Cowboys in Space: A Mixed Metaphor

I’ve always wondered why people were so fascinated by stories of cowboys in space. For me, it’s always been a non-starter. Granted, maybe I’d like these stories better if I liked the characters and writing better, but the widespread for Firefly kind of baffles me, though of course we could chalk it up to different tastes with the writing, or my lack of fannish devotion to Joss Whedon.

Lately, though, I’ve been trying to think in terms of why things do or don’t appeal to me… to figure out my own tastes, as it were. After all, I’ve liked very few of the Space Westerns I’ve seen very much, and there have been a lot of them.

Clearly someone thinks they’re a good idea. Why don’t they work for me?

Well, I think I’ve figured it out.

First things first: I’m just not that crazy about cowboys. There, I’ve said it: I can enjoy a Western here and there, but the genre has never really grabbed me. When I was a kid, and the one TV station in my small town in the mid-80s switched from airing oldie The Twilight Zone episodes to airing The Lone Ranger on Saturday mornings (before original series Star Trek), I was disappointed. When they finished Star Trek and  starting showing Bonanza reruns in Trek‘s old timeslot, I was guttered, and found other things to do on Saturday mornings. So while I’ve gotten more comfortable with Westerns since, they’re not my go-to genre for entertainment, really.

That could be it: the whole explanation in a nutshell… but I think there’s more to it than that.

The other day, I wrote about the parallels between the poetry of Ezra Pound and the writings of Robert Howard, J.R.R. Tolkien, and H.P. Lovecraft. The crucial line?

… Howard’s Conan fantasies are clearly about exploring the tension between the pleasures of civilization and its restrictions–the same sort of dynamic we see in Westerns, which use the “Old West” to the same purpose Howard used Hyboria–about about masculinity, mortality, bellicosity, and morality–stories written in a world still recovering from one World War, while another was already in sight on the horizon.

Frazetta Barbarian painting
I’m not sure that this Frank Frazetta painting is actually supposed to be Conan, but it’s certainly a Conan type, like many of Frazetta’s barbarian portraits.

Now, to reiterate the disclaimer from that previous post: I have only read a couple of original Conan stories. I got my Conan on the street, as they say–the odd comic book here and there, the films, and so on. (I do intend to read some of Howard’s stories… sometime.) Still, the parallel is hard to miss, especially when one considers that in Howard’s oeuvre, the writing of Conan stories dies down as his writing of Westerns picks up and takes over.

Which is to say that the underlying concern of the Western, and the underlying concern of the Conan stories, is pretty similar: the tension between “freedom” (as in freedom from the strictures of civilization) and the various “attractions” of civilization–comfort, plenty, and of course, soft’n’purdy wimminfolk. Questions about violence, power, morality, mortality, and masculinity are explored in ways that that seem parallel, if not subcutaneously identical… and I feel like the same holds true of a certain subset of space opera, too.

The Good the Bad and the Weird film poster
And the Western is quite cross-culturally transposable: this “Kimchi” Western explores similar concerns, in a Korean context, by setting its “Old West” in the wilds of Manchuria during the Japanese occupation.

So if the Old West is a metaphorical setting for the exploration of those questions, and if space opera of the ship-adventure kind is a metaphor for the exploration of those questions, then what is the Space Western?

I guess it’s a mixed metaphor, or, metaphorical overkill.

Of course, there’s always the question of internal logic in worldbuilding: why would some futuristic spacefaring civilization, however fractured, start wearing cowboy hats and jeans and behaving like people from Old Westerns? People don’t engage in cowboy-styled self-presentation on the Internet, although for us that’s another place that’s become metaphorical for the same questions. (Hence the cowboyishness of so many hackers in cyberpunk fiction.) Unless you really love cowboys for their own sake, the transposition requires even more suspension of disbelief… and if you’re not particularly crazy about cowboys, may require a distractingly high degree of it. In Firefly, the “explanation” is that these people are settlers on colony planets, and that dressing like cowboys is just practical when you’re living in a harsh, uncivilized world. (I’d expect settlers to be dressed in spacesuits, though.)


This might be why I’m less annoyed by the idea of a cowboyish John Carter on Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Mars, running around with a sword and dealing with aliens–mixed metaphors stacked one upon another, really. The transposition there requires less suspension of disbelief than, say, Firefly, where you have actual spacefarers from some period in the deep future engaging in fashion-archaeology and culture-wide cosplay. Like I said, it’s just something I can’t suspend my disbelief about, because it clashes too much with the setting. (“Sensible” and “rugged” clothing has already moved forward in our own time, after all, let alone where it’ll be at by 2500 CE.)

It’s certainly why, while I am thinking of writing a “Steampunk Kimchi Western,” perhaps set like The Good, the Bad, and the Weird in Manchuria, or perhaps on the Mongolian steppe, I would be setting it around the turn of the century–of course, in the same universe I’ve set my other steampunk stories, “The Clockworks of Hanyang” and “Trois Morceaux en forme de mechanika.” Interestingly, I feel like there’s far less overlap between the kinds of generic concerns of Steampunk alt-history and Westerns than Space Opera and Westerns. Maybe I just haven’t been reading the “right” kind of Steampunk, to catch the parallels, though.

Still, I guess, for me it seems that it’s the mixed-metaphor that’s the bigger turnoff for me. Maybe for some others, the “mixed metaphor” in fact is more like a metaphorical doubling, or something: like chocolate and peanut butter. Some people must figure, I like cowboys, and I like space opera: two great things, why wouldn’t they be even greater together?

Which I suppose is a valid argument as long as everyone’s having fun. Far be it from me to try to dictate what others ought to like.

(Though I will step up and say that in a story where aliens are a metaphor for American Indians, though, surely someone’s not having fun, right? Even when the slaughter of the aliens turns out to be a horrible, horrible thing? Because Native Americans aren’t aliens, and they weren’t all slaughtered, and there ought to be space for Apaches or Comanches in your space opera or planetary romance or steampunk adventure, and not just as white dudes in redface–or even as “doomed but noble warriors”–right?)

But in the end, I think my biggest problem with Space Westerns is just, you know… well, I like kimchi, and I like sour beer, and they share a lot in common (like complex mixed fermentations, and sourness, and complexity of flavor)… but sour beer made within kimchi in the fermentation tank sounds like a hell of a bad idea to me.

11 thoughts on “Cowboys in Space: A Mixed Metaphor

  1. Interesting. I would have characterized westerns as hewing closer to the binary conceit of Culture v. Barbarism. Like you, I’m not a great fan of the genre. And, like you, I’m nonplussed by the love for “Firefly.” In fact, I’ll go one step further and say that I found the few episodes I’ve watched distasteful. Simon has the whole series on VHS. (Yes, VHS!) Early days, he asked me to watch it with him. I’ve only seen a few episodes, but these were my observations. The spoken Chinese was execrable. China dominates the future enough that Chinese becomes the Longus’s lingua franca, but there are no Chinese or even Asian people on the show. Forget major characters, they weren’t even there as back drop scenery. If there was any influence by Chinese culture, I didn’t see it. Moreover, the treatment of women on that show was appalling. The prostitute with the money and ‘status’ on the show was treated like a harem girl. The rest of the women were basically lackeys. The captain? Obvious Kirk knockoff. I can forgive Kirk as a product of his times, the creation by Whedon? Not so much. Simon has never again mentioned “Firefly” to me. But it sure has amassed slot of fan girls and boys in the sci fi community.

    1. Denny,

      Yeah, I think “culture vs barbarism” is a theme in the Western too. Actually, that and “civilization vs. freedom” seem to interact, really… that would, for me, be the definitive dynamic of the genre, or at least of the samples from the genre that I’ve had.

      The cowboy is (mythically) more at home on the range than in the city, but he also isn’t really as free or “wild”/”savage” (if you pardon the racist pejoratives) as the “Indians.” He and the outlaw share the “uncivilized” or “barbaric” willingness/ability to resort to fatal violence (and the skill to wield it effectively) but they relate to civilization in different ways: the white-hat cowboy seeks to preserve order for a public good he himself doesn’t quite feel at home with, while the black-hat villain seeks to disrupt that order (and exploit the chaos) for personal gain, something he’s good at precisely because he’s an outsider and doesn’t operate by the rules of civilization.

      As for Firefly, I can certainly understand why you found it distasteful. I, too, was put off by the “exalted whore” character, and puzzled by the lack of major Asian characters in a world so profoundly influenced by China that the characters cuss in Chinese. (The poorness of the spoken Chinese doesn’t surprise me, and might not bother me given it’s a bunch of white cowboys/cowgirls speaking it, and I’d be shocked if they spoke anything but a pidgin form of Chinese.)

      As for the embrace of fandom, all I can say is I don’t get it either. I can suggest three reasons though:

      1. People love what they imagine it could have been. That is, we love TV shows more when they get canceled on us, than when we watch them for a decade and witness the slow slide into incoherence, shark-jumping, or whatever. People regret and miss a TV show in inverse proportion to how soon it gets cut off.

      (EDIT: The [terrible] follow-up film for the series Dead Like Me sort of confirms this for me, too. I loved that show, and mourned its cancellation, even though the ending it did get was nice and strong, and provided a fair bit of closure, really. Then I heard there was a follow-up film coming out, and got excited. Then I saw the follow-up film and how terrible it was. And that. more than anything, made me stop wishing Dead Like Me hadn’t been cancelled.)

      2. (White) Americans really, really like cowboys. Pirates too, but especially cowboys.

      3. (Mostly, but not only, White) Americans really, really like dressing up as cowboys (or Space Cowboys).

      Which I think also explains some (not all, but some) of the excitement over steampunk in the abstract: steampunk cosplay is extremely popular, and, like, only spoilsports talk about why we should be a little bit anxious when pop culture starts glorifying and celebrating a time period–however fantastical–that is closer than any other time in our history to the Evil Empires of space opera. (The British Empire could have been worse; I imagine a Nazi Empire of that size would have been. But still.)

      By the way, I’ve heard a lot of people talk about Dollhouse in a negative way, who were normally Joss Whedon fans… and I’ve never heard one of them say anything about what a lost opportunity there was with how the whole future plotline was relegated to only a few episodes. (I think that was a huge mistake: basically the only episodes worth watching of that show were the finale of each season–or, maybe it was the last couple of the last season?–after the technology to turn people into dolls gets released (by the Chinese, right? Of course…) worldwide, and civilization collapses. Okay, Whedon has a thing about China as the global Big Bad, and really, it could have been fun to have it be a domestic terrorist, but whatever, that collapsed future was interesting. They could have spent a little time establishing the Dollhouse thing in flashbacks, but focused on the long-term implications of that technology. But then, I get the feeling TV execs are inherently conservative: they want SF to be like America today, plus one or two weird technologies or changes.)

      Which makes me think the perfect book for a TV mini-series, or a one-season series, would be Robert Silverberg’s The Alien Years, precisely because it does that: alien invasion, but in a setting pretty much like the world it was written in.

  2. Your thesis that “Firefly” was ever popular is really off the mark. It was cancelled after a 11 episodes aired (3 did not even air) as only 4.7 million people were actually bothering to tune in to it out of a total U.S. population of over 288 million at the time. Not surprisingly, the film that the fans clamored in their brown-coats for didn’t even recoup its meager $39,000,000 budget. A whopping 6,112,852 of them payed an average of $6.38 to see it back in 2005 when there were over 295.5 million people living in the U.S.

    I wasn’t as bothered by the characters’ attire. The program was set in the year 2517 where outlying settlements were supposed to resemble the wild west and not that of the core Alliance, so that wasn’t that big of a deal. The lack of lasers and futuristic-looking ships was though; however, out on far-flung colony planets, maybe prospectors wouldn’t be starting out with more than a few domesticated animals and basic materials to begin their new lives. That said, inside the Alliance worlds, I was expecting to see more along the likes of Coruscant.

    Now, as for U.S. Western popularity. Back in the day that U.S. Westerns were seemingly popular, it was only so due to the dynamics of that time period as only three networks were on the air and a ton of dead air time to fill. Besides being very cheap to produce, Westerns were also a big marketing ploy to sell trinkets to kids and expensive color television sets to parents thanks to “Bonanza” and “Gunsmoke.” Indoor, studio-shot scenes didn’t sell sets like the natural beauty of the wide-open, wild west. It’s also not like there was any real counter-programming, sports programming, computer games, porn, or the Internet to compete with people’s free time back then. They were the ultimate captive audience in the true infancy of television. It’s not like television programming has even been around 75 years in the U.S. yet. I can only imagine what future generations will develop to entertain themselves 75 years from now. It could be that kickstarter will help more niche programs stay on the air (or make features a la “Veronica Mars”) as they may be able to by-pass the current commercial/paid cable/paid satellite business model with the producers and talent being able to send their creative content directly to the consumers without needing to worry about those damn Nielsen ratings.

    Those same Nielsen ratings lead into the exact reasoning why your sci-fi programs were removed from your Saturday schedule. Economics. The price of programming, and commercial air-time sales dictate what we see on our television sets, and is solely judged by those infamous ratings as television is mostly junk food for the masses and, sadly, the limited attraction of Sci-Fi wasn’t/isn’t satisfying many of them. You can see this just by looking at the schedule of the SyFy network. I still can’t believe that wrestling is their biggest rating’s draw. So, your local TV station probably got a better deal and sold more air time by going with Westerns instead of what you (and I) enjoyed.

    So, I’d have to say the nearly all (white included) Americans really haven’t liked cowboys since the 1960’s when they didn’t have many other choices to choose from on their TV sets. Can you name any recent Westerns that have been bonafide hits? If anything, the costumes most Americans would be wearing would be those of “e.r.” doctors, forensic “C.S.I” techs, “NCIS” agents, “Survivors,” “American Idols,” “Dancing Stars,” “Friends” that never seem to work, or, the most popular, “NFL players.”

    1. John,

      1. There are differing values of popular, right? I consider Firefly popular because people talk about it a lot, because the characters are recognizable with SF fandom–when people cosplay as them, others know who that cosplay refers to–and because the series has “common knowledge” status among SF fans.

      If we’re talking about “popular” in terms of mainstream audiences, sure, it wasn’t popular. But then we’re stuck talking about, what, Britney Spears and Prison Break or Friends or That 70s Show, right? You’re thinking in 20th century definitions of popular. In the 21st century, 4.7 million is popular, and what it smells like is a potential following, DVD sales, merch sales, and so on. Certainly popular enough for a TV show in its first run to become a “cult classic”.

      (I hate a lot of “cult classics” but that doesn’t mean that status doesn’t exist.)

      2. I don’t get this:

      I wasn’t as bothered by the characters’ attire. The program was set in the year 2517 where outlying settlements were supposed to resemble the wild west and not that of the core Alliance, so that wasn’t that big of a deal.

      Well, you kinda beg the question there. “Resemble the Wild West” is taken literally in Firefly, which is, well… silly. As I said: it assumes people 500 years from now would be playing culture-wide retro-cosplay. It’s as dumb as people in the deep future (or the deep past, as in Battlestar Galactica) wearing slight variations of business suits. I mean, we’ve had more radical variations on suits during my own lifetime (since the 70s) than we’ve had onscreen in TV SF during the last few decades. I realize most people can ignore that, but I can’t. It clashes too deeply with the aesthetics of worldbuilding for me.

      But I agree that the tech levels were out of whack. I can’t really see “prospectors” starting out with a few animals, though. (I’d imagine most prospectors would even be leery about going down into gravity wells in the first place.)

      3. I was actually talking about the fictional “Western” format, which seems to have been far more popular than you acknowledge. Popular enough for reams and reams of books–books that were being published well into the 70s, right?–and radio programs, as well as, in the old days, pulp magazines full of Western-format stories. (As I noted, Robert Howard actually took to writing Westerns when he tired of Conan. Obviously there was a paying audience for those magazines.) So I think there may be more to it than you think. Likewise, cowboys have remained in the popular consciousness for a long time. I’ve seen more than enough space cowboy stories in various magazines (I usually skip them) and Western films come and go, as trends shift. The cowboy may wax unpopular from time to time, but he never really goes away.

      That’s not to ignore what you say about the economics of cowboy (and settler) TV shows. Little House on the Prairie has all the cheap-production/accessibility advantages of Bonanza, I imagine–but the Lone Ranger, that’s a figure that people embraced and enjoyed even in reruns, when I was a kid. You’re right that studio shot TV episodes don’t depict the wide-open sky and scenery of the Old West, but I didn’t say they did: I said they sell the MYTH of the Old West as a place of freedom: that’s just a strawman argument. You don’t need to be in New York City to shoot an episode for your TV show about the magic of New York City, right? It’s about making people buy the narrative, the myth. The “freedom” of the Old West was depicted in those TV shows through narrative structure, dialog, themes, and so on, not cinematography.

      And I really am not convinced–I could be, but I’m not–that a portion of the population didn’t embrace Westerns the way others embraced SF TV shows, or The Twilight Zone, or early sitcoms, or other shows. It was the early days of TV, but there was still an interest in making TV entertaining (and palatable to the masses), for fear of people switching off and losing advertising dollars. When I was a kid (say, around 1979 or 1980), there were sets for sale that included cowboy hats, toy guns, plastic spurs, and a sherriff badge; there were also “Indian” costume sets. We really did play cowboys and Indians as kids, war whoops and all. So I don’t buy that people didn’t embrace and enjoy Westerns. (And this was a time of my life when I was as far removed from the Old West as possible, living in the Maritimes as a small child.)

      SyFy and “pro wrestling” (what a misnomer): doesn’t surprise me. So many people are morons, what can I say? But also: SyFy originals like SharkNado and RoboCroc not attracting people doesn’t really surprise me at all. Some of their original series might be okay–the Harry Dresden show was, you know, not horrible, but not amazing, just sort of okay–but, I mean, a lot of the original movies I’ve seen from SyFy were not great (The original Dune miniseries aside.)

      I doubt the little local station in Northern Canada was making much money from programming and advertising: I suspect it was more just a case of, “Well, we showed all of Star Trek. What’s next in the hopper? Bonanza? Okay, then…”

      But like you, I have hope that crowdfunding and other new internet innovations may dramatically transform how the “TV” narrative–really, just short-form visual dramatic production–works in the near future. In fact, I was working on a post on that subject, when it got kinda long and kinda obvious I decided to write this post in its place… funny, that.

  3. Sorry about your future post derailment. I most certainly believe that there should be room in all our living rooms for the likes of Another Earth and “Firefly” as they help to throw a curve ball at the Hollywood maxim that only surefire mega hits deserve to be on both the small and big screens, but the insidious business wants to see only large profits driven mostly by young foolish spenders that they think are taken in by their slick advertisements. Right now, “The Walking Dead” and “The Big Bang Theory” are the programs getting the highest ad rates as they are bringing most young eyeballs to the screen even though “NCIS” averages more (older) eyeballs. So much so, that there will soon be a companion series to “Dead”–not a true spin-off, and everyone is still looking for the next “Friends/Sienfeld”. Same thing with film, right now Marvel films are pretty hot while the Western has been nearly flat-lined since “Little House” was blown off the prairie back in 1983 when it was cancelled in favor of much more youthful demographics and the miracle of cable television that quickly lured kids away from the Westerns that their grandparents grew up on. It’s sort of like the world opened up in so many more ways. Honestly, in this day and age, it is extremely doubtful that we will ever see a new TV western that doesn’t appeal to more than a very niche audience. Not even HBO could pull that off to bring a conclusion to its brilliant Deadwood. The “Deadwood” clip is truly magnificent, but it is not safe for work even though it was a rather accurate description of life back in the day.

    And while we can all lament the misery that is the Hollywood machine, and what we perceive as a lack of options, the exact opposite is true for those willing to put themselves out there and work hard. Thanks to the proliferation of cable channels, there are now plethora of avenues open for those looking to break in to the biz and many need new product to fill their lineups. Here’s a recent article from Variety detailing a few of the new networks, but a quick perusal of “TVGuide’s” channel lineup offers plenty of hope/opportunities for those looking to delve into cooking, antiques, doomsday prepping, interior designing, cars and motorcycles, cartoons, teen shows, talk shows, reality shows, game shows, horror, science fiction, science, history, love, Christmas movies, Halloween shows and movies, and even the occasional Western. The hard part it pushing yourself to take the first step and just do it even though abject horror keeps most sane people out of an arena that is so transient, so prone to upheavals and disappointments, and so filled with uncertainty.

    However, I do find it ironic, that in a country as tied to Westerns as the U.S. once was, the new cowboys heading many Hollywood productions are coming east from Australia and south from Canada and north from Central and South America to claim their spots both in front of and behind those cameras. If you are talented and persistent anything is possible.

    1. John,

      No worries, the post isn’t actually derailed, except maybe by uncertainty that I want to write about it now, when there’s so much to learn and figure out on the topic. I was looking at older (unpublished) posts of mine, from, say, 2005, and they were really prescient and smart at the time… but now would read as kind of obvious and behind-the-curve now, were I to publish them today. I guess that’s almost a decade ago, but it’s interesting to me, how things become obvious only a few years down the road, that seemed so nebulous before.

      I think there should be room on the networks–if not in our living rooms–for those kinds of shows. I think network TVs fear SF because network TV SF shows have often been crappy, and audiences have bailed. So networks seem to go ahead and keep funding crappy SF shows and then programming them at unviewable times and saying people don’t like SF, instead of seeking out truly great stuff. It’s changed a little, and hell, The X-Files even provided a good run for a while at least. But I think overall, the standard for what gets funding in network SF shows is much lower than it is for dramas, and so the results suck. (In that regard, even though I despised Battlestar Galactica (for reasons I’ve explained elsewhere on this site–you’re the first commenter there, so I imagine you know my view well) it did represent a step up in terms of production values and story telling, if not, you know, in Worldbuilding or, er, actual science.) Then again, I think ReGenesis was one of the best SF TV series ever made, but I rarely meet anyone who’s seen it, even if it did have a five-year run. Which reminds me, I should post about it again sometime. It ought at least to enjoy cult status, given how great it was…

      I must confess, I haven’t seen Deadwood yet, though I’ve heard great things. I’ve long planned to see it. I suspect authentic Westerns kind of break the whole fantasy–about the past, but also, implicitly, about the present. Koreans, similarly, like to pretend that everyone was either a traitor to the colonial masters, or in the anti-Japanese resistance. When you point out that most people were just working for a living and trying to stay out of trouble, just as they do in any era, people aren’t happy about that… in part because it also reads like an indictment on the apolitical majority in the present time, since most of the people who subscribe to the “everyone was in the resistance” fantasy are also very much apolitical. (If they were politically active, they’d know enough about reality to see how unlikely the fantasy really is.) I think it’s a bit like that with authentic Westerns: you don’t get good guys and bad guys, you get people who are less horrible or more horrible, in a relatively horrible time, in a relatively difficult-to-live place. It’s a bit like making a film about how shitty it’d be to be one of the first colonists on Mars: very realistic, and a few people who exult in it, but most people don’t want to pay to see misery and pain that isn’t somehow fairytaled away into some kind of moral statement (as in a horror film).

      The article on new networks is interesting, though it doesn’t say much to the question of their funding/underwriting new TV series: my impression was that they were mostly doing that for reality TV because it’s so cheap, and that for dramas and such, it was mostly the stations we already know: HBO, AMC, and SyFy (if you’re willing to watch Sharknado or Sharktopus). I also wonder how open they are to productions that are done overseas, as Jihyun and I have a long-running interest in making some kind of series in a place where the production costs are lower and the production teams are cheaper (like, say, Indonesia, if not someplace in Eastern Europe), but where the narrative could still be dramatized in a language foreign to the locale. (Like, in English, in Korean, or possibly in both, in the hope that both Korean cable and cable in some English-speaking country might show an interest, even though, I know, most Americans don’t like subtitles.) Of course, that’s not something we’re positioned to do now (we’re still learning and know enough to know how much we both have left to learn), but it is an idea for eventually…

      But in a few years, maybe we’ll be among those cowboys (and cowgirls, I assume)…

  4. That Variety link was just the latest in a long line of new networks popping up. Sadly, quite a few of them are religious networks. And, yes, many of them are going the reality, talk show route to fill their need for countless hours of programming, but many of them, including Netflix and Amazon, are actually adding new scripted fare to lineups.

    Personally, I still remember when AMC just showed the same old movies over and over again filled with tons of commercials. Now, they are most/best known for “The Walking Dead” and “Mad Men,” And even though you are poking Syfy a bit with their lineup of cheesy science-fiction monster hybrid movies, they still have several shows on the air and are producing many of those cheesy movies each year that require writers to write. Even MTV has joined the fun, with a few scripted series of their own with the likes of a very well-done, “Teen Wolf,” that’s now in its third season and will be back for a fourth.

    To help inspire you, you might want to look into the background of the James Wan of the “Saw” movie franchise. He, and others like him taking over Hollywood now, got his start doing it on the cheap abroad, and there really isn’t too much dialogue in horror films compared to dramas. Robert Rodriguez is one who took it too the extreme in securing financing for his early work, but he also owns one of those new television networks that will need product.

    As for accepting product from other countries, those U.S. companies are all for it to reduce costs like with “The X-Files” (Canada). “Farscape” was done in Australia with “Hercules” and “Xena” right next door in N.Z. Hard to believe, but “Hercules” was actually just one of those cheesy television movies back in the day that did well enough, and made cheap enough, that it was brought to series and then spun off the character of Xena into another series. So, it most definitely can be done, and don’t forget about the U.K. They are also a market that deserves attention. While the series are a lot shorter there, they also produce a lot to fill their schedules.

    Before I run off, I think you might appreciate this short, but extremely well-made, recent college marching band performance. You might be able to use it in a future popular culture/film class as reference material. Their previous tributes to video games, Disney, and Michael Jackson were also pretty good as you can see on Youtube. This is a slice of life that many of my students are astounded by as there aren’t high school soccer rivalries here or half-time shows in soccer.

    Good luck with your productions and don’t forget that even the likes of the Sundance channel buys product, too.

    1. Thanks for the encouragement and links. We’re still working on shorter things for now, as Mrs. Jiwaku learns the ropes, though we hope a feature film might not be too far down the production pipeline. We have at least two excellent screenplay concepts — one hers, and one mine — so it’s not like we’re short of material. Happily, hers has great festival potential, while mine has, I think, actual commercial potential. We’ll see!

      Mrs. Jiwaku is a fan of Rodriguez’s book on filmmaking, which I happened to find at What The Book and which she read just before we left Korea, IIRC. He’s really a great example of how to build up a career when you’re starting small. (And I get a kick out of the whole “Grindhouse” revival, even as it leaves me discomfited in some ways. I really am curious to see what Rodriguez’s Machete Kills is like…)

      Another great example is Gareth Evans, who’s been doing really good martial arts films down in Indonesia. He’s from the UK, but relocated with his wife (an Indonesia) and figured he’d make features there. Both the features I’ve seen (especially The Raid: Redemption, but also Meranatau, are really, really good films, more creative for their (relatively) limited budgets, and both built using a better model of story than the over-complicated, annoying one from Save the Cat! that seems to dominate Hollywood these days. I strongly recommend The Raid: Redemption: it’s one of those films that goes over-the-top, drags you up with it, then then ups the ante even more. At first you laugh because it’s so bananas intense, then it keeps going and you realize it wasn’t a joke, and you find yourself on the edge of your seat, or at least I did, quite literally.

    2. I should also add that Mrs. Jiwaku and I were talking the other day about how cable TV in Korea is also experiencing a kind of boom in terms of programming of a “different” mould than the sort on the mainstream channels. Apparently mainstream Korean TV is dominated by older-styled, (crappy) soap-dramas primarily not because the audience in general wants that, but because the art of the audience who often gets to decide what to watch when there’s only one TV–the older person in the room–tends to want that stuff. But younger audiences, who’ve watched a lot more recent drama from outside Korea (especially American TV) are a niche open to really different programming, and cable is trying to meet that demand with a lot more experimental TV shows. Supposedly, anyway. We never had cable in Korea, so it’s not like we got to watch any of that stuff.

      It may not be any better–neither of us has watched any of it–but there is more variety, at least: there are vampire shows, vampire detective shows, and so on. (There was also a TV series adaptation of 다세포 소녀 that was much more faithful to the original comics than the film was. The film cutesified and softened the sexuality, where the TV show was supposedly more frank and treated it with more black humor. (But I haven’t seen it, I’m just going by what I recall hearing. I missed the chance to buy the DVD series a long time ago and have been kicking myself ever since.)

      This came up when we were watching The Revenants, as its treatment of the supernatural is pretty low-key in general–not special-effects heavy, in other words, and focused on human implications–but it’s also very creepy and emotional at the same time; that seems like an approach that would go over well with Korean audiences. One of those things to consider, for once we have a feature or two under our belts.

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