TMNT Writer/Director Kevin Munroe Interviewed
by Alex Billington
March 22, 2007
At WonderCon in San Francisco a few weeks back, FS.net had the chance to sit down with the writer and director of the upcoming CGI movie TMNT, Kevin Munroe. Kevin is a very dedicated individual who is incredibly versed in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles universe and simply looking to see that his movie is well received by the millions of fans worldwide.
In the interview Kevin discusses developing a story to satisfy the fans, choices for the voice actors, a possibility of a sequel with Shredder, and a bit on his upcoming CGI movie Gatchaman. TMNT opens this upcoming Friday, March 23rd, and I suggest all Turtles fans of every age head to the theaters this weekend to see it!
Alex (FirstShowing): So you're a big comic book fan then?
Kevin: Yea, over the past two years I haven't been able to keep up on hardly anything. I mean, there's a few select things that leak through cause I want to see… I just love the Kubert Sgt. Rock for some reason, I just kept on getting those, and the Shazam - Superman thing… just got hooked on those. The occasional one would leak through, but the past two years has been a sad moratorium for comics.
Alex: How did you deal with the weight on your shoulders in regards to first few movies as well as the comic book and the cartoon and the expectations of the fans?
Kevin: You're tempted at first to try to take in too much, and we sat down and we started watching through all the new 2k3 series, and I'd seen all the original ones anyway. It's almost information overload eventually. It's almost like a new parent, you read every new baby book, and then you finally get the baby and forget that it's actually just this living thing that you kind of have to deal with. It was sort of the same thing with that in the sense that eventually we just realized, you know what the story is, is they've lived all of these adventures and now it's got to be a rebirth story. And so they've lived this, they've grown apart as a family and now this movie has to be about them coming back together again.
So that took the weight off a little bit, but I've never ignored the fact that it's a pretty big following, I mean it's a $6 billion dollar franchise. Everyone's got a connection to it, so it's cool.
Alex: Were you concerned in developing the story that it would be something that the fans would embrace? Is it an original story? Is it based off of anything?
Kevin: No. There's a couple of edicts from Peter Laird, one of the co-creators, and that was he didn't want to adapt a comic book. Because I went in straight with my list of volumes that I wanted to do. And he was like, 'it's great, but no I want to just do…' And he wanted to do a brand new villain. And so you can't really pledge a brand new villain for something that already exists. It's always been about character, you always knew you could hit a plot but as long as the characters are enjoyable you can pretty much sit through anything… It's just the greatest study in character theory.
Alex: So it sounds like you're safe then having the co-creator developing it because I think some people were concerned that you're not having any of the original creators and are bringing in a new villain and it's further down in the story…
Kevin: Hopefully it's a little bit of a stamp of approval on Peter's part - I think the idea that, you know these guys aren't crazy… And there's enough in there too - we pay a lot of homage to the world, in what's [already] been done, and we bring back the Foot ninja, and we have Karai in it as well from the comic books. There's a lot of odes to where the Turtles have been. The biggest thing, and this is only going to start coming once people start screening the movie, but it's already sort of happened in tests, where people see that you've captured that spirit. That was the goal, to go back and try to recapture the fun that's in your head whenever you associate with the Turtles. Because if you go back and copy what's already there, it doesn't work for this audience knowing it, so you've got to make it its own thing.
Alex: I remember at last year's Comic-Con, you stated that you prefer to use little known voice actors, and not mainstream celebrities. Can you speak on that and how you went about finding the right voices.
Kevin: For the Turtles it was always the battle from the beginning. We just wanted to have guys who were really good voice actors, we just didn't want to hear a celebrity doing… Leonardo or something, it would just bum me out completely to have their name above the title. It's not an easy thing to do, because it's obviously very bankable if you want to have four stars. But eventually everybody kind of got it. And we just went to these really talented voice actors who've done lots of work, and we actually put all four of them in the same room at the same time, because I wanted to get that natural overplay where people speak overtop of each other, and those little half words, so it was cool. And they're all really talented and stuff, so they just really rolled with it, it was good.
So that was just basically going to people that we'd already worked with before in animation, or I knew, whoever… One of them, Donatello's voice, I had done two pilots with at Disney prior to coming to work at Imagi. You sort of pick people up as you go along. And then the main casting people for all the other roles, all the celebrity voices. That's just the natural process of you come up with a list of people. But everybody that was on there was on the list. There was never anybody like, everyone's passed, here's… Bronson Pinchot. No offense to Bronson Pinchot.
Alex: So you're supportive of the idea of using, at least for some main roles, smaller actors, and would you definitely do that in some future movies?
Kevin: Yea, I think so, yea. It's whatever fits the character the best. It's not really the characters as much as it is just the… the aura of the Turtles, or whatever it is, that sort of mystique of the Turtles, I think that to me was the most important thing. But like Sarah Michelle [Gellar], she did a great job with her voice. As long as everybody fits the voice. It's so easy to be anti-celebrity about it, but at the same time there are some celebrity actors who are actually good actors, that if you can use them right… Who would say that Patrick Stewart can't deliver something well? And it's cool, and it just fits his character really well.
Alex: I think it's a good choice and I'm actually looking forward to seeing how it plays out. I hate when I'm thinking of a celebrity's voice in my mind and trying to connect it to whatever character they're playing.
Kevin: Chris Evans' and Sarah Michelle's slip into that world really easily, you don't notice it much. Patrick Stewart is Patrick Stewart, I still hear him and I still hear… Captain Picard, but now it's just become that character. I've seen the film a thousand times [laughs].
Alex: Is this motion capture based for the CGI?
Kevin: No, it's full key frame. It was people doing it all by hand. Yea, that was a big thing. You almost create just as much work when you do mo-cap because you have to clean it all up. And what doesn't work you have to go in and fix by hand. So it's like, just from the start… you should just hand key it from the beginning. At least for us that's what worked.
Alex: Do you prefer to focus more on the look and the CGI and the camera angles from your aspect or do you prefer to focus on the characters and the story?
Kevin: That's so weird, yea. It's actually both at the same time. That's the good thing about having a good team that can concentrate on those different things. The characters and story at the beginning was the only thing that we were really worried about. And then we got a production designer from live action who came in and we talked about… because I just really wanted to have something unique looking. So when the characters and story were feeling pretty well cemented, that's when we just jumped into the camera and doing all that. That was really specific ideas that we wanted to do for that. To make it feel like a movie instead of a cartoon.
Alex: Does the film setup a chance for a sequel or prequel at all?
Kevin: Yea, a sequel big time. It's a very not-so-subtle nod at the end.
Alex: So is it likely to be happening then?
Kevin: I'd love it to happen, I wish it was my decision. I do have a deal to do a second one, but we'll just wait and see if it happens. I think it's going to depend, it's just all box office at this point. There's so many partners involved. That's the golden rule, I think.
Alex: Would Shredder per chance ever make an appearance in a sequel?
Kevin: Yea, it'd nice, it'd be really cool. As a fan I'd love that.
Alex: That's what I've been talking about…
Kevin: And everybody's always said it, and at the beginning that was a big thing from Peter, was that he said he was never setup to be the Darth Vader of this world. And it was sort of like, 'oh crap', because we had all these Shredder ideas of what to do with Shredder. But it's great because we now have these sort of better Shredder stories of how to bring Shredder back. But now if it works out well, and Karai coming to New York, that's a setup for a really good volume in the Turtles in the comics as well, it could work out to a really cool sequel.
Alex: Excellent. Just sort of as a wrap up, what else are you working on in the future? I've heard of Gatchaman…
Kevin: Yea, we're sort of just doing some pre-production on that right now. That's just really… do you know Battle of the Planets, G-Force? Were you a fan growing up?
Kevin: It's five kids, they dress as bird superheroes and it's in space- it sounds so goofy, but when you see it - it's one of those things that was a big formative thing as a kid for me. There was the first five: the good looking one, the angry one, the kid, the fat guy, and the girl - the team aspect. And it all derived from this 1972 Japanese anime and it was imported as Battle of the Planets and G-Force. It's a big sci fi thing. And as much of a step as Turtles was, hopefully Gatchaman's going to be that much more. Like it's PG-13 CGI, and all CGI. It's going to be really… hardcore sci fi. It'll be really fun - CGI anime looking.
Alex: Last question, is there a dream project, either comic book or other material related, that you would love to do?
Kevin: Kingdom Come - a comic book. I would crawl over broken glass to do Kingdom Come. And it'll never happen, so I just dream for it. But it would make a cool CGI.
Thanks to Kevin Munroe and Warner Brothers for this great opportunity to chat with the guy who is going to reignite the Turtles franchise! Make sure you head to the theaters to see TMNT this weekend! I leave with you with a taste of the TMNT poster…