Category Archives: General

Articles that don’t fit into other categories. Some articles may not have a science fiction and fantasy connection.

Fred Astaire’s movie Kung Fu

This video really has nothing to do with science fiction and fantasy, other than to make you wonder how they pulled off some of the special effects you find in many of Astaire’s movies. Everyone knows about the “dancing on the ceiling” trick by now (where they rotated a box in which Fred was dancing like a hamster wheel). But watch the cane closely. It seems to fly up into his hands at several points. And when he joins a chorus line of male dancers, they’re all Fred Astaire himself — even the guys dancing in the opposite direction from Fred.
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Completely amazing video

I can’t tell if this was produced by amateurs or professionals, but it’s got to be the most uplifting, inspiring video I’ve ever seen. I love the music but the shots of the kids (and adults) sharing hopeful messages just strike a chord within me. You can feel the positive energy flowing across the world.

Why SyFy cannot keep its shows alive

SyFy’s Craig Engler wrote a thoughtful response to the various “Save Our Show” campaigns that are presently underway on Boing Boing. In “How to REALLY save your favorite sci-fi show from cancelation” Craig writes:

So the biggest way you can have a real, meaningful impact – the way that will work every time if you can pull it off — is to find a way to get NEW viewers to try the show. And a LOT of new viewers. If a show isn’t successful with 900,000 viewers, it’s not going to start working with 950,000 viewers. It’s going to take a few hundred thousand new viewers to make an impact.

The way to do that is to go big. Instead of talking to us, talk to the critics and TV bloggers out there who have the most readers and try to get THEM to talk about the show. Do something so unique that your “save the show” campaign gets covered on the homepage of CNN. Find a way to get Jon Stewart to joke about your campaign on his show. Use tools out there like Twitter and Facebook that let you reach people on a mass scale. If you’re sending letters to the network, send them to your friends too. And send them to your friends’ friends. You need scale, and you need it quickly because…

And that is where Craig lost me. Jon Stewart doesn’t amount to a hill of beans when it comes to building audience share for a television show. There are three factors that directly affect a show’s success in building audience:

  1. It’s targeted at the right timeslot
  2. It’s targeted at a receptive demographic
  3. It’s targeted at productive advertisers

If you miss the targeting on one of the three you might still have a successful show for a while but it won’t realize its full potential, and I would argue (probably with Craig’s agreement) that you cannot be successful without productive advertisers.

Productive advertisers embrace the show’s brand. They become more than suits running commercials in-between your three acts and finale — they set up show-related marketing initiatives. That’s where the fast food chains come in with their spaceships and ray guns, their characters-on-a-cup, and that’s where the breakfast cereals get their special packaging, their back-package adventures, and so on. Genre shows are great at building these kind of advertising relationships, but the broadcasting and advertising executives wrongly assume this kind of marketing only works on children.

Take the Hercules and Xena fans. They bought every piece of junk associated with the shows: plastic cups, plastic swords, plastic chakrams — global warming was accelerated three points by the adult fans of those shows targeting cheap junk at children who had little intention or desire of buying the stuff. They weren’t even watching the shows unless Mom and Dad forced them to.

SyFy is feeling some heat from fans of Legend of the Seeker and other shows right now. Why? Because everyone perceives them as the place where genre shows can (or should) succeed. Oddly, SyFy seems to be moving away from genre shows. It’s more interested in wrestling because, oddly enough, money talks. Hey — isn’t that wrestling merchandise I see in the stores?

So ABC Studios hasn’t exactly flooded the marketplace with Seeker merchandise contracts but that’s only one of the three tiers. Anyone who is as sick of depending upon Tribune Broadcasting for picking up genre shows as I am has to be secretly happy that they dumped Legend of the Seeker because maybe, MAYBE ABC might find a way to get the show broadcast in receptive markets on a consistent basis. You don’t build audience share by pre-empting a popular show, changing its weekly broadcast, or otherwise screwing with the audience expectations.

When your audience cannot trust you to broadcast a show as scheduled, you have absolutely no business criticizing the masses for staying away in droves. Tribune wants to invest more money in Jerry Springer productions because they are less expensive and they appeal to the limited imagination of people who will buy just about anything an advertiser sticks in front of their face. Good-bye Tribune. Please don’t pick up any more genre shows. You don’t deserve them.

But here’s where any genre show will fail: if you don’t target the show at a receptive demographic, you have absolutely no chance of building sustainable market share. SyFy, Tribune, and ABC — let me clue you in to something: You’re living with the INTERNET GENERATION.

Some people in the film and television industry GET the Internet Generation. Some people don’t.

I’ve been building and promoting science fiction fan sites for over 13 years. I do okay. I’m not a commercial success at it because I never tried to become a commercial success. I don’t want to wake up every morning thinking, “I need 15-20 articles about science fiction and fantasy or my page views will decline 10%”. There are certain genre Websites that go for the mass audience.

I’m good just pleasing 100,000-150,000 fans per month with my network. They generate enough revenue to pay the server fees and that’s all I ask. They make it possible for me to do what I like to do when I have time to do it.

But the Xenite.Org/SF-Fandom network is not alone out there. There are literally thousands of fan Websites — now mostly blogs and forums — that are visited by hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands of visitors every day. Those amateur fan sites, like mine, just do what they want and they share what they like and somehow they connect with millions of people.

Today the film and television industry are struggling to generate “screen time” that pays for all the production costs, marketing costs, infrastructure costs, etc. and still makes a little profit to keep investors happy. But they ran into a brick wall a few years back that they still haven’t figured out how to climb: file sharing networks. It is possible to watch virtually every movie and television show online for free if you’re willing to risk being taken to court or possibly arrested (distributing copyrighted materials in volume is a felony in the United States, for example).

As I write this at least two film studios are waiting on me to put up some content to help them promote their genre movies. I’ll admit I have invested more time than I originally thought I would in the Save Our Seeker campaign, but I was drawn into the effort not by fandom’s cries for help — I was enticed into taking action because Slam Internet, Inc. asked me to put a LOTS widget on my Website.

They’re still asking me to help increase exposure.

Craig — that is what SyFy, ABC, and Tribune need to be doing for all their shows: reaching out to the fans online and giving them tools to work with. The studios that do this still haven’t quite mastered the almost twin arts of social and viral marketing. In classic viral marketing you give people something to share, to pass on. It spreads like a virus. In social marketing you give people something to engage with.

What guys like me really need is a constant flow of unique content. I don’t want the same stuff being handed out to 20 other fansites. I want stuff that lets people engage with me in a way that differs from how they engage with other sites. In the world of Internet marketing the audience tends to stick with the site it first arrives at regardless of the quality of the sites behind it. That’s just the way it is. So every site needs something new, something different, in order to peel people away from those “first hit” sites they find that naturally capture their loyalty.

Television networks and film studios have sometimes gone down that path the right way. More often they just put up shlocky cheap crap Websites that do nothing but twinkle in flash and tell you to buy the DvD; worse, they have begun setting up Twitter accounts so they can tell their fans about all the great stuff they are slinging out.

Do you really think your 1 million followers care about whether the DvD for “Slimy Thing From The Pit” just went on sale? They want to know what you’re thinking, what you care about — they want to know where a studio or network is going next, what priorities and trends you see. They want you to engage, to connect.

In that kind of world, Craig, your advice to fans for saving shows just doesn’t work. The fans cannot create quality experience out of a vacuum of resources. They need to be able to connect with the actors, the writers, the stunt doubles, the directors, and the business decision makers who may not feel comfortable explaining themselves to 100,000 hard core fans.

Why are Star Trek, Stargate, and Star Wars fandoms so big? Why do those franchises keep succeeding over and over again, whereas other genre franchises come and go? Is it possibly because there is engagement there at all levels?

Is it possibly because someone is really thinking about nurturing a relationship with the audience, even if only at an intuitive level.

ABC Studios (and Tribune and CW and anybody else associated with Legend of the Seeker) should have brought Craig Horner, Bruce Spence, and Bridget Regan to Comic Con, Dragon*Con, anyCon and let them meet with and engage with the fans, the media who cover the conventions, and be part of the whole experience.

Craig Horner walks down the street in New Zealand and people don’t know who he is. Maybe that will be great for him as an individual — he won’t be ruined by all the attention that destroys Hollywood style celebrities more often than not. But maybe if Craig had to fight off his fans and flee for the sake of keeping his pants once in a while, no one would be writing “Save Our Seeker” today.

It’s not the fans’ fault that the television networks and studios still cannot figure out how to do 21st century marketing.

It costs about $7,000 to fly someone first class from New Zealand or Australia to the United States. Don’t sit on your hands and say there is no return on that investment. That dog won’t hunt.

For what it’s worth, the 15th annual Xena convention was held in February. Anyone who wants to get into the genre show business should spend some time observing that fandom. That will teach you a lot about how to do it right.

How to promote your independent Scifi film on the Web

Except for all the differences that distinguish it from all the others, today is a day like any other day. I just don’t have time enough in my day to do everything I need to do.

I wonder if Hermione’s Time Turner would help me catch up on things that I need to do.

So, anyway, like there’s a thousand things happening that I’m aware of but I’m so buried in Web projects I just haven’t had time to come up for a breath of air.

But in case anyone is watching, the Mothman Prophecies Website has now been renovated. It’s a popular part of Xenite.Org and probably should have been updated long ago but it was one of the few content sections that sort of stood on its own.

We were approached by the studio or their PR agency to help promote the movie online. I asked if they would provide me with content to create a site, rather than just post some announcement and they agreed.

Studios do occasionally contact Xenite.Org and ask if we want to be added to their list of fan sites. Sure, we’re glad to accept the press releases but if you’re letting a dozen fan sites publish the same press release you’re not getting much bang for your buck.

Another studio contacted us this week about an upcoming Steampunk movie. I’m trying to see what they’ll let us do. If they just want us to link to their site, we’ll pass.

Here is a tip to all the small film studios that want to use fan sites to promote their movies: Don’t just distribute press releases. Give the fan sites something extra to work with. Create “Web Kits” that include background information, images, interview transcripts, etc.

And don’t sling this stuff out to all the major sites like UGO, I09 and then hit the smaller sites as an afterthought. Give people an opportunity to do something unique.

You’re only hurting yourselves because, frankly, I can get a LOT of Websites to mention my special projects when they stand out from the crowd. But I don’t have time to go out of my way to create something from scratch for every little film that is coming out.

Xenite.Org is a true fan site — we’re not commercialized database-driven keyword-injected promo site and we don’t have a staff of journalists writing 10-20 stories every day. We get thousands of visitors each day but we do this out of the passion we feel for the topic.

And that’s my rant for the day. Thank you for listening, but send me real, substantial content, please.

Xena Online Resources update

Xena Online Resources is the Web’s premier Xena Links Directory (actually, it’s a Hercules and Xena directory now). I started it as a news group posting in 1996 and launched the first version of the Website in December 1996.

Within a few months I was so overwhelmed by submissions I had to recruit a team of editors to help maintain the directory. We eventually migrated the site from hand-coded link lists to the Gossamer Threads Links script, and today we’re still using that software.

My partner, Dixie Harrison, took responsibility for managing XOR and the XOR Team in the fall of 1997 but about 2 years ago she and I became so overwhelmed by offline responsibilities we were unable to restore all the functionality to XOR services after a server move.

I realized this weekend that the Hercules and Xena Banner Exchange had not functioned since April 2008, which is when we made the last server change (I think). And XOR had a lengthy queue of Website submissions that had not been processed in a long, long time.

Because I’ve been updating HTML infrastructure for the Xenite network I had to work on these services. I got to them a little sooner than I expected but I felt a sense of urgency once I realized there was broken code all over the place.

I’ve cleared the submissions queue, updated the code, formally shut down the banner network, and rebuilt the directory. I did not, however, have time to review all the existing listings (there are over 1600). I know there are many dead GeoCities links in the directory, for example.

The XOR Team have all moved on. They created one of the greatest fan resources for Hercules and Xena fandom, in my opinion, and I don’t want to shut down the directory. The Gossamer Threads software is outdated but still performs its job well. I suppose I can keep it going on my own with occasional updates.

Working on those sites was a bit like opening up an old shop that had been shuttered for years. The place was dusty, filled with cobwebs, and it thundered with the memory of a thousand conversations. Voices from the past echoed in my mind as I looked at the templates for all the pages.

Spica, Vrondi, Simon, Dixie, Christine … so many names from the past kept coming up. We’ve lost touch through the years.

The SF-Fandom moderators are the last of the volunteer groups that helped us build a great fan network. There was a time when Xenite had directory editors, fan fiction writers, fanfic editors, and even a few code engineers working under the hood.

Online fandom has put down the tools of the trade, so to speak, and moved on to Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, and dozens of other services that make it easy to create content on the Web.

You can create content but you’re not creating great fan sites, in my opinion, through social media. I don’t mean to take anything away from all the hard-working fans who have set up hub pages and other tributes to their favorite shows, books, and movies. But social media-based fan sites just don’t look and feel the same to me.

Call me old school. I just always loved working on the craft of building a fan site from scratch. I loved looking at the sites other fans built from scratch.

My sense of nostalgia was sparked, I think, by looking at some of the old fan sites that have been archived. Kym Taborn posted a thoughtful comment on Whoosh! not long ago. She, too, has moved on. But she went back to clean up a few things.

These old Websites feel like the houses we grew up in. Of course, Xenite is still very much alive. We add new content, and I try to keep updating the pages (and the code). I have no intention of shutting down the network any time soon.

But I miss the old days. We had a lot of fun times, a lot of intense deadlines.

We were fans sharing an experience. You can’t really replace that with Tweets.

Not in my opinion.

Anatomy of an April Fools’ Joke

Oh, April 1 has come and gone and everyone wants to forget about those little jokes, right? Well, I need something to write about and I have a confession to make: last week’s Xenite.Org April Fool’s Joke didn’t go the way I hoped it would.

Why is that? Because it was too elaborate, I think, and because it was too well known. In other words, timing is everything and my timing was off by about 9 years.

Here’s the thing: every couple of years I have published a fake news article about an archaeological expedition that has uncovered some startling evidence about events depicted in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings (or The Silmarillion).

Call it fan fiction from the edge, I suppose. The concept is not new and goes back at least to around 1980 when some Tolkien fans published a pamphlet detailing an archaeological dig from Middle-earth. It was quite inventive and I was not aware of it until after I started my own series of jokes.

My LoTR Fools’ joke began on April 1, 2001 with a press release about the discovery of the truth about Balrogs — that is, that they were real creatures. Cryptozoology (the study of creatures whose existence has not yet been confirmed/affirmed by science) failed to sit up and take notice, but the press release caused quite a stir in online Tolkien communities.

The article introduced the character of Reinhard van Gelder (spelled with a lower-case “v”) from the fictional Royal Museum of Antiquities in Amsterdam. So far as I know, no such institution has ever existed but in 2001 Web search was not as fully developed as it is today. Another character, Robert Westerburg from Ponce de Leon University, made his only appearance (so far) in the series in this press release.

The article also mentioned Jan Eiger, a supposed expert Alpine mountaineer. Eiger’s name was inspired by the Clint Eastwood movie “The Eiger Sanction”.

On April 1, 2005 I announced that scientists had discovered the ruins of Thangorodrim under the North Sea. This article, also published in the form of a press release, mentioned the Undersea Ancient Habitation Project and the Danish Geography Authority as well as the Swedish Institute of Undersea Studies — all fictional organizations, so far as I was able to determine.

Dr. van Gelder returned in this article, which introduced Ingrid Haglund of the Swedish Paleoarchaeology Institute and Stig Källén (of the Swedish Institute). The article made reference to the (then) recent discovery of diminutive hominids on the island of Flores in Indonesia. These “hobbits” (now confirmed to be a separate species of human) sparked a contentious debate within the paleoanthropology community, and people said it was a nice touch of realism.

Those two articles lacked images, however. Also, both were hosted on Xenite.Org, which was not exactly known as a major news site. So I waited and hoped for time and energy to do a better April Fool’s article. In 2007 I succeeded in creating an interesting twist on the subject.

The April 1, 2007 feature article disclosed information about Lothlorien and Dol Guldur. I was able to find pictures of the Rhine valley and suitable castles but I struggled to put a face to the name of Reinhard van Gelder. I eventually settled on a slightly doctored 19th century photograph (I forget who the original subject of the picture was).

He looks like an esteemed archaeologist (from the 19th century) in my opinion. And for some odd reason the spelling of Dr. van Gelder’s last named morphed to Van Gelder (with a capital “V”).

This article introduced Dr. Ernst Voorst of the Rhine Archaeology Institute and Dr. Van/van Gelder’s professional arch-rival Dr. Edward O’Leary of the Irish Archaeology Fellowship. The article contained two sidebars profiling van Gelder and Voorst. Dr. Voorst was a graduate of Basel-Doorn University.

The article includes some disagreement between the two fictional scientists, but I regretted at the time that I had no way of creating .EDU-based content about either of them. I contemplated inviting some readers from universities to participate in the joke but decided that student pages would eventually be taken down and that educators might refrain from participating in elaborate jokes.

So I mulled over my options for three years, believe it or not. I wanted to top myself but I knew I couldn’t do anything like create fake .EDU domains. I finally settled on creating a bit of “buzz” across the Web by writing twelve blog articles that picked up the fake news story on Xenite.

So this time Dr. Voorst and his team excavated Arwen’s grave in Lothlorien. Unfortunately, I learned to my dismay that Dr. van Gelder had passed away in early 2008 from pneumonia, so I had to bring in a new expert, French anthropologist Felecia Bonnet.

To honor Dr. van Gelder I created the Reinhard Van Gelder Institut für Anthropologie und Archäologie (Institute of Anthropology and Archaeology) at the Universität des Rheins (University of the Rhine). Interestingly, although there is no present-day University of the Rhine one existed 200 years ago. I don’t know what happened to it (unless it is the same as the Friedrich Wilhelm University of the Rhine, which is now the University of Bonn).

Not to be confused with Duke University’s Rhine Research Center, which studies consciousness (is that related to parapsychology?), the fictional University of the Rhine supposedly stepped in to carry on Dr. van Gelder’s legacy.

As near as I can tell, the news articles drew a fair amount of traffic but regrettably they didn’t send that much traffic to the Xenite article itself (which attracted visitors from the Xenite network). I think I was just asking people to look at too many articles.

Like the 2005 article, this year’s April news report featured images from the archaeological dig site. By placing some of the pictures on Image Shack I was able to spread the news a little further and make some of the news stories look better.

But that certainly was more trouble than it was probably worth. In 2005 the joke went so far as to draw Gary Gygax and a few other people into discussing the possibilities of ancient Rhine valley cultures before someone tipped them off to the truth. This year a few people expressed their pleasure at seeing the joke continue but no controversies erupted.

I suppose that’s a good thing, but you always know a joke has worked well when people express an emotional reaction.

Maybe if I could have seeded the joke on real news sites it would have worked better, but the problem is that everyone runs April Fool’s jokes on the Web now and there were just so many competing stories one could not get a joke in edge-wise. Even Twitter seemed to be clogged with fake archaeology stories announcing the discoveries of space aliens, Bigfoot, ancient civilizations, and more.

Tolkien fans are not as numerous as they once were on the Internet, either. Most Tolkien forums have been shut down, many that remain are barely active, and much of the discussion has little to nothing to do with serious Tolkien-related topics. People seem to have lost their passion for Middle-earth except in a few reclusive enclaves.

Rather like the Eldar dwindling in a handful of refuges scattered across Middle-earth at the end of the Third Age, Tolkien online fandom has become a pale shadow of its former self. Like Elrond said of the Elven realms at his last great council, they have not the might to march against the power of Mordor. And online Tolkien fandom can no longer muster the hosts of yore to proclaim their devotion to the One True Text (all of them — but that is another story).

If you read the Woodland Princess story and enjoyed it, I’m glad. I did enjoy actually writing all those articles. But I’m not sure I’ll go to those lengths again to entertain my fellow Tolkien fans. The response was too reserved and composed for my sense of humor.