One-On-One: Talking "TMNT" With Producer Thomas Gray

In the 1990s, the "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" were everywhere. The Eastman & Laird creations were an unexpected indy hit that spawned multiple comic titles, three feature films, animated series and successful toy lines. Then, they sort of just disappeared for a bit. But the Turtles are back with a new animated series, a successful toy line and in 2007 the comeback is complete with the release of a new, computer animated film called, simply, "TMNT." Last week CBR News got the chance to sit down with "TMNT" producer Thomas Gray for a quick chat about the film.

CGI [Computer-Generated Imagery]. That's the over riding reason - [Imagi Entertainment] is a CG house, we're not a live action shop. I was involved in the first three movies and saw them peak in the '90s and how they got more and more expensive to produce. When I joined this CG company the boss said, "Gee, you did the Turtles." I said, "Yeah, I did." Then he asked, "What about now? Why don't we do it CG?" My first reaction was, "Nahhh, I don't think so." Then I began thinking about it and realized if I had to shoot this live action today it would be a $180 million dollar special effects movie. But with CG and the way we're doing CG, which is as good as anybody, we can get huge effects for a very reasonable cost. So the question I would ask is, why not make this movie? CG can look great.

Certainly. I've seen the trailer and it really surprised me. It has a real live action style to it.

Exactly. The look we wanted to go with was almost like a live action movie. When you look at the trailer you might ask yourself, "Is this CG?" Our art director did "The Matrix" and "Van Helsing." We brought in a lot of people who do live action to work on camera movements and things like this. We shot it like a live action film and then we pushed it a little bit to make it grittier, make the turtles more elongated, give the city a more urban look with wet down streets.

So, getting back to your question, the easy answer as to why now is the right time to make this movie is CG and the fact that we're a CG house and that I had experience with the Turtles previously. Plus, we discovered that the Turtles are doing quite well on television once again and we have big penetration overseas, something we didn't have the first time around. The first three movies didn't do anything overseas, but now it's huge in Asia, Europe and Latin America. It's grown significantly in 15 years.

Why do you think "TMNT" has gained such traction in foreign territories?

I think a lot of it has to do with the rise of martial arts films like "Crouching Tiger" and actors like Jackie Chan and Jet Li. I came from that. I was head of production for the Hong Kong company Golden Harvest that made all those Jackie Chan movies and earlier Bruce Lee. I come from that Hong Kong/Asian background. That stuff went around the world and everybody absorbed it. Now, the Turtles began to penetrate other markets because of the television show and the toys are cool, which helped. The toys started selling around the world and over the past five years the name has really built up because of some really great marketing and licensing. That started it.

I've been reading this is a darker, edgier version of the Turtles compared to the first series of films. Now, obviously you won't be pushing it so far that it becomes inaccessible to youth audiences, but how do you respond to parents who will inevitably say this isn't the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles they're used to seeing?

Sure. We can't get more than a PG. It's not designed to do that. We pre-tested it with the MPAA. We've actually pulled back quite a bit, like Sharika's throwing stars we've pulled out. Just a little too much violence. Yeah, we're really concerned about how parents will react. As long as there's a rating of PG, we should be OK. There's no profanity, but we do push a little bit.

You can push more today than you could 15 years ago. Things are a little bit more violent than they were 15 years ago, but it's in the context of the world we live in. I don't believe we'll have of a problem with parents because I think they'll say, "You know what? There's good morality here and you teach respect." They still respect Splinter as an elderly guy. All the morality is in tact, even though Casey and April may be co-habitating a little, it's not out there.

Allright, with your final question I'll let you off real easy - how much Pizza can we expect to see in "TMNT?"

Not that much! [laughs] It's kind of a background thing. We didn't want to do too much of the iconic stuff, we just wanted references and we give you that.

Thanks, Tom.

"TMNT" hits the big screen March 30th, 2007. Want more Turtle action? Don't miss our interview with Director Kevin Munroe right here on CBR.

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