Evan Dorkin (evandorkin) wrote,

Failures in Freelancing: Rocketeer Crash and Burn

I'm pretty sure I've mentioned this before, but a while back I was asked to pitch a story and then an outline for the Rocketeer Adventures anthology. In a nutshell, nothing ever came of it, and when I say nothing, I mean nothing. Two mini-series have come out and I've still never actually heard back on the outline. I got a couple of e-mails about getting to it, and that's all she wrote. I'm not a top-tier comics guy and I don't carry an attitude about myself even close to thinking I'm too good to chase people down, I can always use the work, this was a very cool potential assignment, and if I spend time on something I try to see it through. But I chase people only so far. Sometimes something just goes nowhere. Sometimes your time gets wasted, and sometimes you come up with something you like and can't use.

So, what do you do? Well, you can do what many of us do, and that's cannibalize the material, use it for another project. Unfortunately, if you write something very specific for a particular character or project, you might not have a good place to toss the material into. Sure, you can salvage a bit of business, a villain, some hopefully snappy dialogue. But the story shouldn't be an easy fit for just any character out there in Work-For-Hiresville. Here's a good game to play if you're a writer or aspiring writer -- if your material can be readily swapped out from, let's say, a Batman story to a Spider-Man story, or, worse, Batman to Iron Man, then you're probably writing some pretty generic stuff that isn't character-specific (i.e., you're hacking or being lazy). It might just be "bank robbery stopped by x" or "some villain versus whoever I get a gig writing". Try not to do that sort of thing if you're concerned about being a decent writer. Everyone needs to eat but your name goes on your work and you should be proud of it every time you're up at bat, if possible. Unless you choose to be a hack, which is at least being honest about what you're doing. Anyway, life isn't perfect, sometimes you're not firing on all cylinders, but you know when you're phoning it in. And most of the readers know it, too. End of sermon.

So, what to do with the Rocketeer outline? Well, like I've done with a lot of my orphans (or should that be corpses?), I post it online so you folks can maybe get a kick out of it. Maybe aspiring artists who don't like to write their own stuff can use the outline to tool around with some thumbnails. Maybe aspiring writers can see something in the outline that speaks to them. It's not a great outline, technically-speaking, it's more like a full plot breakdown and I was working things out on the page, this is me acting crap out on paper the way Stan Lee supposedly leaped around the office during a plot session. I have a (bad) habit of diving in on outlines, things come to me and I start writing. I added some notes for myself after I sent it out, but otherwise this isn't cleaned up, you can see where I'm grasping at ideas and where I'm overloading on details and business and worrying about what needs to be shown. Most of my writing is a matter of cutting and editing, which I'm terrible at. I'm pretty good at characters and plots, I stumble when it comes to organizing everything and making decisions on what has to be killed. These days a large part of my process is working towards a better process. That's a post for another day. Or week.

Anyway, here's my Rocketeer pitch that died on the runway, something I hoped would be a nice tribute to the character and to my love for old-time radio, big bands, and all that sort of thing:

THE ROCKETEER: ON THE AIR

8 pgs

OPEN ON HOUSE, EXT, NIGHT, w/radio broadcast

ANNOUNCER: This is station WKRB, Los Angeles, bringing you the lilting sounds of (x) orchestra, live from the hotel (x)'s rooftop dance floor, in lovely downtown (place). Thirty minutes of modern music meant to, etc

ON RADIO INSIDE HOUSE, cont

WIDER, LIVING ROOM cont

FATHER, MOTHER, TEN-YR OLD SON. Reading comics section.

Boy: This is boring. Why can't we listen to Calling All Cars (ck for correct show/time/best program title).

Quiet, you. When you're old enough to buy your own radio, then you can listen to Calling All Cars.

Listen to your father, that trash strains my nerves, etc.

No one's making you listen to it.

HOTEL ROOFTOP – ANNOUNCER – orchestra behind him

WIDER, NIGHT CLUB

ON TABLE – BETTY and DATE kibbitz.

OUTSIDE HOTEL ENTRANCE

CLIFF runs into hotel and is stopped by DOORMAN. Cliff urges him to call the police, he has to get into the building and to the roof, a matter of life and death, etc. Don't ask me how I know this, I know it sounds wild.

My girl's up there and doesn't know she's in danger --

Actual Doorman is tied up and stashed nearby. Doorman hustles him off or hits him? Or there are gunsels in lobby and he knows he can't get past them to house detective?

Cliff races to car and Rocketeer gear. Pal's there? Can pick them up with car afterward? Whatever.

Cut away to party or kid, allow time for getting in gear. One panel, leading to:

Rocketeer blasting off. If space allows, and warranted, transition panel of Cliff donning helmet, then blasts off. Whatever.

Might want to quick-cut to build some tension in the sequence, nightclub, kid, whatever, if room for it. Otherwise just have him zip up top. No one hears due to band playing, maybe a bit where someone thinks a horn player hit a rum note. Space probably won't allow much business, but better to have and yank than not.

Nice shot as Rocketeer streaks past windows and some nice architectural details as he climbs toward the rooftop. Maybe startles a hotel guest, business.

Shoots up past the roof, startling the crowd. Waiter's trays upset, toss in business to pep up action/reaction solidly.

Bad landing? On their table. Whatever.

He tells her her date is head of spy ring/mobster/fifth columnist –?

Betty infuriated, believes he's just grandstanding to ruin her date.

Guy pulls gun, some evidence besides. Waiters pull guns, reveal, business ensues.

Gunfire, chaos over radio, SFX.

Boy: Wow!

Father coming into the room with tray or drink or whatever. Thinks son switched to gangster/cop shows. What is this trash? Did you put on (x)?

Aw, gee, pop, I never even went near it!

Mother: He's telling the truth, Howard – all of a sudden

BOY: Shhh! Listen! That's a machine gun! (maybe a typewriter or some hard slang kid picked up from radio/pulps, business)

Cut directly into the middle of machine gun attack on Cliff, weapon's arc following him rocketing past bandstand, the bullets chop up everything in their wake, send musicians scattering. If possible – put this on a two-pg spread, reader's eye follows the gunfire across both pages, below is a row of regular panels.

Color commentary by radio announcer as fight goes on.

ANNOUNCER DIAL, EARLIER AND THROUGHOUT: Ladies and gentlemen, this is incredible – the most amazing thing – a man, I assume it's a man, dressed in some kind of rocket suit, has just landed on the rooftop --describes scene, Rocketeer, gunfight, send police! Maybe he sneaks in a sponsor plug like on Burns and Allen, right in the middle of story. Maybe he mentions bullet hole in clothes or that sound you just heard was the microphone getting hit.

FIGHT STUFF. Maybe R flies around hotel, too “short” a space, he circles, punching into thugs, unable to turn quickly enough, maybe pulls something off hotel rooftop as weapon, map it out, look at some period photos and see what found objects might provide business.

CUT BACK AND FORTH BETWEEN ACTION, ANNOUNCER FOLLOWING ACTION, AND FAMILY LISTENING. VILLAIN'S PLANS RUINED, BUT DANGER STILL EXISTS. Doubt there's time for thugs to carry off their heist or whatever the hell they're doing. No need for too much detail, it's a given, only have 8 pgs.

If doorman character's involved, he shows up and gets thumped.

COPS arrive downstairs after announcer's call. Can also deal with arrested doorman here if necessary.

Maybe chief thug in standoff, threatens to toss kid (or midget radio performer – Walter Tetley-type/Philip Morris guy?) or lady off roof unless Rocketeer clears out, or hand over rocket pack so thug can escape. Maybe Betty?

Would he have a realistic shot at saving someone tossed? Guiding them into a swimming pool of another hotel or through a window or –? Don't think so. Probably no space for it. Something else, most likely. Work it out. Maybe involving found object/rooftop “geography”, or some trick that can be pulled off with what Cliff is equipped with, maybe Betty unbalances the scales. Blah blah blah. Cliff ends the threat, defeats the enemy, etc.

Whatever it is, announcer can mop brow while whispering the situation to audience. Family hushed, rapt.

ANNOUNCER: We will return with music by...uh...it looks like the clarinetist, Sleepy Gil Slater is still up and around...but first, this message from (sponsor).

Maybe father thinks it was a fake, like the “martian bit”.

BOY: Oh, boy! That was the best show ever! Even better than the Witch's Tale!

Mom: And since when have you been up late enough to listen to the witch's tale, young man?

Boy: Um...uhhh. Gee, whiz.

Epilogue: Week later, BULLDOG CAFE, or whatever makes sense at night -

Cliff all banged up. Betty, etc.

ANNOUNCER: And now, ladies and gentlemen, we here at WKRB have read all of your letters and cards, we've listened to your phone calls, all asking about how much you enjoyed last week's broadcast, and we're happy to announce that starting tonight KRB will be bringing you the adventures of that hero of the air– Dick Raymond, the Rocket Man!

What the –

Yes, thrill to the adventures of the startling, speeding Rocket Man, who fights the underworld and all who would oppose freedom rocket pack, helmet and rocket gun – The Rocket Man, daredevil of the skies, hero of the air WHOOSH – on the air!

Oh, for corn's sake!

Ha ha!

What's so funny?

Turn it off!

End hearkening back to the kid? Maybe the show stinks. Or the kid's enthralled. Work it out.

Tags: comics, failures in freelancing, old time radio, rocketeer, that's show biz, waste of time
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