Webmasters note: The following article is a treat I received in my email from Mark Askwith after I asked him for some information on Prisoners of Gravity.
Prisoners of Gravity 'Favourites/Bests'
by Mark Askwith
I'm often asked about my personal feelings about individual PoG episodes. I won't hide behind the old 'it would be like choosing one of my children' dodges- We did 137 episodes and some were simply better than others! Oddly most of my favourite episodes are not the 'best', for reasons I will try to explain.
For the record- we produced roughly 30 episodes in 40 weeks. Then we would take a summer break. To my mind, PoG didn't really start to cook until the third season. We had been to England, and discovered that the British really can talk! We also changed the way we worked.
In the first 2 seasons I did most of the interviews, and then found the best sound bites, and passed them to Rick who screened them, and put them in order, and then wrote the script. We'd then have a 'round table' and Rick would read the script. We'd listen, and offer suggestions/revisions.
In the middle of the second season Rick had two jobs- PoG and the 'Red Green Show', and we shifted to work load to free him up. Monday to Wednesday I'd screen the material, do additional research, and then on Thursday, Gregg and I would structure the quotes, and provide a 'template' of the show for Rick. It would look something like this-
Teaser quote- Ray Bradbury 'Mars take me home!'
Rick intro mythological idea of Mars as God of War.
Run Show opening.
Intro Mars show. Set up idea that when Mariner went to Mars it destroyed theclassic idea of Mars...
Intro Kim Stanley Robinson. Ask him- 'Why are you in love with Mars?'
K. S. Robinson - <his quote>
Rick would put in the jokes, and the personality. Sometimes we would build a show and include 'Rick does something clever for 30 seconds'. Often these 'bits' were my favorite things.
Often we would write 'Rick intro show on education', and Rick would write a wonderful skit with various children from SF (offscreen) giving Commander Rick a hard time.
We gave Rick a lot of leeway to be creative and have fun, and he didn't have to worry about how to order the material.
Usually this meant that Thursdays were a killer day. Gregg and I would look ourselves into a room and watch all the material that I'd chosen, and then argue about its inclusion, and then the order.
What tended to happen was that I'd have found a through line that worked, and a basic structure. Gregg and I would refine the order, and then we would listen to the quotes and Gregg would find a way to edit the quotes together. Usually this took 10- 12 hours. I'd eat a tub of popcorn at 4 pm to keep me going...
An aside- there was no co-relation between how hard a script was to structure, and how good the show was.
After we structured the show,. Rick wrote a draft, then read/performed it to us. Usually present- Gregg, Rick, Shirley, Sally (our Production Assistant) and me. I always seemed to be the 'designated laugher'.
After the read we'd discuss what worked, and what didn't.
Rick had great training in comedy, so he usually knew from the read what worked and what didn't.
Rick would write the second draft. Usually we'd shoot from that script.
A Few of the Best
A great interview with the American Master of SF. Informative, inspiring and candid, this show somehow captures the energy and spirit of Ray. We won an American Literacy award for this show. Frankly, this was a fairly easy show to produce- we simply turned a great storyteller loose. If only there were
all so easy, and so good..
This features great interviews with director David Cronenberg, and cartoonist John Callahan, among others. This is a must watch show for any creator. A wide range of politics and mediums are addressed, and it was
aired precisely during the peak of 'Political Correctness'. Rick Green has a passion for this topic, and his script and performance show great knowledge, passion and nuance.
I was at a literary book launch shortly after the show aired, and several well known 'high' literary types raved about the episode, and how well it tackled a very difficult subject with clarity and balance.
Layout- with Will Eisner, Scott McCloud, Joe Kubert, Mike Ploog, Stan Lee, Denis Cowan, Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons, Frank Miller and Howard Chaykin.
This is one of our best, and one of my favorite ( and quite timeless) episodes.
This is the Primer for anyone interested in the CRAFT of comics and showcases the talent of some of the finest craftsmen in comics. The show also served as a 'book launch' for Scott McCloud's brilliant
On a technical level, this was one of the most difficult episodes to assemble and edit. How do you capture such a vague idea, an idea so brilliantly served in print or a lecture, and translate the medium of comics
(with a different aspect ratio) to television?
At it's best, PoG gave a voice to craftspeople who had no other forum. This show boasts the crème de la crème of comic book storytellers, who finally get to talk about the subtle secrets of their craft.
As an aside, I love several 'bits'- Mike Ploog discussing his mentor Will Eisner- Frank Miller taking a sip of water to begin- all the creators trying to find metaphors to explain comic book storytelling- Joe Kubert's aside about when an artist should stop...
If you are a comic book fan, or an aspiring comic book creator, if you only watch one episode of PoG, do yourself a favour, and make it this one.
Once again we took a very broad topic, a topic not necessarily 'SF', and found a compelling SF view point.
This show celebrates information and television, but also has a balance to it. I was honoured to interview John Brunner, and he really shines in this. Ditto the Cyberpunk authors. I think that the U2 video dates the show, but we get away with it...
Well, before we left to do interviews in England, this show looked fairly boring on paper. There was a nice chunk of the always compelling Ray Bradbury, but everyone except Kim Stanley Robinson seemed to feel that Mars was old news. But then, enter associate producer Shirley Brady who discovered a book launch in London for 'New Worlds'. Not only did we get a whole (unexpected) show on the groundbreaking British SF magazine, but we got interviews with many of the hottest SF writers in Britain, and suddenly this topic came alive. The Brits had suddenly all discovered that Mars was ripe for reinterpretation. The show barrels along, exploding the 'Old Mars' myths, and showcasing Michael Moorcock and Ian MacDonald.
I had the feeling that PoG was ahead of the curve on this topic, and you could feel it in the energy of the interviews. Passion.
This is one of the few shows where Commander Rick seems totally in control of the material, and every time an author is mentioned, he was able to go to them (with NanCy's help!).
We only did 2 two part shows- this pair, and Shared Worlds/ Medea.
'Memory/ Amnesia' is successful because the material is so strong, and Rick was able to relate so strongly to the interview clips. There are some great creators in these shows, and because the topic is so broad, anyone can watch this show and get something out of it. Personally , I think Lynda Barry and Neil Gaiman are brilliant on this topic.
This show is the watershed episode- this aired as the third show in season 2- but it was the first show with director/producer Gregg Thurlbeck and editor Brian Karn. I remember watching it with Executive Producer Daniel Richler, and at the end of the show Daniel simply said 'Fuuuuuuck', and then walked away.
I cornered him later, and asked if he liked the show, and he said that he was completely unprepared for the quantum leap we had made. In retrospect it is not among our best shows, but it was the first step in the right
direction. Will Eisner liked the show, so that was good enough for me!
This is one of my favorites because the topic near and dear to my heart. It also turned out to be a disguised 'feminism' show. As I was compiling the show it seemed flat, so I got some extra money in the budget to go to the World Fantasy Convention in Minneapolis... there I interviewed Jane Yolen, Terri Windling, Peter Straub and several other writers, and those interviews galvanized the whole episode. I particularly enjoyed Jane Yolen, because she is so eloquent, and generous. I told her that her novel 'Briar Rose' is the only book I've read on a subway that caused me to cry. She loved that!
Vess, Gaiman, Straub, Anne Rice, Terri Windling, Jane Yolen... quite a line up!
I think Rick did a great job of seamlessly filling in the holes, and providing a foil for a lot of the material.
One graphic novel.
Just Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons.
This show was really helped along by Gregg and Rick. They challenged me to put my money where my mouth was, and prove that the Watchmen was/is the finest piece of craftsmanship in comics.
This show would simply have not worked without Rick's energy and enthusiasm for the material. He really sells Watchmen to the audience.
I was nervous that the show wouldn't work with only two guests, and I was very concerned that the images had to be perfect. Gregg and our editor Brian Karn really knocked themselves out in the edit bay, and technically this episode paved the way for the 'Layout' episode. While I think this show is bested by the Layout show, we all learned a lot from this, and it remains a favorite, and very fine, example of what PoG achieved.
Neil Gaiman and I are close friends. We share a lot in common, and when this interview (in San Diego) was conducted I had already interviewed him roughly half a dozen times. I was passionate about Sandman, and this show has a solid, though not spectacular interview with Neil (the best interview I did with Neil is the one against a black background, and excerpts show up in several shows including 'Dreams' 'Utopia' and 'Religion').
This show also contains interviews with many of Neil's collaborators, including Dave McKean, Charles Vess, P. Craig Russell, and editor Karen Berger. A great line up of guests... but... Somehow, for me, the show just does not capture the essence of Sandman.
I have no idea why... we sure worked hard on this one.
Neil called me after he and his family watched the show, and gave the show (minus the mistake!) a good review. When I expressed my reservations, he thought that I was too close to the show. Neil liked a couple of things in the interview- I had spotted things nobody else had (watch the show and see what I mean!) We discussed it a few years later, and Neil though that I may have been right- there is something missing. Oddly, some people say that this is one of their favorite shows. I suspect that this has a lot to do with the respect Neil's fans have for Sandman.
I am also bugged by a simple error (mine), where Rick says that Death is Dream's younger sister. Ooops.
I conducted over 400 interviews for PoG. Pulling out favourites is virtually impossible, and I'm sure that I've left several favorites off the list.
The first time I interviewed Peter I tried a new 'organic' interview technique that I learned from watching some of Shirley Brady's interviews. Shirley let the subject dictate the flow of the interview- she knew the
material, but she was after the 'hot buttons'- the emotion rather than the facts. I can't really describe the technique, but for me it was like letting go of the wheel. I first tried this technique with the brilliant Peter Straub, and at the end of the interview he was very moved. We adjourned to have lunch, and it was clear that the interview had transformed us both. As a bonus we have become close enough friends that he routinely mocks my musical taste. Any show with Peter Straub is worth watching...
I interviewed Ms. Yolen shortly after reading 'Briar Rose' and a dozen of her other books. We conducted the interview in the lobby of the hotel, and she was ensconced in a very comfortable couch.... Couches usually spell death to an interview, but... She was slightly mocking of the young eager TV interviewer until I showed I knew her work. I had to work to get her respect- but once I got it she was open and brilliant. Not only is she a story machine, but she inspired me to write after our interview.
'Alan is a recluse. He won't do the interview'.
'You'll like Alan- he's a cross between a Yeti and Charles Manson'.
I had corresponded with Alan (mostly about the Chaos Theory research for Big Numbers), and through the kind graces of Steve Bissette I got to spend almost 3 hours interviewing Alan in London. (NB- most interviews are half an hour. A special case is an hour. 3 hours is/was unheard of. )
Alan showed up in a black t-shirt emblazoned with 'Just say 'Yo' to drugs, and we warmed up over an Indian lunch with Steve. I avoided, as I always do, talking about anything that we'd cover in the interview, so we discussed our mutual friends Chester Brown and Neil Gaiman.
During the interview Alan was truly spectacular- he is one of the few people who can talk in full paragraphs.
You can always judge an interview by the crew's response, and they were all blown away, and nobody questioned the decision to go 3 hours- 'Frankly, he could have gone on all day'.
Despite the long interview, I really felt under the gun- we had so much to cover.
The V for Vendetta portion of the interview is a highlight of the 'Politics' show...
Swampthing anchors the very fine 'Metamorphosis' show...
Miracleman plays a large part in the terrific 'Utopia' show...
And elsewhere we cover Lost Girls and various other Moore driven projects.
Not to mention a full show on Watchmen.
After the interview I was truly revved up. Usually I'd be drained, but listening to Alan was a treat.
He loved the interview, and we headed for the bar and hung out with Steve, Neil Gaiman, and Britsh cartoonist Shaky Cane.
After a few drinks, we went to dinner, and as we walked along the London streets at twilight Alan outlined the conspiracy behind Jack the Ripper. After dinner Alan give me a preview of his novel, Voice of the Fire.
As the song says- 'Alan Moore knows the score.'
I'm not going to get into my history with Neil here- suffice to say that I met him on the set of the first Tim Burton Batman movie, several months before Sandman #1 debuted.
The first interview was very odd- Neil insisted on wearing his dark sunglasses, and with his twinkly eyes shrouded he came across as a bit demented...
The second interview, against a black background, and keylit by a green gel was one of the most valuable and personally rewarding interviews I conducted. I had an agenda- I thought Neil had become the best comic book writer since Alan Moore, and I recognized that Neil was a writer and a storyteller first and foremost. I challenged Neil in this interview, and he responded. It's no surprise that this interview was so good that our viewers chose Neil as their 'favorite guest' on the Reality 1 awards, over Alan Moore, Clive Barker, Anne Rice, and dozens of other fan favourites (and his acceptance speech, directed by Dave McKean is hilarious).
After that ground breaking interview I interviewed Neil several times- once in the back of a limo on the way to a signing- but somehow I never thought we reached the pinnacle of our second interview.
The King was dying.
Frank Miller convinced me, as only Frank can, that I should interview Jack. I had misgivings, as Jack was never a good interview, and even in Comic Book Confidential we had trouble making him watchable. Frank's final argument was- 'Even if he doesn't make it to TV, you owe it to Jack to try'.
I prepared for months, and researched like crazy. I met Jack and his wife Roz the day before the interview, and it was fairly clear that the interview was going to be a wash. There was some concern that Jack couldn't make it, and it could only be for half an hour...
When Jack walked into the room he was a tired, sick old man.
When the interview started, The King of Comics was in the chair.
Jack's passion and simple directness poured out. I kept things very simple- no memory stuff- I was going for the pure essence- and Jack delivered.
The interview ended when I asked him about how important his family was to his creative work, and as he answered, I knew I had gold. We ended the interview, and Sally, my Production Assistant burst into tears, and hugged Jack.
The highlight- I was at work the day after Boxing Day, and the phone rang. It was Roz Kirby, and she told me she loved the show, and that 'the kids' had watched the show all Christmas. Jack got on the phone, and I choke up to this day telling the story, Jack told me I was a good man... I told him that it was an honour to have interviewed him, and I couldn't ever begin to repay the debt we all owed him, and Jack graciously said that I could consider the account balanced.
Jack died a few weeks later, and we re-ran the show as our tribute to him.
People Who Make It Look Easy- The Newt List
There are some people that it is just a pleasure to interview.
They are so good that I'm sure that they could conduct an interview with a newt.
These include Douglas Adams, Clive Barker, Dr. Gregory Benford, David Cronenberg, Will Eisner, Robert J. Sawyer and Connie Willis.
If you ever get a chance to interview one of the creators, grab it.
They'll make you look good!