A week or two ago as part of my 100 post celebration, I posted a poll to all my readers out there about what sort of posts they would like to read here on the blog. One of the selections was to hear more about the history of our group and where all this Ghostiness came from.
And it turns out, there seems to be a lot of folks out there that are indeed interested in learning more about us as it came in second in overall votes. In fact, one of the most asked questions I get when we are out doing public events or meeting with fans, is: Why are Chad’s posts the most popular?
I often say it’s simply his musk and like animals in the wild, it’s how he attracts followers. Plus like unicorns and Bigfoot, sightings of these posts are somewhat rare so it’s extra special when they appear.
However, the second most popular question is why we are called “Ghosts of the Stratosphere”? Like where did that name come from? Was it like a fever dream after a night of too many whiskey sours? You realize it makes your podcast sound like it should be telling ghost stories, right?
So you would think that’s the question I would answer with today’s blog, right?
Nope. That’s too easy. You don’t give the audience “Infinity War” right away? You have to build up to it? Introducing little bits and pieces at a time to show the grand picture in order to give them a more satisfying response than just…ooops…I almost gave it away. Tricky, tricky. No you are still gonna have to wait for that.
So consider this blog the “Iron Man 1” of our own MCU. Chapter 1. The Beginning.
Well I mean I guess we sort of already did that with the post about our comic book “Adventures of Mind-Man” but you can now consider that a prologue. This is real meat and potatoes, folks. It all starts and ends with Black Angus Productions. The Alpha and Omega. The wellspring of all creative endeavors. The real power that brings you that little podcast where we natter on about comics for an hour.
Since most of you aren’t knowledgeable about it, I thought it’d be appropriate to do a little grandstanding by giving a brief history lesson to those of you less informed about our little production company and how the long trail that eventually led to our podcast actually started (plus this helps promote brand recognition, which this pamphlet an successfully managing your KFC franchise says is key to a good business.)
Black Angus Productions was really the last in a series of creative outlets that my cousin, J Andrew Scott (a semi regular panelist on the podcast), and I put together to stave off boredom in our young years. We first made board games, then moved to making comic books, then old timey radio programs with an old cassette recorder. This was all because really we had always wanted to make movies, but since we weren’t allowed to touch my Dad’s video camera, we had to make due with what we did have available.
This all changed during my 8th grade year when I started sneaking the video camera away from my Dad’s bag and recording little things in my basement. Let’s face it, the camera was pretty crappy to begin with so I didn’t know what the fuss was about if I accidentally broke it. Ah, the first of many calculated risks.
When JA heard that I had access to the camera, the wheels really started moving. We enlisted my brother, Ethan, to play any other bit part we didn’t have an actor for, and started making screen adaptations of one of the super heroes we created for both comics and radio: The Secret Crusader. Sort of a Batman/Shadow ripoff, with me playing the title character and JA playing whatever shmuck villain we decided to put him up against (Negatech was a particular favorite).
I’ll be blunt. These movies are bad. In these old days, we didn’t understand how to edit at all, so everything was filmed sequentially. Also, we really didn’t have time to write a script or anything so everything was made up on the fly right before we started filming. It was mainly a bunch of fight sequences bridged together by me doing a lot of exposition back at Secret Crusader “Headquarters”.
Plus the fact that JA and I really hammed it up when we were on camera, talking in our best big boy voices despite us being pimpled faced tweeners.
Oh and did I mention since there was no music, JA and I would sing either the Batman theme or tunes from the SNES version of Legend of Zelda to add to the drama. Sometimes…actually while we are on screen. So all of a sudden right before a fight, Secret Crusader would just burst into song. All very very strange.
In fact, it was so bad it was actually hilarious, to the point where when we started making “The Andy Larson Show” (which we’ll cover a bit later), we repackaged this entire series as a comedy skit, and it worked extremely well.
The Secret Crusader series was followed by the Green Avenger series, another comic book character this time ripping off the Green Hornet instead of Batman. But you could tell between series that we were actually starting to think out things more. We still didn’t edit, or script, and filmed everything in the basement mostly, but at least we gave the Green Avenger a better costume.
We also bought some props and did some limited special effect shots such as a “fireball gun” which shot sparklers. Scenes were framed tighter and the fight sequences were more athletic and intense, as JA and I were already thinking about what looked good on camera. In general, although still bad, The Green Avenger was an important stepping stone and marked a significant leap forward in story telling.
It was at that point, that I really started to develop a fundamental truth in my film making, which is making any sort of drama is extremely hard. Whether its straight drama or action adventure or thriller or anything else, you really have to be on point to make it effective. You can’t really cut corners or skip out on details, because drama relies so heavily on the concept of “suspension of disbelief”. You have to make the movie so good that people stop seeing it as a movie, and start believing it’s really happening. This is really hard to do when you don’t have a large budget or good actors etc. and the result is that instead of people enjoying the film, they start making fun of its flaws.
Comedy on the other hand, is a completely different ball game. It’s more forgiving in terms of all of that, because from the word go, people just want to have a good time so as long as they are still laughing all that other stuff comes out in the wash.
And that’s when my thoughts raced back to the Secret Crusader and how much really I ended up laughing at it. How silly everything was, and how if I would have just ran with that instead, I could have had people in stitches. It was at that point, I said that we would not make dramas any more. It was comedy or nothing. And that’s when we developed the first really big long lasting series at Black Angus Productions: “The Andy Larson Show”.
For pretty much my entire time in high school, “The Andy Larson Show” was my life. It was my outlet, my hobby, my obsession, its what kept me going during my low times, and gave me the confidence to do other things outside of it.
The premise was simple: Andy Larson was the host of a late night talk show. JA Scott was his co host. They didn’t interview guests because that was the boring part, instead they just talked about pop culture and introduced skit after skit. Sometimes they would go on comedic misadventures within their little universe and sometimes bad guys would invade the show wanting to ruin the fun.
The premise allowed us to go in so many different directions that we often found ourselves having too many ideas to film. But it also gave the series a framework in which we could build. In later episodes, we even started adhering to a strict formula and continuity in terms of the characters we had established.
Also one time skits like “Gumby Dead” (in which we found increasingly elaborate ways to kill Gumby) and “Movies” (in which we replaced the soundtrack of an old “B” movie with our own commentary MST3k style) appeared in every episode because we knew which skits go us the most laughs.
My younger brother, Ethan, literally grew up on the show taking on more and more acting responsibilities as his comedic prowess became stronger. And we for the first time invited others outside our little group of three to me a part of the mayhem, such as my high school buddy, Shaft, and a couple others.
Overall we made 20 some complete episodes, with twice as many episodes that were just unfinished bits and pieces. Many of which I would still show people today as although unpolished due to the primitive editing we had back then (two VCRs recording tape from sources to a master), they still contain a lot of really funny and interesting ideas.
One of my all time favorite creation, the Andy Larson Show is a program near and dear to my heart, and really is where I learned how to put together a successful show. Plus for anyone out there that enjoys me being the host of Ghosts of the Stratosphere, this is really where I started to hone my chops in terms of keeping a program going and the audience engaged with laughter and stories.