Roberto Orci and Jeff Kline Talk Transformers: Prime
The producers behind The Hub's animated series based on the popular robot franchise discuss the remainder of the season
Autobots roll out! Starting February 11th, fans of The Hub's computer animated series Transformers: Prime will have a chance to see all new episodes from the series, which is based on the popular Hasbro franchise. Transformers: Prime first premiered in November of last year with a five-part mini-series that launched the show. The series will return with twenty-one new episodes that will complete its first season, and it has already been picked up for season two. The show follows the Autobots as they protect Earth from the Decepticons and the return of Megatron. The series features returning favorites from the film series like Optimus Prime, Bumblebee, Megatron and Starscream, as well as a new group of humans that they interact with, including teenagers Jack, Miko and Raf. The new series also honors the original cartoon by casting voice actors Peter Cullen and Frank Welker as their original characters, Optimus Prime and Megatron, respectively.
Transformers: Prime has a deep connection to the feature film series, as it is executive produced by Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, who wrote both Transformers and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. In addition to the Transformers films, Kurtzman and Orci also wrote Star Trek and this summer's Cowboys and Aliens, as well as producing the hit series Fringe and working on a script for Star Trek 2. We recently were invited to screen episode six of Transformers: Prime, which airs this Friday on The Hub, and speak with Roberto Orci, as well as Executive producer Jeff Kline about the show. The two producers discussed the direction of the series, how it is different from the film series, the return of Frank Welker, and dealing with fan's criticisms. Here is what they had to say:
To begin with, there have been many different incarnations of this franchise over the years. There have now been two films, as well as several different cartoon series, comic books and toy lines. How did you decide where to pull inspiration from throughout the property's long history?
Roberto Orci: After the movies came out Hasbro did a very good job of cataloging everything that they had done over the years and writing it down. I think that there are members in the Hasbro organization that had they been killed the company would have been screwed because they had all the info. A lot of thought went into creating this master file and a lot of that happened to dovetail with what we wanted to see that we couldn't do in the movies. It had an organic life to it seeing it all in one place. Everything was all over the place so I think the idea was to have a master continuity.
Jeff Kline: The document was huge. On my first day at work they handed me this huge stack of papers and it was just continuity of the Transformers universe. Everyone has had a different experience with this franchise. There have been so many different versions and everyone has their favorite. I hope that we've reached a point now where every creator on Transformers: Prime takes a little bit from the other series and puts it in to the show.
Roberto Orci: Well, we weren't trying to do that. We were just going for what seems to fit together, whatever works best.
Will we see Bumblebee speak the human language before the end of this season?
Jeff Kline: It's not that Bumblebee can't learn to speak but he has a reason to not speak, which will be revealed in season two. I don't know if we will actually solve that problem before our Prime arc is over but there is a reason for it.
Will we see more Autobots and Decepticons introduced as the series goes on?
Jeff Kline: Yes, of course we want to feature more Decepticons and Autobots. Our philosophy is that we always want the Autobots to be at a disadvantage. So we always want fewer Autobots than Decepticons, it makes their job that much harder. In the remainder of season one and in season two you will meet a lot more Bots and Cons. Quite honestly, being a CG animated show, we are limited in comparison to a traditional animated show just because most of the time and money is up front. So we do have some limit to the number of characters we can use. We have a lot of characters in the show when you consider that each Bot is three characters, the robot, the car and the transformation. So as we may appear to have twelve leads we really have like thirty because we had to build each one separately with the computer.
Will there be any new "Transformers" introduced in the remainder of season one or season two?
Jeff Kline: I'd like you to watch and find out. But there is going to be a kick-ass female Decepticon soon and that is all I'll say.
Can you discuss the return of voice actor Frank Welker as Megatron and why you wanted to bring him back into the franchise?
Roberto Orci: First of all, meeting him was great. I had advocated for using Welker in the movies and I finally met him on the first day of recording. He came up to me and said that he appreciated my support. I had no idea he followed such things but it was great to finally be doing it with him.
Jeff Kline: As we read the characters we make a wish list of who we think would be best and we also turn it over to the casting director and then do auditions. One of the nice things about animation is that it is pretty rare that we can't get who we want. Because we record these radio style with the whole cast, I think a lot of time the idea of coming into a recording studio for four hours is actually a lot of fun for actors. Sometimes they are used to being on a show or movie and having the pressure of carrying it, but now they can come in for four hours and play. They are only as important as the guy standing next to them that can do forty different animal voices. I think that is a lot of fun for them. Obviously we got Dwayne Johnson to play Cliffjumper on the first episode, which was amazing.
In the pilot episode there seemed to be a bit of a romance happening between Arcee and Cliffjumper, is that correct?
Jeff Kline: One could infer that, yes.
Roberto Orci: They definitely went to the drive-in together.
Jeff Kline: Our intension is to revisit the past as we move forward with flashbacks and stuff like that so I suspect that you haven't seen the last of Cliffjumper in the past. I can't speak for Dwayne except to say that he is very handsome.
Is it difficult to make the series for a younger audience while at the same time not alienating you older fans?
Roberto Orci: You know you want to push it a little but you still want it so that the whole family can watch it and everybody will dig it. Maybe the movies are one step ahead of where we want to go with the show.
Jeff Kline: What we've found over the years is that you don't have to write down to any particular age range. As long as there is a clear emotional through-line in the story any age is going to grab on to it. They may not get all the references but they are going to follow the story. We didn't want to make a show that was going to frighten kids. We didn't want to make a show that parents weren't going to let their kids watch. That would defeat the purpose of bringing this property to a whole new generation. So we are constantly walking the line and we won't know what is too far until we get feedback from parents who watch the show.
Roberto, now that you are no longer involved with the film series, can you talk about the appeal of returning to this franchise in a different medium?
Roberto Orci: From the beginning, even before the first movie, there were a lot of perceived limitations to what we could do. How much of the Transformers that we could show per minute because it was so expensive. So I think that we found a mix that was right for the movie. Growing up as a fan and having seen more Transformers-centric shows, by the way I think this one is the best of both worlds, there were things that we wanted to do in the Transformers world that we couldn't do in the movies. Character development with the Transformers was something that we wanted to do. We wanted to show their mythology, their past and just hangout with them. In the movie every time you did that it was special but extremely limited. So there was always another way to get into the stories that we wanted to tell about the Transformers and this was a perfect way to do it. In terms of television, even if we got everything we wanted a movie is only two hours. Here we can do season long arcs that really allows us to spend time on them and have the characters build emotional memories going forward. That's why we've always stayed between TV and movies because they give you different satisfactions as a fan and for story telling.
Jeff Kline: My expectations for my first meeting with Bob and Alex was that it was going to be a meeting with the two guys from the film and they were not going to be interested in the series. But they have been and continue to be incredibly involved. This is not a situation where they are involved in name only ... this is their show!
The series features a female Autobot named Arcee, was her inclusion an attempt to reach a broader audience with this show?
Jeff Kline: The more emotional stories you show the more appeal it will have to female viewers and this isn't just a show about battles. Every character grows and changes over time so honestly, yes. We tried from the beginning to open our selves up to more of a cross gender audience.
Roberto Orci: I think it is more entertaining. It's just a better world. You get more sophisticated stories and that is it's own reward.
In the premiere episode we will see that Soundwave has a detachable drone, is that Laserbeak?
Jeff Kline: Whether we call it Laserbeak or not it is clearly in homage to Laserbeak. You'll have to keep watching to see.
Will there be a new line of "Transformers" toys based on this series, and if so, when can fans expect them to be released?
Roberto Orci: I want to know that too, honestly.
Jeff Kline: There will be toys. Stay tune for an announcement sooner than you think.
There is a tradition with the original "Transformers" and "G.I. JOE" cartoons, as well as classic Saturday morning cartoons like "The Super Friends," to feature life lessons for kids. For example: "Now you know and knowing is half the battle," from "G.I. JOE." There seems to be a bit of that in this series, was embracing that tradition an important aspect for you in making this show?
Roberto Orci: I think that we think of it that way a little bit but mostly we want each show to have a theme. Good themes come from character and telling a good story. It seems to come out that way but its not like we are running down the list of Surgeon General's warnings on how to grow up. It's coming out of character development, which is the way to do it I think.
Jeff Kline: I think it definitely has been a more explicit tradition in previous shows and probably a lot of shows that are on now. In Transformers: Prime its not explicit but it is a natural outgrowth of good story telling. Also a lot of us have kids and we want to tell good stories for them but we also want to make sure there is a message.
It seems from the first few episodes of the series that despite everything that Megatron has done, Optimus still believes that he is a redeemable character. Is that a theme we will see play out throughout the series?
Jeff Kline: I think you hit on it. I think despite what has happened in the past that is a tiny little goal of Optimus. He believes that there is still a tiny bit of humanity left in Megatron. He may be wrong but we will find out.
Roberto, as a co-writer of the first two feature films, do you ever feel bogged down by the mythology that you created for the movies now that you are making the TV series?
Roberto Orci: I thought we would but then when we got started I realized that it could sort of exist between the movies in a way. Yet you didn't need to see the movies either. We hit a sweet spot and I was able to forget about it. Then, if we ever forget too much we have plenty of people around us to pull us back but it has been pretty organic so far.
Jeff Kline: We definitely have an interest in the deep back-story of life on Cybertron, what led to the civil war, how Optimus became Optimus, and how Megatron became Megatron. So you will see more of that.
Roberto, when creating the human characters for the show did you ever consider using Sam (Shia LaBeouf's character in the films) or making Jack a Witwicky?
Roberto Orci: I thought it needed to be someone else because you've already seen him have his first interaction with the robots and part of the fun is that first moment. So we needed new people for the Transformers to reveal themselves to. From some quarters of fandom there was the idea that the live-action movies had too many humans and that was something to consider. So we had a chance with the series to find the balance that we wanted.
Jeff Kline: Also you want that character on screen that represents you saying, "My God look at these amazing things." You want to have that human point of view. You also need the humans for scale, something to compare the Bots to. If they are not there, the Bots don't look as huge in proportion.
Finally, to follow up on what you just said Roberto, do the fan's comments ever bother you? Obviously, you and Alex are fans as well and work very hard on these projects so do some of their harsh comments ever get to you and hurt your feelings a bit?
Roberto Orci: I consider myself a student of it all so I take it all in. If something is wrong then it will be rung out in the wash, so I read everything no matter how horrible it gets. It's not ignoring, you take it in and if it doesn't work at least you know that you considered it. You want to come up with your own points of view first and then test them. You are not looking for guidance but again these are properties that belong to all of us. I didn't invent this. So I do feel a responsibility to have the people who have kept this alive for so long be kind of silent consultants. I hate the feeling of a fan thinking that something got taken over and ruined. Plus, I like living in this world where with technology we all get a vote. You may not get what you want but at least you are heard and I like that.