ATTN JMS: *sigh* a quick Question and a follow on request

B5JMS Poster b5jms-owner at
Sun Oct 31 04:33:56 EST 1999

From: "Alyson L. Abramowitz" <aly at>
Date: 30 Oct 1999 11:26:04 -0600
Lines: 118

I found the whole message and memo from jms fascinating. It told me far
more than the many countless messages indirectly describing what process
what was happening. I also enjoyed seeing how the comments varied the
production and how the lack of production understanding of some folks
effected the process. Thank you, jms. 

> And here, folks I think we can see a good example of just how good a writer Joe
> is; by my way of thinking he's calling these people idiots several times in
> this memo but I doubt they ever caught it.

Actually,  while I appreciate jms' writing and not to put it down in the
slightest, it doesn't take a superstar to write a clear representation
of the confusion. Also, jms isn't actually saying that these folks are
"idiots". They just have blinders on (as we all do) about their side of
the organization.

jms does seems to be regularly calling their attention to how the left
and right halves of the organization are contradicting each other and
implying that he can't do both their bidding. Additionally, jms is
noting the fiscal impact of following their requests. In the later case,
he just cuts it off as impossible due to these constraints most of the
time. None of the actions being specified are idiotic although they do
not work well as part of a single corporate structure of guidance. They
might not work well to tell a story either. The dynamic is actually
irrelevant to a successful product.

[Insert consulting hat here;  I fix this kind of stuff for clients for a
living. Maybe I should get TNT to hire me to help them? 

Rather than calling names or looking for blame, I thought it might be
interesting to explain below the general dynamic I saw in the memo. It
is actually an all too common one so it can have some personal value
beyond the fascination that, at least I found, with seeing the process
in action.

Personally, once I caught on to these kind of dynamics it helped me feel
more in control of the forces that sometimes control my work

If you've ever been in a situation where you, effectively, have two
managers or other guiding entities (let's call them "sponsors" because
they may not directly be your "manager") who are conflicting with each
other, this is a very familiar situation. It is often a no-win for the
direct players. Unless you can get someone above the two organizations
to recognize and correct the dysfunction, the best you can probably hope
for is to get some way to uneasily move forward by noting the conflicts
and consequences of actions. 

In the end this doesn't really doesn't satisfy anyone because the real
issue isn't the one you are analytically handling. It is the emotional
control which needs to be resolved. Worse, in a dysfunctional situation
such as this, blame is often heaped on the poor folks in the middle who
didn't really satisfy either party. Those folks may not be innocent but
they probably didn't deserve the grief they got, either. 

Compounded on this dynamic seems to be an additional one of lack of
knowledge on some (both?) of the TNT parties about when and where they
can affect the product. If you provide a criticism after a product is
almost complete (which is my, admittedly weak understanding of the
producer's cut... I think this is the final cut minus FX?), then it is
rather difficult to add a scene or modify one. I'm guess that the film
industry works like most other product development:  the later you get
in the process the more expensive and difficult it gets to fix
something. The producer's cut seems way late in the process for anything
to be done. 

My suspicion, only from this memo, is that the network folks didn't
really understand the fiscal impact of their comments. This is one place
where one can move forward creatively when in this situation. The best
"patch" I've seen to this is to provide a concrete costing to the change
and ask whether this overrun is acceptable.

On the other hand, here the no-win comes in again. If you fix the
concern, you overrun your budget and are blamed for that (it doesn't
matter if your sponsor agreed to the overrun). If you don't modify
things you aren't listening to your "sponsor". If you change things one
way, the other "sponsor" complains that it is not meeting their needs.
When you find your fourth hand you also are held responsible by everyone
for not reading their minds and preventing this problem earlier in the

Although you can be proactive and solicit comments early in the process
(which seems to have been happening here as well from the later part of
the memo), unless you get an agreement with everyone early (impossible
if they fundamentally don't agree) then it will never truly work.

Ultimately this issue either gets repeated or resolved. The bad news is
that Dilbert reins supreme in most organizations and it often repeats
itself again and again. So I would expect that the next production to
come along would get caught is a similar challenge. They might stay on
the air but they'll get caught, none the less. 

The problem is solvable but not on this level. Alternatively, over time
the folks change, the management changes, and the knowledge of
production goes up. 

Gosh, this seems so familiar. This kind of thing could easily and
frequently does happen in any high technology/banking/airline/etc
company (just to name a few industries I've had direct experience in).

In a no-win, if you can't change the situation, bailing is the right
approach because it does provide back-pressure on the situation although
it is incredibly hard on a personal basis. 

[Remove consulting hat.]

I hope someone corrects any misunderstands I may have made of the film
industry above. I really enjoyed seeing that memo and would appreciate
similar kinds of insight in the future. 

I'm curious what the production memos which occurred [maybe during
Season 1 for similar comparison] B5 looked like. JMS, is there one of
those you might share so we can see the difference under a different
environment? Just seeing the causes and effects I found fascinating.

From: jmsatb5 at (Jms at B5)
Date: 30 Oct 1999 16:24:30 -0600
Lines: 42

Alyson: that's a very good analysis of the situation.

>Compounded on this dynamic seems to be an additional one of lack of
>knowledge on some (both?) of the TNT parties about when and where they
>can affect the product.

This is also very much true.  In one scene we shot, there's a slight reflection
on the monitor wherein we can see Gideon's face reflected.  (Intentional on the
director's part.)  They asked if we could give them the scene without the
reflection.  No, we can't...unless we reshoot it.

One other area where we ran up against a  problem with understanding was on the
EFX and delivery.  They simply couldn't visualize what was going into a CGI
shot before we actually *did* it.  They'd look at a scene where we'd slugged
time for action, and think it was slow, because no, there isn't anything there
NOW, but there will be when the CGI is done.

They also kept saying (after the first 5) that the show was too dark, that they
couldn't see anything, that the colors were muted.  That's one reason they
wanted the sets repainted, to make them more colorful.  We kept saying, no,
it's NOT too dark, we don't know where you're getting that.

I finally found out when I went to visit someone at TNT and looked at what THEY
were looking at...not the digibeta footage, or a good clean copy of the
edit...they were looking at a fourth- or fifth-generation dub of the *avid
output*, which is a digitized version of the film, somewhat low-res.  

So finally, we brought in their tech guy, and showed him the digital beta
version, the actual footage.  He looked at it, and said, "Oh, okay, you're
right, it's not dark at all."  But by then the mandate had come down from on
high, LIGHTEN THE SCENES.  Which is why the first five have a moodier, more
stylistic look to them than the rest.


(jmsatb5 at
B5 Official Fan Club at:

-*** B5JMS SUBSCRIBERS: Replies to messages go to the list maintainer,
-*** <b5jms-owner at>.  If you want to reply elsewhere, adjust
-*** the "To" field.  See for all
-*** other information about this list.

More information about the B5JMS mailing list