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October 25, 2012

‘Transformers: Prime’ producer talks Beasts, mythology, Michael Bay

Posted in: Animation,TV

Fans of “Transformers: Prime” can get an early look at Friday’s penultimate episode, titled “Regeneration,” with the above clip from the multiple Daytime Emmy Award-winning animated series — there’s dissension in the Decepticon ranks as Dreadwing apparently has had enough of Starscream and is about to shut his engines down forever.

With the Season 2 finale bringing the culmination of the Omega Lock story line, series executive producer Jeff Kline has turned his sights to Season 3, which he says will continue the series’ tradition of darker tales in which the Autobots are the long-suffering underdogs. Kline recently spoke by phone to Hero Complex contributor Patrick Day about his specific plans for the future of “Transformers: Prime,” which airs on the Hub and is produced by Hasbro Studios.

HC: The idea of having long story arcs is a bit unusual in an animated series aimed at kids, isn’t it?

JK: To be honest, it’s not where we started with “Transformers: Prime.” When we first started, we had ideas for where we wanted to go with longer term arcs; we knew where we wanted to get to at the end of Season 1, Season 2, Season 3. We planned out three seasons with no idea if we’d ever get that far. What we discovered early on, especially in Season 2, because we kept getting bigger and bigger, we wanted it to get more epic and the idea of having every episode be self-contained became impossible. And we burned through our three years of story early in Season 2. Which is pretty typical.

transformers prime1 Transformers: Prime producer talks Beasts, mythology, Michael Bay

“Transformers: Prime.” (Hasbro Studios)

HC: Have you formulated a new three-year plan?

JK: We definitely reconfigured ourselves through Season 3, which we are in production on now. One of the nice things about “Transformers: Prime,” not true of all animated series, is that we have a full-time writing staff. A lot of animated series have to make do with one story editor and freelancers. It can be very hard to plot out long-term stories by yourself in a room. But we have a full-blown writing staff, so we spend a lot of time before we get down to script writing talking about where do we want to go, where do we want the characters to go.

HC: What can people expect in Season 3?

JK: As anybody who’s been watching the show knows, we tend to get bigger and bigger and paint ourselves into corners. So the end of Season 2 will paint us into a corner and hopefully you’ll be surprised at how we get ourselves out of it. For Season 3, we’re actually bringing Beasts into the story, which is a big game-changers. Not necessarily “Beast Wars” way or “Dino-bots” but Beasts, which are part of the Transformers lore. For us, it’s important to be able to justify that previous lore within our own continuity. One of the big things for us is the idea that Earth and Cybertron have been interrelated for eons. The Unicron arc played with that quite a bit. But Season 3 will be even more about how Earth and Cybertron are brother, or twin, planets in some way. And, as we’ve been doing for two seasons, allegiances will change, good guys and bad guys will switch sides, new elements will be brought in and old elements will be sent away. We try to change it up because we always want our Autobots at a disadvantage. From the very beginning, there have always been fewer Autobots than Decepticons, they’re technologically disadvantaged. We’ll continue to try to stack the deck against them.

HC: Have you ever written the characters into a corner that you couldn’t get them out of and had to go back to readjust the story?

JK: We’ve been lucky enough to not be in script when that happens, but we’ll absolutely be in the middle of a story session, breaking multiple stories across multiple episodes and we’ll get to a point where we realize that something we did three episodes ago is going to cause us a huge problem. That decision is, do you change three episodes ago or do you try to find a way out moving forward? We’ve gone both ways over these three seasons. But hopefully, we’re hitting those problems in outline. If you hit those problems in script, you’re probably going to be in trouble.

HC: You haven’t run into any problems based on episodes that had already been produced?

JK: We haven’t, but we came pretty close with this third season because the idea of using Beasts wasn’t presented to us until we were pretty far down the line. We always have to justify something and make sure it’s part of the bigger whole. And we weren’t sure we would be able to do that. We had a plan we’d already moved down the line with. But ultimately we were able to do it.

HC: It seems like the “Transformers” franchise has always tended toward serialized storytelling, dating to the original ’80s animated series.

JK: When we started on “Prime” we “inherited” a 300- or 400-page document. It was put together by Hasbro and it was sort of the combined mythology over the many iterations of “Transformers.” When we started “Prime” we knew in some ways we wanted to start over and introduce viewers into this world and not assume they’d had previous experience with “Transformers,” but we always didn’t want to contradict what had come before us. So we started with that document, and to their credit, Hasbro as a toy company tends to have that kind of IP on their products, especially their action figures. They create this world before you even get the toys. We got that 300- or 400-page document and a good chunk of our time was spent trying to figure out what we wanted to use and how we wanted to use it. At some point we wanted to be done with that and go on our own path. We couldn’t have predicted where we started to do that, and in some ways we’re still servicing that document even as we’ve spun off into our own storytelling.

HC: Is there one person overseeing the entire “Transformers” franchise, coordinating between the animated series and the movies and the novels and the comic books?

JK: I think that’s a guy in Rhode Island named Aaron Archer. He’s been involved with the brand for a long, long time. His job is very difficult because he has to allow the different iterations to do things independent of each other, but not to contradict each other. He’s the guy stuck in the middle between Michael Bay and me and the IDW, the comic book company.

HC: This series is a bit darker and more mature than previous “Transformers” animated series. How do you walk that line for a kids’ show? What’s too dark?

JK: Most of us are parents. I have a 9-year-old. There’s a little bit of “Is this something I’d want my daughter or my son to watch?” Would I be OK with that? The other thing we had to keep in mind was that the last series before “Transformers Prime” was “Transformers Animated,” which was a little more comedic. But the movies took a much different tone with higher stakes and more epic action. We didn’t want the series to disappoint those who were fans of the movies. But we also wanted to do something different from “Transformers: Animated.” So that led us down a particular tonal path. Quite honestly, if it hadn’t worked, we would have reverted to something else. But it seemed to work. Our biggest fear was whether the fans would embrace it or they would regard it as just another “Transformers” iteration. The good news is the fans embraced it.

— Patrick Kevin Day


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