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mask off your stage
Okay, first, let me say, I completely forgot to move the loading movieClip's registration mark to the top-left corner; when I did that, it stopped the wierd scaling when the objects were off-stage top and left.
I then tried masking as you suggested, and it did work, sort of - the area where the mask covered the right and bottom still showed, at least the mask did (which surrounded, but was not on, the stage). The result was a little version of the loaded SWF, surrounded by a border right-and-bottom.
That's when I realized that flash ignores the stage completely with loaded SWFs. Yeah, I know, I should have got that when I had to replace the background color with a rectangle on a bottom layer.
It then struck me exactly what I did wrong - the function that resizes the SWF to match the loading movieClip's size was still looping (all it did was check to make sure the loaded SWF was completely downloaded, then size it), and when things went off stage, they were taken into account everytime. I setup a flag that indicates whether or not an image or SWF has been loaded and sized. That fixed it.
That's what I get for writing actionscript at 3 in the morning.
I'm not sure if this will still work for symbols that start off-stage right or bottom (the registration mark prevents them from showing left and top regardless of the resizing). A single starting blank frame should fix that, though.
Thanks for your help - I was ready to give up and stick with static images.