NYCC2009: "Wonder Woman" Roundtable Interview with Producer Bruce Timm
Right before the debut of Wonder Woman at the 2009 New York Comic Con, Toon Zone News was able to participate in several roundtable interviews with Bruce Timm, Michael Jelenic, and Lauren Montgomery. On the eve of the release of Wonder Woman on DVD and Blu-ray disc, we are proud to present these roundtables with the talent behind the movie.
Bruce Timm needs virtually no introduction to the legions of animation fans. Timm’s reputation would have been made simply for being one of the prime movers behind Batman the Animated Series, but shepherding that shared universe through Superman the Animated Series, Batman Beyond, and Justice League has made him a legend among fans of the animated DC universe. Now acting as a producer for the direct-to-video animated DC superhero movies, Timm sat down to talk with us about both the past, the present, and a little bit about the future of DC’s animated projects.
Q: Is there an invisible airplane in Wonder Woman?
BRUCE TIMM: Yes, there is.
Q: Oh, really?
TIMM: Yes there is.
Q: I was expecting the answer to be “No.” OK, cool…wait, this [his recorder] isn’t even on?
TIMM: You mean I have to do that whole long answer again? Christ!
Q: OK, now, for the record, sir, is there an invisible airplane in this movie?
TIMM: No, there is not. (laughter) Yes there is. Semi-visible.
Q: For this version of Wonder Woman, what were the biggest influences for it from other pre-existing media? Was it a specific comics run or was it a particular origin story?
TIMM: No, it actually wasn’t based on any specific comic. I know there was some misinformation about that early on. Some people were saying, “Oh, yeah, it’s based on the George Perez version,” and it really isn’t. There are similarities, but it isn’t specifically based on George’s run. It’s kind of like what we’ve always done with all of the characters. We look back at the entire history of the character and cherry-pick the things about those versions that we liked, and smoosh them all together and see if they work. So there’s stuff in there from the Lynda Carter series, there’s stuff in there from the Greg Rucka comics run, there’s stuff in there from the George Perez run, there’s even stuff from the Golden Age Wonder Woman comics, so it’s kind of an amalgam of a lot of different things, but it’s not specifically based on any one version.
Q: So you didn’t stick in any of that great stuff that William Moulton Marston stuck into the original Wonder Woman comics?
Q: No Etta Candy?
Q: Well, I was thinking more about the bondage and the crazy submission to domination thing.
TIMM: You know, actually, in one of the earlier drafts, we were planning on playing up that up a little bit — that if she gets bound, she loses her powers and stuff, which I actually don’t have a problem with, even in terms of modern day feminism, because I think it’s thematically very strong. But DC Comics specifically said, “We don’t really like that part of her mythos any more. We don’t play with that at all any more.” So they’re kind of shy about the whole bondage thing (laughs). Don’t know why…(laughs again).
Q: Did you run into anything else? What notes did you get from DC that you can talk about?
TIMM: I can’t think of anything major or a deal breaker or anything of any kind. It was all pretty amicable. I can’t think of anything else, really.
Q: When you did Gotham Knight, you said that it felt like a lot of the time, you felt like your job was to not give notes because it was such a departure from the style you normally do. Did you get to be a little bit more hands-on with Wonder Woman?
TIMM: Yes, and no. It’s weird. Sometimes, I feel like my job these days is to slowly make myself obsolete, because I’m giving more and more power and creative freedom to my directors. On this one, it was Lauren Montgomery. I’d worked with her on Justice League, and she’d directed a third of Doomsday, and on this film, I really felt that it was time for her to step up and take complete control as much as possible, in terms of character design and everything. I basically just piled as much work on her as she could take. She’s young, fortunately, and strong, so she was able to take it. But I’m definitely involved creatively. I go to all the recordings and sit in the editing room with Lauren and do the post direction and all that stuff. For the most part, I just let her have her head, and basically just kind of let her go and do what she was going to do. So, it was kind of fun to not be doing all the heavy lifting.
Q: What’s it like to work with Andrea Romano?
TIMM: Oh, it’s a dream. I’m spoiled because I’ve been really lucky that I’ve only ever worked with her on every project I’ve ever done. I’ve never worked with anybody else, so I have nobody to compare her to, but she’s awesome. She really knows her stuff, and she’s really well-connected in the entertainment business, so she’s able to call people up that you wouldn’t think you’d even be able to get near, and she can make it happen. She’s a super-talented director. I love her to pieces.
Q: How did you first start working with her?
TIMM: She was the voice director on Tiny Toons. Again, it wasn’t really anything special. She was there, I was there, she was available, and she had a great reputation already at that point. I said, “Well, I’ve never worked with any voice director, so I’ll try her out,” and we’ve just been working together ever since.
Q: Can you talk a bit more about your collaboration with her? How does that work? Do you come to her with ideas? Does she come to you with ideas?
TIMM: It’s both. We sit together, sometimes with the director and sometimes with other creative people like the writers or other producers or whoever, and we sit in a room and just brainstorm different ideas of who would be appropriate for certain parts. We usually make a big long list for each character and start narrowing it down — “Ah, this guy’s better than him” — and we number it by preference. “Let’s go after this guy first,” 1, 2, and 3. If all those guys bail, then we move on to our next set. There’s a lot of back-and-forth, but it’s fun because she’ll think of people I wouldn’t think of, and vice versa.
Q: How does casting work for you? Do you draw Darkseid and then go, “Wow, Michael Ironside’s perfect to play Darkseid?”
TIMM: In that case, that actually was kind of what happened. I think just in the back of my head, I just always thought he would be the perfect guy for that part. Whether before or after I drew the character, I don’t remember.
Q: What does Ironside have that made you want to cast him?
TIMM: Uhh….he’s just scary (laughs). He’s really scary. Like, even in real life, he scares the crap out of you. So, you know, perfect casting for Darkseid.
Q: A lot of times, you’ll change or adjust the character when an actor walks into the booth and starts doing stuff.
TIMM: Oh, yeah. Quite a bit.
TIMM: Yeah, to a degree. When we brought Keri in, there was a little bit of a fear that she may have sounded a little bit too contemporary to be Wonder Woman. It’s not that she sounded young or too teenager-y or anything, but there was just something a little bit contemporary about her. Which, again, in hindsight, I think it kind of works for the particular story we’re telling, because she is a little bit of an iconoclast. She is kind of like the one Amazon who breaks the Amazon paradigm. She’s the one who defies the gods and defies her mother and kind of wants to get off the island, so it actually kind of works, but we did have to bring her back a little bit more towards the middle. She was a little bit too modern-day sounding at first, I thought, but she adjusted very well.
Q: The Wonder Woman movie, as well as New Frontier and and Gotham Knight, seem to be a big evolution from the work you were doing in the Justice League and the early DC Animated Universe. Are the characterizations totally different? Is this Wonder Woman also going to have the hots for Batman?
TIMM: (Click to hear Timm’s response) …As if that defined the Justice League Wonder Woman. I don’t get that. I read that online a lot, it’s like, “Oh, they totally ruined Wonder Woman because all she does is moon about Batman!” A) she didn’t really moon about Batman…it was a flirtation! It was a brief flirtation, we didn’t …we never meant to make much out of it. It was just a thing, but no, Batman isn’t even in this universe.
Personality-wise, it’s quite a bit different than the way she was in Justice League. We start with her on Themyscira…actually, we start with before she’s even born or created out of clay, back with Hippolyta on Paradise Island, so yeah, it’s her origin, it’s her first mission, seeing Man’s cockeyed world through her eyes and dealing with male-female relationship issues and epic blood-curdling battles and stuff. It was a lot of fun.
Q: All the DTVs so far have been 75 minutes.
TIMM: Between 70 and 75, yeah.
Q: Is there a reason for that number?
TIMM: It’s a budgetary thing. Seriously, we pay for our animation by the foot, and that’s what we’re budgeted at. I mean, we try to squeeze as much footage out of that as possible, but it’s really a budgetary thing. If they went longer than that, we’d have to increase the budget, which we don’t have.
Q: So there’s no plans to try and go longer?
TIMM: Not really, no. And I’m comfortable with it. To me, some of the movies have felt rushed. I think that’s a valid criticism that Doomsday and New Frontier were probably too big to actually try to tell in 70 minutes. Wonder Woman feels correct. You watch Wonder Woman, and it will not feel like there’s pieces missing. It will not feel like, “Oh, God, if only they’d had another half-hour, they could have done A, B, and C.” And, you know, people forget that a lot of the other movies that we’ve done before that people adore to this day, like Mask of the Phantasm or Return of the Joker, were the same length. So it’s not a bad length for a movie, but sometimes we’ve bitten off a little bit more than we could chew in 70 minutes.
Q: Can you talk about what you wanted to carry over and what you wanted to avoid from doing Wonder Woman in Justice League and Wonder Woman in this movie?
TIMM: It’s not that we wanted to avoid what we had done in Justice League, but it’s just that it’s such a completely different dynamic. When she’s with the Justice League…it’s the same with Batman. When Batman’s on his own, the story on the face of it is going to be a completely different story than if Batman is going to be sole superhero in the movie. It’s the same thing with Wonder Woman. if she’s the only hero in the movie, it’s going to be more about her, obviously, and you’re going to have to dig deeper and give her a little bit more dimension than she has when she’s in a group ensemble show. That’s really it. And again, the nature of the story, it just evolved that it made sense to make her a little bit younger in this story than she was portrayed most of the time in Justice League. So, that really kind of informed pretty much everything about what we did with her.
Q: In some of the TV series, some of the characters had a striking resemblance to you. Will we see any cameos in Wonder Woman?
TIMM: Not if I can help it.
Q: I read online that you had planned on using Captain Marvel on an early episode of Justice League, and you couldn’t because of issues or something, but then you used him later. What was the story behind that?
TIMM: I think that actually goes back to the Superman the Animated Series days. We wanted to do Captain Marvel vs. Superman back then, and at that time, there was a film option on Captain Marvel that made him off-limits to us at the time. But then when we did Justice League, he was available.
Q: If there was one non-DC Character that you could bring into your universe, who would that be?
TIMM: Oh, God. I don’t know. There’s a lot of them. Actually, I’m not sure bringing them into the DC Universe is necessarily something I’m dying to do, although I would like to do one DC/Marvel crossover movie. I think that would be fun. I’m sure it’s, like, absolutely impossible how tricky the rights issues are, but that would be fun to do, like the JLA vs. the Avengers or something. But I don’t have any one outside character that I would like to bring in.
Q: There’s a lot of rumors around that there’s going to be a live-action version of this character. If that does happen, what could you say that your film has that a live-action film could never have?
TIMM: …I don’t know. This movie has a huge scale. If this movie were a live-action movie, it would cost probably hundreds of millions of dollars, but that doesn’t seem to be a problem in Hollywood these days. There’s not really anything in this movie that they couldn’t do. Sorry. Don’t have a good answer for that.
Q: So how come they have so much trouble getting a script together, but you managed to get your movie done so soon?
TIMM: It’s a different paradigm. I think for an animated feature, there’s a lot less cost involved. When you’re talking about a live-action theatrical film, you’re talking about literally hundreds of millions of dollars and it’s a much bigger gamble, whereas our film is made for, well, quite a bit less than that (laughs). So it’s less of a roll of the dice. And, honestly, I think chances are that a live-action Wonder Woman movie will get made some day. Whether rightly or wrongly, I think there’s a fear in Hollywood that female superheroes don’t have the same box-office potential that male superheroes do. I’ve actually even heard executives say, “Yeah, well, look at that Catwoman movie.” Well, it’s like, “The Catwoman movie just sucked, basically.” It had nothing to do with whether it was a female or not. But I do understand their reticence, because when you’re gambling with that much money, you pretty much want to guarantee your returns.
Q: One of the things that a lot of people are talking about is that this is a pilot to a Wonder Woman animated series.
TIMM: Are they? I hadn’t read that one.
Q: I think some people are hoping it will be. Is that something you’ve thought of? Is it something that’s crossed your mind?
TIMM: Actually, it hasn’t crossed my mind. Maybe because I understand how difficult it would be to sell it as an animated series, because for animated series for TV, even more so there’s a boy-centric spin to them because TV cartoons, especially, are driven by toy sales, and you’re just not going to sell a Wonder Woman action/adventure toy line to little boys. They’re just not going to buy them. A big part of what finances these shows is ancillary merchandise and stuff. I know that would be a major uphill battle trying to sell it as a series, so I guess maybe that’s why I hadn’t thought about it. I think she certainly could hold her own animated series. I think she’s an interesting enough character, but I think it would be a real longshot.
Q: What about series in general? Do you have any interest in going back to work on a series instead of one-shot films?
TIMM: Yeah, actually, I would. It works a completely different side of my brain to work on a series instead of a movie. On a movie, it’s great because you can take a little bit more time and a little more care, but at the same time, when I’m doing a series, when things are really clicking, there’s nothing more fun than banging out a bunch of episodes, getting in a room with the writers and going, “OK, now what do we do with these guys?” And, you know, it is almost like being a kid again, it’s kind of like, “Then THIS happens, and then THIS happens…and then THIS happens! And then they can do THIS!” And then when the show comes back from overseas, we get into..it’s kind of hectic, we’re getting shows in every week, and editing them real quick and scoring them and putting them together, but to me, it’s really kind of fun and exhilarating to do that. It’s really exciting when the shows start coming back and you just start banging them out. So I enjoy doing them both. I enjoy doing both the films and the series stuff. I’m sure I’ll end up doing something episodic, one of these days.
Q: I understand the episode “Far from Home” from Justice League was supposed to be some kind of a pilot for a Legion of Superheroes show?
TIMM: Not really. No…
Q: So the fanboys on the Internet have no idea what they’re talking about?
TIMM: Imagine how THAT could happen! (laughs) No, we just wanted to do a Legion of Superheroes story, and again, going from the comics where Supergirl and Brainiac had a romance, we thought, “Oh, that would be an interesting thing to do with Supergirl that we hadn’t done before.” We hadn’t really shown her as getting into more adult issues of romance and stuff, so it just seemed kind of like a fun thing to do. But it wasn’t ever intended to be a backdoor pilot, no.
Q: Who were the biggest influences on your style?
Q: I guess, why did you want to draw when you were younger?
TIMM: That’s an even tougher question (laughs). I just always drew. Ever since I was a little kid. Most kids draw when they’re kids, whether they’re good or bad, they always do. I always drew, and I was really into superheroes from watching TV. The Adam West show and Space Ghost and things like that, so I just naturally gravitated to drawing superheroes. It wasn’t until I was in my teens when I started collecting comics regularly that I started really, really studying and analyzing the art and being overtly influenced by artists like John Buscema and Jack Kirby and Alex Toth and…basically anybody and everybody. I would copy the way they drew and kind of just by osmosis, it turned into my style.
Q: Since Batman the Animated Series debuted 20 years ago, what would you say has been the biggest change since then? What’s really different now that you kind of wish you had back then when you were starting on Batman the Animated Series?
TIMM: Well, the biggest change, of course, is that we’re not the only game in town any more. Back then, there really wasn’t any superhero cartoons on TV. There was some adventure stuff…I think G.I. Joe was still plugging along, and things like that, but most of the stuff was, uh, not very well made, is what I’m going to say. Even the lowest-common denominator standard of any average cartoon show now is just so much higher now than it was when we started, so there’s a lot more talented people in the business, both here in the States and overseas. Animation studios have just gotten better and better and better. So that’s the biggest change that I can see. The bad side of that is that it’s harder to make an impact these days. Back when we did Batman, that was pre-Buffy, that was pre-The Matrix, that was pre-the video game explosion. That was before all of this stuff vying for everybody’s attention, so it was a lot easier to get noticed back then, whereas nowadays, there’s just so much competition for a viewing audience that it’s a lot tougher.
Q: From JLU season 3, after coming off the second season and a fantastic cap for the story arc, I guess how did you come up with the story, because originally season 2 was supposed to be the last season. How and why did you make the decision to bring back Darkseid for the final villain?
TIMM: Well, it was several things. We had just done the Cadmus story, and it was this big, dark, kind of adult-themed superhero show, and we said, “OK, we don’t want to do that again.” We’ve done it, we want to take a break from dark, heaviness stuff. And Dwayne McDuffie just literally said, “Hey, let’s do the Legion of Doom. Let’s just do Super Friends.” And I went, “OK, fine, we haven’t done that.” And just in talking about it, and beating the story out, it just kind of turned into what it was. Luthor basically became the star of that season. It really became more about him than it was about superheroes, and we can’t resist throwing in major left-hand twists towards the end, so you think the story is going one way, you think it’s going to be all about the Legion of Doom vs. the Justice League in a big fistfight, and we couldn’t resist throwing Darkseid in as a ringer to kind of kick the story off in a different direction. It was just something fun. That whole season was just fun. It was just like, “Let’s just do crazy superhero stories. Let’s not worry about getting dark and serious and dramatic. let’s just do every crazy, nutty story we can think of.” We had fun.
Q: Are there any thoughts of revisiting those characters?
Q: One of the things I really enjoyed about Justice League was the relationship between Green Lantern and Shayera. I guess it kind of was left hanging at the end of JLU…
TIMM: Well, we wanted to give it a resolution, but we also wanted to leave it open just in case we wanted to do more episodes, so that we didn’t totally shut the door on what that was all about. As far as we were concerned, we thought we gave it a resolution. It may not have been the resolution that the shippers wanted. it didn’t end with a big clinch with the two of them, but we did feel that it gave closure, but I guess a lot of people weren’t satisfied with it. But, you know, hey, that’s the way it goes. You can’t please ’em all.
Q: I’m curious as to what you think of the new Batman: Brave and the Bold series.
TIMM: I like what I’ve seen of it. I have not…and again, this is not to disparage the show in any way, shape, or form. James Tucker is a very dear frend of mine. I just have not had the time to sit down and watch even a complete episode, yet. One of these days, I’m going to have to borrow a bunch of them from James just to sit down and watch it, but what I’ve seen of it, I think it looks really cool. I really like it a lot. I like the style, I like the color, I like the whole tone of it. I like the fact that it’s kind of a goofy, old-school Batman show rather than the dark, dreary Batman. I like both. I’ve said this before, I like all different kinds of versions of Batman. I like Adam West’s Batman as much as I like the dark, scary Frank Miller/Neal Adams/Christopher Nolan of Batman. I think they’re valid. I think they’re all completley valid, so that’s one of the things about Batman as a character you can do so many different things with him and it’s all cool. So I like it.
Q: Do you have a favorite Batman story?
TIMM: No. I don’t! I could make something up, but I don’t want to. (laughs)
TIMM: Well, we have so many different properties already on our slate that we hope to get to in the next year or two that the idea of doing a sequel really hasn’t come up yet, but it may. Again, especially if any of these things sell really, especially well, then I think that would definitely lead the powers that be much more down that path. So hopefully Wonder Woman will do really well. Personally, I think it’s our best movie yet. I think it’s better than New Frontier and Doomsday and Gotham Knight. I just think it’s solid. I think it’s really super-solid, so if any movie really deserves to do well, it’s definitely Wonder Woman. Hopefully, it will sell like gangbusters and then we’ll see.
Q: Can you talk about how well the DTV’s have done in terms of sales?
TIMM: As far as I know, they’re doing REALLY really well. They’ve all done really well. Doomsday, I think, did great. New Frontier not quite as well, though it still did pretty well. I think Gotham Knight actually outsold both of the first two. Probably a lot of that had to do with the buzz around the movie coming out at the same time and everything, but hey…we’ll take what we can get. They’ve all done extremely well so far, but I don’t have exact figures for you.
Q: But they’re certainly letting you make more of them, though.
TIMM: Absolutely. Actually they want us to do more a year than we’ve been able to do. We’re trying to figure out how to do that and keep the quality up.
Q: Is that really an issue about the time crunch?
TIMM: Well, it’s not so much the time crunch. It’s just that literally there’s a finite number of really, really good people in the business who can actually do this kind of stuff, and there’s a lot of action/adventure programming that’s already being done. There’s Brave and the Bold, Ben 10, there’s the Marvel shows, so it’s just trying to find the great people to actually execute the work. That’s the issue. It’s not so much the time. We could actually, theoretically, do 2 of them at once, because you would have 2 different directors. I would be overseeing them. I wouldn’t be, you know, I’d certainly be able to multitask if I had people of Lauren’s caliber directing, but it’s just literally finding the staff is really really hard, so that’s what the issue is.
Q: I know Cartoon Network has the Cartoonstitute, and Disney founded CalArts all those years ago. Is that something Warners is thinking of doing, because you said you wanted Lauren to step up. Would you do something like that?
TIMM: We don’t have the time or the resources to do something like that.
Q: Is that something that you would like to have happen?
TIMM: Oh, it’d be nice to have a farm. Sure, to grow our own, absolutely, it’d be great, but I wouldn’t be interested in running it. I just don’t have the time. Have too many other things to do. But if somebody else could do it, that’d be great.
Q: Will you be doing any more comics?
TIMM: I don’t have anything scheduled. I would like to do some more comics eventually some day, but the older I get, the less energy I have. It doesn’t look like anything long-form in the near future, but maybe one of these days. I do adore comics, and I like doing ’em, but it just takes a lot out of me.
Q: Maybe 4-panel comic strips?
TIMM: I could certainly make more money that way (laughs), but yeah, we’ll see.
TIMM: (laughs) Most like me? Well, Batman is probably the closest to me in terms of being grumpy, but I’m not nearly as smart as he is, or as cool. I don’t know, I’ve never thought of it that way. Sorry.
Q: Any thoughts on a Crisis film?
TIMM: Um….maybe. That’s all I can say about that.
Q: Can you give us any hints on what might be the next DTV project?
TIMM: Uh, no. Not today. I’m sworn to secrecy as of today.
Q: Can you talk about Green Lantern, or is that….
TIMM: …I cannot even say those two words. I know nothing. (ed’s note: of course, he can now.)
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