The Toys That Made Us S3: Interview with Brian Volk-Weiss by Jerry Whitworth
The latest season of The Toys That Made Us debuted on Netflix on November 15th and the third installment features episodes “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” “Power Rangers,” “My Little Pony,” and “Professional Wrestling.” We contacted series creator Brian Volk-Weiss to talk about the recent offering, the show’s future, its spin-off The Movies That Made Us, Discontinued, and the feature length documentary emerging from the third season.
Nerdfect Strangers: In past seasons of The Toys That Made Us, you’ve had the opportunity to travel the world and the third season is no different. It appears you went to Japan to speak with Toei and Bandai for “Power Rangers” and Hong Kong for “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.” Given your several trips to Japan, have you started to become more familiar with the country? What was it like going to Hong Kong?
Brian Volk-Weiss: I have been to Japan four years in a row, three for the Toys that Made Us and once for a show we’re doing with Zac Efron, and you’re right; I can absolutely make my way around Tokyo now frequently without using a map or my phone! Regarding Hong Kong, I’ve been going there for many many years, and it is an utterly mind blowing city that is as exciting as it is interesting. The history in both countries is absolutely amazing, as is their attention to every single detail that one could see or touch.
NS: In the first two seasons of TTMU, you used reenactments as narrative tools but you seemed to have pulled back on that a bit in the third season. Where did the idea for the reenactments come from and what went into the decision to switch things up a little?
BVW: The original idea behind the reenactments was, to be honest, my deep desire to recreate ILM for the Star Wars episode; I’ve always wanted to do that! The reason we decided to stop making them was twofold; first, due to the reaction from fans having been pretty muted on top of the fact that the cost to our budget was huge yet it only was a few minutes of screen time, we decided that we wanted to put that time and money into more travel, more interviews, better set design for the interviews, as well as more time in post-production to get all of the details worked out in a fun and also informative way.
NS: I read in an interview you did recently that this latest season offered a unique wrinkle in that several interviewees were fans of the show. That, they were trying to give you what they thought you wanted rather than what you were necessarily looking to film. Would you speak a bit to that? Will that affect your approach should another season get ordered?
BVW: If more seasons are ordered we will continue to try to guide the interviews with our heavily researched questions and to make sure we get as much of the detail we’re looking for.
NS: For “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” and “Power Rangers,” you had the opportunity to interview something of an entertainment “hidden figure” in Margaret Loesch (former President of Marvel Productions, former President of Fox children programming). What was that experience like? I noticed you interviewed her at least twice for the show.
BVW: It was absolutely amazing and an honor to not only meet her, but to get so much time with her to get all the answers we needed to our questions. Her stories are utterly brilliant and directly connected to the origins of the modern pop culture renaissance. Also, we were so blown away by our experience meeting her that we green lit a feature length documentary about her life that we’re producing.
NS: Again, for “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” and “Power Rangers,” you were able to interview Haim Saban. Somewhat well-known for not providing interviews, what went into securing that meeting with him on camera and how did it go?
BVW: Luckily for us, he and his team were big fans of seasons 1 and 2, so when it was announced that season 3 had been green lit they were just about as excited as we were to be a part of the show. Haim gave us a lot of time and could not have been more generous with his time and stories and also his awesome sense of humor.
NS: I’ve seen quite a few people comment that they wept watching the finale of the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” episode *SPOILER ALERT* with the reunion between Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird (creators of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles). I know it certainly hit me pretty hard. Going into the episode’s filming, did you know about the pair’s separation? How did the reunion come about and what was the atmosphere like while filming it?
BVW: We knew about the separation, but what we didn’t know, and only came out of a four hour interview with Peter, was that he still had the legal right to make original issues of TMNT if he wanted to. As soon as I heard that I knew we had to try to get he and Kevin back to where it all started to work on the first new comic issue that they’d worked on together in many decades. Lucky for us, Kevin was willing to not only do a second shoot with us, but this time he had to get on a plane and fly across the whole country.
NS: Before watching the “Power Rangers” episode, I knew there was a lot of backstory involved (nearly seven decades worth) and I eagerly awaited to see how you would handle it. I thought you did a great job with it but I have to ask how challenging it was to decide what was important and what had to be cut. Personally, I didn’t even know about the Godaikin line from Bandai America so I was excited to hear about that.
BVW: It is extremely hard to choose what goes into every episode and what doesn’t. It’s utterly gut wrenching for us to make these decisions, from cutting Power of the Force in the Star Wars episode, to some amazing things we got on the 1990s Power Rangers movie that we had to cut for the Power Rangers episode. Luckily this year we just put out a Blu-ray with lots of cut scenes from the first two seasons, and it’s selling so well I have high hopes we will put out another one next year that will have cut scenes from season 3.
NS: For “My Little Pony,” you had the opportunity to interview John de Lancie about that brand’s most recent television series and the Brony phenomenon. Knowing how big of a Star Trek fan that you are, how strange was it to snag a sit down with de Lancie and you were talking about ponies? Were you aware going into filming that he was such a major part of the show and its fandom?
BVW: I had met John a few times before, so it was not hard for me to be on my best behavior, though I did think about stabbing him in the hand with a fork (that’s a Star Trek reference, FYI). I was aware of the Brony phenomenon, but I think because I was aware, and I liked the line myself, it wasn’t as weird to me that dudes are into MLP. The characters from the line are so unique and cool as is the world they live in, that it makes sense to me that anyone, no matter the sex, would be into the Ponies.
NS: Going into the “Professional Wrestling” season finale, I knew about LJN, Hasbro, Jakks Pacific, and Mattel’s history with the WWF/E, but I had no idea about David Galoob’s journey with the brand and assorted other wrestling properties. What went into unraveling that bit of untold history and having Robby Kanoff and Saul Jodel as something of a through-line for the episode? In some ways, the episode was almost like an underdog story for the trio of friends.
BVW: We do two pre-interviews per subject, and by the time we film them we have usually done at least 50 pre-interviews, so we get to put the puzzle together from this process before the cameras roll. Due to knowing the Galoob team from making the Star Trek episode in season 2, we were able to figure out pretty quickly who did what and what their contribution to the story would be.
NS: With the first two seasons of TTMU out on DVD and Blu-ray (available at all major retailers), could we see a physical home media release for the third season? Or, is that too soon to even really consider? Do you have a fair amount of bonus footage for such a release?
BVW: I think what we would do (if we do it) would be to have put out a 2020 Blu-ray that has all of season 1 and 2 extras on it but we would add season 3 and those extras to it too. That’s just my opinion right now, anything could change.
NS: The first season of the TTMU‘s spin-off The Movies That Made Us comes exclusively to Netflix on November 29th. How did the approach to that series differ from its parent show? I understand it was challenging because of the prominence of commentary special features for many of these films.
BVW: After season 2 came out I had a meeting at Netflix to discuss ‘what’s next’. I pitched two spin offs, and they really liked the Movie idea. The way I pitched The Movies That Made Us was to simply make a mock up the of the famous poster from Die Hard of Bruce Willis in the wife-beater with the gun in front of Nakatomi Tower, except we replaced Bruce’s head with Frank Sinatra’s head, because the back story is that Die Hard is actually a sequel to another movie that was made in the 60s called The Detective, and Sinatra was legally required to be offered the role back if a sequel was made. He originally said yes before he stood down.
NS: One of the films you are tackling with MTMU is Ghostbusters (1984), one of the most popular movies of all time. I know a lot of fans have begged for an episode of Toys That Made Us for that brand so how daunting was it to approach such a cultural phenomenon?
BVW: It was very daunting because the movie has been so well covered over the years that we had to ask ourselves ‘how do we make this original to our series’? We were able to do that because we did our usual deep dive interviews and research, plus we also were able to get Ivan Reitman and Dan Aykroyd to work with us to tell the story and unearth some information and pathos that had not been done before.
BVW: We are currently in pre-production on a full multi season order, and that’s all I can say about that right now.
NS: As soon as it was announced what toylines were being featured in the third season of TTMU, fans wanted to know what will be next. You’ve made no secret brands like Hot Wheels, Dungeons & Dragons, superheroes, Nerf, Cabbage Patch Kids, Nintendo, Robotech, and Voltron rank fairly high on your wish list (not to mention a “Toys That Should Have Not Been Made” special series finale). But I imagine the more important idea here is that people really need to watch the latest season and past seasons to make it possible to get more seasons. Would you speak to that?
BVW: I can’t stress enough how important it is, if people want more seasons, that they watch all 12 episodes at least once. If people are only watching their favorite toys from when they were a kid, then we will probably not get a 4th season. Netflix needs to understandably justify the cost of this show with seeing how many eyeballs go to watch it, and if people are only watching one or two per season, it stands to reason that that means the show is not working as a series. So please shout it out from the roof tops: ‘watch all 12!’
All three seasons of The Toys That Made Us are available for streaming exclusively on Netflix, its first two seasons are available on DVD and Blu-ray from all major retailers, and its spin-off The Movies That Made Us comes exclusively to Netflix on November 29th. You can follow Toys That Made Us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.