Short film: Loscon XIV's 'Clearance Papers'
Did I ever tell you that I once wrote a movie script? It was Furry, too.
This was twenty-five years ago, in 1987. Clearance Papers was only a 9-minute amateur film – an embarrassingly amateurish amateur film – but for a two-man effort, it wasn’t too bad.
Clearance Papers was the result of two s-f fan clubs that I am in. The Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society had been putting on the annual Los Angeles Science Fiction Convention (Loscon) since 1975. Each was chaired by a different volunteer LASFS member, and in 1987 I stepped forward. As chairman of Loscon XIV, I chose C. J. Cherryh, the author of the popular The Pride of Chanur and its sequels, as Guest of Honor. For the convention’s theme, I chose Galactic Empires.
I was also active in the Cartoon/Fantasy Organization (C/FO), the first American fan club for Japanese anime, then meeting in downtown Inglewood. At this time, two of the most popular anime were two short nameless cartoons made by a group of Japanese fans for the opening ceremonies of the 1981 and 1983 annual Japanese National S-F Conventions in Osaka, Daicon III and Daicon IV. In addition to watching untranslated videos of anime, one of our members, Michael Aguilar, was making his own Super-8 animation; a combination of stop motion and puppetry, which he showed at the club. Most of his films were of battling superheroes without any plots.
I was looking for something new for Loscon XIV. The Daicon III and IV films gave me the idea of asking Mike Aguilar to make a short film specifically for Loscon XIV. No American s-f convention had ever opened with its own tailor-made film; this would be a first. Aguilar was agreeable. To guarantee that this film would be specific to Loscon XIV, I wrote it myself, tailored to what Aguilar could accomplish. He could not accomplish sound, so we made a silent movie with title cards.
Since C. J. Cherryh was our guest of honor, I wrote an original story featuring her leonine hani merchant spacers from The Pride of Chanur and its sequels. Since our theme was Galactic Empires, my story had them appearing at a key moment of two galactic empires. Jan Strnad had donated several hundred copies of overruns of the first issue of Mad Dog Graphics’ Keith Laumer’s RETIEF comic book, with art by Dennis Fujitake, to include in the Loscon XIV membership packets; so I included a guest appearance of Laumer’s two-fisted galactic diplomat as Fujitake drew him in the plot. The design of Cherryh’s hani was taken from her approved designs in her s-f illustrator brother David Cherry’s art.
As Clearance Papers opens, the Pride of Chanur is picking up cargo at a human spaceport of “the new Galactic Empire”, on the eve of its merger with “the old Galactic Empire”. Captain Pyanfar Chanur says, “Thank the Gods! Whoever heard of a whole planet closing down for a holiday? Get ready to break dock as soon as you’re finished!” As they prepare for departure, she says, “These humans aren’t bad, but I’ll be glad to get back to hani space.”
Unfortunately, the festivities have already begun. A minor bureaucrat says, “I’m sorry that your departure hasn’t been cleared yet, but you’ll have to wait until we reopen after the festival, next week!” When Chanur demands that their clearance papers be signed right away, the bureaucrat says, “Really, this is a historic occasion! … the uniting of the two greatest human space empires! Anyhow, only the Port Master or someone higher can sign your clearance papers!”
Chanur gets really irate. “Historic occasion be damned! We’re not going to lose a half-week sitting here! I’ll go up there and stomp around until someone signs our clearance papers just to get rid of us!” She and a crewman go out into the spaceport, but it is deserted. The drunk that they meet is a caricature of Jeff Roady, the C/FO’s favorite fall guy. (And still a member after 25 years.)
Cut to the imperial throne room, where the emperor is pacing. “It would be nice if my grand-nephew were older, but he’s shown that he can handle the responsibility! They say that the Old Empire’s Princess is an intelligent girl, too!”
The two hani have not found anyone to sign their papers, and take a break in a bar where they meet Retief. “Anybody high-ranking enough to sign those papers will be in the palace by now for the ceremony.” He offers to help them. “I have to get back to the Terrestrial delegation. I can get you past the guards with me.”
Enter the villains; the Baron and his henchman. The henchman points to a classic bust and explains, “The bomb isn’t in the bust. It IS the bust! It’s a copy, made of explosive plastic!” The Baron gloats, “After the Duke is killed, we can control the next appointment for the Prince’s guardian, who will be one of our men!”
Retief and the two hani enter past the guards, and Retief tells Chanur, “You can wait at the back until the ceremony is over, and then grab some big-shot as they’re leaving and have him sign your papers.” The two hani move the bust to make more room for themselves, alarming the Baron. “Who are those aliens? Get them out of here – and put that bust back where it belongs!”
Chanur is angry when a guard tries to throw them out. “It’s the Baron’s order! You’ll have to talk to him about it!” He calls the Baron over, who drags the panicking henchman with him. The Baron tries to bluff it out, but the furious Chanur begins pounding on the bust, and the terrified henchman reveals everything. Chanur removes the detonator from the bust as the Baron and his stooge are arrested.
The Duke thanks Chanur, but she says that they are only there to get their clearance papers signed. The young Prince says, “After what you’ve done today, let me sign your papers.” The two hani leave with their signed papers, as the representatives of the two empires say, “After thousands of years, no more “Old” and “New” Empires, but a single United Empire once again!”
Sets, models and photography by Michael Aguilar. Story by Michael Aguilar and Fred Patten. Titles by Therri Moore. Clearance Papers is a non-profit film made for the opening ceremonies of Loscon XIV, Pasadena, California, 27–29 November 1987. Pyanfar Chanur and other hani characters created by C. J. Cherryh. Jame Retief, character ©1963 by Keith Laumer, depiction ©1987 by Jan Strnad and Dennis Fujitake.
Unfortunately, this opening ceremonies film was not shown at the opening ceremonies. C. J. Cherryh’s flight was delayed and we wanted her to see this original story with her hani, so the film was rescheduled to the second day of the three-day convention when she had arrived.
I had completely forgotten about Clearance Papers until yesterday, when I got an e-mail from Michael Aguilar – “a voice from the past” who had long since left the C/FO and moved to Arizona. He was putting all of his 1980s Super-8 films onto YouTube, and since I had written Clearance Papers, he wanted my permission to add it. I said, “Sure!”, and so here it is after twenty-five years. You can see what Aguilar did with scrap Styrofoam. The music track is new; what we made in 1987 was completely silent.