Sunday, July 12, 2009

In which we need a new Plan

So three cheers and a tiger for us, victory is ours, darn the torpedos and full speed ahead, and just in time too because we were in the run-up to Plan 9 From Outer Space and had Great Plans for appropriate related video mischief. Plan 9, as all fanboys n grrls knew, was The Worst Movie Ever Made. I actually saw a snatch of Plan 9 as a wee prat, on the 4PM after school monster movie program (a desperation move by the local ABC outlet to combat the NBC affiliate's capture of the kids market with its Kowboy Kartoons, the CBS affiliate's capture of the kid's market with its Paramount Popeyes, and the indy station's subversive Three Stooges hour, as it was programmed with American International rubber-suit pictures and ultimately replaced by Dialing for Dollars) -- dimly recall being disturbed by the concept of zombies, if not the execution as it were -- but hadn't seen the whole masterwork, it being too horrific for viewing on the public airwaves no doubt. But if it surpassed The Carpet Monster, as our desk references said it did, then we would surely be in high cotton. So we made great plans to make great mockery, and proceeded on our assumptions.

We teased the upcoming movie during the three or four weeks of February previews, usually through the Millie/Keith dialogs and supplementing with inappropriate crawls at inappropriate moments. We also began using George Thorogood's Bad to the Bone regularly as the music out, because power chords are always a Good Thing, one should always Leave Them Wanting More, and because we felt like it (Gosh!). I also had decided that we would open with the Fox Fanfare (with Cinemascope extension) because nothing announces a bombastic movie like the full Fox Fanfare with Cinemascope extension, complete with standup foamcore graphic and crew guys waving flashlights for the searchlights. Couldn't miss, I tell you.

Then we actually got the movie. And, as Jack Benny so aptly put it, "Well!"

It was not what I expected.

Remember the drill: the Millie MT show hijinks always sprung as riffs on the movie. And Plan 9 opened promisingly, with Criswell ranting, the paper plate flying saucers, and the two-chairs-plus-a-stick cockpit set. But then it veers into the Bela Lugosi footage, which is a fatal wrong turn at Albuquerque, and loses the audience. Historically, we have not yet arrived at full-blown Ed Woods revisionist scholarship yet -- we just have the work itself as Sola Scriptura to deconstruct, and no matter how many times we run and rerun the tape, none of us can get around the Time/Lifesuck of the Lugosi sequence.

I expect we were trapped by our expectations. Based on the rumors, we expected balls-out incoherent disregard for form and structure from start to finish. We had boxed ourselves into the Count Floyd box, building the movie up to an acme of awfulosity only to discover that the real thing just wasn't very bad, now, was it? Well, no matter because we still had to produce a show, and staring at the teevee wishin' and hopin' that inspiration would leap forth and smack us upside our pointy little heads wasn't going to work, and we had production deadlines to meet. So I started typing, and Barb started editing. We gave up trying to produce the show we wanted to make from Plan 9, and started work on the show that we could make from Plan 9.

There was one gag that we wanted to try, having talked about it conceptually several times with Keith. Much time was spent colorbalancing the cameras before we went on the air, so that there would be no visible change in quality from one camera to another (typically, the problem child was the minicam); the balancing was done with a white card placed in the three set areas. Film directors of photography often stacked several color-correction filters in their primary lens, and some were experimenting with filming through somewhat stronger color filters. Since gelling the studio lights for mood or effects was still off the table for the moment, we were toying with the idea of mounting theatrical lighting gel in front of one or more camera lenses as an effect; the idea was that after color and white balancing, we could keep the engineering department happy for the majority of the show while achieving a desired effect (whatever that would be) as a one-off gag. With a wide variety of colored gel available, we could quickly tweak the effect by swapping color. Keith liked the idea, and we had gotten sidetracked in testing by the recent office politics. The infamous day/night cemetary scene would be our test bed.

So we wrote a completely straight fanboy dissertation on the movie for Barb, pulling out all the academic buzzwords that we could remember. Barb would read sections of it for our friends n neighbors, and if anything induced a laff we took it out: we wanted one minute of terminal stultification. Then for the sequence, we taped a blue gel over one of the two cameras that would be used for the sequence: we wanted this to be textbook bad direction, with Point 1 assigned to Camera 1, Point 2 to Camera 2, Point 3 to Camera 1, et cetera. Except that Camera 1 would be "daylight", and Camera 2 "night". Keith's final tweak was to have Barb pivot from one camera to the other, holding the cut until she completed the pivot. It was metalicious.

The problem with making meta-comedy is that too often you're making comedy for an audience of one, two or three. You can rationalize this any way you want as a Tortured Creative Soul and feign cosmic indifference as to whether anybody gets the meta-point, but getting all wrapped up in your own cleverness is not a good place to be. That's what happened to the Plan 9 show; it was good enough, but too self-indulgent to be anything better. I was irked n offended that Ed Wood hadn't given me material to work with. Now that we had unequivocal creative freedom, it was time to get over my particular bad self and get to work -- especially since Barb had just landed auditions for several out-of-state graduate schools. The future was coming fast, and it was definitely the place where we were going to spend the rest of our lives.


  1. The biggest problem with Plan 9 is that it's not as horrible as people make it out to be. That is to say, when you consider the money it was made for, the talent of the director, etc. If you're taking those kinds of things into consideration, Joan Crawford's TROG is easily a worse movie. But no, when we see something like P9 we can easily forgive it for it's faults, because it probably cost less to make than our last Happy Meal.

    Still, it sucks, just not as bad as people made it out, (well obviously I'm referring to camp factor here) and certainly I don't think it's worse than CREEPING TERROR.

  2. And that's where the writers/'performance block came from: we were expecting probably something like the Zucker brothers' version of The Creeping Terror. The actual movie could not have lived up to our expectation. No big deal, except that our production-line process didn't allow us a day or two time-out to adjust to the movie as it actually was, and produce accordingly. Because we did not expect anything from The Creeping Terror beyond a continuation of the dreary PRC product, we were caught off-guard by its peculiar charms and produced the Carpet Monster riff.

    Did the audience care? Who knows? I got overconfident and we didn't make as good a show as we could. So we needed to do better tomorrow, is what.

  3. I think the audience might have had the same feel at the time. I can't specifically remember any of the host segments from PLAN9, but I do know that I felt pretty much what you guys felt... "THAT'S how awful the movie is? Really?"

    Don't get me wrong. It was bad. But really, that was it? I can't vouch for memories, but it seemed okay to me, but I may have been too taken with the show.