John Ostrander: Hokey Smokes!

by John Ostrander

On Friday I learned that one of my childhood heroes died. June Foray passed on at the age of 99.

Ms. Foray was a voice actress working in animated features all her long career, as well as in comedy shorts and appearances on Johnny Carson and with Stan Freberg, Daws Butler, and Frank Nelson. She was the voice of Grandmother in Mulan, of Betty Lou Who in How the Grinch Stole Christmasand, most important to me, she was the voice of Natasha Fatale and Rocky the Flying Squirrel on the various Rocky and Bullwinkle shows created by the legendary Jay Ward.

Rocky and Bullwinkle had a huge impact on me as a kid. All of Jay Ward’s stuff had a combination of sophisticated and low-brow humor. There were elements of satire combined with a lot of really bad puns.

Originally, the dimwitted Bullwinkle was the sidekick to the plucky hero Rocket J. Squirrel but the moose became the main character and Rocky became the plucky sidekick. As a kid, that irritated me. Don’t get me wrong; I love me some Bullwinkle but Rocky was my hero. He may have been small but he was clever, he was courageous and he could fly. If anyone was going to get him and Bullwinkle out of the traps devised by Boris Badenov and Natasha Fatale, it would be Rocky.

I identified with him, so it bothered me when his BF took over the lead billing. I saw it as sort of an act of betrayal. Stupid, I know, but that’s how my kid’s brain saw it and some of that brain still rests inside me. (They talk about “primal lizard brain;” I’ve got “primal kid brain.”) It didn’t seem to bother Rocky, though. Of course, it wouldn’t. He was not that kind of guy to hold a grudge.

I got the Rocky and Bullwinkle comics when I was a boy; they were oversized and cost a whopping 25 cents when everything else was a dime. But they delivered. They had the same skewed sensibility as the TV shows did. And they sort of had the voices; when I read Rocky in the comics, I “heard” June Foray’s voice. The animation was always rudimentary on the shows; it was the writing and the voices that truly made the shows live. When I heard June Foray had died, for me that sort of meant Rocky died as well.

Ms. Foray got a lot accomplished in her life. She helped get the Motion Picture Academy to create an award category for Best Animated Feature in 2001. She has her own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

One last thought struck me the other day and it’ll make some of you crazy but here goes. June Foray voiced Rocky; June Foray was female. Could Rocky have been female all these years? Rocky wears the sort of flying helmet and goggles I’ve seen on pictures of Amelia Earhart. Bullwinkle is frankly too dim to notice. So – maybe.

Either way – Rocky is still one of my heroes. And so is June Foray.


John Ostrander is one of LB’s favorite writers in any medium. Don’t forget to read his most excellent blog at ComicMix, where this piece first appeared. You can learn more about John and his masterworks HERE

Find Your Story – and Stick to It

by David Perlis

Find your story and stick to it ~ Not So Anon

That’s the moral, and it’s what I’m trying to remind myself as I move forward on my new project. These things always sound easy, but without a Post-It on every surface of your abode, reminding you what your story’s heart is, you may find yourself with great plot and great characters, but they’re bound to fizzle out at some point. That’s what I think, anyway.

I like examining Breaking Bad. (By the way, my exhibits are almost always Breaking Bad. It just works, man.)

Breaking Bad sets you up with some pretty brilliant stakes: terminal cancer on one end, and the threat of prison on the other. Not a lot of wiggle room for good things to happen here. But how Vince Gilligan and his writers deal with the cancer part is what I find really interesting. Do they give Walt life scare after life scare with his diagnosis? Do they bring in his ex girlfriend whom he left at the altar to be his head doc? Accidentally give him an infected blood transfusion, or mix his chart up with someone else’s? Does Walt have an allergic reaction to the meds, which leaves him in a wheelchair? I admit, all of these things sound a bit “jump-the-sharky,” but they would definitely ratchet up the drama.

Nope. Instead, they hardly address the cancer at all. Sure, a few scenes in the early episodes, ’cause you can’t not talk about it, but the writers (being pros) knew what this show was—and more importantly, wasn’t—about.

It’s about reaching the breaking point. It’s about our ability to justify the unjustifiable. It’s about doing the wrong things for the right reasons. It’s about our need to be important. To be respected. To be good. It’s about every man being capable of absolute evil. It’s about “turning Mr. Chips into Scarface.” (Which was how Mr. G. always pitched it.) It’s not about overcoming cancer. Walt’s diagnosis in ep. 1 was a great catalyst for morphing him into Heisenberg, but that’s all it ever needed to be.

Now, if you were in Breaking Bad’s writer’s room, would you have intuitively left the cancer thread by the side of the road way back when? I know I wouldn’t have. Long story short: That, Mom, is is why I’ve got “Ignore the cancer” Post-Its papering my toilet tank.


David Perlis is a screenwriter and former People’s Pilot Finalist doing his best to break into the even Bigger Time. This post first appeared on his very helpful blog.

John Ostrander: Woo Who!

by John Ostrander

Last week TV fandom was set on its ear by the announcement of the newest person to play the Doctor on BBC’s venerable sci/fi TV show, Doctor Who. (If you don’t already know, the Doctor is a time-traveling alien with the ability to regenerate himself into an entirely new body and persona when his current body is on the point of dying.) There have been 12 such regenerations so far; Jodie Whittaker will be the 13th and the first woman to play the part. Joanna Lumley was a female Doctor for a sketch some years back – written by Steven Moffet, no less – but that is not considered canon.

Predictably, there has been some negative fan reaction, although the bulk that I have seen has been overwhelmingly positive. This kind of change often provokes this kind of reaction. When it was announced that the captain on the next Star Trek series coming out (Star Trek: Discovery) was going to be a woman, there was similar booing and hooing.

I can sort of understand. Fans can be conservative; they want what they like to be the same but different only not too different. There have been times when, as a fan, I was somewhat resistant to change. A prime complaint has been that young boys are losing a role model and there aren’t that many heroes who depend on their wits and smarts rather than their fists. Even one of the actors who played an earlier Doctor, Peter Davison, has voiced this objection. However, my feeling is that these young boys have 12 other incarnations to use as a role model. Young girls have been expected to use the male Doctor as a role model; giving them one who looks like them after fifty years of the show being broadcast doesn’t seem to me to be unreasonable.

My late wife, Kim Yale, was a huge Doctor Who fan (as am I) and she used to dress as Tom Baker’s Doctor to cosplay at conventions before cosplay was a big thing. She would have been over the moon about this. My partner, Mary Mitchell, certainly is and has pointed out that having the 13th Doctor be a female is very appropriate since 13 is a “female number” as there are 13 moon cycles in a year.

To me, what ultimately matters is what character do they create and how good are the stories that they tell. When you’ve worked for a long time on a given project, as a writer you look for ways to shake things up and make them fresh. On my book GrimJack, I once killed off the main character and then brought him back and later on, replaced him with an entirely different incarnation (yes, I was a big Doctor Who fan at the time and, yes, that influenced the change a lot). I intended to keep doing that from time to time. And one of the later incarnations I had planned was a female GrimJack. That probably would have incited some comment as well. We just never got to it.

So I’m very pleased with the selection of the new Doctor and hopefully the stories that will come of it. I hope the new showrunner will explore the change and what it means.

One last interesting note: I read that Ms. Whittaker will be paid the same salary as the actor who preceded her, Peter Capaldi. No wage disparity in the time vortex.

Way to go, Beeb.


John Ostrander is one of LB’s favorite writers in any medium. Don’t forget to read his most excellent blog at ComicMix, where this piece first appeared. You can learn more about John and his masterworks HERE

The Hudsonian Welcomes SPIDER-MAN (‘s) HOMECOMING

Now this is a villain! Much better than in the comics.

by Joshua Hudson

(This article contains spoilers!)

So I’m totally just now getting around to reviewing Spider-Man: Homecoming. It’s been a crazy last couple of weeks. But the good news is that most everyone has seen it by now so, yeah, all the spoilers ahead shouldn’t bother you, right?

As far as I’m concerned, Homecoming was absolutely fantastic. I’ve seen it a couple of times, and the comedy holds up beautifully. Sure, we’ve seen every kind of incarnation with Spider-Man already – he’s been in high school and in college and his Uncle Ben died and had a profound effect on his life – but the writers still found a way to make this different.

They skipped over the origin story (thank GOD!) and just focused on Peter as a sophomore in high school, learning how to be a hero. What Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man films did was gloss over a lot of this. Parker was done with high school before the midpoint of Raimi’s first movie, and all we saw was a series of shots of him learning how to be a hero.

Just because you have superpowers doesn’t mean you’re going to know how to use them right out of the gate. From beginning to end, Homecoming showed that as great as Peter was, he was flawed as a hero – as a teenaged hero. But that was okay because he was still having fun and enjoyed helping people, which pulled us as the audience along for the ride.

After watching all of the trailers and seeing a heavy dose of Tony Stark, I was happy to see he had only a few scenes in the movie. They were just enough for us to know Parker is firmly a part of the MCU as a whole, but, yeah, essentially they replaced Uncle Ben with Stark. As a fanboy, this irked me, but it worked for this film and I wasn’t totally upset because we’ve already seen the Uncle Ben thing play out anyway.

This time around we get Parker looking at Stark as a father figure and learning how to be a hero. And Aunt May definitely makes her presence known as played by Marisa Tomei. I’ve heard of a deleted scene which I thought would’ve been great, but without knowing where it fitted in, I’m not sure how I would’ve felt seeing it. In a nutshell, the scene shows May doing something heroic in front of Peter, which could’ve easily served as fuel to his heroic fire.

Michael Keaton as The Vulture was arguably one of the better villains in the MCU, right up there with Loki in my opinion. In terms of previous Spider-Man only film villains, I’d rank him second behind Alfred Molina’s Doc Ock. What makes both so great is their relationship with Parker. Vulture’s connection is shown late (and even I didn’t see that coming), but his attitude throughout the film really made you feel for him. The Vulture wasn’t someone that wanted to be a bad guy. Circumstances dictated it, and he had a family to look after. That’s the type of baddie that plays really well.

The fight scenes were done well. I’ve heard some of my friends say there wasn’t enough. I disagree. It’s easy for a director or storyteller to want to put a lot of action into a script simply because it’s an action movie. But this is also a coming of age story for Parker. The writing here gave us action that moved Parker’s journey along, and the final scene was an exclamation point on his ascension to respected hero. Could the action have been better shot and edited? Yes, but I’ve never seen a film where that couldn’t be said.

Parker’s high school classmates were great. Some longtime fans may be mad about casting choices because in the comics, everyone is white and there’s no ethnicity. Did you know that in today’s New York City over 60% of the population is black, brown, or Asian?

This film added diversity to just about EVERYONE. Liz is half Black, Ned looks hispanic, Flash IS Hispanic. I don’t think it took away from any of their comic book origins. Personality-wise, Flash was still a bully, just not a football jock bully, so I was okay with it. And if they ever decide to make him Venom, that’ll be really interesting. My only beef was with Zendaya’s character, Michelle because…

!!!SPOILER!!!

At the very end, it’s revealed that Michell’s “friends” call her M.J. This was a complete cop out by the writers (there seem to be about a dozen of them so forgive me for not naming them here) and director Jon Watts. Michelle Jones, or whatever her last name is, is NOT the M.J. we all know and love. If you wanted ditch the red haired Anglo girl look, fine. But why not at least keep Mary Jane’s name? Nothing against Zendaya. I thought she was great actually. I just felt that as a comic book fan, I’d kind of been  insulted

The introduction of Aaron Davis (The Ultimate Universe Prowler), Mac Gargon (The Scorpion), Herman Schultz (The Shocker) and Mason (The Tinkerer) all fitted well in the story. Each villain served a purpose. This as a case where “too many villains” worked because Spidey didn’t have to fight them all. And that’s okay. What we have now is a great set-up for future Spider-Man movies, and I’m curious to see their next move.

Bottomline: Go see Spider-Man Homecoming. It’s terrific, and a much needed refresher on the MCU as a whole. As long as Sony doesn’t screw up their side of the Spider-Man mythos (Black & Silver featuring Black Cat and Silver Sable, Venom, et al), I think there’s a lot of potential here for great stories.


Joshua Hudson is a producer, writer, and actor. Find out more about him at Hudsonian Productions. Thanks, Josh!

Peggy Bechko’s Tips on Character Descriptions

OMG! Writers have to do all this too – but with words!?

by Peggy Bechko

Writing descriptions for characters in TV and film scripts can be very tricky. We’re writing tight and yet want to transmit something about that character, something that will make an “A” list actor or actress salivate at the thought of playing that character. At the same time it has to be very visual. Unlike novelists, script writers can’t get inside the heads of their characters – at least not when it comes to descriptions. It’s a little like someone off-stage whispering instructions.

If you’ve read a lot of scripts, and if you’re writing them I assume you have, then you’re no doubt all too familiar with a description like: Carmen Smith (20s), slender and graceful, waits impatiently at the bus stop.

Okay, it paints a picture of sorts and we’re told time and again not to over describe, but is that the sort of description that would grab a star? I mean all we’ve said here is that Carmen is thin, impatient woman in her 20s. And, of course your script has to make it past the hurdles and pitfalls of a myriad of other folks who read your script such as readers, agents, maybe producers and others unless you personally know an “A” list movie star. Few of us do. And even if we do, would that person welcome reading your script…and then would that description captivate that person?

Okay, so no, no and no.

Now, presuming your script is otherwise worth reading and it get into the hands of a star’s agent, that agent is going to be looking to see if there’s a plum part in the script for their client. Is the character interesting with a personality, a background; a role that’s multi-faceted to stretch the star’s acting ability.

Isn’t that what you’d be doing if you were a rep for a high-powered star?

So we come back to that original (well, not really so original) description I came up with above. What if the description in your script was more like: The bus driver opened the door to where Carmen, an aristocratic woman more accustomed to limos than city buses, raised her steely gaze to his, then rose and strolled onto the steps plainly intending the bus could just wait a bit longer.

Now that’s a little more like it. What the heck is going on with Carmen? Steely gaze? Causing the bus to wait on her leisurely stroll? There’s a tone here, no? Are things like age important? Not really, unless it really has a bearing on the direction of the story.

Read through your script. Think about the descriptions. If you find one that seems a little flat, play with it. Think about who your character is and consider, can I bring the character through with action and movement, maybe a look or a certain attitude. Don’t depend on age, clothes, height or color of hair (ye gads!). What would make a star want to play that role?


Peggy Bechko is a TVWriter™ Contributing Editor. Learn more about her sensational career HERE. Peggy’s new comic series, Planet of the Eggs, written and illustrated with Charlene Brash-Sorensen is available on Kindle. And, while you’re at it, visit the Planet of the Eggs Facebook page and her terrific blog.

What Makes ‘Game of Thrones’ So Damn Hot Anyway?

by Diana Black

Hint: It’s the theme of this particular article. And that is simply this:

“Compelling Characters Make a ‘Real’ World.”

By which I mean:

A great story idea, well-written script, skilful cast and crew with an intelligent Director and Showrunner at the helm – surely the recipe for a winning TV Series, but what ‘essential ingredient’ compels us to ‘tune in’ religiously?

Lulu: “Honey, so sorry, can’t make it tonight… no, it’s not my, ‘I’m washing my hair’ night … I’m  just busy…. No, you’re wonderful but…”

Is it the hooks and plot twists, the lighting, sound, mis-en-scene? What makes the fantasy drama, Game of Thrones (David Benioff & D.B. Weiss, HBO 201 –) now going into its 7th Season apparently SOOO interesting and compelling to watch?  And this is across the board – no longer the purview of adolescent, voyeuristic nerds.

Well, according to A.G. Walton – a contributor to Forbes, who in turn is commenting on the findings of Josue’ Cardona of “GeekTherapy.com”,  it’s a range of elements that include the following attributes: intellectually challenging and multiple plots; unpredictable twists;; an intricate and elaborate story world, and dramatic events that border on the visceral.

But what of character?  In this epic panoply of political manipulation; one which would be right up there with Rome under Caesar, it is according to Walton, the creation, destruction and resurrection of archetypes. So what is an archetype and why, having been ‘done to death’ long before Shakespeare took up a quill, are they still so useful?

Aspiring screenwriters of teleplays may think long and hard before referencing them – the Queen, the Trickster, disgruntled Prince, foul-mouthed washerwoman etc.  But they work, precisely because they’re ‘character’ in a neat package. We instantly ‘get’ them. They come into ‘our space’ with their over-night bag stuffed with accoutrements that we instantly recognize – greedy, debauched, vile, manipulative, pure, sweet etc.

Is that it, then? All there is to the Game of Thrones characters?  Are they merely just a bunch of one-dimensional archetypes? No – in our jaded world of hardened, cynical ‘little box watchers’– it requires more than that; as the revolving door of short-lived TV shows attest.

The secrets to these guys is that they not only shamelessly embrace their archetypal nature – to the hilt, they each have a level of complexity that make them seem real AND accordingly hated, feared, loved, reviled etc. We’re left seriously wondering what word or deed they’re going to express next.  ‘Warts and all’ they reflect us mere mortals – who will no doubt have to deal with the same, albeit modern-day equivalent conundrums, issues and angst, tomorrow or next week, come Tuesday.

And the moral of the story is….drum roll…invest like hell in your character/s if you expect your actors to lift them off the page. As an actor, the quickest, surest path to having those words and deeds appear perfectly natural and justified is to get under the skin of the character; to become that character – for better or worse. The old adage still and will forever apply, “You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.”


Diana Black is an Australian actress and writer currently taking Larry Brody’s Master Class.

Writing Meme of Great Meaning & Truth

Found on the web via John Ostrander’s Facebook wall thing: