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NYCC2010: A Roundtable Discussion with Bruce Timm

At the New York Comic Con 2010, Toonzone News got to participate in a roundtable discussion with Bruce Timm, executive producer for the DC direct-to-video movies. Questions asked by Toonzone News (vs. by our other friends in the media) are identified as such.

Bruce Timm and Michael Jelenic - New York Comic Con 2010Q: How challenging was it to adapt Frank Quietly’s artwork for All Star Superman?

BRUCE TIMM: It was REALLY hard. It was the toughest adaptation job we’ve done. To me, a big part of the charm of the comic was the way it looked, because I love his artwork. We knew going in that it would be difficult because he has almost a European style that doesn’t look like typical American superhero comics. So yeah, it was tough. It took a lot of R&D before we finally came up with a design that we thought reflected the comic and was still animatable.

TOONZONE NEWS: Are Grant Morrison or Frank Quitely (the writer and artist for the comics — ed.) involved in the movie at all?

BRUCE TIMM: Only tangentially. Quitely is doing the artwork for the cover, and Grant did a commentary for the DVD.

Q: How hard was it to condense the 12 issues into a 70 minute movie?

BRUCE TIMM: Well, fortunately, I didn’t have a whole lot to do with it, because the idea of doing All Star Superman came up years and years and years ago. At that time, as much as I loved the comic—and I really, truly did love the comic, it’s one of my favorites—I looked at it and thought, “Wow, it’s so episodic.” It doesn’t have a beginning, middle, and end like some other comics you could name, so I really couldn’t see how to do it. A couple of years later, it came up again, and we thought, “OK, let’s give it a try.” Fortunately, we hired Dwayne McDuffie to write the script and without any guidance from me or Alan Burnett, he took his own look at the comic and figured out what to cut. He turned in his first outline and we went, “Well, yeah, that feels right.” There were certain episodes from the comic that I would have loved to have seen animated, but they didn’t fit into the overall arc that Dwayne had picked out of the comic. So, some of my favorite things in the comic aren’t in the movie, but if you didn’t know they were there, you won’t miss them. You watch the movie, and you feel like, “Yeah, it’s all there.”

Shazam!Q: What are your day-today duties like now? Take us through a day in the life of Bruce Timm.

BRUCE TIMM: Uh…It’s …(laughs). I get to spend, like, a half-hour on each of the projects at a time, which is a difficult juggling act. I kind of oversee the direct-to-videos still. Sometimes, I’m more involved just because of how many things I have on my schedule or who else is involved on DTVs. I also have this other project which I’m not allowed to talk about that’s taking up a lot of my time right now. So it’s difficult. I’m not as directly involved in any of the projects as I’d like to be. Like, when I was working on Justice League, that was my only job, so I was focused on that 100%, 24/7. It’s not like that now. But at the same time, I’m working with some really super-talented individuals like Lauren Montgomery and Sam Liu who don’t need a whole lot of direction from me, so I can just pretty much let them go and do their thing. Occasionally, they’ll run stuff by me and I’ll say, “Oh, that looks great.” Occasionally I’ll change a little tiny thing there, but for the most part, they’re awesome. It’s not really that they need much direction from me, but I likes to keep my hand in anyways.

Q: Would you direct again?

BRUCE TIMM: I would love to. I would literally have to walk away from some of the other things I’m working on right now. The combination of the fact that I don’t want to and “the office” doesn’t want me to—they’d like to keep me involved in all these different things. But yeah, I would love to be literally just focused on just one thing. That will happen again some day. Not in the immediate future.

Q: What’s your level of involvement in All Star Superman as compared to the other DTVs?

BRUCE TIMM: Hard to say. It’s about the same as it has been since the beginning except for Superman Doomsday, since that was the first one and we had a smaller crew, so I had to do a lot more on that one. But it’s stayed about steady. I’m involved always at the beginning with the director and the producer in terms of what the visual style is going to be, and with casting. I’m always there during the voice recordings. And I’m always there at the tail end when we do the edit and the post-production. A lot of the steps in between, like approving all the individual models or approving all the indivdual storyboards, I usually leave that up to the director. On the one hand, I really can’t complain because I get to do all of the fun stuff. I get to work in the editing room with the director and the editor, which is one of my favorite parts of the process.

Aliens with guns!Q: As the films have gone to the PG-13, the violence level has increased. Have you gotten any backlash from anybody on that?

BRUCE TIMM: If we have, I haven’t heard about it. If we get complaints from some mom who bought one of the DVDs and thought it was kid appropriate, I haven’t heard anything, so I think everything is cool in that respect.

Q: Have you thought of doing an R-rated animation?

BRUCE TIMM: It’s come up a several times. There was one property in particular where we actually came “this close,” and at the last minute, we got cold feet, or somebody got cold feet and said, “We’re not sure the world’s ready for an R-rated superhero film yet.” But it keeps coming up as a possibility, so who knows? One of these days.

TOONZONE NEWS: What about going in the other direction? Would you think of doing something PG or even G-rated?

BRUCE TIMM: That’s an interesting question. Currently, right now, we’re not slanting anything that way. If we happen to do one of these things that for some reason or another didn’t get a PG-13 rating, I think we’d be fine with that. For the extra “G” rating, that’s a little tougher. That’s something I wouldn’t really be interested in. I wouldn’t even know how to do that.

TOONZONE NEWS: Mostly I’m asking because I’d love to see Shazam and the Monster Society of Evil.

BRUCE TIMM: Yeah, that’s not a PG-13 property. You know, that’s a tough one. As much as I would love to see that, too, I’m not sure there’s a big enough potential audience to support us doing something like that. I wish there were a market for things of that nature. But that could change. You never know. Could happen, I suppose.

Q: Have you ever thought about revisiting the Teen Titans Judas Contract again?

BRUCE TIMM: (laughs) Boy, you’re only the third person today who’s asked me that question. Well…here’s what I think about The Judas Contract. The first thing is that I know a lot of people weren’t crazy about it, but I thought they did a really really good job adapting that for the Teen Titans TV series. I thought they did actually an excellent job of adapting that, so I kind of feel like it’s something that’s already been done.

The second thing is that we literally did market testing on it, and the home video people did not feel confident enough that it was a big enough moneymaker for them to actually bring to life. So that’s literally the bottom line. That kind of killed it dead. I don’t know if anything is going to happen to change that situation any time soon, and frankly, we weren’t ever completely, 100% sold on the script that we had for it. I felt that it still needed quite a bit of work, so when the plug got pulled on it, I was a little bit relieved. So honestly, I’m not sure if it’s ever going to happen.

Batman Beyond: The Complete SeriesQ: Is there any thought of revisiting Batman Beyond any time soon, with the new comics going monthly starting in January and the release of the complete series DVD set coming up?

BRUCE TIMM: Weirdly enough, the possibility of revisiting the Batman Beyond world has come up in conversation. I don’t know that it would ever come back as a series or a full-length movie, but there is something about that world that intrigues us, so that’s all I can say. There’s nothing definite in the works, but it does come up in conversation quite often.

TOONZONE NEWS: Were you involved in the comic at all?

BRUCE TIMM: No.

Q: We’ve noticed that Lauren Montgomery did the Wonder Woman movie, and she’s done the Superman/Batman: Apocalypse which was more Supergirl-centered. Is there a way that you pick what director goes with what? It can’t be as simple as “She’s a girl and it’s a girl movie.”

BRUCE TIMM: Why not? (laughter) Actually, that’s mostly her choice. She’s literally my number one choice to direct any of these because I think she’s amazingly talented, so she’s always got right of first refusal on any of these properties. If it does happen to feature a female superhero, she gets WAY more excited about it than having to do another movie with a bunch of guys in spandex. She was really excited to do the Wonder Woman thing and she was excited to do the Supergirl thing. About the only male superhero that gets her that fired up is Aquaman.

Q: Could you get Lauren to do an Aquaman movie?

BRUCE TIMM: I would love that. I would love that.

Pow!Q: I know on her blog she was talking about a Batgirl: Year One movie that didn’t quite happen.

BRUCE TIMM: Yeah…on the one hand, I think it’s a shame. On the other hand, I completely understand it. Traditionally, female superheroes haven’t sold as well as male superheroes, so when you’re investing this much money in a movie, the home video people want to feel pretty confident that they’ll get a return on their investment, which is not to say that they’re right that a Batgirl movie wouldn’t sell well. But to them, it’s not as obvious a moneymaker as a Batman movie or a Superman movie. Again, this could all change. All it takes is some brilliant person out there to do a live-action female super hero movie that makes zillions and zillions and zillions of dollars, and then suddenly we’ll be doing them. I guarantee you. But, like I said, that hasn’t happened yet. We’ll see.

Q: Are you guys planning to keep on doing the shorts? They seem to be successful and popular.

BRUCE TIMM: We would love to do more of them. We’re going to put out a compilation DVD that has all the shorts plus the new one, the “Superman/Shazam” short, which will be all-new to that DVD. We’re waiting to see how that sells, and if that sells well, then we’ll definitely come back and do more. In anticipation of that, we’ve already got 4 other scripts lined up, ready to go, so we could put those into production at a moment’s notice.

Q: You guys seem to be bouncing back and forth between origin stories and the greatest hits of the DC Universe. How do you decide what your next film is going to be?

BRUCE TIMM: There’s no formula. It’s pretty kind of random sometimes. We have a weekly conference call with (Warner) Home Video and DC Comics. We talk about things that are already in production and we look back on what we’ve done recently, and what do we need to do to keep thigns fresh and change things up. So, it’s just a general brainstorming thing. We’ll say, “What about this story from the comics?” or, “What about that one?” Or maybe if we’re going to do another Batman movie, what should we do that hasn’t been done recently? What villain should we face? What can we do to keep the Batman movie a little bit more special than the ones we’ve done, so it’s just a lot of throwing ideas around. It’s great when they find a comic book property that totally fits the bill like Batman: Year One, and if there isn’t something that strikes our fancy, then sometimes we’ll go back and just come up with an original story. Like I said, it’s not really a formula. It can feel pretty random sometimes.

TOONZONE NEWS: There’s been a lot of change lately in management in DC Entertainment. Has that affected your work at Warner Brothers?

BRUCE TIMM: It has not affected us a lot yet. The biggest change since last year is that since Geoff Johns has become the creative director of DC, he’s been working a lot more closely with us on all the different projects. But he’s just been great. There have not been any road bumps or hiccups in any way. He generally likes all the stuff we’re doing,and all his notes are usually exactly the kinds of notes we need, that are helpful. He’ll come up with a lot of really neat ideas that we wouldn’t have come up with on our own. So it’s all been great.

Q: Has he been prodding at all for more Green Lantern?

BRUCE TIMM: (laughter) That’s just serendipity. The fact that the Green Lantern movie came up at the same time we were talking about doing the CG series and everything, it wasn’t anything that he pushed for. It was just that the stars were in alignment.

Q: Last time you were in town for the Wonder Woman premiere, you talked about the possibility of branching out into Vertigo titles. Has there been any progress made on that front, or has it kind of receded?

BRUCE TIMM: It’s a tricky subject. On one hand, we would love to branch out into the Vertigo titles. There was one property in particular that we were really gung-ho about. We actually commissioned a script that was excellent, and pretty scary and pretty hard-core and pretty R-rated. The thing that tripped that up was a rights issue. It wasn’t anything to do with money or getting a green light. Everyone wanted to do it, but it’s a complicated legal thing, so that’s sitting on the shelf for the moment. We’re hoping we can get that untangled and then we can announce that soon. But that’s all I can say about Vertigo at the moment. We want to do it.

Kara Zor-ElTOONZONE NEWS: You brought back a bunch of JLU alumni to voice their characters in Superman/Batman: Apocalypse. I can understand why you wouldn’t want to bring back Nicholle Tom as Supergirl…

BRUCE TIMM: Why do you say that?

TOONZONE NEWS: Because this is a new Supergirl, so she needed a new voice actor.

BRUCE TIMM: (laughing) I was going to say, “You weren’t slamming Nicholle, were you?”

TOONZONE NEWS: Oh, no no, not at all. I love Nicholle Tom’s Supergirl.

BRUCE TIMM: (laughter) OK, good, because we love Nicholle, too.

TOONZONE NEWS: Did Michael Ironside have a conflict? Was there any reason why you brought in Andre Braugher instead as Darkseid?

BRUCE TIMM: No, basically, when we do bring Kevin (Conroy) and Tim (Daly) in to do voices, our wonderful publicity people weigh in and say, “Well, you know, it’s great…we love Kevin and we love Tim, but we need have some stunt casting to help out getting publicity in terms of media exposure and magazines and stuff.” So, we always like to look at some of the major supporting characters as parts that we can stunt-cast with higher profile actors. In the best of all worlds, I would have been perfectly happy to have just used Nicholle Tom and Michael Ironside, but at the same time, I was delighted to work with Summer Glau and Andre Braugher.

Q: Are there any DC characters left that you want to work on?

BRUCE TIMM: I’m sure there’s tons, but then again, the stuff that I think is cool isn’t necessarily the stuff that mom’s who impulse buy at Target will think is cool, but you never know. Maybe for Showcase shorts, I’ll be able to get some more of my favorite characters in there.

Q: Would you ever work with Thomas Jane again?

BRUCE TIMM: (laughter) Oh, sure, why not? He’s great, he’s great. He’s just…like hanging on to an electric live wire or something. (laughter) But no, he’s great. I love Tom.

Toonzone News would like to thank Bruce Timm for taking the time to talk with us, and Gary Miereanu for arranging it. Superman/Batman: Apocalypse is out now (read Toonzone’s reviews here and here), the DC Showcase Shorts Collection is due out on November 9, 2010, and All Star Superman will be released in 2011.

Return to Toonzone New York Comic Con/New York Anime Fest 2010 Coverage Round-up.

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