|Home Interviews Buzz Dixon (conducted by David Thornton in November 2000)
David Thornton: Do you recall which episodes you helped perfect during the first season?
Buzz Dixon: Well, "perfect" may be too generous a term! By the time I was brought on to help Steve Gerber story edit the last few episodes, most of the episodes were pretty well blocked out, the concepts and characters fairly well understood by the writers and storyboard artists. Most of what I did was typical story editing duty: Make sure there was a clear storyline, make sure the characters stayed in character, keep the length down, and do whatever brief bridging material was needed for scenes that were cut or trimmed.
DT: Were any of your scripts changed to due to Hasbro's requests?
BD: I’m sure there were changes and suggestions made to all of them but of such a minor nature I can’t recall them at this moment. I think "The Traitor" gave them the most problems at first -- they were really adverse to the idea when I pitched it -- but I persuaded them to let me do an outline and once they saw the outline they realized I could make the story work.
DT: What episodes (if any) did Hasbro request to be trimmed before the show was aired during the first season?
BD: If you mean trimmed for time reasons, almost all of them! If you mean scripts we paid for but didn’t use, I don’t think there were any. We thought we were going to have to write off the late Tom Degenais’ script since he was going through the terminal stages of his cancer, but while he didn’t finish the script in time for the first season, he came through like a trouper and had it ready for us by the second season. That script required a little more re-writing than most since we had to include Serpentor in the story, but it’s basically the way Tom wrote it.
DT: In Steve Gerber's story "There's No Place Like Springfield - Part 2," a scene with a little synthoid girl holding a gun was included in the original airing of the episode, however, the scene never appeared again in repeat airings. Do you know if the scene was cut due angry letters and phone calls from parents or did Hasbro freak out?
BD: I don’t know. There were various anti-violence groups at that time who complained about the silliest things (one guy considered Donald Duck shaking his fist at his nephews to be as violent as us sinking a battleship!), so Hasbro may have trimmed it based on either real or imagined complaints.
We did get a complaint about alleged homosexual behavior from one parent though. In the second season episode, "My Brother’s Keeper," we had an obnoxious crippled genius and his less intelligent but kind hearted brother. At the end of the episode, when the kind hearted brother and the Joes save the genius, there was a close-up of the genius putting his hand on his brother’s shoulder.
A father in Pennsylvania came in at the tail end of the show, saw the close-up, and complained. Hasbro was really nervous about it but I told them to send the father a copy of the whole show on VHS and a script so he could see there was no homosexual content, just brotherly love. The father had the courtesy to apologize to Hasbro once he realized his mistake.
DT: Since the two-part episode "The Traitor" included several lines about medical bills, were you feeling some animosity toward HMOs while writing the script?
BD: Not really. I was just trying to add a sense of realism to the show. I was in the Army for six years, so I knew parents weren’t covered by military health care. Dusty Rudat was a really patriotic young man who loved being in the Joes, yet at the same time he had this terrible additional burden of trying to care for his mother out of his own pocket. It gave him a good, believable motive for apparently going over to Cobra’s side.
DT: In "Lights! Camera! Cobra!," Destro enters Cobra Commander's chambers, sees him eating a meal and then looks off to the side and tells Cobra Commander to put on his hood. Cobra Commander places his fork down on his plate and tells the arms dealer while donning his hood that "It takes a strong stomach to watch me eat." What did you imagine Cobra Commander's face looked like while writing this scene?
BD: I was unclear myself of what he looked like. The problem with animation is that it’s really hard to make something look disgusting and real. Ren and Stimpy can do all sorts of disgusting things, but they’re supposed to be funny. Too much in one direction, and Cobra Commander becomes a joke; too much in the other direction, and he becomes too offensive for children. Also, animation has a tendency to flatten out and "blandize" certain designs, so anything really creepy might very well have ended up looking like your standard Scooby-Doo villain.
I think the solution in the movie was good, but even then Hasbro balked at it being too nightmarish. We finally talked them into it, but they were never really a hundred percent happy, they just couldn’t find an alternative they liked better.
DT: Was the character George Lanceburg, who first appeared in "Lights! Camera! Cobra!," based on the combination of directors George Lucas and Stephen Spielberg?
BD: George Lucas and Steven Spielberg by way of Joe Dante and The Real Don Steele, a radio DJ who appeared in the Paul Bartel directed films, Deathrace 2000 and Eating Raoul.
DT: You mentioned in an interview at JoeHeadquarters.com that Shipwreck was your favorite character. Did you have a least favorite Joe character?
BD: N.D. Joe #1 through #1000 (an "N.D. Joe" was how we referred in scripts to the scores of Joes who appeared in the background, the guys with the dark pants and the green shirts and the funny pillbox helmets who were always jumping out of tanks just in the nick of time. N.D. stood for "non-descript").
DT: When did you find out that you were going to be the supervising story editor for the second season and how hard did you party when the ink was on the contract?
BD: Steve Gerber felt like moving on (though I do believe he still wrote for Hasbro on a freelance basis) and recommended me for the job. It was a pretty smooth transition; when they decided to do the second season they asked me if I’d like to edit it, I said yes, and that was that.
Scene cut from The Movie
DT: What was the atmosphere like in Sunbow's studios?
BD: The best I’ve ever enjoyed. First off, the Sunbow portion of G.I.Joe (on the west coast, that is; Sunbow also had NYC offices) was located on the second floor of a small office building in Westwood, just outside the UCLA campus.
We had a balcony where we could sit and eat lunch and watch girls (ah, the girls in their summer dresses...). The storyboard and production art was done elsewhere (Marvel studios). We had cable TV, dozens of restaurants, movie theatres, and book stores within walking distance, toys sent to us from Hasbro, and twice a month a big shipment of comics from Marvel. It’s a miracle we got any work done!
DT: How rough was the first week as the supervising story editor?
BD: Not rough at all. The biggest problem was going back and adding Serpentor to scripts that were already written.
DT: What were your responsibilities?
BD: I was to solicit stories from writers, clear the stories with Hasbro, then help the writers develop the stories into scripts. Some writers got into the Joe mindset very easily and required little if any supervision (Christy Marx was the only writer to ever get a script through with no revisions at all from anybody along the line). Other writers needed a bit more help getting into the "Joe frame of mind" but tended to do good work once they locked in.
DT: Did you re-write the series bible in order to include the events from the first season as well as create the sections for the new characters and vehicles?
BD: The bible consisted of a huge (with a capital "-uge!") notebook that we added character sheets to on what seemed a daily basis at first. Characters would be revised, changed, occasionally dropped or replaced. The book was divided into Joe and Cobra sections, and those sections further divided into character and vehicle parts, and those parts arranged by new, returning, and no longer in the product line. On rare occasion we brought in a character who was no longer part of the main product line (once as a retired Joe who had returned to civilian life), but for the most part we tried to concentrate on the newest characters. Of course, certain perennial favorites got airtime simply because fans liked them so much; for example, Hasbro wanted to drop Major Bludd but he was just too popular with viewers to write him out of the series completely.
DT: What was the script submission and approval process at Sunbow? Could anyone in the world simply mail a story idea to you?
BD: Mail, no, but anyone could call us up and ask to come in and pitch. We did accept e-mail and fax pitches but only after we’d spoken with the writer on the phone or in person.
I am always sympathetic to the plight of the freelancer (probably because I’m so often in that category myself!), so I was always willing to let someone come in and pitch to us. I used many freelancers -- several of them first time animation or TV writers -- for the second season of G.I.Joe and felt they all did a marvelous job.
DT: If Hasbro was involved in the script approval process, then:
a. how hard was it to work with Hasbro to have scripts approved?
b. was one person or a group of individuals in charge of the approval process at Hasbro?
BD: Jay Bacal in New York was our primary point of contact, though we also worked with Carole Weitzman. In broadstrokes, working with them was easy: We’d send two or three story ideas to them at a time, they’d pick one they liked, and we’d work on it. Occasionally they’d initially pass on an idea but, if we championed it passionately enough, they’d relent and let us do it ("The Traitor" is one such example). There were occasional bits of mild friction over specifics (and usually not content related specifics, but how a scene should flow, when a story point should be hit, etc.) but in the end we were all rowing in the same direction.
Zarana's nude scene (storyboard #1 of 6)
DT: Did Hasbro ever send you mandates that a particular character or vehicle must be include in at least 'X' number of episodes?
BD: At the beginning, yes. They’d give us lists of characters and vehicles they’d like in a particular episode and then we’d have to figure out how to work them all in. "Haul Down the Heavens" was written to fit a list that included both tropical and arctic characters!
However, by the time the writers got around to writing their second and third scripts for the series, Hasbro realized they could trust us to use the characters and vehicles in a balanced manner and didn’t give us specific lists. Occasionally they might send a suggestion along the lines of "we haven’t seen Scarlet in a couple of episodes" or "try to use the Cobra flying pods more" but that was it.
DT: Did your ever visit Hasbro's headquarters in Rhode Island or did some people from Hasbro ever tour the studios?
BD: Rhode Island, no, but I did go to Cincinnati when we were doing G.I.Joe: Extreme. And the people from Hasbro and Sunbow NY regularly came by our studios.
DT: Were there times when you pushed the envelope too far in the area of violence that Hasbro flinched and asked for a scene to be changed or dropped before an episode was aired?
BD: Several times, but it was usually something so minor that it made no real difference to the story. On the other hand, the voice actors sometimes balked at stuff we wrote! An Inhumanoids script I wrote had a bunch of zombie teens shuffling through town chanting, "Hate! Hate!" The voice actors really had to be persuaded to do that since they thought it was too extreme. And for one of Flint Dille’s scripts for Transformers, Casey Kasim refused to do the lines of a Mommar Khadaffi-like character on the grounds he considered it offensive to his Middle Eastern heritage!
DT: Several Joes who appeared during the first season and the miniseries, like Sparks, Col. Sharpe and Admiral Ledger, were never turned into toys. Did Hasbro actively discourage you from creating Joes, Cobras and vehicles that repeatedly appeared in the stories?
BD: Well, they certainly didn’t encourage us. Sparks, I think, was originally meant to be part of the product line but got dropped before his toy was produced; by that time I think he had been written into a couple of scripts already and, when we needed a commo guy, we just kept using him until a new commo character was introduced. (I believe he was the retired Joe I mentioned earlier). Sharpe and Ledger, as I recall, were created to fill particular story needs when there wasn’t an existing character who fit in properly.
There was one semi-recurring character Hasbro let us use, provided she didn’t appear too often. That was Mary L, who was occasionally seen on the flight deck prepping jet fighters. Hasbro wanted a few more female characters in the series than were in the product line and let us use her occasionally for small parts. (The "L" by the way, stood for "lesbian," an in joke at the Sunbow Westwood offices since she looked so mannish.)
Zarana's nude scene (storyboard #2 of 6)
DT: When did work begin on the second season?
BD: There was a hiatus of several months from the end of the first season, then towards later summer we began rolling again. At least, this is what I recall; it may have been early summer.
DT: Could you briefly describe what is involved with creating an episode from the time the story idea is submitted to the time it is aired?
BD: Usually we’d be watching TV in the conference room, then we’d get a call from Sunbow NY asking where the latest script was, and we’d say we’re e-mailing it to you this afternoon, then we’d frantically pound something out. (That’s a joke, of course.)
Episodes would begin with ideas: What if one of the Joes turned traitor? We’d then individually or (occasionally) collaboratively work out the idea so we’d have at least some idea where the story was headed (a beginning, middle, and end, basically), then write up a paragraph and send it to Sunbow NY. When they approved it, we’d do an outline which would basically be all the beats of the story, the key characters and locations, and the overall tone of the episode. Sunbow NY might or might not comment on that, but when they approved it, we’d go to script. Sunbow NY would look over the script and ask for changes and/or approve it; then it would go to Marvel for storyboarding, character design, and layout. We’d get the storyboards and have a chance to comment or make changes if something didn’t appear to be working, then it would go to Wally Burr’s recording studio. One of us (preferably the writer) would go to the recording session to supervise the recording and (on rare occasions), diddle with dialog if something really didn’t sound right.
After the voice track was approved, it went back to Marvel for timing, then overseas to a variety of different Asian studios for animation. Then it all came back to America for a rough cut and final sound mix. If there were any animation mistakes, Marvel usually sent them back for re-takes. At the final sound mixing, somebody from Sunbow Westwood would go to supervise the mix, occasionally asking for a small fix or addition (my great contribution was asking the sound guys to put in a ratchet sound when Cobra Command yanked a lever in one scene). From there it went out via satellite for syndication.
DT: Was there a scene cut in Arise, Serpentor, Arise! that featured Sci Fi looking out at a river in Paris and noticing something that catches his eye, like a bikini-wearing woman water skiing? By the tone of his voice when radioing Hawk, he seemed quite infatuated watching something with his binoculars.
BD: Entirely possible, but I can’t remember the particulars right now and I don’t have any copies of that script.
DT: Where in the world did you come up with the absolutely hilarious idea of having little Joes appear in the episode "Once Upon a Joe"? Was it Alvin and the Chipmunks?
BD: I was inspired by the Japanese "super-deformed" anime parodies.
DT: In "Once Upon a Joe," a strange sound is heard while some kids appear and disappear on the screen after Shipwreck stops his story and listens to a preadolescent critic. Was this episode hurried through the production process? And was the production for the entire season completed at an insane pace?
BD: I wouldn’t say "insane," but we used to say around the office, "Fix the two things in the script you hate the most, slap a bow tie on it, and kick it out the door." This meant address only the most crucial or problematic elements, polish the dialog, and get it moving. That’s why I made sure I always worked out the logic of a story with a writer before sending them to script; dialog polishes and scene fixes are a snap compared to restructuring an entire plot.
DT: Did you meet any of the voice actors who worked on the series? And if so, what were they like?
BD: I met all of them at one time or another and they were all nice, professional people. Most of them had a good sense of humor. I think I liked Scatman Crothers the most (technically, I only remember working with him on Transformers scripts) though they were all a great bunch of fun people. Chuck McMann was always a barrel of laughs. I think Burgess Meredith was pleasantly surprised when I asked him about Of Mice and Men and not Batman.
DT: While the first season contained 55 episodes, the second season featured only 35 episodes. Why was the second season's episode count so low? Were there any episodes that were not produced due to time and/or budget constraints?
BD: Time or budget restraints, no, but we did lose "The Most Dangerous Man In The World" due to a shift in Cobra’s make-up.
The first season consisted of 55 new episodes plus the first two G.I.Joe mini-series for a total syndication package of 65. At that time, 65 was the magic number for syndication; that meant 13 weeks of original programming on a five-day-a-week basis. If a show wasn’t doing well, it could be replaced at the end of its run; if it was doing well, it just went into re-runs. (Of course, this all changed with the syndication boom of the late eighties, with shows being yanked and replaced at a blinding pace.)
New seasons generally did not order another 65 episodes. The total numbers varied from studio to studio and project to project, but 35 was often the number picked to give the syndicator a package of 100 episodes. Past that, third and (very rarely!) fourth season orders tended to be 20 or less, just enough to sweeten the syndication package.
DT: Were there any unsung heroes who helped bring the second season to life?
BD: Absolutely! Dozens of people from secretaries to associate producers like Hildy Mesnick and Mike Hill to countless storyboard and layout artists who really threw their hearts and souls into making G.I.Joe a great show.
Zarana's nude scene (storyboard #3 of 6)
DT: Did you seek out certain writers who could handle a particular story? And if so, which writers did you contact and what were their particular strengths?
BD: Usually writers pitched stories to us and we would let them write them. On rare occasions (due mostly to time constraints) we’d take a story written by somebody in-house and give it to another writer (never the other way around!). I think this was the case of "Sins of Our Fathers" by Steve Gerber; Steve was finishing up another script and we needed to jam something into the hopper immediately.
DT: Were any of your scripts for the second season changed to accommodate Hasbro's tastes?
BD: I’m sure there were many small revisions and changes that weren’t that important to the overall thrust of the story. "Arise, Serpentor, Arise!" probably had the most simply because it was a five-parter. The single biggest set of changes had to do with accommodating the sudden appearance of Serpentor into several already written scripts (already storyboarded, in one or two cases, as I recall).
DT: I've read in an interview that the miniseries Arise, Serpentor, Arise! was going to feature not only the birth of Serpentor but also include a parallel plotline detailing Dial-Tone's recruitment and training for the Joe team. Since Dial-Tone is one of my favorite characters, what were some of the possible story ideas you thought of and did any of the ideas ever make their way into the early drafts of the script? Also, did you ever discuss the recruitment story idea with Doug Booth (who was credited with writing the DIC miniseries Operation: Dragonfire, which featured a television news reporter recruited by the Joes)?
BD: Originally there wasn’t going to be a mini-series to open season two of G.I.Joe; Tom Degenais’ script was going to be the season opener simply because it was the first complete script on hand. Then Hasbro dropped their bombshell about Serpentor being added to the line, negating what I intended to do with "The Most Dangerous Man In The World." I convinced Sunbow NY and Hasbro we needed to account for Serpentor with an origin story, and they decided to make that the opening mini-series (in retrospect, I think we should have held it down to four parts instead of five; I fear the last chapter lags a bit). Plot-wise it was very much like their earlier mini-series: Cobra’s going after Something Mysterious for Some Nefarious Purpose and before the Joes can stop them, they Put Their Plan In Motion.
What I liked about adding Serpentor to the mix was the change in internal Cobra dynamics. However, I gave Hasbro two options to explain away Serpentor’s origin and they selected them both! By the time we actually got ready to start working on the mini-series, the movie concept was already in motion, so the recruitment and training of a new Joe got sidetracked to the film.
Zarana's nude scene (storyboard #4 of 6)
DT: You mentioned in a previous interview that there was going to be a story about the founder of the G.I.Joe team during the second season. Was the founder Hawk? And if so, what was his background story and why did he create the G.I.Joe team?
BD: I think Hasbro nixed this simply because it would involve an episode with lots of non-toy characters and props. The origin of Joe would have tied in (in a somewhat roundabout way) with the origin of Cobra as recounted in "The Most Dangerous Man In The World". Hawk would have been the Joe founder, but we would have seen him as a much younger man with the rank of colonel.
DT: During an interview, you mentioned that Slipstream was a fighter pilot who's in a odd position because he’s an officer fresh out of the Academy. Did you have any ideas in the back of your mind about how his inexperience would be viewed by the Joes and how he would deal with the situation? Would he have been the "reluctant hero" on the Joe team?
BD: Whew! That was so long ago anything I might have been thinking has slipped my mind! I think a lot of the inexperience angle got shifted over to Lt. Falcon in G.I.Joe: The Movie.
DT: I've heard that the Screen Actor's Guild went on strike during the production of the second season. If this is true, was the strike detrimental to the production of the second and the possibility of a third seasons? And why were they on strike?
BD: They were on strike for the same reason anybody goes on strike: More money. And while I can’t recall accurately, we might have felt a bit of pressure towards the end of season two to wrap things up before we lost the services of the actors.
Tomax and Xamot scene cut from G.I.Joe: The Movie
DT: What were the reasons for the cancellation of the third season?
BD: Money, pure and simple. G.I.Joe came to TV as part of a wave of new kids’ programs that started with The Smurfs. In the late 60s/early 70s, various pressure groups demanded the networks stop running shows for kids based on toys or cereal characters. In the early 80s, the Smurfs hit the U.S. as a line of toys and were very popular. When NBC discovered they were originally a comic book in Belgium, they used this as a backdoor excuse to get the show on TV, claiming, "It’s based on a comic book, not a toy."
Well, Mattel figured out they could commission a comic book from DC Comics and get their He-Man toys into syndication, and after that it was katy-bar-the-door. The G.I.Joe we did was ostensibly based on the Marvel comic (which was heavily advertised with animated commercials, as you might recall). After a while all pretense of basing a show on a pre-existing property was dropped and the children’s syndication market was exclusively toy driven for a while. (Toys and merchandising are still a key factor in children’s shows, though now many people create shows with the hopes of getting a merchandising deal rather than create toys and hope to get a TV show.)
By the mid-80s, the TV syndication market hit saturation level (remember, there weren’t nearly as many cable channels then as now). For kids TV, there were more shows than available time slots. On top of all this, DIC studios came along and really screwed up everything for everybody. I won’t go into the whole, long sordid history of DIC; suffice it to say they ferociously underbid competitors (going so far as to lose money on shows just to deny competitors a chance to do them) and they ferociously oversold their stock to investors (projecting an ever increasing number of kids’ shows on the air when even a basic market analysis would have shown the market to be flooded; I have learned not to be in awe of stock market investors’ alleged intelligence because of this). This led to a collapse of the syndication market for kids.
Zarana's nude scene (storboard #5 of 6)
Further, it was discovered that toy sales and TV ratings did not coincide with one another. Sometimes the most popular toys had the best shows, but often a popular toy’s show would bomb and an unpopular toy would have a successful show (this was the case with Jem). When the time for season three rolled around, DIC basically offered to pay Hasbro for the privilege of doing their shows, and Hasbro saw little point in sinking their own money into a venture when somebody else would pay them to do it.
DT: How did you find out that the third season was cancelled?
BD: If you mean the Sunbow third season, I’d already left the company by that point. If you mean DIC’s version, I was so supremely disinterested in their take on G.I.Joe that I never "officially" knew.
DT: How far along was the production process for Sunbow's third season when the plug was pulled?
BD: We never got beyond preliminary discussion stages. Mike Hill had come up with an interesting new angle and I encouraged Hasbro to go with it, even though I felt it was time for me to move on to other projects.
DT: Were any there any plots or outlines for stories created for the third season?
BD: Outside of Mike’s basic idea and a few minor plot concepts, no.
DT: What kind of updates (if any) were planned for the series bible? Would any of the characters from The Movie have been excluded?
BD: I assume characters from the movie would have made it to the TV show. I’ve never seen a DIC episode of G.I.Joe, but I think you can safely assume any characters in that show would have been in a Sunbow version since Hasbro created the character concepts and names.
Zarana's nude scene (storyboard #6 of 6)
DT: Since the last episode in the second season mentioned the Coil, Cobra Commander's army dedicated to overthrowing Serpentor, was the idea of a miniseries featuring a Cobra civil war ever considered?
BD: I think Mike wanted to do that for the season three opener...if Hasbro could have been persuaded to go along with the idea.
DT: Would you like to have continued as the supervising story editor for the third season if it was approved?
BD: No, for a variety of reasons. First, despite the wonderful environment at Sunbow Westwood, I was feeling a bit burned out by G.I. Joe, Transformers, and the rest. Second, I saw Hasbro was showing more interest in the softer shows, like My Little Pony.
DT: As you started to work on G.I.Joe: The Movie, were there any rumors that the third season was not going to be funded?
BD: That didn’t come along until much later in the production.
Duke's death (storyboard #1 of 6)
DT: Did you have a hard time finding a director for the film, or did you know ahead of time that only Don Jurwich could fill the chair?
BD: "I" didn’t know anything, that was purely Hasbro and Sunbow NYC’s choice. I assumed Don would do it since he had directed so many other things for Marvel.
BD: And understand that "directing" has a somewhat different meaning in animation than in live action. Many animation directors (NOT Don, who is a much more hands-on kinda guy) do little more than time dialog and moves, handing these time sheets to animators who then follow them. I don’t think Don or any other animation director attended any voice sessions (but I could be simply forgetting, so don’t take that as holy writ). How much influence they had over layouts and storyboards I couldn’t say. They certainly had no control over the script or character designs, not on G.I.Joe or other Sunbow series, anyway.
DT: What was Ron Friedman's original plot for G.I.Joe: The Movie?
BD: Another "let’s find the five pieces and put them together" thing. Ron is a very talented, very funny writer, but I think Hasbro mistook his ability to write Betty Boop TV specials as an ability to write any sort of animation. Ron certainly gave it a hundred per cent, but if you compare his two mini-series with the regular series episodes, I think you notice a very different tone and tenor.
DT: Were there several drafts for the movie? And if so, did the characters and plots change dramatically?
BD: Lots of name changes, and certain incidents were changed or de-emphasized, but basically the same idea all the way through. As for drafts, I’d say at least seven, but that includes such simple things as the version where we only changed "Baby Hawk" to "Lt. Falcon."
DT: You mentioned in an earlier interview that Cobra-La was a temporary name for Cobra Commander's hometown. Did you ever think of a permanent name?
BD: No -- and once again I wish to apologize to the world. I called it Cobra-La simply to make the allusion to Shangri-La clear to Hasbro; if I thought those meatheads...er, captains of industry were going to stick with it I would have certainly come up with something better! Something serpentine, to be sure, but NOT Cobra-La!
DT: Neil Ross was credited with providing the voice of Hector Ramirez in the film's credits. Was a scene that featured Hector Ramirez cut from the film?
BD: I can’t recall, but that may be the case.
[Note: The Hector Ramirez storyboards were found after the interview]
DT: Since Big Lob wasn't based on one of Hasbro's toys, why was he included in the movie?
BD: As I mentioned before, sometimes Hasbro would design a character and have us include him in scripts, then change their mind on including him in the toy line (remember when they prematurely announced Rocky Balboa would become a Joe? The deal fell through at the last moment but they included him in one of the Marvel yearbooks as a Joe team member before the ink was signed and had to print a retraction).
DT: Chuckles, the big, silent fellow who wore a Hawaiian shirt, was not seen at the end of the film while all of the Rawhides and Joes were celebrating their victory. Did he die in a scene that was later cut from the film?
BD: No, just forgotten in the crowd scene.
Duke's Death (storyboard #2 of 6)
DT: Since the final version of the script included the death of Duke, did the ending of the film include a scene that featured an outline of Duke's face created by the spores as they twinkled and fell to Earth? (I ask because several fans have sworn on their stack of mint G.I.Joe comics that they do see his face.)
BD: They may have "seen" it, but I think it’s more of a case of "wanting" to see it. I just checked my DVD of the movie and I couldn’t see Duke’s face in the spores though I suppose somebody could "link the dots" in their mind’s eye.
There were no variant animated endings for the movie, but there were THREE audio variants: The original version where Duke dies and no comment is made on his reviving, a poorly done overdub for the first (and as far as I know, only 35mm print), and a better overdub for the video version.
Duke's death (storyboard #3 of 6)
DT: How big was the budget for G.I.Joe: The Movie? Was it close The Transformers or My Little Pony?
BD: I forget what the exact budget was (miniscule compared to what Disney spends on features!) but it was about the same for all three films; maybe My Little Pony had less of a budget since it was a simpler story and animation style.
Duke's death (storyboard #4 of 6)
Funny story about an early draft of the My Little Pony movie: I was asked to punch up the original treatment. Basically this consisted of indicating where various music scenes could go, adding more magic and gee-whiz to otherwise pedestrian talking head scenes, etc. At one point one of the Little Ponies had to go looking for...something or someone, I forget. I suggested she encounter some of the Transformers and Joes in her search, specifically, a scene where she flies up to Shipwreck who is drinking some amber fluid from a bottle.
Shipwreck would just stare at her in bug-eyed disbelief and she’d fly on, then Shipwreck would smash the bottle, take his cap off his head, put his left hand over his heart and raise his right hand in an oath, muttering frantically under his breath. Hasbro said, "Very funny. No."
Duke's death (storyboard #5 of 6)
DT: When were you informed that G.I.Joe: The Movie was not going to be released to the movie theaters but going directly to video and aired on TV in a miniseries format?
BD: We got one theatrical screening at that year’s San Diego Comic Con but that was it. As I recall, the deal with Dino DeLaurentiis came apart because Dino was supposed to book Transformers for four shows a day on weekends and instead booked it for only three. Everybody later agreed the films should have been released in reverse order, with G.I.Joe: The Movie hitting theaters first, then Transformers, then My Little Pony. When My Little Pony could only sell three matinees a day, DeLaurentiis cut back on Transformers. Then there was the whole "Optimus Prime is dead" business which was purely wrong for Transformers (but not for G.I.Joe where the idea of death was much more central to what the Joes were, even if we never actually showed anybody dead on camera). So the whole thing fizzled out when they couldn’t find another distributor.
I was bitterly disappointed then, but have learned to be philosophical about it.
DT: I've received several emails from fans who stated they have seen footage of the topless scene in G.I.Joe: The Movie, however, you stated in an interview that the scene never left the storyboard stage since someone at either Sunbow or Hasbro got cold feet about included it in the film. Was the scene created anyway as a "Sunbow Staff Exclusive" director's cut?
BD: They may have seen the original storyboards but the sequence never got to the animation stage with Zarana actually topless (even if only seen from behind). I wish Hasbro had decided against this earlier so we could have changed the sequence; as it exists now there’s a really weird jump where the top of her costume suddenly appears.
DT: Where was G.I.Joe headquarters located and why wasn't the base's big gun ever fired?
BD: Somewhere in the American west. The big gun was fixed and could only fire if somebody stood directly down range from it.
Cobra Commander was stupid but he wasn’t THAT stupid!
DT: Did you collect any of the G.I.Joe toys, comics or video tapes?
BD: I have most of my episodes on tape, as well as the DVD of the movie. I used to have some of the toys (leftovers from the office) but I gave them away or sold them at a yard sale. The only Joe comics I have are the yearbooks.
DT: Was Larry Hama, the writer of the G.I.Joe comic, ever invited to write an episode for the first or second season?
Duke's death (storyboard #6 of 6)
BD: I believe he was but couldn’t arrange his schedule to do it. I may be wrong here.
DT: From the email I've received, the idea of a live-action movie was kicked around the offices of Hasbro. Do you know anything about this story?
BD: As I recall, Amblin’ Entertainment briefly optioned G.I.Joe for a live action movie but instead of contacting any of the series writers, gave it to some live actions writers to develop. To nobody’s real surprise, the development went nowhere.
DT: Hector Ramirez appeared not only in the G.I.Joe series but popped up in some episodes of the Inhumanoids (like "Negative Polarity") and Jem ("One Jem Too Many"). Did you originally create and include Ramirez in your stories because you are a fan of Geraldo Riveria and wondered what how he would react in the world of G.I.Joe? And did ever include the character as a "signature" for your other scripts?
BD: Now, we're not going to be friends if you insult me with terms like "a fan of Geraldo Rivera." (That's a joke, David.)
I created Hector as a slam against many obnoxious broadcast "journalists." The next time he cropped up in one of my scripts was for "The Traitor" in which I used him to recap the previous episode as a news story. I think Flint Dille asked if he could use him in either a Joe or Transformers script, and after that many other writers used him whenever we needed a talking head in an episode. Hasbro was a little antsy about Hector at first, fearing he was (a) a slam against Hispanics and (b) people would think he was a reference to the Ramirez involved in the infamous Night Stalker case. I told them (a) we had lots of Hispanic heroes on the Joe team so we could afford a Hispanic comedy relief and (b) Ramirez was a common Hispanic name that we came up with long before the Night Stalker was captured. Once the character design and name were cleared by the legal department, it just became easier to use him over and over when we needed a newscaster than to create a brand new character.
DT: Is it possible for fans to buy autographed copies of your G.I.Joe, Transformers and Visionaries scripts and story bibles?
BD: Unfortunately, I do not have any copies available.
DT: Do you still keep in contact with the staff members of the G.I.Joe series? And if so, what are they up to these days?
BD: Many of them, yes.
Steve Gerber is in Las Vegas, still writing his idiosyncratic stories.
Flint Dille is still in Los Angeles, working on a variety of film and video game projects.
Roger Slifer still resides in L.A., but I forget where he’s working right now.
Ditto for Doug Booth.
Ditto Rick Merwin.
Christy Marx has returned to L.A., but I haven’t talked with her (except brief passings at
San Diego Comic Cons) for over a year.
Ditto Mike Hill (though I have spoken with him much more recently)
Hildy Mesnick is still in NYC, I believe; she moved there after Sunbow Westwood closed down to take a job with Marvel
DT: What are some of the funniest anecdotes you could share with us while working on the G.I.Joe series?
BD: A young female employee who shall go nameless had the habit of sunbathing topless on the roof of the building during lunch. One day a phone repairman came in asking where the trunk box was and, unthinking, we sent him up to the roof. Oh, my, did the young lady in question have some choices words to share with us...
DT: Because several of the episodes released in the UK and US video market did not include the writing credits or the title of the episode, is it mandatory for credits to be included with the episodes whenever they are aired on television?
BD: There are no mandatory rules for credits in animation. It’s a long and complicated story, but animation writers legally belong to the Motion Picture Screen Cartoonists while live action writers belong to the Writers Guild of America. The WGA has mandatory credits policies, the MPSC doesn’t. Most animation studios give writers an on screen credit simply because it’s the practice of the business, but there’s no rule requiring it.
DT: Besides Stanley Ralph Ross and Tom Degenais, has anyone else on the G.I.Joe writing staff passed away?
BD: None that I know of (knock wood!).
DT: What happened to all of the cels, artwork, soundtracks and other production materials from the G.I.Joe series? Please don't tell me that Sunbow just threw it all in the trash!
BD: Okay, I won’t tell you...
DT: Did you or anyone you know work on the G.I.Joe comic book commercials?
BD: Some of the Marvel art staff did but no one I know personally.
DT: Could an animated G.I.Joe TV series survive in today's market?
BD: I thought so, yes. I developed and wrote the bible and pilot episode for G.I.Joe: Extreme. My idea (before I saw the designs Hasbro did and had only their written descriptions) was a Tom Clancy post-Cold War special ops team that would go in and stop problems before they could start. Then I saw the character designs, which were much more appropriate to He-Man than G.I.Joe. I tried to make the series work but for a variety of reasons (not the least of which a scheduling conflict), I had to drop out as story editor.
Original ending for G.I.Joe: The Movie
DT: Are there any animation studios in the industry today who could successfully bring G.I.Joe to life for several seasons on television? And if so, what are the key ingredients for the series to not just survive but thrive in today's market?
BD: Understand there’s a world of difference between what a studio COULD do and what they WILL do. Any number of studios could do a bang-up job on G.I. Joe.
As to thriving in today’s market, I don’t think the time is ripe for a G.I.Joe revival. If the Middle East continues to unravel, if China really does consider the U.S. to be their enemy, we might see a return of a national spirit that would support a G.I.Joe series.
In that limited sense, I pray the time is never ripe for G.I.Joe again...
DT: If an animation studio was granted a license to produce G.I.Joe cartoons, which ones would you like to be involved with in the development of the series?
BD: I’ve always enjoyed working with TMS (Tokyo Movie Shinsha) and have friends at Sunrise, so they would be my first two choices.
DT: What are you current and future projects?
BD: I’m currently working on a publishing project that needs to stay unnamed for the moment but is as far removed from G.I.Joe as you can get.
DT: Is harder for you to write comics, television scripts or movies?
BD: They are all equally difficult. ;)
DT: Are a member of the Animation Writers Caucas?
BD: I’m not a member but I support their goals and wish them well.
DT: Do you enjoy writing for a particular genre?
BD: I used to enjoy writing for particular genres, but now I just enjoy writing good stories first, worry about the genres later.
DT: You mentioned in a previous interview that Disney's film Fantasia was a stunning movie. If you saw Fantasia 2000, what did you think of it?
BD: Haven’t seen it yet (I’ve cut waaaaaaay back on my theater going experience, preferring to wait until they hit cable. And sooner or later, they all do...).
DT: What do you think of today's animated action-adventure series, such as Batman Beyond?
BD: Batman Beyond I haven’t seen and can’t comment on, but I am awestruck by both Blue Submarine No.6 and Escaflowne. I’m sorry Fox cancelled Escaflowne only 9 episodes into the story but understand why; it’s a show aimed for teens but placed at a children’s time slot. I’m told by a friend at Fox that it may come back as a weekday replacement or on Fox Family Channel on cable -- I certainly hope so. As for Blue Sub, man, I wish we had that animation technology and that freedom of story and character when we were doing G.I.Joe!
Gundam Wing is another show I like, but think the plot got too complicated by the end. Anybody who gets the International Channel on cable should check out Armored Trooper Votoms and Irresponsible Captain Tylor on Wednesday nights: Uncut, in Japanese with English subtitles. Votoms is an older show and the animation reflects it, but Captain Tylor is more recent and tons o’ fun.
I don’t watch Dragonball regularly, but I can understand the appeal. I love the way the show mixes adventure and goofiness the way we did on G.I.Joe.
As for American shows, Action Man and the now cancelled Starship Troopers are quite enjoyable.
And while they aren’t purely action adventure, I heartily recommend Sailor Moon and Tenchi Muyo on Cartoon Network. The Sailor Moon episodes are not the badly dubbed ones DIC did but the later episodes with the -- ahem! -- alternate lifestyle Sailor Scouts (also, how can you not love a show where the bad guys belong to the Bureau of Bad Behavior?). Tenchi Muyo is actually three different series of declining animation quality but increasing story goofiness. There are some great space opera battles and mystical martial arts fight scenes in some episodes and just plain old wacky romance in others.
DT: Do you have any predictions as to what will happen to animation in the movie and television industries?
First, we’re seeing the beginning of a new revolution in computer imagery. It’s going to become quicker and cheaper to do animation. Even now people with simple home PCs can turn out sterling quality animation (the rendering time is the biggest drawback, but even that’s getting better).
Second, the Internet and cable TV are starting to merge. Within a few years it will be possible to watch your favorite show whenever you want to watch it simply by downloading it from the Web. You wanna see "Lights! Camera! Cobra!" at 2 AM? You’ll be able to do it.
Third, when you combine these two factors together, it will be possible for small creators to support themselves with very personal shows, much the same way comic strip artists do so today. Yes, there will always be breakout shows, but there will also be more people doing the equivalent of what Dave Sim is doing with his Cerebus comic book: Surviving quite nicely with a small but dedicated audience.
Fourth, big screen entertainment is going to get bigger and more spectacular and better looking than ever before. I wouldn’t be surprised if theatrical films soon fall into two extreme camps -- big budget blockbusters and small "art" films -- with everything in between going to the Internet.
DT: Any parting thoughts or pearls of wisdom you would like to share with G.I.Joe fans around the world?
BD: Keep your hands in the car until the ride comes to a complete stop.
From the Buzz Dixon Photo Archives (left to right): Anne Burr (?), sound engineer (name N/A) Wally Bur Studios, receptionist (name N/A) Wally Burr Studios (?), Buzz Dixon, Jay Bacal, Sgt. Slaughter (animated), Sgt. Slaughter (real life; I can't remember his real last name right now, but his first name his Bob), Joe Bacal, Hildy Mesnick, and Wally Burr. Taken at Wally Burr Studios during the soundtrack recording of G.I.Joe: The Movie.
I had Flint Dille take a look at this photo to confirm the names. We both *think* the woman on the far left is Wally's wife but we're not 100% sure (it looks sorta like her but we can't tell if it's just a bad picture of her or another person who looks similar to her. It *might* be Sgt. Slaughter's real-life wife who was at the recording session [and had plenty of hilarious stories to tell about how their two young daughters relished their father being Sgt. Slaughter the pro-wrestler], but I seem to recall she stayed out of the group photo shoot).
My heartfelt thanks to the very entertaining and informative Mr. Dixon for allowing me to bombard him with my questions.