A New Eden Intermission

Hey!  It’s the holidays!  At least in America, everyone’s taking a break for Thanksgiving weekend.  Including me.  So I thought I’d give the characters in my learning to draw experiment a rest as well, and just post a bit of concept material for the story.

I’m a fair bit ahead of where we’ve gotten through the posts in New Eden, and it’s time for me to introduce a new character.  I’m having a lot of difficulty settling on a design.  I’ve sketched out a few possibilities, and thought I’d show the most likely one here.


If you’ve been following along as I’ve been posting, you may have noticed I’m not really all that great at body proportions.  This design is my attempt to get more practice in that area.  He’s based on Greek statuary, which were built with a very specific set of proportion.  I don’t think I’ve got it exactly right here, but hey, that’s what the practice is for.  I’m not completely enthralled with this design.  I still think it’s got just a little too much going on, and the toga bottom and sash going up the side of the body throw a lot of the balance off.  Still, I thought I’d throw this design to the mercy of the internet as I work on improving it.  So hey, if you have any feedback on it, now’s the time.

Remaining Defiant in Dark Souls

So, I like Let’s Plays. Gives me a good glimpse of games I never would have tried or am on the fence on, and it’s interesting seeing other perspectives of games I already know well. But I’ve noticed a big problem in all the lps I’ve been watching/reading. They’re always trying to make progress. Constantly trying to hit some sort of performance goal, or even (gasp!) attempting to actually beat the game. What’s going on with that? Where’s all the aimless wandering, the unfocused milling about, the pointed refusal to move yourself towards completing the game? Everyone knows it’s when you’re doing nothing of value whatsoever that you get the best material. Last time, on Aether’s Glorious Dark Souls Conquest Mk. II I tried to deliver just that sort of experience, but I failed. That’s becoming kind of a standard thing here, isn’t it? My failure. In any case, the game tricked me, and I accidentally ended up making progress.

Well, now I’m determined to not let that happen again. No more progress until I’ve exhausted all other avenues of effectively wasting everyone’s time! Will I succeed in this endeavor? Find out below!

After kicking Sif to the curb, I make my way back to Quelaag’s Domain, deep in the bowels of Blighttown. This is actually pretty troublesome, and not just because Blighttown is a hole that no healthy-minded being would ever even think about. No, the problem with Blighttown is that there’s no bonfires I can warp to in there, meaning that if I’m going to traverse it, I’ve got to get halfway through the blasted sewer level again. But I do it. Why? Because I apparently lost all sense of self-respect around the time Frampt decided to give me a saliva-bath.


Anyways, so I get to the lower level of Quelaag’s Domain, around where we killed the spiderbabe and rang the second Bell of Awakening. I notice that there’s a section of wall that isn’t covered in spiderwebs, making it oddly suspicious. The note on the floor claiming ‘illusory wall ahead’ is a pretty damning clue as well. I give it a good smack, and the wall fades away, leaving me with this view. Being surrounded by literally thousands of infant spiders in those egg sacs does not exactly strike me as a good time, but still, treasure. There could be treasure. I love treasure. I head into this new hallway.


No treasure down here, but that bonfire is pretty tempting. Blocking my way, though, is this unfortunate soul weighted down under so many eggs nested in his flesh. He asks me if I’m a new servant. Servant to what, I don’t know I’ve no interest in killing him just to get to the bonfire, so I humor him. He lets me inside for an audience with ‘Our Fair Lady’ before shuffling aside. The bonfire’s already lit. Usually the bonfires I’ve been finding out in the wild, I’ve been lighting myself. In fact, the only bonfires I’ve found that have already been lit when I came across them were…


those tended by fire keepers. Well. I suppose like everything else, ‘fair’ is in the eye of the beholder. I try to offer some conversation and pay my respects, but I just can’t understand her. She’s saying something, but not in any language I’ve ever heard, and her words seem to leave my head as soon as they enter.

Well, whatever. I have the option to join her covenant of bug-infested psychopaths, which I’m not going to do because seriously, no. Mr. Hive at the entrance, Eingyi, as he’s apparently called, does offer a weird list, the ‘Servant Roster, and some pyromancy upgrades for sale. I take the opportunity to boost my flame a few levels. I consider putting him out of misery, because seriously, did you see him? He’s more gross spider-baby than man, now. He seems pretty happy with his arrangement, though. To each their own, I guess.

On my way out, walking through the floor of Blighttown, I run into someone new. Someone I didn’t see here before. Someone just hanging out. Seriously? Who just hangs out in Blighttown?! All of Lordran to go chill in, and you choose the God’s Dungheap to spend your time? Something’s obviously wrong with her. She’s surprised to see me, claiming that only those with unique gifts can do so, and introduces herself as, well…


The fabled Mother of Pyromancy. The one responsible for granting the art of pyromancy to mortals through the Great Pyromancer Salaman. Apparently, I remind her of the historic flame-wielder, and offers to teach me pyromancy as well. The power to make more things burn better? Of course I’m up for that! She warns me that in pursuing her pyromancy requires giving something up. Heedless, I pick up two new spells from her, the first a more powerful version of my fireball and the second a spell that engulfs the area around me in flames. Both circumstantial, as I don’t get enough uses out of them to make them my mainstays, but I can see getting some good use from this. As I leave her, she gives me a warning to always fear the flame, else it will consume me and I will lose myself. Then…


Aww, I’m touched. So far, all the pyromancers I’ve met have been such nice, caring…


Ok, less touched now. Still, the Mother of Pyromancy. Here in Lordran. Quite an awesome opportunity! I’ve got to tell Laurentius. A quick port later, and…


He notices my pyromancy has grown, already, under Quelana’s tutelage. I let him know about the Mother of Pyromancy, thinking that he’ll be interested in it just the same as I. After all, just sitting around Firelink with nothing to do is sure to kill your hope and drive you hollow. He was kind to me, giving me a part of himself through this pyromancy flame. The least I could do is give him this one positive note to keep his sanity afloat. He resolves to reach her on his own, claiming himself enough of a pyromancer to be able to handle it himself.

And hey, while I’m here, do you remember Frampt? The primordial serpent? You can feed him items in exchange for souls. A wide variety of items, including one that I’ve been picking up over and over again in Blighttown.


Hey, you remember when he decided to transport me inside his blasted mouth? The indignity of it? Yeah.


Down the hatch.

Continue reading

Themes of Sacrifice in Tales of Symphonia

Hey, just a warning, we’re going weapons-free on spoilers here.


The Tales series of video games intrigues me in a variety of ways. There’s the relatively unique combat system, the fantastic way they integrate your character’s random conversations, and their balls-out methods of world-building. What I usually appreciate most after I turn off the game, however, is the way they make a point of deconstructing a fantasy storytelling trope or cliché with every game they make. It’s really interesting to me, both as a writer and as a video games consumer, to watch them build towards a really rote story then twist it around completely, providing a fresh and new take on familiar material. That they do this so reliably is really a testament to their strength as creators. Every game takes something so overrun in modern fantasy storytelling that it makes most people try to scoop their own brains out with a spoon and runs it through a unique lens, analyzing how that trope would work in situations far removed from its typical element. Even as far back as the Super NES era, they broke new ground by giving their obviously evil genocidal villain sympathetic motivations in Tales of Phantasia, then followed it up by breaking down the traditional damsel in distress love interest in Tales of Legendia, the chosen one in Tales of the Abyss, the anti-hero in Tales of Vesperia, and used Tales of Symphonia to take down the commonly held idea of…. uh…. erm….?

Yeah. That’s always been a problem. Tales of Symphonia is probably one of the most important games in the Tales series. In terms of gameplay and characterization, Symphonia moved the series so far into the modern age, and is probably the reason most gamers in the west even know of the franchise today. It is a game that definitely earns its place as one of the best of the series. However, that quality has all been carried by the strength of its characters and the quality of its gameplay. Its plot, on the other hand, is generally regarded as unoriginal, rote, and cliched. Cliched! The game’s often accused of being the very thing the Tales series is founded on circumventing. And most oddly, nobody can agree on just what, exactly, Symphonia’s supposed to be deconstructing. The idea of the chosen one seems to be the most common guess, but Tales of the Abyss hit those notes a lot better, and besides, the way Symphonia handled it, having a member of the church find out the church kind of sucks, is way common in its own right. Also, spoilers, I guess, but come on, seriously, it’s a religious institution that plays a major part of the plot in a modern day video game. Those things are just evil by default. Others have guessed it breaks down the traditional stubborn moron lead, but I haven’t seen those that posit that offer much in the way of evidence towards that hypothesis. More minor estimations I’ve seen include breaking down racism, the goodness of humanity, heroism, and dudes in speedos. Everyone’s sure they’re deconstructing something, but nobody’s sure what that is. It could be they’re breaking down several things in a lot of small ways. Or it could be that they’re focusing on one subject, but doing it so subtly that nobody’s picked up on it. I recently did another playthrough of the game, and this time, I resolved to devote the full force of my big sexy brain to figuring it out.

Turns out, I didn’t have to work so hard. As you may have suspected, everyone in the world is stupid. Including me, until now. And you, too, because you’re reading this post and have just received enlightenment. Seriously, this post will gain you entry into nerdvana. See, Tales of Symphonia does cover a lot of modern fantasy tropes, but there’s one that it focuses on above all others. And it’s not subtle at all, given that the characters will absolutely not shut up about it. Tales of Symphonia as a whole, is all about Sacrifice.


Personal sacrifice has played a part in storytelling literature since way back with the blazing Epic of Gilgamesh. Since the mid-3rd millennium B.C., or possibly even before, we as a race have been fascinated with the heroes who are willing to lay it all on the line for the good of others and the villains who have been willing to risk all for their own sake. Those who are willing to give it all up to achieve their goals make for strong, satisfying characters, no matter what side of the alignment line they’re on. In 5000 years of storytelling, we’ve always treated sacrifice the same way. Sacrificing yourself for the sake of others is good, sacrificing others for the sake of yourself means we should be telling your mother or something. And yet, Tales of Symphonia turns that all on its head.

Sacrifice factors into either the backstories or the arcs of most of the characters you get in your party, as well as showing up in a lot of the events that occur over the course of the plot. Blazes, the world of Sylvarant itself, with two different worlds forced to ‘sacrifice one another in order to survive’ as the game calls it over and over again plays into this theme so very strongly. The theme’s most prevalent in two instances though; the character of Colette, the character of Lloyd.


Of the two types of sacrifice I mentioned earlier, the idea of sacrificing yourself being good, and sacrificing others evil, Colette really takes on the former. Colette is Sylvarant’s Chosen One, a being marked from birth and raised with the knowledge that someday the heavens are going to call to her and she’s going to have to go be Jesus. Since she was born, she knew that someday she was going to have to sacrifice her soul in order to save her world. That’s a duty that she takes up readily, out of love for everyone else in her world. And that turns out wrong. So wrong. This most apparently presents itself in the fact that the organization forcing her to go be Jesus is actually the big evil of this game and her sacrifice of herself is actually pretty bad for mankind. The theme lasts in her longer than the first act twist, however. See, Colette’s known that she would need to sacrifice herself all her life, and has developed a full-on complex because of it. She is constantly suffering throughout the course of this game, and she never tells anyone, always bearing her burdens alone and in silence. After all, that was how she was raised. She’d lived her life knowing she had a dour fate but that she and she alone could handle it, and she’s just learned to live that way. It causes so many problems for our group. She suffers alone, and in silence, letting her injuries and maladies grow to the point that your team often has to drop everything to save her. In many circumstances, Colette causes more trouble to your team than any of your adversaries. She is more than ready to sacrifice herself for others. And that is a very, very bad thing.


Then there’s Lloyd, our viewpoint character of this piece. He runs into trouble early on, get’s some destruction indirectly caused through responses to his actions, and vows that he will make it so nobody will ever be sacrificed for his sake again. He uses pretty much those words, too. That vow is a big sticking point with his character for almost all of the game. And the plot, as well as several of the other characters hammer it into him over and over again that that’s just not possible. No matter what he does, no matter how much he tries, it is impossible for him to avoid collateral damage in his fight against evil. His actions set of a series of events that destroy towns, that drown innocent prisoners, that get people killed for his sake. This reaches its height near the end of the game, where two of your more pragmatic members privately make the decision that they are ready to give their lives to make sure Lloyd gets a shot at the big king wicked, entirely because he has the best chance of succeeding in battle against the bad man. And they almost do give up the ghost to get him through. Lloyd causes a lot of people to suffer in his quest to right the great wrongs of his world. He knows that, and it eats away at him. Yet, while the game never presents it as a good thing, it is absolutely clear that this is a necessary thing. The only way to save everybody in this world is to leave a few of them behind. Lloyd sacrifices a lot of others for his sake, and while it’s not a just thing, it’s something he has to do so that all may live.

New Eden, Page 9: Something Something Subtitle

New Eden Page 9 (2)

Someday, I’m going to need to invest in a scanner.  This camera work isn’t doing anybody any favors.

Anyways, as I attempt to get my life back on some sort of track, figured it’d be time to throw another one of these up there.  This one took a little longer to get ready, because I actually had to go back and re-draw this.  The original one, I had put together some time ago, had some really bad dialogue that I just couldn’t stand making public, and I got bored with it after finishing up with the sketching pencil, so you couldn’t even see the lines in the picture.  I’m a bit happier with this one.


Panel 1

LadyHate: Annie!

Random mook: You!

Panel 2

LadyHate: I thought you guys weren’t going to play!

Lorelei: Next target. Wonder how far this game will let me go.  Let’s see what mechanics we have here.

Random mook: It’s been too long!  You’re going down!

Panel 3

LadyHate: I guess you haven’t figured out the dchat yet.

Lorelei: Ranged attack.  I can throw.  What about magic?

Panel 4

LadyHate: Hold on.

LadyHate: I think I’ve got this teleportation thing.

Lorelei: One way to find out.

First page

Previous page

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Dicking Around in Dark Souls

Last time, on Aether Plays Dark Souls… you know what? Let’s not talk about last time. That way lies memories I don’t really want to re-live. We’re forward-thinking, here at Lost to the Aether. It’s all about the future! And in my future lies… fighting against a list of possibly-innocent supreme badasses in order to harvest their souls. Erm. Don’t think I’m ready for that just yet. What say we procrastinate a bit, eh?  We’re going to spend this entire entry cleaning up loose ends and doing nothing the ‘main plotline’ wants you to do!  We’re fighting the man on this one!  And not like the actual physical man that we kill all the time but the metaphorical one… you know what?  Forget it.  Let’s go!

Hey, you remember way back in Sen’s Fortress, when I rescued that hat? Well, he’s made his way back to Firelink Shrine! Griggs’s so excited to have his old teacher back! He says the hat master wants to talk to me. I’m popular! This chosen one gig is finally working out in my favor!2014-10-07_00070

The hat offers to teach me sorcery, but then tells me I can’t learn any. Even though Griggs managed to teach me. Are you saying you’re a worse instructor than your own student? You know what? Whatever. Pyromancy’s working out much better for me anyways. No needing to adjust my stats, no worries about education, I just make things burn.

Speaking of burning, I take a warp through the newly restored Firelink bonfire. I’ve still got business in Anor Londo.


I start by chatting up the Firekeeper there. She congratulates me on utterly dominating the City of Lords, as everyone should, and prays that I’ll be able to fulfill Gwynevere’s wish. Then she starts chatting about Seath the Scaleless, one of the beings on my fate-imposed hit list. The dragon born without the scales of immortality who turned against his kind during their war with man. After Geezer Zeus got all sweet on him, Seath retreated to the Duke’s Archives way up in the mountains to research how he might be able to grow those scales. As everyone knows, you can’t do science without going completely mad, and Seath is no exception. His experiments turned wicked, and now nobody who goes to the Archives ever returns. The knightess finishes by warning me against ever going there.

You know what? That actually makes me feel a bit better. Sure, he’s camped out in some evil library from which none are ever seen again, but I guarantee none of those disappeared people were the Best Chosen One. They were probably more like the diet soda version of chosen ones. They look the part, but they’ve got half the substance and they don’t make nearly as good of cocktails. And if I’m going to have to kill someone, I’d much rather kill someone who’s already gone killcrazy. At least that way it’s not technically murder, and my morals survive intact.


Anyways! Two things we came to Anor Londo for. For the first, we head up to the top floor of that big entry hall in front of where Ornstein and Smough were painting the walls in my blood. I head through this broken window, which lets me walk along a decorative outcropping on the outside of this grand structure. I follow the outcropping beyond a fence below, drop down, and…


You remember those giant bows the silver knights used? The ones that fired arrows the size of lances? We’ve got the same artillery, now. Continue reading

Lessons Learned from the Film Commission

So!  I ran a film commission for a while, before I finally left it a few weeks ago.  In celebration of that, I thought I’d share a few random stories of that time.  Sounds simple enough, let’s go!

So, one of the first bits of filming activity we brought to the area was one of those tv shows recreating real world crimes.  In this case, we were lucky enough that the local police department got really interested in the project, and sent their SWAT team out on an official “training exercise” that consisted of doing whatever we needed to get some good shots for the show.  Ostensibly, they were just taking the opportunity to train up on how they’d react to the same situation the production company was recreating, but they let the director dictate what they were doing, had a bunch of actors mixed up with the real cops, and generally prioritized doing stuff that looked good on film ahead of any practical matters.  Your tax dollars at work.  Anyways, we had them in formation, tactically surrounding the restaurant we were set at, looking very serious with all their serious SWAT gear.  And we had to deal with people interrupting us constantly.  Basic sense is that when you come across people heavily armed and ready to throw down, you got the other way.  Instead, possibly because of the cameras showing this wasn’t dire, we had to deal with a huge amount of people just stopping to look, trying to spark up conversation with the police in formation and lurking around the building, or walking in front of leveled weapons.  The worst part came when we had a SWAT sniper set up on the roof across the street from the restaurant, firing at the imaginary perpetrator within.  Now, this was a very real officer, firing a very real rifle, albeit with fake bullets, into a restaurant window, and yet we still had people trying to cross through the line of fire.  No sense of self-preservation

I don’t know who researches things for films, but they’re a lot better at finding things within my own community than anyone I know.  We have a business that trains dogs to help people survive the apocalypse.  We have an actual business set up to discover old treasures lost by the French.  There are a lot more professional ghost hunters in the area than I thought possible.  We have someone here who specializes in making castles out of whatever he can find in the landfill.  None of which I would have known about if someone didn’t call me asking about putting them in some tv show or other.  And if those are lurking, hidden, in my community, just think of what might be in your hometown.

You know all those reality shows, like America’s Next Top Model or whatever, where they air auditions to get into the competition, and it seems like half of those going in for auditions are just so absolutely insane that they almost have to be putting on an act?  Well… yeah.  Turns out that the prospect of being on screen brings out a lot of people like that.  We had a major motion picture coming to the area, and were helping a casting company put on the casting call for local extras.  The casting director was wanting to make it a fun experience for everyone involved, meaning she hired circus performers and brought in some live alligators, but they also had a public stage, where they encouraged hopefuls to hope up and perform whatever came to their heads.  That stage caused me brain damage.  For every one person that performed something worth watching, there were ten putting on an utterly bland performance, and fifty so bad that I tried to eat my own face.  And at least half of the performances were bad Monty Python ripoffs.  Stupid parrots, stupid lumberjacks, stupid spam diners, all that stage did was make me weep for my lost innocence.

People trying to get in front of the camera can be pretty desperate.  I imagine that’s especially true in areas like mine where there are only a handful of paid acting opportunities a year.  How people handle that desperation varies greatly.  At the top are those who are simply proactive about it, making sure I have their resumes in case anyone asks about a position they fit or volunteering with the film commission in order to keep themselves connected with what’s going on.  At the bottom… well, once I had a woman offer to sleep with me in exchange for help getting a minimum wage extra part with no actual guarantee of screentime.  At least, I think that’s what her intention was.  It’s possible she just chose the absolute worst time to come on to me.  But even on top of that, there were those who waited in line for hours at the aforementioned casting call when they clearly didn’t meet the requirements of the roles we’d been posting everywhere.  There were those who went so far as to stake out my office to try and get phone numbers of people working on the film.  There were those who attempted to fake their ethnicities to try and land a role.  Film is a tough, tough industry to get into, especially when you’re looking to get in front of the camera.  That said, there’s a line there, and plenty of people who are willing to go way beyond it.

I think a large part of that desperation comes from the fact that for as powerful and far-reaching the film industry is, it’s actually quite small.  One of our advisors was a former prop master who retired in the nineties, yet even so any time we had a feature film in our or one of the surrounding areas, he knew at least a couple people who were working on the production.  For all the work Hollywood produces, and for all the people trying to make it in the industry, they only really use a small pool of workers, and if you spend any time working behind the scenes you’ll end up seeing a lot of the same faces over and over again.

Because of the way the film industry works, and in part because of the prevalence of film commissions like mine, it seems films rarely are actually shot where they’re set.  I live in a part of the country that’s been romanticized in a lot of older pop culture, and I’ve gotten a lot of interest in recreating rustic scenes in the style of older material.  Thing is, though, locations tend to be chosen based on the financials of the situation more than anything else.  Film is big business, so a lot of states and countries offer incentives to spend their money out there, basically paying back a chunk of the production budget they spend in the region.  My state, not so much.  There’ve been more than a few films coming out set in my section of the country, but actually shot in Canada.  We, in turn, have doubled for places like California, Montana, and the Midwest, when production companies found it economical for us to do so.

When I first started out, I always thought that films were meticulously planned out, with everything following a rigid structure decided on by the highest authorities with little room for flexibility.  Since then, I’ve found that things are never quite as solid as that.  Any film production, even the smallest of indie stuff, still has a lot of moving parts involved, and because of that, things go wrong constantly.  Weather turns against you, you don’t have the resources you thought you would, what worked out on paper just doesn’t fit on screen, random acts of God, whatever.  Productions do plan things out as much as they can, yes, but it seems that once you’re filming, operations are far more about rolling with whatever comes along and trying to make something good out of it than anything else.  Flexibility is key; it seems that there’s always a hundred different details that you didn’t expect, and the main thing that seperates a good production from a bad one is how they handle it.

I’ve found that, by and large, people working in the industry are quite friendly and helpful while they’re working with you, but have a tendency to absolutely forget about you once their job’s done.  I’ve had people go out of their way to get me the information I requested from them, go above and beyond to help me make sure they’re leaving a good impression for their industry on their community, and be incredibly flexible to help make my job easier.  Those same people often make promises to get something to the film industry as thanks for our help, almost always either a thanks in the credits or a copy of the finished work, and that has never happened.  It’s easy to be cynical about that, thinking that they were only helpful while they wanted my help then kicked me to the curb when they didn’t need me anymore, but I think it’s something more innocent than that.  As mentioned above, the film industry is surprisingly small, and oftentimes, you’re only employed for the duration of one production, before the whole team is disbanded.  A lot of people find jobs in the industry through personal referrals, and to get that, you need to have impressed on someone that you’re pleasant to work with.  Hence, they’ve gotten in the habit of being helpful.  However, since the industry tends to drop people from their jobs as soon as the production is finished, they’ve just gotten in the  mindset that once filming is over, they’re just done with it, no more involvement from them, and they put everything they’ve had to do aside to focus on the next project.  Even if it does leave your humble regional film commission director in the lurch.

The exception to the above that I’ve experienced at least are those people successful enough in the industry to become household names.  Now, I’ve only interacted with a few of them, so I can’t quite claim to have gotten a representative sample, but by and large, those with recognizable names have been quite helpful to me.  The big thing that kept the film commission going had been raffling, auctioning, or otherwise selling off autographed memorabilia.  And the ‘hey could you sign some stuff so we can make money off of it’ conversation was always way easier than I thought it would be.  They were always really helpful in getting me in contact with their staff, having stuff through the mail on time, and generally were always easy to work with to get us what we needed, even after they’d left the area long behind.  Again, I think this plays into the fact that you need to be pleasant to work with to keep getting called back, so those who really make it in the industry would need to be remarkably easy to work with.  On the other hand, never give an actor/actress a pen.  You will never see it again.

Kissing the Film Commission Goodbye

So, it’s been a while. Much longer than I would have liked.  There’s nothing to do about that, though.  I’ve had some Life Stuff ™ going on.  Some good things, some bad things, but mostly stuff that’s kept me from my usual routine.  One consequence of that, though, is that I’ve finally left my volunteer role as Interim Director of my local film commission.  It’s been a long and complex ride with that organization, but a duty that I’m frankly glad to be rid of.  But, I’m finding I’m still carrying bits of it around with me, and thought it might do me well to give myself a bit of a debriefing on it.  And since I share pretty much any topic here, I figure hey, what the hell?  As long as I’m getting my thoughts down, someone else might be interested in them too.

So, for the uninitiated, a film commission is a pretty common type of economic development organization that, at its core, aims at improving the local economy by getting production companies to use the areas they represent in their filmings.  Most areas are covered by one.  A lot of US states have some sort of government office promoting filming in the entire state, several states where the government doesn’t really emphasize film so much are dotted with grassroots regional film commissions, like my own, and many entire countries outside the U.S. are covered by a single film commission.  Films spend money.  Money that, by and large, goes to locally owned businesses and independent workers, helping create jobs, improve the local business environment, and just in general help more people make a solid living.  So what these film commissions do is market their regions to film producers, help them find just the right locations once they’re interested, help them get the resources they need once they come, and in general do everything we can to get more film here.

I’ve never been a film guy.  I’ve bumped up against the industry a few times, but film’s always been behind video games, books, comics, and plenty of other mediums, as far as my interest goes.  The thing I am into, though, is economic development.  Film is a sexy, sexy business.  But more importantly, they spend a lot of sexy, sexy money.  Hotel rooms, restaurants, direct jobs, film productions put a lot of cash into the local economy, and have a habit of giving a huge boost to the area’s tourism.  My office, before I even started working there, had done some preliminary work on measuring the economic impact of the film industry, so when a number of community members were thinking our region could use a bigger slice of that pie, one of the first people they came to was my boss.  She helped them start up the regional film commission under our office’s umbrella, and got me involved as a business advisor.

And so, we had a film commission.  Had a director who really loved the industry, a group of advisors who kept the organization funded and maintained goodwill in the community, a very competent board, and of course, your humble author handling things on the back end.  Every thing was running good for a while.  We built community roots, had a couple of successes in getting film productions to the area, and it seemed that everything was just working well.  Unfortunately, like many groups, especially of volunteer groups as I’ve found over the years, tensions built up below the surface.  Most of it centered around our director.  He was a very competent location scout and quite skilled at building up rapport with industry folk, as well as very dedicated to bringing film to our area.  On the other hand, though, he had difficulties working as part of the group,promoting himself over the whole commission and chafing under the board and my management of the organization, and had built some definite bad blood among many prominent figures in the community, a definite problem in the everyone-knows-everyone small town America we’re a part of.  In fact, either I or the board president were always the local face of the organization, as his reputation would lead to several important connections discounting him outright  And he really, really wanted to be a part of film.  He was passionate about the industry, so it only follows that he sought whatever role he could, but that posed a definite conflict of interest, given that one of the services we provided was hooking film productions up with viable local employees.

Eventually, we had to have someone get trained to be certified by the Association of Film Commissions International, a goal the organization had been working at for quite a while.  The director was working on the biggest film we’d managed to attract to the area at the time and didn’t want to go, so the board sent me for training instead.  Shortly after I got back, the director resigned.  Now, I’d been helping them manage the organization for a while, but my marketing skills at the time were lacking and my contacts within the industry were almost non-existent, so I was far from the ideal candidate.  Still, the board apparently wanted to get their money’s worth out of the training the sent me to, so they’d asked me to volunteer and fill in.  I agreed, on the condition that it was on an interim basis, that I’d just hold the role until they found someone else to take it.  It’s been more than two years since, and they’re only starting to look for someone else now that I’ve left.  I’m still a little bitter about that.

Anyways, point is, I never thought I’d be holding the position as long as I did.  I always focused on leaving things as solid and mutable as possible for my successor, who never came.  And that’s really no way to run an organization.  Two things I did do that I’m still proud of, I moved the film commission from under my employer’s umbrella to become a nonprofit in its own right, and I established the ongoing film festival we’ve talked about previously here.  I also did a fairly decent job of drawing films to the area.  Over the two years I served as interim director, I brought in one feature film, a music video, a couple television shows, and a whole host of online videos.  I put a lot of work into it.  A lot of volunteer work.  I mean, it was an economic development project, and my employer was happy to pay me for it when I had time to spare, but some things you just can’t fit into the 9-5.  I achieved some good things there.  Had some good fun.  There was a lot of stress involved too, though.  It can get to be a lot of pressure, having to drop everything and find the perfect location within a few days for some random film looking at your area, or having to spend all your waking hours trying to get just the right people ready because some film contacted you at the last minute and they need your help else they’re going to have to move on to some other location and boost the economy there.  And while being the main contact for your entire region to the fun and exciting film industry can be, well, fun and exciting, having that weight thrust onto you can also bite both ways, especially if you only expected to be carrying it for a short while.

So eventually the stress and imposition on my life got to be a little too much for me.  I’ve gotten the film commission to a stable place, much more so than it was a few years ago, and there’s still opportunity for it ahead.  So I resigned.  I told them I would back in August, and the time came, and now I’m gone.  I imagine I’ll still be involved a bit, so long as I’m still in the area, but carrying the weight myself?  That’s all off my back.  I’m a little worried as to how it’ll go without me, or even if it will last, but still, it’s time for us to stand apart.  The stress of the organization had gotten so severe on me that it actually left me unable to enjoy film most of the time, because it would just remind me of my ongoing work with the organization.  But now, it’s gone.  And it feels great.

So hey, you read this self-indulgent mass of venting this far.  Thanks for that.  Actually feels good to get that off my chest.  And you know what?  I’ve got a few amusing lessons learned from my time there.  I think I’ll type those up too.  We’ll see if we can’t get those into next post.