Monday, April 29, 2013

Rebuild of Elmer Studios, year one

It’s been a year of the rebuilt Elmer Studios (or, if you prefer, the sixteenth year all up). Wow. That went by fast.

It was a busy year too; thirty-two MSTings. Of them, which eleven were B-team episodes, fifteen were rebuilds (technically, sixteen were, but one was a rebuild of an unfinished MSTing) and eight were based off franchises that were new to Elmer Studios (nine if you count Transformers Prime on its own). That’s a pretty good run by any standards; true the front-loading of Rebuild of Delta probably accelerated the process somewhat, but the point still stands that it’s been a pretty big and fun year.

(For comparison, thirty-two would have been a good year for the ‘classic’ Elmer Studios. Wow, that says a lot right there and then.)

A half-cleaned slate
Looking back in hindsight, the full reboot of the series was definitely a good idea. It allowed us to approach things from a fresh perspective without the baggage of one hundred and fifty episodes of old material (Including more then a little cringe-worthy stuff) while still maintaining a background and framework to develop from. A lot of good stuff came from this approach, both from the riffing point of view and the character development.

On one side, we developed a lot of new material and gags, many of which took on lives of their own. The “Shouting Tom” was probably our favourite (“Why is John special? Why is special John?”) especially as it outlived Rebuild of Delta and became strangely universal. Others, like the Fic Discussion or Rick’s (deliberately?) missing the point also found their homes and repeated use. Of course, with any good running gag, the secret is to vary it and change it around every now and then, something I’d like to think we did well.

Likewise, a lot of the personality that the Rebuilt characters possessed came about during writing as a ‘it just happened’ process, and yet were things that weren’t there originally; Rebecca’s evasiveness on her past, Dan’s obsession with Ninjas, Rick and Tsuneo’s friendship and so on. The B-Team especially benefitted from this, given that some of them weren’t the deepest of people to begin with. Natasha especially has taken on a life of her own with her crappy band and love of chainsaws.

And then there’s Matt the new guy. Starting over with a clean slate allowed for new characters who were far better integrated then the old B-Team ever could be, and Matt’s adversarial relationship with Rebecca showed what this opportunity could provide when used.

Rebuilding the writing
Due to time constraints, the original Elmer Studios writing process was no longer viable (in fact, it was those same constraints that had lead to the original shutdown to begin with). Instead, a new process was developed for the rebuild.

In the Rebuild, the MSTers will have a sitdown about the fic, highlighting any particularly noteworthy parts or moments and planning for the riffing as a whole. Then one of us will do a run on a section of the fic (A process referred to as Micro-Chunking) before passing it off to the other. They do their run while also doing edit and clean-up, before passing the chunk back. Then it is integrated back to the main fic. The process repeats until the riffing is completed, then the host segments are constructed by the same method. Once that’s done, a promo is written for the website and the fic is posted. Simple.

The use of Micro-Chunking greatly speeds up the process over the older methods, allowing each rifer to work at their pace when they have the time rather then having to do a huge sitdown on the fic. It also allows the riffers to work other projects (B-Teams or whatever) around the fic.

Retroactive Thoughts
Probably the biggest surprise in all of the Rebuild was just how enjoyable Delta Invasion was in retrospect. While no better as a fic, it certainly was a lot more entertaining the second time around. Chapter Four, in particular, underwent a massive rehabilitation, having gone from ‘cringe-worthy’ to ‘forking ridiculous’ in the intervening years. Likewise, the final battle with Justice in twelve also came off as a lot better in retrospect. Conversely, Eleven was just as dry and painful as it was the first time, and Tom venting on his ex in Thirteen was a lot more awkward with hindsight.

New material also provided its amusement; Legion of the Black X-1 (To give the abbreviated version of its title) was a masterpiece of entertainingly bad fanfic. Big Kev and Yurei provided new recurring characters, while Yurei’s compatriot, Lanceataka Sollyariko Foo Foo Cuddlypoops Asakura the third also amused for his own reason. And the strangely fascinating Captain Gruud proved to be a highpoint of his fic, even if he then promptly vanished from it.

So what’s next?
Episodes 232 and 233 are in riffing at the moment, with both due soon. Several more episodes, both regular and B-team are also on the line-up, including the first “special event” riffing akin to those that the original Elmer Studios would have on its 50th anniversaries. Between both fics and character-specific sublopts (crazy, I know) there’s a lot out there.

And here’s a final thought; not only is this the first anniversary of the rebuild, but the tenth of the last ever “classic” Elmer Studios. Wow.