Firestorm Update – An Interview with Jamie Anderson
Further to GeekOut South-West’s coverage of the Firestorm Kickstarter, we were offered the opportunity to interview a member of the crew. I’m sure you can imagine my surprise when Jamie Anderson himself offered to chat to me through Skype about Firestorm, it’s past, present, some interesting revelations about it’s future, and Anderson Entertainment itself.
Q: First things first, what inspired you to revisit Firestorm as an idea?
A: Oooh! I think because I remember Dad talking about it when it was first thought about and first created and being really excited about it, and I hadn’t really seen him as excited about a project as he had been about this one before. He’d worked on things during my childhood like Space Precinct, which he’d been working on getting made for 8 years and I think the slog had killed his enthusiasm a bit, so even though they got that going, when they got the funding for it he said “Oh god, we’ve got to make it now.” which is not the response you want.
But with this, he was more excited about it. I always remember it not working out the way he wanted, not necessarily for a Japanese audience but for him, and for what he was after, so upon investigating the right situation, and realizing that this was another original Anderson property that we had a stake in. It felt like the most exciting one, and also it featured a design by Steve Begg – one of the craft a double-hulled giant submarine called Ocean Storm, which was based on a previous design Steve did for an aborted Thunderbirds re-launch in the ’80s – so there were lots of elements about it that were really good, and there was scope for it to be redeveloped because it became quite a basic idea, and there was room to make it a bit more intricate.
So it’s a lot of things coming together then?
Yeah, just a big stack of things coming together at the right time, in the right way.
Why Take Firestorm to Kickstarter?
Well, there’s all sorts of reasons, it was partly to repeat what we did with Gemini Force One. As a general rule – especially when you’re trying to start from scratch, or reinvigorate an existing brand – I hate the term brand, but for the purposes of this Gerry Anderson as a brand in the same way as Walt Disney – when you’re doing that there’s a bit of reluctance from those in the industry who have high pressure jobs, the people choosing to pump money into productions or those choosing to buy productions to show on channels or… whatever, any of those executives, they’re in a very difficult position because if they pick a show or get behind a show and it doesn’t do well then they’re at risk, so everyone’s in this horrible position of “Oh, I’m not really sure.” so if there’s anything that’s unconventional about a project that automatically makes it something that people don’t want to touch. In terms of Firestorm, puppets were the thing that made people not want to touch it, not because there’s anything inherently wrong with puppets but for two reasons:
The first being that Team America ruined puppets forever because they picked up on all the comedic/silly aspects of puppets they made a mockery of them really, and that’s what they meant to do and they did it extremely well, but now people think of marionettes and they think of these floaty malproportioned, weightless things; possibly two puppets having sex which I know Dad disapproved of enormously when he watched Team America, but they kind of spoilt it which made puppets a bit “Can we make something a bit more serious with puppets?”
And the other thing that made it more difficult for us was ITV’s decision to make the new Thunderbirds series with CGI characters rather than puppets and they’ve made that decision for a variety of reasons that I understand but don’t agree with.
Those two things got in the way, and with those two things in mind you go to investors, you go to distributors, and you say “Right I want to make a Gerry Anderson thing” and they go “Great! Tell us more.” and then you get to the bit about puppets and they go “Oh no, you see we can’t do that, because…” and normally Team America and/or the ITV decision will come into play there.
So with those problems it makes much more sense to go to the fans, the people who are actually going to watch it and say “Here’s what we want to do. What do you think?” We did the same thing with Gemini Force One and what happened there was people loved the idea, they got behind us, and that show of confidence was enough for Orion – the publishers – to go “Oh, people do want this!” and that gave them the kind of security to make a decision to get behind Gemini Force One which will now be a three book series with the first book coming out on the second of April. So I was hoping we could mimic that model, which is to gather the public support and say “Look, fifteen hundred people from all over the world have got behind this. They believe in it, people want it!” and it just gives that extra weight. That was the creative reasoning for going down the Kickstarter route.
What’s the next step for Firestorm itself?
There’s a lot of pressure obviously to get this right and it’s a very difficult thing to get spot-on, because we’re trying to take the best elements of a decade of Anderson puppet shows, combine them with maybe more modern storytelling and advances in technology, but without taking things too far. We’ve already had a great deal of difficulty deciding exactly how far we’re going to take the animatronics in the puppets, and the puppet development has already put us back by about seven weeks on the original schedule so far, and I’m sure those problems will continue to arise.
Right now we are trying to lock down the script for this pilot episode, and that has been quite difficult again to strike the right tone, but I think what we’ve got now is a story that has the darkness of a Captain Scarlet episode, and the positive world, and I guess the look and feel to an extent of a Thunderbirds episode.
Wow, that’s a really difficult balance to strike!
Haha! Well I’m glad you agree with that from my description, but yeah, it’s really really tough, but I think there’s a lot to love from Captain Scarlet, there’s some really thoughtful stuff. There’s an episode in particular that sticks in my mind where three guys pretend to be Mysterons in order to go and steal from a bank vault, and at the end of the episode Captain Black locks them in the bank and blows up the bank, and basically says “You are exactly what is wrong with mankind, and so here’s your fate.” and things like that are really dark, and really quite strong, but I just remember watching that as a kid and finding that really thought provoking and it then made it an episode that I want to go and rewatch now! I probably saw it the first time when I was 7, and 22… coming up to 23 years later I still want to go and watch it again because it had all the elements that made it enjoyable as a kid, but with something that could keep you thinking into adulthood.
Watch that Captain Scarlet episode here!
Something that’s missing now from a lot of ‘Kids TV’
Well precisely. This is the other thing we’re trying to include in the world building and also in the pilot. There’s a lot of kids TV around, and a lot of effort that goes into making it, but it’s all this obsession with demographic targeting, “We’re going to make this show for a 5-7 year old audience” which again is the thing to do, and it makes TV exec’s feel more comfortable but it makes me feel deeply uncomfortable. Part of the reason we have the longevity of something like Doctor Who, or Thunderbirds or Captain Scarlet or any of those shows is that there’re different levels at which you can enjoy it. I can’t see something – and absolutely no disrespect to the show at all – I can’t see something like Peppa Pig having the same longevity of Thunderbirds, it has nothing to do with the production values or anything else, but kids that watch it when they’re 5 years old may think when they’re 10 years old “Oh, I remember Peppa Pig, I’ll go and watch an episode on YouTube.” and they’ll watch it and they’ll think “Oh! It’s so childish” even at that point. Whereas with any of the Anderson shows, or certainly for the most part, you can watch them at 6 years old and enjoy elements, you can watch them at 10, 16, 26, 66 and still find something to enjoy.
So trying to incorporate that into a relatively short script that tells the story of the world, gives you the set up, shows off what we’re going to be able to do, is a bit of a tall order. That’s why that’s taking quite a while, the script isn’t locked down yet but I’m hoping that within the next ten days/two weeks it will be.
Something that would have been much easier had you got the [22 minute] pilot episode you were hoping for.
Well we are still looking at doing some top-up funding externally from Kickstarter because I figure now we’re putting the stuff together – we’re going to have a crew together, we’re going to have sets together – if we can make this a full story then that is what I would like to do, so as well as doing the script we’re looking for some external funding and I’m fairly hopeful that we may find enough to go up to at least 15 minutes plus.
That’s brilliant news. What does the future hold for Anderson Entertainment as a whole?
Oh yes, straight for the jugular!
It’s a good jugular, it’s a pulsing jugular so it’s fine.
There’s so many different bits and pieces going on, so like I said April is a big month for the Anderson World in general, obviously ITVs new Thunderbirds is out in April, the first book of Gemini Force One is out on the second of April, the Terrahawks audio series which we’ve produced will be out mid-April. We are currently developing another sci-fi project which I have to keep entirely secret unfortunately. There’s an animated film that’s been in development that Dad wrote in 2006/2007 that’s been in development since then and is rapidly approaching a point where we could actually do something with it.
There’s lots and lots going on which is really exciting but I think the main focus right now, I’m passing notes to the editor for the Terrahawks audio series so we can get that polished off. We’re just prepping-up for the Gemini Force One launch, and in the mean-time the whole way we’ll be ploughing through pre-production for Firestorm. So there’s loads going on and I think that 2015 will be a big, big year in general for Gerry Anderson as a “brand” – again I’m doing air-quotes when I say brand.
It’s some really exciting stuff, and I’m really pleased to hear about it. Very last question then, what would you point to as your geekiest passion?
Hahahaha! Well, I’ve been a Doctor Who fan since I was about 4 years old, so probably my continuing Doctor Who. Behind me I have a replica Dematerialization Circuit, quite geeky isn’t it?
That’s definitely geeky. I’d say that puts you well within our demographic.
Perfect! Well, I’m pretty geeky like that, and I’m currently rewatching a load of Colin Baker, which some people might not agree with entirely, but I quite enjoy some of Colin Baker’s stuff. So yeah, I’m still a massive Doctor Who geek at heart.
Gerry Anderson has been a media giant for the latter half of the 20th century, and has made television history more than once. Jamie has one hell of a heritage and is determined to bring it to a new generation. Talking to him I got an incredible sense of his passion, his fervour, and his belief in what he is doing.
I want to thank Jamie for a fantastic interview. Keep your eyes peeled for major developments this April, and we look forward to bringing you more on Firestorm soon. I wish everyone at Anderson Entertainment all the best of luck, and a happy new year.