Monday, December 28, 2015

A MST3K Memory

Or perhaps more accurately, a memory of writing Mystery Science Theater fan fiction.

A while back, I wrote something about how one of my all-time favorite TV shows, Mystery Science Theater 3000, was doing a Kickstarter fund raiser to come back to the small screen. Since then, if my memory is correct, this campaign has raised enough money to produce a full 15-episode season, set to air starting sometime in 2016. As I write this, I've not done any checking back on that, so I'm just working from memory. That's a statement that will apply to much of what I say of the show from here on, too.

A bit more recently, I wrote something about my own writing process, which will apply to some extent here, too. But we'll get to that in a bit, because I want to get into MST3K's process, as I understand it.

My understanding of the writing and production process that the staff of classic MST3K used, especially in the very early days, involved Best Brains buying bundled rights to those D-grade movies that even people my age might remember being aired at 2 AM on a Tuesday, or some weird time slot like that, and then picking ones they thought would be good material to riff on. Especially in the Joel era, and extending into the early Mike era of the classic series, the task of the initial screening of these movies fell to a guy named Frank Conniff, who played the character of TV's Frank for the first six season of the show, if memory serves. After that, I'm not sure who got the particular honor of that initial screening, but I'm sure whichever member of the writing staff got the job had their fill of bad movies by the time Season Ten ended.

My own process for writing the Mystery Science Theater fan fiction I did was nowhere nearly involved. In most cases, or at least most of the ones I would say I'm most proud of, it was more a matter of me just looking for fan fiction related to the other things I've been interested in that seemed like something I'd like to read. The very first MST3K fan fic I ever wrote, based on the series's ninth season, was based around a crossover between Animaniacs and the X-Files titled “Toons”. It was certainly a strange story, with plenty to riff on, and the story itself may actually have made the list of must-read X-Files fan fiction titles.

Or, there was probably biggest stand-alone collaboration I did for my own fan series, a riff on a Star Trek story called “Star Trek: Top Secret”. In this case, the story was meant as the premier of a Star Trek fan series of the same name, featuring the crew of a special “black-ops” version of the USS Defiant from Deep Space Nine. This one arose from my deciding to have one of my fellow MST fan writers do a beta read of my finished work. I'm glad I did, too, because the fellow who did the beta read for me turned out to be very correct when he told me that my characterizations and storyline outside the movie segments were too benign and bland for the nature of the actual feature of the story and suggested doing a collaboration where the villain and victim from his own fan series joined my character and his guests for the episode, who turned out to be Joel and Mike from the main series, who happened to be in town for a convention. I gotta say, that second version came out much better than the original I would have gone with otherwise. And it all started with my wondering just what the hell a Star Trek story was doing in AOL's Cartoons Forum file section, aside from it being 2000, more or less, when AOL in general was in its death throes and showing obvious signs of going under as an ISP.

One last memorable entry before I get into the inspiration for this particular post: a Samurai Pizza Cats story called “A Day In The Life Of The Pizza Cats”. This was one I came across on the open Internet, on a Samurai Pizza Cats fan site. The thing that caught my interest in the story was the title. It made me wonder just what the original author thought the Pizza Cats did when they weren't fighting the Big Cheese, the main villain of the series. This series was hilarious and very riffable all on its own, and this specific take on what they did in their off time from both fighting the bad guys and working their pizza shop was doubly so.

This is not to say that any of the stories I've mentioned above were really all that bad, necessarily, just oddly executed and somewhat misplaced. After all, if I'm not mistaken, that X-Files story I started off with did actually make it onto a “must-read” list. So, what does all that have to do with what's on my mind tonight?

Well, there's this story I found on FurAffinity about a group of campers who wind up getting eaten by a monster. In general, not my kind of story, but in this case, I'm really enjoying it, mostly for what I'm sure are the wrong reasons. One of the last scenes I've read, as of this writing, is that one of the characters was, in the words of the story, “barley hanging on” to a cliff while the monster taunts him from below.

The reason this brought the whole “MiSTing process” to mind tonight is that as I was reading through the story, I got to thinking that if I were still doing that, this would be a great one to work with, and then I came to the conclusion that the reason for it was that I was coming at it from the same viewpoint I always had been when I was still writing fiction on a more regular basis. I'm reading this one for my own entertainment, allowing myself to enjoy it for a change, instead of looking for things to joke about, and I think I'm enjoying the story, and myself, really, more as a result.

I can only hope that the new cast and crew of Mystery Science Theater can find that same enjoyment in their work that I used to in the various forms of mine, and am learning to again. It's what they deserve, and it will most certainly come through in their work.

Best of luck to us, one and all, MST3K fans and pros alike, in that regard!

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