Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Collaborative Medium

While at ComiCon, I saw the preview of the first two episodes of the animated "Iron Man: Armored Adventures." I thought it was great, at the end of the hour I was eager to see more. There was one complaint at the mike that the storytelling is unsophisticated, which I thought was handled well with the reminder that the show, and the channel, are primarily serving 8-14 year-olds, with adult viewers an added bonus. They're not going to alienate their intended audience by going over their heads. It's refreshing to see some programming aimed at the future Comic Geeks. (Steven Moffat had a similar insightful comment during the Doctor Who panel, about making the show for today's 8-year-olds, not the nostalgic adults. To each generation their own Doctor.)

That being said, as an adult I found the show suspenseful and witty. And I was hugely impressed with its look and feel. Which got me to wondering about the always-hot-topic of Residuals. WGA members are fortunate and justly proud of the gains we've achieved in this area, where a person who creates a storyline or character has an ongoing financial interest, however small, when that intellectual property is exploited. But watching this Iron Man show, I was struck by the extent to which the design of the technology -- most notably Tony's heads-up display -- seemed to have been influenced by the film. In the ideal world wouldn't that Production Designer be receiving some kind of credit or residual? (Not to mention the comic book artists, but that's a whole other column!) What about sequels that draw heavily on the production design of their predecessors? What about all the myriad Star Trek licensed gak that uses the LCARS look? Do Production Designers and Art Directors swell with pride when they see their work influencing ancillary properties, or do they curse the studios and the Work For Hire business model?


james ford said...

i understand what you're saying but doesn't that mean that everyone who comes up with anything is owed something? i remember when netflix tried to sue blockbuster for mail order dvd which is like saying "i invented the president's sale... where are my royalties?" i can't expect the guy who came up with the lcars design to get paid when roddenberry probably didn't see much of that star trek money himself.

there is a certain amount of debt and appreciation that some of these people are owed. would it have killed warners to toss a $1m retirement check to bob kane, siegel and shuster or mel blanc? probably not but i wouldn't want to be the guy who has to explain to the stockholders why we're $4m short because we wanted to give money to people to show they were appreciated.

i would think, fair or not, those guys got paid when they designed that stuff and the look, idea, music or style isn't what makes it money as the whole item itself. it isn't like they sell an IRON MAN movie on the HUD or if they make a STAR WARS movie without john williams you'll see ticket sales plummett. during the writers strike they switched the voices on an episode of FAMILY GUY and damn if i could tell.

everytime i see HALO i think james cameron should be collecting a check for that. does every first person shooter owe the guys from DOOM money (or WOLFENSTEIN, whatever).

i just know i wished i got paid once to do what i love. i envy those guys.

GH said...

All very valid points, James. For most of the contributors to a Collaborative project, the main reward for excellent, memorable work is more work, more respect, and possibly a correspondingly increasing quote.

I once heard an explanation of residuals that actually helped me to understand why they're not bonuses but in fact are earned money. The underlying premise was that the value of a successful screenplay is as much as a million of dollars -- but if all scripts cost a million of dollars up front, no one could make movies, because you don't know which will be successful. So residuals can be understood as "deferred payment" -- a return, on successful properties, for setting the intitial script price lower than its potential value. It's not how residuals are usually explained, but it made sense to me.

M. C. Valada said...

Gillian: Please come by my blog and pick up the award I've given you. I hope it encourages you to keep writing.--Chris