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Posted on by Scott Delahunt

Alas, no new post this week.  However, if you’re in Ottawa and at CanGames, I will be there.


Posted on by Steven Savage

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

As I edit A Bridge To The Quiet Planet to get it ready for my awesome professional editor, I reflected on what I went through to write the book.  I see now this could have been faster if I hadn’t spent time editing as I went, chapter by chapter until the halfway point.  In short, I actually aimed for quality too early.

At first this violated my expectations.  Being into Agile, I figured that doing it piece by piece, making chapters available to prereaders, would result in better quality.  It’s something I’ve read about authors doing before, and I’d read several articles on how instructional writing (which I’ve done for awhile) can be released in modules.  Shouldn’t a story be something you can release chapter by chapter and get good feedback?

Not entirely.

Now I’m not saying it’s a bad idea to make fiction available to prereaders in parts, but I’ve come to the conclusion that’s of very limited value.  Here’s why.

Instructional and nonfiction works are often something we can break down – and indeed, should break down – into pieces that almost anyone could edit.  Yes, some may miss context or seem borderline useless on their own, but nonfiction is often very modular.  We process instructions, history, documentation, etc. in discreet chunks – we think step-by-step.

Nonfiction works are a lot like modular software or dishes where you can sample individual ingredients and get an idea of their combined taste.

But fictional works?  They’re different.

Fictional works are much more of a whole.  They’re intellectual and emotional and literary, requiring many modes of thought and feeling to appreciate them.  They often have mysteries and callbacks and references – indeed, deception is part of some some fiction writing.  Fiction is hard to evaluate apart from the whole of the work – to truly “get” it you need the whole experience a complete work.  Finally, as fiction involves imagination, you often discover your work as you write it.

Fictional works are like software that requires a lot of code to be done before it functions or a crude alpha before it can be evaluated.  They’re like a dish that you can’t appreciate until it’s done, or ones requiring careful tweaking to get “just right.”

I now realize that I could be delivering A Bridge To The Quiet Planet to you quicker if I’d decided, as opposed to editing chapter by chapter, I’d just run on and pushed myself to finish the thing and accepted it wasn’t perfect – maybe put out one or two chapters to get my groove.  Now that I have a complete work, all the edits are far more richer, far more revealing, far more coherent – and much of my best edits were made when it was done and I could see the whole thing.

When I write fiction in the future, I think I need to accept that my initial effort is basically going to be like a piece of alpha software.  Good planning and thought can make it a very good alpha, but my focus should be to get it done so I have enough to work from.  Many things in fiction writing only become apparent once you have the whole picture.

Again, I don’t think this means you can’t put unfinished fiction up for review.  I just think people need to accept the limits of such things – and ask what delivers the most value for them and the audience.

I also find this very satisfying to think of.  I can accept that fiction starts imperfect because of all its factors and charge ahead, admitting it won’t be perfect.  It’s just that when the imperfect version is done, the perfect version follows more easily.

(By the way that title took me forever to come up with so I hope you appreciate the attention to alliteration.)

– Steve


Posted on by Scott Delahunt

Universal Studios has a gold mine when it comes to adaptations. The studio released three of the best known horror films, each featuring a now classic monster – 1931’s Dracula and Frankenstein, and 1932’s The Mummy, the latter two starring Boris Karloff in the title roles. Each of these films presented the villain as something other to be just feared. Two, Dracula and Frankenstein, were adapted from literature written by Bram Stoker and Mary Wollstonecraft Shelly, respectively. The Mummy, though, was an original film and the second to star Boris Karloff.

The discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun in 1922 kept Egyptology in the minds of audiences for a decade. Even after the opening of the tomb, the careful examination of recovered artifacts, including Tutankhamun himself, took years. Adding to the mystique was the alleged curse dooming anyone who had opened to tomb. Fertile ground for writers, indeed.

The script went through several drafts and changes before reaching what is seen on screen. The original story, Cagliosto by Nina Wilcox Putnam and Richard Schayer, went through rewrites to move the film from San Francisco to Cairo, using the interest in Egyptology to tell a story of forbidden love enduring across time.

The film begins at a British Museum archaeological dig in Egypt of 1921. Sir Joseph Whemple, played by Arthur Byron, and his assistant, Ralph Norton (Bramwell Fletcher) are busy cataloguing the finds, including the mummified remains of Imhotep (Karloff the Uncanny, as he was billed for the movie) and gold box holding casket with a scroll. Whemple’s friend, Dr. Muller (Edward Van Sloan), arrives at Sir Joseph’s request to examine the items. Muller examines Imhotep and his tomb and determines that the mummy was buried alive with all invocations to protect the soul removed, chiseled away. Dr. Muller also confirms that the Scroll of Thoth, which returns life to the dead when read, is in the casket, though there is also a curse that will kill whosoever removes the scroll.

Muller and Whemple go outside to talk about the findings. Whemple wants to continue his investigations, but Muller insists that everything should be buried and forgotten. Norton, though, lets his curiosity get the better of him and reads the scroll. Behind him, Imhotep opens his eyes and begins to move. Norton, though, remains unaware and continues to read the scroll until Imhotep puts a hand down on the table. Looking up, Norton sees the mummy and laughs like a madman as Imhotep takes the scroll and walks out.

Ten years later, Whemple’s son Frank (David Manners) is working with Professor Pearson (Leonard Mudie) to help the British Museum and the Cairo Museum with another dig. Imhotep arrives, now fleshed out and calling himself Ardath Bey, with information on the resting place of Princess Ankh-es-en-amon, a priestess of Isis and his illicit lover. Pearson and Frank take a team to recover Ankh-es-en-amon and bring her and her treasures to the Cairo Museum, where she is put on display.

Imhotep uses a ritual to call for his lover. Elsewhere in Cairo, Helen Grosvenor (Zita Johann), a woman studying in Cairo, hears the call. She leaves the nightclub she’s in to go to the Cairo Museum, where she collapses in front of Frank. Frank helps her inside and a spark of love ignites in him and in Helen. She recovers, but later runs across Imhotep. He hypnotizes her, reawakening her past life as Ankh-es-en-amon. In the past, when she died, Imhotep stole the Scroll of Thoth in a bid to revive her, much as Isis did with Osiris, but was found and stopped. For his transgressions, he was wrapped and buried alive.

To ensure that Ankh-es-en-amon won’t die again, Imhotep must go through a ritual where he turns her into a mummy herself, then read from the Scroll of Thoth to bring her back to immortal life, allowing them to live together for all eternity. The exhibit at the Cairo Museum has everything Imhotep needs. As the ritual begins, Frank realizes what is about to happen to Helen and races to the museum with Pearson. They arrive in time, but are unable to stop Imhotep. Instead, the mummy incapacitates them with his ring. Helen recovers just enough to realize what is happening and calls on her memories to plead to Isis. Before Imhotep can kill Helen, Isis raises her ankh and creates a beam of light that burns the Scroll of Thoth, breaking the spell keeping Imhotep in a state between life and death, destroying him.

Karloff made a name for himself with his portrayal of Frankenstein, giving the Creature a child-like sensibility. As Imhotep, he uses his physicality to convey both strength and weakness. He moves stiffly, like his body is still not what it was. Lighting casts dramatic shadows across his face. The moment when Norton finishes reading the Scroll of Thoth, the merest opening of his eye carried more weight for the scene than anything else there. Karloff played a man who would do anything for his love, no matter the cost, ensuring that The Mummy would be a classic Universal monster.

Studios know when they have a marketable character. While Imhotep wasn’t in further films, the mummy as a monster reappeared in several work, including The Mummy’s Hand, Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy – both from Universal – and a series from Hammer Films. In 1999, Universal returned to the 1932 version, remaking it as The Mummy with Brendan Fraser, Rachel Weisz, and Arnold Vosloo as Imhotep.

The remake begins in Ancient Egypt, showing the illicit affair between Imhotep (Vosloo) and Anck-su-numan (Patricia Velasquez), the mistress of Pharaoh Seti I. Caught in the act, Imhotep raises a sword to the Pharaoh, but it is Ankh-su-numan who kills the ruler. She implores Imhotep to escape as only he can resurrect her, then kills herself. Imhotep doesn’t get far and is caught. His punishment is to be mummified and eaten alive by scarab beetles.

In 1923, a unit of the French Foreign Legion is caught in Hamunaptra hidden in the caldera of a volcano. The leader of the unit gets his men ready to repulse an attack by mounted riders, then runs away, leaving Rick O’Connell (Fraser) to take over. He keeps them from breaking, with the exception of Beni (Kevin J. O’Connor), who is the first to run. The riders attack, overwhelming the defenders. Beni takes refuge within the ruin, closing the doors to everyone, friend and foe alike. Soon, it’s just Rick alone, but one of the Magi who watch over the hidden city, Ardeth Bay (Oded Fehr), invokes magic to scare off the invaders.

Elsewhere, in Cairo, Evelyn “Evy” Carnahan, librarian and Egyptologist, is busy reshelving books in the museum’s library when she has some problems while standing on a ladder. The resulting disaster sees the shelves fall like dominoes. She’s told to get the mess cleaned up. As she does so, her brother, Jonathan (John Hannah), arrives with a map to the lost city of Hamunaptra. Evy discovers that the man her brother stole it from is being held prisoner, scheduled for execution, and rushes to the prison. She makes a deal with the warden (Omid Djalili) for Rick’s release. The warden, though, not only wants a piece of the action, he wants to join the expedition.

The race is on. A group of American treasure hunters are also on the trail to the lost city, and they have their own guide, Beni. On the paddleboat leaving Cairo, though, the Magi attack, trying to get both the map and the key to Hamunaptra. They aren’t successful; the map gets destroyed but Jonathan manages to grab the key before escaping the boat, now aflame thanks to the fighting.

Both groups arrive at Hamunaptra. Evy directs Rick and Jonathan, while the Americans dig elsewhere. Evy’s location is correct, though she’s quick to allow the Americans to take over the dig site. She finds a way down below the statue of Anubis where Rick can start his own digging. The warden finds another route, leading him to a tomb adorned with what look like gemstones. As he pries the stones off, he discovers too late that they are scarab beetles as they burrow within him. He runs off. Evy, Rick, and Jonathan discover a tomb marked “He Who Shall Not be Named” and as they investigate, the warden runs by screaming. They witness him hit a wall and stop, dead.

The Magi attack again overnight. The fight is to a standstill as Rick threatens Bay with a stick of dynamite, but the Magi warn both sets of seekers to leave, giving just one day to leave Hamunaptra. Of course, no one listens. The Americans find the Book of the Dead, though they can’t get it open; it needs a key. At night, Evy manages to liberate the Book and opens it. She reads from it, reawakening Imhotep. However, the mummy does not have eyes nor a tongue.

What Imhotep has is locusts. Everyone scatters, seeking shelter. Inside the lost city, Rick, Evy, and Jonathan are safe until the scarabs pour out. They run, seeking higher ground. Once out of the beetles’ way, they watch the swarm continue their path of destruction. Evy stumbles on a trap door and falls inside, finding one of the Americans. Unfortunately, Imhotep had found him first, taking the American’s eyes and tongue. As he approaches Evy, Imhotep recognizes her as Anck-su-numan. Rick and Jonathan find her and get her out. Imhotep gives chase, but runs into Beni. Beni tries to hold the mummy off with a crucifix and, when that doesn’t work, tries a couple more holy symbols before bringing out the Star of David. Imhotep recognizes the symbol, that of the slaves of Egypt from his time, and offers Beni a choice to follow, with riches his reward.

The survivors return to Cairo. Rick wants to leave the country knowing what’s coming. Evy, though, wants to put the mummy back where he belongs, having read the book that brought him back to life. It’s too late, though. Imhotep is finishing his work, finding and killing the Americans who opened the box holding the Book of the Dead, with Beni’s help. The ten plagues of Egyst also begin, with locasts descending and water turning into blood.

Evy works out what is needed to stop Imhotep, the golden Book of Amun-Ra to counter the black Book of the Dead. The Book of Amun-Ra is hidden at Hamunaptra in the stature of Horus. Ardeth Bay arrives, not to hinder the heroes but to help now that Imhotep is back, and throws in with Rick, Evy, and Jonathan. Before they can leave, Imhotep catches up and takes Evy away with him.

To get back to the lost city, Rick engages the last member of the Royal Air Force in the country, Winston (Bernard Fox). Imhotep tries to stop them, and is partially successful in getting Winston’s biplane to crash, but Rick, Jonathan, and Bay continue on foot. They push is to get the Book of Amun-Ra before Imhotep can resurrect Anck-su-numan at Evy’s expense.

There are major changes between the original and the remake. The 1932 version was close to a gothic romance, with Helen being the focus of Imhotep’s affections and desires. That romance carried through to the 1999 remake, but as the motive for the mummy. There was no seduction of Evy, no attempt to reconnect over time past. Instead, the remake’s Imhotep worked to resurrect his lover using Evy. The remake was more action-horror, with comedy added here and there. The heroes are far more involved in stopping Imhotep than in the original.

The story in general didn’t change that much, though placement of the fate of Imhotep in Ancient Egypt and how he was defeated did. Director Stephen Sommers had seen the original and based his movie on it. With the added budget and runtime his film had, he could work in more ideas. The focus shifted from Imhotep to Rick, Evy, and Jonathan, thus requiring that they be the ones who defeated the mummy, not a plea to an Egyptian goddess. However, it was Evy’s knowledge that saved the day, much like it was Helen using her no longer regressed memories of the past in the original.

The remake also showed Imhotep changing as he grew in power. Because of how long it took to get Karloff into the full mummy makeup and costume, eight hours just to put on and two hours to remove, that look for the mummy was for just one scene, shot over seven hours. The remainder of the film, Karloff is in robes showing only his head and hands, with him showing both the strength and weakness of the mummy through body language. The remake had Industrial Light and Magic doing the special effects – physical, matte paintings, and CGI. Computer graphics allowed the filmmakers to show Imhotep regaining his body as the movie progressed, adding details that just weren’t possibly in 1932, like a scarab running out a hole in Imhotep’s chest and up into another hole in his cheek. ILM, already used to CG effects, pushed their knowledge with the movie, building Imhotep from the skeletal structure up while using motion capture of Vosloo as a base.

The CGI allowed the film to show the threat that Imhotep posed. While turning water into blood was more a reaction shot of actors drinking and spitting out the foul tasting liquid, the locusts and the scarabs turned into credible threats. One insect might be creepy. Thousands to the point of blotting out the sun is a danger. What would be difficult or impossible to do in 1932 is some work at a computer in 1999 and today. The danger is the overuse, something ILM was aware of.

Comparing Imhoteps, Karloff brough a quiet menace to the role. Every movement was measured. His mummy was a deliberate, thinking monster with one goal, reunite with Ankh-es-en-amon and rule with her at his side for eternity. Vosloo’s Imhotep had barely controlled rage in every step. His mummy still carried anger over what was done to him, yet, he, too, worked towards reuniting with his love. Both saw their lover in another woman.

The 1999 remake of The Mummy changed the tone of the story, going from the original’s gothic romance to a action-horror. Both films resonated with audiences, but the remake changed the focus away from Imhotep to the heroes, Rick, Evy, and Jonathan. The change, though, comes after decades of the mummy being portrayed as a monster, not a tragic lover. Audience expectations mean adapting the story to both fit and challenge was is expected on screen. The 1999 version did use ideas in the original and expanded and explored them in the new genre.


Posted on by Scott Delahunt

When a movie gets popular, a bandwagon forms to get in on the action. Right now, superheroes, fantasy, and urban fantasy are popular. Look at the popular films of 2017; of the top ten, six are superhero movies. The Lord of the Rings films showed there was an audience for fantasy, leading to novels like A Game of Thrones and Elfstones of Shannara being adapted for television. Supernatural is still going into its 13th season, not to mention all the vampire TV series that have come and gone over the past decade.

What if one movie could tie all three together, riding on the coat tails of all that has come before? In 2011, The Asylum rose to the challenge with the SyFy feature, The Almighty Thor. As a character, Thor is very much open source. Myths and legends are well out of copyright and Marvel can trademark the appearance of characters based on them but not necessarily the name. However, The Mighty Thor is right out; hence, The Almighty Thor.

The movie itself features Ragnarok, the final battle between good and evil where evil is destined to win, causing the worlds to end. Midgard – Earth – would suffer the most in this battle. Loki, played by Richard Grieco, in is home in Niflheim, chants the incantation to start the battle, then heads out to wreak havoc on Valhalla with his giant dog demons. Odin, played by Kevin Nash, senses that something is up and heads off to investigate with his sons, Baldir (Jess Allen) and Thor (Cody Deal). Thor follows Odin into the lair of the Norns (Nicole Fox, Leslea Fisher, Lauren Halperin) who foresee the end of the worlds. Thor, though, defies Fate, setting up the rest of the movie.

Odin faces off against Loki, trying to stave off Ragnarok. Loki, being a trickster, gets Odin to kill Baldir, then stabs Odin in the back. Loki needs the Hammer of Invincibility. With his dying strength, Odin sends the Hammer back to its origins, the Tree of Life, Yggdrasil. Odin’s dying words to Thor are to retrieve the Hammer before Loki can. However, Loki isn’t far and attacks Thor. The surviving son of Odin isn’t adept with weapons yet, stinging more with his words than his sword. Just as Loki is about to strike a killing blow, help appears in the form of Jarnassa (Patricia Valesquez). She strikes Loki from behind, then pulls Thor away.

The chase is on! Jarnassa pulls Thor through several gateways to escape Loki, eventually ending up in Los Angeles. She manages to get some training in for Thor, but he is stubborn and wants revenge on Loki for what he’s done. With Ragnarok in progress, the goal is to get to the Tree of Life to save Midgard and its humans while outrunning Loki and his giant dog-demons…Thor and Jarnassa reach the Tree of Life, where he recovers the Hammer. Jarnassa wants to hide Thor away for as long as it takes to train him. Thor insists on stopping Loki now.

Thor wins the argument, but in his fight against Loki, loses the Hammer to him. Loki is able to get to the Tree of Life and kill it, ensuring Ragnarok happens. Thor is sent to Niflheim. Instead of perishing, Thor figures out how to use his godly abilities and creates a new Hammer of Invicibility. He climbs out of Niflheim back to Midgard and fights Loki one more time, hammer to hammer. Thor the Warrior emerges and defeats Loki, then heads to the Tree of Life to revive it, ending Ragnarok. To ensure that the end of Midgard will never happen, Thor returns to the Norns and destroys their loom and tapestries, letting humans decide what their fate will be.

Putting aside other problems the movie has, and it has many, it plays fast and loose with Norse mythology. Baldir is fated to die by being hit by mistletoe, not Odin’s own spear. Thor and Loki are brothers, both sons of Odin. But when it comes to getting something done quick and cheap, details are one of the first corners cut. The Almighty Thor borrows from myth and legend in its own way, becoming less a product of the source and more its own movie.


Posted on by Steven Savage

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

And here we are, the last Agile principle. Appropriately, it’s about review

At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.

It’s another piece of simplicity – the team regularly reviews on how to become more effective then adjusts. It’s one of those things that should have gone without saying, which is why a bunch of people had to say it.

This is one that doesn’t have to be changed or altered for creative teams. But let’s take a look at what it means for creatives by breaking it down.

At regular intervals . . .

Reviewing is done at regular intervals – happening every x days or y weeks, or z months. Not “whenever” or “when we have time.” Reguarly.  This is important.

First, this regularity means that the review is guaranteed – you know it’s coming and when so you can prepare for it. If you’ve got a hectic or unpredictable schedule, this provides an anchor so you’re ready.

Secondly, this regular review means you hold it no matter what. There’s no saying “we didn’t learn anything” or ‘we can’t improve.” It’s a great way to break people’s habits and challenge any assumptions there’s “nothing to learn.” – and can get things out into the open and stimulate conversation. In creative works this is vital, since the unpredictable nature of the work may mean lessons are not immediately obvious – besides we know creative folks can build who ideas that they know something and be wrong (I’ve certainly done that).

Third, it gets people into an improvement mindset. In my experience the more you do these reviews, the more you learn, but also the more people improve outside of the reviews. Self-review and self-improvement is a skillset, and doing this develops it. There’s nothing like turning an imaginative team loose on self-improvement.

Fourth, it encourages applying lessons that can be used. In creative works, projects may differ wildly, so a regular review will in general lead to developing improvements that apply well into the future. Yes, short temporary changes may come up and be made, but in time you’ll improve longer and longer term as repeating issues come up and new insights get put into long-term practice.

Fifth, people don’t have to worry about missing opportunities or remembering everything they want to improve. Their work, especially creative works, may be seen differently in retrospect or with a marketing change. A person may have a hundred ideas but only remember five. Regular reviews mean you’ll be able to get back to forgotten ideas later or incorporate new views of old work. You can relax – you’re less likely to miss something.

. . . the team reflects on how to become more effective . . .

There’s two parts to this section.

The Team

The team is who does these regular reviews so they can improve – not just as individuals but a team. Now we have to ask who is the team?

To me the team is usually the folks doing the work – in the case of creatives those doing said work and their support team. But does that include consultants? The client? Beta testers? The legal team?   Asking this question is probably going to lead to unexpected and important answers:

By the way, no I can’t give you an obvious answer. But I can say in creative teams that it gets a bit hairy because that’s a place “things come together.” So your “team” may not just be people doing what you think is the work, but:

  • The legal team reviewing copyrights.
  • Proofreaders for documents who provide “testing.”
  • Marketers testing your ideas.
  • Support teams who provide software, hardware, maintenance on things like cameras, etc.
  • Administrative teams scheduling events.

Ask who the team is. The answer may surprise you.

Being More Effective:

Reflecting on being more effective sounds great, but there’s  an issue.  What does it mean for your team to be “more effective.”

It’s not an obvious question, which is why the importance is in how we answer it! How do you measure effectiveness so you know you’re getting better.

I often solve this by asking the team how they want to measure effectiveness and then going around until we have an agreement and a way to do it. For many it’s a simple general gut check of “did we get the work done and signed off on” but you may find a few additional factors come in. You may also find that it changes over time.

The best way, of course, is to focus on Value – did you deliver what people valued. But the way there, that may take some consideration, analysis, and arguments.

In creative teams, where metrics may be hard to come by and subjectivity is an issue, this question is very important. It may help to ask now and then just what effectiveness is and how you measure it.

. . . then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.

Ah, yes the end goal of these regular reviews with the team – you review how you did and then figure how to tune and adjust what you do accordingly. In short, you decide how to improve your behavior, approach, actions, tools, and methods. you hold these reviews and then create *takeaways.*

I can’t emphasize this enough. Make sure that these reviews lead to concrete goals for the team that you can measure, and tasks for the team or individuals so you can say “it’s done.” I’ve seen people who do reviews insist everything be something that can be tracked as simple as a piece of work – and I have to say it’s effective.

Make sure your team comes up with concrete suggestions that you can move on. In fact, when I do this I review them reguarly, often during other meetings and definitely at the start of the next review.

This is needed in creative works because of the many variables, obvious, but also for another reason. Creative works, with their infinite options, also provide us many ways to improve. Having solid choices is a nice way to narrow things down to workable selections.

Having definite choices also keeps people from overloading themselves. After all, you can’t improve if all you’re doing for a few weeks is doing things better – so you have no time to DO the things you want to do better.

A final important note – improvements for individuals should be called out by the individuals themselves. The team’s goals are to improve as a team, and blame-slinging (even if true) is pretty disruptive at these meetings. I found a way to make this easier is to see if people have any personal improvement goals they want to call out to encourage personal improvement – but note the team has to support these people.

Note: If your team has too many improvements to make, have them force-rank them in order and pick what they think they can do in the next time period. That helps them prioritize (and deprioritize) and focus.

Do I Do This As A Solo Creative?

Yes.  You should do your own reviews even if it’s just you.  Even if you don’t review with a client.  Even if it’s just personal work. Sit down and go over what you did, how you’re doing and how to improve.

Remember, never assume there’s no way to get better . . .  even if you’re awesome on your own.

Roundup At The End

So there it is, the Twelfth Agile principle – go and review sutff regularly with the right people and make concrete improvements.

I find these reviews are almost comforting in any practice. In creative practices you’ll always be focused on going forwards, on lessons learned, on getting better. it adds a structure where needed – while also breaking you out of any assumptions or mental straightjackets.

Besides, creative people asked to “make something better” can often take off when given a chance . . .

A few quick roundups:

  • A regular review puts people into an improvement mindset, reduces the chance and fear of missing opportunities, and makes it predictable.
  • The team should be involved – but you have to ask who “the team” really is.
  • Reviews should focus on being effective, but you need to determine how “effective” is defined.
  • Concrete goals should be the end result of the review so you can move forward.

And that’s it folks!  The Twelve Agile Principles for creatives.  Now you’ll be pleased to know this isn’t the end – I’m using this as raw material for a book. So in a few months get ready for something even more awesome . . . and probably better edited.

– Steve


Posted on by Scott Delahunt

Star Wars has been covered three times already here at Lost in Translation. The first time was for the prequel/reboot, Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace; covering how the film brought back the Galaxy Far, Far Away. The second time was for the CG animated series, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, showed how the TV show strengthened Star Wars: Episode II – The Attack of the Clones by filling in details between that film and Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith. The third time was for the pilot for Star Wars: Rebels, “Spark of Rebellion”, showed the potential of the recent TV series. What’s left with Star Wars?

Radio.

Richard Toscan, in an attempt to revive radio drama in the US, worked at getting several works produced at KUSC, the University of Southern California’s campus radio station. One of Toscan’s students suggested adapting Star Wars as an episodic series, a natural fit given that similar serials like Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers inspired the film and were themselves adapted as radio serials. Getting the clearances to produce such a series, though, looked expensive. However, George Lucas had gone to USC, so the rights to produce the radio series was sold to KUSC and National Public Radio (NPR) for one dollar. Lucas also made the music by John Williams and the sound design by Ben Burtt available to the production. That just left paying for the script, the actors, and the studio.

NPR turned to the one radio network with extensive experience in radio dramas, the BBC, for assistance. In return for the British rights to the series, the BBC provided the budget needed to get the production done. The adaptation was written by Brian Daley, a science fiction author who had written the earliest of the expanded universe novels, The Han Solo Adventures (Han Solo at Star’s End, Han Solo’s Revenge, Han Solo and the Lost Legacy). Daley worked from early drafts of Lucas’ scripts for Star Wars, adding material as needed to fill in the thirteen episode run, for almost six hours of radio drama.

Casting became a problem. While Mark Hamill and Anthony Daniels returned as Luke Skywalker and C-3P0, respectively, the rest of the cast wasn’t. Harrison Ford was busy with Raiders of the Lost Ark. The new cast included Ann Sachs as Princess Leia, Bernard Behrens as Obi-Wan Kenobi, Perry King as Han Solo, Keene Curtis as Governor Tarkin, and Brock Peters as Darth Vader.

The debut of the series in March of 1981 saw NPR’s audience increase to three-quarters of a million new listeners, with the number of young adults and teenagers increasing four-fold. With Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back having been in theatres the previous summer, fans were looking for more Star Wars. How well did the radio drama adapt the first film?

A series, whether on TV, on radio, or even as a B-reel serial, still runs longer than most films. The Star Wars radio drama is no exception; it ran for just under six hours over thirteen episodes, about three times longer than the movie. Radio also can’t rely on visual effects to show what’s happening. Given that Star Wars pushed the limits on what can be done with special effects, the radio drama would have a steep task in front of it.

As mentioned above, Brian Daley used early drafts of the film’s script while writing his own. He expanded details from the movie. Episode 1 starts with Luke hanging with his friends, racing with them, including through Begger’s Canyon. The audience meets Biggs Darklighter, voiced by Kale Browne, and hears his plan to jump ship to join the Rebellion. Episode 2 begins with Princess Leia on Ralentiir, using her consular ship, the Tantive IV, to smuggle goods needed by the Rebellion. It’s where she learns about the Death Star and runs into Darth Vader for the first time. Leia convinced her father to let her take the Tantive IV to intercept the plans for the Death Star at Toprawa. The space battle between the Tantive IV and the Star Destroyer that begins the movie begins in Episode 3 as Leia arrives at Tatooine to find Obi-Wan Kenobi.

After Episode 3, the drama follows the action in the movie. Dialogue gets changed or added to help describe the setting and the action. Scenes get added to provide depth and motivation. Han has a rougher edge than he does in the movie, but there’s still a heart of gold. At the same time, some relationships are shown just as quick on radio as in film; C-3P0 and R2-D2’s friendship comes out in their first two minutes of air time in Episode 3. Vader benefits from the medium; it is difficult to loom and menace through sheer height on radio. Instead, Vader comes across more as a fallen paladin, philosophical and a believer in his version of the Force, thanks to added dialogue.

Sound effects carry most of the battle scenes. There’s no way to show a flight of X-Wings diving down to the Death Star’s trench, nor is there a way to show a lightsaber other than dialogue and sound effects. The production had full access to the sounds from the movie, but it still fell on to the actors to convey a sense of determination and wonder as needed. Luke’s training on the trip to the former Alderaan had Ben coaching him at each step. For added fun, the scene with Greedo threatening Han could not have subtitles, so there was no attempt to translate “Oota goota, Solo?” into English. Han understood Greedo, so the audience had to work out what the Rodian said from the reactions, like, “Tell Jabba I’ve got his money.” And Han shot first.

The climatic battle to destroy the Death Star took up most of the last episode. While the snubfighter battle was a visual feast, the chatter between pilots gave the drama a way to show what was happening without video. The first half of the battle was presented as Leia and the Rebellion command staff on the jungle moon of Yavin listened to the pilots’ chatter, unable to do anything when Vader came out in his prototype ship. The last half of the battle was from Luke’s perspective starting just before his run through the trench.

Is it possible to have Star Wars without the visuals? Yes, as the radio drama demonstrated. The drama was Star Wars and provided depth that the movie couldn’t. The drama was successful, leading to Empire being adapted two years later. The adaptation of Star Wars: The Return of the Jedi was delayed until 1996 and released on CD due to disagreements, mainly financial. The radio plays carried the feel of the movies while expanding on what was shown.


Posted on by Scott Delahunt

One of the main features of a superhero is the bright costume. Sure, there are superheroes who work in black or really dark grey, but the vast majority are in primary colours. Often, the costume will look like it was painted on, emphasizing the hero’s physique. Because comics are drawn, liberties can be taken with things like physics, so some costumes may be almost impossible to recreate in real life.

With comics being the popular source of adaptations today, studios have to figure out the almost impossible. Over the past few weeks, Lost in Translation has looked at a number of comic books adapted to a new medium, plus has reviewed others in the past. Josie and the Pussycats and Kingsman: The Secret Service get a pass here. The most unusual item the Pussycats wear are for on stage and is still in the realm of possibility. The wardrobe in Kingsman is based on high priced but still existing apparel found on London’s High Street.

Arrow, though, deserves a look. In the comics, the Green Arrow has worn a variant of a Robin Hood costume through most of his appearances. In the TV series, the goal was to create a costume that star Stephen Amell could wear and move in, going with a hooded cloak over dark green clothes. The costume is close to what the Green Arrow wears in the comics, and the producers are aiming at showing Oliver Queen becoming the hero.

Supergirl, on the other hand, starts with Kara Danvers embracing her Kryptonian heritage and catching a plane. The show is also lighter than Arrow; Kara is adorkable. So, hiding her costume away isn’t going to work. Fortunately for the producers, Supergirl has a number of costumes to choose from. On the show, the costume is a melding of a number of outfits seen in the comics, allowing Kara to have her own look while hinting at being Superman’s cousin. And Supergirl isn’t the only character with a costume from the comics. The Martian Manhunter in his normal guise is accurate to his appearances in the pages of DC Comics.

Both TV series can take advantage in advances in fabric thanks to man-made fibres. Older movies and TV series didn’t have the breakthroughs and it shows. The Batman serials of the mid- to late-Forties, having the added limitation of a low budget, tries to match the costumes from the comics, but between the war effort focusing on the needs of the military of both the US and the Allied Forces, the physique of the actors, and the lack of techniques, the result is “close enough but not really.” The costume looks like Batman’s, but it’s not the skintight version. The 1966 Batman with Adam West does have access to satin and nylon, but its approach to the character – played dead straight by West despite all the camp around him – meant that the more down-to-earth portrayal that Neal Adams and Denny O’Neil had wasn’t going to be seen. Adding to the fun, Cesar Romero didn’t want to shave his trademark mustache, so the Joker’s whiteface was placed on top. Yet, it worked for the series. The costumes did reflect what the characters wore, though.

The 1989 Batman by Tim Burton introduced a new twist – Batman’s costume was an armoured suit. All practical, the rubber suit allowed Michael Keaton to move, but not as acrobatically as in the comics. The change made some sense; Batman deals with people who shoot guns and he doesn’t have a power that will let him bounce bullets off his chest. His movement in the Burton film and subsequent sequels is more restricted. The costume looks right, compared to the Batman in the comics at the time, but the nature of the suit slows the actors down.

When practical effects won’t work, CGI comes into play. Over in the Marvel cinematic universe, characters that would be impossible to portray well have had their own movies. Marvel did try a practical effect for one of their characters in the past; Howard the Duck had many problems, and the appearance of the title character was one of the big ones. His appearance in the post-credits sequence of Guardians of the Galaxy is accurate. Guardians also gave audiences a proper Rocket and a proper Groot, two characters who would either be actors in costumes, puppets, or protrayed by a trained raccoon (in Rocket’s case) and a trained shrub (in Groot’s) before CGI.

Iron Man was the proof of concept. In the comics, Tony Stark has a number of Iron Man suits which he uses depending on mission requirements. The classic suit, the red and gold power armour, appeared in the first film and was as close as possible to being a recreation of the comic book version. Audiences accepted the premise of a comic book on screen. With Thor, the studio could build from the character’s appearance in the comics to present him on screen. Loki, when he appeared in costume, was resplendent in his green and gold. Marvel’s releases of today build from the comic books.

Marvel characters that appeared in films from studios other than Marvel Studios have had mixed success. The X-Men franchise, released via Fox, avoided using costumes, with an exception that will be named below. Instead, the films went with leather suits when the team broke into places. The Spider-Man franchise, even after the reboot, kept the costume best known to the general audience. However, the character’s 1977 TV series, The Amazing Spider-Man had problems; the suit didn’t quite work. Budget may have been the main problem there.

The comic book character who may have had his costume translate the best to film and television is the exception in the X-Men franchise. Deadpool went out of its way to make sure that the costumes were accurate. Colossus, being a CG character, had no problem with the transition. Deadpool’s, though, included having his eye coverings express his thoughts and emotions. Considering that his appearance in X-Men Origins: Wolverine completely missed the mark, the costume in Deadpool is a complete reversal and should be applauded.


Posted on by Steven Savage

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

We’re almost there, my iterative (ha) effort to review the principles behind the Agile Manifesto – for creatives. We’re on the eleventh principle.

The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.

For people not familiar with IT, the only area of this that may seem odd is the word “architecture,” the structure of IT systems and the like. So let’s tweak this just a bit for creatives

The best structures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.

There we go. So what can we learn from this principle?

The idea is basically this: that teams who-self-organize create the best designs, the clearest requirements, and the best way to get stuff done. This sounds great, but I find a few people worry about it; how can people who self-organize get stuff done?

That’d be a great title for a section.  Let’s do that!

How Can People Who Self-Organize Get Stuff Done?

First, the entirety of Agile thinking and Agile methods is about self-organizing. The principles reflect this constantly, from communicating among people to reflecting and analyzing ideas and results. All of this helps cultivate self-organization.

(Also, most teams self-organize anyway, because no one can constantly be there monitoring their every move, though people try.  So it’s more realistic.)

Secondly, I take the word “teams” in the broadest sense – this is everyone involved in the process, from the actual creative to the person requesting the work to the people giving feedback.  I mean everyone involved – we’re all part of the team, even the folks ordering the work or the users testing the software as part of a beta program.

I find this approach helps because when you think of teams as broadly as possible (which you should), there’s more collaboration and communication, more trust, and far less us-versus-them. You get a lot more done as you’re automatically involving more people . . .

. . . and you cultivate self-organization with training, with being a good role model, with pitching Agile methods, and of course by using the principles of Agile and the methods to get your own stuff done.

So Why Does This Work?

OK so your team self-organizes and gets how to work together.  Or they’re close enough that they self-organize anyway.  But why does it actually work?

  1. People use their hands-on knowledge to design, plan, and organize. Like it or not the person up top of the big old command pyramid doesn’t know what’s going on all the time – the people doing the work do. This is doubly true for creative works, that often require intimate knowledge, gut-checks, feedback, and specific knowledge.
  2. People find the structure that works for them. The people doing the work don’t necessarily know what’s going to work at the start – but being self-organizing they’ll find out. Plus this exploration yields insights they can use elsewhere.
  3. People who self-organize communicate. This feedback tells people what’s needed, allows for adaption, and builds relationships to further the work.
  4. People determine needed artifacts. Agile principles and methods aren’t big on giant piles of documentation, but we do need them. When you self-organize you come up with what’s needed to track work, describe it, and record information. This saves time and increases clarity (also saving time).

Just remember, to make this work you have to make sure people are allowed to self-organized, encouraged, and trained or otherwise supported in doing so.

Where Does This Help Creative Work?

I’ve hinted at just how this affects creative work, but let’s get down to it – why does self-organizing support creative work – and how can you support it?

It Avoids Overstructure: Starting a creative effort with lots of unnecessary structures in place will kill creative work which needs a level of freedom and feedback and experiment. Allowing teams to self-organize helps avoid this.

  • What you can do in your creative works is allow for self-organizing and be aware of when you’re over-attached to processes and procedures.

It Allows For Adaption: Creative work is hard to automate, even though many of us have tried (me included), and it needs room for adaption. Allowing for self-organizing teams allows for that adaptability upfront – people can find what works for them.

  • In your creative works, support adaption by helping people (even if it’s just you and your client) change and adapt what works, with your eye on the eventual goal. That focus on value will help keep you from being distracted.

It Allows For Communication: Creative works are communicative work (even if sometimes the goal is to confuse, such as in a challenging game). To support communicative work people have to communicate and thus self-organizing teams support that – but also force it. When there’s no checklist being ordered and people are encouraged to communicate, you get more actual talking.

  • For creative works, encourage communication among people – and communicate yourself. It helps to be supportive, finding what works for them, not forcing your goals of “how it should be done,” but helping people find what must be done.

It Creates Habits and Culture: Self-organizing teams build their own structures and methods – and habits. This means that there’s more than just some org chart – there’s good habits and in long-term efforts, a culture that evolves. People who develop their own structures,, methods, and so on will remember and embody what they’ve learned. In time this leads to even more productivity as this is in the bones.

  • In your creative efforts, support developing a culture by finding what works and noting things that went right. In times the best lessons burrow into peoples habits.

What About Solo Creatives?

But what about solo creatives? How does this apply?

Recall that the “team” is everyone as far as I’m concerned – the client, people giving feedback, your roommate offering unsolicited advice. Even if you’re on there own there’s still “teams.”

What you want to do is:

  1. Find what “teams” there are – you and a client, you and an editor, etc.
  2. Encourage the teams to self-organize. Be open to feedback, listen, communicate, focus on goals.
  3. When possible, cross teams over. Share that client who wanted your art with a writer that you know. Share an editor with someone else. Build a larger culture among individuals to support each other.
  4. Even when it’s just you in the end, listen to yourself and your ideas. You’re a multitude – be your own team.
  5. Self-organize – don’t get too lost in other people’s ideas and advice, even mine.  Learn to rely on your own wisdom.

Always keep the need to adapt and adjust and self-organize.

In Closing

The eleventh agile principles notes that self-organizing makes for the best results. This works because people communicate, determine what works, and create what structures and tools are needed to get those results. You can encourage this with

  • Avoid overstructuring
  • Encourage adaption with feedback.
  • Encourage communication
  • Encourage development of a larger culture – the self-organizing lessons we keep with us.

Self-organizing teams can produce the best results – even if sometime the team is one person.

– Steve


Posted on by Steven Savage

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

Now gear up for one of my top Agile Manifesto Principles, the 10th Agile Principle.  Let’s get to it.

Simplicity–the art of maximizing the amount of work not done–is essential.

It’s another one of those principles that I can’t really modify or need to tweak to apply to creatives. It’s simple – maximizing work not done is essential to Agile practices. Agile practices are a great way to get work done effectively and sanely. So to deliver things effectively and sanely – maximize work not done.

Of course simple, compact statments like this are the ones where we also need to delve a bit, so let’s just take a look at what the value of simplicity and maximizing work not done means to a creative.

Simplicity Is About Right Value

Simplicity sounds easy to describe – until you actually try to do it. Then I find its a bit hard to phrase it, but you can think about simplicity as not just delivering Value, but the right Value. You focus on what people need delivered – and as little else extraneous as possible. Remember, Agile is a way to deliver Value.

When you focus on delivering the right Value to people, then you avoid distractions, unnecessary work, and the like. You don’t just deliver value – you avoid delivering less valuable and non-valuable work.

Up front this means focusing on simplicity from the start. I find this helps with creative works because, with many options, and at times unclear goals, you have to choose options and clarify them. You may well have to help your client or end user find what they really want – because they may not be too clear.

This also means simplicity is about an investment of time – doing the simple thing might just seem to take more effort up front. As you’ll see, the benefit of this investment pays off.

Simplicity Is About Clear Communication

Focusing on simplicity also means clearer communications for three reasons:

  1. First, you work early to clarify what’s needed (and as noted, you often have to talk this out).  This means that you have to work on and develop clear communications.
  2. Because you’ve worked on simplifying work, you’ve also got less things to discuss to distract you.  Communications are clearer because there’s less to talk about.
  3. You also have less to distract you period.  Simplicity means less chance of error, less rabbit holes to go down.

In creative endeavors, that can mean subtle works, assumptions, and hard-to-communicate idea, this clear communication is valuable indeed.  The efforts that you make earlier (and the work you don’t do) make your life easier.

I find this is a great thing to communicate better with this simple rule; if it’s hard for people to communicate about a project or creative work, if you’re going in circles, it’s time to focus on simplicity.

Simplicity Reduces Waste

Because you’re not doing extra work due to a focus on Simplicity, you’re spending your time better. The work you actually do meets a need – a need you clarified by a focus on simplicity and not complicating things. Everything you do is almost certainly valuable, or at least more likely to be so. Remember the agile emphasis on reducing unnecessary processes and documents?

The focus on simplicity also reduces wasted time.  Simply, you’re doing less and so there’s less chance to do it wrong.

Simplicity Is A Goal

So the benefits of simplicity are clear, but Simplicity doesn’t just happen – it has to be a goal. Your creative works need to focus on the simple, the precise, the effective from the start.

It’s probably easy to get everyone on board with this once they realize the value of simplicity (which is often found by discussing value).  We all want less complexity anyway.

But remember, ultimately simplicity is . .

Maximizing The Amount Of Work Not Done

Yes, your goal is to do less work overall as an Agile Creative.  Lazy?  No.

There’s plenty of work you can be doing, so you focus on doing the right work.  You work on what really matters, in a way you can keep delivering effectively.  There’s all sorts of things you can be doing, focusing on simple, valuable work means you don’t get distracted or do unneded things.

I believe you should celebrate finding something is no longer needed.  When you find something isn’t necessary, when you can ditch parts of a project, when you find something you can cut, good.  I’ve actually complimented people on the job for finding something isn’t needed.

And when it comes to creative projects, remember that creative people love figuring things out.  Turn some of that loose on simplicity . . .

But this all ties to one more thing.

Don’t Just Find Simplicity – Make It

You shouldn’t just seek simplicity – though you should – you should also find ways to make things simpler over time.  Simplicity is something to build in:

  1. Streamline the processes and documents that you use to make them simpler, focusing on value.
  2. Find ways to streamline code that you reuse or templates that you use for art (shades of the 9th Agile Principle)
  3. Improve communications with simplicity, such as combining several meetings into one or having a check-in as opposed to elaborate email conversations.
  4. Drop overcomplicated methods.

Just as you work to deliver value, always be on the lookout to deliver simplicity in how you do things.

This allows you to not just help your client, but to constantly uncomplicate your life and your efforts.  Each time you make things simpler, it pays off now and down the road.

Remember This Is Essential

That “Essential” part of the 10th is a final thing to remember.  Simplicity?  Doing less?  That’s essential to agile and agile practices.  All that clarity, all that focus, all those benefits?  The’re indispensable.

So next time you find things getting complicated, remember simplicity.

Rounding Up

So let’s get simple with simplicity.  Working for simplicity and looking for work not done is essential to agile practice.

To do this:

  • Keep simplicity as a goal and develop it.
  • Focus on value to keep things simple.
  • Focus on clear communication
  • Focus on reducing waste.
  • Maximize work not done.

– Steve


Posted on by Steven Savage

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

Now on to the 9th Agile Principle, one of my favorites (it’s hard to pick a favorite), because it makes a great point often forgotten. It also applies to so many situations. Let’s take a look

Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.

Ah just soak that one in. By paying attention to technical excellence and good design, you become even more adaptable, more productive – more Agile. Simple, and elegant, so as you may guess I’m going to analyze the hell out of it. It’s not that it hides any excret complexity – it’s obvious – it’s that there’s a lot of power in this that anyone can use – and Creatives have unique opportunities to take advantage of.

Let’s take this – backwards.

The Goal: Enhancing Agility

Note this Principle spells out that technical excellence and good design are things that one wants to pay attention to – always. That of course seems obvious, because who wouldn’t want to pay attention to doing things right and designing things right? But it states specifically that this enhances agility – that it lets you act, manage, and work agilely.

The benefits of these things aren’t just “hey well done” – they’re that you use Agile methods and apply agile principles better. There’s a benefit beyond the obvious of “doing stuff well.”

So it helps to spell it out. If you want to improve agility, do things right and design them well.

For Creatives, which often deal with unpredictability, ways to enhance agility are always welcome. Creatives are almost always entering unknown territory, have challenges communicating work, and more.  Anything to make work more adaptable, more predictable – more agile – should be welcome. More agility allows you to deliver more value.

So let’s look at just good design and technical excellence help you out – and help you be an agile creative.

Good Design

When you design something well, it’s more than just a “valuable” piece of work. It delivers other benefits that deliver agility. Let’s look at them and how they apply to creative work.

  • Good designs prevents errors since you can get it right the first time. This means you save time since you’ve got less revision – and aspiring to good design focuses you on listening to the client and understanding work so you deliver value. That helps in unpredictable developments, which you probably face a lot.
  • Good designs are repeatable in part or in whole – which saves time in the future. That lets you work faster since you’ve got other things to call on like design templates, reusable code, or helpful checklist. This can help you in creative works because you’ve got some work done already – at least the less predictable or more standard parts.
  • Good design makes your work shareable – because you can communicate it. This makes it easier to review with clients, as well as easier to teach to people. Creative work has its challenges in communication, so good design makes it easier – and good communication means more agility.
  • Good design is just good practice. Making something well-designed in turn helps you just learn to do things better – and that by definition will make work more agile.  Creative work often involves multiple skillsets, so good design helps deal with that.

Technical Excellence

Good design isn’t necessarily the same as technical excellence.  Good Design may be about laying things out and putting things together well, about organizing and making patterns apparent.  Technical excellence is about attention to detail, about doing things right, and about not overdoing things. Again, it has obvious benefits anyway, but  let’s see how it affects Agile Creativity.

  • Technical excellence just means things are done right and done well.  This ensures not having to redo things so you can move on – good for any form of organization, but in agile . .
  • Technical excellence also means that you’ve learned lessons you can repeat and teach.  Since many Agile methodologies focus on review and improvement, when you do it right once, you can do it again.  This is important in creative work since, with so many options in creative works, having repeatable work is helpful.
  • Technical excellence builds confidence in the people you work with and deliver work to.  When people see you do well, they trust you.  Creative works, which have many options and many variants, require trust.

You want to aspire to technical excellence period – but when you work with Agile methods, the benefits are even more pornounced.

When it involves creative work, it’s essential.

The Ninth Principle

The Ninth Agile Principle really is a great reminder that designing things well and doing them right has more benefits than the obvious – it lets you be better at being Agile.  When you’re a creative it has some specific benefits:

  • Good design helps reduce unpredictability, creates repeatable elements, allows work to be easier shared, and is just good practice.
  • Technical excellence reduces doing things over, teaches you repeatable lessons and inspires confidence.

– Steve


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