What is Astrognome?

What is Astrognome?

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Astrognome! (As-Stroh-Nome ) is the greatest film, web-series, or graphic novel that hasn’t been made.

Being a comedy, the first priority is to make people laugh, but I want to take people to new places, give them new things to laugh at.

Here’s what I have:

  • An outline for a film-length story.
  • Several ideas for future episodes.

Here’s what I don’t have:

  • A crew.
  • Production skills.
  • A lot of money.

What can you do? Read the scripts. If you like it, then:

  • Make a grant for the production.
  • Tell me what you think.  Send an email to comicdistortion AT gmail.

The Long, Long, Long Game.

I’m probably going to draw the book myself, but I’m not nearly skilled enough at present. I designed a comic strip roughly starring the two physical characters of Watterson and Davis, and I’m drawing one a day. I post them on my Twitter page twitter.com/_mike_hill

I figure that if I push myself to improve, and draw a couple hundred of these things, I’ll be close to where I need to be, and I’ll have a cool comic strip to boot.


What’s Going On

Ambush BugI’m settling down to make a graphic novel. I have to read some books, like Scott McCloud’s “Understanding Comics.”

In the mean time, if you are visiting this site based on my twitter and facebook posts, please peruse around and see if this is something you’d really be interested in.  Send me an email and I can send you the full, current, script.  I can’t make any promises, because I’m going to choose an artist from as many interested parties as I can find.  This is a special project to me, and I want to love the art as much as I love the story.  My thoughts right now (before research) are that I’d like to raise ten to fifteen thousand dollars to pay an artist to fully illustrate a four part series.

michael dot hill dot ks at gee mail.

The End of the Beginning

astrognome_favicon2The full script is written, 118 pages, revised, de-typoed, retitled, repackaged and printed.  A priest came by and personally fondled it, then I put on a new coat of slick white paint.  It’s done (until some heavy-weights tell me what doesn’t work).

Now what?  Now I physically throw it at people.  I sling it around like Captain America’s shield and storm the Nazi base, begging them to give me a job.  Sorry about the skylight, Doctor Faustus.  I’m new to this.  I should have got a script agent.

Obviously, I’m conflicted.  I hate the studio system.  I hate the LA way.  I hate most of what LA produces.  I hate the French, just because they’re always going “La” this and “La” that.

I want complete creative control over anything done with my script.  You know who has complete creative control?  The homeless.

There is no mid-point for people in my position, at least not yet.  I’m looking.

My backup plan is to lay the script out for a graphic novel and raise some funds to get it illustrated.

Here’s a list of the people I have to go through to get this thing made:

What a Team

finishedI think ‘team’ now refers to this blog and myself. I’m not kidding myself that anyone is following this saga, but it feels good to write a little about it, even just to myself.

The rough draft of Episode 4 is complete, which means the rough draft of the entire four-part series is DONE.

Now it’s revision time. Changes need to be made, but I couldn’t figure out how to do it without crippling much of what I love.

So I let it settle for about a week. I went camping, stared at the sky, stared into the inky depths of the park’s vault toilet, stared at giant robots battling space Rhinos, and so on.

There I was, camped out in the back country, laying on my air mattress, gazing at the stars through a fine nylon mesh. Genghis Khanian forces of winged insects threw themselves against the barrier again and again, gnashing their antennae, flailing their little stick legs through the mesh, grasping at my supple flesh. Nearby, an ugly, bloated bird let out a few exhausted groans. Another joined in, like a middle aged bowler with a fresh back injury, easing onto the kitchen table. Across the meadow, another groan. They were frogs, and this shit was going till sunrise.

Then it hit me. I don’t have to cripple my script. I can replace the injured part, like a hip transplant. I realized just how to do it, and now my task lays ahead.

That’s one amazing thing about writing. So much stress and hard work builds up to just a few thoughts. You’re sumo wrestling your ideas against your intellect. They just keep slamming together, getting angrier with every fruitless collision. The crowd grows restless, but keep their eyes glued to the action, because they know that eventually  a little blob of fat will shoot out, and if you’re lucky, you’ll be the one to catch it:  a newborn sumo baby.  Great metaphor.

That’s what happened in about three seconds, as I laid there in my tent, hypnotized by the booty call of a thousand frogs.  Suddenly, my idea took an evolutionary step.

Over the years I’ve learned how to work the creativity chemistry a little. When things aren’t advancing, just step back and do something else. A change in scenery does a lot more to your brain than you realize. How about another metaphor?  No?  I’ve been selfish, just take a little break and watch this informative, definitely non-metaphorical Youtube video.

What a relief it is, even though I now have a week of hard typing to do.  When your outline is sorted out, writing is awesomely fun. Many times, while writing episodes 3 and 4, my heart was beating out of my chest, and sometimes I was crying while I typed. You feel all the energy and emotion of the story when you write. That’s when it’s really happening for you. You hope that people who watch the end product will feel the same. Standup comedy is a lot like that too. You really only laugh at your jokes the second you think of them.

Better get started with the surgery. Good work, team!  (slaps face against screen)

Cue the Droning French Horns Cus This Thing’s Still Alive!

Great News:  The rough draft for episode 3 is complete.  This was by far the most difficult segment of the story to write, as it contains the emotional weight of the story.  I think I’ll have fun writing Ep 4, and it should be done shortly. This will complete the initial story arc and fully establish the Astrognome! characters and universe.

I don’t want to put Eps 3 & 4 online, because having  so much out there is kind of creeping me out.  It’s my baby, and it’s only natural to fear someone stealing it.  I’ll at least keep half to myself, preferably the top half.  A baby without an ass to deal with might even be an improvement.

Thankfully, I don’t know anybody who saw the film ‘Branded’ mentioned below.  My dismay was perhaps unwarranted.  The villain ‘Gigantos’ will live, as planned, before Hollywood started chomping on my heels.  This character will appear in a future storyline.

Beyond that, someone told me my idea had been taken by a show called Evil Doers.  I don’t think this person really understands my idea.  I think I’ve gotten to a place where I wouldn’t even care if I saw another show called ‘Astrognome!’  My script is as unique as I am, and I’m fuckin’ weird.



A bit of the originality of the project died this weekend.

One of the coming attractions for Prometheus was this shitty horror film ‘Branded.’

It really sucks the thunder out of some of the creatures and characters that were going to show up down the line in Astrogome.  Now people are going to see it and maybe think of this dumb movie.  I don’t like being in the shadow of some Hollywood schlock…and Jeffrey Tambor’s payday, apparently.

I’m not sure if this will change anything about the project or not.  It really struck me when I saw this trailer…Going to have to let this settle for a while, and live in terror of what other original elements of Astrognome might be overtaken.

Progress is Good

Things have been coming together, piece by piece.  We’re getting closer to a complete script, and a new website.  My progress has enraged the Sand Giant (in my head.)

Painting of Sand Giant by Eric Carbrey

Illustration by Eric Carbrey.

Independence, Perseverance and Hard Work: A Q+A with Chicago Filmmaker Craig Maltby

Craig Maltby is an old friend of mine. He went from making sandwiches to making movies. In the last few years, he’s built a production company from the ground up.  Check out Magnanimous Media for all your Chicago-land production needs.

Craig was kind enough to answer some general questions via email.

Have your professional goals changed since film school?

My goal in film school was to make movies—primarily, to direct and to produce my own films. This goal hasn’t changed. The idea of opening a rental house in aid of my original goal initially struck me at film school. I hadn’t a clue on how to start, operate, manage, or maintain a business at that point in my life, but I knew I had the ambition and I had the understanding that the idea was a valid means of stepping toward my goal. This is a very film-student way of thinking. You set out to make a movie and ask yourself, “What do I need?” The first thing that comes to mind is “Gear!” This is a result of my education, of course, which was very technical (gear-based) and not at all rooted in theory.

Craig Maltby

A photo of Craig I took during my last visit to Chicago…Looking very resolute.

Really, when you set out to make a film what you initially need is a great idea, then a great script, then a great production team, then a great cast, then a great crew, then great gear, a great editor, great sound design, and then comes distribution/promotion. When one works in film and video, one will often hear people say, sounding astute and confident, that this or that aspect of the filmmaking process is the “most important part.” The truth is that every part of filmmaking is the most important part—whatever phase of the process you are currently in is the most important part. The filmmaker’s canvas is reality itself. Everything must be accounted for in this reality (everything that the camera sees, that is). My goal has not changed; it has only become deeper and more dynamic. I know the level of knowledge that I need to achieve in order to make films, or any other sort of content, has to be thorough and integrated, because that is what reality requires of me.

Have you noticed any mistakes common to aspiring filmmakers?

I must preface this answer by saying that it needs to be understood that when one sets out to make their first film, it is without a doubt going to be shit. The next film you make is going to be shit, too. The film you make after that is probably going to be shitty too, but a little less so, and so on. This effect can be alleviated by having a lot of money to hire people who know what they are doing or are innately genius. Even then, a huge budget and a super-intellect isn’t a magic bullet—one must be a master communicator whether you are a Director, Producer, Assistant Director, Art Director, Costume Designer (and so on). The ability to clearly communicate an idea, a tone, a style, is the difference between good films and great films (or other art mediums, for that matter). I have found that this ability to communicate is earned through trial and error.

The most common mistakes I have seen among aspiring filmmakers are a tendency to focus on the unimportant, such as putting too much emphasis on the selection of a camera. Selecting the right camera for your project is important, but a specific high-end camera is not going to make your project “look more professional” or “look like a movie.” Film technique and an engaging story do much more toward that end than a highly resolute camera.

Secondly, audio. Human eyes are willing to accept distorted or harsh images. Human ears however, are much more sensitive and generally unwilling to accept any distorted or harsh sounds. I have encountered many a young filmmaker that has budgeted for some prop or special effect or even craft-service yet they lack a proper soundman. If one is on a limited budget, the member of your crew that you should pay for is a proper sound technician. Beyond location sound, sound design is just as important as visual design in regard to the immersive qualities of a film; it is probably more import due to the previously mentioned reactivity of our sensations.

Lastly, everything has a purpose in a film. Young filmmakers often use techniques they have learned just for the sake of using them. Cinematic tools have become much more accessible due to advancing technology and fierce competition among professional cinema toolmakers. Therefore, prices are much lower. This allows low-budget projects access to what have traditionally been high-end techniques, which is a truly awesome progression to be a part of, but just because one can achieve shallow depth-of-field, slow-motion, or a full frame image does not mean that the scene calls for it or that the theme of the story necessitates its use.

How do you predict changes in technology will affect filmmaking in the next thirty years?

As mentioned, the film and video industry is moving at a brake-neck pace. The advancement of image capture technology is moving so quickly that new cameras seem to be launched every three months (you can watch videos from our recent trip to the National Association of Broadcast (NAB) Show here: https://vimeo.com/album/1906083). It is commonly said that we are currently experiencing the “democratization” of film. This is an absurd statement. It is not about all filmmakers achieving equal status or “equal opportunity.” Anyone who has perused Netflix Instant-watch knows that all filmmakers are not created equal. What is actually happening is the decentralization of filmmaking from Hollywood, which has been happening for some time now.

Beginning with the independent filmmakers of the 90′s, this shift continues today with direct influence of the Internet and the technological reaction to the demand for video content. The ravenous, unquenchable appetite of web 2.0 is not going away anytime soon. The wide spread desire from millions of content producers internationally to achieve cinematic results via cheaper and cheaper means has brought, and continues to bring, filmmaking tools to a wider group of individuals—individuals that primarily create video for the web. The Internet has obviously become a source of entertainment for millions of people world wide, if not billions. The integration of the Internet to the traditional sit on your couch and watch television model is inevitable, but that model will undoubtedly change. With new media and new advertising methods, that experience will be an altogether different one. Thirty-second spots may be a thing of the past as we are able to navigate to a media source that advertises to us in a way we are comfortable with. With the integration of traditional television and Internet, which is already well on its way (i.e. Google TV, Apple TV, Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, Vimeo), the mass of new content Producers will have access to an even more massive audience. I foresee web-content that starts its life as a web-series and eventually makes its way to large screens in homes, and perhaps is retooled into a film and eventually shown in theaters.

For quite a while longer films will be distributed through Hollywood because the infrastructure exists to do so. But one day in the near future Hollywood won’t need to be involved at all. One will shoot their film on a digital camera that shoots 4k raw files or larger (or even some variation of raw like Dynamax that Panavision is developing). These files will be ingested into a digital editing and coloring system, a large final file (or files) will be generated and uploaded to a distributor. This digital distributor will upload or even stream these movies to ultra-high definition projectors in theaters across the world, maybe even in homes, ultimately rendering Hollywood a superficial cog in the system. They will still have lots of sunlight and back-lots, unless California falls into the ocean. I hear stories about filmmakers going to some film festival and pitching a movie and getting a multi-million dollar deal for their film; I see this as an old model with an expiration date.

There are still a limited number of screens and if this “democratization” is truly a successful shift there will be an increase in supply, meaning more quality films. If there are more quality films to be purchased by those who want to purchase them, the price they are willing to pay for these films will drop. One must be willing to ask themselves what the desired final destination for their project is, because the internet is looking, more and more, like a welcoming place for content curation and distribution.

Why do you choose Chicago over L.A. or New York?

I am from the Mid-west so I kind of just put down roots in Chicago, because there was opportunity and it was close. I have nothing against New York; L.A. culture is not really my style, but I can’t say that I really know either city all that well. I do know that Chicago is a great bustling city and I love it. It isn’t exactly business friendly and isn’t going to foster any real thriving filmmaking community until it incentivizes businesses to stay in Chicago. I am not talking about tax credits or subsidies. Chicago is at a competitive disadvantage when it comes to L.A. and New York, most of the acting talent flees to the coasts, the weather sucks most of the time, and the art community isn’t as robust in general. There is however plenty of creative talent here—really talented individuals walk in my shop everyday. I see a lot of amazing locally produced web-content. Chicago has traditionally been an advertising town, with a burst of major film production over the last ten years due to tax incentives. The thing that makes the Arts grow is wealth. Money must be incentivized to flow into Chicago, not out of it. I intend to be a part of making Chicago a better place to make movies.

Get Ready




For a Progress Report…(sketches by Joe Peery)

From Hell’s Heart I Write Thee!

I’m currently writing the script for Episode II!  This is the time that I, the writer, get my share of laughter and joy from Astrognome.  The only time I laugh at my own work is the very moment of creation.  After that it’s known, understood.

Great progress has been made recently.  The for-mentioned animator Joe Peery has expressed some interest in Astrogome.  I am thrilled by this notion, not only because of the possibility of Joe’s involvement, but because I actually managed to get someone interested.  He claims to really like the script!

I knew they were out there!  Like me…If there’s one, there’s more.

Astrognome! will be made.


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