You probably know his voice. Being a cartoons enthusiast I first appreciated his work when he was voicing Optimus Primal from Transformers Beast Wars. When you have a guy like this impersonating one of the most famous characters in cartoon history, you want to keep him around for a couple of spinoffs. Of course, Garry Chalk is more than that. The day I pulled his profile on IMDB, I found out that he had an awesome career… and it was certainly just the beginning!

GChalk1

DAVID MARTEL: “What kind of career were you pursuing prior to becoming a voice actor? What were your career dreams?”

GARRY CHALK: “Stock broker. I worked as a stock trader on the floor of the stock exchange”

DM: “What got you interested in voice acting? Also, how and where did you get your first gig?”

GC: “My Drama teacher said I should pursue a career in Radio. My first voice gig was a commercial for a nursing home.”

DM: “Is there any character or kind of character that you voiced for which you were not entirely comfortable with?”

GC: “No. Most of the characters I did were a lot of fun. Some video game characters like the orcs were hard on my throat but that’s about all.”

DM: “On the other hand, is there character that you would qualify as your favorite?”

GC: “Hack is my fave.”

DM: “Do you mean Slash, from Reboot? I heard somewhere that you always thought that the blue guy was named Hack, but that you were in fact voicing Slash.”

GC: “Slash is the one! I always get them mixed up but I loved Phil and Scott’s versions of the hack Character.”

DM: “Are there any shows that you would have liked to work on, but didn’t get the chance to?”

GC: “I would have liked to work on Animaniacs.”

DM: ”Why that show in particular?”

GC: “Why was I drawn to the animaniacs? I love the show the energy the wackiness of the Cjaracters but most of all I loved working with Andrea Romano. One of the best voice directors I know. She is right up there with Su Blu and Michaek Donovan and terry Klassen.”

DM: “One of your most famous role in voice acting is without a doubt Beat Wars/Beast Machines’ Optimus Primal. What led you to the role? Was it a general casting call?”

GC: “Yes, it was a general casting call. I had done several cartoon series before this and I got a call to read for the character. Originally I was called for Megatron but then they asked if i would read this one.”

DM: “Did you have any ideas of what the Transformers were or what they represented for so many fans?”

GC: “I had no idea how big the characters were even though I used to do the generation 2 tv commercials. Then I went to a convention and was completely blown away by how many people watched and loved the show.”

DM: Thinking back to the Transformers Armada/Energon/Cybertron series, how would you compare your job as a voice actor doing a dubbed show instead of an original production like Beast Wars or Beast Machines? Where there any notable differences?

GC: “Original productions are much more rewarding in my view. I love to create characters that are mine. When doing ADR (Automated Dialogue Replacement) I feel like I am making a copy of someone elses work. The fun in prelay is making the voice fit the flaps on screen sometimes it’s a real challenge. I have done quite a few ADR shows in my day. and they are very hard work but I enjoy all of it just the same.”

DM: “Being a versatile person doing live action movies as well as voice acting, do you have any kind of preference towards one?”

GC: “Yes I do a lot of live action. I am currently working on a series called Cedar Cove as well as a massive super secret show I can’t talk about but it’s in three D and cool.”

DM: “You have done so many animated shows where you are kind of a star, do you have the same kind of recognition in live action?”

GC: “I get recognized a lot from film work. In fact the title of my memoirs will be “you’re that guy!”. I have heard it so often in my life.”

DM: “What are you up to these days? What do you like to do as a hobby?”

GC: “These days I have been singing a lot and playing at different places. I am still doing movies and just finished one with Ray Liotta called suddenly.”

GChalk2

DM: “I’m curious… What kind of music do you play?”

GC: “ My favorite music is the blues. I hve been playing it for years and it has always resonated with me . But I play all different styles of music but that is the one I love best.”

DM: “I’m sure that your voice suits blues music perfectly! I hope we’ll have the chance to hear it somewhere someday! Thanks a lot for taking this time with me.”

The current pictures belong to Garry Chalk and are used with his permission.

When I think about the best animated series that have filled my childhood, many were produced by Sunbow Entertainment. Another thing that all these show had in common? Wonderful voice actors! I have had the privilege of interviewing a man who has voiced many great characters from the eighties and beyond, Mr. Neil Ross!

Neil Ross headshot 032

David Martel: “You were born in London, England, but I have learned in another interview that you have been living in Montréal when you were young! When was that? In which part of the town did you live?”

Neil Ross: “We lived in Westmount from roughly 1950 to 1957.”

DM: “When you were living in Montréal, what were your parents doing?”

NR: “My father was in sales. My mother was a homemaker.”

DM: “Did your parents work in French or did they only use the English Language?”

NR: “My Mother spoke a little French, mostly because she had spent some time in Paris, and she read books in French from time to time. We lived in the Westmount section of Montreal which was primarily English speaking in those days, so I heard little French spoken on a daily basis.”

DM: “Did you learn any French yourself?”

NR: “We had French classes in school, one hour a day as I recall. We left Canada when I was in the seventh grade and I heard no French in Southern California – just Spanish. So, after a few years, the little bit of French I had sadly slipped away.”

DM: “Have you ever visited other areas of the province of Québec?”

NR: “We vacationed at a lake a couple of times but I can’t recall the name. I was just a kid in the back seat. Nobody told me anything.”

DM: “Do you sometimes come back to Montréal? Did you ever visit your old neighbourhood?”

NR: “I’ve never been back.”

DM: “What kind of career were you pursuing prior to becoming a voice actor? What were your dreams?”

NR: “I started out in radio. That was my first dream. I was a radio DJ and production guy (producing pre-recorded commercials and promos). I did that work for 22 years.”

DM: “What got you interested into voice acting? Also, how and where did you get your first gig?”

NR: “As a result of my radio production work I began to become aware of the people I heard voicing the big national television and radio commercials and narrating the documentaries. I had always had a knack for doing character voices and accents so I began to wonder about the folks who voiced animation. I assumed that they were on-camera actors who were picking up a few extra bucks. Eventually I found out that there was a type of performer who just did voice work and that the trade was called Voice-over. It was only happening in New York and Los Angeles in those days. When I finally landed a radio job in L.A. I immediately started going to voice-over classes and looking for an agent. The first VO job I booked through an agent in L.A. was to narrate some kind of sales presentation. The first animation job was at Hanna-Barbera for an episode of Richie Rich . I played a pushy salesman who gets his tie caught in the door.”

DM: “Is there any character or kind of character that you voiced for which you were not entirely comfortable with?”

NR: “I do recall being cast as an effeminate pig in a show called Kissyfur. I didn’t exactly drive to those sessions whistling Zipadee Do Dah. Some roles are a bit more of a ‘stretch’ than others, but work’s work. You do what you have to.”

DM: “On the other hand, is there any particular character or type of character that you would qualify as your favourite?”

NR: “I like any character that is complex, multi faceted and conflicted. Gives one a lot to work with.”

DM: “Among the numerous characters that you have voiced, which ones were good examples? Personally, I’ve always liked G.I.Joe’s Shipwreck who was a very complex character. It was also Script editor Buzz Dixon‘s favourite, so I guess he got a little more time and efforts than other characters.”

NR: “Shipwreck is a prime example of that kind of character. Most of the G. I. Joe characters are all good or all evil. Shipwreck is basically a good guy but he’s not really a team player. He likes to do things his way and it gets him into trouble sometimes. He marches to the beat of his own drum and so he’s a lot of fun to play. Norman Osborn/Green Goblin was pretty conflicted (more like two different characters really).”

DM: “Is there any character that you miss voicing or any show that you miss working on?”

NR: “I miss them all to a greater or lesser degree (maybe not Duane the pig in Kissyfur).  Other than Shipwreck I guess I miss Springer in Transformers and Leoric in Visionaries (I wish that show had lasted longer); also miss Norman Osborn/Green Goblin in Spiderman. On the comedy side I loved the bombastic newsman Whitley White in Attack of the Killer Tomatoes. I never got tired of voicing him. Great fun.”

DM: “In the eighties, you have voiced the iconic John Rambo character in the animated series. How was it to voice the principal hero of a whole show?”

NR: “As John Gielgud is alleged to have said: “there are no small parts – only small actors.” Still it feels mighty good to play the lead in a 65 episode series fairly early on in my Voice-over career. I kind of felt like I’d ‘arrived.’”

DM: “Are there any shows that you would have liked to work on, but didn’t get the chance to?”

NR: “Of course, but I was so fortunate to get to do what I did do that I’d be a piker if I complained.”

DM: “You have worked in both television and videogames as a voice actor. What did you prefer? Are there any notable differences?”

NR: “I don’t really have a preference. The biggest difference between animation and games is that games aren’t linear. You don’t work with other actors and you frequently have to do lines that aren’t supported by any specific scene or structure. You’re kind of flying blind. It’s probably the audio equivalent of an on-camera actor working in front of a green screen. They tell him there’s going to be a monster behind him, but he can’t see it.”

DM: “What are you up to these days? Anything that you would like to discuss?”

NR: “A little of this, a little of that. I have a recurring character in the TV version of Kung Fu Panda., I’ve done a number of guest shots on the TV version of Garfield and for the last three years I’ve been the announcer for the AFI Life Achievement Award telecast.”

DM: “What do you do when you don’t work?”

NR: “The only thing I have that might qualify as a hobby is mixed martial arts. I’ve trained in Krav Maga, Kickboxing, Kali and recently something called Warrior Yoga. I’m not a very promising student but I keep showing up. I spend a fair amount of time reading – books, newspapers and the internet. I’d like to do some traveling but I never seem to get around to it.”

DM: “Any projects or objectives for 2013?”

NR: “I’m just working on staying healthy. I’m reaching the age where things start to happen and a number of friends are experiencing serious health issues and you begin to appreciate having good health in a way you never did before. So I watch my weight, watch what I eat and drink, take a lot of vitamins, minerals and other supplements and get a lot of exercise.”

DM: “Thanks a lot again Mr. Ross again for this privilege! Your voice is already well known, but I’m sure that we’ll hear you again for many years.

 

The current pictures belong to Neil Ross and is used with his permission.

You Are So Undead is a refreshing six minute vampire sex comedy written by Lisa Hunter and directed by Alex Epstein in 2010. It has aired on Bravo!FACT’s new show In Short and has also been screening in many festivals. Among them, Screamfest LA, Just for Laughs Chicago, Bleedfest LA (For which Lisa won the screenwriting award), Vampire Film Festival in New Orleans (For which Lisa won the Outstanding Award), the 13th Mecal International Short Film Festival in Barcelona, and has even the Dead by Dawn horror film festival in Edinburgh! Lisa Hunter also won the WGC Award for Best Short. Everywhere they go, You Are So Undead and its creative duo receive a lot of eulogies and it’s yet just a start!

David Martel: “First off, Thank you Alex and Lisa for doing this interview with me and congratulations for the awards that you have already received for You Are So Undead. This is quite a journey for such a short film! Did you expect that much success?”

Alex Epstein: “A long time ago I learned to stop expecting success or failure. It  will drive you crazy. I just do what I think will work, and I’m happy for  whatever happens.

I kind of figured people would get a kick out of it. I figured we wouldn’t win any  awards – it’s not that kind of film — but audiences would dig it.

I actually figured it would do better at LGBT festivals, but of course if you’re at an LGBT festival, you’re way ahead of the joke.”

DM: “Where did you get the idea for You Are So Undead?”

Lisa Hunter: “My teenage son was complaining that his girlfriend was obsessed by Twilight. She had posters of Robert Pattinson all over her room, and he felt dissed. I tried to cheer him up with ways he could tell her that dating a vampire would actually suck.”

AE: “Then Lisa and I were at the playground watching our daughter play, and Lisa thought it would be fun to do a sort of high school parody where “going all the way” meant letting your boyfriend bite you. I came up with the idea that Mary Margaret doesn’t reflect. And then Lisa wrote the first draft in about an hour. We tweaked the script for about a day, and then we pretty much had the draft that we shot.”

DM: “Are you big fans of horror movies? Your film having a unique tone; I suppose that your inspiration was taken from completely different genres. Is that right?”

AE: “I think Lisa’s a big fan of high school TV shows. I’m a fan of speculative fiction, and I do love vampire stories, except for a certain hit series with sparkly vamps. Lisa’s all about goofy comedy, and I’m big on mythology, so we came at it from different angles.”

LH: “I like horror comedies like Zombieland, American Werewolf in London, Sean of the Dead. But straight-on horrors are too scary for me. When I was a kid and all my friends wanted to go see slasher films, the only way I could watch was by rooting for the villain.  That’s still my secret coping mechanism for watching scary movies – “Go zombies! Get ‘em!”

DM: “Lisa being the writer and Alex being the director, did you have a lot to say into each other’s function on this project? Being husband and wife, I suppose that it already brings a little bit of chemistry. What kind of relation did you have?”

AE: “One of the joys of our marriage is that we get to bounce our creativity off each other. Lisa had a lot of input into the look of the film, and the costumes, among many other things. I story edited the script. You can pretty much assume that almost anything either of us does has some input from the other.”

DM: “On a more personal note, when my wife and I work on the same creative project, we often get carried away and argue a lot, but the result always ends much better than what it was at first.”

AE: “Well, yes. Lisa and I don’t always agree, but I usually try to convince her, and if I can’t convince her, then that’s a sign that maybe I should try to come up with something better. She’s got a girl’s perspective, and I’ve got a boy’s perspective, and unless I was designing a first person shooter video game about robots and trains, I’d be nuts to ignore her point of view.”

LH: “So that’s why he’s working on a first-person shooter about robots and trains!”

DM: “When I watched You Are So Undead for the first time, I said to Lisa that I’d certainly watch a whole series, if well written like that! Do you have anything going on into that direction for the future? Do you plan on working on something longer together soon?”

AE: “We have a pitch for a web series, but we’re not producers. So we have to find someone who wants to produce a web series. We pitched it as a series to Space, but for some reason you can’t do a high school show in Canada, unless it’s DeGrassi. The audience for Canadian shows seems to be much older than the audience for American shows.”

LH: “I have springboards for an entire YASU web series. We just haven’t figured out the production model yet. If you know any producers who want to jump into web series…”

DM: “Prior to You Are So Undead, you both co-wrote, along with Vito Viscomi, the animated feature film Walter’s Christmas (related to the Walter & Tandoori youth series), and story edited by Thomas LaPierre. Was it the first time that you were writing together? How was it for you to work in animation?”

AE: “We’ve been writing TV and film together since, oh, 2006, when we developed a series about teenage models for Global.

Animation is fun and different because you can do things you can’t afford to do live action. We had an entire factory unfold out of a cargo container on Walter. You also challenge yourself to do things that can’t be done live action: that’s the point of doing animation. And Lisa is full of fresh, goofy ideas that might be hard to accomplish in live action.”

LH: “I LOVE animation and would like to do more of it. I just finished working on a live-action series with humour similar to cartoons like Kid vs. Kat, League of Super Evil, etc. I’m told my sense of humour is similar to an 8-year-old boy’s, so I’d love to write for the “boy cartoons.” I also watch a lot of preschool with my daughter and think it would be fun to work on some of the more comic ones. (I’m not good at writing earnest, for any age group. If I tried to write a “family” movie, it would probably turn into The Addams Family.)”

DM: “Alex is an experienced and well known writer trained at UCLA and Yale (Among others, he co-wrote Canadian box-office hit Bon Cop / Bad Cop, co-created the Gemini-nominated comic drama television series Naked Josh that ran for three seasons and wrote highly successful books about writing for television and cinema), but little is known about Lisa’s background. What kind of experience did you have prior to You Are So Undead and Walter’s Christmas?”

LH: “Ironically, I owe my writing career to Loi 101. In New York, I was a writer and editor for museums and did my ‘creative’ writing as a hobby. I wasn’t brave enough to try writing full-time. But when I moved here to be with Alex, my French wasn’t good enough to do the same type of museum work, so I finally took a chance on writing. I was extra motivated to succeed, because I didn’t have a Plan B.

Fortunately, it worked out. I wrote a book about art (The Intrepid Art Collector, Crown/Random House Canada) and developed some TV and film projects that didn’t actually get made, but which helped me become a better writer. This year everything seems to have come together – a TV gig, the Writers Guild award, and the animated feature coming out at Christmas. That’s a good year!”

DM: “You are both from New York but you decided to move to Montreal about 10 years ago and learned French. What made you choose to live in our province and, of course, adapt to our culture and our language. This last subject being a delicate issue around here, I’m sure that many people appreciate your dedication!”

AE: “Well, to be precise, we learned French and then moved to Montreal. My father is a big francophile – he spent two years in Paris in the 50’s studying at the Sciences Po’. So naturally I studied French in high school and university. Meanwhile I knew Lisa in college, and we were fans of the Modernist writers – Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein – and Lisa had me pretty convinced I should go to Paris and write stories in cafés. So that’s what I did after deciding not to do anything with my computer science degree. I hung around Paris for a year making videos in French, going to movies, and writing in cafés.

Then, because I had French and computer science, I got hired out of film school to work for an Israeli producer making an Israeli-Québec-French co-production shot in Poland and financed through a Welsh TV channel. That was my first break in showbiz. My next two development jobs also involved finding features to shoot in Québec. So I became aware that Montréal has a warm, nurturing cultural environment. I was pretty sick of the cold, hostile LA vibe, so I moved here, figuring I could write features for francophone producers who want to shoot in English, and for LA producers who want to shoot in Québec. The LA producers promptly forgot I existed, but Montréal has been very, very good to me since, and has given me opportunities I never would have had in LA.

Meanwhile, Montréal turns out to be the most livable city I’ve ever lived in. It’s very easy for a New Yorker to be at home here. Both cities are bilingual, cosmopolitan and passionate. But you can live well in Montreal without being ridiculously rich. So we’ve made our home here.”

LH: “French is a big part of why I love Montreal. As a teenager, I was obsessed with the art and literary scene in Paris in the ‘20s — my dream was to be an expatriate writer, speak French, and hang out in cafes with writer-artist friends. That’s pretty much my life here in Montreal.”

DM: “Thanks again to both of you for the interview! It’s always a pleasure to discuss with you! I hope we meet again soon!”

If you are interested by the television and cinema industries, Alex Epstein’s books (Crafty Screenwriting: Writing Movies That Get Made and Crafty TV Writing: Thinking Inside the Box) are absolute musts for any writer looking to improve. You can also follow his very popular blog (Complications Ensue) to get a glimpse of what how he writes about our craft! If you are more of a fiction reader, Alex also wrote The Circle Cast: The Lost Years of Morgan le Fay. If you are interested by art collecting and would like to read Lisa Hunter, go get her book : The Intrepid Art Collector: The Beginner’s Guide to Finding, Buying, and Appreciating Art on a Budget.

Finally, if you’d like to meet Alex and Lisa to so see how fun they are in person, you might want to attend a Soirées Schmooze. These are occasional gatherings for people working in Montreal‘s film, tv, theater, games and new media communities, organized by Alex Epstein and Mark Morgenstern. Ask to join the Facebook group, if you’d like to get invited to the next Soirée Schmooze in Montreal. You will meet a lot of fun and interesting individuals. You could even run into me sometimes!

The current pictures belong to Alex Epstein and are used with his permission.

Last year, I had the privilege to connect with American writer Buzz Dixon who, I knew, was a story editor on the G.I.Joe series in the eighties. After chatting with him a couple of times, I discovered that his career was pretty different than what I had imagined. I had read many interviews he gave regarding G.I.Joe, but I thought that it would be interesting to cover new grounds. I hope that you will enjoy this interview that I recently conducted with him.

 

1013382_641121109232506_683767936_n

David Martel: “As information about your career might be easy to find on the Internet, I wondered if you could talk a bit about your personal background. Did you have any role model growing up as a child?”

Buzz Dixon: “I assume you mean literary/cinematic role models (my dad was my personal role model). I was a big, big fan of sci-fi growing up, but among the many authors I loved, I’d say Ray Bradbury was the single greatest influence on my writing style. (This is not the same as being delusional enough to think I’m anywhere near his quality!)”

DM: “What did you do prior to writing for television? What is your education? Did you have any interesting first jobs that you would like to share?”

BD:  “Prior to writing for TV I was in the army for six years as an information specialist/journalist. Among other tasks, I edited a post newspaper while stationed in Korea. I was drafted straight out of hi skule so my education has been thru the school of hard knocks. My first job in show biz was as a lot attendant for a drive-in theatre in Tennessee (age 16-19).”

DM: “I believe you started your TV career at Hanna-Barbera Productions. Is that right? Was it as a writer? What was the first show you worked on?”

BD: “My first writing gig was for Filmation Studios. I had just been discharged from the army and was planning to attend the University of Southern California’s film school. However, since I was discharged in the spring of 1978 but the school didn’t start until fall, I came out to L.A. to get my feet wet in the industry by finding work as a driver or a gofer or in a mail room at one of the studios.

I started at the top (Universal) and worked my way down the food chain until I hit Filmation Studios. They weren’t hiring at the time but Arthur Nadel, their producer in charge of live action projects, met with me. During our talk I mentioned my writing experience for the army and that I had also written several unpublished short stories.

Arthur asked to see the stories, and when I brought them by a few days later, he mentioned they were having trouble coming up with scripts for a new animation series they were doing called STARLIGHT AND SUNBRIGHT or something similar. I asked if I could try writing a script for it and he said yes, so long as it was clearly understood he was not asking me to write a script (that would have been a violation of union rules).

So I went back to the friends’ house where my wife and I were staying with our daughter, dragged my portable typewriter out, and banged out a script in a couple of days.

I dropped the script off. The next day Arthur called me to say he had FedExed my short stories to Lou Scheimer, the founder and head of Filmation Studios, while he was on vacation in Hawaii. Lou returned the day I had delivered the script. Arthur read it and took it into Lou, who read it and said, “I don’t know who we should hire: The guy who wrote the short stories or the guy who wrote this script.”

Arthur said, “Lou, they’re the same guy” and Lou said, “Hire him!”

So that’s how I ended up breaking into the animation business and not going to film school. STARLIGHT AND SUNBRIGHT or whatever it was called ended up being cancelled before it ever went into production, so I never had a chance to introduce sex to Saturday morning (see, the characters were twin girls, one of whom got her super powers from the day, the other who got hers from the night; I was going to do a story where they tried to catch a unicorn — one would find it impossible to catch the unicorn but the other would capture it quite easily…).”

DM: “How did you land at Sunbow?”

BD: “After Filmation (where I worked on TARZAN AND THE SUPER SEVEN, THE FABULOUS FUNNIES, and MIGHTY MOUSE), I freelanced some scripts for Ruby-Spears Productions. (RS eventually got bought out and absorbed by Hanna-Barbera; I did very little work for HB directly.) They hired me as a staff writer. While there I met a great bunch of wonderfully talented writers and artists such as Steve Gerber and Jack Kirby. Steve created THUNDARR THE BARBARIAN for RS, with Jack doing much of the design work. When Steve left RS he ended up at Sunbow story editing G.I. JOE for them. He hired me as a writer first then brought me on staff as an assistant story editor. When the second season of JOE rolled around I became the story editor, though I also worked on other Sunbow shows like TRANSFORMERS, INHUMANOIDS, VISIONARIES, JEM, and MY LITTLE PONY.”

DM “Did you have any favourite show when you were working at Sunbow Productions?”

BD: “Of all the shows I worked on while there, G.I. JOE is my fave, of course.”

DM: “As a story editor, you were given the lead on G.I.Joe because you had served in the U.S. Army. What kind of job were you doing? Did you serve many years?”

BD: “I was in the army from 1972 (tail end of the Vietnam era draft; tho I was sent to Korea, not Vietnam) to 1978. I was an information specialist/journalist.

I wouldn’t say I got the job story editing G.I. JOE solely because of my military service, but Steve certainly relied on my input to help rid the show of its more egregious errors.”

DM: “Is there one story in particular that you are really proud of or that you were thrilled to write?”

BD: “I am very, very happy with the way both “The Traitor” for G.I. JOE and” The God Gambit” for TRANSFORMERS turned out.”

DM: “You mentioned in another interview that Shipwreck was your favourite G.I.Joe character. Is there one, looking throughout your whole career and all the projects you worked on as a writer, that you would consider your all-time favourite?

BD: “Serenity, the character I created for a line of Christian graphic novels, is my favorite, but I’d say she and Shipwreck share a lot in common, despite her being a teenage girl and him being a salty old dog.”

DM: “You have created Snokie Stories, a Christian comics and novels publishing company. Could please talked about your motivations?”

BD: “In 2000 I was hired by Stan Lee to be the VP offers creative affairs for Stan Lee Media, a company Stan had formed with an “entrepreneur” named Peter Paul.

(SLM, as you know, eventually proved to be an enormous stock scam that Paul was running, duping Stan and Merrill Lynch in the process, but that’s another tale for another time…)

One project suggested to Stan by country-western musician Art Greenhaw was the idea of a Christian comic book ala the ARCHIE Christian comics Al Hartley did.

Since I was the only self-proclaimed Christian in the crowd, Stan asked me to come up with some ideas.

I did some market research and soon discovered Christian booksellers were not open to the idea offered Christian superheroes (and not for what one might think was the obvious reason of fighting being contrary to Christ’s turn-the-other-cheek non violence but because it bothered them that anybody but God should have powers). They did respond to the idea of comics like the aforementioned ARCHIE series, so I started working on some teen and kid oriented titles.

One was about a group of kids linked together by being in their church children’s choir (they’d get into plenty of trouble outside the church).

One was a particularly mischievous little girl and I remember thinking to myself, “Man, will she ever be a handful when she turns 16″.

And the moment I thought that it was like a floodgate was opened in my mind and everything about her came rushing out: Her name, Serenity, her past, her problems, her friends, her future — EVERYTHING! At least 70% of her story came out in broad form in the first 36 hours.

I describe SERENITY the gn series as a comedic teen soap opera about an unhappy girl who finds a happy ending.

Anyway, I wrote this up as well as some other ideas and presented them to Stan. Now, Stan had made his fame and fortune with superheroes and he was not thrilled that I had gone in an entirely different direction. So, long story short, we had an amicable parting of the ways. I was offered stock in the company as part of my severance package; I said no, I’d rather take Serenity and the other characters I created.

Stan agreed — then six months later Peter Paul’s big stock scheme collapsed…but I still had Serenity.

DM “I suppose that Serenity was your first story line. Did you create it? What is it about”

BD: “My new company, Snokie, has already published a 480 page gn sports story for girls called HITS & MISSES; look for it on Amazon.”

DM : “Finally, what’s cooking for 2011? Any projects that you’d like to share?”

We have new Serenity stories in the works, but our next book is a young adult novel called SAVAGE ANGELS which I describe as a World War Two “Lord Of The Flies” with Catholic school girls. Past that, two other books in active development plus other ideas waiting their turn in the word processor. If I don’t have another new story idea for the rest of my life, I’ve got enough to keep me busy until I keel over!”

DM: “Thanks a lot Buzz for you generous time. It’s always fascinating and a lot of fun to read you!”

 

The current pictures belong to Buzz Dixon and is used with his permission.

David Martel: “What are your plans for 2011? Do you have any projects going on that you can talk about?”

Flint Dille: “I can tease a couple of things. Working on an epic game.  Doing a comic book with some characters that have already been mentioned in this interview.  Agent 13 is coming back as books, a radio show, reprints of the graphic novels, a re-sploof on the RPG and we’re finishing the Agent 13 novels, too.”

Agent13

DM: “Let’s talk about Agent 13. Are you behind the whole idea for this franchise, the game and its stories?”

FD: “Dave Marconi and I in equal parts.”

DM: “How did you get involved into the first series of book from the eighties? Was it because of your TV experience? It’s about the same time that you were working for Sunbow.”

FD: “I’d just gotten done writing the Sagard books with Gary Gygax and kind of liked writing books. Talked Gary into doing a series with TSR that would bridge (this was the idea at the time) Top Secret and their roaring twenties Gangbusters game line. Dave Marconi had read a bunch of pulps and watched some serials and wanted to do the genre. We simultaneously put the idea together as a movie pitch. In short, it was coming from a lot of directions.

In movie terms, we thought of it as James Bond meets Indiana Jones. Oddly enough, Agent 13 is kind of hovering in the Background of the ARG we’re doing in my class at UCLA in secret society form.”

DM: “Will the Agent 13 radio show be like listening to a novel? Or will it have interactive parts?”

FD: “Its a dramatic presentation.”

DM: “Regarding the books, is there a number already planned or you will wait for the success to determine if you write another each time?”

FD: “We’re actually just kind of making this up as we go along. We’ll see what people like and don’t like and tune the story based on it. That’s the cool thing about digital media and modern franchises. We’ve probably got 10 ideas. Fans might have ideas. We might find that somebody writes the books better than we do, and they can take off with them.”

DM: “Agent 13 being back after such a long time, was there a popular demand for this?”

FD: “No. We just dreamed it up and did it. It was funny. First thing that happened was that a major producer, Sean Daniels, read it and wanted to make it as a movie. He did the mummy films. Once that happened, we started looking at the stuff and saying, ‘this is kind of cool.’ Then, it was just in the air.”

DM: “Why did you establish it in the 30’s? Was it based on the fact that wanted to make James Bond meet Indiana Jones?”

FD: “The thirties, right on the eve of WWII are a great era. They are the era of classic pulp. Maybe there’s something about the recession and that era. Not sure.”

DM: “Thanks a lot Flint for taking this time with me. This is much appreciated.”

FD: “No problem. It’s flattering and fun to get stuff out.”

DM: “Happy 2011!”

FD: “Yeah! Happy 2011. Or the year of Zoll. Looks like it’s going to be a really interesting year.”

Read: An interview with successful writer Flint Dille (Part 1)

Read: An interview with successful writer Flint Dille (Part 2)

I do not own the rights to the current pictures

ghostbusters_game

David Martel: “Over the last few years, you have worked on many videogames such as Ghostbusters, Terminator, Riddick and many others. What do you find the most interesting about writing for video games?”

Flint Dille: “It’s a whole new medium. There are no rules. Or at least as soon as there is one, it changes. It’s fun to be sitting out on the creative edge. I’m judging the WGA awards and the DICE awards right now. People are doing some real breakthrough work. I’m thrilled to be there.”

DM: “How is it to write game scripts based on a popular film or series franchise? What were the biggest challenges for you?”

FD: “Well… A game lasts 8 or 10 hours and a movie is 2. Also, games are about challenges and the physical universe and its harder to do character (which is where the challenge comes from). This question lies at the heart of Transformedia. The idea is that you want to bring something to the franchise that wasn’t there before. It was a lot of fun to invent a Batman villain. With Riddick, we didn’t have a script, just a vague reference to ‘Butcher Bay’ in Pitch Black. We built a whole world out of one sentence. The world seemed to fit with the rest of the Riddick metafiction, so that was kind of cool. Ghostbusters was fun because we approached it like we were writing the 2nd movie. The trick with that was working a player into the ensemble and balancing the horror and humor.”

DM: “Speaking of horror, when you wrote the game script for F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin, where did you take your inspiration? Are you a fan of horror movies?”

FD: “I have a funny relationship with Horror. I’ve created two horror projects. One was an audio disc that grew up to be a CD-ROM interactive movie, called Terror TRAX (you can find it on the web). I wrote it, directed it (as both audio and video) and then Renny Harlan did it as a TV pilot for Fox.

Then, John Zuur Platten and I created a game design document called BACKWATER, which got turned into a movie called VENOM. It got made and we got screenwriting credit for it after a Writer’s Guild arbitration. So horror has been good to me.

F.E.A.R. was an interesting project. Very Japanese horror superimposed over apocalyptic ‘techno thriller’. The big thing was figuring out the little girl and all of the other craziness. You have to kind of let go and ride with the Japanese aspects of it. Liked that project. Great guys.”

DM: “Let’s talk about your ARG class at UCLA.”

FD: “Well, an ARG is an Alternate Reality Game. That means that it’s a game, usually played in the real world and in cyberspace that is intended to feel, to some degree, ‘real’.

Alternate Reality Games are sometimes confused with Augmented Reality Games (also ARG). Those are games where a mobile computing device (smart phone) is used to ‘see’ things in cyberspace that are ‘mixed in’ with the real world. It’s also called, ‘mixed reality’. And to make things more confusing, Alternate Reality Games sometimes use Augmented Reality Technology.”

DM: “That makes it confusing, indeed. Alternate reality gaming using a real world reference, how do you deal with real world’s actual limits and rules? I suppose that it is a subject that is discussed in your class. Is there an ethical concern about it? I.e. Murder or theft that you can choose to commit if you’d like in games like Grand Theft Auto, for an example. No consequences until you get caught. How much freedom should you get in an ARG universe?”

FD: “Good questions. The first issue is that you have to define the boundaries for your game. Some are intensely local, others are global. That’s the ultimate expression of any internet game. The reach of the web. You have to define your game in terms of time, space, etc. We stumble into the ethical issues, but you just kind of do what you feel is right. The general rule is that you want to be ‘invisible’ to the rest of the world. Nobody knows who you are or that you’re playing the game. Of course, that’s just one kind of ARG.”

DM: “Is it the first class that you teach?”

FD: “No. I taught a class about Game Writing a few years ago when I wanted to get off dead center with the Ultimate Guide.”

DM: “That is a good way to prepare a book about the subject. It gets you right in the middle of it.”

FD: “Yeah. You’re forced to see the issues right at you.”

For those of you who’d like to know more about video game writing and learn from its masters, get your hands on The Ultimate Guide to Video Game Writing and Design , written by Flint Dille and John Zuur Platten.

Read: An interview with successful writer Flint Dille (Part 1)

Read: An interview with successful writer Flint Dille (Part 3)

I do not own the rights to the current pictures

At the beginning of 2011, I decided to put up a blog where I would interview professional from the television and film industries, but most of all people that had an impact on my life. One of the first persons that immediately came to my mind was American writer Flint Dille, whose work in the eighties had a great influence on my writing career. Since we had been in contact before, Flint agreed fast to be the first interviewee. Not only was he available, but his generosity did transform the interview in something much bigger than what I had expected. It is with great pleasure that I present to you this very first interview.

flint_dille_bio

David Martel: “Some people my age will remember Flint Dille (Which is pronounced “Dill-ee”) as a staff writer and story editor who worked at Sunbow Productions in the eighties. Since then, you have been involved with numerous animated televisions shows, hit videogames, online worlds, comic books and feature films, as a writer, consultant, designer and producer. You own and run the company GZP (Ground Zero Productions) and the Bureau of Film and Games (www.filmandgames.com), with John Zuur Platten, which provides intellectual property creation and management for the film and game industries”.

Flint Dille: “Yeah. It’s been an interesting ride. It all more or less adds up to what I’m doing now, which is Transmedia, or what I like to refer to as Transformedia, because the idea is that each different medium should add something to the property or franchise that the other mediums don’t bring. And yeah, now I’m working on movies, games, comics and a non-fiction book. The most recent incarnation is professor at UCLA, teaching a class in Alternate Reality Games”.

DM: “Back in the eighties, you have worked on great shows such as G.I.Joe, The Transformers, Inhumanoid and Visionaries. Did you have any favourite franchise?”

FD: “I liked them all for different reasons, but to be honest I looked at them as kind of a shared universe. Kind of like the moves are now, the “NEST”team in Transformers could almost be the Joe Team. We had characters that wandered between them. “Joe” was the easiest. Transformers was the most complex. Inhumanoids was the wildest. I re-watched it. Crazy stuff. Visionaries was probably the best animated and executed of all the shows, simply because it was near the end of that run and we really had our game down.”

logo_by_inhumanoids

DM: “Is there one (or more) episode in particular that you are really proud of or that you were thrilled to write?”

FD: “All of them had their wonderful qualities. The Inhumanoids mini-series was written while I was quitting smoking and mostly in nicotine withdrawls and has a spacy, angry, frenetic quality that I like. “The Gamesmaster” was a G.I.Joe episode that I wrote in 24 hours up at the Dungeons & Dragons mansion. A lot of the middle episodes of Visionaries were written in this magical haze where characters really did kind of come to life on their own while I was writing. Then there’s the lost draft of the Transformers movie, “The Secret of Cybertron” that I’d love to read again.”

DM: “You mentioned that Transformers was the most complex to write. How was that so?”

FD: “Well, there were so many of them. And at first I used to worry about scale — how can a cassette talk to a constructicon. I stopped worrying about that pretty fast. How do you buff the mythology (all the cybertron stuff)? Can we have a resource other than energon? Machines can’t die, so what are we worried about? What is the essence of the characters, then? Of course, I finally parked all of those concerns and just started hammering them out. No time to contemplate. We had to get a show out every week. It worked out. Oh yeah, and where do the humans fit in? And what about other types of aliens. Loved having them meet other aliens? You get the idea.”

DM: “I didn’t think of Transformers that way… To me it was a great action series with good guy and villains… They just happened to be trucks, cars and aircrafts, which was already fantastic! I didn’t think about the other concerns.”

FD: “Yeah. Once I started thinking that way, it got a lot easier for me, too.”

sideshow-12-inch-flint-banner-600x400-390x260

DM: “Rumor has it that the looks and the name of the G.I.Joe character codenamed “Flint” were based on yourself. Is this true? How did that happen?”

FD: “I don’t know if he really was or not. When they hired me, they said, ‘hey, we named a character after you, you’ve got to take the job.’ I think he was there before I was, though they were well aware of me. Its one of those ‘print the legend’ kinds of things. One thing that is for sure that once I was on the show, his role in the “Joeteam was dramatically upgraded.”

DM: “From what you can remember of the show, what do you think would be the biggest difference or resemblance between this character’s personality and yours? Apart form the fact that you are real and he’s not, of course!”

FD: “Flint is who we would all want to be. He’s a Spec Ops commando. I always thought of him as British, though we didn’t voice him that way. He’s an idealized version of me. Very, very idealized.”

DM: “Not much is known about Flint Dille, the man. So, firstly, could you please talk a bit about your personal background? Did you have any role model growing up as a child? How did you happen to choose writing as a career path?”

FD: “Interesting question. No, I didn’t really have a role model growing up. I mean, my dad was great, ran a newspaper syndicate, but I remember him telling me that he didn’t think that business would be around in 20 years, so I knew I wasn’t going to be doing that. The weird thing is that most of my role models were fictional characters. TV characters. In a strange way, being a writer is a lot like being a TV private eye.”

DM: “Could you give examples of fictional characters that you took as role models?”

FD: “Yeah. For some reason, Jack Kelly and James Garner in Maverick gave me a sense of what I wanted being grown up to feel like. Who didn’t want to be Sean Connery in Bond? I always figured I’d have a job like Dick Van Dyke in his show. Kind of do. Always liked the way private eyes functioned. There’s a reason screenwriters write them so well. It is kind of a similar life. You get a call. You go to an office. Somebody sends you out on a case. You go. The case never leads where you think it will. And I got all my political ideas from John Wayne in the Alamo.”

DM: “Personally, I didn’t really grow up with James Bond movies, but I liked the character. Being an 80’s child, the “Joes” and the “Autobots” were part of my childhood models. I was a big fan of these series… Since they are often idealized, I think it’s normal to see cartoon characters have an influence on kids.”

FD: “Well, it all comes full circle on Bond and G.I.Joe. Steve Gerber and I (and I think Buzz Dixon) always thought of G.I. Joe as a Bond movie with a whole lot of characters. The action and extreme sports were all very Bond. The gadgets. You never stray far from your childhood when you’re writing fantasy. At least that’s my theory.”

DM: “How did you happen to choose writing as a career path?”

FD: “I got out of Berkeley with a degree in Ancient History and Classical Rhetoric and had no idea what I was going to do with my life. Had a lost year, well, a couple of lost years after college, and went to film school. However, did write my first novel in that period. It was a Fraternity House murder mystery. Never got published, but it was a lot of fun doing it, so I decided I’d pursue that path for a while.”

“After grad school I was hired by Joe Ruby (one of the creators of Scoobie Doo) to write animation. Discovered that I had a knack for it. Around that time, I met Gary Gygax (Creator of Dungeons & Dragons) and started working on games so the path was pretty well set.”

DM: “What did you do prior to writing for television and how did you land at Sunbow Productions?”

FD: “Had a disastrous experience working at Lucasfilm, working on a show called Droids. Got done with that and Steve Gerber called and asked me if I wanted to edit some G.I. Joes. Sure. “Joe” was easy. Second nature. That lead to becoming a producer at Sunbow.”

Read: An interview with successful writer Flint Dille (Part 2)

Read: An interview with successful writer Flint Dille (Part 3)

I do not own the rights to the current pictures