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 Message
    From: jmsatb5@aol.com (Jms at B5)
 Subject: ATTN JMS: What is behind your writing? (resend)
      To: rec.arts.sf.tv.babylon5.moderated  
    Date: 9/7/2000 11:12:00 AM  

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I'm resending this since it didn't seem to go through the last time....

>Looking back at B5 what do you question about what you wrote?
>What would you do differently now that you have the luxry of hindsight.
>What "failures" (for lack of a better word) do you believe you made (even if
>they were ones that the viewers never noticed).

In general, there isn't a frame I wouldn't go back and tweak in editing, a
single line I wouldn't want to revise one more time to get it tighter or more
to the point.

In more specific terms...the problem I had going in was that no one had ever
done anything quite like this before, and as a consequence there were no road
maps, no guidelines. I was kind of inventing the form as I went along, and
I've always been somewhat insecure about my work, as many writers are, and
there were times I'd think, "Christ, there isn't enough going on, I need more
stuff happening here or else it's going to be just the writing and I'm dancing
on the edge as it is"...and the threads would get so dense and manyfold that
there were times when I was afraid I might actually lose control of the thing
and the whole thing would tip over and end up in a ditch.

It took me a while to realize that I could relax and trust the writing to take
me where it wanted to go. It was only this slowly dawning revelation that let
me write things like Comes the Inquisitor or Intersections in Real Time, which
is really just two characters in a room. I didn't need a lot of
intrigue-ridden threads all over the place to keep things moving, it was okay
just to write the scene and the characters and let the drama play itself out.

And there were times I ddn't adjust to stuff as fast as I would've liked. When
we got unionized in season 3 -- the most painless such activity I've ever seen,
by the way, but still a distraction -- I was in the middle of writing
Exogenesis. Then my world got kicked over by the negotiations, and when I came
back to the script finally, 7-10 days later...it had gone cold, and I'd lost
the fingerprints of the story. I couldn't drop it because we needed it in the
pipeline to shoot, but in my view the first half of that episode sets up a cool
premise that is not quite lived up to by the second half.

Same thing when Claudia chose to leave the show. That was a hard one on all of
us, but in my case, I had a whole arc worked out for her that had to be
dropped. I suddenly had to bring in a new character, weave her threads out of
the tapestry, and adjust everything else in the first third of that season
totally on the fly. (And on top of all that, my detailed notes on the first
half of the season were tossed out by the hotel staff that moved my stuff from
one room to another in Blackpool without checking with me. I had to recreate
stuff on the one hand and angle it all off in a different direction on the
other, both at the same time.)

While I think I did okay, it ain't pretty in a lot of places. If it had
happened in the second or third seasons, I could probably have handled it with
a bit more finesse, but at that point we were all on the edge of exhaustion.
(Indicative of that: each season of a show, actors are brought in to a doctor,
checked out, and insured for the season, so if something happens to them, the
company is insured against delays. For the first time I know of, the writer
producer (viz: me) was given that treatment -- this was a mandate to me,
because others had noticed what the show was taking out of me -- so if I upped
and died of a cardiac infarction in the middle of things, or collapsed of
exhaustion, the company would be covered.

>Also on the otherside of the coin, where did you feel you exceeded yourself,
>went beyond what you *thought* was your limits at the time. Where did you set
>a
>new benchmark for yourself thinking "Wow! That works! I never thought I could
>pull *that* off"

When it played even better than I'd expected it would. On a script, you see
the scene and you think, "Well, I think it'll work," but you never really
*know*, and like everybody else in the business, I've been fooled...something
that looks like gold on the page turns into a dog when it hits the stage or the
editing room, and something you thought wouldn't work ends up being massively
cool.

Severed Dreams, the scenes where Sheridan makes his decision on hearing that
troops are coming in...and Delenn's timely arrivel...I knew they'd be good, but
I had no idea the real effect they'd have until I saw 'em in the editing room.
Same with the Sheridan takedown in Face of the Enemy.

Probaby the biggest example, though, is Sleeping in Light. I knew that the
last scene(s) would be effective from the script and the edit...but when we
laid in Chris Franke's score, even before we had the EFX done, I began to
realize that this was going to be a *crusher*. We didn't have the final EFX in
until late 5th season -- I didn't want to finish it and give anybody a chance
to accidentally run it early -- and when they were dropped in...it ruined me
when I watched it straight through for the first time.


jms

(jmsatb5@aol.com)
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