J. Michael Straczynski

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Name: J. Michael Straczynski
Also Known As: JMS, Joe, The Great Maker
Occupation: Writer, Producer
Medium: television (series and tv-movies), books, comics, cartoons, plays
Works: Babylon 5, The Real Ghostbusters, Jeremiah
Official Website(s): Studio JMS
Fan Website(s): JMS News; WebCite, Worlds of JMSl archive.is
On Fanlore: Related pages

J. Michael Straczynski is a prolific writer and producer whose best-known fannish claim to fame is Babylon 5, but who has also worked on many other fannish shows, as well as writing comics, novels, and plays. Fans often refer to him as 'The Great Maker' after the supreme deity on Babylon 5.

He's also known for being incredibly accessible to fans online; he's been online since 1984[1]. He talks about upcoming or ongoing projects, and answers questions. The fans began collecting his various posts and messages and passing them along to other fans.

During the 1990s, The Zocalo email newsletter had a section called "JMS Speaks" that reprinted various posts JMS made to B5 newsgroups, and a still-active online collection of every post JMS has ever made (since November 1991 - earlier posts appear to be lost) is at JMS News; WebCite.

Also see The Worlds of JMS and another link: Worlds of JMS; archive.is; Wayback.

"Why Am I Here?

In June 1995, JMS explained why he was online communicating with fans. See Why are you here?.

An excerpt from this lengthy explanation, and rant:

Okay, you want it straight up? Here it is. I'm here for a number of

reasons. 1) I like to get kind of a sense of the room; I'm not going to change anything, but writing for TV is like writing for a vacuum; you nevr (never) get to see the reaction. This is the ONLY chance I get to get a reaction to something I've written and produced, and maybe it's ego, maybe it's just that I work very hard to make something effective, and want to see if it had the desired effect. Writers and artists and singers are like that.

2) I think that TV producers in general get a very skewed sense of who's in the audience. This exchange gives access to people across the country to someone who makes TeeVee, and lets me hear them. How often would someone in Clearwater, Oklahoma, have the chance to express an opinion to someone in LA making a TV series? Not bloody often. And that is in large measure, I think, why TV has become so insular. And so unresponsive to its audience. So I'm kind of a test-case volunteer for this, in the hopes of luring more producers onto the nets and creating a more open exchange, making producers accountable for what they make.

3) I've dedicated over 15 years of my life to trying to demystify TV production and writing. I've written columns and columns, reams of articles, a book...all trying to help people understand how this medium works, because you can't control or influence something unless you truly UNDERSTAND it...why things are done a certain way. This is part of an educational project that I've been doing for over a decade, a natural outgrowth of that process. By the time this is all done, there will be an online document of hundreds of archival pages -- maybe thousands -- covering the development, birth and ongoing creation of a TV series at a depth never before chronicled, which will be available to students and universities and ordinary folks. I think that's a valuable experiment.

Finally: 4) I'm an SF fan. I think SF fans are, overall, the most exploited bunch around. They're expected to line up, buy the toys, watch the show and shut the hell up. I think it's time some respect for that audience was shown by allowing them a voice. This is part of my sense of personal obligation to the field that spawned many wonderful years of reading. [2]

Relationship to Fanworks

JMS was well aware from the beginning that fans would be writing fanfic about B5, and only asked that they not post it (or links to it) in any of the public forums where he was known to hang out (which led to B5 having an active but almost totally underground fanfic community while the show was airing, as the fans were scrupulous about keeping fanfic out of JMS's view).

[Regarding B5 fanfic]: Bottom line, and real simple:

I've asked that fans *not* write any fan fiction set in the B5 universe while the show is on the air. Remember, most ST fanfic began after the show was over, to keep those characters alive. We're still around.

Fanfic is a threat to us, in that if someone writes a story, puts it in a fanzine, and something remotely similar is done in the show, that person could decide to sue. It happens; Marion Zimmer Bradley lost an entire *book* over this, when her publisher refused to put the book out because of the threat of lawsuit from a fanzine with a similar story.

When someone posted a basic story idea similar to what was planned for "Passing Through Gethsemane," that script went into cold storage for over a year; only when the fan involved offered (greatly chagrined) to write and sign a legal release, and delivered it to me, could that story be put back into prep. If he had not been this kind, THAT EPISODE WOULD NEVER HAVE BEEN MADE. Roll that one around for a while.

It seems to me that if someone wants to write B5 fanfic, it's because that fan likes the show, appreciates what's done, and respects those who created it. And that selfsame fan would not want to jeapordize the continued existence of that show. And would, therefore, honor this request from those who make it for the duration of the show. [3]

Regarding a Script

A fan's comment in 1997:
...[reading fanfic] could cause the author to dump a story completely. It happened to J. Micheal Straczynski, who created Babylon 5. A fan posted a story idea that happened to be exactly what he was writing for an episode of the series. Joe ended up having to re-write the entire episode to avoid any possible legal problems. That's why he only hangs out on the moderated newsgroup now. Story ideas are forbidden there. [4]
A fan's comment in 2001:

A fan posted a script idea to the B5 group that JMS was participating in at the time. Said script idea was very similar to a script in pre-production at the time. Script went on the shelf for a year, until the fan figured out what was going on, and offered all rights to the idea for free. JMS stopped participating in the unmoderated group at least partly because of that, and the moderated group was created as a result because he really did want to be able to interact with fans....

...complication is the stuff that lawsuits are made of. And, regardless of how complicated it was, or how much interaction the writer has, it demonstrates quite thoroughly that fanfic is not "harmless at worst." The B5 story does even more so, because it really was a "fan idea that just happened to be posted to a spot the producer was known to read." sort of thing. Mind you, in the end, if that had gone to a lawsuit, JMS would most likely have won, but since the legal fees would have been more than the profits for the entire season, nobody would win, and the network would have canned the show.

The JMS story doesn't even involve actual fanfic. It was just a script _idea_, and nearly caused the script to never be produced. It was a minor miracle that the fan 1) figured out what was going on - apparently, JMS didn't exactly explain it, and 2) happened to make the exact and only offer that would salavge the script spontaneously - apparently, JMS didn't explain what it would take.

When there's millions of dollars at stake, *everything* matters. [5]

Notable Fannish Sources

Meta/Further Reading

Resources

  • Fans of J. Michael Straczynski, JMS's official Facebook page, where he interacts with fans.
  • JMS on Twitter
  • JMS News, an archive of posts by JMS to various online forums (GEnie, Usenet, etc.) - to date, it's archived nearly 18,000 messages. The site also includes active forums, a contest, links to other JMS-related pages, and an info page on JMS.
  • Worlds of JMS, a fan site dedicated to the works of JMS

References

  1. "I've been online since 1984, 16 years now, logging in at 300bps on a Kaypro II." - JMS, September 25, 2000, posted to rec.arts.sf.tv.babylon5.moderated. Accessed November 22, 2009.
  2. posted to rec.arts.sf.tv.babylon5.moderated: reposted at The Worlds of JMS; WebCite, June 3, 1995
  3. quoted on Virgule-L by a fan in October 1996, that fan's source was not mentioned
  4. Mercedes book - Stoned Souls...?, comment by Purrt, April 27, 2009
  5. comment by Terry Austin at Copyright and Filk Songs, archive link page one, archive link page two, archive link page three, archive link page four, March 2001 discussion at rec.arts.sf.written