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Na'Tiel's B5 con pages

Bruce | Claudia | Jason | Jerry | Josh | Marjean | Michael O'H | Mira| Tim

jms

I'll make this clear at the start. I am shy, especially when it comes to meeting my heroes. I've missed out on opportunities to chat with people I really like simply because I have been too embarrassed to even look at them. I've been known to hide behind shelves and potplants so that they can't see me.

This got a bit tiresome after a while. Now I have a philosophy - take all opportunities as they arise. I have regretted too many lost chances. So, with that philosophy in mind, I have chatted to various B5 actors, managed to not shake much when giving them stuff to sign, and the highlight must be when I kissed Jason Carter....but onto Aussiecon.

I was waiting in line for Joe's autograph. I was at the head of the queue and being polite whilst some absolute loser fanboy burbled at jms about fairytales and stuff. burble burble burble. Well, fanboy anorak compliments Joe, "You're almost as good as Frederick Pohl!"

Joe was absolutely flattered. I could tell by the way he looked at me and his eyebrows went up and he made a silly face as the anorak wandered off. I got my stuff signed and no more was said.

Later, I was in the queue again with a friend. As we wound our way to the head of the line, which was very short, I just could not help myself. As Lucy is getting stuff signed, I blurt out, "You know, Joe, you're almost as good as Frederick Pohl!"

He was amused. "You're trouble." does that mean that he likes me as well? (OK, I am a fanboy too since I know who said that and to whom it was said but I can't name the episode by title though as I think about it....)

Later on I asked him if he likes chocolate biscuits and he said that they are a very good thing. Excellent. Time to go out and buy some TimTams and Mint slices. No sooner thought than done (and it was raining when I went out to get them too. Absolutely pissing down. A cold change had come through. The things I do.... BTW, Claudia Christian loves Mint Slices). So I bought Joe some excellent aussie bikkies (cookies)and gave them to him after one of his talks. I walked up to him, apologised for the lovely wrapping paper (supermarket bag) and shoved them at him, then vamoosed. I really didn't want him to think me an absolute pest.

At the second signing, I queued and queued and queued. This time I had lots of crap with me, along with G'Kar and Squeaky. Kathryn saw G'Kar and Squeaky (and G'Kar is dressed up nicely in his patchwork coat and breeches and stuff) and started to chuckle. Joe saw them and just shook his head. "You're not a well woman, are you?"

How can you answer that? I could only agree and tell him that they have been around the world with me and have their own webpage. But he let me get a picture of me and him and them so I was pleased. After that signing session, I grovelled after him and asked if Delenn is a telepath (Not as we understand it) and also bounced enthusiastically about needing to know more about the reproductive biology of Pak'ma'ra and Narns.

At this point, the poor man must have thought I was an absolute nutter. I don't think I managed to get out that I have a PhD in reproductive biology.... My final act was to race after him, after one of the talks, and beg and grovel on behalf of a friend. "Excuse me, sorry, Joe, sorry but my friend would *REALLY* love a picture with you...sorry" grovel squirm cos I knew that he was exhausted. But he posed with Damien and made another fan happy. For that I'll honour the man.

Then, after his last talk, I was waiting for the crowd around Joe to pass so that I could leave as well. He saw me and came over to me and thanked me for the biscuits - they were very nice or something. I was flabbergasted. I just never expected anything like that. After the number of times I bugged him, he actually approached me! I would have thought he would run the other way.

I saw things that I don't think anyone else noticed, like how after a talk, Joe chats to a few fans, pictures are taken, then he just slumps. Time to flee. Time to go back to the hotel room and escape the rabid fans. I remember once, he just slumped and Kathryn looked around and immediately broke off her conversation to accompany him back to the hotel. I can understand that - in public, I put on a performance, I make a persona that can deal with people looking at me and expecting stuff, but there comes a point when the person under the persona can sustain it no longer, and then it is time to go away and hide for a while. time to recharge. Joe makes that effort for us, for people like me. I appreciate that. I know the costs. He has given us something grand and I wish we could give him back something just as good. Our adoration is not what is needed.

I finally got around to transcribing some of my notes from Aussiecon... These are all little snippets - answering questions, making comments, so not everything follows on from everything else.

JMS Friday September 3rd, 1999. Panel "Londo's Arc"

Joe looks around the theatre, which is a lecture-type theatre. "I've never seen a meeting of the Centaurum before!" (NB Centauri is said Centari by jms, not centawri)

Londo is in 71 episodes. "Is it hubris to think we can make a difference?" Londo made the error of longing for the past and fell over the future. Hero. Tragic. Fool. Whilst doing the outline for the Centauri novels, Joe found it interesting to sit in Londo's head, seeing things through his eyes. He was the "easiest character to write and the hardest to get to shut up" :)

Morden asked what do you want? Not what do your people want. Maybe the Shadows were right!

When faced with some sort of computation, Joe says "Math not Zathras' skill."

Little spoiler for you - Vir becomes a rebel leader!!!

The Centauri have the teep gene spread across the population, hence things like death dreams.

When he was ten, ?parent? Mother? Had a foretelling done on Joe - how will he die? He will die by water. This lead to the idea of death dreams.

Londo's accent is Peter Jurasik's invention. The differences between accents can be regarded as differences between the old school and the new school. There is a different choice of words and sentence construction used by the old school (eg Londo and Refa).

The Minbari have an eastern influence (I would call it middle eastern) - Minbar - the steps to the pulpit - Arabic.

The Narn are almost post-Soviet tractor society.

The Drazi are like folks from New Jersey - they'll fight with anyone! (jms is from NJ).

The characters are refined after casting. You begin to write the character hearing the actor's voice. Could write *anything* for Andreas and he'd do it and pull it off. Joe's two fave G'Kar scenes/lines are the fishy song and the elevator scene. He didn't say a lot but what he did say was important.

Many of those reading this will know about the practical joke that Andreas and Peter J played on jms. (Most of this is from memory, I didn't take good notes). It goes along the lines of:

Joe does not really like standing up in front of a crowd of people and talking. It isn't his sort of thing to do. He has to put on a persona. At a con, AK and PJ arranged with the audience to not react at all when Joe came on stage after them. So Joe comes out. Not a sound. He's used to applause, whistles, all sorts of crap. Nothing. The jms stage persona got up and left, leaving 12 year old Joe standing there.

"Well, I had to get even." September rolled by, October, November, December, Christmas party... Andreas had been wondering when something was going to happen but by the time the Christmas party rolls around, nothing has. It is seemingly over, forgotten, gone. Then Joe writes an ep where G'Kar starts suffering terrible pains, his chest is writing, all sort of horrible things are happening to him. He falls unconscious as the changes within speed up. He is turning into a female. Once the change is over, G'Kar goes in search of Londo. "You may have conquered my world but you never conquered me," purrs she'G'Kar to Londo and they end up in bed.

Phase 1. The script is released. It's 11am. Jerry Doyle is in the area. Jerry is never "in the area." He thought he would just drop by. No reason. That's a really funny script. This is revenge, right? "No, we're going to shoot it." Jerry's outta there! (seeing Joe make the noises and trace the path of a escapee balloon is worth the price of admission).

Peter Jurasik calls in, again just in the area, passing by. This is revenge, right? "Peter, I am too damn busy to write a B story that we aren't going to shoot."

Phase 2. Wardrobe. Joe asks wardrobe to do a fitting for Andreas. Something flattering ('he is huge big guy" and Joe waves hand out in front of his body). Also, he'll need prosthetics. Andreas gets this stuff done. Joe never heard a peep out of him. The crew is gearing up to get the ep shot. A couple of members of the crew are congratulating jms - eg. some of my friends are transsexuals and I think it is really brave of you to write this script. Thanks, Joe. That part backfired on joe - he had to come clean that it was not going to be shot. I do believe that PJ and AK performed the scene(s) at Wolf 359???

After the joke was over, Joe is out in the carpark. Andreas is walking into the studio. Walks straight at Joe. "This is scary - this is the one armed man coming straight at you!" Andreas goes for his pocket and pulls out his wallet. From it he extracts a small newspaper clipping. He unfolds the clipping - it is of Joe and talks about him being a visionary. "I have had this in my wallet for three years. You can keep it, I don't want it anymore" or suchlike says Andreas and stomps off.

Actions have consequences. Responsibility. We create the future. (Where have I heard those words before? "Our thoughts form the universe") The purpose of myth is to show where we were, are and will be. SF has the purpose of looking to the future. jms' role is to ask questions. We, the audience, have to find our own answers. The job of a writer is to touch passion and bring it back (and Joe is very passionate about this - it shows in the way he talks and acts when he talks about his role as a writer).

jms gets much out of the info coming back at him from us, from the feedback he receives. He knows if he has touched passion. B5 requires a perceptive, self-reflective mind. B5 fans tend not to be followers. They are thinkers. G'Kar was the questioner in B5. The others thought they had the answers.

The action figures sit on Joe's monitor. Now that he is working on other stuff, they look down at him "traitor." He had to turn them around. He still hears their voices. "I just report the news. I just write it."

When asked where Zathras came from, jms remarks "that's me before coffee."

JMS. Noon, 4th September, 1999. The Use of Humour in SF. Panel with Robert Jan and Glen Tilley.

Zathras was the Shakespearean gravedigger or guard - he was the comic relief. In a discussion about using Penn and Teller - after the event, Joe is not so sure it was a good idea. Before shooting the ep, he asked Penn why he had a red-varnished pinky nail. "It's to remind me that I once killed a man for asking me personal questions." He didn't ask penn anymore personal questions....

"The average American viewer isn't the sharpest knife in the drawer." (Apparently us guys are fine :) Without knowledge, without cultural or common references, you can't have satifical humour. People do not understand the reference. The knowledge base is not there. The producers on the Drew Carey show are B5 fans. Hence the references to B5 and the use of the costumes (real, honest to god costumes and props).

Joe gets some facts wrong - "Pardon me, I'm from America."

Humour in B5 - use of counterpoint. Very hard to do. Best example is "and the Rock Cried Out"... Refa counterpoint to the gospel song (Joe chose the words for that). "I am a very sick man.

The idea of Londo using his genitalia to cheat at cards was irresistible."

At the Sleeping in Light presentation that followed the panel, Joe was delighted. He "got" people. The ten minutes from sheridan's death to the destruction of B5 gets Joe too. Even now after how many viewings. He related a couple of stories, like Mira's cat.

Mira's boy cat (I've forgotten its name) disappeared just before they shot the scene where Garibaldi tells the tale of the Pak'Ma'Ra eating the dead cat with the data crystal in it. At mention of dead cat, Joe hears this pathetic little wail - the idea of someone eating a dead cat reminds Mira of her own missing animal. (Mira now has a little girl cat who adopted her and goran.)

Panel - Space Opera. 6th September 1999. Robert Jan plus umm...

The term "space opera" was coined in 1941. EE "Doc" Smith started out in food technology - he had a PhD in Donut Mixers! SW is the second largest grossing franchise in the world after James bond 007. (I find this surprising) (from third panel member) Before 1930, there was no genre of SF - it was all just part of "normal" literature.

By the creation of the term sf, the genre has suffered denegration. Mainstream literature tends not to deal with the issues of the 21st century. We've lost a lot of what SF is by the label "space opera" being considered a lower literary form than sf (which is saying something). Stop with all the label rubbish. Write what feels good to you.

Joe regrets the loss of the sense of wonder that SF once had. Most SF is cynical and dark these days. Reading the Lensman books is like hitting yourself over the head with a hammer, but the sense of wonder is there.

Robert Jan commented that a sense of hope pervades B5. "Agreed, and we are better together than apart. We are a community. One person can make a difference." Joe then went on to say Rod Stirling made a point that there is a perception that you can't be successful and artistic at the same time.

Star Trek is a catalogue of missed opportunities - huge budget, could do what they wanted but they had no balls. If you have a franchise, why not stretch it, make a little controversy? Paramount said you have to keep it safe.

The Shadows (howcome they keep coming back when a big company is mentioned?????) and the Vorlons are mentioned. Blurring the edges of good and evil makes it more complex. Adding grey shades pushes the show more towards drama. The universe is fluid, not static (except for in parts of New Jersey).

Someone talks about product placement - "You can have a good blastoff" if you eat this product. Joe interjects "So eat prunes." (Goodness, an American who has some idea of toilet humour - Joe, you're a man after my own heart. ;-)

The Star Trek producers have contempt for the genre, the show and the fans. For example, Janeway is going to have a relationship with a hologram. A hologram??? "May as well with a vibrator." What about Chakotay? By this stage, I got the feeling that Joe is not too impressed with the trek franchise.

He ain't too impressed with the Phantom Menace either. "George fell for the dark side of the merchandising."

All the characters changed over the course of B5 except two. Delenn and Sheridan held true to their cores. Joe comments that "as a president, Sheridan makes a really, really good starship captain. He makes a lot of mistakes but grows into the role."

"We were going to do a five year story and get out. We did that."

"It is great to touch the audience, especially an audience as perverse as you are." [Thanks, Joe! That's the nicest thing anyone has ever said about us!]

What happened with Crusade, Joe's version....somewhat shortened. Some of you know this some of you don't.

You have to remember that we were "dealing with non-carbon based lifeforms." It was an extraordinary thing to have no interference from Warners during B5. There was no interference for the first five eps of Crusade. There are two different parts of TNT. LA controls the creative side, Atlanta is the home of the head honchos, the suits. This was TNT's first dramatic series. The suits had to get involved to make sure it worked ok. Can't we have "horny aliens" or a character who is a "sexual explorer"? Wrestlers are good - you can use the larger than life personalities and put them in the series. Instead of blackmailing the baddy, you could have him attempt to rape Dureena and have the captain burst in and save her. Etc.

So Joe gets hauled in. there is an eight metre long table. All the big dudes are on one side. Joe is sitting by himself on the other. 20 pages of notes/fixes/changes to the series. No to page one...no to page 20 and no to the pages in between. Joe would not compromise further than he had. The first ep shown is one requested by TNT as an intro. Joe did his best. 'Maybe you could put in a dog or something?'

Joe - "Maybe a cat."

"But who would do that?"

Warners asked Joe to give TNT some little tokens or something, a small compromise.

Competition between the different branches of Warners supposedly makes it stronger. Each division is run as a separate company, all in competition not only with other studios but also within Warners.

"Now I know who runs Warner Bros!" (the Shadows with all their anthill theories)

B5 has broken new ground it seems - signs for the future are more story arcs to show up in various shows such as Earth, Final Conflict, Farscape, etc.

Joe talked a bit about what is keeping him busy at the moment. Something really cool - another arc story in a non-sf field. Kathryn Drennan had already said that Joe is doing something *really* cool. Really, really cool.

Rising Stars, telemovies, this and that. He isn't lacking for work, though later he did comment that in Hollywood, he's been told "You're kind of like bigfoot - everybody has heard of you but noone's seen you."

Then we moved to myth. "You cannot create myth but you can reinterpret it." Joe always tried to incorporate myth into the show. That is what gives it resonance.

"I report the news. I don't make it." When he writes, Joe just turns a little transistor radio on in his head and the little voices talk at him. he goes where the story is.

"I wouldn't say that Crusade is dead" - but it is launched into the future, just like B5. After finishing shooting Sleeping in Light, Joe just sat in stage B, feeling a multitude of emotions. Relief (in getting the show done), pleasure, sadness (to be walking away from something he had done for so long and was such a part of him).

[Hmm, wish I knew why I had written "An act of Kosh down"...maybe something to do with an act of god falling upon Atlanta.]

If any asteroid hits the earth (and Joe sidetracked into telling us about the asteroid named after him), it should be his asteroid and it should hit ground-zero at Atlanta, Georgia. That would give him some petty pleasure.

He created a pseudonym for some of his Crusade eps - he wasn't real happy with some of them. The pseudonym was something like I Ben Scrude. It got past the screen writers guild but not past TNT...

Joe does not set out to shove a message down our throats when he writes but he does have questions in the back of his mind and these tend to filter out into his writing. "I sublet my morals and very strange people moved in."

George Lucas got caught up in the toys he had rather than telling a mythic tale.

Part of Joe's reason for not giving stories to other writers for so very long was that the stories all blurred into eachother and he could not separate them until they were written. For five years the show belonged to Joe. Now it belongs to us, the audience and the fans. Kids can grow up with the show and "be corrupted."

BTW, the "Bible" was a series of cards in a notebook which sat on a shelf in Joe's office. He hid it in plain sight.

With regard to Crusade, jms commented that Evan Chen's music grew as he got more experience. Technomages are mostly human. The organic technology they use - who else uses organic technology? They dress in black. Where could they have learned some of their secrets????

Peter Woodward was the first choice for Galen but at that stage he had no papers allowing him to work in the US. Big problem. Shooting started for A Call to Arms in two weeks but it was going to take 6 weeks to process the work permit. "Call the Whitehouse" Joe instructs one of the production assistants. One of the press secretaries there is a big B5 fan. She was sent a big box of goodies. Two days later immigration calls - no problems! ah, friends in high places....

[OK, here are some notes from the interview, though I would suggest that some of the above is from the interview too. It certainly forms part of a question and answer session - the topic jumps from one thing to another. No I didn't transcribe the questions as well.]

When he was younger, Joe moved lots. He says that it breaks down some cultural barriers. He tries to think as a citizen on the planet, not just of the local city or state or the US. [did he succeed in B5????] You are dealing with an audience who are for most part human and actors who are sometimes human....

Pak'Ma'Ra are just damn weird - the weirdest alien on B5.

Joe's formative reading was Superman comics - he got his moral standing from Superman and learned to read by looking at superman comics. He then discussed Rising Stars, but ididn't write down any of it. One premise behind Rising Stars is something a comet, an asteroid an alien thing, who knows, affected all these fetuses in utero in a town in the US. This brought Joe onto a current US policy.

Say the USA deep space network detected an alien probe wandering through our solar system. USA policy, and this really amazes Joe, is to not respond in case it is a berserker probe. Joe would press the button to contact the probe in a second (and with his luck, it would be a Shadow probe). ['course any wandering probe should pick up our tv and radio transmissions if it was in the solar system I would think].

Demon (K)night was Joe's first novel. he wrote it for his own amusement. Horror. It was bought by the first publisher to read it and was nominated for a Bram Stoker award. He was pretty chuffed about that.

Most of the designers on B5 were from a theatre background. They were young and enthusiastic. The company kept 85% of the staff over B5's production run.

Someone asks Joe a weird question. Joe's reply is: "You aren't a well man, are you?"

"No - it's people like you who are at fault."

"COOL!!!" Joe grins.

In a way, in B5 not being promoted heavily, in being left alone, this was a good thing. 'The show is what the show is. It will endure."

With B5, joe had a great educational chance for the viewers to learn about tv production. Therefore he maintained a presence on the internet.

When he was around 25, he worked on a radio show, a two hour sf talkback show. He also worked on a half hour radio series.

On writing: You have to bring passion to the work, your heart into it. Things resonate with the viewer when the emotion/action evokes memories/experience. Joe writes all the time. He cannot *not* write. He had his laptop with him [and asked on the first day about how to get it plugged in cos he had been told he could use it here but Australian plugs are different to those in the USA, and our voltage is also different]. He writes for relaxation.

The costs? Friendships, relationships and opportunities amongst others.

His first books were Lovecraftian in style/content. His book list includes The Lord of the Rings, Stranger in a Strange land, anything by Jonathan carroll, sf classics including the Lensman series.

He says that the use of stereotypes comes in when archetypes are used without understanding where the archetype comes from. You can have an archtypical character without it being stereotypical. Lennier was a Lancelot character. He got a name starting with L for this reason. He had always been perfect, but he had to have one moment of weakness, something he would regret for the rest of his life...

Finally, "Everything's better in the states," and Joe blew a raspberry.

Ok, so that is your lot. Joe certainly had more than that to say but i ain't a stenographer...

My impressions of him? He was tall, grey, balding/balded, not particularly slim. He looked older than 45ish but young at the same time - he had a weird sorta serenity about him - maybe that was the jetlag. Kathryn is no absolute babe but she ain't bad to look upon, brunette with shoulder length hair, and is slim and around 5'8" tall - so much for her being short like someone reported from a con. Maybe next to Joe she looks short but she isn't. She seems to have a good sense of humour - lots of stupid stuff amused her along with more esoteric humour.

Joe does seem absolutely genuine about his passion for writing, for bringing a story to the masses. In talking to him in person, he seemed like a really nice bloke, a bit shy maybe, but then I don't think that is a bad thing. He is certainly not up himself - he has a good opinion of his writing but that is his craft and he should be proud of what he does and should enjoy it. His sense of humour is somewhat naughty (and this has shown up in B5). All in all, he reminded me of some of you out there in cyberspace and here at home. He was just a regular Joe ;-)


Natiel's B5 con pages/last modified 20th September 2001


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