Monday, July 25, 2011

Dapper

So I went to that wedding reception I mentioned a few weeks ago at the weekend. It was lovely; awesome venue, a nice chance to catch-up with some friends I hadn't seen in a while, and an all-too-rare opportunity to throw down some phat moves on the dance floor.

And in an amazing turn of events, the lovely Em managed to get a photo of me where I look relatively normal. Seriously, chances are if you aim a camera at me I'll either gurn like a special, do the OMG Cat face, or put on some sort of allegedly sexy pout that kind of looks more like a severely-constipated James Franco.

So anyway, kudos to Em for getting the picture I'm shamelessly pasting below in anticipation of lots of ego-boosting compliments. Despite having a mid-afternoon wobble where I thought I'd just wear a regular old tie, I think you'll agree I totally ROCK that bow-tizzle.

Friday, July 08, 2011

The undiscovered country

Well I'll tell you something - if the reaction to my last post is anything to go by, Star Trek fans (particularly those in the US) are *desperate* for some new non-fiction publications. In the five years or so I've been writing this blog I've quite literally never had as many hits in the space of just a handful of days as I did earlier this week.

The reaction to what I showed of Build the Enterprise was incredibly positive, which went some way toward cushioning the blow of the product's untimely cancellation. Hey, everyone likes a compliment, right? On a purely personal note, however, the ramifications of the project ending go a bit further than what I said in those videos.

Basically, I lost my job.

God, that sounds a bit dramatic, doesn't it? To be honest it was all very amicable, but the reality of the situation was that I found myself as a Star Trek editor with no Star Trek magazine to edit. In years gone by my boss - an utterly brilliant, lovely man - has done everything he can to hang on to staff when their projects come to an end; just after the Fact Files finished in 2003 I had a couple of months where I just spent my days looking at the internet and shuffling things from one side of my desk to the other. That may sound brilliant, but it was actually soul-crushingly boring. This time around the situation is a bit different - the company can't afford to have me sitting around twiddling my thumbs, and quite frankly I wouldn't want to.

That being the case I told my boss that he should let me go.

You might think that sounds crazy, but it's really not. I've been at the company for 12 years now - literally almost to the day. It's been the longest commitment of my life; in fact, I've been there over one third of my life. To quote Captain Kirk in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, I've done my bit for king and country.

To be honest, I actually expected to be sent on my merry way soon after the Fact Files came to an end. I could never have foreseen the multitude of successful spin-off products we'd do after those 304 issues. It's been a brilliant job at a brilliant company. I once told Scanner Dave, our IT guy, that I never go to work expecting to make friends, but it's a pleasant surprise if I did. At this company I've met some of the most wonderful people you could ever imagine, and it's my privilege to count many of them as some of my closest friends. People like Yazzle Dazzle, El Deanio, Scanner, and WillowC. But they all left long ago, and now it's my turn.

And d'ya know what? I'm looking at this as one of the most positive things I could possibly do. Over the last couple of months I've developed this new kind of sensibility - don't ask me where this came from, but essentially I just break things down into 'will this have a positive impact on my life?' or 'will this have a negative impact on my life?' Bitching and moaning and worrying incessantly about losing my job would be a massive heap of negativity, so I'm just looking at it as a major positive instead. For a long time now I've thought about going freelance, and this door closing gives me the opportunity to give that a go. Being free of my day-to-day routine frees me up to go try some other things.

Sitting here writing this now, exactly one week away from leaving that office in leafy West London for the final time, I'm not nervous or worried. I'm more excited than I've felt in years. One of the things I found, particularly by the time I was running the Fact Files, was that the higher up the chain you went, the less editorial work you actually did. As an editor, then a managing editor, I found a considerable portion of my time was dedicated to administrative tasks - liasing with contributors, commissioning stuff, reams and reams of paperwork, etc. I want to get back to just writing and editing text. Playing around with words. I've already got some ideas on the boil; I'm just waiting for the time I need to get them underway.

To return to Star Trek again, the day I found out I was going to be made redundant I had the most bizarre thought about how William Shatner must have felt when the original series came to end in 1969 after just three years. The show had been his biggest role to that point … but he went on to forge a hugely successful career beyond it. When you think about it, I got four times as long out of Star Trek as Shatner ever did, so I should certainly count myself lucky in that respect.

I'm sure there will be bumps and uncertainties along the way, but I'm excited. I'm ready for what comes next.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Build the Enterprise

As a rule I very rarely talk about work here, but I've decided to make an exception to that rule with this post. Basically, as anyone who's been reading this blog for a while (god help you) will know, for the last 12 years I've been working on Star Trek partworks. Partworks, for those of you who don't know, are collectable magazine series that build up week by week to form a comprehensive reference work on a particular subject - something like real-life crimes, wildlife, or aeroplanes, for example. Think of it as something like buying an encyclopedia in weekly instalments.

When I joined the company it was to work on The Official Star Trek Fact Files - a partwork that built up to create a definitive reference guide to (as the title might've given away) the Star Trek universe. I think the Fact Files was originally scheduled to last around 90 issues; I joined at issue 150 or thereabouts, became editor of the thing at 200 or so, and saw it through to its conclusion at issue 304 in, I think 2002 or 2003 (I forget exactly when it ended). I think it still ranks as the world's most successful partwork.

Incidentally, while the Fact Files was never sold in the U.S. (partworks don't work in America because it's such a big market), much of the material created for it did turn up in Star Trek: The Magazine, which ran for 48 issues from around 1999 to 2003.

Following the enormous success of the Fact Files we produced a number of spin-off products; some, such as Star Trek: The Collector's Edition - a DVD and magazine series collecting the Star Trek movies and episodes of TNG and TOS - proved very successful in their own right, while others didn't and failed at test (we tested all our partworks prior to committing to a national launch to get an idea of how they would do).

What all these other products had in common, however, was that they were essentially made up of material taken from the Fact Files, albeit revised where necessary (such as if an episode of Star Trek: Enterprise added something to canon - first contact with an alien species or something like that that would make a nice trivia point).

Running in parallel with these spin-off projects, we also started producing Star Trek stuff for Japan. They got their own edition of the Fact Files, which covered several topics the original UK version missed out on such as the entire run of Enterprise and the movie Star Trek Nemesis, and as a consequence ran 10 issues longer than the UK edition, eventually stopping at issue 314. We also produced a DVD magazine series for the Japanese market called Best Episode Collection, which essentially plucked the very best episodes of all the different series, tied them together under various headings such as 'Captains,' 'Klingons,' 'Space Battles,' etc, and popped them on sale along with a magazine covering behind the scenes stuff, interviews with the cast and crew, and trivia pages. That too was a great success; originally scheduled to run 70 issues, it ultimately went on for 135. I occasionally joked that it wasn't merely Best Episode Collection, but was in fact coming perilously close to being Every Episode Collection.

So, what you can gather from all this, then, is that Star Trek has enjoyed fantastic success as a variety of different partworks.

About 18 months ago the Japanese team who I worked closely with to produce the Japanese Fact Files and Best Episode Collection came to me with an idea they'd had for a new Star Trek partwork. The project was called Build the Enterprise, and as you might guess, the idea was that you would get to build a model of the Enterprise (the TNG version) week by week. Bearing in mind I'd been working on these sorts of things for a decade by this point, I was surprised to find that my fanboy side completely and utterly pushed to the fore; I thought the idea was amazing, and I was very keen to get going on it.

What I should say here is that the Japanese team don't do things by halves. They literally threw everything bar the kitchen sink at this project. In addition to building an incredibly-detailed, highly accurate, whopping great model of the Enterprise, if you bought this thing you'd also get a magazine that would grow with every issues to form a massive 500 page reference work on the ship (think of it as a massively expanded TNG Technical Manual), with another 100 pages covering behind the scenes stuff - interviews, concept art, that kind of thing. And you'd also get a huge blueprint sheet covering the exterior of the ship from various angles, every single deck, and key rooms (many of which had never been seen on the show).

To accomplish this they'd recruited Rick Sternbach, who if you don't know (SHAME ON YOU!) was a key figure in designing a load of the technology that appeared on everything from TNG through to Voyager. He designed the U.S.S. Voyager, for crying out loud.

And rather than just pull text, images, and artwork from the Fact Files (which by this point had only just finished its run in Japan), they asked that everything to be used in this new project be newly generated.

As you can imagine, it was a MASSIVE undertaking, but an incredible one, because under Rick's guidance and watchful eye, we had the opportunity to actually add to Star Trek canon for the first time, rather than just reporting on what had been seen in the various different episodes and movies. We did this by planning out a load of previously unseen elements - lifeboats, rooms, hardware, components used in familiar items such as communicators, all that sort of stuff. It was basically all your Christmasses come at once if you were a Star Trek fan who wanted to know everything about how the Enterprise worked, and what technology (no I'm not going to say Treknology; oh, wait, I just did. *tut*) was to be found aboard a Galaxy-class starship.

As with all our other partworks, Build the Enterprise would be tested prior to a national launch later in the year. Testing almost seemed like a formality, though; there was an almost palpable buzz around this product - everyone who saw what we were doing was amazed. Jaws dropped. Even non-Trekkies wanted it. It was just - excuse my slightly fruity language - effing awesome.

And then we tested it in May and … well, it failed.

Didn't. Expect. That…

What's really upsetting about this is that there's little - nothing, really - wrong with the product; what was mainly responsible for the product failing was that we launched it in the wake of the terrible earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan back in March. After experiencing something like that, people understandably just weren't in the mood to start buying into a collectible magazine/model series. We were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

In total seven issues of Build the Enterprise went on sale, and we'd completed work on a further four before it was shut down. Going back to that buzz I mentioned earlier, Rick had mentioned to me that a few Star Trek fans in the States had somehow heard about the project and were eager to know more so, despite the fact it's no longer in production, I thought I'd try to give Build the Enterprise its own little moment in the limelight and do a video run through of the first issue. Because, y'know, I'm extremely proud of what we did.

So, below you'll find four videos. In total, they'll take you about an hour or so to get through, so maybe skip 'em if you don't like Star Trek (seriously, though, you read this far and you DON'T like Star Trek?! What's wrong with you?). Apologies in advance for the reasonably crappy quality - these were shot very late (very, VERY late) at night on my iPhone, and I'm not, sadly, quite as talented behind the camera as JJ Abrams. Apologies also for the fact that I don't have the most interesting voice to listen to; maybe if over 1000 people watch these we could get Patrick Stewart to re-dub them. That would be cool.

Speaking of cool, watching these back it became apparent to me that I say "cool" and "um" rather a lot, so sorry also for that. Maybe you could turn it into a drinking game or something? Y'know, every time I say "cool" you have to down a shot of tequila. That would be cool awesome.

Anyway, enjoy the videos (no I'm not being sarcastic), and if anyone has any questions or wants to know more about the project leave me a comment and I'll do my best to answer them for you.







Hanging out with some chicks

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