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X-E Special: Interview With Larry DiTillio, Transformers: Beast Wars Writer...
Presented by Matt on 04/20/00

X-E was recently had the pleasure of interviewing who is heralded as one of the best writers of an animated series of all time - Larry DiTillio, who co-wrote the Transformers: Beast Wars series.

Before we get to the interview, I'd like to give a little background on the show for those who are unfamiliar with it. As a sort of 'spinoff' show almost a decade later, Beast Wars Transformers was about a team of Maximals & Predacons (the future evolved Autobots & Decepticons) trapped in the past on a prehistoric Earth. The battles between the two factions for both survival and the ability to get back home becomes much more crucial towards the end of the series after the Predacons realize that the old Transformers Ark is still dormant in a volcano, millions of years before the Autobots and Decepticons were to reawaken. It becomes a battle where the Maximals have to risk their lives to keep Megatron and the evil Predacons from rewriting history itself - not just for the Transformers, but for the universe as a whole!

The thing that was most intriguing about this cartoon, aside from the stellar computer animation, was the fact that it wasn't written like your everyday cartoon show. Any adult who could get past the fact that they were watching sentinent robot beings who could transform into animals would totally appreciate it. It had the action, the drama, and most importantly, more character development than I think I've seen in any television series, period.

Larry DiTillio and Bob Forward, who wrote the series, were met with strong fan and critical acclaim, winning awards usually designated for live-action soap operas. Unfortunately, as is with the case with most children's shows, the series existed primarily to sell toys, and when Hasbro decided they had milked the Beast Wars series as far as they could as far as merchandise goes, they opted to cancel the series in it's original incarnation and move on to Beast Machines, which is still on the air today, albeit with a different writing team and far less appeal to the more 'mature' viewer.

Now then, on to the interview. Most of the questions I asked Larry were for us Beast Wars fans, so if you haven't watched the series...what are you waiting for?

Interview With Larry DiTillio, Co-Writer for the Transformers: Beast Wars Series

1.- When you signed on to write for the original incarnation of Beast Wars, were you a long time Transformers fan already? Or did you have to go back in time so to speak to check out the 'mythology' of the series?

Shocking as it may seem, I was not a Transformers fan. Not of the cartoon show. I did read The Marvel Series (still have them all in my closet) and when Bob and I began working on BW I managed to pick up Simon Furman's 12-issue Mini-Series that showed basically the end of the G2 Transformers. That was my first trip back in time and perhaps a bit of serendipity as well. I was in a comics shop (used to be a wild comics fan, now I still read 'em but VERY selectively), browsing around for some literature and there it was, almost all 12 issues, right on the kid's rack, among the Archies and nice Batmans and Supermans. At cover price! Bought 'em and picked up the few I was missing at another shop (those unhappily had back issue prices). I quite liked Simon's work, even though I had NO idea who all these bozos were. I mean Lord Jhiaxus and all those dudes, I had some familiarity with the Autobots and Decepticons from the old Marvel comics. Anyhow, Simon was the first inspiration, the second was mad Ben Yee or Wonko the Insane as he is sometimes lovingly known. He was an encyclopedia of TF information and he sent me synopses of history and old shows and such. Other fans also pitched in. So whatever I lacked in old TF mythology, the fans provided in droves.

2.- Aside from the fantastic computer animation, the one thing people praised most about the Beast Wars series was the fantastic writing. It seems that it was almost geared towards a more 'adult' and mature audience. When writing the series, were you going for a particular demographic, or just writing the show as you personally would enjoy it?

I have one rule for cartoon writing - never talk down to kids. In essence I always try to write a "family" show, one little kids can enjoy on one level, teens and adults on yet another. Almost every animated show I've ever written on I wrote as if I were writing a mini-movie. I think all good toon writers work that way. You can see it in every Disney feature, teens and adults may not admit it, but they love 'em because there's something in their for the child in all of us. Demographics are for suits and bean-counters. They are outright attempts by people who have no idea what creativity means to cover their butts and save their miserable jobs. Every good writer writes what he or she wants to see but unhappily due to the nature of the entertainment business it doesn't always turn out they way we write it.

3.- Beast Wars has had it's fair share of colorful characters. Out of all of them though, if you had to pick one that was your personal favorite, who would it be, and why?

Okay TF fans altogether now - who is my favorite character.........?


WHY? I'm not a big fan of the obvious "hero/villain" figures in shows. I always go looking for the "little guy," the "loner," the "psycho," the "weirdo," etc. The character actor, you might say. And let's face it, Tarantulas covers most of that ground. Plus I have an infinity for spiders, I like the little web-spinners. They make these beautiful natural pieces of art and they suck the blood of insects. What's not to like? This way instead of concentrating on "what is Megatron's plan and what is Optimus going to do about it" I could get into weirder and more fruitful areas of story. Tarantulas is insane and he is insane because he knows something nobody else knows - the Transformers have been pawns in the hands of some cosmic gamers. He is kind of a hero, a gruesome one yes, but heroic in his mad quest to destroy the Vok and live his own life. He is somewhat akin to DinoBot in this, he has his own agenda and he fears no one. There was a bit of a problem at first with the cackling portrayal in early scripts, but as we I took Tarantulas away from the "oooh scary, silly cackling guy mode" to a player in his own right with a whole basket of secrets Ian adjusted beautifully and I confess I was never happier than when I was using T... Alas he is gone now. Heh, heh, heh...

4.- While growing up, what kinds of shows,books, or other medias of the genre were you most interested in? Where did your inspirations come from?

Oh trying to make me show my age, huh? Well, Okay, I'm not ashamed of it.

I grew up in the era of the live Saturday morning show - Lassie, My Friend Flicka, recycled cartoons (Max Fleischer's Supermans, Crazy Cat) and new toons like Winky Dink, Crusader Rabbit, Beany and Cecil and Rocky and Bullwinkle. There were some action adventure shows among the toons I suppose but can't recall any at the moment. It was also the era of wall-to-wall westerns, Cheyenne, Bronco, SugarFoot, Gunsmoke, Maverick, Wanted Dead or Alive, The Restless Gun and a ton more which I can name but won't.

But the King was Davy Crockett. Loved that dude. And Zorro yee haaa. I still watch Zorro! In the movies there were those great Ray Harryhausen classics, like Jason and the Argonauts, the Sinbad pictures and the really dumb but I loved 'em "sci-fi" flicks like Forbidden Planet, Journey to the Seventh Planet, The Angry Red Planet (hmmm, there's a trend there)?

I was way pre-Star Wars. I was more classic Star Trek, which I discovered one night on the tube. There was no internet and computers were huge affairs with big reels. I read comics (yeah I have Fantastic Four 1, up to about 144, the Original Avengers and Iron Man and X-Man, I got 'em. I never thought they would be worth what they are fetching now! ) There were 3 channels on tv and maybe 6 or 7 locals if you lived in a big city and I am from New York). Anyway, before this turns into my life story, the point is I grew to love the fantasy genre, whether sf, horror or sword and sorcery. My first sf book was "Planet of the Apes," long before it ever became a film. The Lord of the Rings made me a dyed in the wool fantasy fan and I devoured all of the Moorcock Eternal Champion books, Fritz Leiber's Lankhmar novels (now there is a series that should be made for screen) and just about anything else in the genre. But my favorite author of all time is Roger Zelazny who unfortunately left us a few years back. If you haven't read a Zelazny book, do yourself a favor. Anyway, enough...

5.- As most fans know, the final saga of season three had to be changed when word got out that the show, it's it's current state, was ending. Had this not been the case, what were your original plans for the close of season three and beyond? (We told Larry that this question was optional, in case he felt uncomfortable or if there was any legal reasons why he couldn't answer it)

Actually I am not all that uncomfortable with the question. It's more that there is really no great secret to tell. We always worked on Beast Wars with the idea that it was going to be over after each season. It is the nature of toy-driven shows. Bob and I worked like hell against that attitude but the writing was always on the wall. The minute Hasbro wanted to sell a new line of TF toys (which they always plan to do, well in advance) Beast Wars would be gone. And it was. So we tried to fix it so we had these trapdoors to handle the situation and never thought much about where we would be going next season. Small example - at the end of Season One, I blew up Optimus Primal. Dead, dead, dead. I of course knew Hasbro wouldn't let him stay that way, but I figured we would make it seem like he was gone for several early episodes and then we'd resurrect him in some cunning manner. Likewise we'd planned to introduce the Transmetals slowly, bringing them in over the course of the show. Hasbro wanted no part of that. No matter what we else we did, the mandate was to bring Optimus back and have everybody go Transmetal, except of course for characters they weren't planning to change yet and all in the first 2 shows. Thus came the Quantum surge and thanks to the brilliant animator's little inside joke (if you watch the sequence when Optimus is blown up, in slo-mo or frame by frame, you'll see Optimus's head suddenly looming in camera, so quickly, you cannot see it at regular speed) we actually had a reasonable way to bring Optimus back. As for season 3, there was no staving off the inevitable. Bob and I had talked casually about getting the Beast Warriors out in space in the Ark, with Megatron pursuing and them all eventually getting back to Cybertron. When we knew this was not to be well, we just stopped thinking about it, so I can't say what more we would have done. Bob's goal was to wrap up everything we had done with the series and he did it against really awful odds. I had hoped to explore a lot more about the Vok and Tarantulas and give the fans some pay-off on a lot of the threads I had started, but that too was not meant to be, since Bob and I were only allowed to actually write 2 each and I got saddled with the introduction of another character (TigerHawk.) Bob went off to another job, I did the same and Beast Wars was over for us.

6.- One final question - out of the original Transformers, which one was your personal favorite? Generally, most people go with Starscream, but I figured I had to ask anyway. :)

Screamer was okay, but a little too Cobra Commander for me. I guess if I had to choose one, I'd go with Megatron from the toon and Optimus 2 from the Simon Furman mini-series.

7.- Any additional comments?

I'd like to thank the fans for their support of our show, even though lots of them hated us at first, and a few will probably carry that hatred to the grave. Mainly however the fans were first rate from the youngest to the oldest, once they got over the shock of such a radical change in their much-beloved bots.

And as for the haters, hell, they gave us plenty to laugh about. It was good to meet so many of the fans at BotCon and I was particularly impressed by how many countries were represented by the fans. I got to meet people from Germany and Japan and South America and New Jersey and all kinds of exotic places. (Well okay, NOT New Jersey). You folks are the best.
Live long and prosper. For as Rattrap would put it "We're all gonna die."

-- Larry DiTillio - L.A. April 13, 2000

I would just like to thank Mr. DiTillio for taking the time out of his schedule to talk with us and the fans.

If you haven't seen any of the original Beast Wars series, you may be able to find it on the Fox Network. You may also be able to purchase some videos if you look hard enough. Just do whatever you have to do to see it - trust me you won't regret it.

Course, the series brought with it some killer toys. If you'd like to look at and perhaps purchase any of those, click here.

If you would like more information on this show, feel free to e-mail me. NOTE: This article may NOT be reproduced without expressed written permission from X-Entertainment.Com.

- Matt