Published on November 2nd, 2020 | by gareth0
Talking The Original TMNT Films With Producer Kim Dawson And Writer Bobby Herbeck
Recently I spoke with Screenwriter Bobby Herbeck and Producer Kim Dawson about their experiences with the TMNT and bringing the franchise to the screen.
Producer Kim Dawson
What attracted you to the project and what did you want to accomplish going in?
My partner Gary Propper and I had been producing comedy shows for Showtime for about eight years and during that time we had acquired the film and TV rights to some comics like scout war shaman Cadillacs and dinosaurs and other offerings from Darkhorse comics and kitchen sink. So we had our eyes out for any commercial project that will allow us to make a comic book into a TV series or a film. Gary was in Detroit touring with the comedian Gallagher when he discovered the first issue of the turtles in the fall of 1987. He sent the comment to me overnight and urged me to reach out to Mirage Studios to see if we could acquire the film rights because GARY recognized it as something that would have legs in the feature film business and allow us to make our first movie.
Did you plan for a trilogy going in or did that simply evolve based on Box Office?
Gary and I have an attorney by the name of Tom Rowan who did mostly television and he had an associate working with him by the name of Jay Shanker who started negotiating with Mirage through surge licensing and Mark Friedman in the option to purchase agreement that we negotiated had the rights to three live action feature films during the term that we negotiated. So when the first film opened strong we knew immediately that we would go forward with the second picture as soon as possible.
As you went on to the second and third films, what were some of the biggest challenges you had with each?
The biggest issue we had coming off the first picture was that it hadn’t performed particularly well in the foreign market places which were serviced by Golden harvest itself. Tom Gray who ran the US side of Golden harvest realized that he needed a different distributor in foreign for the second picture. Based on the success of the first film we all thought that the actors and the director would be hired again but conflict arose in negotiating the deal first with Judith and then others. So as a result we had to switch horses in a few key areas and, of course we had parted ways also with Bobby Herbeck which was upsetting because he was instrumental in getting the first picture made and brought a very comedic take to the characters. But he had a falling out with Peter and Kevin, Which led to Todd Langen doing all of the writing on the second picture.
What do you think were the main reasons why a 4th film was never done in the original film series?
The reason why we were involved in making a fourth picture what is that we only have rights for the first three in the third picture it only made a little over $50 million at the US box office so the Maroge guys in particular wanted to wait and see what happened in the marketplace before committing to a fourth picture. We tried that is Gary and I tried to negotiate for additional rights to make another three pictures but Maroge wasn’t interested at that point so it was put on their back burner.
Do you have a favorite of the three and if so which one and why?
The first picture will always be my favorite just because it was the origin story and also the first feature film I had ever produced. I’ve been producing TV series in specials for almost 15 years but the turtles represented my first foray into the theatrical feature business. I also love that first picture because I got to work with Jim Henson with whom I shared an office at Disney MGM studios in Orlando. Jim passed away shortly after the first picture was released so it’s really sad for everybody when he died in May of 1990 so unexpectedly. I think Steve Barron also was a masterful director and visionary particularly as it related to the turtle characters so the look he brought who is significantly different then there’s two sequels and I think that’s why so many people still resonate with the first movie.
Looking back, what changes would you have made to any of them if you could?
I think if we could rewind we would have taking a little bit more time two perfect the costuming on the first picture, not so much the look as the actual operation since they melted down during production quite often as a result of the extreme temperature and humidity on the soundstages in North Carolina. That was both of budgetary and scheduling limitation that hindered the steady flow of production and caused I feel bit of anxiety for both Golden harvest as well as Steve and Brian Henson who directed the second unit, but under any circumstance they did a masterful job with the resources they had. The other change I would’ve made particularly on the third film, Would have been to rehire the Henson creature shop to do the costumes as opposed to All Effects INC, which did a nice job but I didn’t have the same humanity that Jim and Brian and their team had brought to the first two pictures.
What do you think are the biggest differences between the new films and the original ones?
Clearly the biggest difference in the early pictures from the current iteration relates to how the turtles look and CGI versus practical pop tiered costumes. I think more than anything that change makes them transformer like characters rather than The almost human like characters that Jim and Brian and Steve created in the first two. I also think that I missed Bobby’s humor from the first picture on as the stories now are much more formula Mattick and not nearly as engaging as the first picture.
What do you think are the main reasons for the continued appeal of the franchise?
I think the turtles represent a range of personalities that connect with kids of all ages and the fact that they started as a comic book and have that base audience built a core of fans That grew up with these four guys in their mentor Splinter. I think the comics and the toys that play mates produced all contributed to us since the D’s ninja fighting turtles represented feelings and emotions a lot of young people we’re experiencing. It’s interesting that 30 years after the first picture released, That there is such a huge fan base and nostalgia as witnessed by the cool Necca toy line and the fact that nickelodeon has continued to introduce new kids to characters after all these years. I think the biggest question for me is why Paramount in Nickelodeon chose to so radically change the look of these heroes in a half shell when they were clearly fan favorites and really didn’t need a total makeover in my opinion.
Screenwriter Bobby Herbeck did his questions via an Audio Interview.
His questions were.