By Todd Matthy

In the summer of 1986, children were traumatized when Optimus Prime sacrificed himself to stop his archrival, Megatron. But it wasn’t Megatron who pulled the trigger, it was a writer named Ron Friedman.

Ron Friedman wrote Transformers: The Movie. He wrote the five-part miniseries that launched GI Joe. He is close friends with Stan Lee and helped Stan develop The Marvel Action Hour, featuring Iron Man and Fantastic Four. He has written episodes of All in the Family, Happy Days, and Fantasy Island. In addition to his writing credentials, Ron is an architect and a teacher at Chapman University.

In 2014, Ron plans to chronicle his experiences as a writer in the memoir, I Killed Optimus Prime. The book promises a fascinating look behind the scenes of the shows that defined our childhood.

I had the privilege of speaking with Ron about his career, his friendship with Stan Lee, what he thought when he first saw the Transformers, how Orson Welles became Unicron, and why he didn’t want to kill Optimus Prime.

So, to kick off the 30th Anniversary of the Transformers, Ron Friedman, the man who killed Optimus Prime.

WARNING: Some language.

What made you decide to chronicle your experiences as a writer?

I was given great opportunities. Writing animation wasn’t what I set out to do. Although I always loved animation, nobody ever considered it a job for writers. They feel the same way about comedy. It seems the only meaningful writing is something where everybody dies at the end or there’s a moral surface where everybody can lie down and bask in God’s light. So, comedy and animation have always been denigrated until these last several years when Pixar, Disney, and the Marvel Universe came of age in the sense that iconic material was made into feature films. Suddenly it was okay to have written animation. When I did it no working writer of any substance wanted to be an animation writer. They avoided it and the people that did were considered beyond hope and not “real writers.”

Hasbro did a talent search to find “real writers” to create the GI Joe pilot. I won the contest. I won because I wanted to do a five-part miniseries because there were so many characters that over the course of a 22-minute episode you’d only have time to watch them walk by. That’s not going to endear a young audience to characters.

It was completely accidental. I was aiming for Broadway, where I was a play doctor. I had plays under option, I had written some novels, and was doing great writing one-hour and half-hour television shows. Then suddenly this great opportunity came and awakened in me everything I always loved about animation, speculative fiction, and writing action sequences nobody could afford to do for real on a large motion picture screen. Hasbro was so pleased with GI Joe they not only had me rewrite the first 64 episodes of The Transformers (to make sure they had humor and the characters resonated) and gave me the job of writing Transformers: The Movie.

In the meantime I wrote a five-part pilot for a series based on a line of toys called Air Raiders, which I’m sure nobody knows about. They gave me the artwork and the basic idea, which was a variation on Dune. It was about a universe where various planetary groups sought control of air. The toys were to be air powered, the designs looked great, and I came up with a great miniseries. The closest I can compare it to is Game of Thrones. Then they sent me the prototypes. Visualize a little rubber figure in uniform with a foot long hose connected to a bulb. You squeezed the bulb and the figure contorted as if it were having a seizure. Who wouldn’t love that? Then there were the rocket ships that were made of rubber with a foot long tube with a squeeze ball that made a flying fart. They asked me what I thought and I said, “It’s a whoopee cushion without the fun.” So I was their go to guy for a while.

One of the things in my background was an understanding of how kids connect to icons and stories. It happened when I was architectural student at Carnegie Tech. The Provost asked me to participate in a pilot program to determine what causes children to attach themselves to comic heroes. I was sold. A couple of days a week I would interact with kids presenting them with new games, characters, and traditional icons. The department of psychology, with the school of business, would try to create a formula that assessed when kids became connected and what emotional triggers caused them to lock on. A lot of it was common sense because I had kids and saw how they responded. It was really useful because it validated what I saw myself when I as a kid connecting to various comic book, cartoon, and film characters. It gave me some insight into what I needed to do and was one of the reasons I didn’t want to kill Optimus Prime.

Optimus Prime was the transcendental figure that is the glue for every legend or story.  The transcendental character of big daddy, big brother, your personal champion, the repository of all that is good and worthy. He was the true center of the Autobot family. I think about the gathering of various comic icons and their peers as families. Who was Megatron? The worst possible father figure.  He topped King John in the days of Robin Hood. Who was Starscream? He’s Iago, the treacherous second in command, the bad uncle or younger brother who lusts after his older brothers wife. I recognized that I needed to assign family identities to characters in order to create the recognition factor that young people need. They cannot verbalize this; it’s beneath the surface. To remove Optimus Prime, to physically remove Daddy from the family, that’s wasn’t going to work. I told Hasbro and their lieutenants they would have to bring him back but they said no and had “great things planned.” In other words they were going to create new more expensive toys.

So you were against killing Optimus Prime.

 

Absolutely!

Did you argue with them? Do you think Hasbro didn’t know what they had?

 

Of course they didn’t know. They didn’t know how to evaluate it. Their lieutenants, who I worked with harmoniously and happily, took their orders directly from Hasbro. We had some steaming arguments that never got to Hasbro because they blocked it. They were Hasbro’s ad agency who graduated into producing their various works. It was a lucrative deal for them. It was one of those things where people do not understand what it is that is making them successful. They take for granted that the success is endlessly rewarding without acknowledging or understanding what the instruments of it actually are.

They didn’t recognize that Optimus Prime was the heartbeat of the Autobots. The strong and fatherly presence that made sure everybody else behaves and tries to live up to his example. You cannot pass that over and have any hope of duplicating the success you had. I proved right because they resurrected him rapidly. They established an icon.

Once you establish an icon, you’re a fool if you don’t try to preserve it. One of the reasons Batman and Superman have been through so many psychological identity changes is their basic focus is always on the side of the underdog and those who need help against the strong. The difference is, being in the age of psychoanalysis, they now have doubts. Their mission and good heartedness remain the same and their doubts are self-doubt. There’s no doubt about what it is they have to do except when they start to question if there’s a grey area between them and the bad guy. But, that is always over come otherwise the franchise would’ve killed itself.

I’m not saying this because Monday morning quarterbacking shows an increase in brainpower. I’m saying it because it was always self-evident. The Autobots function as a family of those committed to do good no matter the cost. The self-sacrifice and courage of Optimus Prime was the standard of that family. Far less of a pain in the ass than Odin, but the same idea.

You have to ask yourself why there was always a Zeus, Odin, Rama, what is that character? He is the super father figure. He is always the determiner of what is good and right and the paradigm of virtue. Even though in the Greek myths he would screw around. When you screw with that you end up losing.

Optimus Prime passes on the Matrix

 

After describing Optimus the way you have, how do you write a death scene for a character of that magnitude? He can’t die by just getting shot.

 

I tried to establish an essential ingredient for the Optimus Prime character that he was both the caretaker and exponent of. That was the Matrix. It’s like the Petrean Touch in Catholicism. St. Peter touched his successor and every successive Pope has touched the next Pope carrying the touch of Peter into eternity. That’s what the Matrix was for me, the Petrean Touch. Though Optimus Prime might be physically absent, his soul, the core of his being (which was in the core of his body structure) would continue. In effect he did not die, he assumed another form resident in his successor, Rodimus Prime.

I tried to do that and make it as emotionally valid as I could. When a warrior dies he dies for purpose. It’s not a willingness to give up his life but a willingness to use his life as supplication for good. His recognition that immortality belongs to no one and if by dying he can preserve what is valuable, he would have died well.

I’ve thought about this a lot. The difference between the Greek understanding of death and the Roman Life Myth is the Greeks were realists. They weren’t looking to an after life were someone would get 52 virgins, a ticket to next week’s production, or be with all those who’d been with them in life. The Greeks had no illusions. The oration of Pericles at Thermopylae said, “We’ll never see them again. But we thank all that there are of gods that they were willing to die so we remain free.” The Romans have no equivalent. Their life myth is, “Die for the Empire!” And if you have died for the Empire then you will be on the fields of Elysium. That is using religion to further a political cause. That might be familiar because I’m describing a lot of fundamentalist Islam and Christianity during the Dark Ages.

What I tried to do is be aware of the Greek idea of death being final but what is transcendental is the good you do when you’re alive, which is personified by the Matrix, the repository of Optimus Prime’s soul. You can parallel it this way, how dead is Shakespeare when 500 years after his death he has affected more lives over more generations then anyone.

These are things I thought about and tried to be true to. Although nobody would get it consciously there might be some sort of communication of the sense of worth of all this and I think I succeeded because I’ve heard about it from fans who all say how moved they were and how much Optimus Prime dying meant to them. It was like a relative dying. I wanted it to be that way. In that regard it was successful, but I sure as hell hated doing it and I was thrilled when he came back.

The cab of the Ultra Magnus (right) toy was a white Optimus Prime. Art by Dan Khanna

Was Optimus Prime going to become Ultra Magnus?

This was one of those things I had no control over. I was often given things after Hasbro made the decision. In effect they said, “this is your new god, this is the way it’s going to be.” I worked with what they gave me and tried to be true to the essential quality of the character. As a writer, you deal with what you deal with. In this case, a lot of the givens were not my choice.

Was Galvatron originally going to be a separate character from Megatron? Or was it your idea to have Megatron evolve into Galvatron?

 

The idea was Megatron would mutate into Galvatron. This was the equivalent of the transition state. He went from evil and rotten in one plane of existence to more evil and rotten in a new one. Again, transcending death. Both Optimus Prime and Megatron transcended death, which I thought was neat and fascinating.

Does goodness ever die? Does evil ever die?  No, it mutates into new forms and faces. Just as there’s the hero of a thousand faces, there’s the devil of a thousand faces. Circumstances create the transition.

Unicron concept art

Speaking of the devil, was Unicron your idea?

 

Yes, that was my idea.

How did you come up with him?

I wanted to create a large-scale force, which would force the Autobots and Decepticons to join together. I needed something that was like the guy from out of town who shows up at the dinner, fucks the hostess, steals the cake, robs the minister, and vanishes with two kids, a donkey, and a car. Dramatically this is always a good device but it’s difficult to create one that will unify competing forces. This was done in the last Thor. I looked for something on the same scale of the endless Autobot/Decepticon war. Luckily we got Orson Welles for his last bit of work.

How did you pull that off?

 

He was available. Orson Welles was an icon in Hollywood but because he hadn’t had a hit at the time and nobody wanted to hire him because he was unpredictable and cost a lot of money. He was looking for work all the time. He would’ve opened a supermarket. He was eminently available.

Did you ever read Flint Dille’s lost script, “The Secret of Cybertron”?

 

I know nothing about that. I knew Flint momentarily. Those that did the strip shows and I never spoke to each other. I did what I did and after I was doing it successfully I think some resentment set in. I don’t know Flint and I don’t know what he did. All I know is there were only two scripts for the feature and I was paid by Hasbro to write both of them.

They said the villains were too interesting in my first script.  I didn’t like that because I want villains to be interesting. It gives the Autobots something to take care of. The second script was substantially different. That’s the one that was filmed.

Michael Bay and the many mutations of the original material have stolen hand-over-fist from both scripts. But, I’m used to that. In Iron Man, Tony Stark armoring up from his attaché case was something I created for the 13 episodes of the Marvel Action Hour. I also created the armory. That’s also appeared in the movies of which I get zip. I get a kick out of seeing that my creative work has been used repeatedly. I know and Stan Lee knows I did it first.  There are a lot of people that claim to have rewritten my script. But, I’m used to that. Nobody rewrote it.

The only rewrite I objected to was including the word “shit.” I didn’t want to do that. I also insisted on bringing in a female Autobot (Arcee) and I insisted on having human beings interact with the Autobots. That was a battle.

They were resistant to Spike and Sparkplug?

 

Yes. And they were absolutely resistant to Arcee. I said I had a daughter who loves this stuff. There are other girls that like it. Put in a female Autobot!

Original Arcee concept art.

There was an episode that involved female Autobots. Optimus Prime had a girlfriend in Elita One.

 

I was not aware of that. I’m sure it happened after I’d done the script for the feature.

How far in advance did you know a movie was being developed?

 

I got the first word. I finished doing rewrites of the first 62-64 episodes when they said, “We’re going to do an animated feature. Come in with your ideas and tell us what you’d like to do,” and I did.  It happened very quickly and I wrote it very quickly. I’m sure, although I didn’t have time or interest in following the strip shows, they incorporated some of the things I put in the movie.

What is the challenge of coming up with a story that made “Transformers: The Movie” a movie as opposed to a long episode of the show or a five-part miniseries?

 

The ability to use the big screen to create big screen action. You can’t do small screen action on the big screen. I did things that had scope and size. For example, the pantheon of the fallen, Unicron, that takes size. For that to play effectively you need a big screen. Also, to marshal the forces of Autobot and Decepticon and create the developments that lead to a major conflict in outer space with a third force that is a menace to all forms of life; that’s a big screen story. That’s operatic. And you have the time to develop the characters sufficiently so somebody would really feel something when Optimus Prime died.

If you did that on a 22-minute episode it would be, “Gee he’s sick, oh he’s dead, wow.” It would need a whole episode to play that out. These are life-changing things, not momentary conflicts that can be resolved in an episode. That’s what I had to come up with: an overriding menace that would put the continuous warfare of the Autobots and Decepticons into a galactic scope.

The Decepticon Hall of Heroes

Did you ever consider something smaller? Maybe having the Quintessons invade Cybertron?

I would’ve needed to create a motive for them to do it. And then they would’ve been another in a series of “bad guys du jour.” I had to create a galactic menace that would marshal the best and the worst of the good guys and the bad guys just to survive. It’s called invention. My job was to come up with inventions that filled the screen and satisfied the audience that loved the Transformers.

In the original script, there was a plot line where the Decepticons conquered Autobot City and Blaster leading a group of guerilla fighters to get it back. Did they cut that for time?

 

No. They made their decisions for the following reason: those in the position of writing the checks often confuse their jobs with the creators. They have a desire to be creative and do something they consider creative. When they do, it’s usually a cause for alarm and if I’m given sufficient warning I will either find a way to preserve what I think is good and write my way around it or try to talk them out of it. In this case, they just did it.

When you work for a living as a writer, you expect this to happen. When people who are executives and not writers believe they are creative they will make decisions based on whatever’s in their minds at the moment. Often it’s for political reasons. I never know. I’m not privy to that. I am now but more so in feature films and television because of changes in the Writer’s Guild’s Minimum Basic Agreement. Animation was not covered by that, so I had to like it or lump it or find a way to preserve what I thought was good.

When something is cut out completely, that’s it. There’s no time to cry. It’s my job to deliver the best possible product I can do, regardless of interference. That’s the reality of the business. I’m not whining. I was paid. I enjoyed doing it and part of the challenge is doing it in spite of those unheralded, unexpected, dumb changes, and still getting something of quality out there.

When you were the developing the movie, and working on GI Joe, Marvel was doing the comic books. The comic book writers wrote the character profiles on the back of the toys.

 

If you can get a hold of some old GI Joe figures in their original packaging and read what’s on the back, it’s not a character. As a writer, those are not characters anymore then saying, “he’s got white hair, smokes a pipe, brilliant with mathematics, and comes from Germany.” That’s not Albert Einstein.

My job was to take that limited information and create characters somebody cared about. Characters with a particular way of speaking, a particular sense of humor if they had one, and a body language that went along with their dialogue so they became like living beings. Those descriptions mean nothing. It’s like reading the ingredients on a package of Twinkies. If you’re a writer your job is to make characters out of partial recipes and bring them to life. What you read on the back of the toys isn’t going to make anything come to life.

I’ve described the difference between writing about something and writing something that can be produced, acted, and put on a screen that an audience can connect with, be interested enough to have feelings for and want to see what happens next.

Was there communication between you and Marvel?

None at all.  Hasbro didn’t want me to have conversations with them. They wanted what I did to stand-alone and inspire the stripping of GI Joe and Transformers. They wanted me to raise the genre and make sure people who’d turn their noses up at animation would pay attention and be interested in the characters.

I submit that anytime animation works, it’s the characters that people are connecting with. The toys have to be cool, and the Transformers were brilliantly designed, but if they’re just wonderful pieces of plastic and the voices aren’t right, you’ve got nothing.

For GI Joe, I modeled twenty or twenty-six voices. I recorded them as a suggestion. I said Jack Nicholson is Shipwreck. They hired actors that did the voices I modeled.

Did you model Cobra Commander?

No. I couldn’t do that strangulated voice. That was Chris Latta who also did the Cryptkeeper and Starscream. There were a lot of great voice actors and they were as big a part of making those characters come to life as the dialogue I gave them. I was very proud of the relationships I established between Destro, Cobra Commander, and the Baroness because they were a cast of rogues that played like scumbags, sort of like you see on Game of Thrones. It’s very difficult to describe what I’ve been doing effectively for so long. It requires I disenthrall myself from the great design of the toys and try to come up with some line of dialogue, attitude, or movement that will characterize these other wise lifeless plastic figures so when kids see them on the screen, they become real.

One of the things that also happened was moving the setting twenty years into the future. Was that your decision?

 

No. That wasn’t my idea. I was surprised and don’t know why they bothered.

Who was your favorite character to write for? And least favorite?

I got a kick out of Kup because he was a cranky old man. Wheelie was a pain in the ass. Blurr was interesting because I wanted to make sure John Moschitta was saying something. I always liked writing for Optimus Prime because he was like the king in a Shakespearean play. He was magisterial, and his word was supposed to remind the Autobots what they’re fighting for and how they had to cling together and support one another, but not sound preachy.

I loved writing for the villains. Starscream, who was a weasel and the equivalent of Destro, who was always sniffing around Cobra Commander to find a way to undo him.

Are villains more fun to write?

Absolutely. Ask an actor who he/she would rather play, the villain or the hero/heroine. They’ll all say, “give me the villain.” Every actor wants to play Richard III. Very few want to play Richard II. Henry VIII is the monarch everyone wants to play because he was truly larger than life. He was a total swine, selfish, womanizing pile of shit. But, he was fascinating and to dispense with Catholicism the way he dispensed with his wives? What a guy! By doing that he saved England from the religious wars that tore Europe apart for almost 500 years.

Look at it this way. If you’re going to act, don’t think you’re that good. If I say to you, “listen we’re going to give you a hunchback, one eye, and you can drag your foot but you should be brilliant. The soul of kindness,” are you going to go “give me that part?” It’s like Rainman. Anybody could’ve played Dustin Hoffman’s role, the difficult role was Tom Cruise’s. He had to be the loving brother who was normal. How do you play that? That’s really tough. Which is why there are very few Tom Hanks’ out there but a lot of Al Pacino’s.

Your answers are very detailed. Will we get the same details in the book?

That’s what I do in the book because it’s about me being a writer, how you do that, what you learn and don’t learn, and what your obligations are. I believe I’m obliged to take anybody who buys anything I wrote away from their cares of the day and give them something new so they can come away satisfied and entertained. That’s what keeps the world going. Think of a world without books, comic books, without iconic figures, without music, and without entertainment. Horrendous! It’s why the Roman’s said,“art is long, life is short.” I’m in the art business for popular consumption and hope that I give some value in addition to the entertainment and maybe something to think about.

How did you and Stan Lee become friends?

I met Stan through Lee Mendelson (who was producing Peanuts) for whom I did a half-hour animated special for CBS called The Romance of Betty Boop. Stan and I hit it off immediately. A lot of laughs and he helped me out when I got to close to things. I’ll give you an example. I’m producing the Marvel Action Hour and writing something that the Thing is saying. Stan says, “By the way, we couldn’t get David Niven to play the Thing.” David Niven’s a refined British actor. I said, “This is the Thing. He’s not an English Shakespearean actor.” He talks dumb. And it reminded me that it’s my obligation to make sure a character looks a certain way and has the right voice. Stan could always nail it.

One of the things many people don’t know about Stan is during the Second World War, he got a medal for writing a marching song for Army accountants. It’s a great song. They were thrilled.

So you and Stan worked together to develop the “Marvel Action Hour.”

We did. There was no time or money but it was great fun because of Stan.

When you’re writing for a show like the “Marvel Action Hour,” how do you balance appealing to a mainstream audience with appealing to comic book fans?

 

I always used the origin stories Stan did in the comic books. I dramatized the original material. Those who were fans recognized it. Until then nobody had done that. In fact when the Spider-Man with Tobey Maguire was done, it was the first time anybody had actually done what Stan wrote. That was the brilliance of Avi Arad. He recognized that you go back to the source. Not like all these idiots that rent the material and do their version, as if what Stan had done wasn’t good enough.  By going back to the source material, the original structure and dynamics and introducing them with contemporary technology, that’s what makes franchises click. The only one that didn’t was the Hulk. And to me it was the Gumby effect. They turned the Hulk into a doll of Silly Putty that was in a different picture then everybody else. It’s honoring the text, that’s what made everything work.

Remember Force Works?

With “Iron Man” your supporting cast was Force Works, his team from the 90’s. Why was that?

 

That was the choice of Toy Biz, who manufactured the action figures.

So that’s why we didn’t get Pepper Potts or Happy Hogan?

 

Yep. They were interested in the action figures and that eliminated a lot of the human beings.

Yes, Tony Stark married Spider-Woman on the Marvel Action Hour.

Why did you have Iron Man marry Spider-Woman?

 

I can’t answer. I’m not responsible for what these people do when I’m not watching or writing them. As far as I know they could be holding up a 7-11 right now. That could be the next episode. I don’t remember. That was 26 half-hour shows in 48 weeks. It was all a blur.

I do remember I created a liaison with the University of California at Riverside’s Graphic Arts computer department to build 3D CGI opening for Iron Man.

 

They also came up with the program to do the Silver Surfer. For $5,000 I got the opening sequence of Iron Man armoring up in 3D and the Silver Surfer, which they subsequently used. I arranged an educational liaison with the university. It was the only way I could afford any CGI because the budgets were mediocre. To me that was a triumph, to get a little bit of CGI and creating the liaison which I tried to resurrect in many instances.

I want to research and development deals with major universities so that some guy in his garage doesn’t make all of these advances. In fact I had Universal set to do that for sound on a movie set using Variable Array, which is the name for the technique used to screen out underwater sounds.

I had the pleasure of showing Stan the first example of Production Line Morphing. It cost $1800 a pass and you needed 20 passes to do a morph. I’m digressing but I’m proud of what I did.

When the Challenger rocket exploded, NASA created a new demand for future shots where nine people in nine different locations would sign off on their view of the launch. They made an offer of some two or three million bucks for an engineer that could make that possible. A guy named Chuck Stone with some kids at either UC Riverside or UC Davis used an old Amiga platform to come up the first device that would capture an image and immediately put it on a monitor. That was unheard of. His lawyer was a friend of mine and I said that I thought we could use what Chuck did to make animation happen faster. One Saturday, I got my friend Bill Melendez to open his studio with Bonanza’s Lorne Greene, a friend of the engineer. I got a Peanuts strip from the newspaper and got Bill to capture each panel in the strip and do some in betweens with a stylus to animate Snoopy walking down the road. We got ten seconds of film in three hours. Unheard of. Then Bill said to me “I hate engineers. I hate working with a stylus, that’s not drawing!” and the engineer said, “I hate artists!” So, it ended there but was a success for one afternoon.

Iron Man in 3D from the Marvel Action Hour

Was writing for animation in the nineties any different from the eighties?

 

Writing for animation has always been the same. The person writing for animation has to write the universe in which the figures move and interact. In the early days of animation there wasn’t much writing but things still had to be written. The reason it has to be written is because you have to communicate to an artist how to draw the storyboard, then to the animators and directors so they get the timing and look down. The writer has to be aware of the process so he/she can communicate to each of those individuals how to deliver what the writer has in mind.

For example the Junkions. There were no Junkions. I invented them and described them in the script so they could be drawn in a particular way. They didn’t quite live up to my hopes. They simplified it and in places missed doing it neatly. But, that was the time constraint and that they were working for their purposes, not mine. But, I provided sufficient description for them to know what it was I wanted to see on the screen.

Say you want a forest. What is different about the forest you envision? You have to make that clear so artists can render it. When you look at what they’ve done you can say, “Yeah, that’s what I had in mind,” or “No, you missed a beat. It’s too bright and sunny. I wanted something more…” and I might use something like German Expressionism or ask for an Art Deco look. If I know that and can summon up that image then the storyboard artist, the background artist, and the animators have something to work off that will satisfy my vision. As a writer for animation, I’ve got to produce material that can be followed. I provide the blueprint for others to make the picture.

People who don’t understand that, don’t provide it. Which means whatever a writer leaves murky or vague is going to be filled in by somebody who is maybe not a writer, doesn’t have the same vision as the writer, isn’t interested, or wants to give his girlfriend a job and makes her the queen.  That’s what makes animation writing very different.

Also, you have to be aware that the voices are all important. They have got to deliver images. When you hear a good voice actor voice you can see a character. Growing up with radio and being an actor made me aware of that. Every early Hollywood star had imitators galore. Everybody did Jimmy Cagney, Humphrey Bogart, and Don Adams etc. Being aware of that changes the kind of dialogue you write. You hear voices and want to do things to fit those voices. If you can do that then you have a successful marriage of the voice with the icon, the words, and the physical action. I hit that pretty well to my satisfaction and the satisfaction of a lot of people who hired me again and again and again. But you have to be aware of it.

Wreck-Gar, leader of the Junkions

Was voice acting what inspired you to make the Junkions “talk TV?”

 

Yes. The popular culture; allusions to television, advertising, and all the rest, junk in every sense and parroting it without completely understanding of what it really meant. I thought doing the junk of a culture and them being junk in the process was nice, satirical, and amusing.

Is there going to be anything in the book that we may not know about you or any of the shows you worked on?

 

A lot and they’ll be some stories about famous people I’ve worked with, the good and the bad, and also what it means to be a writer, what the career is like, and how Hollywood treats writers. The Hollywood joke is, “Did you hear about the stupid starlet? She’s fucking the writer!” This is going to be in the book as well, when I first looked at the Transformers, they reminded me of garbage cans fucking. Because that’s what they looked like.

 

A big thank you to Ron Friedman for taking the time to speak with me. A big thank you also to Jared Egol for facilitating this interview.

I Killed Optimus Prime will be out in 2014.

 

Comments
  1. toddmatthy says:

    Reblogged this on Todd Matthy.com.

  2. Interesting read. I had a bunch of the Air Raiders toys, they were interesting at the time.

  3. Diana Davis says:

    While I am a fan of both Friedman and the cartoons he had a part in, I am disappointed that he decided to brush off the toy filecards. I actually was more of a cartoon fan than a comic fan, but I did LOVE the comic, too, and I find this attitude a little more than unprofessional. I am certain he is very aware of who wrote most of the original ones, as are most fans of G.I. Joe.

    “If you can get a hold of some old GI Joe figures in their original packaging and read what’s on the back, it’s not a character. As a writer, those are not characters anymore then saying, “he’s got white hair, smokes a pipe, brilliant with mathematics, and comes from Germany.” That’s not Albert Einstein.”

    Friedman had the luxury of pretty much no limit into how much he could write about a character. Larry Hama had to fit the descriptions he did on less than half of the back of a package for a 3 and 3/4 inch toy. This requires saying a lot with very few words, something he did spectacularly well. He also managed to create rather complex characters through the run of the entire comic, storyline, which is now approaching #200.

    The later filecards NOT written by Hama tended to suffer somewhat from cringe-inducing silliness, but that is beside the point.

    Einstein DID have white hair, smoke a pipe, excel at complex mathematics (sort of) and come from Germany. If one were told “Describe Einstein in one paragraph”, those words might very well appear.

    The bottom line, though, is really, why insult others who worked on the same product? What possible good can it do to publicly disparage ANYONE else’s work?

    No one has done it to Friedman…

  4. Keldroc says:

    Good interview, lots of interesting stuff. I really like Friedman’s philosophies on how to approach the work, and will definitely pick up his book.

    Quick formatting note: It should be “Greeks” and “Romans,” not “Greek’s” and “Roman’s.” No apostrophe. I only mention it because I think you’ll be getting a fair amount of hits for this piece and you want everything to look professional in front of so many eyes.

  5. Chris Murray says:

    Great read…I’m still traumatized by the death of Optimus Prime.

  6. The amount of characterization Larry Hama wrote into the G.I.Joe file cards far surpassed the limited space allotted him, inspiring countless young imaginations and ensuring his place as one of my generation’s most beloved writers.

  7. The amount of characterization Larry Hama wrote into the G.I.Joe file cards far surpassed the limited space allotted him, inspiring countless young imaginations and securing his place as one of my generation’s most beloved writers.

  8. Notorius says:

    Since you were able to contact this guy for an interview, answer me this. Why use Hot Rod as the catalyst in Optimus’s death? If Rodimus is supposed to be an extension of Optimus Prime, then why did Rodimus have such a self-esteem problem?

  9. PC says:

    What… a… douchebag! “My Air Raiders pilot compares with Game of Thrones.” Is that so?

    And either an ignoramus or a liar to boot. Iron Man had an armor in the attache case and an armory in the comics at least 15 years before Marvel Action Hour. And Larry Hama wrote the GI Joe comic book for 13 years. His version of the characters is much more realistic there than the circus clowns we had in the cartoons.

  10. PC says:

    What… a… douchebag! “My Air Raiders pilot compares with Game of Thrones.” Is that so?

    And either an ignoramus or a liar to boot. Iron Man had an armor in the attache case and an armory in the comics at least 15 years before Marvel Action Hour. And Larry Hama wrote the GI Joe comic book for 13 years. His version of the characters is much more realistic there than the circus clowns we had in the cartoons.

    • Diana Davis says:

      While I agree that this review most effectively displays a pompousness and self congratulatory nature more than anything else, I disagree that the GI Joe cartoon was unrealistic and full of “circus clowns”. Just like Larry Hama’s amazing work on the file cards and his run in the comics, the team that wrote the episodes for the two seasons of the Sunbow cartoon and the 1987 animated movie were mostly skilled professionals who managed to create deep characters and layered plots. The actors who portrayed the characters also did an amazing job of putting forth great performances. Aside from Friedman, they never stooped to childish insults or taking credit for that which they did not create. In fact, more than a few of them did far more than they were given credit for.

      They certainly did more than YOU are giving them credit for, PC.

      You don’t make anything look good by insulting something or someone else. All you do is look foolish and immature, as Friedman does in the interview. Stooping to tossing out insults does little to help

  11. Lifespark says:

    As of September 29, 2013, I discovered that Ron Friedman answered the question of who became Scourge, the Sweeps, Cyclonus and his Armada in his TF: The Movie script. This script is from 1986.
    ”’Now follows what Ron Friedman wrote regarding Scourge and the Sweeps;”’
    Their bodies are turned from battered Decepticons to…

    SCOURGE

    SCOURGE (Sweep character) is bearded, fanged and ferocious
    looking and as soon as he has been CREATED, he roars and
    stretches and an ARRAY OF SIMILAR CREATURES – smaller and all
    wearing dark and matching uniforms – are INSTANTLY CREATED
    FROM OTHERS behind him

    UNICRON

    Scourge, the tracker….and his huntsmen…the
    Sweeps….

    The animators followed this description to the letter. Scourge is created and behind him similar but SMALLER creatures are instantly created. Kickback and Shrapnel are both SMALLER then Thundercracker. Therefor Thundercracker IS Scourge.
    Furthermore, it is ESSENTIAL that Kickback and Shrapnel are Sweeps because they posses the ability to clone themselves. That is the explanation for the number of the Sweeps increasing or decreasing.
    ”’Now follows what Ron Friedman wrote regarding Cyclonus and his Armada;”’

    ON CYCLONUS (NEW DECEPTICON WITH PLANE TRANSFORM ABILITY)

    CYCLONUS is CREATED and then his “armada” of similar, but smaller
    and similarly colored and clad creatures are formed.

    UNICRON

    Cyclonus, the warrior…and his armada…..

    IMPORTANT; Ron Friedman did NOT state that Cyclonus is in the foreground or background during the reformatting. Likewise, he also did NOT state that the Armada is in the foreground or background during the reformatting. Ron Friedman DID state that Cyclonus’ Armada are similar, but SMALLER and similarly colored and clad creatures. Bombshell is SMALLER than Skywarp. Therefor Skywarp IS Cyclonus.

    Furthermore, it is ESSENTIAL that Bombshell is Armada because he possesses the ability to clone himself. That is the reason for how it is possible for Cyclonus to have a TRUE armada to lead.
    The Armada is made up of Bombshell and his clones.
    And there you have it. The answer has ALWAYS been given by Ron Friedman himself. The animation does NOT contradict what he wrote in his TF: The Movie script. EVERYTHING fits. What makes me sad is the lost story possibilities where it is ACKNOWLEDGED that Scourge remembers that he STILL has the powerchip rectifier that grants him the ability to create sonic booms and that Cyclonus remembers that he STILL has the powerchip rectifier that grants him the ability of teleportation. I rest my case.

  12. Lone Wolf McQueen says:

    Bombshell became Cyclonus. He was in the fore-ground and it was labeled as such by the animators in their storyboard for this exact sequence.

    Skywarp after becoming “Armada” quite simply disappeared afterwards never to be seen or mentioned again due to the film’s notorious animation errors. Anything else is simply wishful thinking on the fans who take priority-preference over The Seekers over the Insecticons.

    And, also the truly saddest aspect of this post is that I am 38 years old as I am typing this… AND YOU ARE TOO! :(

  13. Disgruntly says:

    I love how he takes credit for creating Unicron and the G.I. Joe characters when they were all basically retooled Marvel characters… He just threw Galactus into the Transformers universe. G.I. Joe’s team and enemies are parallel to S.H.I.E.L.D. and HYDRA. I’m sure this was not his idea. I love TF: The Movie, but come on. Give credit where it’s due.

  14. Wyckid says:

    I love how he takes credit for creating Unicron and the G.I. Joe characters when they were all basically retooled Marvel characters… He just threw Galactus into the Transformers universe. G.I. Joe’s team and enemies are parallel to S.H.I.E.L.D. and HYDRA. I’m sure this was not his idea. I love TF: The Movie, but come on. Give credit where it’s due.

  15. Flash Gordon says:

    “The Transformers: The Movie” (1986) has its origins in Flash Gordon vs. Emperor Ming. Trust me on this one…

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