Kevin Eastman - Co-creator of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles / Director of "Heavy Metal 2000"
On the phone with David Lee Wilson - April 2000
It is the typical American success story; boy spends hours daydreaming about turtles with super human strength, draws some doodles, shows them to Mom and Pop and proclaims "Hey guys, I am going to be a comic book artist!" Mom pats boy on head but secretly despairs over son's choice of career tract, Dad says, "Like Hell you are!" Boy makes obscene fortune drawing The Turtles, just as he said he would, retires Mom and Dad to comfortable life and all is forgiven. Boy goes on to marry 6'1" Amazonian goddess, and together they become even more obscenely rich and spend what spare time they have collecting trinkets like the Batmobile from the first Michael Keaton movie, typical story, right? Actually, the only thing typical about Kevin Eastman is his distinctly American entrepreneurial spirit. Once Kevin has accepted a project in to his heart and mind there is nothing that will stop its success. The man is a true artist and never stops creating and in this he has found his soul mate and wife, Julie Strain, the "Queen of the 'B' movies." Eastman's main claim to fame was and remains the creation of The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles which in movie dollars alone accounts for over 300 million of Eastman's creative work product. The revenue from action figures, comic books and other paraphernalia is tallied by a separate army of accountants and only God and the IRS really know for sure how much everything totals but suffice it to say, the Eastman's don't need for much in a material sense.
One of Kevin's latest passions has been the care taking of the "Heavy Metal" magazine empire which he bought outright several years ago with some of that Turtle money. "Heavy Metal" has turned into another empire for Kevin who oversaw the re-release of the original animated cult classic, ""Heavy Metal": The Motion Picture" on video in 1996. This Ivan Reitman directed classic fused film and music in a way that had never been done before and rarely, if ever, since. The original movie was largely responsible for setting the music scene of the eighties on a harder rock course, Boy George and Culture Club notwithstanding. Within months of the movies release on video, sales surpassed one million with the number continuing to climb four years later whilst the public eagerly anticipates the Eastman penned sequel, "Heavy Metal: FAKK 2," currently scheduled for release summer of 2000. With the responsibility of overseeing the production of movies, books, soundtracks, video games, trading cards, comics, action figures and every other form of trinket imaginable, personal appearances, philanthropy and Keeping up with his equally as hyper-involved mate I can't figure out how it was he could squeeze in an interview but, he did, and for that I am extremely grateful. The man is an inspiration to all daydreamers.

DAVID LEE: Julie has already informed me that this is quite early for you to be up?
KEVIN EASTMAN: (Laughing) Well, usually I am up by eleven, Uh, I mean, seven.
K2K: Really?
KE: No. (laughs)
K2K: O.K. So let me hit you with the heady business stuff first, "Heavy Metal" is an established phenomena, have you felt the full weight of all that yet?
KE: Oh, man pressure like you would not believe. It is one of those things that, the first movie, for all that it is, is such a classic in so many people's minds that anything to follow that, I think, is just sure to not live up the to the legend. We put everything that we could into what we think is a pretty good story with some pretty interesting scenes and, of course, we have got Julie Strain(Kevin's wife) so how can you beat that? (laughs) So, we are hopeful that it will live up to the legend.
K2K: Beside the fact that you have the incredibly beautiful Julie Strain - the models that were used for the first movie are probably a bit saggy to
be in this one, I would think? (laughs)
KE: (Laughing) Yes, absolutely.
K2K: When the first movie came out in 1980 I was too young to see it because of the "R" rating but this movie is going to be able to get a wider audience due to the "PG" rating, or I should ask, is "PG" still the plan for this one?
KE: Columbia, for the longest time, wanted it to be a "PG" movie. We had discussed with them, at various stages of loudness, the fact that the original movie was an "R" rated movie and that, we thought, that this one should be at least an "R" rated movie. They kind of denied it throughout the whole process until we were done and they found out that we had made an "R" rated movie anyway so they said "Alright, lets take it out as an "R" rated movie" so, it will go out as an "R".
K2K: You have a lot more room for inclusion in an "R" rated movie now than you, or they I should say, did twenty years ago on the first one so how will this movie reflect that greater latitude?
KE: You are absolutely right, the rating system has changed so much so that things have gotten a little softer so I think that you can get away with more in an "R" rated movie today than you could have then but I do still think that there are some things that would set it apart. You know, there is nothing in the second movie that goes beyond the first movie at all, so, I think, that it is still pretty much in the same neighborhood.
K2K: As far as the story line, how is the story going to differ from the one that was used for the animated novel that was released last summer?
KE: The comic adaptation that Simon and I were able to do, for one thing, we were able to make it a little more graphic and a little more on the insane side. A lot of that is because of Simon's style, his style of drawing is very horrific and, I think, erotic, even if he doesn't intend it to be, it just ends up that way. It is definitely a lot edgier, the language is a lot heavier and story-wise, there were a few story plot points that we were able to include in the comic story that didn't make it into the final cut of the movie. What ended up happening was that Columbia's unwillingness to agree with the kind of story that we wanted to make, they Kept insisting that we make something like "The Fifth Element," which I had to Keep reminding them that "The Fifth Element" was based on a ""Heavy Metal"" concept from the first movie, Harry Canyon. Luke Puissant, who made "The Fifth Element," he went so far as to hire Juan Jimenz, who had designed Harry Canyon for Ivan Reitman and ""Heavy Metal"" to design "The Fifth Element." I said, "Well, it is kind of like, been there, done that and we really want to take it in another direction." I think that we did a total of twenty-three drafts before they even started doing the story boards and when you get into the story boards there are certain plot points that evolve as you are drawing. Some things you figure out will work better and some things you figure out don't work so well and story adjustments are also made then. Of course, you make additional story adjustments when you are editing to fit it in because when you are animating you have got a 120 minute movie and you have to get it down to 93 minutes so you are editing more. (laughs) It is a series of extension and butchery until you end up with something where you go "I hope we got all of the plot points in and there are no major holes."
K2K: After you have the story and you have to pass it around to all the powers that be, does it become terribly frustrating when each person along the way wants to change something?
KE: That is probably one of the most difficult parts of it, for one, you have to contend with executives that have egos that, even though they have not produced a single project, animated or otherwise, they have not seen a lot of animation or live action and have never read an issue of "Heavy Metal", they can sit in a meeting and say, "I don't think that this is '"Heavy Metal"' enough." And you go, "What the fuck are you talking about? You have no clue whatsoever but you are telling me that I need to put these certain things in because you think it makes a better story?" (laughs) I have been drawing and writing stories since 1984 and I have been reading them for ten years plus prior to that, it just boggles the mind! I think that one of the most difficult parts was were we have a German/Canadian co-production and under Canadian Law, to access the subsides that we have to have a Canadian writer and the Canadian writer has a lot of power because we need that person there even though there may be other people that do most of the writing. Basically, if this Canadian writer has certain points that he wants to have put into the story he can threaten us and end up getting stuff that is really ludicrous and stupid into the story that really shouldn't be there. Then, there are just general misunderstandings. We had a German director and a Canadian director, the German director's English was pretty good but not that good and so he may have ideas that he want's to put into the movie and even though you have already said, "That makes no sense," he animates that part anyway and when you get a finished piece of film from him it has that piece that doesn't fit and you end up saying, "We have got no time so we'll have to put it in anyway." So, it is a process of bizarre variations and getting off on the wrong exit ramps, the whole journey is pretty nutty and when you finally get there you go, "I can't believe that I am here but I am glad that I am here. Let's hope that it all holds together!" (laughs)
K2K: Did you have to get Julie to practice saying "Eh" and "Nein" in the proper accent? (laughs)
KE: I lugged her to Canada a few times in the early processes to inspire the troops and get familiar with the story, to become comfortable with it and then we kind of mutually agreed that life is too short and we really didn't need to subject her to that kind of torture anymore. (laughs) So, we stopped taking her after a while.
K2K: Do you do the conventions?
KE: Yes, uh huh.
K2K: Julie does as well, right?
KE: Yeah.
K2K: Any convention that I have ever been to where there is a scream queen or a female actress or any female at all for that matter, there will also be at least one guy in line who feels the need to spill how he has nocturnal fantasies about that person. How is for you to sit there while some guy tells you how he spends his nights twiddling to an image of your wife? (laughs)
KE: (Laughing) Oh, man, it is one of those things, I think that we all, at least I have in my life, there were certain women that you would have crushes on and dream about. Julie teases me now because I like Elizabeth Hurley. (laughs) It is one of those things where, she has so many fans that look up to her for a variety of things, fantasy or otherwise, including a lot of women. Julie says this a lot and I also believe that women fans are the hardest to earn and the most valuable to Keep. I have had a lot of heroes in my life, comic book artists, Jack Kirby, Richard Corburn, Evan Bodey, people like that, I think are inspiring and I think that she sets a great example. That, and the fact that I also sell naked pictures of my wife, I don't think that. . .
K2K: It wouldn't be surprising then?
KE: It wouldn't be surprising, no. It is an art form that we are both really comfortable with.
K2K: As far as this project is concerned is the movie going to tie in with the music any differently than the first one did?
KE: I am probably my own worst critic, any artist who is close to any work is going to be that way, but it was important to the whole crew that the music be really integrated and an important part of scenes and scenes be written around particular songs. A lot of effort was made to do that but my opinion is that it wasn't pulled off as well as the first one but there are some great scenes with some really killer music. We had some great bands where, it certainly wasn't the songs that failed, it was just, you know, inappropriate editing or scene changes and things like that cut music done for a scene a little shorter than it should have been. It is like any movie where you see eighteen songs on the soundtrack and you hear almost all of them in the movie at some point or other and some work really well and others, it is like, "Oh, we shoehorned that a little bit." Again, being so close to it I am going to have to wait and see the response to it to see if we came close to the first one or not.
K2K: Speaking strictly as a fan I have to thank you for resisting the temptation to go back and re-use the bands from the first movie and opting to use a lot younger bands instead.
KE: Well, everyone was saying, "Well, the first soundtrack was a platinum selling album when it first came out and has done 400,000 copies since it came out on CD." It is very fondly remembered and there were a lot of big hits and a lot of big bands but we tried to take the approach of being as edgy and contemporary but at the same time looking down the road. We think that it is great stuff and when people look back twenty years from now people will say "Oh that MONSTER MAGNET song was killer!"
K2K: This movie is probably something that is aging on you a bit because it has been done for a while?
KE: Oh, yeah. The thing is that the story was locked in about August of '98 and we had been working on the same story through to the delivery to Columbia in August of '99 and having seen the movie, I don't know how many times, (laughs) it is sort of a weird thing that we are already on to a variety of other projects though we are still doing things for this one. I was in New York all last week for a toy fair promoting the novelization of the movie and the various toys that are coming out related to the movie, pool cues, you know, these kinds of things that will make the collectors go wild, we hope! (laughs) So, although I feel like, "O.K. guys it is time to get on" there are still a lot of promotional things to do. It is done but still with us, kind of like a McDonalds hamburger. (laughs)
K2K: Well, that is the ""Heavy Metal"" movie but what about all the other things that you have going on, are there more "Turtle" movies and things like that?
KE: The last entertainment thing that we did with the "Turtles" was the live action series. That was 26 half hours of live action and that came out in the fall of '97 and did really, really well in the ratings through 'till May. Ultimately, they decided not to proceed with any more shows even though when he (the show's syndicator) canceled it, it was the number one show. He was making more money off of shows that he owned completely than continuing with a successful "Turtles" show so he kind of pulled the plug on that. That continued to go on and be successful around the world but as an entertainment thing, we have really gotten nothing that really excites us like a fourth movie. We have kicked around a lot of ideas like IMAX adventures and a variety of other things but it we will continue of the semi-break that the "Turtles" are taking and if it is appropriate that they come back, they will come back. Like with "Batman" with "H.R. Puffnstuff" or other things, I think that it will go even more dormant than it is now and somebody will come up and say, "Hey, I think that we should bring the 'Turtles' back, the time is right." We have had such a good time doing what we have done with the "Turtles" up until now that we will just hang in there and see what happens and when it is ready to come back it will.
K2K: So about 2010 we will have "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The DARK AVENGERS" or something?
KE: (Laughing) Yeah, we should do a "Turtles Turn Fifty" or maybe we could do "Geriatric Jujitsu Turtles" or something.
K2K: Are there any new characters that you have come up with that you are excited about?
KE: One of the funnest things that I am working on right now is, I have a new kids project called "Under Where" and it is like "Calvin & Hobbs" meets "The Wizard Of Oz." I am lucky enough o have a bunch of nieces and nephews and I have always admired their imagination, that and I have always wanted to do a show that didn't have a lot of fighting in it but had a lot of adventure in it. It is like, "Indiana Jones," for what fighting there was there was more running and chasing and jumping and leaping and all of those intense and fun adventures so I came up with this idea and pitched it around town for a couple of years. Columbia/Tri Star has optioned it for a feature film so we have been working on the screenplay. It is kind of fun, it is kind of different after ""Heavy Metal"" with boobs and guts and guns, you know after all of that Sci-Fi action zaniness it is nice to step off to the left and become a kid again and work on that kind of thing.
K2K: Speaking of being a kid again, are Mom and Dad feeling a little bit better now about what you do for a living than they probably did when you fist came home and said, "Hey Ma and Dad, I am going do be a comic book artist!"
KE: (Laughing) Yeah, when I would tell them that I wanted to be a comic book artist when I grew up, when they got done laughing they would say, "Yeah, but what are you going to do for a real job?" So, when the "Turtles" became successful I retired them both and said, "What do you think of that?" So, they are my biggest fans and they have been great about the whole thing. I feel like they have gone through the whole thing as much as I have so we have kind of lived it all together. It has been quite an adventure and it is nice to spoil them. I have three sisters as well who all have kids and so I get to be the nutty uncle and the big brother.
K2K: Do you got to family reunions and one of your sisters will grab you by the ear and say, "Hey Kev, the 'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" are O.K. but don't let 'em see the '"Heavy Metal"' stuff. O.K?"
KE: Pretty much, yeah! (laughs) The youngest is four and I think that she has just seen some of the "Turtles" cartoons and likes them but it is one of those things where you tell them, "Uncle Kevin made those." And she is like, "No, they are on T.V. silly!"
Written by David Lee Wilson

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