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

Oct. 25, 2012 | 3:00 p.m.

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

  1. Anthony says:

    Great show. Leaves anything Bay does in the dust.

    • Just joe says:

      Love this show and I'm 34. Not just for kids, as some people say. Epic season 2 fianale, such an emotional roller coaster. Ready and primed for Season 3, and can't wait for a good HD videogame worthy of the name.

  2. Vrahno says:

    Well, I've embraced it, but it still let me down. However I am interested in seeing where season 3 will go… not excited anymore, merely interested.

  3. Dawnevire Storm says:

    Been watching what's avalible on Netflix.So far we've been loving most of it. The emotional intensity is good & the action is high quality w/out overloading your sensors. But I do not like at all the killing off of some of the original charicters.(Unless of course they find a way to bring them back.) And the mention in the artical of charicters switching sides in future episodes is disturbing. I would hate to think of an Autobot that fans have developed an emotional attachment to turning to the Cons. I did not like Beast Wars becouse of the side switching & becouse they seemed to have less of a moral compass. The values that a show promotes is part of what makes it good. With anything geared to a younger audence it is important to ask what we are teaching & what message we are sending, becouse ultamatly you ARE teaching kids,& you ARE sending a message. I would enjoy seeing a Con become an Autobot, becouse the message that people can change for the good, especially if nurtured, is a good one to send.

  4. chris says:

    Must admit i do like Prime, reminds me of the dark tone of Beast machines. why i liked. Its nice to see a kids program take a darker tone and see characters actually die, instead of this nicey nice thing which kids programs tend to do. God when i was a kid some of the programs where extremely dark, Dreamstone springs to mind, pilot episode and several characters die within 45 secs of the program starting, ulysses 31 was another one and they didn't do me any harm.

    I hope they are still going ahead with the Prime film, as i know they were planning one. Also i wonder if Megs will become Galvatron in this series and if we will get to hear soundwaves real voice?/

  5. jose says:

    The guy that says he was disappointed. Seriously?!! I can not get enough of enough of this. Awesome work guys! Keep it up. I hope it goes on forever. I’m 37 years old and been a fan since the original series. I know season 3 will blow our minds away and I’ll be waiting for season 4,5,6,7….etc. thanks

    • T.J.- i'm a girl says:

      I fell the same way!!!!

    • Wess says:

      I feel you Jose. I'm 50 years old and has been a transformers fan since the first show. I hope they bring wheel jack back also. You never saw an explosion from behind the mountain after star scream shot him down. I down miss an episode even if I have to dvr it.

    • Marcus says:

      I fell the same as u and t.j. This show is obviously not like the original. But I am loving this show. It is exciting and has a great storyline. My girlfriend has become a huge fan of it. I hope Transformers Prime does NOT go away anytime soon.. and I do agree I believe season 3 will blow our minds away..

  6. T.J.- i'm a girl says:

    At first i thought the show was going to be boring but as i watched more and more I'm now adicted to the show. I'm just happy they are having a season 3 and I can't wait to see what happens!!! :) p.s. does any one know if prime survives? if u do post it and tell me if he does!!!!!!

    • chris says:

      Prime will def be back, its a traditon in TFs, G1 he died and came back twice, Beast wars Optimus Primal died and came back, Armada/Energon/Cybertron, Animated(he died in the pilot ep) and the movies he died and came back. Its a pretty safe bet he'll be back, unless this series they will break that mold but i doubt it,

    • Angela Matthews says:

      Prime survives until the end of Predacons Rising when he puts the All Spark in his chest to protect it and he needs to get it to Primus so he sacrifices himself to put life on Cybertron while Knockout, Arcee, Bumblebee, Bulkhead, Ultra Magnus, Wheeljack, Ratchet, Megatron, Shockwave, Predaking, Darksteel, Skylink, and other well "Cons" since Megatron said that Decepticons are no more are still on Cybertron, awake and alive. But just because Optimus is dead, doesn't mean he is still with his family. He is watching over them, waiting, protecting and he will stay in their sparks for a very long time. Optimus has almost died so many times in Season 1, 2, and 3 and finally, Optimus gives his life to protect the All Spark from destruction.
      And that was the end of the age of Primes!
      P.S. I cried very hard when Optimus died but I know that Optimus did the wrong and the right thing for his family.

  7. curtis says:

    i really like the series and think transformers prime is the best since beast wars. lookin forward to see what happens in the 3rd season n how the beast hunters will fit into the story left from season 2's epic ending. ive been a fan of transformers since g1 n collect the classics/generations g1 figures n transformers prime figures as well. wonderin if were gonna see rodimus n ultra magnus to name a few and megatron become galvatron with a updated cannon transformation mode would be very nice. will optimus prime die who will lead the autobots? guess we will get the answers to those questions soon. keep up the great work :)

  8. Atomicsaurian says:

    I hope the bring out Grimlock. He has always been a complex and engaging character. Maybe that’s who Shockwave is bringing through the spacebridge?

  9. @AspieMum says:

    Being in the UK we are some what behind on the story and our DVD (we only have 1 Prime DVD) is just the Darkness Rising initial mini series (I hope we get more- we often don't get the full set & I'm having to try to get a sepcial DVD player to play all regions so we can watch american ones). We have been enjoying Prime- its one of the best versions of Transformers (along with G1). We have only seen a little bit of Beast Wars- my kids found it confusing.

  10. james scully says:

    I think, in my opinion, that if you do beast, go dinobots. Thanks to fall of cybertron, the dinobots have a good realistic footing in the new (what i would call) “permanant” and “central” transformers “universe”. Also, who doesnt like dinobots! They rock. Everyone, young and old, loves them. Another factor is some people, like myself, may not be a big fan of “beast-formers”. Also, how would they fit in? Where did they come from? Excetera. Those guys wouldn’t really fit in if you ask me. Another note (this is just an idea from me [and i watch every new episode of the show when it comes our]) if primes down as the season finale or season 2 seamed to suggest, who will lead team prime? This would be a perfect time to introduce some classic high ranking autobots. Some ideas might be: jazz, prowl (however unlikely) ironhide, ultra magnus (yet thats an iffy idea since magnus has been placed as leader of the wreakers in this “universe”), or maybe another prime, like rodimus. I for one am a fan of rodimus. But if ya did put rodimus in, he would need some major charecter reconstruction considering the type of universe prime’s like. Giving soundwave some backround or a rival might be a good idea. I’m sure some fans are curious about that faceless con. Or leave soundwave alone. He’s good as isifya ask me. I’m still shocked he managed to beat a bot like wealjack. This is just my input. Frankly, if ya ask me, you guys are doing great. This is the best transformers series i’ve ever seen, and a great recovery from that live action movie series (those movies tarnished transformers reputation a bit if you ask me). Keep up the good work. I, as a fan, am looking forward to watching season three, and hopefully many more.

  11. Alia Hassan says:

    Why Would Megatron Kill Dredwing. ITS WRONG!!!! He Should Have Killed Starscream. I LOVED Dredwing, Cuz He Helped The Autobots. When I Saw Him Die I Litreally Burst Into Tears. PLZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ BRING DREDWING BACK< PLZ!

    • Angela Matthews says:

      I am so with you! I loved Dreadwing so much since he helped Optimus go up against Starscream and surprisingly he didn't kill Optimus, but that doesn't really matter. When I saw Dreadwing get killed by Megatron I burst into TEARS! PLZ bring Dreadwing back, PLZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Miss him!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  12. Voltaire says:

    This show’s morality was so crooked, and I thoroughly enjoyed season 1, so it was hard to watch the mess it became in seasons 2 and 3. The audacity of the movie was *impossible* to watch, besides. If this was them trying hard to be moral, I’d hate to see the result of them not caring about moral issues.

    Lacing people with bombs, leaving them to starve in nether-dimensions, torturing them, refusing to TRY to talk them down or treat them like human beings, ultimately vindicating ONLY the leader of their faction (who also murdered human beings, not just murder-tortured Autobots) in a might-makes-right free-for-all, unnecessarily recruiting children and turning them into scared, reactive murderers…

    The show is gorgeously animated, excellently voiced and occasionally written well, but nobody can honestly say it’s morally upright. It’s a catastrophic mess in that regard, even the kindest reading of a lot of the heroes results in “well they’ve been fighting for so long that it SEEMS right to them even though it clearly isn’t right”, and it’s rarely, if ever, called out. Even when it is called out, the behavior is noted as wrong for bad reasons (“don’t torture these specific noncombatants, only torture the officers”, “Starscream you can join us but only because we can make use of your information, not because we care if you get the snot kicked out of you at home by the guy who’ll ultimately be vindicated by Optimus, who was disadvantaged LEAST by his cruelty”, “leaving someone in a cave to die isn’t the same as killing them”, “I’ll save Breakdown but only so I get to fight him!”. “I’m not responsible for my POWs, everybody has to look out for themselves”, “I’ll only heal people if they have information I want”, “We shouldn’t have been mean to Smokescreen but only because it turns out he had an important item unknowingly jammed in his chest”).

    THIS is what Kline considers morally correct? It’s NEVER right, not even accidentally, and even when it’s half right it’s winceworthy.

  13. Angela says:

    OMG Predacons Rising was the most epic, funniest, and saddest episode out of Season 1, 2, and 3! Knockout joins the Autobots, Megatron switches sides at the end, Starscream gets killed by Predaking and his Predacon followers, Skylink and Darksteel, and Optimus dies at the end! That was the really sad part aside from Megatron getting electrocuted by Unicron the destroyer. I am so pumped for Transformers 4 now and can't wait to see Mark Wahlberg play Shia's part, except for I think Shia Labouf was so much better because he was really funny in the first Transformers movie, the second one was pretty good to and the third one he was over protective over his car, not Bumblebee.
    I saw all of Season 1, Season 2, Season 3, and Season 4 Predacons Rising in the TFP series and I have seen transformers 1, Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen, and Transformers 3: Dark of the Moon in the TF series! I can't wait for TF 4!!!!

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