Monday, March 9, 2015

Ask Me a Question: The Transformers & G.I. Joe

What a night. That's about the best way I can summarize the amazing evening that was the Sunbow Animation Celebration double feature of The Transformers: The Movie and G.I. Joe: The Movie at the Egyptian Theatre. Buzz on the night had been immense from the get go. Thanks to Hiss Tank, Nerd Reactor and Loot Crate, the message spread quickly and 100 tickets sold in less than a day. Going into the night we only had 100 tickets left, this would be my biggest audience yet for a Dammaged Goods Presents event. Setting up the lobby, Mr. Hank "Dial Tone" Garrett arrived early and he was great. He's lead such an incredible life from being a stand up comic opening for Tony Bennett to being a New York based actor appearing in Three Days of the Condor, Serpico and Death Wish while somehow also being a renowned martial artist and professional wrestler. Author and comic book artist Bill Forster joined us as did G.I. Joe collector and Duke expert Diana Davis. The co-author of Transformers: The Ark and G.I. Joe: Field Manual, Bill had several of his books available as well as some artwork while Diana had a collection of figures, prints, scripts and sketches. Then it was the team from Serenity Place Animal Rescue, personal friends of Mr. Michael "Duke" Bell and the man himself showed up with autographed photos and Voltron DVD's to raffle off. Michael has a great sense of humor and was in a film called Damaged Goods back in the day about a rock singer who gets an STD in Los Angeles!

Artist Livio Ramondelli brought his incredible prints and copies of some of the comic books he's worked on while Flint Dille set up for People to People, an organization that sends students around the world to build leadership skills and global awareness. Flint was amazing through the entire process. He was the first guest I asked and the first to accept. From there he recommended this person and that like G.I. Joe writer Buzz Dixon and storyboard artist/director Larry Houston. Just a really sharp guy with ideas for days. We're working on some follow up events now. Springer and Shipwreck himself Neil Ross arrived and donated a few signed photos to Serenity Place as well. Neil was instrumental in securing guests like Bill Ratner and Bell, so double thanks for attending and connecting the dots. Voice Director and legend in the field Wally Burr had been the one Maybe but he showed up and was ready to mingle. Sadly series writer Donald F. Glut couldn't make it as his home was being used as a film location. Deep-Six and the Predator Hal Rayle was struck by the Con-Fluenza from Long Beach and had to bow out as well. Next time! We had various reporters and writers on tap like That Hash Tag Show, Variety's Matthew Chernov and Stauros Entertainment.TV's Tyronne Tann documenting the evening and interviewing our guests.

We had a line into the courtyard to Hollywood Boulevard waiting when the doors opened at 6:30 PM with several attendees in costume. The lobby mini-con was a huge success with every table bustling. Animation expert, voice over actor and Cinematheque programmer Grant Moninger was originally scheduled to lead the pre-show panel but like me had fallen ill during the week. Luckily, #MovieBro and animation guru Michael Floyd was ready to party as I enlisted him to do the Damme thing. Flint Dille, Buzz Dixon, Bill Ratner, Michael Bell, Neil Ross and Wally Burr all joined him for a casual conversation about writing, animation and working at Sunbow. Someone else will have to fill me in on what they discussed because I was in the lobby! We raffled off two autographed Voltron sets then as my usual, I had a VHS copy of Transformers signed by our guests as a prize. The question? Name all 5 Dinobots. Grimlock, Slag, Snarl, Swoop and Sludge! The Audience nearly turned on me when I wasn't sure which 4 were actually in the movie...

With Lion's rendition of The Transformers theme song blaring, the awesome audience erupted into applause as Grant and I took our guests to do some more interviews. I was also happy when "Oh shit, what are we gonna do now?!" got a round of applause. The print was absolutely beautiful and watching Hot Rod open the Matrix to become Rodimus Prime to the rock-synth soundtrack awesomeness of Stan Bush and Vince DiCola was just too perfect. Larry Houston and then Joe director Don Jurwich showed up and it was great chatting with them. I almost can't believe how many shows Larry has worked on from Joe to Exosquad to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to X-Men. He also spearheaded the one off Pryde of the X-Men, a bitching animated version of Marvel's premiere title. Don had been great the entire process as I called every week sounding like a telemarketer to give him an update. An alumni of Hanna-Barbera, Don oversaw the G.I. Joe series and movie. Now retired, he paints and was excited to have his grandson check out Joe on the big screen.

Between flicks I grabbed the mic for our main panel, first bringing back writers Flint Dille and Buzz Dixon who both came onto the movies out of nowhere. Buzz explained that they were on a 65 episode freight train that wasn't going to stop. Flint and producer Jay Bacall banged out a revised script in a week then later on holed up in a hotel for months drafting a new version. Basically, Dille and Dixon wanted to make the cinema screen adventures something big, wild and exciting. Buzz wanted to kill off some characters to show that war had consequences. Lead character Duke was chosen to be cycled out, a death scene was written and Hasbro liked the idea so much they decided to kill off Optimus Prime in Transformers. A young boy locked himself in his room for two weeks after seeing Prime die. Flint was still surprised at how out there the film was. Don Jurwich joined us next and told us how he had been working on the show, heard about the movie and said he wanted to direct it. One thing he recalled was how difficult it was to introduce so many new characters. Larry joined us and talked about the big, kick ass opening of G.I. Joe that was tasked to him by Jurwich. Influenced by anime, Houston threw everything he could into the opening and basked in the feature budget resources compared to the daily show and mini-series.

Wally Burr then Flint took us through some of their recently lost colleagues from the era like Leonard Nimoy, Gary Owens and Gordon Kent. Neil Ross talked about getting the role of new character Springer through audition and lucking out as he had already voiced him in some new episodes thus saving the role from a celebrity voice a la Judd Nelson, Robert Stack and Orson Welles. Ross talked fondly of Lionel Stander who played Kup and how during their recording sessions, Stander needed to look other actors in the eye so Ross would play off the old school actor to get through a scene. Hank Garrett explained how he did Italian gibberish for some producers who believed he was from the mother country. Honing his skills from listening to the radio, Garrett went on to do commercials before landing G.I. Joe. Bill Ratner was used to an hour or 90 minutes over at Hanna-Barbera but would put in double and triple that for tough director Burr. Ratner and Lady Jaye voice Mary MacDonald-Lewis learned from a fan at JoeCon that Flint and Jaye had an illegitimate daughter who shows up on Transformers. This lead to Buzz and Flint admitting they came real close to having fellow property My Little Pony show up in the Transformers and G.I. Joe universes. Don commented on trying hard to give the new villains of Cobra-La a believable atmosphere while Buzz publicly apologized for naming it Cobra-La after Hasbro became infatuated with it and not caring about the connection to Shangri-La. Michael Bell had no idea Duke was being killed off and figured his toy wasn't selling well anymore. New Joe addition Don Johnson was busy with hit series Miami Vice so Wally Burr traveled to the Florida set where Johnson recorded his dialog in his trailer. Afterwards the TV star was supposed to do a photo shoot but said he had a party to get to and bounced. Classic.

I asked Larry, Bill and Michael what it was like to come back to G.I. Joe for the recent episode of Community and Bill let us know the producers reached out to his agent asking if he was still alive! Larry's directive was to draw the show as if it had never gone off the air in the 80's. One of the greatest moments of the panel was Ross recalling some of Bell's outrageous comments. On Inhumanoids, a half dozen actors were playing flesh eating something or others and to make the voices, the actors sucked on their own arms to which Bell commented that it sounded just like Ernest Borgnine's wedding night. Several of our guests told stories about Orson Welles who didn't appreciate line readings and jokes turned into rumors that Wally starved him to death. I asked about the fabled Comic-Con 1987 screening where Don told us he thought the projectionist was drunk as the second reel was loaded first. Flint said he didn't even notice, it was the 80's...Bill may or may not have said that the Sunbow crew smoked crack before work...Buzz is working on an e-book and lost episode that can't come soon enough. With that it was time for intermission and then G.I. Joe: The Movie on the big screen for the first time in who knows how long if ever. An autographed VHS went to the the gent who knew the names of Sgt. Slaugther's Renegades; Mercer, Taurus and Red Dog.
The opening of G.I. Joe: The Movie takes place on and around the Statue of Liberty with a million characters fighting it out and a rocking rendition of the theme song that looked just oh so awesome on the big screen. It was a truly fantastic evening with a full house of passionate fans. Driving home I thought it really couldn't get any better than that. Our attendees had fun, our guests had a great time, the response has been tremendous and we're working on a follow up.

"Til all are one" and "Yo, Joe!". Thanks to everyone who attended, our guests in the lobby, on the panels, Michael, Grant, Christian, Tammi, Andrew, Travis, Jeremy, Oliver and the staff at The Egyptian.

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