Posts Tagged ‘Hasbro’

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 high school so my education has been through the school of hard knocks. My first job in show biz was as a lot attendant for a drive-in theater 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 During our talk I mentioned my writing experience for the army and that I had also written several unpublished short stories.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?”

BD: “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 picture 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