JMS Says Big-Budget Movie or Nothing

Date: Sun, 13 Jul 2008 18:42:18 -0700 (PDT)

Putting this on a recent thread here where it’s more likely to be seen in a quick fashion….

Several things just to update folks.

First, many thanks to all those who sent along research suggestions and offerings to be of assistance on the project I can’t talk about.

I’ve been swamped with deadlines and unable to reply to any of the public notes and private emails, but as soon as I can get my head above water, be assured that I’ll be in touch with many of you.

Second, as noted in the original thread before I hijacked it, yes, the plan at the moment is that I will be at Comic Con San Diego this year, primarily doing my thing on Thursday and Saturday afternoons.

There is a *chance* mind you, it’s just a slim chance but to be honorable I must mention it that a work situation *may* preclude my appearance there. Or it may not. I’ll know more by the end of next week, and for now as far as I know, everything’s on target for me to be at SDCC. If that changes, I’ll be sure to let everyone know as far in advance as possible.

One final note re: recent discussions on TMoS and more Lost Tales.

B5:TLT was commissioned at a $2 million budget to, yet one more time, “test the waters” for B5. We did what we could with that, and that was that. As we did with Rangers, which also suffered from not having a lot of money because of concerns about “is there really a B5 audience?” Which is, of course, a foolish question from a studio that has never really understood what it has in B5.

Of late, there have been more discussions from WB about doing more DVDs, again at a low cost, or a cable thing, again with minimal investment.

So for the last few months, I’ve been giving this whole subject a lot of quiet thought. And I’ve come to a conclusion.

B5 as a five year story stands beautifully on its own. If anything else is to be continued from that story, it should be something that adds to the legacy of B5, rather than subtracts from it.

As well intentioned as Rangers and TLT were, as enticing as it was to return to those familiar waters, in the end I think they did more to subtract from the legacy than add to it. I don’t regret having made them, because I needed to go through that to get to the point where I am now psychologically, but from where I sit now, I wouldn’t make them again.

So I’ve let everyone up here know that I’m not interested in doing any more low-budget DVDs. I’m not interested in doing any low-budget cable things or small computer games. The only thing I would be interested in doing regarding Babylon 5 from this point on is a full- featured, big-budget feature film.

It’s that or nothing.

And if it’s nothing, I’m totally cool with that because the original story stands on its own just fine. I’m not lobbying for it, I’m not asking fans to write in about it (nor should you) because such campaigns never really have much impact…that’s simply the position I’ve taken up here. Lord knows I don’t lack for other things to do these days. I’m busier on more prestige projects with terrific people and great film-makers than at any other time in my career.

At the end of the day, for me, it’s not just a matter of getting more B5. It’s a matter of getting more *good* B5 that respects what came before it and doesn’t have to compromise visually or in terms of action. The original show deserves better than that, the surviving cast members deserve better than that, and the fans who have supported it over the years definitely deserve better than that. A lot better.

So I’ve drawn that line in the sand, and I’m happy living on whichever side of that line the universe puts me. Just thought you should know, ‘cause it’s your show too.

jms

Comments

  1. well this sucks beyond words, the situation obviously, not his reasoning. he’s talking about getting more money out of a studio that makes the Harry Potter franchise to a profit of millions and yet it took them 5 hit films to FINALLY decide to split book 7 into two movies. the saddest part of all this is that the idiots at warner who decide these things don’t care if we liked Lost Tales or not, just that we paid them to see it.

  2. Mike H (Stark in 2nd Life) says:

    I’m glad he chose quality over quantity. I loved getting a new taste of B5 with TLT, but he’s right. Better to end it than to run it into the ground with work that isn’t up to par with the original. Having said that though, here’s to a new big budget film sometime in the near future!

  3. Mike Tuck says:

    I have mixed feelings about the recent post from JMS. On one hand, I’m sad that we will not get another “Lost Tales” DVD. While I didn’t like last year’s “Lost Tales” as much as you guys did, I still somewhat enjoyed having two new stories in the B5 universe (even though I thought that they were both mediocre) . I also had hopes for future DVD stories to be better, especially the much-talked about Garibaldi story which was to feature a lot more special effects and action. On the other hand, I have to agree somewhat with JMS’s decision not to make any more Lost Tales.

    I think that The Lost Tales and LOTR were nowhere near as good as the best seasons of the B5 series and, therefore, I agree with JMS that they “Subtracted from the legacy”. However, I still don’t know that the reason that they were not as good has a whole lot to do with the lower budget as JMS suggested. After all, didn’t he and his crew produce some of the best science fiction television ever made on a shoestring budget week after week for five years?! I hate to slam JMS (whom I think is, usually, a great writer), but I think the problems with Lost Tales and LOTR being less than great lie mostly with the writer.

    It seems to me that JMS lost his mojo after the fourth season of the series. I’ve been somewhat disappointed in everything B5-related that he has done AFTER season 4. I know the reasons why season 5 seemed directionless and uneventful: He was told by the distribution company that season 4 was the end and to finish it up, thus leaving season 5 stories seeming like an afterthought or an extremely extended and unnecessary epilogue to the main story. He also had SOME excuses for “Crusade” not being what it could have been – the creative “tug-of-war” between JMS and TNT hurt and killed the show before it had time to grow. But what was his excuse on “Legend of the Rangers”? As far as I know, he was given free reign by the Sci Fi Channel on that pilot, but he delivered a mediocre (at best) movie. Also, from what I read of the summary of the plot for the proposed feature film “The Memory of Shadows”, it didn’t sound like it would have been a home run either. And finally, last year’s Lost Tales was also disappointing and odd (for me, at least). The devil-in-human-guise story, while well-acted, seemed totally out-of-place for the B5 universe. Also, the Sheridan tale had some truly funny dialogue and was more B5-appropriate, but ultimately, seemed uneventful and unnecessary.

    So, JMS hasn’t exactly been “hitting them out of the ballpark” since the end of season 4. It seems as if he has lost interest in Babylon 5 and only keeps making more stories to earn a paycheck or to try to satisfy hungry fans (maybe both). His heart doesn’t seem like it’s in it anymore. He pretty much said himself that he is satisfied with the completed 5-year story and doesn’t seem too interested in doing any more now that he is getting big-budget feature film jobs. MAYBE with a bigger budget he could tell a more epic story like we were accustomed to during the best seasons of B5, but that remains to be seen.

    I know I will probably stir controversy with my comments, but I felt it had to be said. I was THE biggest fan of Babylon 5 during its best years and couldn’t wait to see the next episode every week, but I’m getting tired of being constantly disappointed with sub-par B5 stories. I want to get back the excitement and epic storytelling of seasons 3 and 4, or even the unexpected satisfaction from a handfull of good episodes from seasons one and two. But since 1998, all we seem to get is more “season 5 – level” stuff.

    So, in conclusion, I suppose I have to agree somewhat with JMS on this. If you can’t tell a good or great story, then why bother at all? I don’t hold out much hope for a big-budget B5 feature film, as Warner Bros will not pony up the dough for one. They also wanted to re-cast the TMOS movie, and that doesn’t sit well with me either. I can’t see anyone else in these roles. I don’t really see the money coming from any other outside interests in the future without ultimately falling through like the “Memory of Shadows” deal. I hope that I am wrong. I would love to see a B5 feature film as long as it has the feel of seasons 3 and 4. On another tangent, it is UNFAIR that Joss Whedon can get a feature film made of a failed series that only aired for about 7 episodes before being canceled due to low ratings (“Firefly”/ “Serenity”), while JMS can’t get a feature film made of a low-rated (but much beloved) series that lasted for 5 years and 110 episodes!! It doesn’t make much sense to me. (Sorry, “Firefly” fans. I watched that show for 6 or 7 episodes, but hated it. ) In the end, I guess that Whedon has more pull in Hollywood than JMS does (although I don’t know why). Isn’t JMS having dinner with the big boys now? It also seems unfair that other low-rated cult favorites such as Stargate SG-1 and even Futurama will continue on making direct-to-DVD films, while B5 will simply fade away into obscurity. Unfortunately, it seems that B5 will always be just a footnote in science fiction history. Anyway, I will miss Babylon 5. I don’t think that there will ever be another sci-fi series that I will love as much as I loved it.

  4. The critical issue here, is what is Summer going to do with the podcast intro now?

  5. When TLT was coming out he said that if WB was intertested and TLT does well then he has ideas for more TLT volumes. Now all of a sudden he changes his mind?

    This is nothing but a slap in the face to fans. We bought the DVD, supported the franchise as best we can in the hope that we would get more content. Now he trashes the very thing we supported by saying it diluted the franchise?

    Fine JMS … go and pout, take you ball and go home. You’ve pretty much just lost yourself a fan with an arrogant attitude like that. Why would we want to support any of your future projects? After all … you’ll just say they were crap down the road.

    Brad Bowyer,
    Louisville, KY

  6. Brad, I fully understand your position. But, let’s take a look at WB’s “interest”. The videocassettes sold out when they were released. The DVD sets are perennial strong sellers. TLT has had strong sales. All this despite WB’s lack of effort in promotion and merchandising. The BestBuy event that Jeffrey covered only points out how disinterested WB is in the show.

    Also recall that TLT was to be three interlocking stories, but budget constraints forced the elimination of what, by all accounts, was to be the most ambitious (read: expensive) story of the lot. That also indicates low interest on the part of WB. What more would JMS need to do to finally make WB understand what they have in their hands?

    Mike, you are entitled to your opinion, and I’m glad you feel comfortable enough to share it here. I would point out that a shoestring budget for a 22-episode season for a series is still bigger than the shoestring budget for a one-off direct-to-DVD piece. The series budget allowed them to build interesting sets and locales; the TLT budget allowed them to build ten pillars that had to double for station and Minbari cruiser interiors. I’m thoroughly convinced the sock puppet thing was JMS’ arrow at WB – “you want cheap? Here’s cheap!”

    Please, in no way construe my comments as a JMS apologist. The tone in his message is quite arrogant. I understand and accept his feelings about B5 as the creator; but I think he underestimates the fans’ emotions. I’d be happy with JMS approved novels (like for Crusade, in Valen’s name!). I don’t think LotR or TLT “tarnished” the legacy of B5 in any way. Were they great? No. But they certainly weren’t unwatchable.

    You want tarnish, look at the last ten years of Star Trek offerings. That’s tarnish.

  7. Neil – looks like Summer’s gonna have to re-record the intro AGAIN….

  8. “When TLT was coming out he said that if WB was interested and TLT does well then he has ideas for more TLT volumes. Now all of a sudden he changes his mind?”

    he changed his mind because he’s tired of trying to make quality product without proper financial support from Warner.

  9. My feelings were mixed at first but the more that I think about it the more upset I get. Frankly I feel like I just got smacked in the face be a man who has gotten plenty of my hard earned money over the years and you can bet that I will look twice before giving him anymore.

    JMS has been stringing future Lost Tale info out since before th e the release of the first and now only installment. He has a point about legend of the Rangers but I don’t think his point with Lost Tales is valid sure it’s not as strong as the best of Babylon 5 but it’s far better then the worst of it so I don’t think you can say that it takes anything away as a hole. I think that it might add something to it. Had JMS come right out and said that he did not want to do anymore DVDs right after the release I would have understood but he went on about how another one was in the works and had even said that he wanted to try to get other people in to write in the future.

    Now I understand that he is mad with WB for not stepping up and putting money behind it right now but why not try to get more money placed into a DVD start small and work up try to get say a 10,000,000 budget for the next one and then move up from there why is it a movie or nothing? This rings even more true given the current state of the economy, Paramount has had to pull back funding on Transformers and Star Trek which every one knows will pull in big money, and if big names like that are having problems what chance does Babylon 5 have?

    The great maker had what I feel is a great mistake.

  10. Paul Hahn says:

    “I know the reasons why season 5 seemed directionless and uneventful: He was told by the distribution company that season 4 was the end and to finish it up, thus leaving season 5 stories seeming like an afterthought or an extremely extended and unnecessary epilogue to the main story.”

    This is an oft-repeated canard. The wrapping-up was done more by truncation than compression, so by and large the storylines in season 5 were the ones originally intended, and not tacked-on. If he had known he had a guaranteed fifth season, the fourth-season finale/cliffhanger would have been “Intersections in Real Time”, which ended up not that far from the end of the season the way things actually happened.

    A far greater contributing factor to the lameness of early season 5 was jms losing all his notes for that half-season, at the same convention at which he tried unsuccessfully to get Claudia Christian to sign back on. Housekeeping trashed them, he tore the place apart looking for them (including dumpster-diving) to no avail, and he ended up having to reconstruct those storylines as best he could from memory. Suddenly losing Ivanova didn’t help either.

    All this can be searched on jmsnews.com.

  11. Paul Hahn says:

    “Now all of a sudden he changes his mind? This is nothing but a slap in the face to fans.”

    The real slap in the face to fans was Warner forcing him to do TLT on next to no budget, when the jms/B5 combo has proven itself a safe investment many times over. I heard plenty of fans complain about the limited scope of TLT, which was obviously a result of the lack of money. Arrogant? Hardly. In my view it was an admirable, honorable decision.

    Over in rec.arts.sf.tv.babylon5.moderated plenty of us have expressed disappointment, but not one that I recall has disagreed that this was the right decision.

  12. I agree with Rick.

    What some people don’t get is that the TLT ‘extras’ with the sock puppets were a rather pointed dig at WB. From what I’ve heard, when given the budget for TLT, JMS’s response was along the lines of “For that kind of money you can hire sock puppets, not actors.” At the panel at SDCC last year both JMS and Doug Netter said that any future Lost Tales would have to have a bigger budget.

    JMS posted that before the writer’s strike WB started talking about another Lost Tales disk but refused to commission a script since they thought there’d never be a writer’s strike. From what I gathered at the Seattle con in May, there’ve been other meetings since the strike was settled.

    Maybe to us the decision is sudden but it may be JMS’s way of telling them that he’s tired of having his time wasted and that B5 shouldn’t need to keep proving itself repeatedly.

  13. I agree with Jan, Rick, and the Great Maker. If there was ever a time to go to WB and lay it all out, now is the time. They know how well the DVD’s have sold. We all know that JMS has other projects out there that are going to get the funding to make them great.

    WB wants more Lost Tales. It’s time for them to put their money where their mouth is. B5 is a proven product. JMS is a proven product. I don’t want another rubber suit monster. More B5 if only we get proper funding so we can see what the show would have been like if they would have had a proper budge all long. Jerry Doyle has a nationally syndicated radio show. I think JD was supposed to be in the next set, right? JMS has plenty of projects on his table. Both guys probably both would love to do more B5, but it has to be worth our wild.

  14. jerry doyle was supposed to be in the third, cancelled story-to be set on Mars. If memory serves, he was even under contract – until WB forced the story cut. His subsequent comments were rather curt and seemed to indicate that he was through with B5.

    And i’ll also point out, to all those who have given their hard-earned money to JMS, he’s hardly grown fat and lazy on that income.

  15. All you people claiming JMS ‘changed’ his mind, seem to forget or simply missed what he was saying all along after TLT came out: that if there is to be more TLT, it will have to be at a bigger budget or they won’t do it, because what they had to work with was simply not enough. Frankly, even the CGI people worked overtime without pay to get things right, just because they were B5 fans.

    So this is not a huge surprise to me, because this possibility came to mind when I heard that. I just hoped those people at WB wouldn’t be total mental cases and they would see the light, but I guess not. This is all on WB, not JMS.

  16. And yeah, the whole sock puppet thing came from the moment WB told him what kind of budget he would have to work with. JMS replied, “for that kind of money I can do it with sock puppets, but not real actors.”

  17. Brandon Atkinson says:

    Hey all greetings from Canada.

    I agree with many here, WB screwed JMS over royally… Yeah they want more lost tales stuff but now it’s time to

    PUT YOUR MONEY WHERE YOUR MOUTH IS!

    (you certainly got enough out of me with the DVD set’s before the huge price drops! seasons 1-4 between $100 Canadian Dollars and $150! Season 5 was $65 (right after Andreas Katsulas died, to put my purchases in to context) and the movie box was around $80, TLT was $40, haven’t bought Rangers yet (might not since Scifi messed that up quite spectacularly!))…

    At the very least double the budget (triple would help greatly).

    however, WB doesn’t get B5 whatsoever… they never have. And so its time for JMS to move on, perhaps somone from MGM (Stargate SG-1, Atlantis, and many other shows i forget right now)is reading about this…

    THEY KNOW HOW TO TO STUFF PROPERLY!

  18. Alas, JMS has said that MGM is the worst he’s ever worked with, and would never work with them again.

    He worked with them on Jeremiah, and apparently hated the experience (with MGM, not with Jeremiah).

  19. So I’ll keep looking forward. At least some comics or canonized books would be nice, as I don’t think, that someone would pay for a movie.
    But should a movie will come, about anything of babylon with JMS and some of the old crew, I’ll see it in the first weekend for getting the quota up (and I hate this crowding absolutely)

  20. I got the feeling that this was not a total surprise to the Vorlon, and it did not surprise me, either. JMS and his ego could only handle being ignored for so long. Since he is now garnering attention from other aspects in his creative output, he would naturally want to apportion his time there. I, too, was disappointed at the Lost Tales DVD but kept quiet about it in hopes of its being the beginning of a steadily improving series.

    JMS, as a creator, probably saw it as the first and the lowest rung on the journey of making the Lost Tales. He imagined that the next one would be better in every respect. (Wouldn’t you?) When the hoped-for support from the studio did not come, he probably imagined that he and it would be stuck in this low-budget DVD world for a long time. This level is very close to the world of fan-based production, which in most cases is relegated to sector not by for by profit. He would not be comfortable in this, and what career writer or producer would? So he cut himself off.

    However, as a writer, he could have expressed himself better if he intended that fans could step in, a la Paramount and Star Trek. He concluded with “’cause it’s your show too.” This would seem to be inconsistent with the “closed door” attitude of the rest of his message. I think it’s easy to read arrogance into this post, but I suspect that arrogance is only one side of his three edged sword. It seems that the Great Maker still enjoys being cryptic, and so we must wait.

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