(Courtesy of Stephanie Kleinman)
In an exclusive interview with Villain Media, creator/executive producer Brian Volk-Weiss talks about the highly anticipated Netflix premiere of The Toys That Made Us. The eight-part episode of the Netflix documentary series dives into the iconic toy lines that defined our childhood.
The Toys That Made Us takes viewers inside the minds behind history’s most iconic toy franchises. Guests in the documentary will discuss the rise and fall of their bill-dollar creations. The lineup includes David Vonner, the toy designer from Mattel, Peter Cullen, the legendary voice behind Optimus Prime, and Dolph Lundgren, who originally played the live-action version of He-Man.
With the Netflix premiere streaming on Friday, December 22nd 2017, Volk-Weiss discusses how the concept for The Toys That Made Us came about, his most valuable toy in his possession, and what readers should expect from the first four episodes.
VILLAIN MEDIA: Tell me about the inspiration behind The Toys That Made Us.
BRIAN VOLK-WEISS: On the one hand, I’m a huge toy collector. My collection literally goes back to toys I played with when i was a little kid. I’ve been collecting now for over 40 years. On the other hand, I’m a huge history buff. I’m into all types of history. So I started doing a lot of research about all these toys that I love. I found out there’s not a lot of information out there. The two toys that had the most amount of information were Barbie and Star Wars. But even with those two, there were a lot of gaps in the story. Especially in Barbie’s story, there was a lot of contradictions. Some people say this, other people say that. I just took these two loves of mine and combined them; that’s what led to the show.
VM: Not only are you the creator, you are also the executive producer for The Toys That Made Us. Tell me about juggling these roles for the eight-part series.
BVW: Here’s a little thing about TV. It’s different from a movie, even from scripted television. It’s really a marathon! In a movie, there’s a director that says “Action!” There’s a script and people follow it. Cut! Either we got it or we go again. When you’re making a documentary, first of all, we’ve been making this for 15 months. Second of all, the majority is interviews, research, and writing. To answer your question, which is great, it’s really blurred when you’re making a documentary; it’s such a long process.
VM: The Toys That Made Us is an eight-part series focused on iconic 1980s toys, including Star Wars, G.I. Joe, Transformers, Barbie, He-Man, Star Trek, Hello Kitty, and Lego. Did you want this series to come across as an examination of toy culture or as a nostalgic reminder of the ‘80s?
BVW: Neither! It is not about toy culture at all. We worked very closely with collectors and experts. So closely that some episodes have over 10 experts and collectors! The show is not about collectors. This is a huge misconception I get asked a lot. The show is not just about the ‘80s. Each episode basically starts with the beginning point of a toy. And goes up until what was going on until we locked the episode. Our Stars Wars episode for example, it starts before George Lucas turned the script over to the toy company; and it ends with The Last Jedi.
VM: I’m glad you mentioned Star Wars! The Last Jedi recently came out in theaters. Fans have been clamoring for an action figure for Rey (played by Daisy Ridley). Have you noticed any similarities or differences to the supply/demand for Star Wars?
BVW: Well, it’s funny! Rey was an interesting story that unfortunately did not make it to the final cut of the episode. I don’t know if you remember this or not. If you’re like me, you’ve seen the trailer a dozen time. The Force Awakens did something brilliant in their marketing campaign. They showed Finn (John Boyega) holding the lightsaber in all the posters and in the trailer. They never showed Rey. What they tried to do, at least for me they accomplished, when I saw the movie, I thought Finn was the Jedi. And then I was happy and pleasantly surprised when was actually the Jedi; in one of the greatest moments in any Star Wars film.
One of the things that happened, they couldn’t ship Rey with the lightsaber until after the movie came out. It was perceived they didn’t have the action figure for a variety of reasons. It was the story that we learned, but unfortunately we were not able to keep it. One of the funny things, the first cut of the Star Wars episode is 2 and a half hours long! We definitely wanted to keep all the episodes under an hour. We cut a couple of things but it was the right decision for the show. But at the same time, maybe one day there will be a super duper deluxe cut! Probably not! Hey, you never know! [Laughs]
— Toys That Made Us (@toysthatmadeus) December 20, 2017
VM: Tell me about the guests you have on the series. You have David Vonner, the toy designer from Mattel, Peter Cullen, the legendary voice behind Optimus Prime, and Dolph Lundgren, who originally played the live-action version of He-Man.
BVW: What we tried to do, we tried to get as many people we could from one of two categories, or a blending of the two. The first thing, we only got people who were relevant to the story. We interviewed Peter Cullen because of the cartoon and the movie were definitely a part of the toy. We interviewed Michael Bay because the Transformers toy changed a lot after the first movie. We did not interview Mark Wahlberg or Shia LaBeouf because they were not directly connected to the toy. We tried to interview people who had their boots on the ground, who were designing, or who were business people that actually led to the toy being made. We especially tried to find people that had never been interviewed before.
VM: The Toys That Made Us perfectly comes out on December 22, before Christmas and the New Years. After the holidays, what do want viewers to come away from this?
BVW: What I hope we were able to accomplish, and this is a real tightrope to walk, is that the crazy fanatical fans of toys, like myself, they will enjoy the episode because we put a lot of love into it. Hopefully, now matter how crazy fanatical they are, we were able to find new information for them.
On the other hand, we also wanted to make a show for the people that were not fanatical. I’m fanatical about Star Wars, Transformers, but I was not fanatical about Barbie. I was not fanatical about He-Man. For me, I’m now a huge He-Man fan! I didn’t own a He-Man figure in my entire life. Now I’m crazy interested! And the same thing is true for Barbie! I knew her name was Barbie! The dude’s name is Ken and Mattel made it! That’s all I knew before and now I own two Barbie dolls now! It’s part of the show, part of toy story. I needed to have them for my collection! My hope is, come Christmas and after Christmas, that a lot of people and fans love the show! They did a great job! But at the same time, I’d love to read from people that they never cared about Transformers but now love Transformers. That’s really what we tried to do.
My background is historically in comedy. I work in the comedy business primarily. We really tried to bring a lot of comedy into the show. If we did our jobs right, then hopefully everyone will enjoy the show!
VM: How can readers find out more information about The Toys That Made Us?
Writer’s Note: Links are highlighted in bold. Go nuts!
VM: What other projects are you working on now?
BVW: Here’s the thing about the TV business! I can talk about stuff I’m about to put out, but I’m not allowed to talk about anything that hasn’t been announced yet. Needless to say, we got a bunch of stuff going on. I always get in trouble when I answer this question! Long story short, we’re working on five series right now, about half a dozen pilots, and a lot of other stuff going on!
The first four episodes of The Toys That Made Us premieres on Netflix Friday, December 22. The remaining four season one episodes will be released sometime in 2018.
– By Jorge Solis