Interviews: Ian Weir (2/98)
1. What biographical information can you provide us?
Well, I was born in the States (Durham, N.C.) but have lived almost all my life in Canada, most of it in British Columbia. Started off in journalism right out of high school, then went to university - B.A. in English from UBC, and an M.A. in Medieval literature from the University of London - and worked my way into a career as a playwright/screenwriter. Basically, I've been writing full-time for 11 or 12 years, now. In terms of personal life, it's a house in the suburbs - my wife and I have three kids, and Walter the Wonder Dog.
2. Please tell us how you began your career in writing.
In a curious way, I almost have to ask "which career do you mean?" I started writing a weekly humor column for my home-town newspaper (Kamloops, B.C.) back in high school - that led later on to a four-year stint as a reporter, first in Kamloops and later in Ottawa. When I was a 2-year-old first-year university student, I sold a radio play to the CBC, and that led to several years in which I was a student by day and radio playwright bynight (so to speak). After that, I shifted into writing stage plays, which was actually my first love, and a few years later fell sideways into writing for TV. (I was asked to write a TV drama for a CBC anthology series, and things kind of developed from there. I discovered I was pretty good at writing for TV, and also that it paid wayyyyyy more money than writing for stage or radio. Plus, I really enjoyed the work I was doing.)
3. What projects have you worked on in the past?
At last count, I'd written about 80 scripts for 10 or 12 different TV series. Most of them have been Canadian-based - shows like "Northwood," "Beachcombers," and latterly "Cold Squad," which is a one-hour police drama about the unit within the Homicide department that investigates unsolved murders. As far as series that have aired in the U.S., I've written for "PSI Factor," "Flash Forward" and "Fifteen" (the latter being a long-running teen-soap on Nickelodeon, for which I also served as Executive Story Editor). Otherwise, I've just finished co-writing a TV movie for CBC, centering on a group of Parole Officers.
3. How were you commissioned to write "Possession?"
"Possession" was the second (of three) scripts I've written for "Beast Wars," to date. The first one was "Dark Designs," and quite frankly I got the gig in significant part because they needed a couple of Canadian writers. But it went really well - I loved the show, and the producers were happy with my work - and so Bob Forward, one of the two series Story Editors, asked me to pitch another idea to him. I came up with three, one of them being a loosely-defined idea about one of the Maximals reverting to an atavistic program and taking on the identity of an ancient Autobot warrior. Bob e-mailed back to me to say that he'd been noodling a similar idea, except that it involved one of the Predacons being taken over by the unextinguished Spark of an ancient Decepticon, namely Starscream. So we e-mailed back and forth a little, and the story idea evolved from there.
4. Did you have any prior experience or knowledge of the 'Transformers'before working on Beast Wars?
Almost none at all! I'm old enough that I wasn't watching Saturday morning TV when the original series was running - and I didn't have any kids at the time to draw me into it either. So when the initial offer to write for the series was made, I hastily trotted up to the video store to rent a bunch of TF episodes.
5. The story of "Possession" changed significantly between the first draft and the final episode. What were the main differences?
Actually, the major changes came at outline stage. Originally, I was pitching quite a complex story, which involved wheels-within-wheels deceptions and triple-crosses, etc. Hasbro felt it was just too complicated to fly, so Bob Forward - who is a totally superior story editor - took matters in hand and suggested a way to streamline it substantially. He redid the pitch such that the story unfolded in three clear stages - Starscream returns, takes over Waspinator and offers to "help" Megatron defeat the Maximals; having done so, he turns on Megatron and blackmails the Maximals into helping him; Optimus concocts a ruse that turns the tables on Starscream and leads to his destruction. After this, I was off and running.
6. What research did you do to write one of the Transformers' most memorable characters (namely Starscream)?
That's kind of a funny story, actually. I had absolutely no idea who Starscream was when Bob Forward told me to use him - and Bob confessed that he wasn't really an expert on the old TF episodes either. But, he said, there are guys out there on the Web whose knowledge is absolutely encyclopedic, and he pointed me in Ben Yee's direction. (Am I allowed to plug the designer of this Web-site? I hope so, because I'm about to doit!) Ben got back to me in less than an hour with an absolute wealth of info on Starscream and the original series in general, and followed up by answering a whole bunch of specific questions as I worked on refining the plotline. I quite honestly could never have written the episode without his help, for which I am hugely grateful! (I also solicited some back-up information from my 17-year-old step-son, Andrew. It turns out that, in the years before we knew each other, Andrew was a big TF fan - he remembered Starscream from the original series, and helped fill
8. How did you find your experience working with Mainframe on "Possession."?
Excellent. They're great people to work with - creative, efficient and cool.
9. What was it like killing off one of the main Beast Wars Transformers characters in "Code of Hero"? Is it difficult to write such a story?
I have to admit it - when I was writing the heroic-death speech, I actually got a little choked up. I felt a little silly about that, but promptly felt better when Bob Forward confessed that he got choked up while reading it! To my mind, however, that little anecdote points to one of the huge strengths of the series - Bob and Larry have managed to create robot-characters who feel completely real to us; they're three-dimensional people whom we genuinely get emotionally involved with.
10. Is writing for a CGI-based cartoon different than writing for other types of television shows?
Well, sort of, in a way - but then again, not really. Given the expense involved in the CGI process, you have to be really careful not to overwrite, more so than is the case in other types of shows. (If a live-action script runs a couple of minutes long, it's no big deal. If a CGI script runs long, money quickly starts spiralling down the drain.) But as I alluded to above, I honestly think one of the keys to dramatic writing is to approach all of it in the same fundamental way - try to root your writing in the integrity of the characters, and go from there.
11. Would you be willing to write for a Transformers series again?