The Gadianton Mockers: A Proposal
It's long been a dream of mine to create a Rifftrax-like group (those of us who are older may remember the original incarnation of Rifftrax, MST3K) to create some high-quality mock tracks for the many films that BYU and the LDS Church have released over the past half-century or so. I think that dream has been shared by a number of other people and I've even seen it followed up a few times with varying degrees of success.
I'm proposing another try, this time with the benefit of the Internet to keep it all alive. The rest of this post is about the details of the project, so if you think you'd be more interested in the final product than the process hopefully you'll be hearing about this again in a few months as we begin to release.
First I want to spend a bit of time comparing and contrasting the two examples of riffing I've seen of Mormon films. The first riff I ever saw of a Mormon film (besides the good-natured off-the-cuff mocking of various youth groups or missionaries) was at BYU by the infamous Garren's Comedy Troupe. They pulled out sheets of paper, sat down at the front of the audience with microphones, and then they ran a projector and riffed over Cipher in the Snow and Johnny Lingo, two BYU-produced films somewhat famous among residents of the Mormon corridor for their bizarre view of human relationships.
The GCT hit it out of the park. My sides hurt, my cheeks hurt, and my ears hurt from the strength of the audience's laughter. They absolutely killed it.
A few years later I saw that some GCT alums were planning a riffing of “Single's Ward” on local television along with some of the cast from the movie. It was pitifully horrible. It dragged. It made a mediocre movie into an absolute slog. It made it worse. Sorry to those of you who were involved, but that's how it was to watch it. I appreciate the effort, but it just didn't work.
Why didn't it work? Because it was obviously off-the-cuff. The riffers had long periods of “dead air” between jokes, they got off-topic into stories of the filming, and it was boring.
Why did the GCT riffing work? Because they were working off of scripts (seriously, if anyone still has one of those scripts please let me know so we can preserve them the way they should be preserved: as a new live recording ready to be replayed alongside the films).
That's the secret: it wasn't real. It was fake. It sounded like the riffers were reacting to the film, but they weren't. They were all reading from scripts. It had all been meticulously prepared beforehand. Some of the jokes stank, others were nonsensical, but what they lacked in quality they made up for in quantity. And the quality wasn't half bad because they'd had so much quantity of jokes that the remaining ones were then picked through for quality.
The “Single's Ward” riffers were actually doing it live. They were ad-libbing. And sometimes they hit it just right. And most of the time they were silent, waiting for a good joke to pop out of their subconscious. Meanwhile, the rest of the audience was waiting, too. It was real, and it sucked.
If you watch this video (relevant section starts at 8:30 or so) you can see that the writers of MST3K put a ton of work into their product. If we want to do anything of a similar quality we need to do the same. I plan to follow a lot of their techniques as described in this film.
So for those of you who feel up to joining in with the Gadianton Mockers (or if someone can think of a better name I'm not married to it) please note: this will take time. A lot of it. More for the editor, but a lot from everyone.
I want to give this a practice run, so I want to give it a go with something short. If it works well, I think we can extend the project to attempt full-length features like “The Testaments” and “Legacy”. But we should start small to make sure.
Everyone will need a microphone, headphones, and a computer with broadband Internet access. We'll be running this over Google Hangouts, so Chrome will probably work best. One person per computer, even if you are in the same building with other participants.
We will watch the movie once through in five minute chunks, backwards. This means the last five minutes, followed by the penultimate five minutes, followed by the five minutes before that. We will not be watching a story with thematic rises and falls, we will be watching the attempts of people to make a movie with acting and costumes. We will break the narrative flow and force us as an audience to notice how the film is constructed. If need be we may actually repeat some of the five-minute segments. It will be boring and it will not be fun to watch. Hopefully, though, it will be fun to mock.
Everyone will be expected to say anything that pops into their head. Funny, unfunny, relevant, irrelevant, whatever. If it pops up, it pops out. We will have one person who will also have a Google doc open and will be attempting to write down what everyone else is saying as quickly as possible and with a time-stamp of the film. We don't care about quality yet, just quantity.
Then we will watch it through again in the backwards process, but in ten-minute segments, following the same procedure.
Finally, we will watch it through forwards, but pausing for a short break every ten minutes.
So that's a total of three times through the film, just to get the jokes on paper.
The joke sheets from the watch-through will then be combined into one complete script. Then everyone will be expected to go through and comment on the combined script, noting what they really like and what they dislike. Then the script will be edited down.
There will be another group watching of the film with the script as presented. We will assign the lines to the participants and we will watch the film through while throwing all of the riffs at it. The film will be watched in roughly ten-minute segments again. At each break we'll decide what is working and what is not, if a line of film dialog can be covered by a riff or if it should be left audible to the audience and the riff thrown out, and so on.
The Final Read
We will select the cast of the riff (it's not a good idea to have too many voices or to have too many voices that sound similar). Each cast member will select their lines as they wish, and when they are finished selecting their lines each cast member will record, on their own, a complete read-through of their own lines performed as if with everyone else.
Finally, we'll get the cast together for reading through it together. This will be a little difficult; we'll want to have the video being watch simultaneously by the cast, but we'll want to record their repartee separately from the audio of the film they are watching. We want to be able to record real interaction between the cast.
I'm not sure if this step is necessary or not. It all depends on the skills the cast has to sound like they are interacting with each other about the film.
Finally, we'll need to edit it all together into an audio file to be shared. Their previous private read-through will be used for those parts where we have to deal with Internet latency and lag, audible cues will be placed so that people watching can ensure they stay in sync between the riff track and the film.
I think this can work. Obviously, it'd be a ton easier to do this all in person. And perhaps someone else will run with this idea. It's not without precedent. The Mormon Expositor podcast requires a lot more pre- and post-production work than the Mormon Expression podcast (which still requires a lot of attention, mind you) because MoExpression is a recorded panel of people who are all in the same physical space. MoExpositor is recorded between participants across the country and even the world. Because of this, MoExpression is limited in participants to Utah, but then again most Mormons live there. But if you don't live there and still want to participate you are SOL. I'd like to establish how this could work in an Internet fashion with no worries about physical proximity.
So those of you who would like to participate, please let me know! There are a lot of times and places where we could use help. There are many watchings and re-watchings of the films that you can participate in. Even though the final cast should be small (I don't even think I'll be one myself as I have a somewhat high-pitched voice and I think we're looking for people with more audio “presence”) there's always going to be a lot more people behind the scenes on a project like this.
After we've finished the project and have an audio file that can be used to play alongside an existing copy of the film we can establish a website or tumblr or something where all of the cast and credits can be displayed. You can get recognition for this, and if we can figure out the system in such a fashion where we can resolve the pain points we can easily do more with different casts if you want to get your own voice out there for it.
So please let me know by email (nocoolnametom at gmail), at Reddit, or whatever you can think of to get in touch with me and I'll begin work on figuring out how to organize everyone for the various watchings. It will probably require for most people at least twice as much time as the running time of the film, but for the cast many times that. But I really do think it can be done, and perhaps even if we fail we'll have learned enough lessons about the process that the next time this is attempted they can stand on our shoulders.