Yesterday I had the pleasure of sharing the very exciting news that Robert Dodrill has kicked off the Kickstarter campaign for Turpin: Terrible Toys, the upcoming DC Comics inspired fan film. Set against the backdrop of a pre-Superman Metropolis, Detective Dan “Terrible” Turpin sets out to hunt down a serial killer known as “Toyman”. Using toys as weapons, he’s targeting a local crime syndicate known as Intergang.
However today I’m looking to provide you with a whole new level of insight into the fan film as I had the great pleasure of interviewing Robert Dodrill, the Writer & Director responsible for bringing Turpin: Terrible Toys to life.
On Kickstarter you mentioned that you got into comic books when you were little, about how old were you? What was it then and now that has managed to keep you reading them?
I read them sporadically as a kid. Mostly what we could afford, a lot probably weren’t the best comics because there was a lot of bargain bin ones. The Toyman comic I had was likely one of those. I had a Captain America vs the Smog Monster or something like that I got from my dentist for free once. I was able to keep up enough for awhile to know what was going generally. Most of the time I would buy Superman, but I would also get really random ones. I used to pick up Elvis comics and a few Married With Children ones. Not exactly sure why. I actually still have my Elvis comics believe it or not. I think though that comics have that otherworldly fantasy appeal. I love that sense of adventure they bring especially when they dip into the realm of sci-fi. Of course Elvis didn’t really get into sci-fi that much.
What is it about Superman that you’ve loved as a character all these years? How does that translate into the decision to write and direct a fan film set within the DC Comics Universe?
Before I read any comics, the first movie I ever saw, or at least remember seeing, was Superman 78 with Christopher Reeve. The tag line was dead on, I believed a man could fly. There’s something about Superman being that purely good person that I just looked up to. Christopher Reeve was a role model and father figure to me growing up. A lot of people talk about Superman being a bad character because we can’t relate to him. But I always look at it like we shouldn’t necessarily relate to him on his level but rather he is a someone we should strive to be like. A greatness for humanity to work toward. It’s like the Marlon Brando line, “They can be a great people, Kal-El, they wish to be. They only lack the light to show the way. For this reason above all, their capacity for good, I have sent them you, my only son.” For these reasons to me, personally Superman has always been one of the most interesting characters, and to be able to play in that world with my own ideas is something that would be great!
Before you actually began working on Turpin: Terrible Toys, how long had you been kicking around the idea? Was there ever any hesitation as to whether or not you were going to make the film?
I probably had the idea for a year or so before I jumped in to it. I actually somewhat abandoned it for awhile because I wasn’t quite sure how to approach it. At one point I was working on a Captain Marvel (Shazam) short. I knew I wanted to tackle a fan film, but I also wanted to do something different and once a real Shazam was announced I went back to Turpin. But at that point it was still pretty different.
When you originally sat down to begin writing the story for the film, how did you originally see it playing out with Superman and Detective Dan Turpin? What were your initial thoughts when your friend/ producer suggested that you omit Superman from the story altogether?
At first I had a short where it still very much focused on Turpin investigating the case but Superman was along side him as well. It opened with a scene of young Clark waking up from nightmares and kind of tied in to the serial killer aspects and real world “monsters.” But I also didn’t have Superman in there too much because I knew a budget would be limited and I didn’t want to half ass the character. When Adam suggested cutting him out, I felt like there was no way I could let the character go, but when I stepped back from the story I realized Superman was a deus ex machina for the end. If the character doesn’t serve the story, it’s not worth keeping them. Even if it is Superman.
Once it became clear that you were going to be moving forward without Superman, how did that change the overall dynamic of the story? Was there a reason that you didn’t write, Turpin’s long time partner, Maggie Sawyer into the story?
It changed it very much. Before, Turpin had a lot of things handed to him by Superman and in the end it was all resolved by Superman swooping in and saving the day. Which actually is what Turpin disliked about Superman in the animated series. He would just swoop in after all the hard work by the police and get all the credit. Taking him out made it much more of a detective story than a superhero film, which is really what I wanted. But at the same time it gave me the opportunity to explore reasons why Turpin feels the way he does toward super powered beings and vigilantes. I considered Maggie Sawyer in it more, but I think I looked at this as some what of a Turpin origin, in a sense. This is even before Special Crimes Unit is formed. Though that’s not to say Maggie Sawyer isn’t around. I think fans of Maggie won’t be disappointed.
What is it about Toyman that has appealed to you as a character? As we know Toyman is a legacy character within the history of DC Comics, which identity did you ultimately choose for the character in the film and how did that decision impact the film?
Toyman was just always creepy and I’ve never seen a really good take on him in live action. By far the best incarnation of the character is from Superman The Animated Series. To me that has the best back story for the character, which is primarily the story that I’ve adapted for the short with his history with Bruno Mannheim. So I mixed that connection with other stories of Turpin’s troubles with Mannheim.
You’ve said that one of the very first comic books you ever owned was Superman # 84 entitles “The Toyman Plays For Keeps”, would this make for an accurate tagline for the film? If you had to write an original tagline, what would it be?
Yeah it would! Definitely. If I had to write an original it would be Turpin: Terrible Toys – To the Toybox. That way I could abbreviate it as T:TT-TTT. Although I have a feeling one or two people on the internet would think that’s stupid.
On the Kickstarter you made it clear that this is going to be a short film, do you have a target timeframe in mind? You’ve also said “if all turns out well can possibly be used as promotion for an ongoing series”, are you looking to expand upon film to create an episodic web series?
Yeah the goal is by the end of the year. If the Kickstarter isn’t successful it won’t kill things but will delay a bit. So late 2015 or early early 2016 is the goal. It’s definitely set as a stand alone, but at the same time I tried to approach it as a potential pilot that I could pitch if given the opportunity. I start the ball rolling on what a series with these characters would be about, which I don’t mind revealing would start moving toward a new gods storyline. Being inspired by the animated series, anyone who is familiar with Mannheim and Intergang knows where that leads, and anyone who has read New Gods knows Turpin’s involvement with a certain villain’s henchmen. So it would be a series that would probably start out detective story but would evolve more and more toward a sci fi show. All the while you have this grounded powerless detective in the middle of it all.
If you make the decision that you’ll be taking Turpin: Terrible Toys and expanding it into a series, do you have any reservations with it being compared to Fox’s hit series Gotham? How do you feel they’re handling the delicate tightrope walk between procedural cop show and the rich history that is contained within Gotham City? Is there anything you would do differently?
Not really. At first maybe, but there are tons of cop shows on TV. Not that I want to be just another cop show. Turpin would likely evolve into something very different. And it’s no secret that Turpin is eventually killed. If I took on a series I would probably still build toward that. Though what would it do for a series to kill off its main character? Maybe Orion or Mister Miracle would take over. There are tons of interesting characters in that world you could play with. I think it would be very exciting! Are these spoilers? Maybe I shouldn’t say more in case WB actually gives me a series, haha!
As far as Gotham, I love the show actually, I think it’s great. I don’t mind them changing things because it’s definitely a different take on the characters. I have yet to find anyone that agrees with me but I wouldn’t mind seeing Alfred and Bruce going out at least once, in masks, to fight crime. Giving almost the foreshadow of the Batman and Robin dynamic that Bruce takes on later in life.
Aside from Toyman, who would be the top 5 villains that you’d want Detective Turpin to cross paths with? Why would you bring in those specific characters?
Well Rudy Jones is also in the short, pre Parasite though. I would like to see them meet again after he transforms just because of the history with this story.
I definitely would love to see the Turpin vs Kalibak fight. That’s a pretty big part of his character gaining respect among super powered beings in the comic.
Lex Luthor could be a cool. Turpin and Mannheim have their dynamic and Intergang, but they’re still low level compared to Luthor. Kind of the detective vs powerful politician type thing.
Without giving anything away there are some Gotham elements mentioned, so Turpin making his way to Gotham could be interesting. He’s all about preventing the Gotham freak villains from spilling over to Metropolis so perhaps Gotham as a symbol is somewhat of a villain to him.
And obviously not a villain but would love for him to cross paths with Superman to build that relationship.
Considering you originally set out to create a Superman story, would you ever toy with the idea of introducing him to Metropolis? If so, would he be a primary or secondary character within the storyline?
If I was just doing single shorts I would probably introduce him just to be able to play with that relationship. If I actually got lucky and went to series I don’t think he would ever be there, simply because that story is so different and doesn’t really involve him. Along with the more realistic reason that his character is mostly relegated to movies only in the official canon. So he would likely be off limits. So there’s that bit of me that dreams of what I would like, but then I also want to approach it from a side that I think could be the most appealing to the people in power.
If you had to choose…
Favorite Superman storyline?
I would have to go with Red Son. I love how different it is. Alternate timeline stories always peak my interest. Though Birthright was really cool and I also like Geoff Johns Brainiac.
DC Comics or Marvel?
DC all the way if I had to choose. But I like Marvel’s movies too. Not a hater. I distribute my hard earned paycheck amongst the movie studios equally. And the old cartoons from Marvel on Fox X-Men, Silver Surfer, Spider-Man. Those were great. I never got much into Marvel comics though, aside from Captain America vs the smog monster that I mentioned earlier. I do think the upcoming DC Cinematic universe is going to be a game changer!
Favorite comic book related animated series?
Going to go a little out of left field here and say Dragonball Z. Grew up watching that show. Loved it, still do. Favorite character is Vegeta by the way.
Favorite comic book related animated feature film?
I really liked Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox. Probably again with the alternate timeline dealings. A movie about Bruce’s dad being batman and his mom being Joker would be kickass.
Favorite comic book related live action feature film?
I’ll tell you what it isn’t. Dragonball: Evolution. Fox f’d that up. Fantastic Four is better than that mess. But I don’t want to get in to that rant…
Superman 78 is probably my favorite. I feel like Man of Steel and what they are doing now are the closest to capturing what Superman can do, and representing him as close to the comics as we’ve ever seen. I love all of it! But the Christopher Reeve Superman will always have a special place in my heart. It remains among my top favorites of all time of any genre.
Favorite comic book related series on TV?
Flash. That show is fantastic. Daredevil was also badass. Vincent D’Onofrio’s Kingpin is my favorite Marvel villain. Favorite DC live action villain, for the books, Harisson Wells.
Favorite current comic book series?
My friend turned me on to The Wake. I haven’t kept up with it as much as I’d like or much reading in general lately. But so far its been really cool.
Favorite video game of all time?
Metal Gear Solid PS One
There are always going to be limitations and roadblocks that we encounter during indie filmmaking, was there anything you would’ve loved to accomplish but couldn’t as a result? Was there anything that was unexpectedly accomplished despite the limitations?
I had an idea for a feature comedy I wanted to do many years ago. At the time I was still new to really trying to start being serious at filmmaking. This is probably nearly 8 years ago. I won an award for the script and said, “i should have this done by next year.” Well, that never happened. No where close. At the time I had done maybe two short films and had no clue how to put things together for a feature. I was young and naive. I considered breaking the script down and making a cheap short, but decided not to. Instead I decided to continue doing shorts and try to develop my talents further before diving into a feature. At one point I let life get in the way a bit more than I would have liked and there was a long period of little to no productivity. But over the last couple years I’ve made good strides toward regaining the momentum when I first started, and I think I’m back on track. I still have plans for that comedy and I’ve held on to it as a promise that I will reach the point where I’m confident in my skills and feel I’ve developed a voice enough to tackle a feature. I want that film to be my first and now I’m confident enough to know it’s coming down the pipeline soon.
What advice would you give anyone in pursuing their dream of indie filmmaking? Better yet, what would you tell someone that has been putting off their dreams because of one concern or another?
You just have to take the leap. Find an evening or weekend to shoot something simple. Do you have times you are just watching TV or playing video games? Take one of those days, or more, and dedicate to making a movie. I’ve never had much money. Because of this I’ve never been able to make any big budget projects, but as a result I’ve tried to hone my skills enough to be able to know how to make things look good for little to no money. If you don’t have money to buy cameras and lighting, and all that, don’t let it stop you. Use your cell phone, or if you can afford a cheap camcorder from best buy use that. My first real short was shot on a consumer level mini dv cam. Consumer level cameras today will blow that quality out of the water. My projects as a kid were on vhs, with everything edited in camera. Go to the library and check out books on cinematography and learn how to move the camera and framing and composition. Even if you don’t have the highest quality you can fake it with the right. Most importantly though, start simple. Very few characters, one or two locations tops. If it’s simple you can spend more time refining all the details. You don’t want to be overwhelmed starting out, because you might get discouraged. Build your skills with each short focusing on what you want to improve next. Get more complex with your projects as you grow.
If you haven’t yet made it over to the Kickstarter page for Turpin: Terrible Toys, please check it out… Remember showing your support doesn’t always mean contributing financially, sometimes the best thing you can do is to take to your social media accounts and share the info with your friends/ followers… the more eyes on it, the better.
I’d like to take this moment to thank Robert for all of his time, I definitely look forward to staying in touch with him and getting updates on the progress of the film and what’s next. We’ll continue to roll out updates as they come down the pipeline.
As always, if there are any burning questions that you’d love to have answered please let me know in the comments below and I’ll do everything I can to get them answered for you…