‘Turtle Power’ Makes History By Writing It: An Interview with the Director of the ‘TMNT’ Documentary

Sophia Ritchie ‘16 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

Since it’s creation as a pulpy, black and white comic by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird in 1984, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has been a permanent pop culture fixture.  The comics became cartoons, then toys, then films, lasting 30 years with no sign of slowing down (despite Michael Bay’s recent attempt at destroying the entire franchise with his 2014 reboot.)

In those three decades of growth, TMNT had gathered a wide web of starpower and public affection, with a fanbase ranging from young children enjoying today’s Nickelodeon cartoon version, as well as adults who remember picking up the original Mirage comic in the 80s.  In that time, the Turtles themselves might have been a phenomenon, but they lacked a definitive history.  No one had yet attempted, in grand scale, to document the true magnitude of the Turtles and what they had accomplished amongst fans.

Turtle Power changed all that.

Made by Randall Lobb, Isaac Elliot-Fisher, and Mark Hussey, Turtle Power: The Definitive History of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles traces the turtles back to their very inception in the collision of creators Eastman and Laird, and continues on through every stage of their growth.  Five years of effort resulted in a well-loved, detailed view of the series, made by fans, for fans.  Content included videos from original meetings of the Mirage comics staff, interviews with both fans and famous stars involved in the story of the Turtles (like filmmaker Brian Henson, son of Jim Henson, as well as comedian Michael Ian Black and the entire voice cast of the 1987 cartoon series) and anecdotes from the people closest to the franchise.

Emertainment Monthly asked Director/Writer Randall Lobb to share his some of his story of the five years taken to produce the documentary.

Tell us a little about the process of making this documentary.

Randall Lobb: The process was starting small, thinking that we were going to make a fan based documentary, for the fans.  It would be low-scale.  We’d look at fans, look at fan collections, look at things that are of interest to fans and sell them to a specific group of people who are on message boards, Isaac Elliot Fisher was already a part of that culture, so he knew that world, he knew those fans, that culture, so great, we’d start there.

But then as it went on, we began to see that we were a) spending more money and more time, and b) talking to people who were contributing a great deal of value: Brian Henson, getting the voice cast back together, spending so much time with Kevin Eastman.  [Eastman] was giving us much more than just his time, he’s hanging out with us.  And then Peter Laird, “Oh, by the way, here are my archives and some videos I shot,” and then Kevin, “Oh, here are my archives.”  Eventually, you realize you have a responsibility to use all this material.  Your responsibility becomes bigger than your own interest in your documentary.  You take on this historical record.  Like I said in other interviews, we felt like we became a part of the turtle world, part of the history of it.  That may sound self-serving, that’s not my intention, but it’s straight up that we were inside the [turtle’s] mirror, looking out.

This documentary took basically five years out of your life.  Where did that dedication come from?  What about the Turtles pushed you to finish?

Once you get started, you have to push forward and finish it.  You put in so much money and time, you sacrifice family, other hobbies and interests.  You can’t go back.  You have to see it through.  In spite of the fact that, at times, it’s full of obstacles.  You think, how can I do this?  But you have to push forward.  You have to finish it.  So I would say we were driven to get to the end of the road, you have to finish.

Just by looking at the people you got to work with, Michael Ian Black, Brian Henson, James Avery, not to mention the numerous fans you got to interview…the Turtles brought all these people together.  What about TMNT makes all these millions of people gravitate towards it?

There is a rich well of archetypes [in the world], and stories.  You’ve got a cross-cultural, almost unconscious stream of things that people like automatically.  Just as Star Wars has it’s own story, the Turtles have their own story.  It’s a zero story, a story that’s proto, and we love that.  You have the teenagers, the family, the sibling rivalry, the wise master, the trickster, the disciplined one.  We have all this turmoil within our psychology, and it’s being externalized through these anthropomorphic animals, which has always been a safety valve of sorts for all human feelings.  Everything is in this safe place, that we get to insert out feelings and thoughts into.

And what about it being funny, right on top of all that?  It’s always been entertaining.  It’s cathartic, it’s powerful, and meaningful, and it’s funny.  That sounds like a good mix.

Where do you see the franchise going in the future?

The Oculus Rift.  Wouldn’t you want to be a turtle, down the road?  The future of entertainment would have you be inside a turtle, doing some crazy parkour…and fly through the city, and that would be awesome.

I would expect the turtles to last well into the next iteration of entertainment.

Turtle Power is available on Netflix and on DVD.

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