Some Notes on the "Lost" KTMA Episodes
about 1 month ago
– Mon, Dec 05, 2016 at 11:03:09 PM
Dear MST3K Revival League,
I'm really pleased to hear that so many of you are enjoying the lost KTMA episodes! Now that you've had a week or two to watch them, I thought it would be nice to share some notes I wrote down a few weeks ago, when I was re-watching the episodes again for the first time.
Before I do that, though – I know that some backers have had trouble figuring out how to access the KTMA episodes, so Ivan asked me to share these reminders with you:
- If you pledged $35 or more on Kickstarter (not on MST3K.com), your rewards include the lost KTMA episodes for free. You don't have to pay anything else. You'll find them in your collection of "Classic Bonus Episodes" on VHX.
- The KTMA episodes are not available for purchase, but you can still make a $35 pledge on our MST3K BackerKit site. If you do, you'll get access to most of the rewards from that package, including the KTMA episodes. You can make a late pledge here, by choosing EXPERIMENT 035.
- If you haven't activated your free VHX account yet, you'll need to do that first. If you're not sure how, Ivan sent instructions back in Update #34, so look there. If you already finished filling out your BackerKit order form, you'll need to go look there. If you don't remember how, you can have the link sent to you again in email.
- If you've got ANY questions or need help, please email email@example.com so our support team can help you. Please do not contact Kickstarter or VHX support, because they won't be able to help. They'll just tell you to contact our team!
If you still haven't gotten to watch the episodes, I hope those instructions will help.
About the Lost Episodes
Also, before I share some specific notes about the "lost episodes", I wanted to point something out: Invaders from the Deep is considered Episode #1... but is it really?
Prior to this we made two other “tests” of MST3K:
This is called the “pilot,” even though it really isn’t. It was actually a fifteen-minute “proof of concept” tape we made to explain the premise to Donald O'Connor – not the “Francis the talking Mule” Donald O'Connor, but the station manager of KTMA. Fortunately, Don liked this brief tape, so we were off and running.
The movie was Green Slime, but actually, we never really riffed much of it, and then we never riffed the full-length movie later because we lost the rights to use it. So mostly, the “proof of concept” included the sketch ideas, along with a rough version of the doorways, plus Crow and me and the robot-who-was-to-become-Tom-Servo walking in and sitting down. I remember we only did a few riffs in that, and dropped a couple of references to Star Wars. (“That’s no meteor, that’s a battle station!”)
If you want to see it, it looks like there are some links on YouTube to a panel where we showed the "Pilot" at a convention once.
The weird thing is that there may also be a still-missing KTMA Episode ("Episode #0"), which was a full-length episode but without the theme song. I remember after we viewed it, it was obvious the whole idea of MST was probably hard to understand for a first-time viewer, and Jim Mallon and I agreed the show needed some more explanation in the form of a theme song like Gilligan’s Island. This was in lieu of doing endless exposition about who we were, and what we were doing in space while watching bad movies.
So, Josh (J. Elvis) Weinstein and I wrote the MST3K lyrics, and Charlie (Chuck Love) Erickson composed the music with me. The theme song emerged into the body of the show on this episode. We roughed out the rest of the concept with some new model shots as well as including Trace and Josh as “his Bosses didn’t like him, so they shot him into space” and me dusting in the control room of KTMA.
To tell you the truth, though, I'm not sure if there was a different "Episode #0", or if we just added the theme song to the beginning, and then called that Episode #1. What I mean is, I don't remember if there was another movie we riffed, or if Episode #0 was just Invaders from the Deep, but without the opening song.
I'm kind of guessing that's what happened, because I’m pretty sure I re-used the “Vacuum Flowers” narrative idea for the sketches from the fifteen-minute “proof of concept” pilot, which makes me think that there wasn't a different Episode #0. If we were going to use the vacuum flowers, why wouldn't we have put them into the next episode we made, and come up with new stuff for Episode #1?
Actually, I’m starting to think that if that episode ever emerges, it’s likely the whole “vacuum flower” sketch pieces are in that show too, and maybe, because the theme song turned out so nice we just treated this Episode #1 as a total “do over” and grabbed all the sketch ideas from 0 and plugged them right into #1. Maybe.
Anyway, here are some notes on these two “long lost” episodes, Invaders from the Deep and Revenge of the Mysterons from Mars, that I took while watching them for the first time in a long time.
Episode 1: Invaders from the Deep
It appears as if Trace wasn’t with us this day, as J. Elvis is running all the puppets. This was pretty common for us at KTMA. Sometimes Josh would have to leave for a family event, as he was still in his teens when we started. So we would find ways to work around his absence too.
Also, it’s clear I was trying to emulate some ideas from the Douglas Trumbull film, Silent Running, which was very inspirational to the show. If you ever check it out, you’ll see LOTS of connections.
Also, the idea of the “Vacuum Flowers” was inspired by the title of the science fiction novel by Michael Swanwick, though I have never read it. I just thought it to be a hauntingly beautiful couple of words.
THE SHOW OPEN
I’m surprised how much the Show Open has remained pretty much the same throughout the almost 200 iterations of the show. Thanks Charlie, and thank you Josh!
THE SATELLITE OF LOVE
I made the original SOL from some Christmas tree lights, a couple of badminton rackets, and a game called Gnip Gnop:
The Original “Mystery Science Theater” letters were pretty big, probably about 12 to 14 inches tall:
I carved those out of Styrofoam in my backyard on Snelling Avenue. I was trying to emulate some stuff I saw on Sid and Marty Kroft’s Land of the Lost – it was a bear. I used a carving knife with a serrated blade to try to make them look like rocks. Tough going. I remember bailing after constructing the words MYSTERY, SCIENCE, and THEATER, and asking Kevin if it was possible to just put the 3000 in during post:
(Also, just so you know, it was never, ever called Mystery Science Theater 2000, because, simply... that would be lame.)
The rocket is made of a traffic cone and one of those weird, plastic toy golf bags:
I was unhappy we had to use the “digital” looking background plate, which was an element we found at KTMA, as I felt it broke with the show’s “puppet aesthetic,” but it was a time/money consideration. We rented a Rosco fogger at a place in Minneapolis called Norcostco, and I rigged a big, vinyl tube connector to it with duct tape so the smoke came out in the right place on the rocket.
I was thrilled to be working with Invaders from the Deep because, like many people my age, I grew up loving the work of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson. But obviously, these types of films were pretty hard to riff on.
I think mostly there are no expressions for the puppets on screen, and it’s really hard to say anything other than, “Hey, that puppet does his own stunts.” I remember we had a chance to re-riff this film and Mysterons later in the Comedy Channel days but I decided against it.
(Also, in the body of the theme song we show a few shots from Invaders from the Deep, so that’s further evidence it’s the first time we used the theme song.)
There's lots of stuff intact from this version of Crow that we’re still using on the new MST3K: the lacrosse mask, the empire plastic bowling pin, as well as the Tupperware elements that made up his shoulders and chest area:
Tom is still made using the bubble gum bank and the “money lover’s barrel":
Gypsy is still made from an infant car seat carrier, though a different style.
The background “action” has some unique “kit bashing” elements too.
You may notice some of these same pieces ended up on the set in season two on Comedy Central, as I took many of the pieces from the KTMA set, saved them, and then built them into that set: Notably, a “slush-molded” reindeer I cut in two with a band saw, as well as a plastic snow saucer.
The man-eating flowers, airbag for motorcyclists, and reptile thermometer were things in various stages of development from my stand-up act:
Naturally, none of this would have existed without Jim Mallon and Kevin Murphy having the keys to the studio at KTMA. I really just did the conceptual stuff and art direction (what there is of it) and they supplied the technical know-how. Special thanks to them.
Episode 2: Mysterons from Mars
To quote David Lynch’s Dune: “The beginning is a very delicate time.”
I recruited Trace and Josh from the Minneapolis comedy scene. I picked Josh because, even as a teenager, he was a stone-cold joke writer. I picked Trace because he might be the funniest improviser I ever met. This remains true for both of them to this day.
I remember writing these initial sketches based on what I knew I could easily put together prop-wise, but after a while Trace and Josh got more involved, because frankly, I really don’t enjoy writing stuff by myself. Also, further downstream, Kevin and Jim started suggesting ideas for jokes in the sketches too.
SHOW OPEN AND SKETCHES
Some nice themes emerging, and everyone figuring out their parts. Love that it’s so much about thanksgiving!
The first thing I notice is how few riffs there are. Also, we seem to be sort of whispering and timid, like we don’t want to piss anyone off or disturb them from the movie. Interesting: Thinking back, I’m remembering that I seriously didn’t know how many interruptions caused by riffing the audience could tolerate – what’s possible? It wasn’t obvious to me. So, as you’ll see, in the beginning, it’s very slow going. Still, I’m seeing a few riffs I really like.
Example: There are these timpani drums playing, and this sort of quick intercutting to this really funny looking model of a space station, and I just whisper, in awe: “Cloud Base!”
I’m also seeing some forgotten ideas I’d like to include back into the next iteration of the show, if we’re fortunate enough to get another new season.
The demon dogs in the show opening was a bit from my live show, “Spookfest ’87.” They were florescent because they were used in a “black art” music number:
They sang and danced to the song Uncorrected Personality Traits by Robin Hitchcock, which I believe Josh Weinstein was a puppeteer on.
Why do they call him Captain Blue? (Really long pause.) His language?
Also, these two films are spellbinding and intensely interesting, mostly because of the brilliant model work by the great Derek Meddings.
I also like it with us having nine seats across, so the silhouettes are smaller. To me, it allowed more screen area for the film, as well as emulating a wide screen of a movie theater. I think later, we made the adjustment to making the silhouettes bigger to accommodate a “TV safe” area, but I didn’t like it as much. Too much of the silhouettes, not enough movie screen:
I’m happy to report, with the new shows we now have ten seats across, so we are back to a very similar aspect ratio for the host and the bots.
Anyway, those are the notes I took. Thanks for reading, and have a good week everybody.
Cheers & Thanks,