originally posted by Jomar:
It is easy to read the rather sarcastic tone in JMS's words,<HR></BLOCKQUOTE>I don't see it as sarcasm... It's more like jms is desperatly trying to keep a calm exterior in spite of the stupidity of the notes. <BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, arial">quote:</font><HR>although he tends to maintain that he was sweetly reasonable all the time.<HR></BLOCKQUOTE>He's said he was not unreasoable, which this clealy shows, while TNT was not. Even ignoring the appropriatness of their story suggestions, their notes were contradictory in nature and often impossible to implement given their budget.

(And some people involved have claimed that the goal of the suggestions was to piss jms off so much that he'd walk off the show, letting them end it with clean hands.)

You are not entitled to your own opinion. You are only entitled to your own informed opinion.
-- Harlan Ellison qouting Gustave Flaubert
<BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, arial">quote:</font><HR>Originally posted by drakh:
I don't see it as sarcasm... It's more like jms is desperatly trying to keep a calm exterior in spite of the stupidity of the notes. <HR></BLOCKQUOTE>

I agree. In a professional setting, you sometimes have to tell someone you strongly disagree with what they're telling you. This can be rather difficult to do diplomatically, especially when the person is a client, a customer, or a superior.

What I see is JMS providing clearly defined reasons why he disagrees with the items raised with each episode. In this way, it reads no more sarcasticly than any memo I have seen (or written) to any of my company's clients.

"We are all Kosh."

[This message has been edited by taichidave (edited September 09, 2001).]

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