Unicron.com: Transformers Collector Site

Lukis Bros Transformers Collector Site

Interview: Jeff Kline, part 1

 

Lukis Bros: For those of you who may not know him by name, we would like to introduce you to Mr. Jeff Kline.  Jeff has playe a pivotal role in Transformers fiction in recent years, acting as Executive Producer of all three seasons of Transformers Prime, Rescue Bots (season 1) and soon-to-be seen work on the upcoming Transformers: Robots in Disguise.  On top of all that, he also heads the new up-and-coming independent comic publisher Darby Pop Publishing.  Needless to say, he's kept quite busy the last few years!  So, first off, we thank you for taking the time with us today.  Let's start by talking about some of your work in the past, what our site visitors will perhaps know you best for, your role in Transformers Prime.  At what stage in the series development did you get involved, and could you tell us about your role in the early days?

Kline: ALEX KURTZMAN AND ROBERTO ORCI BROUGHT ME IN AT THE VERY BEGINNING -- LATE SUMMER '09 -- WHEN THERE WAS A NETWORK (THE HUB), AND A PROJECTED AIR DATE (4TH QUARTER '10 -- WHICH ALLOWED FOR ABOUT HALF AS LONG A PRODUCTION SCHEDULE AS WOULD HAVE BEEN OPTIMAL) , AND VERY LITTLE ELSE.  NO ARTISTS.  NO COMPUTERS.  NO INFRASTRUCTURE.  NO "APPROVED" CONCEPT.  JUST A DESIRE (OR A NEED… OR WAS IT A DEMAND?) TO PRODUCE AN ALL-C.G. SERIES THAT WOULD FEEL AS TECHNICALLY "CUTTING EDGE" AS THE TRANSFORMERS FEATURES.

Lukis Bros: What does an executive producer do exactly?

TFP1

Kline: I CAN'T SPEAK FOR OTHER EXECUTIVE PRODUCERS, BUT I'VE ALWAYS VIEWED THE JOB AS THAT OF SHOWRUNNER:  PART HEAD COACH… PART IN-THE-TRENCHES CREATIVE… PART CFO… PART KEVLAR VEST FOR MY CAST AND CREW.

ON ANY SERIES, I'M RESPONSIBLE FOR GENERATING THE CORE CONCEPTS AND CHARACTERS (ALONG WITH THE OTHER WRITERS AND PRODUCERS, OF COURSE), ESTABLISHING THE VISUAL SIGNATURE, CHOOSING/HIRING THE KEY CREW, WORKING-UP AND KEEPING WITHIN THE BUDGET, AND THEN CREATING AND MAINTAINING AN ENVIRONMENT WHERE EVERYONE INVOLVED CAN AND WILL DO THE BEST WORK THEY ARE CAPABLE OF, DESPITE THE NUMBER OF CHEFS (STUDIO, NETWORK, TOY COMPANY) IN THE KITCHEN.  I APPROVE EVERY STORYLINE.  DO A PASS ON EVERY SCRIPT.  SIGN-OFF ON EVERY CHARACTER DESIGN, BACKGROUND, PROP, COLOR CHOICE, AND STORYBOARD.  I CAST. 

SPITBALL WITH THE COMPOSER.  OVERSEE RECORDING SESSIONS.  EDIT.  WEIGH-IN ON MARKETING PLANS.  ETC. ETC. ETC.  IF YOU DIDN'T LIKE TRANSFORMERS: PRIME, YOU CAN ABSOLUTELY BLAME ME. BUT, IF YOU DID LIKE IT, THEN JUST KNOW THAT PRIME'S  "SUCCESS" IS THE DIRECT RESULT OF THE 100 CREWMEMBERS WORKING IN BURBANK (AND FREELANCING FROM ACROSS THE U.S.), AND THE HUNDREDS MORE EMPLOYED BY POLYGON (OUR PARTNER ANIMATION STUDIO IN TOKYO); PRIME WAS TRULY THE SUM OF ITS PARTS.

TFP2

ONE OF THE REASONS I AGREED TO WORK ON PRIME -- DESPITE THE FACT THAT DOING SO WOULD MEAN CONSTANT COAST-TO-COAST TRAVEL -- WAS THAT I WAS ABLE TO "PUT THE BAND BACK TOGETHER" -- IN OTHER WORDS, I HAD THE OPPORTUNITY TO WORK WITH SOME OF THE SAME TALENTED FOLKS I HAD LEARNED BESIDE AND FROM OVER THE PREVIOUS TWO DECADES.  THERESE TRUILLO.  DUANE CAPIZZI.  DAVID HARTMAN.  JOSE LOPEZ .  VINCE TOYAMA. STEVE MELCHING.  MARSHA GRIFFIN.  THE LIST GOES ON AND ON.  IF I COULD, I'D SLOW THOSE END CREDITS DOWN TO A CRAWL EACH AND EVERY EPISODE...

Lukis Bros: Are there any particular characters that have the "Kline-signature" on them?  For example, this particular character was in the show, the way he/she was portrayed, was largely by your design/input?

Kline: IF THERE'S ANY RECURRING "THEME" IN ALL THE SERIES I'VE DONE… IT PROBABLY HAS SOMETHING TO DO WITH THE CREATION OF "FAMILY." MIGHT BE YOUR FRIENDS. MIGHT BE YOUR WORKMATES. MIGHT BE A GROUP OF PEOPLE YOU'RE STUCK WITH. BUT, I SINCERELY BELIEVE THAT THE FAMILIES YOU COBBLE TOGETHER ARE OFTEN AS IMPORTANT (IF NOT MORESO) THAN THOSE YOU'RE BORN TO. IN OTHER WORDS -- THERE'S ALWAYS HOPE.

CJ-SSLukis Bros: Putting serious question/answers aside for a moment! Who exactly is to blame for the death of Cliffjumper in the first 5 minutes of the first episode!  All those beautiful CGI models, great voice, so much potential...  his life snuffed out before we even had a chance to say goodbye!  Too bad, oh so sad! :P  :)

Kline: WE DECIDED VERY EARLY ON THAT WE ALL WANTED TO SEND A MESSAGE TO THE AUDIENCE THAT THIS TRANSFORMERS SERIES (PRIME) WAS GOING TO HAVE REAL STAKES… REAL CONSEQUENCES… AND THAT NO ONE WAS SAFE.  WE WERE FANS OF WAY THE MOVIE "EXECUTIVE DECISION" PLAYED WITH CONVENTION BY KILLING-OFF STEVEN SEAGAL'S CHARACTER SO EARLY. (WAIT?  DID I JUST SPOIL THAT FILM FOR THOUSANDS?)  AND WHEN ALEX AND BOB WERE ABLE TO GET DWAYNE JOHNSON TO VOICE CLIFFJUMPER…

Lukis Bros: What aspects of the series are you most proud of?

Kline: THE FACT THAT WE ACCOMPLISHED WHAT WE SET OUT TO DO.  ON TIME.  ON BUDGET.  AND WITH NEARLY THE EXACT SAME TEAM FROM BEGINNING TO END.  NOT TO MENTION… WE HOSTED A FEW MARRIAGES.  A FEW BIRTHS.  AND COLLECTED A NICE ASSORTMENT OF EMMYS.

Lukis Bros: Indeed all those Emmys (and those other accomplishments!) are quite the spectacular feat.  Congratulations!  Anything in particular you would like to have done differently, had you been given the opportunity?

Kline: I WOULD HAVE LIKED MORE TIME IN THE PRODUCTION SCHEDULE.  I WOULD'VE LIKED TO PRODUCE MORE EPISODES.  I REALLY DIDN'T WANT PRIME TO END.  EVER.

TFP3

Lukis Bros: Let's talk Season 3!  So as an outsider looking in, there was this moment mid-season where Shockwave has this lab full of protoform dragons, and we're all just dying to see them bust out of those glass tubes and start kicking @$$.  Alas it was not meant to be...  Again, so sad!  My guess here, is that this was the result of season 3 getting shortened and concluding with Predacons Rising?  Do you have a little inside dish on what went down with the development of Season 3?

Kline: ACTUALLY, IT HAD MORE TO DO WITH THE FACT THAT THE MOST EXPENSIVE AND TIME CONSUMING PART OF ANY C.G. SERIES IS THE CHARACTER BUILDS (THE RIGGING, THE RENDERING, ETC.).  MEANING… WE WERE LIMITED AS TO HOW MANY "DRAGONS" WE COULD FEATURE… HOW MANY NEW CHARACTERS WE COULD INTRODUCE… IN EACH AND EVERY SEASON.

Lukis Bros: Alright, so we have to assume that anyone reading this will have seen Predacons Rising (SPOILER ALERT! if you're still in the dark on this!)  Okay, so Bumblebee (finally gets his voice back!  Great move by the way!  Glad to finally *hear* B' again!  While I confess, I as an OLD-school Transformers fan, a part of me hoped to hear Dan Gilvazan (G1 Bumblebee) reprise the role.   But that said, hearing what you came up with, fans seem very pleased with Will Friedle's portrayal of the character.  He did a great job and really captured the persona we fans have been waiting to hear.  - Your thoughts on what you were going for...

Kline: WE CAST THE NET PRETTY WIDE.  AND MOST OF THE ACTORS BEING CONSIDERED HAD NO IDEA THEY WERE READING FOR THE PART OF BUMBLEBEE; WE GAVE THE CHARACTER A DIFFERENT NAME IN THE SIDES (SAMPLE DIALOGUE/SCENES USED FOR AUDITIONS) SO THAT WE COULD -- HOPEFULLY -- STAY ONE STEP AHEAD OF THE BLOGS.  WILL FRIEDLE HAD AND HAS THE PERFECT COMBINATION OF GRIT AND ENTHUSIASM IN HIS VOICE.  AND THAT'S WHAT WE HEARD IN OUR HEADS WHENEVER WE CONTEMPLATED BEE -- HE'D BEEN THROUGH THE WARS, BUT HE WAS STILL A WIDE-EYED "YOUTH."

JUST.  LIKE.  ME. 

 TFP4

Lukis Bros: Ha!  Teriffic.  There was an awful lot of built-up about Smokescreen's future leadership potential.  Are these story ideas that never had the chance to get fully flushed out?  Or perhaps it was an intentional 'red-herring' intended to distract from the direction the story actually took, turning the reigns over to Bumblebee…?

Kline: IT WAS BOTH.  WE TRIED TO KEEP AS MANY BALLS IN THE AIR… AS MANY CONFLICTS AND "TRIANGLES" GOING AS POSSIBLE… 'CUZ YOU BURN THROUGH STORY AT LIGHTNING SPEED, AND WE DIDN'T KNOW WHEN OUR INEVITABLE "END" WOULD COME.

Lukis Bros:  Alright, so where is Megatron right now at this very moment?  I imagine him having shed his armor and sipping anger-surpressing cool-blue energon, at a peace-love-and-harmony Cyber-buddha-temple. Legs crossed and meditating on a floormat comprised of recycled Starscream parts....  Am I close?

TFP5Kline:   AS A WISE MAN ONCE SAID:  YOU CAN'T KILL EVIL… YOU CAN ONLY CHANGE ITS FORM.

Lukis Bros:  Really?!  How very interesting! ...  So, at the time the movie was developed, did you know already what series was coming next?  Was it intended to be a direct/close tie-in with the next series to come? Or wasn't there much time energy devoted to foreshadowing for that purpose?

Kline: THE MOVIES AND TV SERIES ARE, BY DESIGN, KEPT WHOLLY SEPARATE FROM EACH OTHER.  THERE ARE SOME FOLKS AT HASBRO IN RHODE ISLAND WHO HAVE ACCESS TO THE DETAILS OF BOTH… AND MAKE SURE WE'RE NOT CONTRADICTING EACH OTHER OR THE LIKE… BUT, THE CASTS/CREWS OF PRIME, RESCUE BOTS, AND ROBOTS IN DISGUISE DON'T REALLY KNOW WHAT MICHAEL BAY HAS PLANNED UNTIL WE STUMBLE INTO THE MOVIE THEATER.  THIS DESPITE MY LONG AND TORRID AFFAIR WITH MEGAN FOX...

Lukis Bros:  HA!  Well, by "movie" I was actually referring to "Predacons Rising" but w/ this response, I'm glad for the small misunderstanding! ;)

Kline: WHEN WE WERE DEVELOPING "PREDACONS RISING," WE HAD NO IDEA WHAT THE NEXT TF SERIES WOULD BE. OR WHEN. OR IF WE'D BE ASKED TO BE INVOLVED. SO, WE TRIED TO CREATE A LONG-FORM THAT TIED UP SOME LOOSE ENDS, BUT NOT ALL. JUST-IN-CASE…

Lukis Bros: So, speaking of the new series!  Does it have an official title yet <editors note:  these interview questions were written before RID became the now, well known official title!> and where are you at in the whole process?

Jeff Kline: TRANSFORMERS: ROBOTS IS DISGUISE IS THE OFFICIAL NAME.  RID IS CURRENTLY WRAPPING PRODUCTION ON 26 EPS. FOR SEASON 1… AND WRITING/RECORDING/BOARDING FOR SEASON 2.  IT’S SLATED TO PREMIERE ON CARTOON NETWORK IN THE NEXT MONTH OR TWO, THOUGH I HAVEN’T YET HEARD A FIRM “PREMIERE DATE.” BUT, HONESTLY, MY CONTRACT WITH HASBRO ENDED IN DECEMBER, SO I MIGHT BE THE VERY LAST PERSON TO KNOW! (AFTER 5+ YEARS, FELT LIKE IT WAS TIME TO LIVE WITH MY FAMILY IN MAINE AGAIN…) 

Lukis Bros: Settleing into a quiet home in "Griffin Rock," Maine?!  Hopefully, it's a little less treacherous than the city you helped create for Rescue Bots! :)    Alright, so with that, we'll conclude part 1.  In our next installment we'll discuss Jeff's current future projects: comics and TF: RID!  Stay tuned and thanks for reading!  See you next time!

 UnicronToyFair15b