Movie Maintenance, the podcast I regularly appear on and possibly the closest thing I have to a claim to fame, is about to turn two and I could not be happier with where it is at. We haven't exactly had the smoothest run and there are plenty of episodes that make me kind of cringe when I think back on them, but right now we're in the midst of a bunch of episodes that I think are probably our best ever, we have a solid revolving cast of talented writers who also happen to be great behind the mic, and we regularly make appearances in the top ten most popular episodes on the Australian film and TV podcast charts. By all accounts we're doing alright internationally too. We're not exactly huge, but as far as podcasts go we're doing pretty bloody well.
There is, however, one thing that never quite sat right with me. The best Movie Maintenance episodes, and the ones that tend to get the strongest responses, are the 'pitch' episodes, where somebody essentially tells us their ideal version of/sequel to a film. This idea is ingrained into the very DNA of the show; after all the first few episodes were a roster of people pitching their dream Star Wars prequels, but the longer we've gone on the more and more the pitches steer away from being an actual 'fix' and end up being something closer to the realm of fan fiction. Case in point; our two most recent episodes were based around my ideal Psycho and Nightmare on Elm St sequels, while the next five will be a selection of dream films set in the Harry Potter universe. Not one of these is really an explicit 'movie maintenance' as such.
One of Joel Zammit's initial inspirations for the show was Belated Media's 'What if Star Wars Episode One Was Good' video and indeed the original working title for the podcast was 'Fuck You, We Can Do Better'. Personally, I think the idea of a show based around the premise of pitching improved versions of flawed films is one of the best concepts for a podcast I've heard, and at our best we always strive to replicate the same feeling that that Belated Media video evokes in most viewers, a realisation of missed opportunity that hopefully makes you yell "aw shit, that was this close to being a classic!" And maybe if we were all analytical storytelling geniuses that's what we'd have. Unfortunately, reality doesn't make it that easy for us.
Look, every now and then we've had a fix episode that I think captures that feeling but the fact is that coming up with a stellar idea that turns a previously shit film into a potential classic isn't something that comes along on a weekly basis, even between all of us. Like any kind of storytelling, it takes inspiration to strike and it takes passion; it's very hard to write a whole new version of a film you don't care at least a little bit about. And sometimes the flaws in a film don't constitute a whole pitch, which means we end up with episodes that are more just a round table discussion of a film's flaws and where it might be improved. Technically those episodes are more true to the title of the show than most pitches and a few people online have expressed a preference for them. But, and I'm totally willing to be corrected on this, I don't think episodes like that are what makes Movie Maintenance special. Episodes like that aren't very different to every other film review podcast out there, and to offer something worth coming back to week after week it is imperative that we give our listeners more. And so, as the show has developed and we all got giddy at the prospect of being told a cool fan fiction story every time we record, we've deviated more and more from 'fixing' and fallen in love with pitching.
In recent months we've even had a few pitches that aren't based on any particular film. Sean Carney had us all on the edge of our seats with his left-of-centre and utterly compelling take on Dracula while Tom Reed turned Guess Who? into a thrilling and gasp-inducing spy thriller. These episodes are barely linked to the show's premise at all, and when we get the snarky comments on YouTube and Facebook about how these aren't 'maintenances', we can hardly get defensive considering they're right.
But ultimately, it's hard to feel very bad about it when you've just spent twenty minutes on the edge of your seat listening to a gripping yarn, and that's decidedly not something that any other film review podcast can offer. It's pitches like this that mean I'm excited to get into recording every week and see what my brilliant friends have come up with this time. And I tend to think the only way the audience can be excited about the show is if we are excited ourselves.
Earlier in the year we had a bit of a slump. We were behind on recording and whenever we desperately tried to get something together for release within a couple of days, the quality was predictably not amazing. There was even talk of reducing the episode output or cancelling the show considering the amount of work required to come up with quality stuff and the pressure that put on all of us. But since then we've brought in a whole bunch of great new talent and consequently we're currently several months ahead of schedule with episodes recorded, and most of those are episodes that I'm confident can stand shoulder to shoulder with our best. And while only a couple of those are distinct 'maintenances', it's a continuation of what I think is a hot streak.
So with that in mind, can the show really go on being called Movie Maintenance? Absolutely. Because if you think about it, most of our pitches are a fix in one way or another. Pitching an ideal sequel to any given franchise is in and of itself a 'maintenance' of that series. A great idea for a Dracula film is an inherent antidote to all the bad ones we've had over the years. A good Where's Wally? concept is not only a preemptive fix to whatever Seth Rogan ends up doing to the property, but a fix of the whole trend of adapting picture books that don't really lend themselves to engaging narratives. Basically, even when we're not fixing, we're sort of fixing.
Have we stretched the premise? Sure. Are we totally outside it? Nah. And unless there's a sudden drop in popularity or outburst of fan anger at what we're doing, I can only be happy with the position we're in. For those listening, I hope you are too.
Writing words about writing words.