Friday, June 03, 2005

Star Wars, the shopping


Let the Cookie Win: New Star Wars Jars

The fact that there has never been an official Darth Vader ceramic cookie jar produced in the last 28 years has confounded fans, collectors, and snackers for an entire generation.

R2-D2 and C-3PO were the first to reach this hallowed height of housewares, upsized from a smaller set of clay banks made by Roman Ceramics in 1978. Darth Vader was the third in this series of three banks, but strangely didn't make the trip up along with the droids.

Flash forward to the mid-90s, when Star Jars began a series of Star Wars ceramic cookie jars that included Vader in a planned extension of the line. Unfortunately, plans crumbled, and any hope for a Darth Vader cookie jar was scattered like crumbs to the wind. EDITOR'S NOTE: ALL THESE COOKIE JOKES ARE JUST ICING ON THE CAKE, AIN'T THEY? (SORRY).

Now, fans will finally be getting their heavily glazed black clay Vader jar courtesy of Cards Inc. in England, who is releasing an all new line of Star Wars cookie jars this year. Vader is among the first in a series of 14 different jars planned for the line, which also includes cookie jar mainstays R2-D2 and C-3PO.

Collectors who own the early Roman Ceramics R2-D2 will be pleased to discover that the Cards Inc. version poses the famous astromech on three legs, a cookie jar first for R2.

Also of note is that Darth Vader and Yoda, in addition to being released in the traditional cookie jar bust form, will also be offered as full figures -- another Star Wars first (unless you count the earlier R2).

The 12 busts in the series measure approximately 13"-14" in height and 12" in width, and will come in a full color display box (unlike the Roman versions, which arrived in a plain blue on white box).

Fans can also look forward to a Wookiee cookie jar, of course!

Here's a list of what to expect from this exciting line from Cards Inc.
Darth Vader Bust
Clone Trooper Bust
Yoda Bust
General Grievous Bust
C-3PO Bust (Gold Plated)
Stormtrooper Bust
Clone Trooper Bust
Clone Trooper (Shock Trooper) Bust Variant
Chewbacca Bust
Boba Fett Bust
Yoda Full Standing
Darth Vader Full Standing
Death Star has already got a couple of these up for pre-order, so be sure to head on over to check them out now!

Make A Pillow Fit for Yoda
The action never seems to stop in Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith, so it's hard to pick the best lightsaber duel.

Now you can pay tribute to Star Wars characters whether you're rooting for the Jedi or the Sith, by making your very own pillow using Revenge of the Sith patterned fabrics from Springs Creative Products Group.

Follow the simple instructions below to make a fun pillow for your room or lounging area.

What You Need for the Episode III Pillow:
Revenge of the Sith patterned fabric EDITOR'S NOTE: LIKE, DUH.
A pillow form or an old pillow you want to cover
sewing needle
measuring tape

How to Make an Episode III Pillow:
1. Place the fabric over the pillow to get an idea of how you want the fabric look. Take measurements of the fabric and cut the piece into either two large square pieces, or one long rectangle. Or if you aren't too picky with making the pillow exact, you can have an adult use pushpins to secure the fabric around the pillow. Then take the scissors and cut the fabric.

2. Once the fabric is cut, turn the fabric inside out and use pushpins to secure the two pieces of fabric together. The inside of the fabric should be facing out on both sides. If you cut a large rectangle instead of two squares, simply fold the fabric over once and pin the sides of the fabric. Be sure to leave on opening on one side (so you can stuff the pillow in later).

3. Have an adult EDITOR'S NOTE: I DID THIS MYSELF, SINCE I DON'T KNOW ANY ADULTS. (AHEM. YOU ARE READING THIS, SO LIKELY YOU DON'T EITHER).sew the sides together at the edges where you placed the pushpins.

4. When you are done sewing, go ahead and take the pins out of the fabric. Then turn the sewn fabric back out so the colored part of the fabric is now showing. Put the pillow form inside the fabric.

5. Pin the remaining open side and sew it shut. Take the pins out and there you have a pillow worthy to be placed in any Jedi Council.

For more Revenge of the Sith crafts ideas using special fabric like this be sure to visit the Springs Creative Products Group website. EDITOR'S NOTE: CHECK OUT THE COOL FABRIC, BELOW!

Sew Be It, Jedi: New Star Wars Fabrics

For crafty Jedi and sew-worthy Sith, Springs Creative Products Group introduces its new line of fabrics just in time to celebrate Revenge of the Sith.

Now available in major craft stores everywhere, the Revenge of the Sith fabric collection includes designs representing both the Jedi and Sith on cotton wallhanging panels, pillow panels, and all-over character and icon prints.


In addition, there are three fleece and cotton flannel designs which include a decorative throw and two patterned prints.

"Being the resident Star Wars fan, I worked with stylist John Burling on what elements I thought would be interesting to include in the Star Wars collection," Springs Creative Products Group Marketing Webmaster David Huntley says. "So I was able to provide my input on what I already knew was going to be cool from Episode III and have those elements in the collection. These fabrics capture the fun and thrill of the movie in print, while giving fans the opportunity to take home part of the movie and live with some of the excitement." EDITOR'S NOTE: AND LIVE WITH IT WE SHALL!!

The Vader's Revenge pattern displays a black background with fiery images including Darth Vader's mask, eyes, the various logos.

The wallhanging features the legendary lightsaber duel between Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi. One patch features graphic images of Darth Vader, while another patch has a collage of graphic images of various Star Wars characters.

Customers can use the fabrics to decorate rooms with curtains, bedspreads, patchwork quilts and pillows, as well as create unusual gifts and home accessories such as wallhangings, tote bags, covered desk accessories and school book covers.

"We have seen a fan make a 16-inch high-density foam cube covered in pillow squares with Yoda and Vader on alternating sides," EDITOR'S NOTE: OOO..THAT'S EXACTLY WHAT I'VE MADE! Huntley says. "Ive also seen a bean bag chair made in one of the all-over fleece prints."

For an easy kids' project or the novice crafter, Huntley suggests customers look for the fleece pillow kit that requires no sewing. The 27" square floor pillow features the Star Wars logo and the Jedi symbol. EDITOR'S NOTE: OOO...THIS LOOKS GROOVY!

"We look forward to seeing how these fabrics are used by the fans, so if anyone has a unique idea drop me an email with a photo and we'll feature it on our website," Huntley says. "And we will also be producing fabric inspired by the original trilogy, so be sure to look for Luke, Han, Leia, Vader and Chewbacca in fabric by the yard late this year." EDITOR'S NOTE: OH I'D WISH THEY'D HURRY; I'M GOING TO HAVE TO BE COMPLETELY RETRAINED IN THIS NEW PILLOW SKILL IF THEY WAIT TOO LONG!

Major fabric chains in the U.S., with nearly 5,000 locations, each have a selection of all Star Wars fabric designs. Retailers include Wal-mart, Joann Fabrics and Crafts, Hancock Fabrics and Hobby Lobby.

Hancock Fabrics also sells Star Wars fabric online here.

by Benjamin Ong Pang Kean
With the release of the highly-anticipated Star Wars Episode III: The Revenge of the Sith, the final chapter of the Prequel Trilogy that will see how Anakin Skywalker falls from grace and becomes one of the most iconic villains in cinema history, Darth Vader.

While Star Wars fans have looked forward to the big screen version of the final installment of the Prequel Trilogy, fans (old and new) of Dark Horse’s Star Wars comics will continue to be treated to loads of Star Wars goodness, set in the eras’ past, present and future.

However, not everything will be staying as it was.

We’ve got a download of the upcoming changes and new directions.

First off, one of the major highlights fans of Dark Horse’s Star Wars comics line will see is July’s Star Wars: The Comics Companion TPB by writers Ryder Windham and Daniel Wallace and artist Tsuneo Sanda. The Comics Companion is the definitive guide to Star Wars comics, complete with in-depth coverage from the first Star Wars comics all the way through Episode III, including the movie tie-in minis, Obsession and General Grievous.

Basically, it’s a comprehensive guide to Dark Horse’s Star Wars comics, including the Marvel reprint volumes, published over the past fifteen years,” Wallace told Newsarama. We’ll have more from the Companion team at a later date, but as for Wallace, his thoughts are for the future of the franchise.

Having seen Episode III at a press screening, I can confidently say that the film saga has gone out with a bang, on a thematically satisfying note that hits all the big Star Wars action beats. “LucasFilm plans to continue the saga in television, and given the well-produced - and underrated, in my opinion - Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, I have high hopes for this series. The TV series will also provide a high-profile hook to continue spin-off adventures in novels, comics, and gaming. “Beyond that, the future is less clear,” Wallace added. “I know only that Star Wars is unlikely to ever go away. The film version of the Wizard of Oz has been a perennial favorite since 1939 (and the books go back more than a hundred years) and shows no sign of ever going away. We'll still be watching the Wizard of Oz fifty years from now. It's no stretch at all to say that we'll be watching Star Wars one hundred years from now, or even longer.”EDITOR'S NOTE : FROM HIS MOUTH TO GOD'S (LUCAS) EARS.

On April 23, creator George Lucas, in his first convention appearance in 18 years, announced that he has green-lighted two Star Wars television series spin-off at the Star Wars Celebration III in Indianapolis, much to the delight of fans the world over.

The first is an animated 3-D, 30-minute series based on Cartoon Network’s popular Star Wars: Clone Wars shorts, while a live-action series that will focus on the early days of the Rebellion and will feature stories taking place between Episode III: Revenge of the Sith and the original 1977 Star Wars movie, A New Hope.

“ It was also reported at the Convention, though not officially confirmed by Dark Horse at that time, that there will be a three-issue Rogue Squadron mini-series by writer Haden Blackman (Star Wars: Republic #51-53 and Jango Fett: Open Seasons).

Randy Stradley, Dark Horse’s Vice-President of Publishing, later posted on the DH boards that “The new series is entitled X-Wing: Rogue Leader and will star Luke [Skywalker] and Wedge [Antilles], along with the rest of the Rogues.EDITOR'S NOTE: ROGUE SQUADRON ROCKS!!!

On the fate of the monthly Republic series after ROTS, Stradley posted on the FAQ thread that “The last arc set before ROTS is the “Siege of Saluecami” (Republic #74-77).

Next will be a two-part arc set immediately after ROTS, by Welles Hartley and Doug Wheatley.

Then, a one-shot written by John Ostrander, illustrated by Luke Ross.

The final arc will be Republic #81-83, which will be a John Ostrander and Jan Duursema collaboration. ”It is too early to reveal what Dark Horse has planned for after this.”

2005 marks the 14th year of the publisher’s relationship with LucasFilm, which has seen it expand the Star Wars Universe in virtually all eras, from the original trilogy, to the prequels, and into the distant past.

Together with the LucasFilm-licensed videogames and novels, the Dark Horse comics have fleshed out the initial vision of George Lucas into a sprawling universe. Over the years, many of Dark Horse’s projects have settled into roles as fan favorites among the canon.

One of its most popular was Star Wars: Dark Empire, set six years after Return of the Jedi, which helped to kick off the publisher’s era of Star Wars comics. Two sequel comic book series, Dark Empire II and Empire’s End followed.

The Crimson Empire series took a look at the Emperor’s Red Royal Guards and introduced Kir Kanos and Carnor Jax to the Star Wars mythos in two six-issue limited series, Crimson Empire and Crimson Empire II: Council of Blood by co-writers Mike Richardson and Randy Stradley with art by Paul Gulacy and P. Craig Russell.

The publisher has also adapted Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn Trilogy of novels in three six-issue limited series, Heir to the Empire, Dark Force Rising and The Last Command.

One of the most innovative series of Star Wars comics published by Dark Horse was Tales of the Jedi, a series that took place thousands of years before the Rebellion’s struggle against the Empire and introduced Ulic Qel-Droma, Nomi Sunrider, Exar Kun, Naga Sadow and Gav and Jori Daragon to the Expanded Universe in the various Tales of the Jedi series of limited series, The Freedon Nadd Uprising, Dark Lords of the Sith, The Sith War, The Golden Age of the Sith, The Fall of the Sith Empire and Redemption.

Dark Horse has also pleased classic Star Wars fans with the reprints of all 107 (non-canonical) issues of the original Marvel comics, including the three Annuals, in its seven-volume Classic Star Wars: A Long Time Ago…. The collection included stories by fan-favorite creators such as Archie Goodwin, Roy Thomas, Chris Claremont, Howard Chaykin, Carmine Infantino, Walt Simonson and others.

The monthly Star Wars series, started in 1998, was re-titled Star Wars: Republic from issue #46, following the events in Episode II where the Clone Wars finally kicked off.

Republic introduced Asajj Ventress and Durge, two villains that were also featured in the Clone Wars micro-series.While Republic focused on the prequel trilogy, Dark Horse created Empire, a new monthly series in 2002 that featured the classic trilogy characters.

As for the fate of Empire post-ROTS, Jeremy Barlow, Associate Editor, posted that “we're still doing the five-part [Janek] Sunber arc in Empire. The series "ending at the end of the year" doesn't mean that it's ending at the end of the year.”

Star Wars Tales, a quarterly anthology that originally allowed some of the industry’s best and brightest creators such as Andy Diggle, Garth Ennis, Peter David, Ron Marz, Tony Millionaire, Peter Bagge, James Kolchaka, Gilbert Hernandez, Rob Williams and others to tell their own short stories without limitations of continuity and set outside of the established Expanded Universe, underwent a radical retooling in October of last year.

Since then, Tales became more of a companion to the other two Star Wars monthlies and carried stories that were filled with longer, in-continuity adventures that span every Star Wars era, from the Old Republic, the Prequel era, the Classic Trilogy to the New Jedi Order. EDITOR'S NOTE: THERE'S BEEN SOME WHINING AMONG THE COMICS FANS ABOUT CHANGING 'TALES' TO BE MORE CONVENTIONAL AND IN-CONTINUITY. BUT THE SWITCH HAS BEEN EXCELLENT IN MY OPINION. THERE'VE BEEN SOME REALLY COOL ADDITIONS TO THE TIMELINE WITHIN THE TALES IMPRIMITEUR.

Most notably, Kyle Katarn, star of the hit video game Jedi Outcast, went toe-to-toe with the vile Yuuzhan Vong, in a tale by Nathan P. Butler and James Raiz in #21.

One of the three stories in #22 tied in to the LucasArts video game, Republic Commando and issue #23 carried a prequel to the popular Knights of the Old Republic video game.

However, according to Barlow, Tales is ending with issue #24. EDITOR'S NOTE: BUMMER. (IT'S CAUSE I GAVE IT A COMPLIMENT, RIGHT?)

We needed to make room in our publishing schedule for the big 2006 re-launch, and ending Tales here completes the sixth TPB volume, which made sense. This last year's been a helluva run, and I couldn't be more proud of the work we all produced. ”Though Tales will be ending, I'll be bringing the same sensibilities (and many of the same creators) into the 2006 plans, and when all is revealed you'll find the niche that Tales is currently filling will all but disappear. And that's a good thing.”“From the way things are shaping up, Republic, Empire, and Tales will go out on high notes,” Stradley said in another post. “… Also, before the end of either of the ongoing series, we will provide you with a peek at what is to come in plenty of time for you to go mad with anticipation. The news we have coming in the months ahead will, I'm sure, delight many of you… But please allow us to reveal our plans on our own schedule. Nothing is ready to show yet, and spilling the beans now runs the risk of too many of you having your anticipation peak too early, and then becoming complacent about what is to come. ”Better that you think of this as similar to the time when you knew the Prequel films were coming, but you did not yet know what they would be about exactly. I just hope that our Young Anakin series won't be as disappointing as some of you found TPM to be... (I'm kidding! There is no Young Anakin series. Again, relax.) ”Please anticipate, feel free to speculate, but try not to mourn (or gloat) too much.

And remember, just because Republic and Empire might be ending, it doesn't mean that Dark Horse will abandon those time periods. As for Tales, we gave it a good run, and put our best efforts into it, and you can't blame Dave Land, or anyone else for its demise. Tales was never as successful as our other series (the same is true of most anthologies), and we finally decided that our resources were better focused elsewhere. Again, we think you'll be pleased with what is in the works. We certainly hope you will be. But until the future is revealed, I'd advise against treating any of the existing series as if they're already dead. If you do, you'll miss a bunch of good stuff!”

He later clarified that DH’s revamp has nothing to do with the release of Episode III.

It has nothing to do with the film's release, and everything to do with the fact that 2006 is Dark Horse's twentieth anniversary.”Barlow later revealed that one of the new series will be written by John Jackson Miller (Iron Man, Crimson Dynamo) with art by regular Star Wars artist Brian Ching.Miller’s first Star Wars story will be July’s Empire #35, also penciled by Ching.

As mentioned, John Ostrander is working on issue #80 of Republic, currently scheduled for August. Joining Ostrander will be artist Luke Ross and it “will tie back to the three issue arc that opened the Republic run,” Stradley posted.

Ostrander later added that “SWR 80 will be essentially self contained. Everything you need to enjoy that story will be in that story. If you did read the earlier arc, some of the characters will be more familiar. But Sagoro Auten has a supporting role in the current “Saluecami” arc as well. But I'm not assuming everyone has read or remembers (let alone remembers fondly the “Honor and Duty” arc previously done.”

It seems that Tales artist Brandon Badeaux is also working on a Star Wars project. “I've read one of the pitches that isn't the one I'm working on but from the two new stories I know about, the new series are going to be better than what we were doing before and it seems like our reigns are going to get to come off,” he posted. And judging from the other title names I'm sure you'll all be thrilled with what they'll come out with. I had a ton of fun with this year’s run on Tales but am more enthusiastic about the new project. ”Trust me, 2006 should be an awesome year for SW comics.” EDITOR'S NOTE: OK OK. WE'LL TRUST YOU. BUT JUST THIS ONCE.

Another project scheduled for later in the year, in September, is Star Wars: Clone Wars Adventures Volume 4 by writers Haden Blackman, Ryan Kafman, Justin Lambros with art by Rick Lacy and the Fillbach Brothers. The fourth volume will include four tales of hyperkinetic Clone Wars action.

According to the solicitation, “As the Clone Wars burn across the galaxy and the true intentions of the Sith are revealed, the true heroes of the conflict emerge. Chewbacca leads the Wookiees against the Republic invaders on the jungle world of Kashyyyk, R2-D2 and C-3PO uncover a plot to assassinate Padmé, an orphaned refugee witnesses the rough life of a Clone Trooper firsthand, and Anakin Skywalker fights alongside a young Jedi who will play a part in his descent into the Dark Side.”

According to Barlow, a new Jedi character, Serra Keto, will appear in Vol. 4. Keto’s one of the new characters introduced in the Star Wars Episode III video game. In the game, she was one of legendary Jedi Master Cin Drallig’s students. For the record, Barlow wrote the dialogue for the game.So, while the films may just be ending, Dark Horse’s adventures in the Star Wars universe aren’t even close. In the eyes of the publisher, there are still countless stories to be told in that galaxy far, far away. EDITOR'S NOTE: I WAS REALLY ENJOYING THE CLONE WARS STORIES, AND SEEING THE BATTLES FROM THE CLONE-EYES-VIEW. NOW THAT WE KNOW THE CLONE ROLE IN THE DECIMATION OF THE JEDI, IT IS HARD TO HANG OUT WITH THEM. NOT SURE THEY CAN BE SYMPATHETIC TO ME ANY MORE.

A few months ago, a co-worker showed me a newspaper clipping she thought I might be interested in reading. It was about a fellow she bowled with; and because she knows I am the local Star Wars geek, she thought I might like to meet him. That man is Douglas Wheatley, the artist who drew the comic adaptation of Revenge of the Sith! Of course I had to take her up on her offer.

At the end of April, Doug and I met and he has kindly answered some of my questions and also has given us a sneak peek at his next Star Wars project.

Maureen: First, Doug, let me thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to meet with me and answer my questions. Let's start at the beginning. I, like millions of other fans, remember seeing Star Wars in the theatre for the first time in 1977. What was it about Star Wars that first grabbed your attention?

Doug: Darth Vader, I saw "A New Hope" when I was 8 years old. Darth Vader came on stage, glowing lightsaber in hand to introduce the film. I flipped out, this was the most fantastic thing I have ever seen! Then I saw the movie, I was hooked.

Maureen: Would you have ever, in your wildest dreams, thought you would one day be working on an actual piece of Star Wars history?

Doug: Never in a million years! The whole experience is still sinking in. In a strange and wonderful way I have come full circle with my childhood. I played with the toys, read the comics, saw the rest of the films etc. The Star Wars mythology has had a huge impact on my life, both in the past and the present.

Maureen: Did you ever draw Star Wars characters when you were young? (and if so, did you save them?) I think if you did, that would a great thing to see now.

Doug: I began drawing the Star Wars characters when I was about 10 years old. I spent a great deal of time drawing space battles, Darth Vader, R2-D2 and other characters. It dominated my imagination as a child. I think my mother still has a sketch book.

Maureen: What is your background in fine art (for example, your formal training beyond high school)?

Doug: When it comes to drawing, I am mostly self taught. When I decided to pursue a career in comics, I sought out a comic artist in my city by the name of George Freeman. He taught me much of what I needed to know to break into the comics field. I've met other artists since then, Chris Quilliams, Nick Burns, Chris Chuckry. They all have had an impact on my growth as a practicing artist.

Maureen: How do you get yourself prepared to work on such a daunting task? I like to draw or paint for fun, but I have to be in the mood to do a good job. I have always admired people who can create for a living; being able to crank out wonderful creations by a deadline!

Doug: It can be tough to draw or paint on demand. Every once in a while you will run into a creative block. I have found over the years that I must draw through these creative "blocks" to overcome them. In the past, when I sat down at the desk to draw, and nothing seemed to be turning out well I would shut down, and I would sometimes quit for the day. Now when this happens, I will draw through it, work until I'm inspired again, work until I feel that the drawing is coming together. I do this by focusing my attention on something in the drawing like the eyes of the character, or clouds in the sky. It takes about an hour, hour and a half to "break" through these creative blocks.

Maureen: Have you always wanted to draw in the animated style, or do you delve into other artistic mediums?

Doug: I don't have much time lately to explore other mediums. I love to paint, before I broke into comics I studied the masters, Michelangelo, Alphonse Mucha, N.C Wyeth etc. I also have a interest in sculpting.

Maureen: I know you have been involved in other projects; can you tell us which ones you are most proud of, or which ones you considered “stepping stones” in the evolution of your personal drawing style?

Doug: Okay, here goes, I think the most significant books I've done in the past are, "Magic The Gathering-The Elder Dragons, for Acclaim comics. This is the first book I worked on where we did not use an inker. Aliens: Apocalypse - The Destroying Angels for Darkhorse comics would be the next stepping stone, and then Episode III at Darkhorse comics would be the latest stepping stone. The books I am most proud of are, Aliens: Apocalypse - The Destroying Angels, Star Wars Darklighter, StarWars Episode III.

Maureen: When working on Revenge of the Sith, how did you get your reference material? (ie. would you “storyboard” with the writers or were you allowed to view images from the movie?)

Doug: In the beginning, we went out to the Ranch to meet with Sue Rostoni (Managing Editor at Lucas Licensing) and read the script which was a complete thrill! Soon after I returned to my studio, Lucasfilm sent me the screenplay and my first batch of reference from Darkhorse. As production continued on the movie and the adaptation, I would receive more detailed reference like stills from the film and finished designs, 3d animations etc. One of the biggest challenges became managing the reference. By the end of production on the adaptation, I had about 1500 sheets of reference on the film. As impressive as that sounds, there were still times during the production where I didn't have the final designs as the movie was not yet finished.

Maureen: Did you do a lot of the work for ROTS at home, or at the Ranch? Can you give us a mental picture of the process of creating a comic; do you do fast sketches first, then gradually detail them, or do you finish each scene, not moving forward until the previous ones are complete?

Doug: All of the adaptation was done in my studio based in Winnipeg. I would read the comic script was brilliantly adapted by Miles Lane, then I would produce what we call a thumbnail, a simplified drawing of the entire page used to block out story and composition, lighting and balloon placement. I would send this off to Randy Stradley at Darkhorse for comment and direction if necessary. The next step would be to layout the page loosely on drawing board, again for composition and placement of shapes. At this point and depending on the page, I would work the whole page up to a finished pencil or finish one panel at a time. The last step would be to scan the page into the computer, adjust the levels of the pencils and clean up the construction lines. It would then go to Chris Chuckry for color. Chris did an amazing job painting the book!

Maureen: About how many drawings would you say you have done for this four-issue edition? Do you get to keep your sketches, and if so, what would you say is your favorite one of the series? I absolutely LOVE the one in issue 2, where Padme is holding her pregnant stomach…brilliant!

Doug: Thank you, I couldn't tell you how many drawings I've done, but what I know for sure is we worked for about one year on the project, 12 hrs a day. I was working 18, sometimes 24 hr shifts, 7 days a week during the last 2 months. Ah! I loved working on this book! My favorite drawing, the one where I think I hit my mark, would be where Obi-Wan is charging Grievous. I think that page worked.

Maureen: How long, from the first meeting to the finished product hitting the stands, does it take to produce a comic like this?

Doug: It varies from project to project. Being that this was a "movie adaptation" the process was more complicated. I read the screenplay at the ranch October 2003, we finished the book February 2005.

Maureen: What would you say was the most difficult character or scene to draw in the ROTS comic, and why?

Doug: The funny thing about this question, is my answer keeps changing as I look back on the experience of working on the adaptation. Right now I would have to say it was General Grievous. His design is very complex, he was a great challenge but still fun to draw!

Maureen: What would you consider your most favorite character or scene that you did and why?

Doug: Anakin was my favorite character to draw. His character went on an emotional roller coaster ride to the darkside. He was the most interesting to act out. Great drama!

Maureen: Are you still excited to see ROTS in the theatre, even though you know the story intimately? Do you think you’ll tend to view the movie in a different perspective, now that you have created your own version of it?

Doug: Even though I was obsessive about capturing Mr. Lucas' vision of the film through stills and the incredible art and designs by the guys in his art department. {Iain McCaig, Eric Tiemens, Derek Thompson, Ryan Church, Feng Zhu, Warren Fu, Robert Barnes, Michael Patrick Murnane etc. Their work gave me so much inspiration and direction through out the production of the adaptation.} I know the film will be a different experience. I'm a very excited to see this movie, I am hardly spoiled, I have a feeling this will be one of the best Star Wars films yet!

Maureen: What would you say is your favorite part of being involved in this project?

Doug: The story, I really love the Star Wars mythology.

Maureen: Who would you say is your greatest influence?

Doug: Alphonse Mucha

Maureen: Describe your personal working environment (are you organized or can it be difficult to find a pencil on your worktable? Do you play music while you draw, or do you prefer to work quietly?)

Doug: I work in silence. I used to listen to music in the past, now I am 100% focused on my task. I'm organized at the beginning of the day. All my equipment and reference is laid out in proper order. By the end of the day, it looks like a tornado ripped through it, but somehow left an index card in my mind :) Then I organize it all again for the next day of work.

Maureen: What are your favorite “tools of the trade?”

Doug: My pencil, and my computer.

Maureen: What is next on the drawing table? Another Star Wars project, or another assignment (do you work at more than one project at a time?)

Doug: More Star Wars, a 2 issue mini series that takes place approx 36 hrs after EPIII, we are "dealing" with the Jedi :)EDITOR'S NOTE: YESSS!!! Star Wars Republic #78,#79. Also I am doing some toy designs and sculpture design.

Maureen: Doug was kind enough to get us a sneak peek at what he is doing on Star Wars Republic # 78:

Maureen: Do you have a personal website where fans can keep abreast of your work and upcoming projects?

Doug: Nope.

Maureen: Time for a few "fun" questions: Favorite movie(s)?

Doug: Star Wars, Laurence of Arabia. 2010. The Lord of the Rings. Once upon a time in the West. The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly.

Maureen: Favorite color?

Doug: Black

Maureen: Favorite comic (or other) artists?

Doug: I love Brain Ching's work on Star Wars "Obsession" He is doing amazing work! and Jan Duursema, her work with John Ostrander on the StarWars Republic titles is just fantastic, both are very inspiring!

Maureen: What would be your dream job?

Doug: Just did it! :) I have many dream jobs, but like wishing upon a star, if I tell you, they might not come true. :)

Maureen: Hobbies (I know you like to bowl!)?

Doug: That is about all I have time for.

Maureen: Favorite music?

Doug: Classical, Big Band, Blues, I love Loreena McKennitt, and Tom Waits, metal.

Maureen: Favorite books?

Doug: Lord of the Rings

Maureen: What do you see yourself doing in 10 years?

Doug: Working in comics, movies, telling stories.

Maureen: And finally, what advice would you give someone who wanted to follow in your footsteps?

Doug: Always practice, never stop learning, keep your focus no matter what the obstacle may be.

Maureen: Wonderful Doug! I know our readers are really going to love getting to know you better! All the best in the future; I'm looking forward to seeing more incredible work from you!

Doug: It was my pleasure, and thanks for the interview, these are great questions!

Aaron Allston is the previous writer of several Star Wars and Science Fiction novels, the best known for his Wraith Squadron novels in the X-Wing Series. He has also written for the New Jedi Order series with a duology Enemy Lines, two short stories for Star Wars Insider, and has been contracted to write a trilogy for the Post-NJO series forthcoming from DelRey and Lucas Books. He currently lives in Austin, Texas.

TUCWS: Hello Mr. Allston, thanks for taking the time to talk with us.

Aaron Allston: Happy to. I’m glad there’s still interest, since I’ve been away from interviews for a year or so and haven’t done much Star Wars writing in that time.

TUCWS: For the sake of those who have not really heard of you, can you tell us a little about yourself and how you became a writer?

AA: Well, I come from a Texan family that’s chock full of journalists, not to mention a fair number of peace officers, military personnel, and teachers. My maternal grandparents were both reporters, and my father is a musician, journalist, short story writer and science fiction fan. So, obviously, I grew up in an environment where the written word played an important role.
When I was in elementary school, I had an odd dream, portions of which I can still remember vividly, even after 35 years or so. The next day, I tried to commit the dream to paper, and I strongly remember struggling to transcribe the dream’s events, and being really challenged by and interested in that process of translation – turning something as logic-free and ephemeral as a dream into words that would preserve it and convey it to other people. I tend to think of that event as the real start of my interest in writing for entertainment’s sake.

In the years that followed, I started entering work in junior high school and high school literary magazines, and eventually decided that I wanted to be a writer. I went to college at the University of Texas in Austin to study journalism, dropped out for financial reasons after a very short time, found a job with a local magazine, and began writing role-playing game material and then eventually novels. And that’s what I’ve been doing ever since.

TUCWS: How did you come to write a Star Wars novel, and later, more?

AA: Well, it relates back to that career in writing role-playing supplements. ’Way back in the early 1980s, I got to know the merry creative staff of a game company called Flying Buffalo, Inc., including a fellow named Michael A. Stackpole. The magazine I edited published some of his short fiction (and some short fiction written buy a guy named Timothy Zahn, too), and in 1984 Mike and I collaborated with game publisher Steve Peterson on a role-playing game called Justice, Inc. Over the years, we got to know one another’s work pretty well, and discovered that we shared a lot of sensibilities and influences, such as the fact that we both really enjoyed the 1930s hero-pulp characters such as the Shadow and Doc Savage. EDITOR'S NOTE: ALLSTON NEEDS TO GO BACK AND RE-READ SOME STACKPOLE AND ZAHN. HE'S A C STUDENT TO THEIR A-PLUS SKILLS, I'M AFRAID.

Skip ahead a few years, and we were both doing less game work and writing more novels. He’d just done the first four X-Wing novels, and was in the middle of writing I, Jedi, when the decision came down that Bantam Books wanted four more X-Wings. The trouble was, Mike didn’t have time to do them – he could do one, but not all. The editor asked him for recommendations for writers who might do the other three, and I was one of the names on that list. When the editor did his research into those writers, he decided that my style was a good match for Mike’s, and so I got the assignment to do the fifth, sixth, and seventh X-Wing novels, the books now referred to as the Wraith Squadron Trilogy.

I’d thought that this was going to be my entire career with Star Wars fiction – after all, there’s a lot of competition for those writing assignments – but several months later, a hole opened up in Bantam’s novel schedule and they asked me to fill it. That became Starfighters of Adumar, the last X-wing novel and, I believe, the last Star Wars novel Bantam published before the book license went to Del Rey. And I believe it was largely the fans’ influence that caused Del Rey to consider me for the two NJO novels.

Later, some people I knew from the game industry founded Paizo Publishing and received the license to publish Star Wars Insider, and its editor was interested in having me do some short fiction. I proposed a story or two involving Wraith Squadron characters, but with the prequel movies influencing the publishing schedules as heavily as they were, I was asked to do some prequel-era fiction.

TUCWS: You're a veteran of Star Wars already, having written several books in the X-Wing Series and a pair of books in the New Jedi Order series. Now, you've written a pair of short stories set in the Clone Wars. How is it to have written in such a vast space of Star Wars "History"?

AA: I haven’t actually written what I consider a vast space of history. I’ve written very short spans of history that pop up like freckles all over several decades of the timeline. But it’s been nice to wander all over the chronology.

TUCWS: These three main eras are fairly different from each other, because of several wars. While writing, did you notice any differences for each era? Do you have a favorite time to write in?

AA: They are different. The classic era (Luke/Han/Leia before the NJO) has, I think, the most charm, an echo of the energy, brashness and enthusiasm of the original movie. But it’s also the center of the most densely-plotted portion of the universe’s chronology; it’s sometimes hard to turn around without bumping into timeline details established by other writers, because those years have been so extensively chronicled.

The prequel era has lots of color and a really neat retro feel to it, and with much less of its timeline having been filled in, it’s less constraining than the classic era. But there’s also a pall of impending doom over that whole span of years. As a writer, you have to address that doom in some way. It colors everything, whether with a sense of tragedy, of irony, or whatever. Sort of like Camelot stories – as good as things are now, we the readers know they’re going to go to hell in just a few years. EDITOR'S NOTE: EXACTLY! (CAMELOT...GOOD ANALOGY!)

The NJO era is extremely focused. It’s like World War II in that the war is everything. Sure, you can do adventures, or espionage stories, or clash-of-navies stories, or horror-styled stories, or hero’s quest epics, but it all has to relate to the war.

I can’t say that I do have a favorite. There are opportunities for storytelling in all of them. I’d like to do some writing in the post-NJO era, though, to see if the universe’s storytelling horizons open up some and allow for a return to more small-scale, personal stories.

TUCWS: Your X-Wing novels are among some of the best Star Wars books out there. Did you draw from anything in them for your short stories?

AA: Not really, though there’s one similarity. The Star Wars movies deal with the major players, the characters whose actions directly change the course the lives of all beings in the galaxy. I tend to prefer to concentrate on characters who contribute, but aren’t the fulcrums and levers who move all of existence. Joram Kithe, like Wedge and Face and Kell, is going to do everything he can to make things better for everyone, but he’ll never be the guy in a position to throw the Emperor down a bottomless shaft at the story’s climax. He has a smaller and more personal role to play. EDITOR'S NOTE: BUT THESE SMALLER STORIES AND CHARACTERS ARE A LARGE PART OF WHY THE STAR WARS EU HAS SO MUCH SOUL, HEFT.

TUCWS: Joram is a character that was introduced in Pengalan Tradeoff, as a sort of misplaced person. He's been bounced around from place to place and winds up with a unit of clones. How did Joram come to be?

AA: This is probably going to sound pretentious, but here goes. The basis for The Pengalan Tradeoff is an examination of individuality vs. conformity. The character representing individuality is Joram, an irresponsible free spirit suddenly caught up in a wartime environment. The Clone Troopers obviously represent conformity. The story is one in which both sides have to consider the notion that their way of life isn’t the only right answer, and they influence and are influenced by one another.

It would have been easy to write a story in which the character representing individuality demonstrates that his is the only answer, but that’s both unrealistic and simplistic. Joram has to come to the realization that, in infecting the Clone Troopers with individualism, he is conceivably diminishing their strength and causing them to have trouble fitting into the society into which they were born. Well, hatched.

So, anyway, Joram came to be as a manifestation of the concept of individuality, wrapped up with enough self-awareness to realize that his choice of way of life is just not right for everybody. And since I also conceived him as the sort of fellow who’s going to move through the Clone Wars era with an ever-growing realization that something is very wrong within the Republic, he had to be alert, intellectual, and smart enough to keep his mouth shut – else he wouldn’t live long enough to participate in many follow-up stories.

TUCWS: The Pengalan Tradeoff is a short story about a unit of odd Clone Troopers, who were confirmed to be Advance Recon Commandos later on. Did you have this prior to writing the story? What was your motivation for writing about elite forces in the war?

AA: I didn’t know that there would be a distinct class of Clone Troopers known as the Advance Recon Commandos, no. What I did believe is that the manufacturers of any successful design are going to tinker with it, introduce variations on it, and test those variations in the field. I also knew that off-the-rack Clone Troopers wouldn’t be able to perform as I needed Joram’s companions to perform – in the sense of acting on their own initiative and quickly adopting individual traits, that is. These two factors came together to define the troopers Joram finds himself with, and when details of the Advance Recon Commandos were released, I was very happy that they turned out to be such a good fit.

TUCWS: Is there any connection between the elite soldiers in the story and the ones fighting out in the world today?

AA: I don’t think so, not really. The Clone Troopers, whether standard or elite, are reared in an environment that offers very little in the way of dissenting opinion. Though Clone Troopers theoretically have free will – even if they are genetically designed for more obedient character traits – the troopers grow up in a society that supports only the notion of doing one’s duty, facing danger, and obeying orders without question, no matter how baffling those orders are.
In the real world, elite soldiers grow up in a much more complex environment, one with a broad range of role models, including courageous warriors, charming cowards, duty-minded soldiers, and rebellious free thinkers. By and large, real-world volunteers have to make a much harder decision to expose themselves to danger and possible death. That makes them more admirable than Clone Troopers.

TUCWS: Humor has always been a part of your stories, and we see the characters in Pengalan Tradeoff cracking some jokes here and there. Why do you use humor more than other authors?

AA: I’m not sure I do. I mean, the X-Wing novels and the Joram Kithe stories are very heavy on the humor, but my other work, including the NJOs, falls more closely in line with action fiction/action movies with one or more wisecracking protagonists. There’s humor in those stories, but it’s a condiment rather than a major ingredient.

The X-Wing novels ended up the way they did, actually, as a result of something Mike Stackpole told me. Early in the process of outlining the Wraith Squadron novels, I asked his advice, and one of the things he told me was, “Include a lot of humor. The fans like that.” So I shrugged and decided to give it a try. After that, the precise mix of protagonists I chose sort of took over, with each character reinforcing the next one’s lunacy, and the results are pretty much what you’ve seen in the books.

With the Joram Kithe stories, the series was planned from the outset as being chiefly a set of comic romps. Joram Kithe becomes the harassed witness to a set of events that couldn’t possibly happen, but do, largely because of the influence Darth Sidious is having behind the scenes in Republic government. In short, Sidious is pulling strings and manipulating people to reduce the efficiency of Republic government – especially the portions of government, such as the Intelligence department, that should be able to provide competent analyses of current events – and is bumping off the people who could point out this fact. So Joram is the sane eyewitness in an increasingly surreal corner of the universe, and this is the main source of the humor. EDITOR'S NOTE: EEK. TALK ABOUT A SUDDEN REAL-WORLD FLASH! (DEAR ME).

TUCWS: League of Spies is a continuation of Joram's character, although now he's teamed up with a trooper called Mapper. Mapper is a clone, so how did you want him to react in a new type of battlefield?

AA: Mapper has been sufficiently infected with individualism that he doesn’t fit in even into his elite unit any more, and yet the outer world is still a mystery to him, and this is another source of humor in the stories. He’s in a weird position because his cover identity is not that of a Clone Trooper, so he is, in a sense, pretending not to be the same as everyone else. But since he’s not surrounded by other clones, he isn’t the same as everyone else. So he’s learning about individualism and individual behavior by observing the people around him and behaving like them. It’s all part of the skewed logic that makes the Joram Kithe corner of the universe as strange as it is.

Anyway, Mapper is a good companion for Joram. They share a similar pragmatism, so they have similar reactions when surrounded by weirdness, as they were in League of Spies. But Joram’s the more intellectual one, meaning he plans better and reacts more slowly. Mapper’s the one who seizes opportunities the instant they arrive and cuts through red tape with the vibroblade of efficiency. EDITOR'S NOTE: BUT HOW CAN WE BE SYMPATHETIC ABOUT A CLONE TROOPER, NO MATTER HOW INDIVIDUAL? KNOWING WHAT WE KNOW NOW? HOW CAN THEY BE ANY SORT OF COMIC CHARACTER?

TUCWS: LOS is another twist on the entire Clone Wars, showing us the Intelligence community in which some of the information is found for the upcoming battles and reminds us that there are other fights in the war. How important do you think intelligence in wartime is?

AA: Vital, absolutely vital. An individual battle might not rely on intelligence information, but the majority of battles will be influenced by it, and a superiority of intelligence information (both in quantity and quality) will give an important edge to one side.

Don’t imagine my answer to mean that I undervalue other departments of the armed forces, though.

TUCWS: Will we be seeing other stories about the Clone Wars and Joram again from you? If so, what might we be seeing?

AA: I was asked to propose another Joram story, and plan to do so. But with the recent move of Star Wars Insider from Paizo Publishing to IDG entertainment, I have no idea what sort of interest the new editorial staff has in a continuation of the series. I haven’t yet queried them, something I need to do. (The delay is at my end, not theirs.)

TUCWS: What can you tell us about some of your non-Star Wars works? What do you have coming next?

AA: I’m writing or planning a number of books. Next up will be Terminator Hunt, a follow-up to last year’s Terminator Dreams, which was set in the universe of the Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines movie. I’ll be doing a trilogy of novels set in the Deux Ex computer game universe. After a long dry spell, I’m writing again on Mongoose Among Cobras, which will be the first novel in a new series set in a universe of my own creation; it’s military-oriented space opera and Star Wars fans will find it similar in tone to the X-Wing novels. I’m also doing preliminary outline work on a third novel in my Doc Sidhe series, which is a fantasy-world cross between Celtic mythology and the pulp heroes of the 1930s. Anyone who’s interested can download a free electronic copy of the entire first Doc Sidhe novel; there’s a link to it from the top page of my web site at

Finally, in one of my more ambitious projects, I’ve written a screenplay for a feature-length horror/comedy movie. Rather than pitch it endlessly in Hollywood, I’m forming a small production company to produce it, on an ultra-low-budget basis, here in central Texas. Right now, we’re forming the LLC, doing storyboards, getting tentative commitments from crew members, and so on. I expect it to go into production in late 2004 or early 2005. As it gets closer to production time, I’ll put up more news about it on my web page.

TUCWS: Finally, can you give any aspiring writers some advice on writing?

AA: Oh, I could give lots and lots, but I don’t have time to write that book – at least, not yet.
For aspiring writers, I like to point out that being a writer tends to be a lifetime thing. A lot of people think about writing a book and that being the end of it, but training yourself to be a writer means learning a lot of skills that change you forever. You can no more stop thinking like a writer than you can stop thinking like a lawyer. (I know some ex-lawyers. They’re happier doing other things, but they still think like lawyers.) Consequently, my advice is usually very long-term stuff.

So the first thing I tell aspiring writers is to learn skills that are useful to writers, and learn them at a proficient level. Study typing. Journalism. History. Anthropology. Literature. Foreign languages. (Studying foreign languages gives you a much better perspective on your native language{s}. Trust me on this.)

The second thing I tell them is to write. It’s fine to read books on writing, to take classes on writing, to listen to authors talk about writing. But it’s more important to write. Write regularly. And show your work to people who can evaluate it critically and dispassionately, people who won’t spare your feelings because they like you (and also won’t cut your legs out from under you because of their own emotional problems).

The third thing I tell them is to keep writing. It’s not enough to write one thing and be content. A writer continues on to the next thing, and the next thing, and the next. Only by continuing to write can a writer improve. Some people have estimated that an aspiring professional writer must write a million words before he or she is really likely to start getting good. Anyone who’s daunted by the notion of writing a million words, the equivalent of four thousand of those 250-word essays we all did in public school, before really getting anywhere, should re-think the notion of becoming a writer.

The fourth thing I tell them is to concentrate on characters, settings and stories of their own creation. Sure, a lot of people want to write for established universes like that of Star Wars, and some people want only to write in such universes. But people who write only in those universes generally don’t develop the full set of skills, of tools, that it takes to become a professional writer. I don’t disparage fan fiction, but it really doesn’t teach the aspiring writer enough about character creation, characterization, or world creation, and its audience is often not critical enough to force the writer to hone his skills to a professional level.

I have a little writing advice on my Frequently Asked Question page, at Click on the link labeled “Writing.”

Aspiring writers who are interested in the work of Star Wars veterans really ought to take a look at The Secrets, a newsletter being produced by Michael A. Stackpole.

Subscriptions to this e-publication cost $25, which brings them 25 bi-weekly newsletters on the craft of writing.

It’s a good mixture of tips, tricks, techniques, and philosophy. People who are interested can look at a sample issue at


The Unofficial Clone Wars Site would like to thank Aaron for his time, with best wishes for the future. We look forward to *crosses fingers* more stories about Joram!

Clearing out the DWEEB odds-n-ends





Creator of TV's FIREFLY and its upcoming movie, SERENITY -- Joss Whedon, has penned a prequel comic series, based in part on an animated project that never got off the ground. The three-issue Dark Horse Serenity miniseries hits comic shops on July 6. EDITOR'S NOTE: ADRIAN AT 3RD P...SAVE ME A COPY OF THIS ONE?

"We had talked about doing an animated Serenity prequel, because Universal was into that," Whedon said in an interview. "Brett Matthews [Whedon's comic co-writer] and I worked on a story, and then Universal decided not to go ahead with the project. We thought, 'Well, we have exactly the story we want to tell, and it's almost like a prequel to the Serenity movie.' And so
we said, 'Comics might be the place to tell this story.'"

The Serenity comics tell the story of a heist gone wrong and old enemies out for revenge. Along the way Capt. Malcolm Reynolds (played in the film by Nathan Fillion) finds himself the target of a conspiracy between government and mercenary forces, and Reynolds' ragtag crew must try to unite behind their compromised leader. The comics will feature art by Will Conrad and Laura Martin. Each issue will also feature three different covers by such top artists as John Cassaday,
J.G. Jones, Bryan Hitch, Joe Quesada, Josh Middleton and Jo Chen. Whedon said that it was a challenge to bring the Firefly/Serenity universe to the printed page.

"You want everybody who has never seen the show to be able to enter this universe and get these characters," Whedon said. "But the big challenge was to find a compelling reason to put this between covers. We wanted to tell an adventure about these people that doesn't just say, 'They did this, and then they shot at these guys.' We needed a story that would let you know something about these characters that you might not already know."

Will there be future Serenity comics? "It all depends," Whedon said. "The comic is kind of a bridge between the TV show and the movie. For the truly faithful, this comic will take them from one place to the other. Hopefully it will be fun for those who never got into the TV show and don't know much about the movie. If the film does well, then there might be interest in more comics. If the movie doesn't do so well, and the comic is a big hit, that might be the place where the Serenity story will be told from now on."

The big-screen Serenity, which Whedon wrote and directed, hits theaters on Sept. 30.

Jerry Goldsmith Film Music DVD Due Out This Month
Music from the Movies is proud to announce the DVD release of Film Music Masters: Jerry Goldsmith.

The 1995 documentary will go on sale on May 30th on DVD for the first time, with two and a half hours of bonus material. The project has been two years in the making, during which time both Jerry Goldsmith and Fred Karlin (composer and director of the original documentary, released on VHS in 1995) tragically passed away.

The DVD features the original 70-minute documentary, directed by Award-winning composer Karlin, filmed in 1994, which chronicles Goldsmith’s career with film and music clips and contributions from his family (father, wife and son Joel, etc), directors (Paul Verhoeven, Franklin Schaffner, Richard Donner, Curtis Hanson, etc) and colleagues (Arthur Morton, Alexander Courage, etc). The doc also shows Goldsmith at work on Curtis Hanson’s film THE RIVER WILD.

In addition there are a number of special bonus features exclusive to the DVD:

Extended interviews with: Bruce Botnick, Recording Mixer (25 mins) Ken Hall, Music Editor (32 mins) Alexander Courage, Orchestrator (14 mins) Jo Ann Kane, Music Copyist (8 mins) Sandy De Crescent, Orchestra Contractor (9 mins) Arthur Morton, Orchestrator (11 mins)

Special feature: 60 minutes of extended scoring session footage from THE RIVER WILD. Watch Goldsmith rehearse and record 3 cues, working with the musicians and reviewing the film with director Curtis Hanson in the recording booth.

The DVD will be available to buy exclusively from the online shop from 30th May. It will be shipped from the United States, courtesy of Screen Archives Entertainment.

The release is limited to 1500 copies priced £19.95 each. The DVD is Region Free and will play on any NTSC compatible player.

Narnia Soundtrack Conundrum
Walt Disney Studios and EMI Music have paired up to produce not one but four separate soundtracks for the upcoming adaptation of C.S. Lewis' THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE. EDITOR'S NOTE: THE COW ISN'T EVEN OUT OF THE BARN YET, AND THEY'RE MILKING IT TO DEATH. (POOR BESSIE)

One disc will feature mainstream Christian music artists, another will feature pop and rock acts, a third will provide the score and theme song, written by Harry Gregson-Williams, and the final disc is designed for children. The decision was struck to broaden appeal of the project for both religious and secular sects. EDITOR'S NOTE: 'SECULAR' SECT? IS THAT MUTUALLY EXCLUSIVE? A CULT? THE FORCE? WHAT?!

Mitchell Leib, President of Music and Soundtracks for Walt Disney Pictures, said that the unprecedented move ranks as the most ambitious rollout of film music he has participated in. "I would have to say that for both the company and for me personally, this is clearly the broadest breadth of music merchandising that we've ever been involved in," Leib said. EDITOR'S NOTE: MOOOO.....

Walt Disney Records will produce the official Chronicles soundtrack and will produce the soundtrack for young tots. EMI will work with Disney and Walden Media, who co-produced the film, to develop the Christian and pop-rock soundtracks. No names have been announced regarding participants.

The discs will roll out on separate dates, and begin premiering singles and music videos as soon as August, before the film's release Dec. 9th.

Despite the impending glut of media attention Disney and Walden hope the releases will net the film, Walden Media VP of Motion Picture Music Lindsay Fellows said their first priority is maintaining the integrity of Lewis' vision: "EMI's team understands this and their musical contributions will have a major impact on his legacy and this amazing film."

Crowe Does Commentary for GLADIATOR
The Hollywood Reporter has announced that DreamWorks is readying an extras-packed "expanded" edition DVD of GLADIATOR which will include 17 minutes of additional footage as well as commentary from Russell Crowe.

The new DVD will include such special features as Scott's storyboard sketches, a feature-length documentary on how the filmmakers had to digitally salvage Oliver Reed's final performance as Proximo after the actor died during filming, and interviews with filmmakers detailing the story's historical origins and its transition from script to screen. EDITOR'S NOTE: IT'S ONE THING FOR A 20TH ANNIVERSARY 'SPECIAL EDITION' THING. OR WHEN PETER JACKSON ANNOUNCES IN ADVANCE THAT HE'S DOING AN EARLY, THEATER-VERSION RELEASE AND THEN A LATER EXTENDED VERSION.



This three-disc set will be released on August 23 with a retail price of $25.

Back to the FUTURE
Agenda Pictures is currently producing a new documentary on the BACK TO THE FUTURE trilogy. The film, directed by Darold Crotzer, features over 20 new interviews with cast and crew members and is being made to commemorate the series' 20th Anniversary, which is being celebrated this year.

LOOKING BACK AT THE FUTURE is nearing completion and will be finished later this year.

Release Window for DVDs Shrinks
Films Rush to DVD

Studios are starting to release DVDs for recently released films quicker than ever.

Paramount Pictures has scheduled SAHARA for release on August 30th, just 144 days after its big-screen release. A Paramount spokesman said, "The fact of the matter is, the closer a video release is to a film's theatrical opening, the higher the awareness and, generally, the better the sales." EDITOR'S NOTE: IN OTHER WORDS, WE ALL HAVE A.D.D., SO THEY'D BETTER GET THE DURN THING RELEASED BEFORE WE FORGET IF WE CARE.

Several other "underperforming titles" including MISS CONGENIALITY 2 and XXX: STATE OF THE UNION are coming to DVD later this summer. While 20th Century Fox's FLIGHT OF THE PHOENIX will hit stores on DVD just 74 days after its December release. EDITOR'S NOTE: AND ROTS? WHEN DOES THAT COME OUT???!!!


With Popcorn, DVD's and TiVo, Moviegoers Are Staying Home
LOS ANGELES, May 26 - Matthew Khalil goes to the movies about once a month, down from five or six times just a few years ago. Mr. Khalil, a senior at the University of California, Los Angeles, prefers instead to watch old movies and canceled television shows on DVD.

He also spends about 10 hours a week with friends playing the video game Halo 2. And he has to study, which means hours on the Internet and reading at least a book a week.


Like Mr. Khalil, many Americans are changing how they watch movies - especially young people, the most avid moviegoers. For 13 weekends in a row, box-office receipts have been down compared with a year ago, despite the blockbuster opening of the final "Star Wars" movie. And movie executives are unsure whether the trend will end over the important Memorial Day weekend that officially begins the summer season. EDITOR'S NOTE: LATE BLOGGING ALLOWS FOR HINDSIGHT....THE TREND CONTINUED DOWN. SLIGHTLY, BUT DOWN.

Meanwhile, sales of DVD's and other types of new media continue to surge.

With box-office attendance sliding, so far, for the third consecutive year, many in the industry are starting to ask whether the slump is just part of a cyclical swing driven mostly by a crop of weak movies or whether it reflects a much bigger change in the way Americans look to be entertained - a change that will pose serious new challenges to Hollywood. EDITOR'S NOTE: A LITTLE OF BOTH. AND THE COST FACTORS TO GOING OUT, COUPLED WITH THE IMPROVEMENTS IN RELATIVELY AFFORDABLE HOME THEATER.

Studios have made more on DVD sales and licensing products than on theatrical releases for some time. Now, technologies like TiVo and video-on-demand are keeping even more people at home, as are advanced home entertainment centers, with their high-definition television images on large flat screens and multichannel sound systems.

"It is much more chilling if there is a cultural shift in people staying away from movies," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of the Exhibitor Relations Company, a box-office tracking firm. "Quality is a fixable problem."

But even if the quality of movies can be improved, Mr. Dergarabedian said, the fundamental problem is that "today's audience is a much tougher crowd to excite. They have so many entertainment options and they have gotten used to getting everything on demand."

Last year Americans spent an average of 78 hours watching videos and DVD's, a 53 percent increase since 2000, according to a study by the Motion Picture Association of America, the film industry's trade group. DVD sales and rentals soared 676.5 percent during the same period, and 60 percent of all homes with a television set now also have a DVD player. DVD sales and rentals alone were about $21 billion, according to the Digital Entertainment Group.

Discs are now released just four months after a film's debut, and the barrage of advertising that accompanies the opening in movie theaters serves ultimately as a marketing campaign for the DVD, where the studios tend to make most of their profits.

By contrast, movie attendance has increased 8.1 percent from 2000 to 2004, according to the association. Many in the movie industry point to that figure as a sign of overall health. But attendance was down in three of those five years, and the sharp increase in attendance in 2002 is attributed to the overwhelming success of "Spider-Man" and "Star Wars: Attack of the Clones."EDITOR'S NOTE: SO DWEEBS ARE THE ONLY HOPE FOR MOVIE THEATERS?

More recently, the number of moviegoers has dropped, sliding 4 percent in 2003, 2 percent in 2004 and 8 percent so far in 2005.

Time spent on the Internet has soared 76.6 percent and video game playing has increased 20.3 percent, according to the association. Last year, consumers bought $6.2 billion worth of video game software, an increase of 8 percent from 2003, according to the NPD Group, which tracks video game sales.

This does not mean that the $9.5 billion theatrical movie business is anywhere near its last gasp. It still plays a crucial role for the studios in generating excitement. But movie makers recognize they have to be more on their toes if they want to recapture their core audience.

"There are a lot of distractions," said Jerry Bruckheimer, who produced the "Pirates of the Caribbean" in 2003 as well as the successful "CSI" television franchise. "You need to pull them away from their computers. You need to pull them away from their video games." EDITOR'S NOTE: THIS IS A PRETTY FUNNY COMMENT, IF YOU THINK ABOUT. SINCE AREN'T MOVIES THEMSELVES A 'DISTRACTION'?

Consider Matt Cohler, a 28-year-old vice president at, a Silicon Valley company that creates Internet student directories on college campuses. Mr. Cohler likes movies, but lately, he said, little has grabbed his attention.

He liked the new "Star Wars" and a documentary about the collapse of Enron. But of the Nicole Kidman-Sean Penn big-budget thriller, "The Interpreter," Mr. Cohler said, "It was only O.K." He has few plans to see anything else this summer, and said he was content to spend his free time online or writing e-mail.


Amy Pascal, the chairwoman of Sony Pictures Entertainment's motion picture group, said, "We can give ourselves every excuse for people not showing up - change in population, the demographic, sequels, this and that - but people just want good movies." EDITOR'S NOTE: BLAHBLAHBLAH. WHAT DOES THIS MEAN? NOTHING. WHAT IS A 'GOOD' MOVIE TO ME, MIGHT NOT BE TO YOU. YES WE ALL WANT 'GOOD MOVIES'. BUT THAT REQUIRES VARIETY. WITH 200+ CABLE CHANNELS, PEOPLE ARE USED TO BE CATERED TO RATHER SPECIFICALLY. WHICH MEANS THE SPLINTERING OF TASTES, WHICH MEANS WHAT EQUALS SUCCESS AT THE BOX OFFICE MIGHT NEED TO BE RE-THOUGHT BY THE STUDIOS.

She predicted that "Bewitched," a romantic comedy about a producer who unwittingly hires a "real" witch for the lead role in a remake of the television show, would have a broad appeal. "If it was a straight-ahead remake of the show," she said, "we would have been guilty of doing the ordinary."EDITOR'S NOTE: LET'S NOT HAVE ANY KIND OF GENERAL DISCUSSION OR ANY ATTEMPT AT DEPTH OF THOUGHT. LET'S THROW IN A PLUG FOR WHATEVER YOUR LATEST 'FLAVOR' IS. SNICKER....

Jill Nightingale, 37, who works at IGN Entertainment in ad sales, is the type of moviegoer - older, female and important to studios - that "Bewitched" should appeal to. But video games increasingly have taken up time she otherwise might spend watching television or going to the movies. The last two theater showings she said she attended were "Star Wars" and "Sideways," which she viewed in December.

She plays a video game for 30 minutes each night before bed. Two weeks ago, five friends joined her at her San Francisco condo to drink wine and play "Karaoke Revolutions" on her Sony PlayStation, where the would-be American Idols had a competition, belting out everything from Top 40 hits to show tunes. EDITOR'S NOTE: YA PITY HER NEIGHBORS, HUH?

"Party games are great for dates," she said. "A few years ago I would have been at a bar or at a movie." EDITOR'S NOTE: DATES? WHAT BE THAT?

But what could well have the greatest impact on theater attendance is the growing interest in digital home entertainment centers, which deliver something much closer to a movie-style experience than conventional television sets.

Brian Goble, 37, a video game entrepreneur, said he had not been to a movie theater in two years, except to see "Star Wars" with his wife and four friends. EDITOR'S NOTE: THE FILM BIZ IS GONNA MISS UNCLE GEORGE, HUH? THE ONLY THING BIG ENOUGH TO GET EVERYONE IN THIS ARTICLE OFF OF THEIR SOFAS HAS BEEN "STAR WARS". THAT ISN'T WHAT THE ARTICLE IS ABOUT, BUT IT IS TELLING, ISN'T IT?Instead, he stays at his home in a Seattle suburb, where he has turned the basement into a home theater with a 53-inch high-definition television screen and large surround-sound speakers. He no longer has to deal with parking and jostling crowds, he said, a relief now that he has two children.

" It's really just not as comfortable and fun as being at home," he said. "You can pause, go to the bathroom, deal with a crying kid."

Mr. Goble rarely watches video-on-demand ("The quality is poor," he said.) Instead he has an account with Netflix and orders his movies online. When the Nicholas Cage movie "National Treasure" was released last November, for instance, he added it to his Netflix list so he would be sent a copy when it came out on DVD.

His prime regret about seeing the final installment of "Star Wars" was that he could not watch it at home. "The only reason to go to the theater these days," he said, "is because it is a movie you must see now." EDITOR'S NOTE: I REST MY CASE. (AND SOON WE'LL HAVE ROTS AT HOME, AND WE'LL NEVER NEED TO LEAVE THE HOUSE AGAIN!!!)


Closing windows make exhibs hot
By Nicole Sperling

If Mark Cuban has his way, theatrical distribution may never be the same.

2929 Entertainment, the company Cuban founded with partner Todd Wagner, is determined to collapse the traditional distribution windows by simultaneously releasing films across theatrical, home video and cable.

But even though the experiment has barely begun, it already is running into steely opposition from theater owners across the country who are up in arms.EDITOR'S NOTE: WELL, DUH.

While 2929 announced late last month that it plans to produce and then release six Steven Soderbergh films on the three platforms simultaneously,EDITOR'S NOTE: SO WE'LL NOW HAVE THREE WAYS TO NOT CARE VERY MUCH FOR SODERBERGH. (THRICE THE ENNUI!) exhibitors already are saying they will refuse to play the director's new fare.

As the owner of two of those three distribution outlets -- it controls Landmark Theatres and the high-definition cable channel HDNet Movies -- 2929 has the ability to fulfill its agenda on a limited basis.

But if the company aspires to distribute Soderbergh's product beyond Landmark's 209 screens, it faces a formidable roadblock in that many commercial theaters have refused to play product that is released in other formats at the same time as it is offered to theaters.

"Our policy will continue to be that we don't exhibit films that are already in the market on DVD or pay-per-view," said Mike Campbell, president and CEO of Regal Entertainment Group, the largest U.S. theater chain. "We believe the plan is ill-conceived and won't receive much support from the traditional exhibition or distribution community."

Said Tony Karasotes, chairman and CEO of Chicago-based Karasotes Showplace Theatres: "I just think it's a wrong-headed approach. The way to properly distribute film is to use the traditional sequential pattern set up by the studios. EDITOR'S NOTE: SPOKEN LIKE A GENUINE DINOSAUR. THIS MAY STILL BE THE BEST WAY, BUT ITS SUPREMACY AND EFFICACY ARE SLIPPING (SEE PREVIOUS ARTICLE). TIME TO OPEN YOUR MIND TO WHAT ELSE MIGHT BE WORAKABLE. BEFORE YOU GO THE WAY OF THE DODO. (2929's plan) is ass-backwards, and I don't want to encourage that kind of approach because I own motion picture theaters."

AMC Theatres, Loews Cineplex, Cinemark USA, Pacific Theatres, National Amusements and Wisconsin-based Marcus Theatres, among others, all have declined to play films with simultaneous release in the home market.

"We just have to show them results," Cuban said. "By pricing the DVDs at a premium for day-and-date delivery, I think we help create a better value for in-theater viewing. By leveraging day-and-date, we can spend more on P&A, which should also help."

Soderbergh's first announced project is "Bubble," a murder mystery set in a small Ohio town and cast with nonactors. EDITOR'S NOTE: OH GOOD. ANOTHER UNION TO YELL AT THEM!

If the six films Soderbergh creates for 2929 all resemble that model, they might well receive little distribution beyond Landmark's art houses. At least on paper, "Bubble" sounds like an experiment in the vein of the director's R-rated 2002 release "Full Frontal." Even though that film had the benefit of such stars as Julia Roberts, David Duchovny and Blair Underwood, it grossed just $2.5 million after bowing on 209 screens.

"It's really a break for all of us that these films are being released by 2929 and not a Warner Bros., which has to make Soderbergh happy because they have the next 'Ocean's Eleven,' " said one exhibitor at a leading chain who asked not to be named.

Theater owners, of course, have a vested interest in the current distribution model; in many cases they have signed 20-year leases, taken in cash infusions from enthusiastic investors and turned their popcorn-selling, seat-filling operations into profitable businesses.EDITOR'S NOTE: PROFITABLE? NOT LATELY. NOT MOST OF THEM.

But even though 2929's proposal threatens to upend a system that guarantees theaters to be the exclusive venue for new film titles, the vision of the future also has a certain logic of its own.The company first tried its hand at the model, albeit in a more limited fashion, last month with the release of the Magnolia Film documentary "Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room." Produced by HDNet, 2929's low-budget film production arm, and distributed by Magnolia Pictures, the Alex Gibney-driected film opened in Landmark Theatres and had an exclusive day-and-date release on the HDNet channel on DirecTV. "Enron" has earned $2 million theatrically since its April 22 bow, a respectable gross for a limited-release documentary.

Cuban said HDNet subscriber additions won't be available until next month, but the executive said the response to "Enron" has been great. "From subs, from people who told us they just subscribed, and the continued boxoffice success of the movie will only continue to benefit us," he said in an e-mail.

And while the film originally opened in three Landmark Theatres, it has since expanded to other circuits, including Los Angeles-based Laemmle Theatres.

"We felt that HDNet didn't have a significant market penetration," Laemmle Theatres president Greg Laemmle said. "It wasn't like going day-and-date with cable or DVD, and therefore we felt the boxoffice wouldn't be negatively impacted."

While Laemmle was willing to experiment with a film simultaneously bowing with a day-and-date premiere on HDNet, he won't go down the path of exhibiting titles that also are available on home video. "It's a whole different ball of wax," Laemmle said. "A lot of people have DVD players, and a lot of people who see art films have DVD players. I have no interest in encouraging that sort of thing. That said, if someone shows it can work, I don't own that decision, and we'll choose to re-evaluate as the situation demands."EDITOR'S NOTE: THERE YA GO. IN THIS DAY AND AGE, NEVER SAY NEVER.

Other theater chains might be forced to re-evalute the situation as well. At the Milken Institute's Global Conference in Beverly Hills last month, studio heads admitted that the cost of piracy is forcing them to rethink the time between a theatrical release and its home video availability.

Barry Meyer, chairman and CEO of Warner Bros., predicted that in the future "your premiere will be in Wal-Mart."EDITOR'S NOTE: SHUDDER.

While many distributors are paying lip service to the exhibitors, agreeing with them on the dangers of collapsing traditional windows, some of them actually are looking forward to 2929's test of its strategy.

"It's going to be an interesting test," said one distributor who declined to be named. "On the issue of piracy, it would certainly help eliminate some of the concern about the amount of money we spend trying to protect against piracy. Marketing costs are another thing no one has been able to control. If we go video, theatrical and pay-per-view all at once with a well-known title, you could bring in $100 million in one night, similar to a (pay-per-view) fight." EDITOR'S NOTE: SO HENNY PENNY...THE SKY MIGHT NOT BE FALLING AFTER ALL?

Shari Redstone, president of Boston-based National Amusements Inc., disagreed. "It's a short-sided approach -- not just for exhibition but for the people making these decisions. It will diminish the total revenue that can be generated by any one product. People do want to see movies in different venues: You see it in a theater, you buy it, you rent it, you watch it on TV. When you start to merge these windows, the total revenue starts to go away. You may get a big hit on the opening weekend, but it doesn't go further."You also reduce the 'wow factor' of seeing a movie in a theater," she added. "If it's just seen in the home, you decrease the excitement and energy for entertainment and the movies."EDITOR'S NOTE: ALL PROBABLY VERY TRUE. BUT THE INDUSTRY IS CHANGING. BEST TO EXPERIMENT WITH WAYS TO DEAL WITH THESE CHANGES. (BETTER TO PULL THE CART, THAN GET DRAGGED ALONG BEHIND IT).

Cuban doesn't seem all that concerned with exhibition's opposition. Added the billionaire, "If all else fails, we focus the movies we make towards the Landmark chain. If we are successful, we can lever that success and expand the chain."

One argument for 2929's approach is that it will reduce overall marketing costs, since all markets could be reached at once. However that scenario plays out, one marketing exec said that the challenge to bring consumers to the theater only will grow."The challenge will be to get these people to pony up the money to go to the theater when it's available everywhere else," said one studio marketing president who declined to be named. "We always hear from focus groups whether (they deem a movie) a rental or something they want to see in the theater. For most people it's a real financial decision, and there has to be a reason they need to see it in that environment. Releasing simultaneously on different platforms takes away a lot of that reason." EDITOR'S NOTE: IF THEY TRULY BELIEVE THIS, THEN THEY HAVE NO IDEA THE VALUE OF THE THEATER EXPERIENCE. AND IF THE OWNERS DON'T PUT A PREMIUM ON THE MOVIE-AUDITORIUM/GOING OUT THING, HOW THE HECK COULD THEY POSSIBLY DO THE MARKETING OF THAT EXPERIENCE JUSTICE? (WE MIGHT HAVE STUMBLED ON A BIG PART OF THE PROBLEM?)

While Cuban and Wagner are pioneering the new model, other distributors want to see ongoing tests to determine whether the promised benefits -- curtailing piracy and lowering marketing costs -- outweigh any hits to theatrical revenue."It's a little premature, but somebody is going to do it," said one distributor who asked not to be named. "It's inevitable that the industry will move in this direction. It opens the opportunity for a bigger window while the bloom is still on the rose."

But for now, it's the exhibitors who are determined to keep things as they are. EDITOR'S NOTE: I HAVE A BUSINESS THAT'S SLOWLY GOING BANKRUPT. (THE MOVIE THEATER EXHIBITION BIZ).







Vid game strike up to voters
By Jesse Hiestand
Ballots were mailed Tuesday to determine whether members of SAG and AFTRA want to go on strike against a group of leading video game companies.

Results of the referendum are expected to be announced June 7, about six days before the industry's final offer is set to expire.

The strike question has been put to the 1,900 SAG members and 1,000 AFTRA members who worked under the recently expired contract during the past three years.Union officials say a "yes" vote almost assuredly will lead to a strike over the industry's refusal to pay residuals for the use of actors' voices, likeness and performance in video games.

"The issue of profit-sharing is one of fundamental importance to the actors who work in video games and who make these products come alive through their performance," SAG spokesman Seth Oster said. "The time is long past for these companies to step up and give actors their fair share."

Still, the referendum was necessitated by a division that has developed in the unions.

A strike-authorization vote taken during negotiations -- and clearly intended as leverage -- was overwhelmingly approved by the few hundred members who attended the meetings in Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco. A subsequent vote taken after negotiations broke off May 13 signaled that members in New York and San Francisco no longer were in support of a strike, according to union officials.

Strike authorization now requires the support of 75% of the affected SAG members and 66.7% of AFTRA members.

Although the decision to strike will be made by only a small percentage of union members, it would prohibit any of SAG's 120,000 members and AFTRA's 80,000 members from working for the seven companies that were attempting to negotiate a new contract or for the 60 others who were signatories.

At the same time, the unions have jurisdiction over only 10%-15% of their members' work in the video game industry, leading to concern that a strike could jeopardize even that toehold.

Proponents of a strike argue that they always have had to fight to establish residuals in a new industry and that they tend to win when they fight.

In the event of a strike, the gaming companies have vowed to rely on nonunion talent in the short and long term.EDITOR'S NOTE: PICK ME, PICK ME! (OOO...BAD SCAB).

One of SAG/AFTRA's proposals was that residuals be paid only on games that sell more than 400,000 units, which they say would have been fewer than 30 titles in 2004.The companies' final offer includes a 35% wage increase as well as an additional 125% of compensation if a title is licensed for "remote delivery," like an online subscriber service, or if the performance will be re-used on another game. Those terms will be withdrawn or reduced if they are not accepted within 30 days of the May 13 breakdown in negotiations.


Keillor Tells E&P a Talk With Dave Barry Helped Lead to New TMS Column

Early one morning last year, humorists Garrison Keillor and Dave Barry were sharing a van as they headed to the airport from a Spokane, Wash., hotel."We were having a little conversation about newspaper columns, and I was telling Dave why he ought to keep doing his," Keillor recalled in an E&P phone interview. "He said, 'Why don't you do one?'"

Barry didn't take Keillor's advice, but Keillor took Barry's.

On July 3 -- about six months after Barry began an indefinite leave of absence from his Miami Herald/Tribune Media Services column -- Keillor will start writing a feature for TMS.

What approach will the host of radio's "A Prairie Home Companion" take in his weekly column?

"I'm not a pundit," replied the Minnesota-based humorist. "I'm not an authority on the Mideast, Congress, or taxation. I'm not a crusader or an apologist." Keillor said his feature will instead be "an odd amalgam" of the sensibility of local newspaper columnists -- who he called "real treasures" -- and national newspaper columnists as he discusses the big-picture meaning of "small current events."

When asked for an example of this approach, Keillor recalled recently standing in a South Dakota parking lot watching a woman from Los Angeles interacting with local residents. "She was taller than I, because she was wearing 8-inch heels, and she had atomic orange hair," said Keillor. Yet the woman and residents were interacting in an amicable way.The lesson for Keillor -- and what he might say if he wrote about this South Dakota scene in a column -- is that "this red-state, blue-state business is horse hockey. I find it irritating."

Keillor's politics lean more liberal than conservative. For instance, he's a big fan of progressive New York Times/New York Times News Service columnist Paul Krugman. But Keillor also admired the conservative Times column by William Safire that ended this winter.

The 1942-born Keillor reads the Times national edition and the Minneapolis Star Tribune every day, and also loves perusing other newspapers during his frequent travels. "I cannot begin a day without a newspaper in my hand," he said. When there's no newspaper outside his hotel-room door, or in the hotel's gift shop, or in a vending machine on a nearby street, Keillor goes roaming until he finds a store that sells one.As a longtime newspaper reader, Keillor knows what he likes and doesn't like about the medium. "A newspaper is the most efficient way to keep abreast of the news," he said. "You can read what interests you and skip the rest."

Keillor does think many newspapers these days "are too positive and upbeat on the mistaken assumption that that's what readers are looking for." He'd also like newspapers to run more of "what people really say" (rather than the prepared words of press conferences, speeches, and promotional interviews); more about what people actually eat (rather than fancy recipes); and more police reports."I'm continually fascinated by what people steal and what people do when they're drunk," confessed Keillor.EDITOR'S NOTE: LOL!!!

Given that the humorist can have his say during the weekly "Prairie Home Companion" radio show (which began in 1974), in books (he's authored more than a dozen), and in magazines (he writes periodically for Time and has also contributed to The New Yorker), why is Keillor doing a newspaper column?

One reason is length. "I love the short form," said Keillor. "On my radio show, I can use 5,000 words if I want. The newspaper column is 800 words. The beauty of it is the limitation of it."

Keillor has received offers to write a newspaper column in the past. One reason he turned them down was because syndicates told him such a feature wouldn't be that time-consuming. Writing the best that one can write isn't easy, Keillor said, and "takes as much time as it's going to take."EDITOR'S NOTE: WELL WHATEVER HE WRITES WILL SURELY BE WITTY AND ENTERTAINING AND INCITEFUL. (HERE'S HOPING HE'S CARRIED IN THE HOUSTON CHRONICLE)!

Dick Wolf Lays Down the Law, Keeps Order
By Alex Ben Block
A little more than a year ago, the union of NBC and Universal had to wait until one producer renegotiated his contract, which tied him to both partners in the merger. Of course, he wasn't just any producer. For two decades, Dick Wolf had been a mainstay of both Universal Studios and the Peacock Network. His "Law & Order" franchise was and still is central to the success of both companies.

A year later, Mr. Wolf isn't pleased.

Though he will have three "Law & Order" shows on NBC in the fall, the network's new schedule does not include his latest spinoff, "Law & Order: Trial by Jury," which has been on only one season.

"I don't understand the decision. I've made that clear to anybody who has asked," Mr. Wolf said, his anger still smoldering more than a week after NBC announced its fall schedule in New York.

Mr. Wolf would like to remind NBC of its own history. In 1990, when the late, legendary Brandon Tartikoff, then head of the network, put the first "Law & Order" on the air, it wasn't an instant success. Mr. Tartikoff kept it on and nurtured it into a hit. That spawned a television empire. The most successful of the "Law & Order" shows at present is "Special Victims Unit."

"To have the history they [NBC] have to draw on," he mused last week, "this is the exact profile all the shows have had in their first year, and then they grow. ['Trial by Jury'] would have settled into that time slot very comfortably, I am quite certain."

Mr. Wolf says that by his count Kevin Reilly is the 31st head of programming with whom he has dealt. His count may be questionable, but there is no question Mr. Wolf has been a key to the success of NBC for two decades. For the most part he has great creative freedom. He has earned that trust.

That is why it seems likely NBC will eventually find a way to make him happy once again.

Already there are rumors. Though it isn't on the fall schedule, Mr. Wolf has heard through back-channel network sources that "Trial by Jury" may not be dead.

"I keep hearing tangentially the door is open," he said late last week, "but nobody's called me."EDITOR'S NOTE: WHAT AN ODD AND INFANTILE BUSINESS. IF THEY DEAL WITH THEIR TOP GUY THIS WAY, CAN YOU IMAGINE WHAT THEY DO TO THE LITTLE FOLKS?!

Mr. Wolf's logic is that the "Law & Order" shows make the company a lot of money, not just on the network, where they remain profitable even if the ratings have been down on two of the three remaining shows (the original and "Criminal Intent"), but also because they have proved extremely strong in reruns and on cable channels such as A&E (which lost the rights), TNT and the USA Network.

After his deal was renegotiated last year by NBC and Universal, he said it became more of a "partnership." Mr. Wolf thought the parties were in agreement. "Since everybody's in the same company and eating out of the same bowl, we should work together," he said. "The long-term planning is much more in agreement, which is to keep the shows on as long as possible."

Due to its Wolf-designed economic model, "Law & Order" doesn't have as big a problem with soaring star salaries as the show ages. Over time, star salaries soar and production costs mount.

On "Law & Order," the show is the star. While there may be recognizable performers, none stay on forever. "In its 16th year, 'Law & Order' on a cost basis is still less than most third- or fourth-year shows, because of the ensemble nature and the fact that we do things much more efficiently than most production companies. We know how to control costs," he said. "You're also dealing with stuff that was billed years ago. A lot of costs on new shows, in terms of getting it up and running, has all been taken care of."

Mr. Wolf likes to freshen up his casts, and by doing so keeps salaries under control. "The fact is on a revenue basis these shows are making more money than they ever have," Mr. Wolf said. "This is not a secret. In 2004 the three shows on the air generated more than a billion dollars in advertising revenue. Not many groups of shows that are part of network schedules generate that kind of revenue."

Mr. Wolf grew up around show business. His mother worked in TV publicity. His father was head of production at two ad agencies in the days when agencies produced many of the shows. He found his first success in advertising, where he authored lines like "Scope fights bad breath without medicine breath."He learned about branding by observing companies such as Procter & Gamble. Just as P&G can sell numerous versions of Crest toothpaste, his vision was to extend the brand of his franchise shows and sell it on multiple platforms on a global scale.

He moved west in 1977 and started writing for "Hill Street Blues" and "Miami Vice," which led him into producing. He has had flops, but Mr. Wolf has been able to build on his successes, spinning off more shows.

He is currently developing an untitled comedy for NBC, to be directed by the legendary James Burrows, whose touch has helped launch shows such as "Cheers" and "Two and a Half Men." It could be for midseason on NBC.

"When you come out of advertising you understand the programming," Mr. Wolf said. "Television is free because of advertising. Commercial television is merely a life-support system for commercials."

That is cause for concern these days, Mr. Wolf added, because of new technology such as TiVo: "It affects everything. It's one of those things that is an increase in technology that may not accrue to the benefit of the people who are pushing for it right now."

That doesn't mean Mr. Wolf is ready to give up on network TV. He said the success of "Desperate Housewives" proves broadcast remains vital. "The thing I found exhilarating about this season is that it shows once again that the imminent demise of network television has been overreported," he said. "There are troublesome things on the horizon, from TiVo to video-on-demand. How do you monetize this? What are advertisers going to do? But it's still out there. There's still no other way to consistently reach 20 [million] or 30 million people at a pop."

"And the good news," he added, "is when good shows are on, even at the same time, people will come. It's still the 800-pound gorilla, and on some nights it can be the 900-pound gorilla again."EDITOR'S NOTE: A SHARP BLEND OF REAL-WORLD SAVVY, WITH A NICE SOUPCON OF OPTIMISM. BRAVO MR. WOLF!

Among producers, Mr. Wolf remains one of TV's 900-pound gorillas. Whoever is on screen in his ensemble shows, the real star is Mr. Wolf himself.


Selling From the Grave
Company Extending Its Q Likability Ratings to Dead Performers Whose Appeal May Be Useful to Advertisers
By Wayne Friedman
After 40 years of giving its noted Q scores to alive and kicking television performers, research company Marketing Evaluations will tabulate scores for actors who aren't so robust.

Now culling research for dead performers, the Long Island, N.Y.-based company is calling its new product Dead Q.

It's a research tool designed to help marketers and TV programmers, who are increasingly using performers of the past-such as John Wayne and Fred Astaire-in commercials or attached to new programming.

Increasingly, said Steve Levitt, president of Marketing Evaluations, companies are using new video technical insertion capabilities to use performers from the past. In the late '90s Fred Astaire could be found dancing in commercials with the Dirt Devil vacuum cleaner.EDITOR'S NOTE: NOTHING MAKES ME WANT TO VACUUM MY HOUSE QUITE LIKE A DANCING DEAD GUY. (OH BE REAL. NOTHING MAKES ME WANT TO VACUUM MY HOUSE).

Mr. Levitt added that for cable networks such as Turner Classic Movies, AMC and Fox, which schedule older movies, Dead Q can be a helpful research tool.

For instance, Dead Q could help a network decide which actor to feature in a Friday-night movie marathon.

"There are infinite possibilities for something like The Biography Channel," Mr. Levitt said. EDITOR'S NOTE: WELL...NOT 'INFINITE'. (UNLESS YOU START MAKING STUFF UP).

Marketing Evaluations also thinks the U.S. Postal Service could be a source of business, since the Postal Service releases collectible stamps bearing the likenesses of deceased celebrities.

Dead Q is the latest in a series of products the company has released.

It has number of products evaluating TV shows, products and sporting events. Its longest-running product is its original service, now called Performer Q, which began in 1964.

Performer Q surveys twice a year the recognizability and likability of more than 1,700 performers. The company has a panel of more than 40,000 homes, representing over 100,000 people, who respond to mailed questionnaires.

Mr. Levitt said the highest score ever was for Bill Cosby, who garnered a 70 score (out of 100) in the 1980s.

More recently movie star Tom Hanks has been regularly sitting at the top of the list with a 50-plus score.

Likability Score

Companies can benefit from using Q scores to make an educated guess about a celebrity's potential as a marketing tool.

For instance, Mr. Levitt said "ER" star Noah Wyle had a low recognition score but a high likability score when the series first began. That could have been valuable opportunity for a marketer to sign a Mr. Wyle as a spokesperson, exploiting his likability without having to pay him a large fee.

Recognition doesn't always follow likeability. For instance, though recognition of Martha Stewart is high, her likability score is in the "single digits," Mr. Levitt said.

For the most part, creative executives at ad agencies use Q scores to determine whether to hire a spokesperson for their clients' products.

TV programmers are the next biggest clients for Q scores, since casting directors will use the data to make decisions.

And media agencies use the research.Brad Adgate, senior VP and corporate research director of Horizon Media, wonders if Q data is necessary these days. "A lot of people may feel they can do this research on their own," he said. "You can go online and find out about people pretty easy. We live in a information age with a celebrity-obsessed culture right now."Mr. Adgate, though, liked the Dead Q product idea. "That's interesting. The one thing about dead people is that their image really isn't going to change. They are not going to suddenly get busted for spousal abuse or drunk driving."EDITOR'S NOTE: OH GIVE IT TIME. ONCE THE AD RESIDUALS START ROLLING IN, THOSE DEAD FOLKS ARE SURE TO START DRINKIN AND WHORIN.

Lyle Schwartz, senior VP of media research for Group M's Mediaedge:cia, said he uses the Q scores perhaps two or three times a year when evaluating talent on TV shows that his clients may purchase."We try to figure out who would be good to draw an audience," he said, "and who would be good as a lead [performer] in a program. For some performers you look for a trend, to see whether someone is wearing out their welcome."

Mr. Schwartz said some agencies may want to do their own research, but the key problem is in getting demographics, which is something Q scores offer.Marketing Evaluations' new products look to serve these specific research niches.

For instance, some years ago the company started a Q product for cable programming to evaluate the worth of specific cable shows. Mr. Levitt said with many cable shows getting tiny and indistinguishable Nielsen Media Research 0.1 and 0.2 ratings, Q scores offer deeper analysis for TV marketers and programmers. EDITOR'S NOTE: SO MANY PEOPLE WITH MBAS, SO LITTLE COMMON SENSE. WHAT A SAD, SILLY BUSINESS I'M TRYING TO ESCAPE. (BUT THAT 'DEAD Q' TITLE IS GOING TO MAKE ME GIGGLE ALLLLLL DAY)!