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Posted on by Steven Savage

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr)

All right now let’s get to what the Third Agile Principle and what it means for creatives, and continue our journey to apply the Agile Manifest to creative work.

I’m sorry, Third Principle of Agile Software. In fact, it’s kinda software-heavy Principle, which means for creatives we’ve got to rethink it a bit. Let’s take a look:

Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale.

This is pretty clear: deliver actual stuff often. It’s just it assumes that you’re delivering software and that you deliver within a given timeframe. As a creative, you’re probably not delivering software, and we know all to well some creative works need delivery in compressed timeframes.

Let’s not constrain ourselves and think of the third principle this way:

Deliver useable work frequently, with a preference to the shorter timescale.

Pretty clear? Let’s break it down and see what it means from you. This one is *dense.*

Deliver Useable Work . . .

Whatever you give to a client, customer, etc. should be something usable. It may be rough, it may be incomplete, it may be rather bad. But you deliver something they can use, even if upon using it they think “this needs a lot of improvement.”

So why are you doing this for them – and perhaps to them?

First, usable work gets you feedback. A (somewhat) useable product, like a logo or document, means people can evaluate how you’re doing and give directions – or confirmation. It may mean they can even put your work into use, which means they get feedback to pass on from other people. For creative works, which have so many variables, early feedback is important as it helps you navigate to completion.

(Shades of Principle #2).

Second, focusing on useable work focuses you on making things people want and need. What is the highest priority to do? What makes something “usable” versus just “better?” Asking these questions means you are more likely to focus on what’s important; developing a new logo that looks right is better than slightly tweaking RGB codes to get the perfect blue half the population can’t tell from most other blues.

Third, this focuses you on delivery. You have to figure how tomake whatever you do actually deliverable and accessible – which can be very revealing. Having to make something that people can use means considering everything from file formats to image sizes to spellchecked documents. You have to ask just what to do first and in what order. This is a great way to reign in your creative ideas and focus on something you can actually give solid form.

These three words are a great way to focus on getting the job done – delivering the right thing so you get feedback. It’d be great to get that early, in fact . . .

EXERCISE: Think of one of your latest creative works. What made it “deliverable” – and how much work did that take over doing the actual work?

 . . . Frequently

If you’re going to actually give people a usable result, be it a comic strip or a piece of a costume, you don’t want to wait a long time for feedback. So when you deliver, whatever you deliver, however pathetic (but functional) it is, deliver it frequently.

Frequent delivery of work means the people you’re doing it for give you feedback more often. With more feedback, the next delivery becomes better (and perhaps faster). Frequent delivery means a dialogue, and enhances communications. In fact, frequent delivery can help lower barriers (psychological and institutional) as people get used to communicating and find new ways to do it.

This is very important in creative work as, with so many variables, communications helps direct your efforts.

With this frequent delivery, people also build trust. When a creative provides results to a client, even if incomplete, they’re taking the lid off of their process and giving people a view of how they work. When a client gives honest feedback that helps, the creative can trust them more. In both cases things are much more open and obvious.

This is very important in creative work as, with so many options and directions, and with work often being personal, mistrust or miscommunication can occur too easily.

Behind the scenes, thinking Frequency also means you restructure your work so you can deliver effectively. This can be challenging and even contradictory, say delivering the later chapter of a book earlier as it’s easier to do or more vital. But when you think frequent delivery, you think about how to deliver better.

“Frequently.” That one word in the Principle covers a whole lot.

EXERCISE: Think of someone you worked for where there was a lot of mistrust. How could more frequent deliver or communications have helped lower that mistrust?

 . . . With A Preference For A Shorter Timescale

Well if you’re delivering all this useable work frequently, getting all that feedback, thinking how to make things deliverable, you also want to do it as often as possible. The shorter the better.

This part of the principle accelerates all of the other benefits:

  • The faster you deliver the more feedback you get.
  • The faster you deliver the more you communicate in general.
  • The faster you deliver the more you optimize your work.
  • The faster you deliver the more transparent you are.
  • The faster you deliver the faster you get any mistakes out of the way (on all sides).

If there’s a challenge, it’s deciding just how frequent you really need to deliver. This is something to figure out between yourself, your client, any co-workers, and harsh reality.

This “more often” can get pretty common. After all you could optimize work to deliver daily or every other day. You might work directly with a client for a time or for an hour each day. If it works and delivers value then give it a try. In creative work, the more feedback the better.

By the way, I reccomend the timescale you use be regular if possible. Having an idea of when you meet, or when someone is editing a document, or when you have to send a file increases predictability.

EXERCISE: How fast do you usually deliver work to a client, and why do you work in that timeframe? Have you tried other timeframes – or any?

A Simple Principle With Many Repercussions

Delivering useable work frequently sounds simple – perhaps one of the simplest ofa the Principles, but it like all Principles it has hidden depths. Frequent delivery of useable work does everything from making you consider your work to enhancing communication. Besides, if you get anything wrong on the work or anything else, you get that fast feedback.

Work with people, clients and co-workers, to get that rapid and effective delivery into your creative works. You’ll be glad you did – or if you aren’t glad, you will be iteratively.

So in review:

  • Delivering useable work focuses your efforts on what to deliver and how to deliver.
  • By delivering work as early as possible, you get feedback on the work you’ve done, which improves the results and communications.
  • Delivering work frequently creates feedback, communication, trust, and transparency.
  • Frequent delivery of useable work requires you to develop the best way to deliver, improving how you operate.
  • The shorter the timeframe the better, as it increasea ll the advantages of delivering useable work.
  • Frequent delivery of work provides direction, guidance, communication, and builds trust – areas that creative work needs, but that are also very challenging

– Steve


Posted on by Steven Savage

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr)

 

My friend Serdar has a fascinating response to my column on the Agile Manifesto for creatives.  Focusing on my calling out overdocumentation, he sums things up amazingly well:

Back when I started working on Flight Of The Vajra, that mammoth space opera epic thing o’ mine, I wasn’t in the habit of assiduously documenting the contents of my stories for reference. If I couldn’t fit the whole thing in my head, my thinking went, it was my fault. Then I discovered Dostoevsky’s work notebooks and decided to stop being silly and start keeping track of everything. And thus was born my use of a wiki as a receptacle for all things related to a given project — characters, plotting, storyline, locations, red herrings, MacGuffins, veeblefetzers*, etc.

The trap with such things, as I quickly found out, is that you can spend so much time planning and documenting the project that it becomes tempting to use that as a substitute for writing it. In which case you’re not dealing in fiction anymore, but something more akin to tabletop RPG modules.

(Emphasis Mine)

I’ve played a lot of RPGs and games.  I love worldbooks and guides.  I enjoy fan wikis.  However, reading Serdar’s comments made me realize that it’s possible to take documentation concepts from one form of media and apply it to another inappropriately.

RPG books, character sheets, wikis, etc. can teach us great documentation skills, as well as different forms of documentation.  However, if one is not careful, one can take the methods and skills from one form of media and try to apply them to another where they don’t do any good and may harm the work.

Case in point, Serdar’s example of overdetailing something so much that you’re not writing, say a book, but a module about the book’s world – which may keep you from writing the damn book.

This is a danger that creatives face, and I think it’s a more modern creation – we have so many documentation methods and tools at our disposal, we may over-use them or use then inappropriately.  We end up wasting time with unneeded documentation and documentation forms that keep us from writing the story or creating the comic or coding the game.

A good creative has to be selective in what they document and how they do it.  By all means get diverse experience, try different methods, indulge your skills – but pick what works. Don’t go overboard with documentation you don’t need.

This is extremely hard for me to admit as a worldbuilding fanatic, but you can overdo documentation or do it wrong.

Let me leave you with a metaphor a co-worker used (which in term he derived from a Scrum training event) – optimal miscommunication.  You don’t have to say everything to say enough, and it’s better to leave things out to help you communicate what’s important.

Or as I put it, better to have 80% of what you need documented and it’s all useful, than have 120% of everything documented and then have to figure out which of the extra 20% you don’t need.

– Steve


Posted on by Scott Delahunt

Adapting literature has a few issues that don’t appear when adapting other media. The major one is time; writers don’t have many limits on how long a story can be other than those imposed by format. Short stories can run up to 7500 words; novellas 17 500 to under 40 000 words, and novels 40 000 words or more. Getting a story to fit the time available in another medium requires bits to removed. Film is the main culprit. Few films break 120 minutes; longer books will still lose details. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone lost key plot points needed in later movies. Blade Runner dropped two major elements – the loss of real animals and the rise of Mercerism – just to get the main plot into the running time. And even when the full novel gets adapted, the restriction of the running time makes the result feel flat, losing the depth of work, as with Dragons of Autumn Twilight.

Television today provides an alternate approach when it comes to adapting novels. While each individual episode doesn’t provide much time, typically about 42 minutes interrupted by 18 minutes of advertising, a season in the US or a series in the UK can provided up to 22 episodes, enough time to get into the depth of a novel. While television was once a wasteland catering to the lowest common denominator, the three channel lineup has given way to competition between hundreds of cable channels and streaming services. A Game of Thrones is the exemplar, in both how a novel can be adapted well and how a series of novels can be outpaced by its adaptation. The adapted series is subject to the whims of the audience, though.

Let’s look at a specific example, The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher. The series of novels tells the story of Harry Dresden, the only practicing wizard detective in Chicago and possibly the entire country. Starting with Storm Front published in 2000, there have been 15 novels and a book of short stories written starring Harry. He has dealt with a number of natural and supernatural threats to Chicago, including “Gentleman Johnny” Marcone and the Mob, werewolves, the Red and Black vampire courts, the Summer and Winter Courts of the Sidhe, and various other paranormal entities. Harry isn’t alone, though. Despite himself, he has a number of allies, including Bob, spirit bound to a skull to assist the wizard who owns it, Karrin Murphy, a member of the Chicago Police Department who initially tossed a few cases Harry’s way; the Knights of the Cross, wielders of magical swords charged with defending humanity; Waldo Butters, the Assistant Medical Examiner who picked up on magical doings because of the bodies passing through the morgue; and Mouse, a temple dog the size of of a Tibetan mastiff. Complicating things is the Wizards Council, who distrust Harry after he killed his uncle in self-defense. In particular, Morgan is waiting for Harry to make one mistake.

The novels find Harry taking on what should be a simple case that get him in over his head against something far more dangerous. Nothing goes easy for Harry, either because he’s so far behind in the plot that he doesn’t realize what he’s up against or because, being human, he makes mistakes. Yet, he still gets the job done with the help of his friends. Cases are solved.

In 2007, the SyFy Channel began airing an adaptation of The Dresden Files. The hook is obvious; a detective show crossed with urban fantasy fits perfectly with the cable channel’s mandate and doesn’t stretch a special effects budget like a science fiction series would. Lasting one season, the series starred Paul Blackstone as Harry, Terrence Mann as Bob, Valerie Cruz as Murphy, and Conrad Coates as Morgan. The show didn’t adapt any of the books, but took the characters and situations and created new cases for Harry to solve. The feel of the show – the only practicing wizard detective in Chicago trying to maintain the masquerade while dealing with supernatural threats – kept close to the books. The details, though, are another matter.

Blackthorne as Harry worked; the actor is tall and lanky. He just didn’t wear the same outfits Harry did on the covers of the books. Harry’s blasting rod became a drumstick and his staff became a hockey stick. His mother’s bracelet, allowing him to defend himself against magical attacks, remained. His car, a vintage Volkswagen Beetle nicknamed “The Blue Beetle” despite having a patchwork of colours thanks to Harry’s tech bane and various damage from his work, became a war surplus Jeep. Continuing with the cast, the Irish-American Murphy was portrayed by a Latina. That aside, Cruz was a convincing Murphy in all other aspects. Bob went from a spirit in a skull to a ghost cursed to be tied to a skull and its owner. Again, Mann did get Bob’s personality correct.

Some of the changes came about because of the switch in medium. Television is very much a visual medium. Bob being stuck in a skull in the books isn’t a problem; Butcher showed the interaction and relationship between Harry and Bob using narrative. On TV, though, the narrative is carried by the actors, not a narrator, and body language becomes key to informing the audience. An inanimate skull won’t have that. An actual actor playing to Harry’s can show the chemistry and relationship far better.

With Murphy, Cruz wasn’t originally meant portray her. Instead, she was supposed to play Susan Rodriguez, Harry’s girlfriend. However, Cruz switched her role with Rebecca McFarland, who was supposed to play Murphy. Cruz brought the essence of Murphy, except for the Irish-American part. Watching Cruz on screen as Murphy, she is the tough, no-nonsense cop from the books.

The Blue Beetle became a casualty of pragmatism. Volkswagen Beetles are now collector items; few owners are going to let a studio turn a valuable car into a banged and battered vehicle with a pathwork of colour and primer. Older Jeeps, though, are easier to get, thanks to Hollywood making war movies, and a battered Jeep is natural for those films. Another issue is that Blackthorne stands 6’4″, making getting in and out of a Beetle interesting, especially when resetting between takes.

The Dresden Files TV series manages to get the tone right, but flubs the details. Renaming the characters doesn’t work; the show is very much like the books. The little details, though, hurt the adaptation and can throw fans out of the narrative.


Posted on by Steven Savage

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr)

And we’re back to applying the Twelve Principles of Agile Software of the agile Manifesto – originally meant for software – to creative works. Let’s take a look at the second principle, which embraces what usually drives us up a wall. That, for those of you with a long list of wall-driving, is change.

The Second Principle is:

Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer’s competitive advantage.

This is a principle I entirely agree with and am often terrible at implementing. This is because I’m often used to change being for bad reasons – and I’m sure you have similar experiences. It’s often hard to embrace change because it’s dumb.

However this embracing and leveraging of change is core to Agile, and that is what makes Agile so powerful. So let’s see what this principle can tell us about embracing change, even if we currently hate it.

You Embrace Change For the Customer’s Competitive Advantage

In Agile you embrace change for a reason, and that reason is to provide Value of some kind.  “Value” is really the reason for all Agile practices and principles, and using change is no different.

Note that the second principle doesn’t just say “embrace change because it’s change.” It doesn’t say you have to accept every change. You embrace change for specific goals – and as far as I’m concerned if the change doesn’t help the customer, there’s no reason to accept a bit of it.

You have to help sort out if a change helps your customer, brings no benefit, or harms them. Then you, the creative person doing the work, has to work with the customer to help them understand your choice – which might be to tell them *the change is a very bad idea.*

Because you are a creative, as you know your work intimately, you can help a customer decide how to react to a change. The result may not be “yeah, let’s do that.”  The results may be “this is the worst idea ever, let me tell you why.”

I think the change we learn to hate is the change where we cause harm or waste time by following them. We want to help people; there’s nothing more annoying than having that be prevented due to a bad change.  But a good change?  We can help with applying that.

EXERCISE: Think about the last project you did that faced some changes. How did you evaluate if they helped the customer? How did you communicate your findings? How could you have done better?

You Welcome Change Even Late In The Project

Even if we can embrace change, it’s annoying to have to do so when it’s late.  You got a lot of work done and now it’s wrong?  You have to restart some things?  Why?

But these late changes may be valuable, and thus worth doing. As annoying as they are, we should embrace them – but how do we do that?

I think there’s two ways to do it.

First, we have to accept that many of our ideas of “done” are often the enemy. We think something is “almost done” and is thus a solid thing, immutable, unchangeable. When a change comes it offends our sensibilities of “done.”

But, if we think of “done” as a point we navigate towards, tacking here and there, we can embrace change. That late change means it becomes “done better.” By accepting “done” isn’t as solid as we’d like, we can find ways for the actual “final” product to be more what the customer wants.

Second, we should make our creative work easily adaptable to change. This allows us to quickly alter them when new requirements come in. A few examples:

  • For a book, make the plot outline easily editable so you can swap things in and out.
  • For a graphic work, you save the image “historically” so you have many versions, and use multiple layers to edit easily and retain old elements.
  • For a training film you keep it broken up in many scenes for quick editing, only incorporating them at the end. You also never throw away a scene just in case.

So to review:

  • Let go of solid ideas of “done” so you can embrace change.
  • Do your work so it’s change-responsive, and can be adapted easily.

EXERCISE: Take one of your projects and ask yourself what are five ways it could have been more change-responsive?

Embrace Change

The whole point of the Second Agile Principle is that embracing the right change, even late, brings advantages. This requires a mind shift because often we’re trained or experience change as bad – we need to learn to outright embrace it.

I find you can get to this mindset with two things: focus on value, and embrace Agile methods and practices.

When you focus on value, you see change differently; it’s a chance to do better. It keeps your “eyes on the prize” and not on worrying over the latest changes or assuming the worst. It also helps you take a more “navigational” approach to developing works, adjusting to getting to the destination, or perhaps a better destination.

When you focus on Agile methods and practices, they give you tools to embrace change. Using them effectively and whole-heartedly helps you deal with change and get the most out of it – that’s what they’re there for.

There’s a lot of psychology in Agile. As you guessed.

The Second Principle Is Often The Hardest

So there’s the Second Agile Principle – embracing change. It’s perhaps the toughest one to embrace, but also one of the most potentially empowering. When we can alter how we approach change, we can find advantages for our customers, and be ready to shift so they get the best value.

It may just be a bit annoying as we change our mindset.

A quick review:

  • Learn to focus on finding the competitive advantage of changes – if any.
  • Re-think what “done” means so you can take advantage of valuable changes.
  • Make sure your work is “change-enabled” so you can alter course quickly, even when it comes late.
  • Learn to see change differently by focusing on value and using the tools available.

Change may be an opportunity; if we learn to see it and use it.

Now with change out of the way, let’s talk more value . . .

– Steve


Posted on by Scott Delahunt

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic was originally meant to advertise a new line of My Little Pony toys. Instead, it became a massive hit, not just with the intended audience of pre-tween girls but with people of all ages. Toys and other merchandise sold well, enough that Hasbro showed gains while other toy companies were struggling, but audiences tuned in because of the characters. Within the Mane Six alone – Applejack, Fluttershy, Pinkie Pie, Rainbow Dash, Rarity, and Twilight Sparkle – there is a pony to appeal to everyone. Their core natures meant that any episode featuring two of them would have a conflict that the ponies would have to work out. No one pony is given preference, so resolving the conflict means finding a compromise that works for both. For the target audience, it’s a lesson in how to get along with friends who act differently.

The Mane Six aren’t the only characters in Equestria. Applejack and Rarity have younger siblings, Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle, who, along with Scootaloo, form the Cutie Mark Crusaders, a trio of young fillies who want to grow up. Parallels to younger siblings and to puberty may be intended with them. Other ponies have made appearances, as regulars, such as DJ Pon-3 and Big Mackintosh, or as visitors to Ponyville, such as Trixie and Cheese Sandwich, the latter based on and voiced by “Weird Al” Yankovic.

With a series that mixes fantasy adventure with slice of life, there is plenty of room for ponies other than the Mane Six to get together and save Equestria. Online roleplaying fora exist for just that. With people wanting to play in Equestria, an official licensed role-playing game should have been expected. In early 2017, River Horse released* Tails of Equestria, the official My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic RPG.

Tails of Equestria comes as a single hardback book. The cover features art by Amy Mebberson with three ponies on an adventure, none of whom are part of the Mane Six. The unicorn on the cover is the sample PC (Pony Character) in character creation. Inside, stills from the show are used to illustrate the rules being explained on the page. There’s even a full spread map of Equestria and surrounding lands. PCs aren’t stuck in Ponyville; they can travel to such places as Manehattan and Vanhoover.

The game’s mechanics are easy enough to learn. There are three attributes – Body, Mind, and Charm – rated at a die type, from the four-sided die to the best die, the twenty-sided die. Most rolls will involve one of the attributes, though talents may modify the die type rolled. The Gamesmaster (GM) sets the difficulty anywhere from 2, very easy, to 20, “has anybody ever done this?” A roll of 1 results in bad luck; something goes wrong and hinders the pony. If the pony’s player wishes, he or she can use one or more Tokens of Friendship, the game’s drama point mechanic, to reroll the die, roll the next larger die and take the better result, or even succeed without rolling, depending on how many Tokens are spent. Other ponies can help, reducing the number of Tokens of Friendship needed to get a result. Teamwork makes tasks easier.

Character creation is quick. There’s ten steps, but each step only requires a simple choice. Players just have to decided on type of pony, whether to be brainy or brawny, what their Cutie Mark talent is, a quirk, and a name. Pony portraits are encouraged, either drawn by hand or through an online pony creator, the latter with parents’ permission and supervision. The unicorn on the cover, Firebrand, has a hand-drawn pencil portrait as an example. River Horse also has character sheets with pony outlines to fill in available for sale. If players prefer, they can use MLP toys as miniatures.

The game is aimed at the younger audience of the TV series. The writing is simple and direct, well illustrated when needed. The game reinforces the main theme from the cartoon, friendship is magic. Even if a player doesn’t give another a Token of Friendship to help in a task, ponies are encouraged to work together and give a helping hoof. The quirks, minor drawbacks that limited what a pony can do, help show how two ponies are different but can still work together. The game gets a little heavy-hoofed with the message, but the target audience won’t notice. There are helpful hints for the GM through out the game, with more in the GM’s section on how to run the game. There’s even an option to run a Cutie Mark Crusader-style game, with players being young colts and fillies trying to discover what their cutie mark talent is.

Tails of Equestria also has an adventure for beginning players. The Mane Six need to find out what’s turning ponies into statuettes but they promised to give their pets a party. The players are recruited to watch over the pets while the Mane Six are gone. Given that Fluttershy’s rabbit, Angel, is the complete opposite of his name, things don’t go smooth for the PCs. And while it seems like the Mane Six are off having an epic adventure while the PCs are rounding up wayward pets, the end of the adventure leads into the first expansion set, The Curse of the Statuettes.

Mechanics alone do not determine the tone of a game, though matching them to the setting helps greatly. MLP:FIM has its own themes, the big one being the power of friendship. Violence doesn’t solve problems; friendship does. Tails of Equestria follows this theme. The combat section takes just two pages and is called “scuffling”. Ponies who lose all their stamina need to rest; they get to see stars around their head when stamina reaches zero. Ponies that help each other see the difficulty of their tasks get reduced. One pony might not be able to lift a heavy table; four ponies can easily move it to where they want it. The focus of the game is on friendship. Even the number of Tokens of Friendship depends on the number of friends, including the GM, who are playing. A new player means a new friend, so everyone else gets an extra Token while the new pony gets a number equal to everyone playing, even the people who couldn’t make it. After all, a friend is still a friend, even if they’re not at the table.

The only real problem with Tails of Equestria is how it handles the Elements of Harmony. Every Pony Character must choose one, but there isn’t much on how the Elements are used. The idea is that if a task fits one of the Elements well, a pony with that Element can succeed without having to roll. Fortunately, the adventure included in the book shows how it works, but there isn’t much else.

Tails also has a small bestiary, just containing the creatures needed for the introductory adventure. The same section also has the Mane Six fully statted out plus generic ponies of all three types. The expansions should have more details; The Bestiary of Equestria has far more if players are interested, including new character types like Griffons and Buffalo. River Horse is supporting the Tails of Equestria line with a wide range, including a sourcebook for the MLP:FIM theatrical movie.

Game designers have a difficult task when adapting a work to a game of any sort. With tabletop RPGs, the goal is to take what has been shown and expand it so that players can have fun in the setting. Tails of Equestria took My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic and presented the setting as a place for players to play in and have fun, much like the cartoon invites audiences to do. With only small problems, Tails of Equestria gets to the heart of MLP:FIM and makes it possible for players to do the same thing the Mane Six do, have adventures with friends helping each other out.

* In North American, the game and its supplements is distributed by Ninja Division.


Posted on by Steven Savage

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr)

So for the next few weeks, once a week, I’m going to be looking at the Twelve Agile Principles of Software, the Principles behind the Manifesto, and what they mean for creative works. Though twelve of them sounds pretty hefty, it’s worth examining each They’re dense, pithy pieces of advice that really help you be Agile – adaptable and productive – and are worth studying.

The first Agile Principle states the goal of having all of these principles:

Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.

Now as a creative you might not be delivering software. So let’s tweak this one a bit:

Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable creative works.

There, that’s your goal. Make your customer happy by giving them stuff they value regularly. It’s a simple sentence, but you can spend a long time taking it apart and learning Agile lessons. In fact, that’s just what I’m going to do – because there’s a lot of lessons in here.

Your Goal Is To Deliver Something Valuable.

Your focus as a creative (or anyone doing something really) is to deliver something that brings value to someone. All other means and methods are just tools to do this. Anything that doesn’t do this or gets in the way should be dropped, minimized, or addressed. Anything that helps meet this goal should be considered.

Remember, whatever you deliver when at all possible should be usable, but that doesn’t mean perfect. It may not be complete, like a first chapter. It may have revisions coming, like a logo. But make it usable.

These kinds of deliverables are important as:

  • They allow the customer to evaluate the work and give you feedback. Remember, even if your work is perfect, the customer may find they made some mistakes and need revisions.
  • This feedback lets you quickly deliver improved work.
  • It keeps up constant customer contact.

EXERCISE: Pick a creative kind of work you do – writing, art, etc. What are different ways you can deliver part of that work that still have value for a customer?

You Do It Continuously

Delivery should be something you do continuously and possibly even regularly on specific schedules. This continuous delivery means that you’re also getting feedback as continuously you deliver work. Or you should be at any rate.

Delivering work continuously can be challenging, especially if you’re used to thinking in complete projects. This means that you’ll need to figure out ways to break down work, deliver features incrementally, and find ways to get something to the customer. How you work now isn’t as important as finding a way to work so the customer gets value.

I find this to be very healthy for creatives (and anyone) as it keeps you from getting into static habits about work. Something that shakes you up and makes you think about how to deliver helps you find new ways to do work.

You Do This For a Customer

Your target audience (even if it’s you) has something they value. You make sure they get it in your work – they’re the reason you’re here.

This means:

  • You should communicate with them so you know what they want – what’s valuable.
  • You should talk to them regularly (with continuous delivery) to navigate towards what they need.

EXERCISE: Take a creative work you create. How can you break it down in ways that still give a customer value? For instance art can have various drafts, a book can come in chapter by chapter, etc.

This is your Highest Priority

No other tool, method, etc. is more important than actually getting the customer results they want and need. Now this may mean you have to help them find results. This might mean helping them understand that legal issues like trademark searches are something they want. But this is your highest priority, and all other methods and work centers around this.

EXERCISE: Write down five things you can do right now to focus on the priotiyt of delivering value in your given creative field?

The First Principle Is Important

Yeah, I know that’s one sentence and it becomes paragraphs. The Manifesto and Principles are pretty precisely written, so they pack a lot in. A lot like good Agile.

So let’s review:

  • You Deliver something valuable.
  • You deliver value continuously
  • This is done for a customer who you communicate with.
  • This delivery is the highest priority.

Got it? Good. We got 11 more principles to go, and there’s a lot to learn.

– Steve


Posted on by Steven Savage

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr)

Hello everyone and welcome to my next blog series.  I’m going to be putting this in a few different places because it applies to so many of you – creativity and productivity.

Most of us are in a creative profession – even if we don’t know it.  The problem is that creative professions require productivity, yet are also the hardest to manage because creativity has many unpredictables.  Being able to be creative, deal with unpredictability, and be organized is a challenge, one rarely met effectively.

I meet this challenge by using Agile methods (Scrum in my case), which you can apply to many efforts, including creative ones.  Agile methods are about adaptability, adjustment, responding to change, and efficiency.  Perfect for something creative, as long as you make the effort to apply them.

I’m not going to talk which Agile methods to use. You can try Scrum, Kanban, or whatever works for you.  Instead, I’m going to talk about the mindset you need to be Agile and creative.  I’ll do this by exploring the Agile Manifesto and what it means for creative works like writing, drawing, and more.  Agile is all about adjustment and adaptability, something creatives are supposed to be good at – but we’re often restrained by everything from bad organization to our own assumptions.

I’m going to start with the Agile Manifesto – which happens to be about software.  This isn’t a problem – this means its perfect.  Software is a creative act, bordering on a mixture of high technology and shamanic vision, resulting in hard product through a near-occult process. The Manifesto is a perfect place to start to develop a creative approach.

Now before we begin, let’s take a mercifully quick look at Agile.

A Mercifully Quick Look At Agile

  1. Agile methods are highly adaptable forms of productivity.
  2. Agile methods avoid large-scale plans – that often go awry – and focus on adaptability, review, and improvement.  I sometimes call this “micro-planning”
  3. Agile methods have existed for decades, and seem to have originated in store stocking and manufacturing.
  4. They became more codified in the 90’s.
  5. The Agile Manifesto and the 12 Agile Principles of 2001 expressed Agile as a Philosophy.
  6. Thanks to the Agile Manifesto, Agile took off as it could be seen as a mindset.
  7. I really, really like the Agile Manifesto and find its a good guide to adaptable productivity.

Now, onward.

The Agile Manifesto In Review

Let’s take a look at the good o’l Agile Manifesto.

We are uncovering better ways of developing

software by doing it and helping others do it.

Through this work we have come to value:

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools

Working software over comprehensive documentation

Customer collaboration over contract negotiation

Responding to change over following a plan

That is, while there is value in the items on

the right, we value the items on the left more.

Here’s the core of good Agile.  Work with people over a bunch of tools and methods and meetings.  Deliver stuff that works over detailed breakdowns.  Work with people directly as opposed to arcane agreements.  Respond to change instead of following a plan that doesn’t work five minutes after you finish making it.

It’s a lot of common sense, and like common sense it took someone to write it down to make it clear  It’s good advice anywhere, though it’s pitched for software, as are many books and guides on Agile and Agile methods.

So let’s take a look at the manifesto and think about what it means for creative work.

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools

You’ve got to create something.  You need to understand what people want.  The people asking you do to this need to understand what they want.  You also need to work with them to communicate, have meetings, reviews, use certain pieces of software (or get people to use them).  Sometimes this conflicts as people use different processes or argue one tool over another.

What do you do?  You focus on working with people directly as possible.  You may have meetings and statuses and use specific software, but that’s not as important as making sure you’re actually working with people directly.

For creative people this is exceptionally important because creative work is a highly individual experience.  A person has a vision they need expressed – and you must understand it.  There are near-infinite options in creative works, from a color scheme to a dialogue choice, and working with a client or an actor or an artist requires dialogue to “get it right”  A creative work can become anything – so talking to the people involved helps it become a right thing.

Because creative efforts involve so many options, you’ll need to focus on interactions with people over formality or a given choice of tool.  Sure a regular meeting schedule is nice, but you may need to make that early-morning change.  You may use one graphics program while someone else use another – so you need to find a universal file format.  These things may matter, but not as much as interacting with people.

Sure you may need to use specific methods and tools.  You’ll figure those out.  But the first thing is talking to people.

As an Agile Creative:

  • Work with people as directly as possible.
  • Interact with them regularly.
  • Processes, plans, methods, are secondary to the goal of interacting with people – and should support interaction.
  • Tools, software, and so on are secondary to the goal of working with people – and should support this collaboration.

EXAMPLE: You’re writing a short story for a specific online magazine – and two people have to give you feedback on it.  You figure the best way to do that is to put it on a public document share (that you do use), and chat with them on a web chat (which you’ve never used but they use).  Everyone has the chat program on their phones so you can get feedback as you work any time.

Working software over comprehensive documentation

Let’s step away from the word “software” and think of “usable results” here.  Creating something usable is your goal because that work – even a rough draft – stands on its own.  That’s a lot more valuable than a detailed description or ten pages of noes explaining what you did.

(Note sometimes your product is documentation.  In this case it’s not needing documentation of documentation.)

Sure you may need documentation, but you want to get to a result because it speaks for itself. A rough draft gets you feedback.  A wearable if safety-pin laden costume can be tried on.  Getting something done matters, even if you know it’s a draft or will need feedback to improve.

What’s less valuable is trying to document all of this.  Sure, you might need to do some documentation, but don’t make it the most important thing.  Do you need a giant list of possible color swatches?  Do you need twenty pages of outlines explaining five pages of story?  Do you need a Powerpoint to explain another Powerpoint?  Do you need all this extraneous stuff?

Probably not.  You need enough to do your job so you can make something.  Produce something that speaks for itself so you can get your hands dirty, learn, and get feedback.  Besides people relate better to something solid.

In fact, with creative works, which often have infinite potential, comprehensive documentation is a trap.  You can never be complete.  You don’t have time to document fifty ways to do a training video when you need one.

There is value in documentation, of course, but ask yourself this – what’s the value?  If you spend an hour writing up a proposal that saves you fifteen minutes, but if you don’t write it you spend thirty minutes experimenting to get it right, did you save time?

As an Agile Creative:

  • Focus on delivering the product.
  • The product is where feedback comes from, so a flawed product is better than comprehensive documentation.
  • Documentation has it’s place, but the product is first.
  • There are many substitutes for documentation that are more efficient and effective, such as direct interaction.

EXAMPLE: You’re designing a logo for someone.  This involves an incredible range of colors, options, trademark issues, and more.  To make it easier you keep multiple versions of the logo and send out a new copy every day to the person that wants it – with their tweaks.

Customer collaboration over contract negotiation

You have to work with people to create something – we’ve covered that earlier.  But we also have to come to agreements about how we do things, what we’re doing, and so on.  Sometimes you just want to stop spelling out the minutiae and talk to someone directly.

That’s what you should do.  Collaborate with people, focusing on working together.  Arguing fine details, negotiating tiny elements for hours, gets in the way of working directly with people and getting results.  It’s also far less adversarial.

This may require you to do a lot of psychology.  Or have someone help you with it.  But it’s a better approach than spending all your time in negotiations – which, like comprehensive documentation, can be overdone.

Additionally, you’ll want to work out ways to collaborate.  Meetings, chat programs, feedback, working together.  Make collaboration possible so it can happen – and the more you do it, the less you’ll need to argue fine points that aren’t meaninfgul.

(By the way if someone you work with is all about the contract and not about collaborating, that’s a warning sign.)

As an Agile Creative:

  • Focus on collaboration early on.
  • Develop methods for collaborating.
  • Help the people you do creative work for take a collaborative mindset.
  • Work to eliminate negative and pathological contract negotiations – while focusing on the important parts.

EXAMPLE: You’re doing a cosplay commission with someone who has very specific needs, wants, and deadlines.  You chat with them regularly and give them updates on likely completion times, and ask questions to help them make decisions.  This lets you get to work up front.

Responding to change over following a plan

Every plan you have is wrong the moment you finish it. It may be incomplete.  It will be interrupted.  The only way for a plan to be right is to not spell it out completely.

Now plans are great – I’m a PMP, I’ve been certified in planning.  But reality gets in the way, so you need to focus on being adaptable over following a plan even when it’s gone stale.  This is one reason Agile methods are so helpful, they focus on adaptability, with just enough planning to keep moving.

This may sound weird to warn people about change in creative activities.  We’d like to think they’re wonderful and spontaneous.  This is wrong because creativity, being so hard to pin down, is often crammed into a box of organization and plans to get control of this wild process.

It usually fails.

Ever gotten livid over a requested edit?  Wanted to argue with someone about how they critiqued your art?  Gotten frustrated at a rewrite of a single paragraph?  You know what I’m talking about; because creatives need some control, they often chafe against giving it up.  You need to learn to give up that control and leverage change.

I find there’s a few lessons to help:

First, realize change is a tool – often change happens due to feedback, discoveries, and more.  It’s up to you to use what happens to learn and to adapt and make your work better.  This can be painful, which leads to . .

Secondly, you have to build change into how you do things; make yourself more change-responsive.  Don’t put into ink what can be done in pencil.  Save versions of your work.  Test out what you’re creating earlier than usual.

Third, learn the right level of planning.  This may differ from project to project, increment to increment.  Find what lets you plan but not overplan.  Plan enough get something out but not so much you can’t change.

Fourth, learn how to get feedback.  This helps you change well, change effectively, and perhaps change earliy enough you don’t have to ditch a lot of work and ideas.

As an Agile Creative:

  • Learn to accept change is inevitable.
  • Develop a “Navigating” mindset.
  • Find ways to leverage change to make your work better.
  • Work in way that let you respond quickly to change.
  • Plan the right amount – not so little you’re lost, or so much you can’t shift gears.
  • Develop ways to get feedback.

EXAMPLE: You’re working on an indie game, a challenging market to be sure.  You break down work by major features and priorities, creating vertical slices of “game” that can be quickly played by beta testers.  This lets you get quick feedback while refining code.

The Agile Manifesto For Agile Creatives

So we’ve just been through the Agile Manifesto for creatives.  Let’s sum up.

  • Focus on interacting with people and getting feedback.
  • Deliver things to get that feedback.
  • Take a collaborative approach.
  • Respond to change – and make sure you can respond to change.

There you have it – a pretty good mindset to adapt so you can be productive.  Again you may want to find a method that helps you, but if you keep these ideas in mind it’ll help you find a method AND make it work.

Now, next up there’s also 12 agile principles.  Yeah, I know it’s a lot, but we’ll explore them bit by bit – for creatives.

A Side Notes On Sides

The manifesto notes that it value the things on the left (individuals and interactions, working software, customer collaboration, responding to change) over things on the right (like having a plan).  This doesn’t mean that things on the right are bad, its jut things on the left are more valuable.

there’s a paradox here – we do need tools and processes, documentation and plans.  But they can get in the way of the things on the right.  How do we solve that?

My solution is that things on the right should be used in such a way that they reinforce the things on the left.  Use planning tools and methods that support change.  use tools that support collaboration.  By having these things that can get out of hand become methods of support, you do better and don’t get distracted.

– Steve


Posted on by Scott Delahunt

Nostalgia is powerful, especially when decision makers choose what to remake. It works to get long time fans in, but an original’s target audience may be far younger than the fans have become. Today, a look at once such case, 2000’s The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle from Universal Pictures.

The characters of Rocket J. Squirrel and Bullwinkle J. Moose first appeared in 1959 on Rocky and His Friends, airing in black and white on ABC. In 1961, NBC picked up the series and aired it as The Bullwinkle Show in colour until cancelling the show in 1964. In syndication, the series became known as The Rocky Show, The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show, The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle, and The Adventures of Bullwinkle and Rocky. While the series had low-quality animation from an outsourced studio and a small cast of voices, the writing featured puns, satire, and self-deprecating humour.

A typical episode of the show would have two parts of an ongoing story featuring Rocky and Bullwinkle acting as bookends. Between the two chapters, other shorts appeared, including “Fractured Fairy Tales”, retelling classic fairy tales with a twist; “Peabody’s Improbably History“; “Dudley Do-Right of the Mounties”, a parody of older melodramas; “Aesop and Son”, fracturing fables instead of fairy tales; “Bullwinkle’s Corner”, where Bullwinkle mangles poetry; and “Mr. Know It All”, where Bullwinkle demonstrates what not to do in different situations. All of this – the two chapters featuring Rocky and Bullwinkle and four other shorts – fit into a half-hour episode, including commercials.

The main draw, the actual adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle, featured a small number of voice actors. June Foray portrayed Rocky and every female character that appeared, including Pottsylvanian spy Natasha Fatale. Bill Scott played Bullwinkle and Pottsylvania dictator Fearless Leader. Paul Frees took on the roles of Pottsylvanian spy Boris Badenov and Captain Peter “Wrongway” Peachfuzz. The narrator of the chapters was William Conrad. The writing kept things moving at a brisk pace, allowing for a hurricane of puns. Rocky and Bullwinkle would start off in a misadventure that would lead to a cliffhanger. Along the way, Boris and Natasha would get involved and try to eliminate Moose and Squirrel in ways that would backfire on them.

While the series lasted only five seasons, syndication ensured that the show would last through reruns. Rocky and Bullwinkle appeared on over-the-air broadcast stations and cable-only channels, entertaining several generations. The show’s influence can be seen in series like The Simpsons. Naturally, this level of popularity meant that a studio executive would eventually see the benefit of a Rocky and Bullwinkle film adaptation.

In 2000, The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle picks up thirty-five years after the original series’ cancellation. Rocky and Bullwinkle have returned to Frostbite Falls in a forced retirement; the town, though, is suffering from deforestation. The Narrator has returned to his home, where he narrates aspects of his daily life, much to the annoyance of his mother. Pottsylvania has turned into a democracy after the Cold War, leaving Fearless Leader, Boris, and Natasha out of power and out of work. The animated world looked bleak.

Fearless Leader, though, did not take being out of power sitting down. With Boris and Natasha, he convinces Minnie Mogul, played by Janeane Garofalo, to sign a contract to bring back The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show. When Minnie pulls the contract out from animated Pottsylvania, she finds that the villains are attached to the project. The three Pottsylvanians go from being animated characters to live-action characters, with Robert De Niro as Fearless Leader, Jason Alexander as Boris, and Rene Russo as Natasha. Despite the unforeseen attachments, Minnie still tries to get the project approved, but studio head P.G. Biggershot (Carl Reiner) hates moose movies shuts the film down.

Six months later, Fearless Leader has RBTV, Really Bad Television, set up over all available cable channels. Using the power of television, he will turn every American viewer into a zombie to command as he wishes. The FBI, though, knows that Fearless Leader is up to something. The chief, Cappy von Trapment (Randy Quaid), assigns Agent Karen Sympathy (Piper Perabo) to get the two people who have had the most success stopping Fearless Leader – Rocky and Bullwinkle. The mission must succeed, at any cost. Karen flies to Hollywood and breaks into Phony Pictures Studios to greenlight The Rocky and Bullwinkle Movie as a fantasy adventure road trip film.

The green light breaks through the dimensional barrier between the real world and the animated and pulls Rocky, Bullwinkle, and the Narrator out of Frostbite Falls and into the lighthouse where films are green lit. Rocky, still voiced by June Foray who also voiced all the animated women, and Bullwinkle, voiced by Kevin Scott, no relation to Bill Scott, who took on all the animated men, are now 3-D computer animation, though still recognizably themselves. The duo and Karen leave the lighthouse to begin their road trip fantasy adventure, with just forty-eight hours to get from Los Angeles, CA to New York City, NY and stop Fearless Leader and RBTV.

However, a mole in the White House warns Fearless Leader that Rocky and Bullwinkle are on their way. He orders Boris and Natasha to stop Moose and Squirrel, giving the spies a new invention created by one of RBTV’s whiz kids, the “Computer Degenerating Imagery” or CDI. In a demonstration on an animated weasel, Fearless Leader degenerates the victim, sending him where other degenerates go, the Internet. Boris, though, prefers the old ways, and loads up a RBTV van with weapons of cartoon mayhem.

Boris and Natasha catch up to our heroes in Oklahoma. They force Karen, Ricky, and Bullwinkle to leap out of their car using cartoonish bundles of TNT. With the heroes still recovering, Boris and Natasha try a more traditional method of stopping Moose and Squirrel, a cannon. Rocky and Bullwinkle use a traditional method of not being blown up – running away. Karen, though, berates Boris on his evil ways, flattering the spy and getting her close enough to put out the lit fuse. With Boris and Natasha waiting for the boom, Karen takes their van and gets Rocky and Bullwinkle in with her. Seeing all their gear on the road, Natasha starts reading the user manual for the CDI.

Temporarily foiled, Boris and Natasha give chase on foot until, through a wild coincidence, they have the opportunity to steal a helicopter. Once airborne, Natasha radios the Oklahoma State Police, telling them that they are pursuing a stolen van driven by a woman claiming to be Agent Karen Sympathy. A patrol car carrying two troopers and a cameraman from a Cops-like TV show pulls over the RBTV van and arrests Karen. She tells Rocky and Bullwinkle to keep going to New York as she’s being put into the cruiser.

The road trip continues, with Boris and Natasha still trying to stop Rocky and Bullwinkle. In prison, Karen befriends Ole (Rod Biermann), a young prison guard from Sweden who may be the only character more oblivious than Bullwinkle. The FBI agent promises to go to a movie with him if he helps her escape. Once out, though, she steals his truck after telling him that she’s just going to park it. Rocky and Bullwinkle get off track and wind up in Chicago, still pursued by Boris and Natasha. The duo also escapes and, in another wild coincidence, they meet up again, almost literally colliding with each other. Unfortunately, the police looking for Karen catch up, and our heroes are taken into custody.

Karen, Rocky, and Bullwinkle are brought before the court of Judge Cameo (Whoopi Goldberg) and are charged with one count of grand theft auto, one count of escaping prison, one count of impugning the character of a guard, four counts of talking to the audience, and eighteen counts of criminally bad puns. That number goes to nineteen thanks to Bullwinkle. The defense attorney, Bullwinkle, calls his first witness, Agent Karen Sympathy. Unfortunately, Bullwinkle forgets his the defense, not the prosecution, and makes the case for the prosecuting attorney. Judge Cameo, though, finally puts on her glasses and recognizes Rocky and Bullwinkle. Since celebrities are above the law, she dismisses the charges.

Time is running short. The fastest way to New York, NY, is by flying. Karen buys an old biplane and the threesome take off, leaving Boris and Natasha behind. The biplane can’t take the weight of everyone and loses altitude. Karen falls out of the plane. Rocky manages to catch her and flies her to New York, NY. Bullwinkle is left to fly the biplane and manages to make a wrong turn, crashing on the lawn of the White House.

In New York, people have been zombified by RBTV’s broadcast. Rocky and Karen infiltrate RBTV to try to shut down the broadcast but are caught and hooked up to the zombifier and turned into vegetables. In Washington, DC, Bullwinkle has had his chat with President Signoff (James Rebhorn). When von Trapment arrives, he sees both Signoff and Bullwinkle staring at the TV and fears the worse. Bullwinkle, though, is too thick to be affected by the broadcast. With just seconds to go before Fearless Leader’s speech, the fastest way to send Bullwinkle to New York is to scan him and email him, letting the moose surf the web to RBTV HQ where he prints himself out.

Fearless Leader starts his speech, instructing viewers to vote for him in the upcoming election. Bullwinkle, though, accidentally disrupts the broadcast then rescues Rocky and Karen. With Fearless Leader, Boris, and Natasha defeated, Bullwinkle tells the viewers to vote for whoever they want, tells whoever wins to reforest Frostbite Falls, and tells everyone to turn off their TVs. RBTV stops being Really Bad Television and becomes Rocky and Bullwinkle Television. Agent Sympathy gets a commendation from von Trapment and goes to a movie with Ole; Frostbite Falls is reforested; and the Narrator returns home to his mother.

Much like the original cartoon, The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle has elements in it for both children and adults. The kids can enjoy a road trip featuring goofy cartoon characters with situations that aren’t too much different from what could be seen in reruns. Adults can also enjoy that or get into the self-deprecating humour, the puns, and the satire. Throughout the film, Rocky and Bullwinkle wink at the idea of a fourth wall, talking back to the Narrator and generally have fun with the idea of being characters. Bullwinkle’s last line in the real world compares Really Bad TV with Rocky and Bullwinkle TV, noting that there isn’t much different. In the original, similar humour comes up. For example:

Rocky: “A-bomb! Do you know what that is, Bullwinkle?”
Bullwinkle: “Yeah! That’s what they call our show!”

The film rewards a wide knowledge of movies. At one point, Fearless Leader does an impersonation of Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver; essentially, De Niro parodies himself. Elsewhere, as Karen is arrested by a Oklahoma State Trooper for grand theft auto and impersonating an FBI agent:

Rocky: “But that really is Agent Karen Sympathy.”
Trooper (John Goodman): “Yeah, and I’m really John Goodman.”

The puns come from everywhere. Character names, like Agent Karen Sympathy, Signoff’s military advisors General Admission and General Store, and Minnie Mogul. Place names, like Cow Tip, Okla, and De Bitter, Ind. Even Frostbite Falls had Veronica Lake. At least a third of Bullwinkle’s lines involved a bad pun. Even visual puns were used, like the green lighting of the movie.

The movie is shameless in its satire. Its main target is Hollywood, both film and television, particularly itself. Viewers of RBTV are turned into zombies, a common accusation against all of television. Minnie Mogul rejects scripts for being “too intelligent.” Celebrities are above the law and are never found guilty, though this works for the heroes. Outside the entertainment industry, President Signoff boldly stands in the middle of the road, kissing babies. The same cluster of fast food restaurants and gas stations appear every so often along the highway.

Casting a live-action adaptation of an animated work is difficult. The animated characters have a specific look that audiences are familiar with, but the characters don’t have to obey the laws of physics in their designs. Boris is far smaller than Natasha and is closer to Rocky’s height. Even given that Rocky is large for a flying squirrel, it’d be difficult to find an actor that size. The casting for the movie did well, though. Jason Alexander needed a few extras – fake mustache and eyebrows – to look like Boris. Rene Russo only needed to change her hairstyle and add makeup as Natasha. The costuming department did the rest, matching the actors’ outfits to the animated characters’. De Niro as Fearless Leader needed a bit more work; the character also went from Pottsylvanian dictator to ruthless entertainment executive and his look reflected the change.

The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle made an effort to be a continuation of the original series. The initial problems – the deforestation of Frostbite Falls and the escape of the Pottsylvanian villains to the real world – were just catalysts for the main thrust of the movie, the road trip adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle. Once the duo reached the real world, the usual antics could be shown and played with. It’s not the destination that counts; it’s the journey. The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle may not have been a critical success, or even a box office success, but it did get to the heart of the original series and brought it out on the big screen.


Posted on by Scott Delahunt

About two years ago, Lost in Translation reviewed the 2015 series, Thunderbirds Are Go, the CGI/miniatures remake of the classic Supermarionation series created by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson. That wasn’t the first attempt at adapting and updating the series. In 2004, a live action version hit movie screens. Today, Lost in Translation will review the film to see how well the series made the jump to the new format.

The 2004 film, directed by Jonathan Frakes, begins with International Rescue responding to a fire on an oil rig. From Thunderbird 1, Jeff Tracy, played by Bill Paxton, directs his sons in rescuing the trapped workers. Scott Tracy maneuvers Thunderbird 2 as close as possible so that rescue lines can be shot down to the workers. Not all of the Tracy family is there; the youngest, Alan (Brady Corbet), is watching the report from Lise Lowe (Genie Francis) on TV at his boarding school with his friend, Fermat (Soren Fulton), the son of International Rescue’s mechanical genius, Brains (Anthony Edwards). Alan and Fermat mimic using the controls of Thunderbird 2, predicting what Scott needs to do. However, one of the workers is Mullion (Deobia Oparei), a mole working for the Hood (Ben Kingsley). Mullion fires a small rocket at Thunderbird 1, where it leaves a gooey substance.

With his father busy, Alan’s ride back home comes in the form of Lady Penelope (Sophia Myles) and her chauffeur, Parker (Ron Cook). She brings Alan and Fermat back to the island in FAB-1. During the reunion, Alan expresses his desire to be a Thunderbird and follow in his family’s footsteps despite his age. The discussion ends with neither Alan nor his father satisfied with the outcome. During this, Lady Penelope gets a call; the fire on the rig wasn’t an accident.

Still upset with not being allowed to join his brothers on International Rescue, Alan takes Fermat down to Thunderbird 1. They go through the motions of the initial launch, but Alan accidentally starts the vehicle’s engines. He shuts them down, but not fast enough. Jeff calls him up. Leaving Thunderbird 1, Fermat notices the goo, a gallium compound that is electro-reactive. Alan tries to tell his father but gets grounded.

On a submarine, the Hood uses the gallium compound to find the island. His plan, take over International Rescue’s headquarters. To do that, he needs the Tracys to leave and the best way to do that is to have them rescue someone. The Hood has his other minion, Transom (Rose Keegan), launch a missile at Thunderbird 5 in orbit. John Tracy (Lex Shrapnel) is injured in the impact and gets out a mayday. Jeff, Scott, Virgil (Dominic Colenso), and Gordon (Ben Torgersen) leave on Thunderbird 3. Once Thunderbird 3 has launched, the Hood invades.

Alan, Fermat, and Tintin (Vanessa Hudgens, credited as Vanessa Anne Hudgens) notice the Hood’s sub arriving. They try to get to the house first, but the Hood is faster. Inside, the Hood uses psychic mind control to force Brains to turn over command and control to him, then cuts off the the Tracys in orbit, shutting down Thunderbirds 3 and 5. Alan and his friends, though, have snuck inside using the vents and discover the Hood’s plans; to use Thunderbird 2 to rob a number of banks, pinning the crimes on International Rescue. Fermat’s allergies, though, give the kids’ position away.

Alan figures the best way to escape is to use one of the remaining Thunderbirds. The Hood also realizes that and sends Mullion with a number of mooks to retrieve the kids. Alan’s knowledge of IR’s equipment lets the kids escape, only to be trapped by the Hood himself. He does manage to escape, discovering the Hood’s weakness, but falling through one of the vents used by Thunderbird 1 to bleed off the exhaust from the engines. Transom fires up the vehicle’s engines. Afterwards, she checks the monitors and does not find Alan, Tintin, or Fermat.

It’s close, but the three kids did survive, landing in the water just as the flames engulfed them. Alan works out that the best way to get help is to contact his father; they just have to get to the transmitter. Fermat reveals that he has Thunderbird 2’s guidance component, which prevents the Hood from leaving.

In London, Lady Penelope realizes that several disasters haven’t been responded to by the Thunderbirds. Since the only way for IR to not respond is that they’re in trouble, Lady Penelope has Parker take her to Tracy Island, after breaking several prior commitments.

At the transmitter on Tracy Island, Fermat gets a message to the Tracys in orbit and starts trying to restore control to them. Transom, though, tracks the signal and jams it before Thunderbird 5 The Hood sends Mullion out to retrive the kids. Alan knows he’s coming and goes to the junkyard where he rebuilds a hoversled. He gets the vehicle ready just in time, getting it going just as Mullion arrives. The chase ends when Alan pushes the hoversled too far, losing Tintin and Fermat, who are captured by Mullion.

FAB-1 arrives at the island. Lady Penelope and Parker march into the house and confront the Hood. He has Mullion and Transom try to capture the pair, but Parker’s sordid background lets him stand toe-to-toe with the Hood’s heavy with the occasional assist from Lady Penelope. The Hood, though, uses his psychic abilities to stop the pair. When Alan arrives, the Hood demands the guidance component back. Not wanting Lady Penelope or Parker to suffer, he hands over the component. The three heroes are taken to the freezer where the rest of the captives are being held. With the guidance component returned, the Hood and his minions launch in Thunderbird 2 to go rob the Bank of London.

In the freezer, Lady Penelope and Parker untie themselves then the rest of the captives. Parker unlocks the door, letting everyone out. Fermat restores control to Thunderbirds 3 and 5 just in time. With Thunderbird 3 too far to reach London in time, it’s up to Alan, Fermat, Tintin, and Lady Penelope to stop the Hood using Thunderbird 1.

In London, the Hood uses a tunnelling vehicle to get from Thunderbird 2 to the Bank of London’s vault. He takes the direct route, which damages supports for the monorail. When Thunderbird 1 arrives, one of the monorail cars falls into the Thames. Alan, realizing that the only people who can help are he, Tintin, and Fermat, runs to Thunderbird 2 to begin the rescue. Working as a team, the three kids get the monorail car back to the surface as the rest of Alan’s family watches.

Lady Penelope leads the charge into the Bank of London to stop the Hood. She and Jeff are taken prisoner by the Hood. However, Alan knows the Hood’s weakness – the villain gets tired after using his psychic abilities. He forces the Hood to overextend himself and, with Tintin’s help, defeats the villain.

Thunderbirds was aimed at kids. The protagonists are young, the film was rated PG, and there’s a level of humour that comes through even during intense sequences. However, the original Supermarionation series was also aimed at kids. The villains are frightening but not overwhelmingly so. The fight between Mullion and Parker is light-hearted. The main themes are of friendship, family, and responsibility. The movie is a family-friendly action flick.

As an adaptation, there was an effort to stay to the feel of the TV series. While getting actors who look like marionettes is difficult, the casting managed to pull it off. Of note, Lady Penelope, Parker, Brains, and the Hood are close to perfect casting. Ben Kingsley not only looked like the Hood did in the original, he made sure the character came off as competent. The villain didn’t luck out, nor did the villain make a simple mistake; the heroes had to work for their victory. Ron Cook as Parker was also note perfect, with the right accent and attitude. Even the Tracy boys had hairstyles that their characters had as marionettes.

The draw of Thunderbirds is the vehicles. Again, there was an effort to make sure that the Thunderbirds looked like they did in the TV series while still updating the looks to reflect modern sensibilities. Thunderbirds 1 and 2 were sleeker but still recognizable. Only Thunderbird 4, the sub carried by Thunderbird 2, had a major change. The sub also had the least screen time, with most of that time spent showing the interior as Alan piloted it. FAB-1 also changed, more out of necessity. The studio couldn’t get permission to use the Rolls Royce marque without using an actual production model, none of which have six wheels. Ford stepped in, providing a modified Thunderbird for Lady Penelope that harkened to FAB-1 in the TV series.

The story itself would fit with the original TV series. International Rescue remained a rescue service, not a crime fighting unit. Lady Penelope handled the investigation side of the plot, as she did in the series. While the focus was on Alan, Tintin, and Fermat, the latter being a new character, the Tracy family still were in character. The only real issue, if it can be called one, was the focus on Alan. The nature of the film and its target audience required a younger protagonist. Yet, Alan was still a Tracy.

Overall, while there were elements that diverged from the TV series, Thunderbirds worked to be a successor, keeping with the look and feel of the original. The effort pays off; the movie is very much a Thunderbirds story, even if there isn’t any Supermarionation involved.


Posted on by Scott Delahunt

The origin of the police procedural can be traced to one series, Dragnet. While detective stories had been around for a while, series that showed the nuts and bolts of how the police perform an investigation were non-existent until 1949 when the first Dragnet episode aired on NBC radio. Since then, the distinctive theme tune and the matter-of-fact narration became hallmarks, recognizable in other works.

Dragnet was not just the prototypical police procedural. The series used files from the Los Angeles Police Department; the stories were true, with the name changed to protect the innocent. With the advent of television, Dragnet made the jump, with a TV series running concurrent with the radio show from 1951 to 1957, when the radio series ended. The TV series continued for two more years, ending in 1959. During the run, creator and star Jack Webb worked to ensure a high degree of accuracy to policies and procedures used by the LAPD. The jargon, the room numbers, the call signs, even the number of footsteps between offices were researched and represented accurately. Even Friday’s badge was authentic; the LAPD issued Badge 714 to Webb for the duration of the series and has retired the number in his honour.

Webb played Detective Sergeant Joe Friday of the LAPD. When the radio series started, his partner was Sergeant Ben Romero, played by Barton Yarbourough. The partnership did cross to the TV series, but when Yarborough passed away in 1951, so did Romero, as detailed in the episode “The Big Sorrow” on both the radio and TV. Afterwards, Friday had several partners, including Sergeant Ed Jacobs (played by Barney Phillips), Officer Bill Lockwood (Martin Milner), and, finally, Detective Frank Smith (originally played by Herb Ellis, then by Ben Alexander for the rest of the run on TV and radio).

Dragnet didn’t just focus on murders. While LAPD detectives wouldn’t normally handle a wide range of crimes, Friday and his partners investigated everything from homicide and armed robbery to missing persons and shoplifting. The idea was to show the police in action, no matter the crime. The amount of time each episode covered depended on the case. Some took months in reality. At least one episode, “City Hall Bombing”, took place in real time, as a bomber gave the LAPD thirty minutes to give in to his demands.

In 1967, Webb revived Dragnet. Ben Alexander wasn’t available to reprise his role as Detective Smith. As a result, Webb called in Harry Morgan to play Office Bill Gannon. The revival took advantage of colour technology and ran four seasons, when Webb decided to focus on his production company, Mark VII Limited, and its series, the Dragnet spin-off Adam-12, another police procedural focused on patrol officers Jim Reed and Pete Malloy. Adam-12 had its own spin-off, Emergency!, a paramedic procedural.

The lasting influence of Dragnet still can be seen in the police procedurals of today. While no show duplicates Dragnet exactly, the roots can be seen in shows like the Law & Order franchise*, which added the prosecution to the procedure, NCIS and spin-offs, showing procedures used by military police, and even Police Squad. However, audience expectations have changed. Audiences want to know more about the characters they return to week after week, so the police procedural has become the police drama.

In 1989, Dan Aykroyd co-wrote and starred in a theatrical release based on the series. Aykroyd played Detective Sergeant Joe Friday, the nephew of Webb’s character. With his partner retired from the LAPD, Friday gets a new one, this time from Vice, Pep Streebek, played by Tom Hanks. Harry Morgan returned as Bill Gannon, promoted to Captain and in charge of Robbery-Homicide. Unlike the original, the Dragnet movie was a comedy, not based on an existing case file, with Friday and Streebek becoming an odd couple. Aykroyd’s Friday delivered his lines in the same manner as Webb’s, deadpan.

A crime wave has hit Los Angeles. A new cult, PAGAN, People Against Goodness And Normalcy, is trying to take over the LA gang scene. It has made a few hits, including the entire run of Bait, a porn magazine run by Jerry Caesar (Dabney Coleman), police and other emergency vehicles, the mane of a lion, a wedding dress, and an anaconda. Caesar is also seeing pressure from MAMA – Moral Advanced Movement of America – a civics group run by the Reverend Jonathan Whirley (Christopher Plummer) and is worried about about being shut down. Friday isn’t happy to investigate, unlike Streebek, but will do so because that’s his job.

Friday and Streebek trace PAGAN and discover that a secret ceremony is about to be held. The detectives go undercover as members of the cult, where they find the stolen goods. The wedding dress is on a woman, Connie Swail (Alexandra Paul), who PAGAN will use as a virgin sacrifice. Friday rescues Connie briefly, only for he and Sweebek to be tossed into the snake pit with her. They save themselves and Connie and disperse the crowd. When they return later with Captain Gannon, the area is immaculate; no sign of the ceremony or any of the PAGANs can be seen. Connie did recognize the leader, though – Whirley.

Whirley has pull in the police department through Commissioner Jane Kilpatrick (Elizabeth Ashley) to have Friday not just pulled from the case but have his badge suspended. Streebek takes over the case and finds himself falling into Friday’s mannerisms. Friday, though, is still a cop and doesn’t leave the case alone. Whirley, though, has Friday and Connie taken again. Streebek manages to track the pair down in time. Once the full story is out, Gannon returns Friday’s badge and gun, allowing him to go after Whirley with the force of the law behind him. The Reverend manages to slip away, but Friday has one last method to catch up and make the arrest.

Aykroyd did his research. Any regulation cited is an existing one on the LAPD’s books. He has Jack Webb’s style of speech down pat to the point where, if the movie wasn’t a comedy, it’d be pitch perfect. The rest of the cast is solid, with Hanks and Aykroyd switching around the duties of the straight man. Even the main theme by Art of Noise fits. The main catch is that the movie was a comedy, a parody of the original.

In 1987, the nature of police dramas had changed since Dragnet was last on the air. Miami Vice showed the effects of working undercover. Hill Street Blues showed life at a precinct. Audiences wanted to know more about the characters they watched solve the crimes instead of just the procedures. A straight Dragnet movie wouldn’t have had the attention. At the same time, the movie could have passed as an episode if the more fanciful elements, like PAGAN, were removed. The result is a film that just misses being a superb adaptation, but all the elements to be one are there. Dragnet comes close, missing mainly on tone. Even taking into account the comedy, Aykroyd did well as Detective Sergeant Joe Friday, a role that Jack Webb made his own.

* Dick Wolf, the producer of Law & Order, even had a short run remake of Dragnet first airing in 2003 called L.A. Dragnet, with Ed O’Neill as Friday.


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