New Action Figure Adventure Documentary Q&A!
It’s been a while since I got to sit down and talk to you both (Rob McCallum and Jay Bartlett) at the London Comic-Con panel! You have been providing tidbits of information on the official Action Figure Adventure Facebook page and have put out some polling, too! I think some of the biggest news has come from seeing you guys smoke the goal for the Kickstarter.
Rob: Ya, Our Kickstarter campaign went well and the best thing wasn’t the end amount but all the new people that learned of our series and got excited by it. We made a lot of connections and have I think been accepted by most of the existing toy and figure community which was really nice to see.
Jay: We were both very pleased with how we surpassed our goal for the Kickstarter. Like all of our other projects, we put our love and passion into this one. I think it shines through with our first trailer.
Can you tell me your expectations heading into the Kickstarter and if going way beyond your goal has affected what the final show will look like in the end? I see you’ll have Backers now having small parts in the show where they can show their collector or discuss figures.
Rob: Every bit helps. With costs being so high for making a series, the reality isn’t that there is extra money. That said, we only get to release it once and if I have to choose between investing in something and not, the extra funds make it an easier choice to do it. Whether that’s additional s shoot days, in-camera cutaways today figures that need to be purchased, or spending more time it all adds up. There’s always things to spend money on when making films so the support, both financially and emotionally we revived from our Kickstarter campaign helps a lot.
Regarding the inclusion of backers in the mix, it’s exciting. It’s something I’ve done before and helps make the project more communal. We can’t get to everyone with our crew and cameras so this is a good middle ground. What’s really cool is our after-show that has expanded from a few minutes of round table discussion to more segments and unseen footage. That wasn’t happening until we saw the reach of our campaign.
Has the pandemic that we’re now in affected the timeline for the show being released? We know you were going to be running an auction benefiting the Children’s Health Foundation. Will that play into the release now, or will that portion be put on hold for the time being and revisited somehow later?
Rob: Unfortunately, the pandemic has hit the entire world out of nowhere and while we’re mainly in post-production, there is production that we need to complete in order to finish the series. The auction, which was to be a live, in-person event on May 2, clearly can’t go forward and we don’t know when this event will now happen. That’s a HUGE question mark that has me rattled. I’m thankfully there’s still so much to do in post-production, which keeps me both busy and sane, but it’s hard to shake the uncertainty of when we get to film again. A few people have suggested an online auction, and while that seems like a solution, it’s really not. Forget how un-cinematic that would be, we still need to have a crew in the same room as Jay capturing everything unfolding. On top of that, there is now a lot of shipping logistics, which given some of the items, isn’t that easy. So, we’re in a holding pattern. We hope we can hold our culminating event in the fall, and while it’s not going to live up to our previous vision, all we can do is hope that it happens at all.
You’ve officially sold the show in Canada and will be producing 10 shows that will run around 22-24 minutes in length. Is there anything you can share more about the deal or details?
Rob: Well, as I said above, the premiere and release details are on hold until the pandemic runs its course. We have officially signed papers that sees the series get distribution outside of Canada, but we’re hoping to make a big deal about that in a coordinated effort in the near future. We’re over the moon that we get to work with this company on our release as they really understand the world of toys and have a great track record.
Can you describe the structure of the show? Is it individual episodes per brand/line like The Toys that Made Us? Has anyone seen any episodes yet?
Rob: The show follows Jay’s journey over the course of six months. He starts in his home town and ventures further and further away, and then there’s sort of a revisiting of some of the early stores near the end because, you gotta double check for any new stock. As Jay progresses, we use his experiences to leap into discussion points. For example, at one point Jay looks at Castle Grayskull and the Hoth base playsets and from there we delve into a discussion on the role of playsets, how they work and why. It’s a bit of a puzzle figuring it all out because the discussion points were shot in tandem with Jay’s adventure but not knowing how things would cut together. Basically I had about 20-30 subject ideas/discussion topics I wanted to explore and hoped that they would be universal enough to squeeze them into each episode. As it stands, most episodes feature two discussion topics.
In terms of showing the episodes and to whom, my wife, Tanya, Jay, and our Canadian broadcaster have seen episodes 1-5. Episodes 6-10 are taking a bit longer to craft because of the amount of footage I need to sort in the discussion topics, and the cutaways of certain figures I need to show but I should have episodes 6-8 ready soon. It’s not really a thing where I get to work on one episode at a time and then move on; lots of moving parts that ripple throughout the whole series.
Speaking of discussion topics, who has been your favorite interview?
Rob: There have been a lot of great interviews – isn’t that the safest answer? I’ve enjoyed visiting with Four Horsemen Toy Design and Mondo, as well as Brian Volk-Weiss, director of The Toys That Made Us. A lot of interviews were captured at Power-Con last year and that was a blur but Mark Taylor, Pixel Dan and Kevin Smith stand out the most I think from those – all for different reasons.
I think the interview I enjoyed the most was with our good friend, Jordan Morris. Jordan has been a frequent collaborator for a number of years and owned several toy stores at one point, so he really gets the culture. Over the years, we’ve chatted about toys, specific lines, what works, what stinks and more. For his interview, we were in Victoria Island on an unrelated project and found that we had a good 3-4 hour gap so there was zero rush to capture his thoughts and hear stories about his days as a store owner AND when he used to work at the busiest Toys R Us in the world during the 80s! I hope those tales in particular become a recurring segment in our after series because Jordan’s a great storyteller and they’re great stories.
Jay: For me personally, getting Kevin Smith into our series is a huge dream come for the both of us. Rob and I both grew up and were “educated” by Kevin Smith and his “Jersey Trilogy.”
I see you’ve partnered up with Retro Rags LTD for some cool looking shirts. Are there any more designs planned for the future? With a show about collecting, should people have even more shirts to collect?
Rob: Retro Rags have done a great job on a few different designs and styles. I particularly like the “Thunderhawk” shirt that features cartoon Jay and Rob in the familiar MASK-like roadster. We’d love more designs added and are all ears!
During the last few months of filming and taking photos, have you come back to any action figure line you didn’t appreciate as much in the past? Any figures past or present knock your socks off? Tell us your action figure surprises!
Rob: Oh, the thing about these documentaries is that I have a natural passion for the subject matter which helps drive the long hours through production and afterwards. The curse of these documentaries is that the passion grows exponentially and one can get sucked into whole new areas and pockets. It’s no different here. I’ve found a rekindled appreciation for TMNT, Super Powers, Visionaries, MASK, and COPs to name a few. Secret Wars is in there as well. It’s a slippery slope and there’s only so much room to display anything so while I need to buy some of these figures – for the series, of course – there will be a great pruning and selling-off of many pieces in the foreseeable future too. Again, this crippling pandemic keeps getting in the way, but if I was able to freely go out and collect figures, I’d likely be broke but for all the right reasons.
Jay: Absolutely! Having grown up in the 80s, it was such a wonderful time for creative minds. There were a few series that I wasn’t into as much as a kid that I’ve now re-discovered in my adult collecting life, such as: Thundercats, Black Starr and Centurions.
Are there any special plans you’re thinking about leading up to the launch of the show to extend the hype, such live broadcasts, more sneak peaks, and/or contests?
Rob: Anything going forward has to be coordinated with our distributors, but we will likely begin showing clips and doing some live broadcasts plus special screenings. We had some conventions lined up to showcase the series on both the east and west coast but the pandemic decided that our plans didn’t matter. We’ll have to rejig those plans, but a massive announcement about where and how to watch the series – when we can finish it – is likely going to be the first step in creating real hype.
What have you learned most, or unexpectedly about action figures, the toy community or history that you didn’t know or now better understand as a result of making this series?
Rob: When we made Nintendo Quest, there was a lot of learning about the rare games, why they were rare, what made them rare, and how they hold up as a playable experience today. I also learned about the true depths of the NES library and how it was much more vast that I realized. I think the same can be said for Action Figures. While there are hundreds and thousands of figures from the 60s to now, you don’t really appreciate that stat, how the figures are different, why they’re different, why certain ones were successful and why the culture is where it’s at until you’ve totally invested in it. You can’t just take a passing glance at this stuff and decide to make a film with any real substance.
Accepting that there’s more than meets the eye, for example, is a healthy way to grow and learn and having captured 95% of content, I feel like there’s much, much more that I don’t know about Action Figures than I do know – or at least much more that I want to know. Sometimes the answers and info isn’t sexy, like production times and certain routine processes, but the other times when you hear stories about creative choices, happy accidents, and world events that ripple to creative playtime all make up for it.
Jay: The toy community is such a friendly space to be involved with. Everyone is so passionate and kind, and genuinely interested in their series. Although we may collect different lines, there is a camaraderie that brings us all together. I’ve witnessed people in the community lending a helping hand even though they may not be into the same series as me.
Lastly, with things almost wrapped up on the series, what does the future hold? Will we see Season 2 of Action Figure Adventure or is it one and done? We still don’t have Super Nintendo Quest, either.
Rob: Never say never? A second season of AFA will depend on how well the first season sells. I’ve got some ideas on what parts will/would change and how the scope expands. Then again, we may just chill for a bit and start something new, unrelated. Or, we could do something in the world of gaming – not Super Nintendo Quest, hahaha! Right now, we have more options at a far earlier stage than I’ve ever had in my career but that doesn’t make the choice any easier. So, like the ending of this series that needs to be shot, we wait and see what makes the most sense.
Jay: At the end of the day, Rob and I have many passions; from video games, music, to toys. You know — I’m always up for a challenge.
Thanks guys! Hope this gives people more insight and more excitement as to what is coming! Be well and stay safe!