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4 out of 5 gamers surveyed…

Years ago, we took an afternoon off and shot some tongue-in-cheek commercials for our Game Masters and Battles products, as well as the DVD for the Bag Witch Project. We put ’em on a DVD and played them at the convention booths, and then kinda forgot about them.

Going through the office this week in search of something that might sound like an ejector seat, we stumbled on the master tape of those spots. Shameless goofs that we are, we put them up on our YouTube channel. No one’s seen these since GenCon 2001…enjoy!

More embarrassing old Toxic Bag vids at our YouTube channel.

Space Monster Press Release

Toxic Bag Announces New Sci-fi/horror Board Game

CHICAGO, IL (August 15, 2011) –Toxic Bag Productions announces its entry into the board game industry with its first product, titled SPACE MONSTER. SPACE MONSTER is a two-player card-driven board game that pits a group of human astronauts against a predatory extraterrestrial life form.

At the beginning of play, the SPACE MONSTER boards the ship in an embryonic stage and evolves throughout the game, becoming more difficult to kill as the turns progress. In addition to attempting to kill the crew, the monster can also destroy sections of the ship, forcing the human players to divide their efforts between defense and structural repair. The monster can win the game by either killing all seven members of the crew or damaging enough sections of the ship that it breaks apart. Adding the destruction of the ship as an alternate victory condition allows for varied strategies on the part of both players. The human player can use tools to effect repairs, construct weapons and trackers to hunt down the monster…or ultimately blow up the ship if all seems lost.

The SPACE MONSTER player constructs his/her monster from a selection of over 20 different attributes (offensive, defensive, or special abilities), providing new and different threats to the human player each game. This constantly changing monster, combined with 80 event cards driving game play, allows for infinite replayability. No two games should ever be the same.

Game designer Steve Baldwin said, “This game is something I’ve always wanted to play and couldn’t find anywhere in the industry – so we decided to make it.”

Production of the game will be funded in part with P500-style pre-orders. SPACE MONSTER is currently in the playtesting stage.

Toxic Bag plans to start taking pre-orders in September, 2011. For more information, visit

SPACE MONSTER will ship with:
7 Crew Character Cards
40 Crew Event Cards
40 Monster Event cards
21 Space Monster Attribute Cards
22″ x 34″ Game Board
Space Monster Screen

Images are not final artwork, and are subject to change.

Game designer: Steve Baldwin
Product code: TBPBG001

Toxic Bag Productions, Inc. is a Chicago-based company known primarily for its groundbreaking line of sound effects for pen-and-paper role playing games. The company’s critically acclaimed “Game Masters Collection” of sound effects is available on CD, as mp3 downloads, and packaged in an app for Apple’s iPhone and iPad.

Project Spotlight: Book teaser

We’ve just finished the first in a series of short promotional videos for Chicago author Jean Latz Griffin’s “In The Same Breath.” The book traces the history of spiritual awakenings and realizations about the immanent nature of God/Spirit over the past 3000 years, and includes weekly readings from an incredible variety of ancient and modern writers. Christine Tobias’ stunning artwork, which we used in the video, ties the ages together.

The book is available at Amazon and CyberINK. The teaser video can be seen at CyberINK’s YouTube channel.

For further discussion about Griffin’s philosophy of the non-dualistic immanence of Spirit, please read her blog, “God Swimming in God.”

(full disclosure: Jean Latz Griffin is Joe’s mother.)

As the year winds down…

Happy Thanksgiving! Me? I’m thankful that I’m not in tech with this flu.

Thoughts, based on recent events in Toxic Bag Land. Names have been changed or excluded to protect…well, me, really.

• Being sick during tech week sucks.

• A no-budget film shoot can be great fun, wrap early and yield fantastic results if the director is prepared and the actors have rehearsed and come in knowing their lines.

• When a director doesn’t listen to his/her designers, it can lead to a really hellish tech week, or an entire scene backed against a wall at the last minute, or an actor getting injured. You hire the specialists for a reason, folks.

• Dragging in “volunteer” voice talent to save money on hiring a pro, and then spending hours beating that volunteer up doing take after take does not actually save you any money, nor does it often result in a product you can be proud of.

• If you’re going to not pay attention when I show you how to set up the gear, don’t just immediately look at me blankly and ask what my “backup plan” is when you hook it up wrong and fry the computer on opening night. My “backup plan” was for you to not destroy the rig, dumbass.

• Sound designers and costume designers really need to work together where microphones are going to be involved. This applies to theater and to film. The collaboration worked out pretty well on one production this year, not so well on another.

• You can’t ADR live theater. See above point.

• Collaborating over the internet can work really well, but there’s nothing like sitting in a room with another human being and just cranking stuff out. Horace and Jasper of the experimental band Phil Who Just Adores Backgammon got most of an album done over a long weekend last month (I told you I’d changed the names).

• At some point, a project will be less about how good your stuff sounds, and more about how quickly you can crank out something that sounds good. Which is a great reason to learn those computer shortcuts and make sure your studio is set up in an efficient and ergonomic way.

The Bag Witch Project: Part Two

Gencon 1999…

…happened to coincide with the first weekend of general release for a little horror film called The Blair Witch Project. In a ploy to draw attention to our booth at the con, we had shot a short parody called “The Bag Witch Project” and put up a big poster for it next to the stacks of sound effects CDs we were selling. The ploy worked. From a distance, the poster looked genuine enough that people stopped by to inquire whether we were connected with the film. Other people asked if we somehow had VHS copies of the Blair Witch film to sell. The small video monitor we’d brought along looped scenes from the parody and we planned to screen the film in its entirety twice a day.

What we said then:

We put up our big “Bag Witch Project” poster in the booth, it gets some attention and some laughs, and we tell everyone who asks that we’re showing it at 1 and 4. So 1 PM rolls around on Day One, and we inaugurate the World Premiere of “The Bag Witch Project.” Ten people show up, they laugh, we all have a good time, no one gets hurt. After the show, Gemma Tarlach from the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel comes up and says “‘Bag Witch?’ What’s this ‘Bag Witch?'” We tell her and she leaves. We figure out of several hundred booths at the ‘con, ours might merit a small mention in her article… The 4 PM show goes well, with about twelve people in attendance.

We asked our neighbors in the other booths if they minded the fact that convention attendees were standing in the aisle blocking passage…no, they said, not at all, it makes people stop and look at our stuff if they can’t get through!

Meanwhile, we spent some of our downtime walking around GenCon in our “Bag Witch” costumes, taping extra scenes. We figured it might be fun to cut this footage in later, to tie the office footage to the convention in a more authentic way, just for the fun of it.

Then all hell breaks loose.

The next day, another screening and this time, security people came over and told us, hey, jamming the aisles like this is a fire hazard, you can’t do that. So we abandoned the booth screening concept. But then we had a chat with some friends from Chaosium, who knew the the guys who ran the anime room, a large auditorium in the hotel that showed anime, trailers, and various other stuff 24 hours a day throughout the convention. A plan was hatched to screen the movie on Saturday.

Friday morning the GenCon article appears on the Journal-Sentinel. We’re mentioned in the lede above The Phantom Menace (not, however, above Pokemon) as “one of the biggest crowd magnets of the convention” with “convention-goers doubled over with laughter.” Four paragraphs out of twenty-four are devoted to “The Bag Witch Project.”

Chris goes off to stare at Lou Ferrigno before the 1 PM show and when he comes back there are TWENTY-FIVE people SITTING IN THE AISLE in front of our booth, watching “The Bag Witch Project.” Imagine! You’re in the dealer room of a ‘con and you come across twenty-five people who have decided they need to SIT IN THE AISLE and watch a movie playing on a crappy little video monitor. For FORTY MINUTES. What the hell is going on here?

So we’re quite the buzz at the ‘con. So much so that the nice folks from Andon come around to tell us to please keep the aisles clear. So much so that the nice folks at Chaosium ask us to show “Bag Witch” at their showcase in the Anime Room that night. Okay, we say. We hear it’s a cozy little room, seats about fifty. So we cancel the second booth show that day and tell people to “catch us at the Anime Room, but you might want to get there early (8:45 for the 9 PM show) because we hear it’s kind of small.”

The place was packed. The audience laughed, and applauded and cheered like crazy as the credits rolled. Somehow we had a minor hit on our hands.

We get to the Anime Room. It actually seats TWO HUNDRED and fifty people. And it’s full. People have been lining up for “Bag Witch” since 8:30. It’s standing room only. We’re terrified.

All of which is instantly forgotten during the riot that is the Anime Room show and the tumult of applause that follows.

Now we are famous. Friends from other booths tell us that EVERYBODY is talking about “Bag Witch.” One guy who will attend all five shows during the ‘con tells us his dad works for Hostess and, based on ONE GAG involving Twinkies, tells us that he’ll send us a case of same. People stop us in the convention hall by yelling “Hey, Bag Witch!”… which short-circuits our pickup shooting on one occasion. Our flyers are repeatedly stolen from posting areas. The questions about video release are starting to fly.

People now asked if we had copies of OUR film to sell. Wha???

What becomes a legend most? We decide to have one more show in the Wisconsin Room at the Holiday Inn. Most of the audience is led over from the booth by Joe and Steve, who lead the procession while holding aloft the 24″ x 36″ “Bag Witch” poster. This altogether calmer screening culminates in an impromptu Q&A session and the giveaway of the Procession Poster. The last day of the ‘con is marked by repeated, and repeated, and repeated, questions about “Bag Witch.” The question sessions get longer and longer, people are coming by to ask us about subtle references in the film, and a high school kid tries to steal one of our props! We have arrived! Thanks to all the GenCon attendees who made “Bag Witch” the freaky sensation it was!

The convention over, we went back and forth about whether to actually try to sell tapes of the movie, and finally decided, what the hell. We cut in the new convention footage, trimmed out some 15 minutes of the really bad ad libs, and designed a VHS cover. We ended up selling quite a few tapes of the original Bag Witch movie.

And then it was time to figure out what to do for next year.

End of Part Two.

Steve watching all hell break loose

Steve watching all hell break loose

Next: The Curse of the Bag Witch.

The Bag Witch Project: Part One

These days you’d say it went viral

Because, as I mentioned before, we’re not able to attend the 2009 GenCon game fair, and therefore won’t be able to do anything to commemorate the 10th anniversary of our fluke cult “hit” The Bag Witch Project…we’re instead going to post a series of reminiscences about it here, including what we said about it on at the time.

What we said after GenCon 1999:

The unexpected runaway hit of GenCon 1999, “The Bag Witch Project” doesn’t suck as much as we thought. In fact, the phenomenon caught us completely by surprise and got more than a little out of hand.

In the summer of 1999, Steve and I went with our friend Chris Petkus to the Music Box Theater in Chicago to see a new horror film. We enjoyed it for its refreshingly non-CGI approach, and spent much of the day talking about it. An art-house film at that point, The Blair Witch Project would not open nationally until early August.

Over the next month, buzz about the film began to grow, partly because of a clever internet campaign and a TV special on the SciFi Channel called “Curse of the Blair Witch” (more on that later), both of which presented the Blair Witch legend as a real thing.

In mid-July, as we were preparing for our annual visit to GenCon to sell our Game Masters Collection CDs, we brainstormed about how we might call attention to our booth (without spending enormous amounts of money). We remembered “Blair Witch,” and how simply it was shot, and the idea began to form that perhaps we could shoot a short parody of the film to show on a loop at the booth, and put a mock poster up or something.

(Yeah, cool, guys: a parody of “Blair Witch Project,” that’s original. It’s only the most-parodied film ever made…)

Well, actually, since the film hadn’t opened nationally yet, there were no other parodies. I’m pretty much certain that ours was the first.

What we said at the time:

Sometime in mid-July we were sitting around discussing how to spice up the convention floor booth. We had just seen “The Blair Witch Project” and discussed the idea of making a short parody film depicting our search for a gaming site at last year’s con. “It oughta be easy,” we thought. Three people go off in search of a mystical, mythical thing and never return. As GenCon is a roleplayers’ convention, we cast our characters as roleplayers in search of the infamous “Bag Witch Tournament,” which reportedly occurs every ten years and somehow involves Twinkies (TM) snack cakes. No one knows of anyone who has ever played this tournament…and come back.

So, we outlined the basic sequence of events from the film, came up with a few gags, threw costumes and props together and prepared to shoot. The parody setup was simple: three moronic role-players show up at GenCon, look for a mysterious “Bag Witch” gaming tournament, and get hopelessly lost. We chose “Bag Witch” to play off of “Toxic Bag,” and much later had to retcon an origin for the name.

So, we set off to shoot the thing, expecting to come out with a good twenty-minute short we could knock out in a couple of hours of shooting and editing. Imagine our surprise almost twenty-eight hours later when the final edit clocked in at forty-three minutes. Well, we thought, we’ll just have to only show it a couple times a day at the ‘con… Ha.

Our shooting date was the weekend before the convention. We shot all Saturday. The initial location was supposed to be my apartment, but somehow the intense heat contributed to a power outage in my neighborhood. We quickly revised our plan to shoot at Steve’s apartment instead. From there, out to a house in the suburbs to shoot an “interviewing the locals” sequence, and then off to the office that doubled as the “hotel” where we then edited all Saturday night. Once we shot Chris’ last scene (he played the guy who vanishes) he ran upstairs and started editing while Steve and I continued to shoot.

I should say this before we go much further: I’m not an actor. Steve’s not an actor. Chris, while a genuinely funny guy, is not an actor. We non-actors had no script and ad-libbed each scene. Take from that what you will. We would have thrown in more “gamer” jokes if we’d had time, but we didn’t. Many of the scenes fall somewhat short of what you’d call “great improv” and some are downright painful. The initial edit was at least a third too long…but what the hell, we were just using it to grab attention, it was just gonna be playing at the booth on a noisy convention floor, it didn’t need to be “Waiting for Guffman”…

We photographed Steve for the poster, did some Photoshop work and were off to the convention.

The Bag Witch Project poster

The Bag Witch Project poster

End of Part One. Next Time: GenCon ’99.

Ends and Odds

  • There’s a new car commercial on TV that features a song that I used in a design last year. I’m glad the timing worked out that way. When it works the other way, it’s a bad trip. One of the songs we recorded for The Diviners was a very cool old-timey version of the traditional folk song “Bonaparte’s Retreat.” I thought it was a fantastic performance by the band and fit the mood of the show pretty perfectly. Unfortunately, “Bonaparte’s Retreat” is the melody used in a certain series of television and radio ads, and after two days of tech where all the actors and designers walked around saying “Beef. It’s What’s For Dinner” every time the cue played, we were forced to find another piece of music.
  • Promethean Theatre’s production of Shakespeare’s “Measure For Measure,” sound design and music arrangements by yers truly, closes next weekend. So if you’ve wanted to see it but haven’t yet…the clock is ticking.
  • I’m now hard at work on another Shakespeare show, “As You Like It” at Moraine Valley Community College. “As You Like It” opens July 30.
  • As much as I took issue with the music choices in “Watchmen” I have absolutely no problem whatsoever with the use of the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage” in Star Trek.
  • Update of my post about Star Trek vs. Wolverine:

    According to AdAge, Wolverine is on track to pull in twice as much money in its opening weekend as Paramount’s Star Trek reboot.

    As it turns out: Wolverine edged out Trek in its opening weekend (Wolverine pulled in about $85 million, Trek about $75 milion). But as of May 24, Trek’s gross in the USA was $191 million, and Wolverine had taken in $165 million. And Wolvie had been out a week longer.

    So there you go. I loved the new Trek film and am glad my dire predictions were off base.

  • Trek vs. Wolverine: The Claws May Bring in More Scratch

    First off, is Patrick Stewart in either of them? Well then.

    According to AdAge, Wolverine is on track to pull in twice as much money in its opening weekend as Paramount’s Star Trek reboot. The article talks about differences in the films’ marketing strategies, and it does seem like 20th Century Fox has done much more broad-appeal marketing than Paramount.

    How did “Wolverine” claw its way to such a commanding early lead? By not making a direct play to its comic-book-loving “fanboy” base.

    Fox was careful to introduce “Wolverine” to those unfamiliar with the character via a contiguous, three-part trailer that aired on highly rated Fox TV shows in February, then embarked on a broad-based promotion of its superhero and his iconic weapons — retractable metallic claws — to mainstream audiences.

    This weekend, for example, “Wolverine” will be promoted heavily on TNT’s coverage of the NBA playoffs, with “Inside the NBA” commentator Charles Barkley sporting the claws in the studio this weekend. [And on] CBS’s “How I Met Your Mother” the characters sparred with toy “Wolverine” claws…

    …on the other hand…

    Paramount, by comparison, elected to focus its early efforts on re-energizing the older, core “Trekkie” fanbase before firing up a more mainstream effort aimed at convincing younger moviegoers that “This is not your father’s ‘Star Trek,'”… It made substantial media buys in sci-fi-themed TV shows such as NBC’s “Heroes” and ABC Family’s “Kyle XY” in early March.

    But 43 years of Trekkies alone won’t be enough to recoup on a $160 million CGI extravaganza…

    All good points. And of course buying ad time during “Heroes” doesn’t really count as reaching beyond the fanboy demographic, does it?

    Then there’s this:

  • With the recent success of Watchmen, Iron Man and Dark Knight, there seems to be more excitement around superhero movies than sci-fi movies lately.
  • Hugh Jackman is a big star and “Star Trek’s” (arguably) biggest name is Simon Pegg? Hey, no offense to Simon Pegg; in my opinion he’s dreamy. But hey, Jackman was People magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive last year:
  • “Wolverine” also enjoys a 20-percentage-point lead among women under 24: 38% expressed a “definite interest” in seeing Hugh Jackman on the big screen, while only 18% of young women expressed a “definite interest” in seeing “Star Trek.”

    So, uh, yeah, there’s that. Something to be said for a handsome movie star that can draw viewers.

  • The three “X-Men” movies came out in this decade, the last “Trek” film with the original cast came out in 1991 and most teenagers are too young to identify with classic Trek. And oh yeah—the last couple of TNG Trek films completely tanked.
  • Don’t get me wrong; I’m as excited about the new Star Trek as the next fanboy. I just wonder if the wider world still cares. And it looks like Paramount isn’t really reaching out beyond the Trekkie fanbase as much as they probably should in order to resurrect a franchise that’s been effectively dormant for most of (more than?) a decade.

    Do I have to explain the audience principle again?

    May I explain the audience principle to you? If you insult and accost them, we have no audience!” –Banky Edwards, “Chasing Amy”

    I’m confused.

    I thought the point of “narrowcasting” was to reach a specific, targeted audience; to have a definite set of demographic attributes your advertisers could look at and know they were definitely spending their money wisely; or at the least cynical, to provide a dedicated place for people with a certain interest to go to see programming related to that interest.

    Apparently not. Apparently narrowcasting is a gateway to broadcasting; once you’ve got your foot in, it’s time to expand your viewership beyond the niche that made you successful, even if it means insulting that original constituency.

    Coming off the best year in its history, SciFi Channel has announced a puzzling “re-branding;” a name change that they hope will allow them to expand their empire. They will now be known as “Syfy.”

    Syfy logo

    “The name Sci Fi has been associated with geeks and dysfunctional, antisocial boys in their basements with video games and stuff like that, as opposed to the general public and the female audience in particular,” said TV historian Tim Brooks, who helped launch Sci Fi Channel when he worked at USA Network.”

    Wow. Geeks and dysfunctional, antisocial boys? Why don’t you push me against a locker and demand my lunch money while you’re at it, Mr. Brooks? While I’ll admit we’ve got a long way to go yet, this view of Science Fiction fans seems more than a little outdated. At the very least, it’s not representative of what we are seeing at SF conventions across America. There are more women attending cons than even 10 years ago. Add to that the incredible popularity of video games with the general public, and you wonder where Mr. Brooks is getting his market research.

    “We spent a lot of time in the ’90s trying to distance the network from science fiction, which is largely why it’s called Sci Fi,” Mr. Brooks said. “It’s somewhat cooler and better than the name ‘Science Fiction.’ But even the name Sci Fi is limiting.”

    But SciFi was started as a Science Fiction network. They’re the guys who would show 16 straight hours of Twilight Zone back when they had no other programming. And SciFi fans stuck with them, through countless missteps (“Mansquito?”) before they finally found solid footing with their amazing reboot of Battlestar Galactica. The core of their programming and audience is and has always been Science Fiction. And their proposed slate of new shows is…a bunch more Science Fiction.

    Mr. Howe said going to Syfy will make a difference.

    “It gives us a unique word and it gives us the opportunities to imbue it with the values and the perception that we want it to have,” he said.

    Oh lawdy miss clawdy. I hear some strange marketing adspeak from time to time, but that’s over the top. Then we have this:

    The network worked with the branding consultancy Landor Associates and went through about 300 possibilities before selecting Syfy.

    “When we tested this new name, the thing that we got back from our 18-to-34 techno-savvy crowd, which is quite a lot of our audience, is actually this is how you’d text it,” Mr. Howe said. “It made us feel much cooler, much more cutting-edge, much more hip, which was kind of bang-on what we wanted to achieve communication-wise.”

    So…in order to appeal to an audience beyond geeks they tested their new name on…geeks. Brilliant.

    Mr. Brooks said that when people who say they don’t like science fiction enjoy a film like “Star Wars,” they don’t think it’s science fiction; they think it’s a good movie.

    Exactly. But that should be seen as an opportunity to educate the general public about Science Fiction, to foster understanding between SciFi fans and the rest of the world. It shouldn’t be used as an excuse to hide Science Fiction’s identity and rebrand it as something else.

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