Fanficisode: Production discussion

Feel free to discuss production design, implementation, architecture, casting, distribution, and any other topics you think would fall under this broad scope that may be more geared for a time in the not too distant future.

From the original thread, I think we need to take any productions in baby steps, building from simple to complex. The good news is, in most cases, we’d have to complete the simpler step anyways, before we could move on to the more complex (and costly) options.

Plan A: Text only riffs over a preexisting copy of the movie (no host segments)
Complexity: :hammer: (minimal)
Cost: :heavy_dollar_sign: (Free! aside from personal time and effort)

We can definitely accomplish Plan A. The only thing it costs any of us is the time it takes us to write all the jokes, and then some poor sod has to spend a couple of days translating riffs off the spreadsheet into captions that appear at the appropriate timecodes. It should be relatively easy to layer in a static theater silhouette at the bottom of the screen, and probably a good idea, since captions show up better against a black background anyways.

I will recommend that as a type of shorthand, we consider color coding and justifying the riffs based on who’s supposed to be speaking. Left-justified red for Tom, centered blue for the host, and right-justified yellow for Crow. White centered text for everybody doing things together like singing songs or making noises. While not essential if we’re never planning to move beyond Plan A, it’s not that much more difficult to do, and would save us having to add a Crow:, Tom: or Host: to every caption, especially if there are occasions when it’s useful to add in short context descriptions like (As Dale) or (sarcastically). Here are some examples of what I’m suggesting:

Plan B: A storyboard style episode, with varying degrees of other stuff added.
Complexity: :hammer: :hammer: :hammer: (will require some additional time and effort from our “post production” staff)
Cost: :heavy_dollar_sign: (Still free. The main cost is time and energy.)

Plan B would be to take Plan A, but add in some of the classic MST3K elements like inserting door segments, commercial breaks, and possibly photoshopped storyboard versions or extremely primitive “motion comic” style animations of the host segments, in order to show what the whole thing might look like… had this been a real episode.
If we could find people comfortable providing voice acting (even if they sounded nothing like the original actors) we could also potentially replace the caption cards with voice work at this point, and the captioned version from Plan A would become their teleprompted script to make sure they hit their marks and line up their dialogue at the appropriate time codes and in the space allotted. All the elements would then need to be merged together in Adobe Premiere or a similar piece of software, with some minor visual effects and audio engineering to ensure the movie audio gets ducked at the appropriate places and everybody comes out at approximately the same volume.

Plan B is totally feasible, with a handful of post-production people willing to take the ball and run with it, after all the initial Plan A stuff is finished and out of the way. (Indeed, we could be working on a Plan B release in parallel with writing a Plan A riff of our next movie)

Plan C: A fully produced fan episode, but with no on-camera human actors.
Complexity: :hammer: :hammer: :hammer: :hammer: :hammer: (will require considerable more effort, and probably a couple of months of production time)
Cost: :moneybag: :moneybag: (Somebody somewhere is going to have to pony up some cash for this, but we’re talking maybe a couple hundred dollars instead of thousands for a full-sized human production.)

There are really two ways to accomplish Plan C: Somebody (assuming we have a volunteer in the group who actually knows how to do these things) figures out a way to animate it using flash or extremely bare bones CGI. Or we put on a good old fashion puppet show!

For the puppet show version, we’d need to build build 2 to 4 brand new bot puppets (hand, rod, or bunraku, or possibly a combination of all three) then shoot all the host segments in front of a blue screen or small scale backdrop.

Thankfully, because there would be no human actors involved, the puppets could be built at a much smaller sock puppet scale and any sets we built would be at most maybe 6 feet across, instead of taking up an entire room, and theoretically, one puppeteer could even puppet two characters at the same time.
Also, if we wanted to cut down on human voice acting, instead of Mads we could have a Nomad-style computer built by Dr. Forrester that speaks in an entirely computer synthesized Stephen Hawking voice. And if push comes to shove, we could technically use computer generated voices for some or all of the bots too, though it’d lack the comic timing element of a real human. Having some experience working in theatrics and on other people’s stop animation projects, I can tell you Plan C is doable… but we’re getting to a point where at least some of the people involved are devoting considerable time and materials that cost real life money.

I will just point out that if we did decide to go this route, designing and 3D printing custom toys, puppets, and props with functional articulation is kind of my thing. I own a large scale resin printer, a home-built vacuformer, and a lot of the other tools and components they currently use on MST3K that would go into building any of this stuff. I’m also married to a lady who makes theatrical costumes for a living and lists “Being Beez McKeever” as her dream job, so the two of us working together could take care of lots of the physical stuff on the pre-production end, but that would still leaves plenty to sort out on the actual production and post-production end of things, like finding voice actors, competent film/sound editing, someone who can play music and record (and possibly sing) or show’s intro theme and closing credits, actually shooting all the miniature and puppet sequences (everything I built would either have to be shipped to whoever was doing this part, or I’d have to convert a corner of my garage into a small production studio and attempt to do it myself using an old iPhone 7 and whatever low budget camera tricks I’ve picked up along the way from the Sam Raimi and Best Brains school of DIY filmmaking)

And before we attempted any of this, we’d probably also want to make sure that the current MST3K production office were actually on-board with us producing an entirely puppet-based tribute/rip-off show and posting it online where other people could see it. (I’d hate to go to all the time and effort to produce something like this, only to have it taken down with a “cease and desist” letter three days later.)
Here’s an example of a rod puppet (based off a child’s drawing, assembled in CAD, then resin printed) at the same approximate scale I’m suggesting working at:

Plan D: A full-on fan produced episode, with a human host, human Mads, full sized props, costumes, and the works!
Complexity: :hammer: :hammer: :hammer: :hammer: :hammer: :hammer: :hammer: (Imagine trying to pull off the Bring Back MST3K Kickstarter… without any of the Kickstarter.)
Cost: :moneybag: :moneybag: :moneybag: :moneybag: :moneybag: (We’re probably talking, at minimum, a couple thousand dollars here… all to produce a single YouTube video)

Let me be clear… Plan D is a suicide mission. We could give it a try, but as someone who’s been involved with fan films and theatrics, let me tell you, it is not something you want to dive into half-assed. Most fan films fail disastrously unless everybody involved is extremely competent, knows exactly what they’re supposed to be doing, and the writers/directors/producers are 100% sure of what they want, and how to go about realistically achieving it. If you don’t have every single bit of the project nailed down before you start investing your time and money, it will blow up in your face, and none of the friends that you talked into helping you will ever want to speak to you again.

Bare minimum, for Plan D to succeed, the following resources would have to magically drop in our lap:

  • at least one moderately talented actor with good comic timing to be our Emily/Jonah (willing to work for free)
  • at least two passable voice actors (also with good comic timing) to be our bots (willing to work for free)
  • two puppeteers - if the bot voice actors can’t pull double duty (willing to work for free)
  • potentially up to two more human actors to play the Mads (willing to work for free)
  • somebody to act as cameraman in the same room with the people above to record them performing their bits using a reasonably high quality camera against a blue screen background, in a place that’s large and quiet enough that it is possible to do so without nearby traffic, wildlife, the neighbor’s dog, or planes flying overhead getting recorded at the same time. (oh, and for free.)
  • Somebody to make props and costumes for all the cast and their bots. (willing to work for free, but the materials won’t be.)
  • Somebody to edit all the various pieces together in a way that sort of almost kind of sounds like the people were actually together in the same room, plus provide whatever limited CGI visuals and post production effects we need (willing to work for free)

Oh, and as suggested by Ansible, we’d want to release anything we produce under the “CC BY-NC” 4.0 Creative Commons license: Creative Commons — Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International — CC BY-NC 4.0
Which basically means it’s strictly for non-commercial use, and anybody can take our content and remix/add on to it, provided that all contributers are credited for their work. This mostly protects us from liability and claims of “cashing in” on the works of others, though it is still possible to find yourself in potential legal hot water if you doing anything at all related to the project that involves asking people for money (i.e. starting a Kickstarter, Gofundme, Patreon, or pancake breakfast) or anything that exactly duplicates a registered trademark (like the MST3K moon logo).

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Just a thought… when we DO get to the rough draft script stage, we should probably make it a separate document, so we can preserve the old one with all the riffs on it.

My reasoning being that there may be a joke that has to get cut for timing, or because it overlapped something else funnier, but could possibly be reinserted elsewhere where we’ve identified a gap.

And if we’re struggling to fill certain time codes in the final script, it may be worthwhile to go back and look at everything that got cut and say “hmm… well, we made a ‘Fraggle Rock’ joke back there and didn’t use it… but maybe we can translate that into a gag about eating Doozer towers to fill the gap here.”

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100% agree.

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Because I happen to have a law license, I need to throw a disclaimer here: None of the following text should be construed as legal advice or an agreement of legal representation. I will try to keep things intentionally vague/generic/hypothetical in view of this. I hope that makes sense.

There are many legal issues related to trademarks and copyright. You can’t protect yourself by giving away an infringing work for free.

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I’m not sure how or why MST powers-that-be would have a leg to stand on when they’ve actively encouraged pirating their own content for 30+ years. Really depends on how far down the rabbit hole we would want to go in “production” endeavors.

Areas where we may get in trouble: full on show copy (don’t think Joel/Shout would want it to be confused as canonical), invention exchange, theater silhouette, any actual copyrighted materials such as the mst3k “moon” or the name mst3k or a derivative of that. Anything past a movie voice-over, imo, should be OBVIOUSLY not a mst3k knockoff. We should create our own watch brand instead of a Rollex.

It would be really great if @Lesley or @ivan could get us in contact with someone from Alternaversal so we can ensure we don’t step on toes and such, as that is obviously not our intention. I’d be fine with someone having a conversation with @Ansible or @MyWy or @DeepHurting, since they seem to be the ones driving the bus, and then they can let everyone else know what is or isn’t kosher.

Can I get a notarized original copy of this, please. :stuck_out_tongue:

Terrifying. I’m just going to ignore that. We’re coordinating this whole thing on an official MST 3000 site, and I even flagged Lesley and Ivan at the onset. They’ll let us know if we cross any lines, and if they don’t, they are condoning it by allowing it.

This doesn’t even become an issue until we publish something, and I don’t care about that. The journey is the point. The destination is just it’s bittersweet ending. (And hopefully the beginning of an A*P*E journey!)

I am not a lawyer. I’m not even from the USA. Heck, I’m not even very sensible. But I’m not wasting energy making up legal phantoms. I’m fine reacting to the cease-and-desist order when it shows up, not before.

Wasn’t meant to be.

Just correcting a mild misunderstanding because it made my trained brain itchy. Nothing more. Carry on.

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Also in the “not a lawyer” camp, but being passingly familiar with other fan films (that have gone wrong and a few that have gone right) I think that as long as we steer clear of any movies belonging to super litigious rights holders like Toho, Paramount, or Susan Hart, we’re probably “safe” in the sense that the worst that’s going to happen is we get a cease and desist letter and everything would have to come down. Attempting to sue for monetary damages off something that’s unmistakably a zero budget “parody” fan film would be an extremely bad look for Alternaversal, Shout, or whoever was doing the suing, as MST3K is literally surviving off the love and support of their fans at this point.

Now, in terms of avoiding trademark infringement, I’m definitely on the same page there.
Which is why I think we need our own unique MST3K ball that makes it pretty clear we are not actually claiming to be MST3K. This is what I came up with this morning:

A fully 3D rendered (and printable) MSF3K ball of our own. This file should be usable for either physical printing or computer animation, and I made it maximum resolution so it will theoretically look okay printed at almost any scale up to about 3 feet)

Note: I’m not saying we have to use this particular design, but I’m putting it out there if we want to, because I’m a 3D modeller and I can.

Heres a Google Drive link to the STL file itself, for people who know how to use such things (It’s a big one):

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On @MyWy’s advice, I slightly tightened up the lettering on “Mystery” so it’s a little easier to read. The STL file has been updated as well.

And here’s a brief (crappy) test animation:


@griff17matt@Lesley and I are both part of Alternaversal… so if you’ve got specific questions about what Alternaversal and MST3K would be OK with, let us know, and we’ll coordinate and get definite answers on our end. :slight_smile:


I prototyped a webgl mst3k like experience this weekend, with animated robots that are not preexisting mst3k characters, over a youtube iframe. Next steps were syncing multi-user bot animations and video playback with websockets.

Now that I’ve seen the fans are constructing a riff-script, where the specific gags are time coded, it wouldn’t be too hard to add a presentation of that script in sync with the movie for easy remote recording. Not sure if that would be useful or not.

Anyways this was just a for fun thing, flexing some web dev skills to stay in shape. Though if the fans would like to play with it I’d like to share, but I’d also like to avoid lawyers, and frankly just be respectful mst3k proper. Should I be asking more specific questions about what not to do?


Before you or anyone else puts any sort of time and effort into that (awesome by the way), I think you should direct your questions specifically to @ivan & @Lesley so they can get a thumbs up or down. I’d hate for you to put a ton of effort into something that would never be allowed to live out on the internet for public consumption.

Nice work. :100: I’d love to see them moving. Does it take much effort to program them? Could they do the visual gags we have been writing, like Tom Servo(-replacement) acting like a buoy, or Joel(-replacement) holding up a giant cue card?

But even just a static overlay of the theatre seats would really set the mood. :smiley: That’s about my level of technical ability.

Probably smart. I only do work that is fun in the moment, so if I lose anything to the Beast of Copyright Infringement, it was at least a fun ride.

That’s all technically feasible. Difficulty varies. The three robot models I’m using now are from Quaternius • Animated Mech Pack, and they include a dozen or so animations built in, like running and jumping. Playing those animations is pretty easy with threejs, but most aren’t all that applicable for the robot silhouettes watching a movie. I only really intended these guys to be for proof of concept, but who knows, they’re pretty readable visually.

These robot models also come with the blend files, so making custom animations is on the table. While I can model, skin, rig, and paint 3d models; actual animation I am pretty terrible at. My own output would be real slow.

A dare-to-dream level feature I’ve been trying not to think about is virtual puppeteering via live webcam pose extraction, like tensorflow and posenet. That stuff is pretty cutting edge and therefore pretty flakey. So like I said, I’m trying not to think about it cause that could be a huge timesink. (I do like this that particular project negates a posenet weakness, the extracted poses being 2d, since the lack of a third dimension shouldn’t matter if all you want to do is render silhouettes!)

If there was interest, and we wanted specific custom animations, I think our best hope is another fan who already has a 3d animation skill set.

Another option is programmatic animation. For example it wouldn’t be too hard to have a Tom Servo like robot hover towards the mouse cursor, or a with inverse kinematics have a Crow like robot point towards a location indicated by the mouse, controlled live. I’d call those mid-level difficulty.

It never really seemed plausible to me to put Tom and Crow in themselves, as I assume their characters are on the other side of the lawyer line. But that’s just me guessing.

I never thought of props, but that shouldn’t be too hard, depending on the complexity of the prop. A cue card sounds like the easiest prop possible. Attaching static props to their hands shouldn’t be too hard.

Wow! This is awesome! Are you using the FBX versions for your animations?
I use STL and OBJ format all the time for 3D printing physical objects, though that doesn’t include all the extra rigging information included in a FBX file.

This is pretty close to what I was envisioning for a potential puppet show version, where the theater versions are rigged silhouettes, and the “live action” host segments are done using smaller scale 3D printed rod/hand puppets.

The arm design in particular is excellent. If these were to be made into puppets, the one on the right is almost exactly what I was picturing for a flexible “beaded” style dual rod puppet with arms that function similar to Gonzo on The Muppet Show that can easily point, clap, and be made to pick up objects by giving him swappable hands (which can include embedded rare earth magnets or a good flat spot for double-sided sticky tape)

I was figuring that if we did build new robots, one would use the flexible beaded arms for maximum puppeteering movement, one would have jointed arms pretty similar to Crow, but at a smaller scale, probably using Aquarium Tongs as a forearm substitute, and then another one would be mostly a hand-puppet with extremely limited limb movement, but maybe a more expressive Muppety face.

I’m using FBX, but the pack I downloaded to play with also has OBJ and Blend files. Ought to be able to export whatever from those in Blender, with a little cursing at the axes gods.

For custom bots, I think it’d be easier for a puppet maker to make the meatspace version, then have that 3d modeled from reference photos. I’m not the best modeler, but robots in the dark cut out a lot of the work. But maybe I have that backwards because I’m not aware of what is difficult in the world of 3D printing.

In the spirit of MST 3000, maybe the best way to build a bot would be to just sift through a load of common 3D items and piece them together into something wild. You know, like a bowling pin here and a bubblegum machine there… :smiley:

As someone who does a lot of 3D design that also needs to function and move in meat-space, it’s very much a two-way street where you need to consider how all points of movement are going to function in both environments as you’re coming up with the design. There’s often a bit of compromise involved, especially if you’re trying to build something complex that needs semi-realistic movement for puppetry or stop motion.

However, the biggest factor that dictates puppet design is always going to be “how many puppeteers do you plan on operating this thing?” because even though you can build a totally sweet Fraggle Rock style live hand puppet that takes multiple people to operate, it doesn’t do you any good if your production only allows for one guy who has to be able to do all the movement for multiple characters himself. (At that point, you’re either looking at marionettes or Punch and Judy/Lady Elaine Fairchilde glorified sock puppets)

Ideally though, it’d be nice if the puppets could function equally well in both CGI and meat-space because ultimately, it may simply be easier to rig and animate the entire thing virtually rather than trying to find multiple people willing to get up close and personal with each other and perform any of this live.

I do this all the time. It’s the CAD equivalent of kit-bashing.
(Almost) every Christmas I do custom action figures for all my nieces and nephews where I tell them to draw me something simple (like a superhero) and then they turn around and draw some batsh*t crazy flying narwahl or duck ghost wielding a potato peeler that I then have to somehow turn into a 3D object that looks vaguely like whatever they drew.
Even with a bit of artistic license, I’ve got pretty good at piecing together creepy toys from random bits and pieces sourced from Thingiverse and other similar STL sharing sites.

But I also do it for my fancier more professional designs. Good ol’ Aggedor and the Yeti below were both built out of fur textures taken from this rat: :laughing:


That’s all amazing! Wow!

I have a green screen and studio space with solid sound blocking, so have tossed in before that I’d be up for shooting the live action stuff. I had thought about doing just green screen, but this may be even neater and easier!

Looking into it, we could still record with the green screen for the movie, but just with ping pong balls instead of real puppeteering. I can run that through Adobe Animate for the movement of the silhouettes, easy and done.

If there’s an option to also do motion capture for other bits, I’m down to at least try. I figure worst case I get some experience on something new to practice. Otherwise, I have friends who can make puppets. A lot of them. Like, have put on full puppet rock operas. So that’s also something I do not see any problem with getting done. Basically any combination of lots of tools at our disposal.

And while the script is being worked on, I think it would be good to be prepping any sort of “production team” More time before we get deadlines to try stuff out.

I know we’ve been trying to suss out the legality of it all, so why not just directly ask: @ivan and @Lesley can we get a list of what is 100% off limits? And what would / has traditionally gotten cease & desist orders? Then we know a line to pull back from.

I’m in favor of new 'bots, just like we won’t be naming our host Joel. Let’s make it ours within the universe. Over time maybe we have our own running jokes or mythology. These can be satellite projects built out of love. Maybe that can be a discussion thread unto itself.

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