Voltron Interview at SDCC 2016

SDCC2016Recap-VoltronPCSeason One of Voltron: Legendary Defender is now behind us and Season Two is fast approaching (January 20th). While you wait, enjoy an interview I did a few months ago at San Diego Comic Con with Tim Hedrick, Joaquim Dos Santos, and Lauren Montgomery. This interview was right after the panel where Season Two was announced, and the audience in the panel, myself included, got to see the first teaser trailer for Season Two.

I first interviewed writer Tim Hedrick.

GeekDad:
How did you get involved with Voltron?
Tim Hedrick:
I got a call from Peter Gal who is a DreamWorks TV exec. He wanted me to come in and talk to him about stuff they had going on, and I worked a little bit on another pilot, and it was going forward, but then he was like, “You know what? This other thing has come up, and I’d really like to do this.” He told me that Joaquim and Lauren were going to do Voltron. I was like, “Oh yeah, let’s just do that!”

They were not actually in the offices yet when I came on. I was the only person on the floor. Literally, like an empty floor of this office building. I was Voltron employee number one. But they had been thinking about it and had known about it. So I met with them and talked to them about what they wanted. And then talked with DreamWorks about what they wanted and started coming up with the show bible and outlines–breaking everything out and getting it going.

It was cool because I knew they were going to do an awesome job. And after we had lunch and they were like, “We’re going to do this, and we’re going to do this!” I was like, “All right, this sounds great!”

GeekDad:
I noticed in episode 1 there are some unspoken cameos by characters from Macross. Was that the animators that did that or did you plan that?
Tim Hedrick:
I didn’t have anything to do with that. I don’t know what you’re talking about. I don’t know anything about that. You’re going to have to ask Joaquim or Lauren.
GeekDad:
One of the things that I really love about the show is the perfect balance of new, updated Voltron and nostalgia for old fans. But my wife who has never seen the original show and my son who also has never seen it both love the new show. There’s plenty for a completely new fan to enjoy but, for me, as an old fan, there’s all the old feels plus just a great new show. So how do you balance those two things? And how conscious is that?
Tim Hedrick:
Thanks. It’s very conscious. I mean, we were all fans of the original show and knew what we connected with, so we didn’t want to ruin any of that. And why do a remake of Voltron if you want to do something else. Just go and do something else. You don’t want to ruin this property. But you also know that you are going to have to bring in new fans who are going to have to connect with it the same way we did when we were kids. It can’t just all be for adult fanboys and it can’t all be for little kids. You have to work both sides. You have to be conscious of it all the time, and a lot of it involves working humor in to keep people hooked in, especially little kids, but there’s giant robots so things don’t get too boring too often.
GeekDad:
With a giant robot you can pretty much hook anybody.
Tim Hedrick:
You know when you go back an watch the original Voltron, you can just clearly see that it could use an update. There’s a lot of room to do a new version of the shows that we’ve done before. Kind of bring in more character work and more backstory. You’ve got this room to work with that. We’ve got such a broad palate to chose from. It was definitely conscious though. That’s the last thing you want is hardcore fans saying, “This sucks. This isn’t Voltron. This isn’t real.” We’ve been lucky. People seem to really respond to it.
GeekDad:
You said you were a big fan of Voltron. Were there other things that you were a fan of growing up that influenced your current writing.
Tim Hedrick:
The other show that I used to watch as a kid was Battle of the Planets, G-Force. That was really a show that I loved a lot. And the other show that I feel no one knows about is Thundarr the Barbarian. I loved that when I was a kid. Those two were my big favorites. I feel like doing this show, and I felt this way when we worked on Korra too, you start referencing stuff like Game of Thrones or these big epic adventure, dark, violent shows. But, first of all, its tough to get that much plot in 22 minutes, so you really have to watch out for that. And then, second of all, you’ve got to lighten it up. But I do watch all of those like Game of Thrones is awesome. Everyone watches that. Those are the shows we probably talk about more in the writer’s room.
GeekDad:
Did you check out the Hall of Faces they have over across the street?
Tim Hedrick:
Yes! We were just over there.
GeekDad:
Outside of TV shows like Voltron and Game of Thrones, what would you say you’re a geek about?
Tim Hedrick:
When I first came out to LA to be a writer, I was a comedy writer, and I got to work with a guy named Dave Thomas who was in a movie called Strange Brew with Rick Moranis and was the head writer on SCTV with John Candy and all those Canadian guys. He was with Akroyd on Second City Stage and Belushi, Bill Murray, Chevy Chase. So I was super geeking out the first time I met him. What happened was, a friend of mine had worked at this website that Dave had started up. He was leaving, and he told me there was this job opening up. I was unemployed, so I was like, “Perfect. This sounds great!” I met with Dave Thomas and we had this great interview. I was like, “This was perfect. This guy is cool!” And then he never called me, and I didn’t get the job.

And then he called me three months later and asked me if I wanted to do a movie with him that he was shooting in Canada. I was like, “yeah, yeah of course that sounds great!” So we ended up working on it up in Edmonton for like three or four months into the shoot, and I was like, “Hey man, remember when I came in and interviewed for this job that I really needed and you didn’t give it me?” And he says, “Oh yeah, I thought you would’ve hated that job. It was boring.” That’s just what I was super geeky about–comedy.

Then I worked on Avatar: The Last Airbender and then after that I went back and EP’d a couple of shows with Dave that were lots of fun. One was the animated version of Bob and Doug and when we were about 17 episodes in, our network in Canada went bankrupt and that shut down. And then we did an animated sketch comedy for MTV and about halfway through making that all of the executives at MTV got fired. So those were my two shows between Avatar and Korra, and I was like, “I think I’m going to go back and work for these guys.”

GeekDad:
And, knock on wood, so far its going great.
Tim Hedrick:
Yes, so far so good!
GeekDad:
So are you already wrapped up with season two?
Tim Hedrick:
Yeah, just about. We’re getting really close. And there’s a lot of cool stuff in there. I think as people start watching that teaser and tearing it apart, we’ll see some theories and conjecture coming out.
GeekDad:
It was pretty intense. Is there anything about season two that you’re really excited about that you got to work on that you can share without giving anything away?
Tim Hedrick:
There are just more worlds, more stuff. It’s expanding what we’re doing and starting to see more of the universe. And it just looks awesome. I want to keep it pretty vague, but it’s very exciting.
GeekDad:
Do you enjoy that worldbuilding outside of just the main characters?
Tim Hedrick:
Oh yeah. I think that’s really cool. You end up doing a lot of it that no one ever really sees. There’s a lot of like, “what if this is this kingdom out here and they’re on the outskirts and they’re fighting these barbarians and the empire’s falling apart and…” And then it’s, “no, we’re not going to do that.” But it’s there. That’s the problem. You come up with these new characters and you just got to leave them sometimes. That’s the problem with having five paladins and Allura and Coran and Zarkon and Haggar–that’s a lot of people to service.
GeekDad:
Speaking of Coran, did you know it was going to be Rhys Darby when you were writing?
Tim Hedrick:
Well, we really wanted him. When we were writing the first three episodes–the pilot movie–we were talking about who we could get. And I was saying this could be an awesome casting coup if we could get someone really funny. We sat around the writer’s room throwing around names. Maybe a member of Monty Python could be in it or something, and we came up with Rhys Darby, and we all thought that would be awesome. We were just huge fans of Flight of the Conchords and Short Poppies. He’s just super funny and does a show in LA that we went to see. So when we went to casting and were like, “maybe Rhys Darby?” They were like, “yeah, he wants to do a show like this.” It was so cool, man.
GeekDad:
It’s funny because, I mean, watching it, the entire cast is great, but it really feels like that part was written for him.
Tim Hedrick:
Totally. Once we had him come in and do just a little reading, then we could go back and do everything just for him. We kind of screw him a little bit because we give him all the crazy Altean words to use, but he’s really funny at it. He’s always kind of looking at scripts like, “what is this? Come on, guys!” “Just say it. Say it funny!”
GeekDad:
Thanks for your time, Tim.

Then executive producers and co-showrunners Joaquim Dos Santos and Lauren Montgomery joined me for some more questions.

GeekDad:
You’re a new parent. Your first?
Joaquim Dos Santos:
My first, yeah.
Lauren Montgomery:
I’m not. Dogs.
Joaquim Dos Santos:
Two beautiful doggies.
GeekDad:
What kind of dogs?
Lauren Montgomery:
One is a Corgi. She’s a tricolor Corgi. And then the other one, he’s a mutt, but he’s like a Jack Russel size but he looks like a black lab.
Joaquim Dos Santos:
He really does. When she was showing me pictures of him I was like, “oh, she got a lab.” And then she brought him into the studio and I was like, “What?”
GeekDad:
How old is your son?
Joaquim Dos Santos:
Ten months old.
GeekDad:
How old before you introduce him to Voltron?
Lauren Montgomery:
Immediately.
Joaquim Dos Santos:
Yeah, he’s pretty much seen it all. I’ve taken footage home to watch it. He’s really into that Mickey Mouse Clubhouse right now. But only the song.
Lauren Montgomery:
Hot dog, hot dog, hot diggity dog!
Joaquim Dos Santos:
That episode comes on and he’s like, “Eh, but that song!” That song gets him.
GeekDad:
Tim said he didn’t know anything about this, but, in episode one there are some cameos by characters from Macross
Lauren Montgomery:
Ohhhh….
Joaquim Dos Santos:
No idea what you’re talking about.
GeekDad:
Was that something that the animators stuck in there?
Joaquim Dos Santos:
I don’t even know what you’re saying right now.
Lauren Montgomery:
Let’s just say we’re big fans.
Joaquim Dos Santos:
Huge fans.
Lauren Montgomery:
Of Robotech-slash-Macross. Whatever you want to call it. And we like to show our love for it.
GeekDad:
Other than Voltron and Robotech/Macross, what were some of your big influences?
Joaquim Dos Santos:
Thundercats, G.I.Joe, all those shows that were sort of pillars of the ’80s is sort of what I gravitated towards, but for me it was also, we had access to films that were probably way out of our age range, so for me I was watching Robocop and the Terminator at a really early age. So all that era of ’80s sci-fi, action adventure, and pop stuff. I was watching Bruce Lee films all day long. It was just an influx of all that stuff.
Lauren Montgomery:
I watched a ton of cartoons. There was a period in my life where if it wasn’t a cartoon, I didn’t want to watch it. I was like, “Live action? Blah!” And I run the gamut of action adventure to Care Bears and Disney princesses and Rainbow Brite. I watched all of them and had all the toys. Comedy stuff–I loved Animaniacs. I was obsessed with Tiny Toons for a period of my life. I would sing the intro song every time it came on. Then Batman: The Animated Series came out and that was a huge thing for me. Then I got more into anime and I’d watch things like Sailor Moon. It’s funny. I didn’t actually see Robotech until it was on Toonami. He (JDS) watched it when he was a kid, and I didn’t watch it until I was in high school, but I still loved it. I wasn’t looking at it like, “This looks like an old cartoon.” I was like, “This is amazing!” and I was obsessed with it.
Joaquim Dos Santos:
I watched Robotech with my buddy and his sister who was five years older than us and she was watching it for all of the Rick and Minmay and all the real story stuff, and I was amazed that Ben Dixon died and stayed dead and when Roy died I was like, “Wait. He’s coming back, right?”
GeekDad:
Real character death.
Joaquim Dos Santos:
Yeah, it actually mattered and resonated. That was a groundbreaking one for sure.
GeekDad:
Other than cartoons, what would you say you are geeks about?
Lauren Montgomery:
Video games.
Joaquim Dos Santos:
Video games.
Lauren Montgomery:
Lot of video games. Toys. I’m a massive toy geek.
Joaquim Dos Santos:
Her office is ridiculous. There’s no room to do anything except type and draw on the Cintiq because every other part is covered by some sort of toy.
Lauren Montgomery:
Yeah, someone on our crew sent out a link to a book on cleanliness and I was like, “No! I will die and I will be buried by my toys! Avalanche of toys and I’ll just suffocate.” I’m just a mega nerd. I just sit and play video games and have toys. That’s what I do.
Joaquim Dos Santos:
I got into the really bad habit of collecting old ’80s arcade games. We converted the garage into an arcade. And I had, from years ago, me and my friend had bought a Star Wars vector graphics arcade game from a friend of ours who had sold it to us for like $200. I was on like the first or second season of Korra and my holy grail of games was Discs of Tron. I remember going and playing it in the arcades and just being blown away by it. And a friend of a friend at Pixar was selling it, so my wife was kind enough, she drove up with me, we got a U-Haul, and I drove it back. And then it kicked off this obsession where I ended up getting like 14 other games. Obsessed.
GeekDad:
What kind of toys are your favorites?
Lauren Montgomery:
I started out with a lot of Marvel Legends. Then I went into a lot of Japanese toys like Figma and Figuarts. Some Robot Damashii. And then, in a crazy twist, because I was at one point talking to Hasbro about doing a Jem thing, I started looking into fashion dolls. I started getting into Monster High because I thought they were cute, and their proportions are good, and they were poseable like action figures. They were amazing for fashion dolls. So then that was a whole thing. I have some really nice quality Jem dolls that were made through Integrity which is some expensive fashion dolls. It’s crazy. It’s all across the board.
Joaquim Dos Santos:
It’s pretty deep with her.
Lauren Montgomery:
And then I have a bunch of matty collector’s stuff. I’ve got all the She-ras from that and…a lot more that I’m not going to talk about.
Joaquim Dos Santos:
There’s a lot man.
GeekDad:
So, speaking of toys, is there anything you can tell us about the Voltron toys?
Joaquim Dos Santos:
They’re for sure happening.
Lauren Montgomery:
Playmates is making them. I think we’re allowed to say that they’re coming out in early 2017. We have seen them and they do look pretty amazing. We got a first glimpse of them.

(They unveiled them recently at NYCC in case you didn’t already see them).

Joaquim Dos Santos:
They were just showing us early protoypes, but its cool.
GeekDad:
Are they doing action figures too or just the lions and Voltron?
Joaquim Dos Santos:
There’s going to be a pretty big range of stuff of like every scale.
Lauren Montgomery:
There’s no way there’s not going to be a Voltron in there.
GeekDad:
Typically, a lot of the Voltron stuff that gets made is just Voltron except for the old set with the big chunky plastic lions and figures.
Joaquim Dos Santos:
Where you could put the guys in. Yeah.
GeekDad:
It would be cool to get some action figures.
Joaquim Dos Santos:
Our line producer actually has the castle from that line of toys and all the figures. They’re a little hard to look at now, but if you can just put yourself in your kid brain, it was so awesome.
Lauren Montgomery:
But looking at what Playmates has done with (Teenage Mutant Ninja) Turtles, they’ve covered like every character. So I’ve got my fingers crossed that we’re going to get all sorts of characters.
GeekDad:
Mice.
Joaquim Dos Santos:
Mice. Seriously!
Lauren Montgomery:
If we can get some nice beanie, plushy mice, I could die happy.
GeekDad:
Have you made any changes to the things you want to say and do since you had your son?
Joaquim Dos Santos:
It’s weird. Things definitely affect me differently for sure. But it’s weird things. I’m a documentary buff so I could watch WWII docs before I had my kid and be mildly affected by it, but its a totally different experience now seeing, you know, the horrors of war and the way its affected children in those situations. As far as my writing goes, I think we always erred on the side of being compassionate and not being too overly violent or exclusive. We were always pretty inclusive.
Lauren Montgomery:
Yeah, Voltron, at first glance you just assume its a show for boys, but we’ve always tried to make it just a good show. And I think that’s reflected in the audience it’s attracted. It’s old, young, male, female. So when you take that sort of stuff into consideration, and clearly we’re not trying to make something that’s so dark it would instill fear into young children, it allows all ages to watch it.
Joaquim Dos Santos:
And I will say that Star Wars is sort of a pillar of something that you can’t really escape. Everything about it is iconic. All of its storytelling methods. So family is literally the strongest story you can tell so those things definitely work their way in.
GeekDad:
One of the things I love about the show is that its a perfect balance of a completely new, different show, but it has all that nostalgia too. My wife and my three-year-old son have never seen the original and they both love the new show.
Joaquim Dos Santos:
That’s awesome.
GeekDad:
So, with no baggage, they both love the show. And as an old fan, I love it on its own but also for that nostalgia. So how much do you intentionally try to keep that balance versus it just sort of happens because you are fans yourselves?
Joaquim Dos Santos:
I think it is that. I think it more just happens. There has definitely been a couple of times that I can think of that we’ve specifically said, “Oh, we can use this element of Go Lion and this element of Voltron.” And they both work and we got really excited about that on a nostalgic, geeky level. But I think those are more rare. I think the way the nostalgia works itself in is more natural.
GeekDad:
Thanks, guys.
Joaquim Dos Santos:
That’s the best cosplay we’ve seen so far.
Lauren Montgomery:
It’s incredible. It looks great.
GeekDad:
Thank you. I spent a lot of time on it.
Joaquim Dos Santos:
How’s the collar staying up? Is there a wire in there?
GeekDad:
It’s just thick interfacing. Same thing with the cuffs, just to make them a little more sturdy.
Lauren Montgomery:
Cool. It’s incredible. I’d have no idea.
Joaquim Dos Santos:
We’re going to have to design some other fashions at some point. Like the high jacket is just a thing that happens back on Earth.
Lauren Montgomery:
That’s just in on Earth. High jackets.
GeekDad:
You’re going to make me have multiple Keith costumes. I’m already going to have two with the armor.
Lauren Montgomery:
I honestly don’t even know how someone would make the armor. Are we making non-cosplayable items here?
GeekDad:
I’m actually in a group on Facebook that is a Voltron cosplay group and we’re working on sharing techniques and building armor.
Joaquim Dos Santos:
That’s awesome.
Lauren Montgomery:
So cool.

Will is a geek, athlete, husband to a geek mom, and father of 4-year-old and 1-year-old geeks-in-the-making living in Seattle, Washington. He loves reading, comics, cosplay, games (tabletop and video sorts), and robots - especially Transformers. He's also the co-host of the Sunday Evening with Captain Owen podcast (available on iTunes) and custom prop builder at Billythebrick Cosplay.