Interview with Lloyd Goldfine,
Interview: Lloyd Goldfine
How did you become involved with G.I. JOE?
After attending school at Picker Film Institute, City College, CUNY, in Harlem, New York, I began working for free all over New York City anywhere I could (post production houses, film crews, animation studios, etc.) and attending film and art classes at New York Area schools (NYU, SVA, Parsons, Pratt, etc.) that I was not... er, "officially" admitted to. These two activities would conspire to shape my future.
One afternoon I accompanied a friend who, through the NYU Film Program, had wrangled an interview for an internship at some sort of advertising agency or something (he really didn't know much about the place or what the internship would entail). He didn't expect the interview to take long and asked me to wait for him in the lobby.
About fifteen minutes later, the interviewer led my friend back to the lobby. By mutual agreement they had determined that my friend wasn't right for the position. But, as it turned out, the interviewer, one of the agency's Producers, recognized me. Apparently, I'd done some emergency graphics and editing work for him on one of my free-working post-production stints. He asked if I'd be interested in an internship. As I was out of school for several months at this point, I said no, but if a job was available I'd be interested in knowing more.
The advertising agency turned out to be Griffin Bacal, the agency of record for all things Hasbro, and parent company to Sunbow, the production company that created all the animated Hasbro entertainment, such as G.I. Joe and Transformers!
Realizing this was a chance to get my foot in the door of two worlds at the same time, when the Producer offered me a job, I eagerly accepted.
This was my first-ever professional job.
Or so I thought.
The odd thing was, for several months I never received a paycheck. After constantly questioning the Producer about it, a check was finally cut, but it came out to less than even my subway fare. What was going on?
It turned out that there was no job available at the time - - only an internship! The Producer had apparently been desperate for help and so lied to me.
As I was leaving, Joe Bacal, the big boss, called me over, apologized for the mix up, told me my contributions were already greatly appreciated, and put me on salary for triple what the Producer had told me I'd be getting when he pitched me the "fake" offer.
So, I started as a fake-intern and I ultimately ended as Senior Vice President, Group Creative Director. I did a lot of everything, but Hasbro's Boys was my primary responsibility. And G.I. Joe was a huge part of that.
At the same time I was handling Hasbro's advertising and other agency needs at Griffin Bacal, I was also offering my services wherever I could to Sunbow, helping with development, writing and producing pitches, overseeing post-production, working my way up to writing, producing and directing.
Being that I was so intimately involved with the Hasbro Boy's business, that I knew what the marketing folks needed and wanted, and that I was such a huge geek, when new entertainment projects began to be discussed, I was a natural choice. And I was lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time.
It was a bold move to mix live action with animation, early CGI animation as well. Was this a Hasbro generated idea or something Sunbow came up with?
This is something we began doing with our G.I. Joe live-action advertising campaigns. It's something I was dying to do when I first started advertising the G.I. Joe toyline.
When Griffin Bacal began the advertising campaign for the relaunch of G.I. Joe, they did it with those awesome-cool, all-animated commercials that tagged the Marvel G.I. Joe comic book, bringing G.I. Joe to life in a way no toy line had ever been seen before.
I thought: 'What if we brought G.I. Joe to life... by bringing it to life!' Live-action! So, we began incorporating live-action and special effects into our commercials, which got bigger and crazier and more ambitious with each new line launch.
And making that stuff was a blast!
When we started developing G.I. Joe: Extreme, I knew I wanted to do more crazy live-action G.I. Joe stuff, if we could figure a way to budget it. And it really did all come down to the budget.
First, I had to calculate how much money we would be saving if we didn't produce animated teasers. Then with that as a budget, I had to figure out how, and on what scale, I could create a full season of live-action segments that would closely relate to each one of the rest of the episodes.
These calculations changed time and time again, sometimes for creative reasons, sometimes for logistical reasons, mostly for budgetary reasons.
But, once again, making that stuff was a blast!
What was it like working with Susan Blu? Did she have any say in the production of the live sequences?
Sue is as great as everybody says!
She directed the voices for the show, but no, she was not involved in the live-action sequences.
It appears that the live action was filmed first and then the voices added later, What involvement did you have in that process?
Actually, because of production lead times,
we had to record the animated character voices first and then have our
live-action actors "lip-sync" to those recordings.
I wrote those segments, supervised their recording, and was on hand
to direct the live-action actors as well .
What kind of a costume budget was available? It seems that the costumes were very close to the animations and toys.
I don't recall the specific budget, but overall dollars were ridiculously tight on this project (I remember having to fight with the production company for an extra "squib" explosion from the to-be-added later attacking enemy ships).
We went to great lengths to match the character look and designs as much as possible. Some costumes were more successful than others.
I'd had years of experience doing this kind of thing from all the live-action G.I. Joe commercial extravaganzas and had campaigned to hire the expert costumers and mask-makers who'd worked those jobs with me, but for reasons never gotten to the bottom of (most probably $$), the production company went another way.
Did you ever go over budget on any of the sequences? If so why?
We never did officially go over budget. But the production did renege on their production agreement in several instances during the shoot, refusing to build certain props or sets (the copter cockpit comes to mind, Inferno's cockpit is another example), and shortchanging the production in several areas despite what they had agreed to.
The live action sequences of G.I.JOE Extreme came shortly after the live action commercials of the early 1990's. Was this a continual process or did you have to start from scratch?
As mentioned, one was a direct outgrowth of the other, certainly for me. But for G.I. Joe: Extreme, I was working with a new and untried production company, a new crew, and (with one or two exceptions) and a new cast. So, it was a bit like starting from scratch in as much as you had to teach the newcomers the G.I. Joe live-action "ropes," so to speak.
The sequences mixed live action with early CGI, was this a new and expensive process? What challenges presented themselves in this new endeavor?
Keep in mind, the total cost of these segments came to the same as straight, Saturday morning hand-drawn animated teasers would have. So, cost, as it pertained to the CG, wasn't a huge factor. The production company we worked with was a division of a large New York post-production facility with its own in house computer graphics department (which was quite available to us) and part of the package deal.
In fact, it was cheaper for the production company to not build certain props and sets, such as the copter cockpit set, for example, and instead make the two teasers that featured it entirely in post-production/computer animation. This, however, missed the whole point, since we were supposed to be bringing the characters and experience of G.I.Joe: Extreme to life, not replacing cel animation with CG animation. But I couldn't get them to build or shoot those sequences while we were shooting, and once we were wrapped all I could do was to try and make the best openings I could with what I had.
Challenge-wise, at the time, computer animation was very slow and labor intensive, so revisions and tweaks were a big deal, and our schedule was, as I said, very tight.
Also, we were quite limited in those days as to the look of the finished product. Where we might have wanted something to look a bit more realistic, we'd have to settle for more smoke and mirrors.
But mostly, it was fun making robots fight and supercycles pop wheelies!
What kind of practical effects did you use in the live action sequences? I remember a very flexible basketball backboard in one.
As far as practical effects go, we fired off some squibs (not enough! ☺) for the mountaintop attack sequence, we blew wind and smoke, did some stunts (a ridge run, a high fall), we air-fired a grappling hook and line, an extra small basketball for Freight to handle (so he'd look big), and the flexible basketball backboard you mentioned come to mind. We also shot some practical explosions, smoke, sand, etc. to be composited later.
Were you involved with casting? How difficult was it to match an animated character with a live person?
Yes, I was responsible for the casting. We began by sending out the character designs accompanied by concise character descriptions and a couple of pages of dialog.
Over the years we've had great luck both with casting in general and in matching actors with characters from a show or property. Vancouver (where we shot these segments, the G.I.Joe live-action commercials, voice-actors for many of the animated productions I've worked on, and so much more) has a great pool of incredibly talented people, so we've always been able to find what we're looking for.
And bringing a character to life is just too much fun!
Could you describe the difference between creating a live action sequence versus an animated sequence and trying to make them match in tone and style for the same show?
The biggest difference, obviously, is budget. In animation, we can do basically anything! Blow up a planet? No problem! But with live action, and this project in particular, we had very tight budgetary parameters, and so we had to be very clever about what and how we were going to create.
As far as matching the tone and style, since I'd been in on the development of the series from the very beginning, and with my previous live-action G.I. Joe experience, it was pretty simple. The most important thing was for the characters to be consistent, to be true, regardless if they were hand-drawn or flesh and blood. As long as viewers believed Freight was really Freight in the teaser, we were golden.
There were quite a few stunt sequences, and it appears the actors did their own stunts, did you cast stunt people or were stunt doubles used?
We cast actors who were also stunt performers where needed. Some of them had worked with me previously on other projects, including other G.I. Joe live-action commercials.
What kind of timeframe did you have to finish a sequence?
I know it was a very tight schedule, again, mostly due to budget, but I don't recall how long a post-production period we actually spent. But it was a post heavy process, so it took a bit of time...
Did you shoot on location? Where?
We shot in Vancouver, Canada, not coincidentally where we shot a ton of Hasbro's toy commercials, and where I was very familiar and friendly with the crew and talent there, as well as possible locations and studios. It's a great place to work.
The shoot itself was only four days long. Three days exterior shooting in beautiful Stanley Park, which served as the Joe's base, the beach, the roadway, the mountainous cliffs, etc., and one long studio day for all interior and green screen work.
What kind of timeframe did you have to complete set building?
There was very little by way of sets, and those that we did build were constructed on set during the three days we were shooting out on location.
What were some of the problems that arose while filming the live sequences?
Things went pretty smoothly, as I recall. Just the budget stuff I mentioned previously.
Do you have a listing of the actors? It seems they largely went uncredited and they deserve some recognition. Were there any up and coming stars getting their feet wet in these sequences?
Sorry, no. I looked, but couldn't find any cast list or call sheet.
Some of the characters were quite muscular, what kind of unique challenges did this present in casting?
None. That's exactly what we were looking for!
I personally liked the G.I. JOE Extreme stories and thought the intros were innovative. The show did last for two seasons which was typical for that time for animation. Were there any stories that went untold that you wish had been told?
There were quite a few stories and storylines we never got around to telling. Lots of stuff about our heroes' backgrounds we never got to explore, their evolution and growth, and deeper connections about S.K.A.R. and COBRA that we never had a chance to sew together that would have been quite a lot of fun.
What happened to any of the set pieces, costumes, etc. used for filming? Were they destroyed? In someone's attic? Sitting in the back of a prop warehouse somewhere?
Yeah, all gone I'm afraid.
Is there any outtake footage? What kind of bloopers happened on set?
None. Nada. Sorry! The shoot was very short, and very tight.
Do you have any storyboards, bibles or any mementos from that time?
If you'd only caught me several years ago, before I moved out to L.A. I kept everything... but the houses in L.A., compared to my home in New York, have little-to-no storage (no attics, no basements, you get the idea), so pretty much everything non-essential had to go — all my memorabilia, most of my collections (comics, toys, records, movies, posters, etc.). Sorry!
What would you have done differently if anything regarding the sequences?
I would have shot more live-action, more bigger action, as the whole idea was to bring the Joe's to life!
Do you maintain relationships with any of the principals from that job?
I'm still in contact with some of the crew, and the editor/post supervisor. But the production company that handled the job is long out of business.
How is production today different than the production for those sequences?
Everything has changed!
The stuff we shot for G.I.Joe: Extreme was shot on film, so that wouldn't happen today. Moving the camera these days is different. Tracking movement for effects compositing is no longer the hassle it was back then. Today we'd be faster, more flexible, and probably more expansive, cinematically speaking.
Post-production as well, would be much more responsive.
And the CG possibilities today, even given our budgetary and schedule restraints, are exponentially advanced.
Do you look back fondly on that part of your career?
My Griffin Bacal/Sunbow days were just incredible. I certainly couldn't have asked for a better training/proving ground, or a more varied, crazy, enjoyable experience. I was given so much freedom and responsibility on so many different kinds of projects, working with amazing, talented, wonderful people, traveling all over the world — and this on my very first ever job!
It was a great time, to be sure.
ODDS & ENDS
Bill Sienkiewicz did the first ever character designs for G.I.Joe: Extreme.
The G.I.Joe: Extreme main title theme was based on the "Ripper Sole" track by Stomp from the Tank Girl soundtrack.
Want more? Check out our interview with the live-action commercials' Duke: Wren Roberts!
Interview by: Ted Jacobson, March 2017
Images from the collections of: Ted Jacobson and Phillip Donnelly