The worst thing about being cast in a cult series that was cancelled too soon is finding a new job.
One minute you think you’ve got at least five years of work (maybe seven if you’re lucky, because you don’t think they’re going to kill you off, and even then that’s no guarantee of actually leaving the show) then the next you’re out on your ass, halfway through the season, long before you ever even considered stealing a prop to have as a memento.
You’d have taken one of the guns, they weren’t real and your character never even got to shoot one - you would’ve in the next episode, it was in the script they gave you, right before you landed out on your ass - but they looked real fucking cool.
Your character was a terrible shot, apparently.
And you’re pretty famous because of thirteen episodes (two that were only released on DVD, which sucks) but finding work elsewhere is pretty tricky, because the first thing everyone says to you is ‘hey, you're that guy from that thing’ and what can you say but ‘yeah, I’m the guy from that thing’ and then they want a photo and your name and they snap their fingers a lot while they try and suss it out.
You always want to tell them, but they’re too busy insisting that they know it, they really do, it’s on the tip of their tongue to even hear you when you say ‘Yeah, I’m Hoban Washburne, I played Alan Tudyk in Flying Fires.’
So mostly you do voice work, which is great because you can go to work in your pyjamas sometimes, and no one really cares if you get a haircut after you’ve been cast to play an evil personification of Candy Crush.
You can’t pretend you don’t miss being on set, seeing something take shape in front of your eyes, instead of hoping that you remember what the guy you are supposed to be talking to looks like. Today, it’s a human demolition derby, tomorrow, who knows?
You have a message waiting for you when you get off the clock, you aren’t allowed to have your phone on in the recording booth. It fucks with the sound equipment, even when it’s on airplane mode.
It’s a call from Mal Reynolds, wearer of tight pants and your best man, a voicemail telling you that he’s getting the band back together and making a movie out of the cult classic that’s fucked with your career for the past four years. You’re still pretty good friends, mostly because you guys are high in demand in the con scene and spend every summer on tour.
And it’s not like you’re starving or desperate for money, but who wants to be the asshole that ruins the comeback tour? On top of that, you’re starting to run out of Flying Fires anecdotes to talk about at conventions and you do really want to steal one of those guns.
So hell yeah, you’re in.
You’ll call him later.
And then you need to go shopping, because you can’t go to work in your pyjamas anymore, and your work pyjamas are starting to seem a little unprofessional. You might have to demote them to weekend pyjamas.
And to top all this off, like the cherry on a cake, when you get home from recording and shopping that evening, you find out Mal called your wife before you. She says it’s because they’re best friends (he was only you’re best man for show) and he thought Zoe might need to convince you to come back.
And if you’d known that you’d have said no, just to annoy him.
You can’t do that now anyway, seeing as she already told Mal that you were interested in the project. You are, but you don’t want to feel taken for granted.
You might still change your mind about the interest your wife said you were showing, especially when Zoe drops the bomb that you have to crowdfund the movie. You have to google it to find out if it means what you think it means, which it does. You love her and you loved being Alan, but pleading for money from the public for a last hurrah, some closure and a laser blaster that only blasts lasers in post?
You aren’t even kidding yourself. You're not above begging. You might even be beneath it. That would imply you have some sort of dignity, and dignity does not sit with those who voice living cavities while wearing dinosaur print pyjama bottoms and a Hawaiian shirt.
It’s probably a good look on some people, but according to most people, you aren’t in their number.
The Kickstarter is filmed on a Thursday, and it’s the first time the entire gang has been in the same room since filming. Jayne is wearing that god awful hat his mom sent him that time they were filming in 18 degrees fahrenheit, the one that he refused to take it off on set. River is just as strange as ever, and she still refuses to wear shoes if she can avoid it. Simon is still anxious and anal, fussing over his sister like she can’t look after herself-which is a topic up for much debate- completely oblivious to Kaylee mooning after him like a lovesick cow.
It’s like they’ve all hopped in a time machine and gone back four years. It’s demoralizing, frankly. It makes you feel stagnant, until you find out how much everyone’s moved on with their lives.
Simon was only supposed to work onset as River’s chaperone and landed himself a part by accident. Went right back to being a doctor afterwards, a trauma surgeon in one of the busiest hospitals in the State and on the path to doing great things. Probably the only one among you glad to see the show cancelled early, if not for the fact it near broke River’s heart.
Derrial Book went and found god some time in the interim, possibly in prison, but all he’ll tell them is that there was a bowl of soup involved. He won’t even let you in on the recipe you ought to be looking out for God in.
Looking around at two former child actors, a doctor who's reprising the only role he ever had, a priest, a man called Jayne, your wife and your wife’s best friend, all you can say is - “Mal, where’s Inara?”
Mal starts coughing, and your wife thumps him on the back to make sure he doesn’t kill himself choking on spit. Suddenly everyone wants to know where Inara is, because she’s kind of the glue everyone was expecting to make this idea work. There’s no one here who doesn’t know how to go an hour without sticking their foot in their mouth and still somehow insulting someone around those little piggies.
This, you think, is going to be a disaster, because it all comes out then: the original director is not on board (not on board ‘yet’ is not on board enough) and Mal’s managed to wrangle just one of the original writers into this, supplementing the pair with the author of a very popular Flying Fires fanfiction (not the most popular one, one called ‘As the Wind Blows It’ that guy hasn’t updated for years and been given up for dead.). They waste an hour reading fanfiction aloud to one another. Some of it’s pretty good and you find yourself frustrated that ‘As the Wind Blows It’ hasn’t updated in four years and it’s not finished.
When Zoe asks if they even have permission to do this thing, Mal goes quiet.
They don’t not have permission.
They also don’t have a director, any money, official access to any of the original set pieces and props (locked away in a warehouse somewhere), a script, a shooting schedule, or one of the main characters.
Not to mention the fact you’re all sitting around Mal’s kitchen, trying to figure out how to crowdfund. River’s playing with the camera, filming you arguing about the Kickstarter, filming Kaylee snooping around Mal’s cupboards, filming her making everyone a fresh batch of brownies to soothe their souls. They’re pretty good, but Simon nearly faints when Kaylee’s says “it’s my secret ingredient, weed, makes them real tasty” and it’s clearly a joke but you can’t help but think that some pot brownies might do something to help the massive headache-inducing underdog story this is turning out to be.
Also, Simon is a doctor, he should know how pot brownies are made. You make a mental note to avoid trauma in his vicinity, suddenly losing confidence in his abilities.
Then you remember that just because he has no idea how to have any kind of fun at all, doesn’t mean he’s a bad doctor. He was headhunted recently.
Zoe calls Inara, who's a teacher now, showing a new generation of aspirational thespians the ways of Shakespeare, because she was plucked from theatre to play Morena and upon the series cancellation, she returned from whence she came. Turns out Mal didn’t even call her, mostly ‘cause he’s been carrying a torch that’s in danger of burning the entire world to a crisp, but she says she’ll be there in fifteen minutes, if only so she can express her hurt and disappointment in Mal in person.
Then she asks where there is and Zoe has to give her directions.
And River keeps filming and filming, while you and Kaylee talk about the fact that she works for NASA, that she’s getting her Masters in aerospace engineering and if any of you make it to space in real life it’s going to be her. She fixes Mal’s broken toaster oven while you talk, because Zoe is calling Josh Wheton, the original director/creator, just in case it turns out Mal left him out too.
They don’t get permission as such, but they do get ‘fund it, then we’ll see’ which according to Mal basically means yes, but that he’s not getting his hopes up.
Inara tears Mal a new one when she turns up, and Mal blusters his way through an argument and an apology and River gets all that on camera too. She turns away from him primly, ignoring him to enquire after everyone else’s well being.
It takes all day to get around to shooting five minutes of a plea for money, and you hope that one take does it, because River used all available memory to film the day’s proceedings. But you don’t think it will, because that one take is all of you crowded on the sofa in Mal’s living room, trying to make it look like they have a plan and that people can be confident in you and it went something like:
“We’re bringing back ‘Flying Fires’ or we’re gonna die trying.”
“No we aren’t. Not one’s going to die, Mal.”
“Some people might die. No one you like.”
“If you haven’t killed those executives by now you probably never will.”
“It was too soon.”
“It’ll always be too soon.”
“I go by Mal Reynolds, and I played Nathan Fillion on Flying Fires.”
“I’m Hoban Washburne and I played Alan Tudyk on Flying Fires.”
“I’m Zoe Washburne, and I played Gina Torres.”
“I’m Father Derrial Book and I was Ron Glass in Flying Fires.”
“I’m Kaywinnet Lee Frye and I played Jewel Staite. But y’all can call me Kaylee, near enough everyone does.”
“I’m Doctor Simon Tam, I played Sean Maher.”
“My name is River Tam, and I played Summer Glau. I wrote ‘As The Wind Blows It’.“
“You wrote that?”
“How does it end?”
Then the camera stops filming, because River used all the memory to film them eating brownies and arguing, so they don’t get the rest of the disbelief on film, or anything else for that matter. Jayne starts complaining about how he “didn’t get no turn” saying who he was for the kickstarter video. Inara goes about trying to soothe Jayne’s hurt feelings by saying that she didn’t get to say anything, but she got to look pretty, which is something Jayne has always struggled with. She wants to know what ‘As the Wind Blows It’ is, because she missed out on that portion of the day's activities. You can feel everyone else’s headache throbbing at your temples.
You yawn loudly a couple of times, looking at your watch and trying to get people to “oh would you look at the time” so you can make your excuses, but Zoe reminds you that you have a kid now. Emma is a built in excuse to leave any event you want.
She’s the best thing that ever happened to you, right after Zoe.
You’re probably the third best thing that happened to Zoe, if only because you know she has Buzz Aldrin’s autograph.
She got it for you, but she was the one who got to meet him.
So you yawn a couple more times and insists that it’s getting late and you’ve probably let the nanny along with Emma long enough so you and Zoe ought to head on home, which starts everyone else on a retreat. River tries to take the camera and all the day's footage home with her and Simon, before Mal can notice.
And even when he does notice, you see that he just sighs and shrugs, telling her that she can borrow it for a while. It seems pretty clear to you that’s because he’s not really sure how much he could’ve done with less than a quarter of the footage he intended to get done today anyway.
You’ll reconvene at a later juncture apparently, but no one suggests any such juncture for potential reconvention.
And you kind of think your hopes have been dashed until four days later, when Mal sends you a link to a kickstarter video. It’s mostly footage of you arguing about how they’re going to do this, Simon nearly fainting and Zoe on the phone with various people who might help you go about making a movie.
There’s a few good shots of Mal cowering under Inara’s wrath.
River has a gift for found footage, clipping together a disaster of a day, and the disaster that was critically acclaimed, cancelled too-soon series. It’s fast paced and almost like a film trailer, and you kind of want to watch this movie, the one about an old gang trying to make a movie out of a pipe dream.
The video makes you look like some kind of rebel alliance, especially because you didn’t notice that River had filmed you boasting about your piloting skills- you weren’t always an actor- and Kaylee looks like she might be building something dangerous, sitting on the floor surrounded by the guts of a toaster oven.
But no one else has to know it was a toaster oven.
A fully functional toaster oven, Kaylee would insist proudly.
There’s a list of rewards you hadn’t agreed to, thing like signed photos and posters and producer credits and premiere tickets, but you’ve been well and truly roped in now, and you’ve reached your target by the end of the month, and exceed it easily.
That kind of surprises you, because you thought you were going to end up making this film on a shoestring budget, or out of all of your own pockets.
Now comes the real work, because you guys still don’t have anything, the director is up in the air and you have to try and see if you can get the studio to release the props and sets for use or if you have to build them from scratch.
You doubt you’ll have to go from scratch -- River insists she can get them, and it’s not like you’ve been too worried about having permission for anything so far, so why not break as many laws as you can while making this movie? Go for a record.
Making a movie is harder than you thought, and you never thought it was easy, but there’s a lot of work involved. Work you never had to do before, or even really think about who did. Nearly ten years you’ve been in the business, and you still don’t really know what a producer does but you could really use one right about now.
Well. It’s too late to back out now, you’ve already signed enough photographs to build a bridge to the moon for the people who funded you. But you still wish you knew what you were supposed to do with all that money, other than blow it all on digital effects.
Simon has to ask about getting leave from work, which no one likes, because he’s damn good as a doctor, even if he is a little less than stellar as an actor. And it’s not just him, Kaylee’s colleagues at NASA, who are all super nerds anyway, are thrilled to learn that she’s reprising her role as Jewel. This annoys her, because the novelty of working with a child-actor-turned-teen-actor-turned-honest-to-god-space-cadet had finally worn off apparently only for everyone to lose their shit when they learned she was coming out of retirement. And you don’t even want to know how difficult it is to get time off from the priesthood, according to Book.
It all works out somehow, and you just have to finish up with being the Cavity King and you’ll all be ready to go.
The writer and the fanfiction author turn over a script in record time, and River rewrites the whole thing in about an hour, in some sort of strange code that Simon has to spend a couple of days decrypting in order to photocopy it for the cast you have. Which isn’t a whole lot of cast, if you’re being honest.
According to her, it’s no ‘As The Wind Blows It’ but it’ll do.
You’re over the moon when you get the script, still warm from the copy shop. Unlike the tragedy of episode 16, the episode that never was where you’d have gotten to shoot a blaster, you really do get to shoot a blaster, not just false promises.
Like once, before you get impaled by a harpoon.
Five pages in.