Fanficisode: Production discussion

I was sort of thinking, (if it’s cool with @ivan and @Lesley, and wouldn’t tread on any legal toes) we could potentially run with the idea that our 3 as-yet unnamed bots hold the position of janitor, projectionist, concession stand attendant inside the Gizmoplex, who sneak off and riff their own public domain movies when nobody else is looking.

(I was actually thinking concept-wise, it’d be funny if the robots in question actually were the projector, the popcorn maker, and the vacuum, but that may be getting a little ahead of ourselves.)

I think the main legal question would be, as long as we’re not selling anything or doing anything besides posting fan videos up on YouTube (or maybe even in the gizmoplex itself, depending on what eventually occurs infrastructure-wise) whether it would be okay for us to use shadowrama theater silhouettes, the same basic MST3K style format of theater segments intercut with skits, potentially our own variant on the spaghetti ball (though that’s not absolutely essential), and potentially namechecking MST3K and the current Mads/Hosts/Bots without actually featuring their likeness. Oh, and potentially doing our own variation on the theme tune…

I think those would be the primary concern for a fan production. That and, if it is okay to go ahead and do this thing, if there’s any sort of legal verbiage that would be appropriate to stick in any opening/closing credits to cover our asses and give appropriate credit where it’s due.


Since it’s a community driven project, I also would love to see various hosts and mads be able to go back and forth, even if just for skits and invention exchanges. Though also for producing episodes if several groups want to do that, or any of us dropping a short. More puppets, more characters, nothing has to be an official idea, just like the new season will be rotating hosts.

And there’s pretty much a template fan film credit verbiage these days we can cut and paste. In reality we’re already pretty covered legally if we have the right crediting up front. But ideally we not only get the thumbs up but can make them laugh and even share it.

The biggest problem in terms of shooting this thing would be getting enough people in the same geographical area to actually record/puppeteer the whole thing, but if you’ve got a studio space and puppet wranglers who’d potentially be willing to help, that is one hell of a hurdle cleared.

It makes sense to probably do most of the fabrication locally, but, I can certainly help out in any way that seems appropriate. Be that bot construction, door sequence miniatures, bot costumes, invention exchange props… whatever would actually be worth the time and effort of me building stuff here in California and then having to ship it out to you and your team in Baltimore.

Logistically, I’d say it probably makes sense to do all the theater segments 100% rigged 3D model, and not even bother with motion capture. As @danj said, robots in the dark cut out a lot of the work, and not having a human silhouette means that the animation doesn’t need to be particularly sophisticated to look “real”.

I can probably build you a component 3D model of just about any physical prop bots you care to create. I can easily convert between STL and OBJ. The one thing I don’t know how to do at the moment is take that model and rig it as a FBX, but if push comes to shove I could probably figure it out if I had to.

While I have no objection to multiple concurrent productions, from a production standpoint, if we plan on doing more of these, it makes sense to try to be as consistent as we can in terms of sets, props, puppets, and performers. Otherwise you’re reinventing the wheel every time you go.

That’s not to say we can’t try to keep things as open-ended as possible to support other people filming their own independent bits that can be incorporated into the production.

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Since you mentioned invention exchanges, I was just thinking that an all puppet production without a human host (especially if you’re building your puppets at a smaller scale) would make that damn hard, since puppets can’t really hold stuff or perform complex actions particularly well.

Now, I’m just brainstorming here, but what do you think about this as a potential flexible and open-ended setup:

Our primary robot hosts are low level employees within the Gizmoplex, who sneak around after hours and hold bad movie watch parties in the empty theater when nobody’s looking.

Maybe they idolize Crow, Tom, and GPC and are somewhat jealous because those guys get to riff all the best bad movies (and have already done most of the really stinkers… I mean, how do you top Manos ?), so they’re simultaneously on a quest to pump up their riffing skills so that maybe someday they’ll get to riff in the big leagues and attempting to find the worst movie ever made that hasn’t been riffed yet.

Instead of having one set of Mads who inflict the movies on them as a form of torture, every show could begin with them reaching out to a different “contact” in the bad movie underground who they think can hook them up with a suitably terrible film to riff. This contact can be a live action person, another robot, a cartoon, a chin puppet alien, a stop-animation talking popsicle stick, a guest star from another riffing project, or whatever else we think would be funny or entertaining.

This conversation more often than not also involves an invention exchange (the official currency of the bad movie underground) meaning that at least 1/2 of any invention exchange can be performed live-action, or in some other method that doesn’t require sticking miniature props to puppet hands.

The rest of the host segments would be pretty straightforward ranging from conversations between our core cast, hexfield visitors, to encountering other robots or creatures who work in the Gizmoplex, some of whom could become reoccurring ancillary characters like M. Waverly or Growler who show up when we need an extra hand for a skit or a specific personality type.

I think this would allow some flexibility in terms of having guest stars and other visitors who pop up from time to time, but would still allow you to shoot the main puppet bits at a smaller scale that doesn’t require a full-sized human-scale set.

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If we were filling an order for 13 shows, I would agree, assuming you actually had the perfect wheel that could not be improved. As it is, this is a creative process and people might want to reinvent the wheel. At this stage, we’ve just got to see what springs up in the garden.

I love the idea of Gizmoplex bots doing the riffing. Potentially a human, too, they can all have interesting reasons to be there.

I would love live actors and puppeteers! The organic look just can’t be duplicated (unless maybe a VR recording of a bot controlled by a human in meatspace? But I wouldn’t know anything about that…)

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Since the gizmoplex is ostensibly a completely digital thing, the notion of ‘gizmoplex bots’ forces me to visualize the lil digital denizens of that old Reboot show!

Oh 90’s, how did we survive you?

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I’d love to see some overly-complicated and cliched back stories for each.

One idea: one robot was slapped together from subroutines found on the SOL, and they bring some familiar behaviours – and the need to sit through and talk over bad movies. Son of Crow? Tom Servcrow? Evil Tom? Anything is possible!

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I love all of this! Opening it up like this gives us all chance to be a bigger part of these as we go.

If we want to simplify the bots on the invention exchange, we can make some running joke, like they’re just inventing something that exists but the wrong way (like a toaster that’s just candles and tongs) or have just made the blueprints.

Or even inventing software, video games, etc, so their “invention” can just be something we cut to. Like a screen print saver, that takes your images and scans them on one color at a time. Already thinking I can animate that in photoshop, even build a macro for it. But anyone wanting to play with whatever software / video stuff /etc that may not want to be on camera can still make fun stuff.

One bot idea could be one named CROM. He denies he is obsessed with them, but rather a Critical Robot: Obsolete Movies (or something to that effect) and is honestly more obsessed with the Conan novels.

And just in general, these threads make me so happy.

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This has inspired me. Just for fun, I did this free-writing exercise. Why would bots work at the Gizmoplex?


LMN-8, call her Elle, a security bot supplied by the lowest bidder to patrol the Gizmoplex grounds. Although she comes from a line of robots famously known as police bots and obviously ripped off from Star Crash, this one didn’t quite earn the QA seal of approval. She appears in the theatre during showings, insisting she is there for security reasons, and keeps the patrons safe right up to the end of the movie. Her charming southern accent is somewhat undermined by her tendency to rush unknown persons with high-powered gun arms while repeatedly shouting her name.

Jonah: “Shouldn’t you be watching the entrance?”
LMN-8: “You want me to leave? Why? What’re you planning? No sir, I think I’ll settle right here and keep an eye on you, mm-hmm.”
Jonah: “But, I’m supposed to be…”
LMN-8: “Shhh sweety, yer missin’ yer show.”


Fernie has been around for a long, long time, but can’t wander much further than his antiquated charging station because a charge only lasts about 3 hours. Fortunately, the Gizmoplex has been built up around him, so he was quick to snag a job as a janitor-bot. He’s got oodles of unverifiable stories about what used to go on right on this spot. He always shows up early to beat the rush, but when it’s finally time to clean up, he needs a charge.


Dade Diode was a robo-star who claims to have supplied most of the uncredited robot work in cinema, even some of the credited roles. But it all fell apart when he tried his hand at directing, producing, filming and editing all at the same time. His first screening, the unholy fusion of stock footage, selfies, and whatever he could reclaim from cutting room floors of reputable editors (and some not-so-reputable) led a disaster that he is not permitted to discuss, by the terms of his settlement. As part of his public service, he is here to… well, he can’t disclose it. (Spoiler alert: It’s not public service - it’s his sentence!) He quotes nostalgically from his old roles.

Dade: “That ED-209 chassis was such a joy to drive - that leg assembly? Buttery smooth. But that sucker was terrifying! They couldn’t have any humans in the same room with it, or wardrobe would have to bring in new pants, so they just filmed me on green screen and overlaid it onto the human take. But they ended up mismatching the frame rate, so my parts look like stop-motion animation. Heh - that’s humans for ya. Hey! Hey, Jonah! You have 15 seconds to comply.”
Jonah: “Huh? Comply with what?”
Dade: “You have 10 seconds to comply.”
Jonah: “Stop it, Dade, you’re scaring me!”
Dade: “Ha, still got it.”

I was thinking that the bots would literally have jobs as appliances within the theater. So you’d have:

BERN-E: The projectionist who’s also the projector. Talks big about having watched more movies than any other bot, but what he actually means is that he’s been forced to sit through the same handful of movies over and over again (Nobody should be forced to watch Cats 27 times in a row) and it’s driven him a little around the bend. I picture him as being a little like Mike where most of the time he’s fairly stoic, but sometimes he’ll completely break down when the stress gets to him and may go temporarily insane or “vapor lock” and just start muttering to himself.

DYSON (or if that’s too close to copyright infringement, HERBERT): The younger enthusiastic janitor robot who’s also part vacuum cleaner, and who hates that he never gets to see the movies, since he spends all his time trying to dislodge petrified gummy bears from the crevices of movie seats. Personality wise, I’m picturing sort of a cross between Crow and Gobo Fraggle, a big dreamer who often bites off more than he can chew.

POPPY: The concession stand attendant who’s also a popcorn maker. (Could possibly be changed to KERNEL or BUTTERS depending on what genders we have at our disposal, but if we end up doing three theater robots, it would be nice to have a female one to mix things up, even if she’s played by a male voice actor.) Poppy is the slightly more erudite and responsible of the trio (a bit like Tom or later seasons Gypsy on the SOL) and has a bit of the “ugghh… I’m only working in this theater to put myself through robocollege” personality going on. I envision fitting this puppet with a small accordion air pump (like the kind used in some Hot Wheels sets) so that when she/he gets scared, angry, sings really loud, or has a mental blow-up trying to make sense of the movie, she can spew a puff of popcorn kernels out of the top of her head. (Though this does sort of depend on what scale the puppets would be built at)

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@DeepHurting suggests producing a video with burned-in subtitles here. That’s going to allow a lot of control over appearance. As exciting as that all is, I want to restate the current focus on producing a SRT subtitle file as the end product for the first step. It’s going to define (a) the final script, (b) the definite timing, and (c) suggest the speaker for future projects.

I’ve checked out the options, and SRT seems like a fine choice to start. It is quite limited in certain regards, but that works in our favour. The file is human-readable in a text editor, so easy to transfer into something like Adobe Premier. Its limitations include bottom-centre alignment only and non-standard support for markup (like italics and colours) that not all players will understand. Both of those are completely acceptible, IMO.

Here is an example of the SRT subtitles, rendered by MX Player:

0:00:23,000 --> 0:00:26,700
<font color=“red”>[Tom] Incredibleness not guaranteed.
Offer not valid outside the continental United States</font>

A blank line separated each subtitle. The file I am using here is THE INCREDIBLE PETRIFIED WORLD (1959) S.T.Fr. (optional).mp4 from I think this is the one suggested by DeepHurting.

BTW, I’m still learning accepted subtitling practices. It looks like the name of the speaker, as well as any descriptions of actions, are in all caps, so It should be “TOM:” and “ALL PUSH UP TITLE” for example. I feel adding the speaker explicitly at this point is necessary for (a) the colourblind, and (b) players which do not render the colour.

I’ve never used a SRT file before but I’m willing to give it a shot, unless someone else has video editing software and wants to take point on this.

One thing I was going to try to do in Premiere was add a theater silhouette overlay to the bottom of the screen…. Possibly with some very minimalist GIF style animation roughly in time with the riffing.
The silhouette would also serve as an extra black ribbon down at the bottom of the screen which will make the subtitles easier to read.

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I see these as two different products, the SRT file and the Adobe Premier video. The SRT subtitles are my goal, but I am absolutely excited to get the video version of this - it’s more like a real episode, even if the silhouette doesn’t move.

P.S. I mentioned earlier that setting the times exactly in the SRT was needed for the Adobe Premier version, but that’s not true, is it? It’s probably easier for you to line up the subtitles with what’s happening on screen.

@EBK , @griff17matt , @DeepHurting , @abskani
I’ve tried formatting the first section (1a) for the selection. Is this usable for the next step? Any suggestions?

  • Column C for subtitles
    • Speaker is only the suggestion of the riffer at this point
    • Speaker likely won’t be in the final product, instead shifting to colour (source: DeepHurting’s examples, BBC subtitle guidelines)
    • About 40 characters per line, max. 3 lines at one time
    • I’ve added comments about my thoughts; there might be comments on the riffs, too, which need to be moved over.
    • The column is marked X to protect the movie dialogue. For instance, 0:07:32 “MATHENY: have you ever heard off… CROW: …shutting up?” has 6 silver medals, so I’m thinking we should protect Matheny’s dialogue from being spoken over by a 2-silver riff.
  • Column D is for notes
    • Min. time is for subtitles, and is based on BBC guidelines of 0.3 sec. per word, adding an extra 0.3 sec. for long words, unusual words, CAPITALIZED words
    • Timed time is for reading, and I timed my own reading as Jonah (instead of Joel because it is 25% faster!)

I’m going to proceed counting medals for the rest of the riffs, but if you have time early this week, 1a should be ready to start the discussion and get the process sorted out.

I like it… Though a couple of thoughts.

Once MyWy finishes up the vote tallies, point scoring, and timing, do we want to copy everything over to a fresh production spreadsheet, and then purge all the original comments?

As of right now, we can leave comments on column C, but if you have a comment about one of the other jokes in columns E-M (especially if we’ve got no clear gold winner and we’re trying to discuss which of the other jokes, if any might work better) nobody’s going to see it buried under all the voting comments, and it’s going to get messy trying to type everything into column C. It might be simpler if we can start from a comment-free slate knowing that all comments on the spreadsheet are production comments and something we should be weighing in on.

As soon as MyWy finishes his edits, we should all go back under Tools, notification rules, and turn back on email notification as a daily digest, so it’ll be easier to see when the other directors have made production comments, without having to go back and reread the entire spreadsheet on a daily basis.


I think we should all go through the spreadsheet and leave production comments at our own pace, but at the same time, try to work as a group to lock down one tab of the movie into it’s final (or at least 2nd draft) form.

That way, whomever’s doing the subtitles (probably me) can start work on 1A, while we’re still talking about 1B.
There may be occasions where we have to go back and make a change to a previously “locked” section because we realize a certain joke will work better in a different part of the movie or there’s some other conflict we didn’t think about earlier, but just getting in the general ballpark where we’re mostly happy with what we’ve got means that I can start playing around with adding in the riffs… and also some Key effects in Adobe Premiere.


And talking about key effects…

On that front, I have successfully figured out how to use the Ultra Key filter in Premiere to green screen out a single color and leave everything else… which can then be converted into a silhouette. You can see a non MST3K example below (which I’m currently using to create a new title sequence for my YouTube channel)

Original animation recorded against a plain white background (in this case some “stop motion” of a 3D model I built in TinkerCAD recorded directly from within the program itself)

The key color is then set to white, and the white background is keyed to 100% transparent, letting the previous video layer show through.

Luminance of the remaining animation layer is next set to zero, which will automatically make everything that remains 100% black.

I’m hoping by using 8 layers consisting of (in order):

  1. Movie
  2. Static theater seats
  3. Tom (various sequenced animations)
  4. Crow (various sequenced animations)
  5. Host (various sequenced animations)
  6. Special group animations (everybody sitting without talking, everybody entering/exiting theater, host putting a hand on Crow/Tom, etc.)
  7. Door Sequence/Commercial Sign overlay
  8. Captions

That I can create a series of patchwork “loop” layers in which the silhouettes will move with a talking or pointing animation lined up with their caption lines, and then return to a base home position that can be lined up seamlessly with the next animation loop, and adjusted a few seconds duration one way or another depending on how long the character is talking.

Note that this is all fine and dandy, but it does mean I need to have a “clean” version of the bots and host doing their thing in front of a uniform-colored background to begin with.
I’m hoping I might be able to swipe, re-key, and chop up some material from the end credits of MST3K The Movie, which very conveniently has them standing in front of a blue screen, but I’ll be limited to whatever material I can get (and loop) from this short 3 minute section of film, which also rather inconveniently has some double-imaging motion blur as Mike walks into the theater, and the screen goes dark before they’ve fully walked out, which will disrupt the Key effect.

I may be jumping the gun here in terms of how complex we want our base production to be, but I’m willing to experiment and see what works, and I’ll probably have a bit of time to tinker as we go through and finish up finalizing the script.


I’ve got the spreadsheet saved at regular stages, so we can go ahead and modify the live version. It’s still open to people with access in read-only mode. I thought someone might want to check on what’s going on.

I can move the comments onto the sheet (as cell text), then dismiss all the comments on a given sheet (so all new comments will be director comments). I should be able to get 1a ready to go in a day.

If there is a real chance that DH can get a video version of the project going with silhouettes (even static), I’d be giddy. And I don’t see much point in producing the SRT subtitle file format. Even I wouldn’t watch the SRT file if the completed video was available. The question is, will be be able to provide it for download?

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I’ve thought about that, and I believe the best option is to post it right back up to the Internet Archive again. They have all sorts of videos and fan productions posted there.

The advantage of the Internet Archive is that it’s completely free, the file gets uploaded in exactly the same resolution you upload it at, you can download it to watch at your leisure or watch it inline, there are no time limits (YouTube limits you to under 20 minutes unless you jump through a bunch of hoops to “authorize” your account), and most importantly, they don’t have a bunch of draconian copyright bots swarming over their servers ready to take down your public domain production because it accidentally triggers a copyright violation.

I’ve think I’ve already mentioned some of the YouTube/Vimeo horror stories I’ve heard from my friends over at Cinema Insomnia, including the bots being too stupid to tell the difference between the public domain cut and the licensed cut of a film (ex: Gammera the Invincible vs. Gamera, the Giant Monster) or even a public domain movie and a studio movie/television show that happens to use a clip from that same public domain movie in their production, which then triggers the copybot into thinking you’ve illegally uploaded a Tim Burton movie owned by Disney.) :rage:

If somebody else wants to try putting the finished product up on YouTube, we can certainly go that route, but it’s not going to be me, because I don’t want to risk accidentally having my other stuff blocked due to a copyright claim.


I think there should be an obvious, specific disclaimer at the beginning of this production as well as at “commercial” breaks throughout that spells out that we are in no way tied to MST3K and nothing said therein should be construed as coming from those responsible for MST3K.

I’m sorry if this has been covered before, but I’m not sure if I’ve seen it discussed.

ETA: Also, I’m really worried that swiping Tom and Crow specifically will make this a no-go from the Alternaversal camp. I wish we could do our own bots and host with basic movements we could mix in here and there. Not sure of the answer here, but seems like an area we’d need Leslie and Ivan to advise before energy is spent unnecessarily.

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I’ve never been hastled by copyright holders before. I’m looking forward to it. Oh, there was HBO for downloading season 5 of Game of Thrones, but that didn’t have any teeth.

Personally, I’d like a short glorification of MST3K a la Wayne’s World at the beginning, and then another reference at the end (and credit all the contributors at that point). But if we need more, inserting them at the “commercial” breaks is great.