Flint Dille

FLINT DILLE: Quirky, intelligent, and driven by an enthusiasm for games.

As a writer, Flint Dille has come to be something of a fixture in the world of gaming, in recent times penning or co-penning such scripts as NUCLEAR STRIKE and the award-winning DEAD TO RIGHTS and THE CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK: ESCAPE FROM BUTCHER BAY. Before becoming so entrenched in the making of interactive video games, however, he was involved in many animated projects for television -- most of which came from the Hasbro / Sunbow partnership and include such lasting, classic, and well-remembered 1980s series as G.I. JOE, INHUMANOIDS (which Dille also produced), and VISIONARIES -- as well as doing solid writing duty on Steven Spielberg's animated feature, AN AMERICAN TAIL: FIEVEL GOES WEST. In the midst of that industrious decade, Dille played no small part in the making of THE TRANSFORMERS, responsible not only for such classic episodes as PRIME TARGET and the epic FIVE FACES OF DARKNESS mini-series, but also for much of the effort that went into what would eventually become THE TRANSFORMERS - THE MOVIE. Two decades hence, he takes a long look at those days and what working on THE TRANSFORMERS series meant to him.

"Fine, then let's begin now."
Optimus Prime -- PRIME TARGET

TCC: I suppose we all have childhood ambitions. For some, they come true, and for others, they simply fade away with time. Your career has revolved around the worlds of writing and producing. Did you always envision yourself as a writer, or did you originally have other plans?

DILLE: The first indication I had that I might be a writer was that a fortuneteller told me I'd be a writer at a school fair in 4th grade. My family was in the newspaper business (grandfather originated BUCK ROGERS), so I knew it was possible to survive as a writer. It should be noted that, except for one short story I wrote in 6th grade, I never showed any inclination towards writing.

However, the reality is that I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I graduated from college and realized I had no plans for the rest of my life. I figured I'd probably end up in law school or something. I pretty much blew a year out of college and, with a lot of time on my hands, wrote a novel. Somehow, that led to film school (where I focused on writing).

It took about five years from college graduation until I was making a living as a writer. Along the way I won a screenwriting contest, but didn't get anything for it. Had a lot of near misses. Was a freelance script reader.

TCC: What influenced you to make a career out of writing, and was there a specific point along that road where you realized that you could really make it in the business?

DILLE: It's funny. I spent years feeling like it would never happen, and then all of a sudden the dam broke open.

TCC: What was the big break?

DILLE: I hooked up with an agent / manager / producer, Joey Thompson, who was trying to set up BUCK ROGERS. Somewhere in 1982 / 3, I met Joe Ruby (of Ruby / Spears) and Gary Gygax and thus my animation / game career was born.

TCC: How did you get into animation writing? What was the appeal of that arena?

DILLE: I never even thought about animation, seriously. The first person that called and offered me a job was Joe Ruby. He wanted me to work on development for a couple of weeks. Things went right and it turned into a whole career.

Back in those days, there where whole kinds of stories that you could only tell in animation... That's changed with CG and special effects, but still, the medium is a wonderful window to alternate worlds and adventures.

TCC: It has now been an amazing more than 20 years since the whole TRANSFORMERS phenomenon began, but while the original franchise -- toys, comics, and cartoon -- is long gone, it has continued to live on in a wide range of fans. They host websites of considerable variety, they participate in Usenet discussion groups, and as you had the opportunity to see for yourself at BotCon 2004 in Pasadena, California, throw major conventions dedicated to the whole TRANSFORMERS universe. In addition, the concept has returned via a succession of new TV series, comics, and toys that have been in unwavering progress since the mid-1990s. What are your feelings about all of that?

DILLE: Obviously, we had no idea, at the time, what THE TRANSFORMERS would turn into. We knew it was a phenomenon, but we didn't think we'd be sitting on panels two decades later. That having been said, it was a golden era and a lot of people did a lot of good work. The amusing (and slightly depressing) thing is that I now work with people who grew up watching the Sunbow shows.

TCC: Does it surprise you that the original show has retained its appeal and still enjoys such a dedicated following?

DILLE: Yes. Before VCRs and cable and DVDs and the net, it wasn't all that possible for a property like THE TRANSFORMERS to sustain itself a generation later. People kind of grew up and left their childhoods behind except, now and then, for a serendipitous, nostalgic whiff of the past. Things were much more ephemeral. Now, the idea of past and present is very much blurred. My kids watch the same shows on TV that I watched as a kid.

"Why do I feel like I've seen this before?"

Sunbow Productions

SUNBOW: First-rate employer and a crucial part of the series production.

TCC: For some reason, I've always been fascinated to know how the various people who worked on THE TRANSFORMERS became a part of the series. No two stories are ever quite the same. Through what events did you become involved with the show?

DILLE: Late in the Summer of '84, Steve Gerber called and needed some help editing G.I. JOE. It was a lot of fun. I spent most of my time trying to promote Flint to General. Somewhere in the Fall, Sunbow said that they wanted to hire me as a producer / story editor on THE TRANSFORMERS. They wanted to give it more edge. I took the job. They set up a West Coast office in Westwood (L.A.) not far from my house.

TCC: So, even though your name doesn't appear in credits until the second season, it sounds -- judging by the timeframe you mentioned -- like you might even have been involved with the show as early as the first season, like toward the end of it, maybe?

DILLE: I did, indeed, come in at the end of the first season (I'm not sure what percent of the shows had been made), but there were several in various states of "done." In some cases, we fixed dialogue in recording, in some cases it was in board, in some cases it was in script.

TCC: Steve Gerber was obviously a key person in bringing you onto both of these major TV series, which in turn doubtless led to your work on further Sunbow projects. How did you come to know him?

DILLE: I met Steve Gerber back in '83 at Ruby / Spears. He was creator of HOWARD THE DUCK and THUNDARR THE BARBARIAN for Ruby / Spears. Brilliant guy. Check out his blog to see what he's up to now. We worked on a lot of stuff over the years, from R / S to Sunbow to even TSR Comics, if I recall correctly. Steve and Marty Pasko are responsible for teaching me to write animations (that may or may not be something they want known) while we worked together on a number of all-nighters for the MR. T. show. Marty's now at DC Comics. We indirectly work together on game stuff ranging from BATMAN to TEEN TITANS to SUPERMAN. Like Steve, he's an extremely talented guy. Pathologically meticulous - something which I'm not.

TCC: I would think that working on G.I. JOE brought with it some insights into other Marvel / Sunbow series as well. What, if any, were your initial impressions of THE TRANSFORMERS before you joined its proverbial stable?

DILLE: I really didn't have any. It was kind of "the other show" that Sunbow was doing. I was just paying attention to G.I. JOE. One day we had an episode marathon and Tom Griffin and Joe Bacal and Jay Bacal explained where they thought "the other show" should go.

TCC: Your second-season credit on THE TRANSFORMERS lists you as Associate Producer along with Roger Slifer. What did that particular duty entail?

DILLE: In theory, it meant that I was supposed to be going over storyboards, going to mixes, editing scripts, and going to voice sessions. I did all of those things, but pretty quickly, Sunbow decided I was most useful as a writer / editor / developer and our staff expanded to include post-production guys and other producers.

TCC: Toward the end of the season, you also got into the writing process, penning PRIME TARGET with Buzz Dixon. Did you ever pitch ideas and premises that didn't get picked up, and if so, what do you remember about them?

DILLE: By and large, I didn't have time to write episodes. My feeling is that PRIME TARGET was done because some other script fell through and we needed an episode. Usually, when I wrote episodes, it was either pilots (FIVE FACES OF DARKNESS), or it was fill-ins, or it was because they wanted a different kind of episode. For instance -- and this was G.I. JOE -- one day, Jay Bacal called me up and asked me to do an episode of the show that didn't end with the Cobra Headquarters blowing up, so I wrote THE GAMESMASTER (kind of an homage to the fact that I was also working on Interactive Novels with Gary Gygax at the time -- not the story, just the title) and then EAU DE COBRA was our idea of a G.I. JOE romance. We threw it in to stretch the show a little bit.

TCC: What influenced your writing on THE TRANSFORMERS in general?

DILLE: I guess the biggest thing was that I was surrounded by comic book guys. I never really was one -- I've always been more of a game guy -- but I was fascinated by the fact that they had continuity and "universes," etc. We all thought it would be a good idea to bring that to our shows. It was like we wanted to bring a mythology to cartoons, not just another "reset" series where you don't learn anything newer or deeper in the shows. I think that has a lot to do with long-term fans.


CAUGHT: Optimus Prime tackles the automated hunters of Lord Chumley.

TCC: Getting back to PRIME TARGET, I always thought that was a really fun episode with some great characterizations. How did it come into being?

DILLE: We just thought it would be kind of cool to have somebody other than the Decepticons to fight. We got the idea that it would be great to have a hunter who had gotten bored with big animals and decided to start hunting military equipment and finally Transformers. As I said above, the idea was to "stretch the series" and not have the TRANSFORMERS plot of the week. About half way through, we realized that we were doing our riff on THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME and about two weeks ago I saw a GREEN HORNET episode where a group of adventurers were hunting criminals.

"See how YOU like being hunted!"
Astrotrain -- PRIME TARGET

TCC: Would you be able to define what each of you and Buzz's main contributions were? For example, did you write the Optimus Prime parts for the episode?

DILLE: I don't really remember. If I had to guess, it would have gone something like this: Premise was mine. I wrote an outline. Buzz filled in the script. I edited it. We went over it together. We both looked at the boards and went to the recordings. Buzz and I have worked together well for 20 years now, often in interchangeable roles. The fact that I don't remember how it came together is testimony to the fact that there probably wasn't any friction. You remember friction. You don't remember when things go smoothly. My feeling is that PRIME TARGET was a pure and easy collaboration. Nobody had an agenda. We both liked the story. It was simple and straightforward and something that we felt needed to be done in TRANSFORMERS.

TCC: Was there a particular inspiration behind Lord Chumley, everybody's favourite slightly crazed big game hunter?

DILLE: We just wanted the classic English Big Game Hunter. Buzz did a great job with the abused valet.

TCC: I understand that there was always a producer or two -- and writers, too -- present at the voice recording sessions. What was that experience like for you? How did you contribute to the sessions as associate producer or writer?

DILLE: I viewed the voice recording as the final draft of the script. Lines read well on a page don't always sound good. Sometimes actors would come up with great ideas. Sometimes we'd get ideas for episodes in there, because the voice recording is as close as you get to having the real characters in the room. This, of course, didn't thrill the Marvel producers, because, I think, it generated a lot of work for them. But hey, 20 years later, I'm glad we got the better line.

Often, this would piss off the traditional animation actors, because they were used to 2-hour recording sessions. Some would double-book, even though they were being paid for 4 hours. Animation was kind of a degraded business in those days; people were used to the three Saturday Morning networks and unions. Not knowing any better, we were playing a very different game. We thought of ourselves as filmmakers or something. Little did any of us know how the animation business would explode in only a few years.

The funniest thing that ever happened in a voice session was that we were once re-doing an early TRANSFORMERS script in which we had the Autobots killed right before the act break and then after the commercials, we revealed that it was a hologram. This seemed like a big cheat to Jay and me, but it was late on a Friday afternoon and we didn't have a better idea, so I put in the line, "Thank heavens for that bogus plot device or we'd be finished." (You couldn't say "dead.")

Or something like that. Of course, we didn't ever get back to the script because we were inundated with other stuff. Then, months later, we were sitting in the recording session and I heard an actor read the line, "Thank heavens for that bogus plot device..."

I had a moment where I thought it would be funny to leave it in, but my better judgment triumphed... I think we went back to the hologram.

Interviewer's Note: For those wondering which episode this was, I have identified it as being SEASON ONE's FIRE IN THE SKY. The scene in question depicts Starscream's "execution" of several Autobots, having just gunned down the aghast Skyfire for trying to intervene. After the commercial break, it is revealed that the "destroyed" Autobots were simply one of Hound's holograms.

There was one summer when I had to bail Chris Latta (Starscream, Cobra Commander) out of the Hollywood jail in order to get him to the recording on time. Never figured out what he was in for, but he said it was jaywalking. Chris was a wild, interesting guy. I liked him and was very sorry to hear that he died. Doug Booth and I spent one of the weirdest nights of our lives with him and a bunch of other comedians (a lot of our voice talent came from the New York standup community -- Joe Bacal scouted them out, I think). But that's a different story.

A couple of interesting Casey Kasem stories: At one point, he got very upset about a character named Abdul Fakkadi (modeled after Muhammar Khaddafi) in a country known as Carbombya, saying it was an Arab stereotype. He wrote a letter to Joe and Tom. Another time, I started asking him about Rock & Roll. After all, this was the "America's Top Forty" guy and we were all bored. He kind of looked at me and said, "I don't like Rock & Roll."

That was the end of the conversation.

Scatman Crothers told a story about working with Clint Eastwood (on, I think, BRONCO BILLY) right after he'd finished THE SHINING. They did one take and Clint said, "Print it."

Scatman said, "The first take?"

Eastwood smiled at him. "I'm not Stanley."

Apparently, Stanley Kubrick had him do 20 takes of every scene.

Other than the drive across town, I always liked going to Wally Burr's place. A decade later, I was back there for some reason. We were probably in the '90s, but in the reception room, it was still 1986. All the posters from our shows were still up.

"Makes you wish for the good old days, doesn't it?"