The Art of Random Willy-Nillyness: Star Wars Rebels' Rebel Producer- an interview with Dave Filoni!
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Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Star Wars Rebels' Rebel Producer- an interview with Dave Filoni!

Disclosure: I attended the #Rogueoneevent and my expenses: flight, accommodations, transportation and some meals were be covered by Disney. All opinions, however, are always 100% mine.

This is the second time I had the pleasure of interviewing Dave Filoni. Dave is the Executive Producer of Star Wars Rebels an animated show that airs on Disney XD.

I interviewed a few years ago when the show first came out. What struck me about Dave is that he is really cool. He is also very passionate about Star Wars Rebels. If you haven't seen Star Wars Rebels, you should. I know you are thinking that it's a show for kids. But it's not. It's a show for everyone. The best part is that it is all part of the Star Wars World.

On our press junket, we were able to watch a few episodes of Star Wars Rebels again. The reason is that Saw Gererra, a character in Rogue One, is also in Star Wars Rebels. Like I said Star Wars Rebels is part of the Star Wars Universe and all the movies and shows are interconnected.

In our interview, Dave talks about that and how he deals with being part of the universe and his place in it. He also spoke about his relationship with George Lucas! It is a great interview!!

Dave Filoni: Thanks for having me here, I appreciate it – thanks for watching the episode. And I know with all these big movies coming out, we still have our TV series. But it’s neat when we can have things kind of coexist, which is really fun. It continues the adventure for kids once they leave the theater.

Q: How does that process work to make sure you're staying the same?

Dave: It’s not that difficult, it’s just all one big story. And you’d never really think in terms of this piece is a movie, And this piece is a book, And this piece is a TV series… Because you just know these characters. I know Saw, because I helped introduced the character of Saw.

My office is right next to Kiri Hart of the Story Group. And we talk all the time, and ask questions. It’s really just like any good storytelling.

It’s a bunch of people having discussions and talking about the things they like, things they don’t like. Getting different opinions, and then, I always feel strongly about them going off and making their choices. I did Saw for the part that I had to do him. And CLONE WARS set him up and, but I was excited that anybody could see where that went. If anything, you're more involved and that has huge pluses because you get to see it. But at the same time it’s like you've seen it and you've read it.

And then you work on it. You keep trying to find, as a fan, little pockets of STARS WARS that you don’t know. Which are almost treasured for me at this point. I would be lying if I told you it’s not really fun, even 12 years later.

Q: Do you take more joy into kind of creating your own storyline? Or do you really look forward to those points and those parts when you can kind of tie into the existing storyline?

Dave: I never really have a huge feeling about tying in. A good story didn’t need me, they hunt me. The STARS WARS universe was great before I got there, it’ll be great long after I’m gone. And that's just how I feel about this, it’s not my story. I’m privileged to be in a position where I get to add to it. I’m very grateful for that. But when I look at the work we’ve done in animation especially, and the characters that we’ve added with Captain Rex, we had Chopper and Ezra, Sabine and Kanan and Hera, is, adding those characters can give us dimension in ways that the franchise didn’t have before. Especially when you get to female characters. The interest has always been there.
I think it’s telling the stories that’s been long overdue. And so we’ve been telling the stories and adding dimension to these characters. That’s the great part. And it’s fun when you have a tie-in but I like it when it’s more of a wink. It’s not something that was ever missing, if it was important, they would have done it. I’ve always kinda looked at it that way. I learned a lot of that from my years of working with George [Lucas]. It’s fun to do, but you have to be careful that don't overdo it, that your fandom doesn't get in the way of telling a good story.

Q : Talk a little bit about bringing Forest Whitaker on.

Dave: It was a huge benefit to us. Anytime that you have an attitude about the characters. If the person that originates the role, especially on screen, we want as much continuity for the audience as possible.

Q: And you know exactly who it is [Saw Gerrera].

Dave: Thank you so much. He [Forest Whitaker]is a very big STAR WARS fan and a lot of these actors do as much because of the opportunity, because they love it.

And when they say the character’s going to continue, they absolutely would like to continue being the character. They don’t really care what form it’s in. It’s always exciting when we have people come and maintain their character. You have great continuity. They're always incredibly gracious and super fun to work with. It might not be the last one you see in that regard, on REBELS, afraid of a spoiler. But I can say that. Don’t want to get in trouble.

[Forest] was fantastic, it’s one of the secrets to, when you're a very good director, you just have a really great actor. He doesn’t need a lot of advice. I just [have to] put him into place and tell him what’s going on. And he’s just fantastic.

It was great to work with him and it’s added to a long list of incredibly wonderful performances that we’ve had in STARS WARS across the board. Not just on REBELS. But across the board. I just love that they want to do it, is my favorite thing.

Q: You did a great job of creating parent and kid-friendly animated features. How hard is it to balance that?

Dave: It is a goal of mine. Because I feel very strongly. When I talked to George he would always say he created STAR WARS for kids. That was the big thing. When I was a kid it was a great thing because my parents liked it. It’s not that they didn’t like everything else but they were very big into opera, very big into the symphony, very big into those types of stories. There is a great relationship between those stories and what STARS WARS presented. It wasn’t talking down [to us].

And there were a lot of things to talk about, as a family. And characters that we could relate to. I think especially in the beginning, a lot of fans would say “Dave, why are you making REBELS for kids?” Because that’s such a perplexing question to me. I would say to them well, when did you first watch STAR WARS? When I was six, and it was the greatest experience I ever had. And I’m like, okay. My whole goal is never to take that experience away from kids. [It] is to involve everybody in it, to make it a place where the best compliment we can give for the series is that it's something that the family watches together.

I’ve had that, parents tell me they watch it with their kids. There are some challenging things we get too, especially when you deal with the Jedi. Things get dark at times. But you always have to monitor that. It’s like fairy tales have frightening moments in them. Otherwise when you shine bright and things are good all the time, it doesn’t shine as well. I was raised reading Tolkien, THE HOBBIT and things of that nature. C.S. Lewis and there are scary parts in those books.

You want kids to be afraid of the bad guys, because they're evil. And they recognize that. I always think of those stories I had as a kid and those relationships I had. I try to make something that’s not as much for myself but for my younger self. But my older self will still watch it and be like, that’s cool. It’s a delicate balance. Because I see honestly, in today’s world, I see like a danger in a lot of the fans that have grown up. You kind of have a generation of filmmakers now, they're all fans. More than you ever had before.

And they're very vocal about being fans. Which is great. It’s great because they have the understanding of why the material is important. But there’s a danger of trying to take the material and accidentally change it into being for them now. Their 40-year-old self. And you see that kind of in a lot of different franchises out there, that things get darker. And you [think] that’s not what I remember I liked as a kid. But there’s that impulse to say but now I would do this. And wouldn't that be cool?

But you just always have to remember, STAR WARS is [about] a boy and a girl in a galaxy. Which is the big opening of the door, and a wonderful thing. And a magic thing. And the adventure. I just try to maintain that.

Q: I just want to know what it was like to work with George. It must have been cool.

Dave: It’s fantastic. It’s the greatest education I could have asked for, in what I do. It was like going to film school on a daily basis with George Lucas. He is incredibly knowledgeable, he’s incredibly patient. I had to earn that relationship, I had to earn the things I got to do. The challenge in CLONE WARS was to learn how to do this his way. Show him that we could do it as a group.
And then he would let go of it more and more, which he absolutely did as we went on with the series. But it was very challenging, he absolutely knows what he’s doing. If I left the tiniest shot a couple frames long, he would watch it, and I’d be, I see. You must have the experience. You’ll never notice as many mistakes as you have made until you are sitting next to the person you need to show it to. We’d edit an episode all over and over and over again. He’d come and sit down with my editor and [I would say} why didn’t we fix that?

It was a great experience and I wouldn't trade it for anything. Everything that he taught me I recall, I wrote down. I keep teaching that to people today, no matter who it is, that I come across in the story of STAR WARS saga. I’ve added my own ingredients to what I do. But I always try to approach it from that perspective that I have. And that’s why I’m not trying to make my version of STAR WARS. Though as the years go on, I suppose that’s inevitable. But I’m trying to remain true to the point of view that he had, that he wanted for these characters he thinks because it’s not mine. Like I’ve said before, I’m just a part of it. But I have a job to maintain the integrity of this thing, to keep it special. As special as it was for me growing up. That’s the way I see the goal. And hopefully we have achieved that. I’m so far very pleased with REBELS and how it’s evolved. And I think that by the end, it’ll be something that fits nicely in the STAR WARS galaxy.

Q: What is one of the big things that George taught you.

Dave: There are so many things. Mainly it was editorial, how to look at the story, how to cut the story, how to move things. I torment everybody with it. And the script in that sense is just a beginning point. It’s not ever per word. So, the scripts that will always go the easiest for me are the ones that I write ahead of time because I know how I’m going to shoot it the whole time. There’s how you write something, and there is how it needs to be shot.
And those things can conflict and then you see the lines need to change and you don’t have all these sets [etc.]. He just taught me to be incredibly flexible with the opportunities that are on hand. And when you see something, to go for it. And it's better to attempt to do something great than to just stay safe. He will push. We would look at some stuff we were doing, and he would say, “You know, we’re right on the edge at this time, this is either really gonna work, or people are gonna hate it. But we’re gonna go for making this great.”

He used to say, “Dare to be great.” Which is something I always say to my team, and it seems simple, right? Of course, everybody thinks that when they start out. But it’s amazing how many times you pull yourself up or you hold back or you get afraid. And in STAR WARS as with everything, fear is the root of everything that is failure and jealousy and greed and evil. My real education, is in The Force. That was the biggest education.

Q: How far out do you work?

Dave: I’m so far ahead now, frighteningly far ahead. It’s not as far ahead as when we worked on CLONE WARS. CLONE WARS, we would practically work at three seasons simultaneously. I had a season that was being aired and color corrected. I’d had a season that was still in animation. And I had a story, meaning shooting it. And then I had a season that was development. This is a little more like two. One is usually coming to an end and another one is well on its way.

Q: What comes first, the actual animation part or the voices?

Dave: We do a funny thing. We do a story reel that’s a shot proxy, the little limited shapes and objects of the characters but it’s very clear what’s going on. We record that with the temp actors right here on our floor of Lucasfilm. It’s horrible temp voices. And that fact goes all the way back to CLONE WARS. Because we developed that technique because George and I would change what was happening in story and the dialogue so much, there was no point in bringing in the actors to record them. Because you’d have to re-record them.

And I want them to react, so we develop it with all those kind of templates but if it works with these people it will work great with real actors. I can’t even tell you. People fall in love with the temp, and I go, don’t fall in love with the temp. It’s all temp. And then we’ll record the voice actors. And what’s great about that is that pretty much by the time I see them I’ve shot the whole thing. I know how it all fits together and I have a really tight script by that point. We’ll do a final revision of all the lines, not all but the ones that need work.

Then when I sit with them, I’ll be able to explain everything, the physicality, the depth, everything that’s going on. Because we have to get some very emotional places. I try to suspend the actors so that they're only ever in the moment that’s happening. They don’t know really what’s going to happen. Unless it’s something that’s really intense and then like I’ll take them aside and I’ll say, okay, you need to prepare for the next three weeks. We’re going to do this story. I’m going to give you the broad generalization of it. I want them to be able to prepare their mind for getting to an emotional place. Tiya [Sicar] had to do some very intense things that revolved around Sabine’s family. I wanted to talk with her well in advance of what that was because she didn’t know that she had all this information. When we nailed down the story, it was like okay, so this is who your parents are and this is what’s going on and this is why you're not with them. She had to get a download of all that, and this is how you feel about it. Then we would discuss it in case she had thoughts about it. This is a very important relationship between the director and the actor. It’s a tremendous amount of trust in that relationship. And you have a responsibility to them to keep them and to let them realize where they are in the story.

There were some things we were doing just this week that only one of them could know about. Because the others weren’t present. I want them to kind of react to that as they hear it. It’s really fun, they are a fantastic cast. I couldn’t ask for better. We did a killer job getting them. I’m really pleased with them.

Q: Will we see Klick Klack again?

Dave: Boy, if you want me to be honest, highly unlikely. The bug is so creepy. And then he wins you over, right?

GROUP: YEAH!!!!!!!!!!!

Dave: Well, I will tell you a couple different things that I had jokes, when we were doing the sound. Because the sound design of these episodes, I thought was a very, just really fantastic. The sound is dynamic, the whole new level, the music added a whole level to the story. But one of the things I joke about is [when] Klick Klack lifts up that rock.

I wanted to hear like there is some kind of bug rave going and there’s colors, lights. We had discussed at different points whether or not there would be other Geonosians in that shot. We decided to leave it more open. Honestly, we tell so many stories now. If you're responsive to anything like the Geonosians I’m sure there’ll be like a comic book or a novel. About Klick Klack.

So I’ll be sitting at a meeting somewhere and they'll be, what happened to him. My wife loved the Zillo Beast from CLONE WARS. She loved that thing. And she’s like, what happened to him? I’m like, Annie, I don't know. He died. It just really hasn’t come up. So, but that’s good to know. I mean, it’s good to know you liked him. The actors hated saying Klick Klack. It is a rough thing to say. Klick Klack.

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