Tuesday, May 12, 2009

You Might be a Red Shirt if...

Heroes

NBC is still getting things sorted on the blog front, so I'll start off with some quick Heroes Graphic Novel news. By now you've hopefully read the first two parts of Rebellion written by Zach Craley and drawn by Dennis Calero. We'll continue with this arc through the summer, finding out what Rebel was up to and hitting some moments from "Fugitives" along the way.

One bit of bad news that I have to drop is that we're only going to be doing one comic each month in June, July and August. The good news is that they'll be a bit larger, 8 pages each, and will allow us to dig in more and tell deeper stories in each of those chapters.

But don't fret, we'll return to regular weekly issues in September and tell a new story which will lead into the premier of Volume 5. And not that it's any huge consolation, but I'll continue to blog each week and talk about some of the graphic novels we've done in the past. Maybe it'll give you a reason to go back and revisit some of those.

I've been busy recently working on parts 3 and 4 of Rebellion and have been fortunate enough to team up with Jason Badower once again. We've had a lot of fun working on this together and I honestly think Jason has turned in some of his best work yet. I can't wait for it to go online next week!

As for the shows itself, the writers have spent the last several weeks breaking story, and we are now busy writing the first couple of episodes. The current plan is to start pre-production two weeks from now and begin filming in early June -- holy moly, that arrived fast!

You Might be a "Red Shirt" if...

If you follow me on Twitter you may have caught my tweets labeled "Writers Room Lingo" (Thanks to @cadetevon's suggestion I've now started tagging them with #WRL). For those not in the know, WRL is simply a definition of a somewhat unusual term or phrase that might pop up in the writers room while breaking story. Some of these terms are specific to our group of writers, others can apply to any film set and many are familiar to just about any TV audience. If you've visited tvtropes.org you know what I'm talking about, it's a fun site.

Perhaps one of my favorite terms is "red shirt". It was originated during the original Star Trek Series in which the security officers wore red shirts. Whenever several of the main actors went on a dangerous mission a security officer would naturally tag along and inevitably meet an untimely demise. It is perhaps best summed up by this image sent to me by another one of my fantastic followers @rand21althor:

Using a "red shirt" is a difficult technique in a scripted series. You're damned if you do, damned if you don't because when your main characters go on a mission you want to dramatize that it's a dangerous mission. The problem is that you can't kill your main characters. Or at least, the Network won't let you. So, you stick a red shirt with them that can be injured/maimed/killed to prove how dangerous the mission is. However, an educated audience is going to spot it a mile away. On Star Trek they literally wore red shirts but there are other ways to spot a red shirt.

You might be a red shirt if...
  • You are carrying equipment essential to the mission.
  • You do something nice/selfless.
  • You did something bad and deserve comeuppance.
  • You say something along the lines of "We've got nothing to worry about" or "I'm glad that's over".
There are countless other ways to spot a red shirt and while the truly great ones are the ones you don't even notice, most serve more than one purpose. For example, the red shirt that dies with mission-essential equipment implicitly makes the mission harder for the remaining characters. Your heroes have to be that much more heroic to overcome the seemingly insurmountable odds. This is also an example of "raising the stakes".

The nice guy/selfless act is a ploy to get an emotional response from the audience. If you find yourself thinking "I like that guy, I sure hope he doesn't die..." watch out! Likewise with the person who deserves "comeuppance" -- you'll find yourself thinking "I hope that rotten bastard gets his!" and when he does, you'll feel satisfied.

The character that dies right after breathing a sigh of relief is more of a horror movie technique and it's mostly a way of telling the audience "this ride 'ain't over yet, hold on tight!" It helps keep the suspense going and makes the audience feel similarly anxious to the character being chased by the axe murderer; like you can't stop and take a breath.

So why am I telling you all of this? Well, while I do hope you're interested, I really just want you to suffer like I do. As my fiancee can attest, watching television with me (especially a certain episode of BSG -- sorry sweetie!) isn't always fun. You see, although I do get a certain satisfaction from spotting a red shirt, part of me is disappointed that I won't be surprised later on when that character dies. It's the "curse" of working in the industry. Knowing the trade secrets oftentimes ruins the viewing experience.

Audience knowledge is an interesting topic and one that I think is very relevant to the Heroes universe. Should writers take into consideration what the audience might already know in terms of behind-the-scenes knowledge, not to mention spoilers? Provided I don't get sidetracked by a different topic, I'll talk more about the "curse" next week, or as I like to call it: "I'm hiding behind that rock with a walkie-talkie".

That's all for now, please post comments/questions, follow me on twitter, and whatever you do, don't carry the mission-essential explosives while wearing a red space suit!

7 comments:

Kirsty said...

Great *winking* nod to the redshirt in the new Star Trek movie, don't want to spoil it but definitely ticks a couple of your boxes. And it was a role that was supposed to be played by Greg Grunberg, which brings me to an addendum to your list - stunt casting your redshirt, eg Drew Barrymore in the opening scenes of Scream.

Anonymous said...

I hate to point this out, but in Jason's pic of you up there and to the right, you are, in fact, wearing a red shirt.
Coincidence, or does Jason know something you don't know...?!

Noo

Abigail said...

(1) As I read this post, I thought "he should tell the hiding-behind-the-rock story!" Gosh, it's like I know you or something.

(2) Our watching-TV conversations usually go something like this:

Abby: Wow, who is this new character? I really like him. I hope he shows up in future episodes!

Ollie: That's too bad, because he's going to die in 3...2...1...

*death*

Abby: WHY DID YOU KILL HIM?!?!

Ollie: Also, the murderer is the brother. He killed them in the barn. With a shovel.

Abby: I hate you.

Anonymous said...

Aww Oliver, WHY!?

3 graphic novels in three months!?

Citizen said...

One comic per month? This really blows...

Tarot said...

After reading this blog post, Rebellion Part 3, and the nightmare I had back in February, I'm even more worried.

Tarot said...

Oh and on that suffering comment, I've been suffering since February's nightmare. I just hope I don't have a stroke or heart failure before I can get to the end of your team's story.

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