The first half of our exclusive conversation with the producers
My apologies for the delay in providing a transcript of the Green Lantern: The Animated Series retrospective episode of The Podcast of Oa. It’s a pretty time consuming task, but I’m glad to be able to finally publish the dialog for fans who could not listen to the podcast and wanted more detail than the bullet points that some websites published. So here is part one of the wonderful conversation we had with series producers Giancarlo Volpe and Jim Krieg. Part two of out conversation continues here.
Myron Rumsey (MR) – For Green Lantern fans March was not a good month last year when we got the announcement that Green Lantern: The Animated Series had been canceled, or essentially, not renewed. We’re about a year on and we’re delighted to do a little bit of a retrospective. Joining us for this episode of The Podcast of Oa are the producers of Green Lantern: The Animated Series, Giancarlo Volpe and Jim Krieg. Guys, welcome to the show!
Giancarlo Volpe (GV) – Hello!
Jim Krieg (JK) – Hello! It’s good to be here!
MR – Thank you guys for for joining us. This is been, for us, a year on – now how long has it been for you guys since you guys finished making the show?
JK – I don’t even now – a long time! More than a year….
GV – Maybe two years ago!?
JK- Wow! Something you said made me realize it’s it such a funny thing, like shows used to be canceled and now they’re just not picked up! Now you just never, like it would be so hard if you are dating someone and she doesn’t just break up with you. They’re just, like, they just tell you you’re not continuing to date, you know! You’ve been together for two years and like, “Have we broken up?” “No, no, I’m just not dating you right now!”
Bill Giancoli (BG) – So you’re just trying to find closure, you’re calling Warner Brothers, “Is this over? Is this not happening?”
GV – There was a period of that, too! Where it was kind of like, “So what, like on a scale, like a percentage scale, is it like 50% we might be back?” It took a while to get a straight answer.
BG- You’re saying we have a chance, you’re saying there’s a chance!
JK – Yes, we were all set up pitch the next twenty six and then we got the news that the…I’m probably miss, I don’t want to do this to go down as gospel, but it was something along the lines of everybody loves this show, but the toy companies aren’t going to make the toys. Because all the manufacturers aren’t going to make room on the shelves. The movie did so poorly that there are a hundred million Green Lantern figures with Ryan Reynolds’ face on them that are going to fill up the Grand Canyon! It’s going to be the biggest landfill in history, and I would love to do more episodes, but if I tell, you know, K-Mart that, my boss at Kmart he’ll fire me!
“The movie did so poorly that there are a hundred million Green Lantern figures with Ryan Reynolds’ face on them that are going to fill up the Grand Canyon!” – Jim Krieg
MR – They’re all buried next to the Atari 2600 E.T. game cartridges!
GV – Yes!
JK – They’re like a ski ski resort now!
BG – Here’s your complimentary Ryan Reynolds’ Green Lantern doll!
MR – I know for a lot of fans it really was hard news to hear. I know I took it….
JK – It was hard for us!
BG – You guys are out a job and we’re just like, “Awww”!
JK – Literally, we were sitting there with all this art up on all the wall like ready to go and he said, “so the odds have gone down a little bit”, and I remember just sitting there trying to process this and then I throw out, “So what are the odds, like 50-50?” And our Boss said, “Oh, no! Less than that!” It was a bad moment!
MR – Did they really build the success financially on toys sales? Did they not look at that like extra income or did they consider that income that needed to happen for the short to exist?
GV – I think it hinges on it, right?
JK – Right
GV – Like this model is that we’re just making toy commercials.
JK – Really awesome, well written, well directed, well crafted toy commercials! But it was funny when the show came out and people saw, without having seen this show, people are like, “Oh, CG, they’re going to make a CG show causes so much cheaper!” And it’s like more than double – it’s like three times as much and your hemorrhaging money into this show. Hopefully, and I think successfully, it was a beautiful piece but everybody thought because it was cheap. No, they lose money on the show and then they hope to make it up on the plastic sales.
MR – It’s been two years and I don’t expect that you can remember everything, but when you were working on the first twenty six did you build the first twenty six with the end in mind that you used, or did you change it because of the decision that came down? Were you still in production at that point and changed your ending a little bit?
JK – Just a little.
GV – Yeah, it was very, very marginal. I mean, like, how much do you reveal, Jim?
JK – I think we can say this, like I said, the show… when they told me – I don’t remember the name of the first CG guy that we had with the ponytail – but he told us how much each episode costs and I went, “What!?” Like right at the beginning and I thought, um, so we designed the first thirteen to have a hard how because I had a figured somewhere along the way they’d go, “Oh, this is ridiculously expensive! We’re not doing more than thirteen!” So the thirteenth episode has sort of a hard out and like that would’ve been the series ender, and then, but people were really liking what was coming back and we felt stronger and stronger that people are loving this show, they’re loving it. Before it aired, just so you know, in-house and our boss, the reaction felt really good. So we felt for sure we’re gonna be able to end this in the cliffhanger and then roll one with the story, the next twenty six.
MR – And Bruce Timm said in an interview somewhere that this series was his favorite piece of work that he’d done, that he’d worked on.
JK – God bless him!
MR – So the financial piece was more of it than ratings, correct?
JK – Yes, absolutely.
GV – Yeah you know the ratings could have been sub-average, but if the toy sales were through the roof, they wouldn’t have cared.
MR – And demographics were an issue to you, I assume, because I am not the target demographic for the show.
JK – And no one ever came to us and said, “Ugh, this is too girly.”
GV – I have a couple points on that. One is, you kind of are that target because of that shelf right behind you! (Myron is in a room filled ceiling to floor with Green Lantern collectibles)
GV – There was a – what’s the Brave and the Bold Paul Dini interview that…
JK – Oh, Yeah!
GV – Yeah, and I agree with mostly everything he said, actually almost everything he said. But it somehow got misconstrued that Cartoon Network hates, will cancel a show if too many girls watch! It’s not exactly the logic chain – it’s more that they are targeting boys and statistically and traditionally boys or their parents will buy lots of toys and action figures, specifically, and girls kind of don’t. They’re into other things. And so when they see a show not sell many toys the conclusion is that not enough boys are into this. But it’s not because there are too many girls. Right, Jim?
“Yeah you know the ratings could have been sub-average, but if the toy sales were through the roof, they wouldn’t have cared.” – Giancarlo Volpe
JK – In some ways it was sort of a “fait de complete” (a done deal) because there were no toys anyway. So if a hundred million little girls bought action figures of our show they would say, “gosh, we love girls. Let’s keep this show on forever!” But essentially the fans were somewhat older and so I mean every adult kind of geek like myself could buy all the toys that were manufactured for the show and I don’t think it would even compare to the kind of sales they would get if little children bought the toys. You know what you really need is a is a ten-year-old boy to want to collect them all. There are many more of them than adults.
GV – Which is why we need to have more kids that have a working job when their eight years old!
BG – Well, that’s later one when we’re going to talk about child labor laws, but let’s…
JK – They are building the toy on one end and buying it on the other!
BG – We’ll just take it right out of their salaries! I think it’s a nice little symbiotic relation! I have kind of a chicken or the egg question. I’m just interested to hear your thoughts here because you did mention that, you know, the whole toy sales with the Green Lantern movie may have had some kind of ripple effect that caused…
JK- That was not the butterfly effect that was not like, there was a slight…
BG – Ryan Reynolds flapped his wings and…tidal waves…
JK – Our show lived within the inhalation “oh my gosh, they’re going to make a huge movie for millions and millions of dollars and let’s do a show” and the exhalation of, “this is a huge flop and should never happened!” So our entire, all twenty six episodes happened in that little pause in between those breaths.
“I don’t think they ever would’ve said yes to a show before the movie existed, especially because our show was so absurdly expensive.” – Jim Krieg
GV – Our counterpart over at Disney was Tron and it was the exact same scenario. Everyone was like, “Tron is back and we are going to reboot this franchise. Everyone’s gonna love it, and were also gonna make this show and it will continue the momentum” and it was almost the same thing, the toys didn’t really sell well for the feature, the feature received kind of mixed reviews. I don’t even know if they showed all twenty six of Tron.
BG – So in your opinion, if the show maybe came out before the movie or, let’s say, had much of a window after the movie do you think that we might still be talking about the show or the show might still be in existence? Like maybe a year or two before the actual movie?
JK – If they’d made toys, absolutely. I think so. If they made toys and I think the toys would probably have sold well enough to for us to do more episodes. But I don’t think they ever would’ve said yes to a show before the movie existed, especially because our show was so absurdly expensive. We never saw that money, but it was spent somewhere.
MR – The irony is what merchandising they did do was McDonald’s toys and the statuettes which weren’t geared towards the ten-year-old male market to begin with.
JK – Right!
BG – Happy Meal sales went up for males between the ages of eighteen and thirty five!
GV – I saw the prototypes on e-bay for some of our toys, and I would not be outbid! So I spent a lot of money to buy those back.
JK – I know, like those toys are in a parallel universe – they’re like a little window into the parallel universe where the show went on and on and was a huge hit! It’s like the parallel universe where Ronald Reagan stars in Casablanca or something like Tom Selleck is Indiana Jones!
GV – Like the plastic they used was ironically yellow!
GV – So I have a yellow Hal and a Kilowog and I think an Atrocitus.
JK – That’s what happened! They couldn’t make it happen because the allergy to yellow!
MR – I’m kind of surprised that James Tucker and Warner Brothers Home Animation didn’t approach you guys that maybe, the same way with Young Justice since both shows had such great fan followings, that they didn’t want to do something as a direct-to-video once a year kind of thing. Was there any kind of dialogue about that at all?
GV – We wanted to do that and Brandon and Greg on the Young Justice side I believe approached our bosses on a couple of occasions and said, “hey, let’s just do a movie, we could like tie this thing up or just give the fans a little something more that they clearly want” and I don’t know why they said no but it must’ve been some sort of business call that…
JK – I think they had sort of a real corporate mandate to get into the new fifty-two and to move those things along.
GV – That’s a good point.
JK – In business you’re always, especially the entertainment business, people are very excited about the next thing and not at all excited about the last thing. It’s all about starting something new.
GV – Except for The Blog of Oa!
MR – Yeah, you now! I revel in that!
GV – Actually what’s really funny, if I can just interject, for a second. What’s funny is now that the show has been gone more for at least a year, I’m getting way more interview request then when it was on the air. It’s sort of the curse so I guess of Hollywood is your always asked to talk about the show you made before and no one really cares about the one you are currently working on and they the cycle repeats itself.
JK – It’s true – James Tucker told me that since Batman: Brave and the Bold has been showing on Netflix he gets way more fan mail about it now than he ever got when the show was on. People are like, “oh my gosh this. this show’s fantastic!” Because you can you can binge watch – the show is there on a banner or it’s like you don’t have to find it by flipping channels or reading about it. It’s just open on that page.
GV – It makes you wonder if like the, you know, the business model has changed so drastically because of Netflix and stuff like that. There were a lot of knee-jerk reactions to shows that didn’t debut that strongly with ratings and they just killed them, but if you just let those things ride they would gain momentum, they would find an audience. If someone could only know this that have the power to do so.
JK – I think that Netflix and Amazon are going to change everything. I think so because they just do these big orders. I think that they’d still be making Freaks and Geeks! If you had thirty episodes up you’d be like, “this is great! Make more! There is about to be a seismic shift.
MR – I think that’s where the whole SMGO-TV thing was going to go had that gone anywhere. That’s what they were trying to go to is fan’s paying for the content and avoiding the studio and TV mentality and go for direct digital distribution, but that didn’t go anywhere.
GV – I loved where their heart was at but the tricky thing is it’s not hard to raise like a grand or something for a graphic novel to be printed or something, but when you’re talking about twenty million dollars!
JK – Yeah honestly, I mean if it was any a be close to a million just to do one GL episode, though, so it’s like okay great, but I’m not even sure if you could do it because even if you had the of the budget to do one episode, we really amortize the cost of a lot of the making of the film overall, knowing that they’re going to be twenty six, so I’m not even sure you could do it.
BG – Well you could go to the Shark Tank and pitch it and get backers that way! How tied in is the business as far as, I think you are both right, that it’s changing in that to see a show have two or three seasons is kind of the norm now and then just hammer it on Amazon Prime and Netflix. But how tied in is Warner Brothers movie studio with the animation studio and to DC comics – that if one side is doing well that they pass a project on to the animation studio and so on. Are they interconnected that way? I mean it sounds like it was what happened with the Green Lantern movie and how it as you’re saying it directly affected the animated series that is that like typical? You’re gonna certainly take cues from the Warner Brothers studios.
JK – I don’t think there was a corporate mandate in any sense. I think that the Warner Brothers and Warner Brothers animation and Cartoon Network would have been happy to keep making them if we could’ve supported it with the toy line. So it wasn’t a matter that the movie wasn’t the hit they were looking for and then Warner Brothers said, “okay that’s embarrassing, let’s stop making that show.” It was really just a matter of how Toys R Us and Walmart wasn’t about to make shelf space for Green Lantern toys, so there was no financial incentive to do it and that’s the sad truth of art meeting commerce.
GV – And they hate girls! No I’m just kidding!
BG – I think that’s what we’re going to title this show!
JK – You’re going to cut out all the boring parts where I’m just saying “um” right?!
GV – It’s quite engaging, Jim, some times I forget to even say anything!
BG – Actually we’re going to take that part where you say “I hate girls” and keep looping it wherever there’s an “um”!
“I think that the Warner Brothers and Warner Brothers animation and Cartoon Network would have been happy to keep making them if we could’ve supported it with the toy line.” – Jim Krieg
MR – Now you guys saw that Stu Snyder is stepping down as the head of Cartoon Network?
JK – I just heard that just a little bit ago. I don’t think that this was his call. There’s no reason to dislike him him. I mean you honestly can’t even dislike the people make the movies. Every time you make something it’s like you hope and pray that it’s gonna be great, and sometimes the pieces just don’t gel together. What looked good on paper, just all the sudden you get that cut rough cut together and you go “ooohhhh”. Nobody set out to make a bad movie. It just like it didn’t happen the way they wanted it to. Everybody wants to make more stuff. They don’t want to hurt your feelings. They don’t want to take away the things you love. It’s just the economics of the industry.
MR – The exciting news that came out this week was the Blu-ray announcement – that’s coming out on March 18th. I was the first one to break the news – I was excited about that!
JK – You beat the Drudge Report!
MR – I beat Warner Brothers, too! It was the same way with Giancarlo’s Justice League Adventures!
GV – Do you kind of go on Amazon and look for new movies!?
MR – It was interesting because you’ve been talking on Twitter about a top-secret project with a Warner Brothers’ PR guy and that you’d be able to talk about it publicly soon. I always check the Sunday ads and I saw that Justice League Adventures in the Target and felt that the timing was about right. With the Blu-ray I had seen a similar conversation where they asked you and Josh (Keaton) about doing the panel at WonderCon and of course I starting thinking of why they would be asking you two in particular to do a panel for the Archive Collection. My first thought was that they’ve been releasing a number of things recently on Blu-ray so it makes sense that maybe they’d be announcing Green Lantern: The Animated Series on Blu-ray. I stopped to check Amazon for something different and because I’ve searched on so many Green Lantern things it just showed up on my recommendations and I’d already written most of the article based on my hunch.
JK – You’re like the Lois Lane of Green Lantern!
MR – The NSA tried to recruit me back in my college days, but I turned them down!
GV – It was kind of a surprise, I mean, actually now that’s out, I have a friend who’s still at Warner Brothers text me and say, “hey, rumor has it that Green Lantern might get a Blu-ray soon”. I kind of didn’t believe him, but I thought “no, that show is so dead to them!”
JK – I saw it on your tweet. I was like “oh, really!” And then honestly my first thought was, “oh, I hope they let GC and I do commentary” but it’s too late. They are already printing them up at the factory. I was a little bit of a bummer, but it’s a thrill that it’s coming out as a Blu-ray. Maybe we’ll do a podcast for you where we do live commentary and it’s like play the podcast and play the first two episodes of the show and we’ll talk our way through it or something.
MR – We actually did that where we did a couple of episodes of commentary – Bill and I tried it, but it’s not very engaging when it’s people who don’t know anything about the inside of the production!
JK – Believe me, GC (Giancarlo) and I are fascinating! We’ll keep you strung along for the whole 22 minutes.
MR – With Bill and I it was kind of almost, you know, Mystery Science Theater 3000.
JK – I think that will be the same for us too!
BG – Well we were just making stuff up for the behind the scenes, you know, like “we hear they’re heavy drinkers!”
JK – I will be the Crow T Robot!
MR – We of course threw in all the obscure trivial stuff that nobody cares about but me.
JK – We threw in a lot of that stuff. I think that you and hopefully most of fans picked up, like there is no episode that does not have references to Star Trek or Aliens or Braveheart. There’s always something in there for fans.
“Everybody wants to make more stuff. They don’t want to hurt your feelings. They don’t want to take away the things you love. It’s just the economics of the industry.” – Jim Krieg
MR – That was one of the things the show did in particular that made me fall in love it because you guys didn’t just say, “hey, we’re gonna make a Green Lantern cartoon to sell toys”, you really paid reverence to the material. You really took the essence of the characters and boiled them down and in short order made them very easy for people to understand that maybe didn’t have the history.
JK – Thank you! I’m mean it was tricky because it’s a big property with a lot of history and so you – that pilot is a challenge because you’ve got to lay all that pipe and do all that exposition so that people understand what’s going on and at the same time, tell an entertaining story. At least it was entertaining enough to bring some people back to the second episode which you could then do away with that and and have some more action and comedy and fun.
MR – It was really apparent, I mean you guys, and I’m not saying because I’m talking with you guys, but I’ve been a Green Lantern fan for forty years and I have to say this show is probably the best thing that happened to the characters in a long, long time. Just because it made it so palatable for people and like I said it paid reverence to all the things that came before it and the show was something that had more to it than being “just a cartoon”. We know Giancarlo worked on an Avatar: The Last Airbender and there is this kind of sensibility you brought to this show. It was one of the first times you saw a superhero show that was not only episodic but you had the long form storytelling where there are true character arcs. People really latched on to these characters and cared for them beyond them being a digital creation on TV. I’ve been a cheerleader for the show since it started…
JK – Thank you – believe me we know that! It’s funny when I met GC I had just watched all the Avatars with my then eight -year-old son and was such a fan of the show and so we met I was like, “I want to do what you guys did on that show!” And there are little moments of it that are like totally ripped off of there. What’s the food planet one? I can’t remember what it called! The fear one?
MR – “Fear Itself”
JK – “Fear Itself” is so much like an Avatar episode, you know, they’re looking for food because they’re out of food.
GC – That ended up being a common story thread in Avatar! You know you mentioned that you liked that there was an overall arc for the series and it’s very vindicating to hear that because a lot of our bosses in this industry, not just at Warner Brothers, argue against that because they have evidence that suggests that episodes air better in reruns if they are not telling parts of a larger story. It’s one of those things that we really believed strongly and so we had to do a little bit of a hocus-pocus when we were pitching the show to say like, “OK this is going to be like this overall threat of these Red Lanterns, but don’t worry every episode will have the beginning, middle and end and it’ll be a tight, tidy little package and you’ll love it, and you’ll feel satisfied and everything!” You know, we did want to really take them on this journey and I think to me that type of storytelling, and this is just my opinion, is why binge watching feels so good. If you’re just twenty episodes in a row that could be shuffled any order it’s not the same as if you’re watching Breaking Bad or, dare I put Green Lantern in the same sentence as that, it takes you on a journey.
JK – Well you know what I think that so that’s interesting because, you know, obviously, a network that’s going to re-run episodes has a different goal then a Netflix or an Amazon that you can binge watch them – they want people to see one and just be able fall into it. Although I mean anytime you pitch a show you’re doing a little tap dance, but I think it was sincere in that you should be able to drop in on episode six of Green Lantern and still enjoy it without knowing everything, without having seen the other episodes. The goal is that you love it so much that you’re going to go back and watch one through five to know what’s going on.
MR – You think that that’s part of the trick of storytelling is that you want to make your audience want to tune into the next one because it’s not disposable.
JK – Yeah, and at a certain point that will fall apart. You can’t watch episode twenty six, of Green Lantern and go, “wow, what a great show!”
BG – Gee, I hope there’s more!
GV – There’s at least one guy that’s done that!
BG – This is a great start – what’s next? I can imagine you guys pitching it. It’s an animated series about nothing!
BG – I think you mentioned it, it’s kind of a new business model. Where long form storytelling is a lot more attainable to – a lot of people were cutting their cable cord and they’re relying on Netflix and everything so they are binge watching. I believe House of Cards that came out of February 14th and I think I was done watching it on Sunday the 17th. I sent my kids to daycare and I was like, “okay kids, it’s just me and Kevin Spacey for the next six hours!”
JK – It’ll be Interesting, but I is in some ways, all television is kind of leaning that way anyway with season long story arcs and I am currently working on a show called Spooksville on the Hub Network and I pitched it the same way – that they’re individual stories that you should be able to drop into and enjoy them. But like, but no, it’s a novel. It’s going to tell you – you’re going to meet these kids, you’re fall in love with them, and you’re to find out what happened at the end. You know it’s not just the Fugitive‘s one armed man that you’re never going to look to find. Yes, they did find him – that’s a bad analogy! A correct analogy is someday that castaways are going to get off of Gilligan ‘s Island.
BG – I think it’s – I was watching Green Lantern with my son and I was looking at it and I could walk away. I think Myron has been invested in Green Lantern for like forty years, so I’m more of a newcomer to Green Lantern and the character and everything, so I found those two seasons, the twenty six episodes, as it’s own little body of work. It told a complete story, even from the first thirteen episodes where you have a definitive end like you mentioned, and then you get to this final love story and it leaves a little bit with the blue ring at the end, but at the same time I felt like I got a substantial meal, I felt complete. You know, you guys complete me!
JK – I’m relieved to hear that because they I mean, we certainly want that to be the case, and in some ways a series doesn’t have to have that hard out to to be complete. I mean the Razer says what he’s gonna do, he’s gonna find her. I mean, that’s what happens. He’s going to find her – he might still be looking for her, I don’t know. He tells you the end and certainly his emotional journey is complete in that is gone from someone who’s angry and self absorbed to someone who cares about others. You know, about friendship and love. True love. I just want to throw something out there when you were talking about how we tried to incorporate all the history of the Green Lantern, I just wanted to mention that Giancarlo was invaluable. He is an incredible researcher and when we started on this journey he read everything! I read it growing up, but he read every Geoff Johns book there is. So I would I would come up with a story idea, like I wanted, the Betrassus one (“Heir Apparent”), I wanted to do like a Edgar Rice Burroughs thing – let’s do John Carter of Mars and sorta like a Flash Gordon and there’ll be a Princess and a trial by combat and GC was just like, “oh wait, there’s a comic, wait!” We just ran back to the office, he got it and then pitched it to me and then so it was really, it was really helpful to know, to have all that stuff accessed. We really did make an effort to, you know, to be careful about being respectful to the history of the Green Lantern.
GV – Yeah and in the same token I was glad that Jim would bring stuff that was just a personal passion of his that we could combine with kind of comic book canon so that this show didn’t just feel like a reiteration of everything you could easily just read in the books. So somehow that combination of those two like really, really gave you this thing its own legs. I guess you know!
JK – Here’s a joke that I never got to do. positive. It’s a Green Lantern canon joke – I wanted to come in on the interceptor in mid-conversation with Kilowog and Hal where you got the feeling that they’ve been having this chat and Kilowog is confused and it’s like
(doing his best Kilowog impersonation), “So I don’t think this thing is translating right, what it’s telling me is a bow and arrow is like a stick with a string on it.”
And Hal says (doing his best Hal impersonation), “Yeah, yeah, but he was the BEST bow and arrow guy on the Earth!”
(As Kilowog) “And he could fly, into space?”
(As Hal) “No, no he would die if that happened.”
(As Kilowog) “But he was your partner, was he really strong?”
(As Hal) “Well he stayed in shape, but no, not really.”
(As Kilowog) “I don’t get it!”
BG – And that would have directly affected the Arrow show and you’d have a whole bunch of enemies!
“Razer says what he’s gonna do, he’s gonna find her. I mean, that’s what happens. He’s going to find her – he might still be looking for her, I don’t know. He tells you the end and certainly his emotional journey is complete in that is gone from someone who’s angry and self absorbed to someone who cares about others. You know, about friendship and love. True love.” – Jim Krieg
Make sure to check out part two of our conversation when we ask Jim and Giancarlo to tell us what the upcoming seasons would have treated us to. Thanks again to both our guests for giving us their time and support.