Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Interview: Joe Pearson

Check out my first interview with a filmmaker, Joe Pearson, creator of War of Worlds: Goliath.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I'm native Californian, born and raised in the Golden State. I've been a life long "drawer and writer" and at University I followed a two track major in Art and World History. I was active in SF Fandom as an artist and fanzine contributor throughout the 70's and give Fandom and the Convention art shows a lot of credit for giving me an early and appreciative audience/forum that encouraged and nurtured my talents. In addition to Art and History I sub-majored in "hippie" and spent several summers hitchhiking all over North America. I think I'm still a "hippie" at heart. :) Or an aging surfer.

I began working in the animation industry as an artist in 1983 and began directing and producing in the early 90's. My credit's and history running an independent animation studio are up at my studio's site. I have been fortunate as most of the animation work I've done has been in the SF or fantasy genre including producing (and sometimes directing) the two series, "Captain Simian and the Space Monkeys" and "Roswell Conspiracies" and a lot of great music videos and shorts.

Around 1997 I did the initial story, bible, bios and design pack for "War of the Worlds: Goliath" at Epoch Ink. We shopped it around to a couple of Hollywood animation producers/studios who liked it, but thought it would look too "old fashioned" for the kids. Clearly they did not grok "alternate history" SF and stories.

In 2007 I partnered with two creatives out of Kuala Lumpur, Leon Tan and Mike Bloemendal to form Tripod Entertainment and decided to make our first movie "War of the Worlds: Goliath". It's my first feature as a producer/director.

We were fortunate enough to raise our modest film budget largely through a series of Malaysian government entities that are dedicated to growing  internal Malaysian businesses and IT and animation studios in particular. Our benefactors were Malaysia Venture Capital Management (MAVCAP), the Multimedia Development Corporation ("MDeC") and the National Film Development Corporation Malaysia (FINAS). And both Epoch Ink and our partners in Tripod have put in a lot of sweat equity and personal money to get the film to its current stage.

And I'm grateful as heck for the chance to make this film. It's a rare opportunity.

Here's a pic of the partners. From right to left.  "War of the Worlds: Goliath" producers—Joe Pearson, Leon Tan, Mike Bloemendal and Gavin Yap (voice director). This was taken by my talented wife, Lisa, up at Joshua Tree.
What got you interested in alternate history?

As both a history student and SF fan, I find the combination of the two to be irresistible. I LOVE history and the idea of the "road not taken." Even in my own, short life, I can get lost pondering alternative choices and routes. "What if's".

You could say that any older SF becomes alternate history with the passing of time. "War of the Worlds" is certainly the beginning point of a very different human timeline. "Things to Come" can be read now as an alternate history epic. I'm a big fan of Heinlein's "Past Through Tomorrow" series of novels and short stories. It began with it's own timeline in the mid-40's and moved forward for hundreds of years from there. I don't think it's considered classic alternative history, but it should be.

I'd say that my first deliberately "retro history" read was H. Beam Piper's "Lord Kalvin of Otherwhen". After that I was pretty much hooked on the genre.

I've read a lot in the last ten years. Favorites that come to mind are Harry Turtledove's "World in the Balance" series, the Belisarius epic by Flint and Drake, all of S.M Stirling's "Change" novels, and the "Rivers of War" books by Flint (when's Book Three coming out, Eric?!!)

I'm reading Lord of Mountains by S. M. Stirling right now. Have you picked up your copy?

I'm awaiting delivery from the SF Book Club, even as we speak. It's interesting as it looks like it's not the last book in the cycle. I guess Stirling's "Frodo" (Artos) is going to have to take the Sword ("ring") to "Mt. Doom" in the next one.

When it comes to "retro-history", do you like it more as a genre or an aesthetic movement?

I think the two are interlinked. Retro-history is usually about a cultural change and transformation that can be subtle or profound. Either way it will change architecture and fashion in lots of interesting ways. It's fun to imagine and visualize  the mash-ups that such a change will/can create.

With the recent steampunk boom, do you expect to see more alternate history film and television?

I'd like to say yes, but it doesn't seem too likely. I think that much of the same ignorance that the studio execs displayed when I first pitched "War of the Worlds: Goliath" is still the norm in this town. It's too bad, I'd like to see more (I've got another great alternate history steampunk and magic script that's set in an alternate universe Hong Kong. It's called "Shadowblade"). And strangely, the "conventional wisdom" is that steampunk is a bit played out now and over used. Crazy, I know, but that's how the Hollywood herd mind operates. I think any real interesting films of that type are generally going to come from independents.

What is War of the Worlds: Goliath about?

The short summary is that it's a alternative history, steampunk, animated, SF, war movie (that's a mouthful, I know).

Our main protagonist is Eric Wells, a young English Captain in ARES (Allied Resistance Earth Squadrons) and commander of the battle tripod, "Goliath", and his crew of men and women from around the world. We follow them as they train together, drink together, debate the pending war in Europe, and ultimately battle with the returning aliens. On a more personal level, it's the story of one man and his struggle to overcome his traumas and fears from the first Invasion and the death of his parents. He and his fellow warriors find themselves tested to their limit's when the Enemy returns.

This is a world in which an alien invasion occurred in 1899 and failed. The dying invaders left all of their advanced technology spread across the planet. So Mankind has picked itself of its feet and rebuilt civilization, but using and adapting what they can of the abandoned alien tech. And rearmed the same way in adapting and rebuilding their armed forces. This was a perfect way to imagine a 1914 Earth with all of the terrible dynamics of a pending World War, but in a setting that's more advanced and with the "sword" of the impending alien's return hanging over everyone's head.

In this world, Woodrow Wilson created an international defense force, "ARES", based in lower Manhattan and under the command of Teddy Roosevelt. It's an international army centered around the giant steam powered battle tripods, trains, dreadnoughts, and super zeppelin/aircraft carriers.

In terms of aesthetics, this seemed like a fantastic opportunity to do a mash-up of many of my personal favorite styles of design. So we have the metal and rivet's of post-Victorian Jules Verne steampunk merged with the powerful engines and designs of early deco architecture and the beautiful racing planes of the early 30's. But all with the fillip of advanced  retro-engineered alien tech. As the art director on the film I instructed the brilliant design team at Studio Climb in Kuala Lumpur to think "World War 1 meets 1930 meets Star Wars" in their designs and approach. And I think they did it magnificently.

What inspired you to make the film?

I love the retro-history/steam/diesel punk genres and am really intrigued by the 1914 milieu and aesthetic. It seemed like a natural "fit" to put it all together in the post-invasion world of "War of the Worlds: Goliath". And I always wondered about what would have happened after the first failed invasion. Logically, what would Man do? He'd pick himself back up, rebuild and rearm because you know the bastards will be coming back. No doubt about that.

What is the geopolitical situation like at the time of the second Martian invasion? You mention a possible war in Europe but are the colonial empires still in place? I would assume that the colonies would have gained independence while Europe was recovering from the first invasion.

Yes, Europe is about to go to war, just like in our own timeline.

And your assumption that there has been a real shake-up in the colonial powers (much like after WW2) is spot on. For example, Ireland rose in revolt just after the Invasion of 1898 and kicked the British out. But England rolled back in 6 years later and crushed the young government. This plays into some of our characters backstory and potential conflicts in the movie. And in the sequel in a big way, if we ever get to make it.

You include some of my favorite historical VIPs in this film, like Theodore Roosevelt and Nikola Tesla. Are there any other cameos you can tell me about?

Yes. We have included Manfred Von Richthofen  (AKA the "Red Baron") as a member of our young band of brothers. The way David Abramowitz visualized him in the script is delightful. He's a terrific character.

And we set the story in August 1914 so the pending war in Europe hangs over everyone and comes to a boil when Archduke Ferdinand is assassinated. Also, one of the Goliath's crew is a secret member of the Irish revolutionary Sinn Fein and has his own agenda. So there's a lot of history in the story in backstory.

But my favorite alternate history character remains Theodore Roosevelt. It was a joy to develop his character and plan out his action. And he does mix it up with the Martians in near, hand to hand combat. And that's the beauty of Roosevelt. He would. He was utterly fearless. That was his strength, and some might say, his weakness as President. I was highly inspired by history of course and two terrific period piece epic film's by the great John Millius. The "Wind and the Lion" and "Rough Riders".  Both of which feature outstanding Roosevelt's played respectively by Brian Keith and Tom Berenger.

Our own Roosevelt is voiced magnificently by the great Jim Byrnes (Joe the Bartender/Watcher from the 90's "Highlander" T.V. series). He turned in a performance worthy of the other Roosevelt's that I mention above.

Speaking of "Highlander", one of our Producers and the writer of the "War of the Worlds: Goliath" script is the very talented "David Abramowitz" who was the Show Runner on the "Highlander" series. Thanks to his efforts we were able to bring in all of the key "Highlander" actors to do voices on our movie. Adrian Paul, Peter Wingfield and Elizabeth Gracen all did major characters for us. So in some ways it's a bit of a "Highlander" reunion.

Continuing on Voice Cast we also brought in Adam Baldwin, Mark Sheppard (a bit of a "Firefly" reunion too), Beau Billingsley, Matt Letscher, James Arnold Taylor, Joey D'Auria, Kimmie Buckingham, and a lot of outstanding actors from Kuala Lumpur like Rob Middleton, Tony Eusoff, Gavin Yap and many others.

In the trailer I noticed the Statue of Liberty has a sword. Is this a reference to the Statue of Remembrance from Turtledove's Timeline-191 series?

You know, I've read that series (and really enjoyed it), but I came up with the sword wielding Lady Liberty on my own. It seemed like a natural in a post-invasion world. The idea is that the aliens burned off the original's arm and torch and the New Yorkers rebuilt her with a more militant addition. In our alternate history NY city we see a number of monumental statues. A 200 foot high warrior goddess with a massive machine gun ("Vigilance") that's next to the Flatiron building and a 300 foot high "Never Forget" statue in center of Washington Square which depicts a soldier spearing and struggling Martian squid. That was a lot of fun thinking these pieces up.

What remains to be done with the film?

We're in the last of the final audio tweaking on our full-throated sound and music track and the nuancing on our stereoscopic 3D conversion. So if the gods are kind their may be some limited 3D theatrical releases in the major U.S. cities. We'll see.

When is the release date?

Hopefully, this Fall, but possibly next year. We're currently in discussions with distributors worldwide and hope to have news soon. We are scheduled for a major theatrical release in Malaysia and Indonesia on November 15th. Which is appropriate as our funding came largely from Malaysia. (Thanks MAVCAP, MDeC and FINAS!)

We're doing some film festivals to drum up buzz and interest. We had a U.S. premiere screening of "War of the Worlds: Goliath" in 3D at the San Diego Comic Con last July (which was really well received, I'm happy to report) and we're going to be one of the closing films in a major 3D film festival in Downtown L.A. on Sept. 22. This may be one of the only chances to see this film in the States on the big screen and in full 3D so if you are in the Southern California area you might want to consider coming out to the screening in a few weeks. It should be a lot of fun and the movie really should be seen on a full theater screen with full tilt sound and in 3D. It's a great experience.

And if any of your viewers are in Spain, we're going to be screening the movie at the STIGES film festival in Barcelona in early October.

I think we'll do a wide international theatrical release and hopefully a limited theatrical release here in the States. And of course, a full pay per view and DVD release.

Do you have any other projects you are working on?

When I formed Tripod Entertainment with Leon and Mike I brought 11 very developed properties into the mix. We're looking at them and some others to see what we'll tackle next. And of course, if "War of the Worlds: Goliath" is well received, then we'll do sequels. I've already plotted the second one.

But to do that we will need our target audiences to step up and give us their support. We've funded and produced WOTW: G completely independently of any large Hollywood studio or corporate structure. We've put our heart and soul into our little epic (and not a little of our own money) and it shows on the screen, even on it's modest budget. We'd like to more, but our fate is now in you and your reader's hands.

Let's be honest. The truth is that the Hollywood execs would never have stepped to fund a movie like this. Alternate history? They don't even know what that word means. When I pitched this project back in the late 90's they were totally out to sea on the concept and the audience.

I know that audience is there and hungry for a good genre story. You know that the audience is there. That's what this site is all about. Well, we're giving you a classic piece of alternate history entertainment  with "War of the Worlds: Goliath" so please come out to see the film. Pass the word, and show the "suits" what they could have had. And we'll do more. I promise.

If aliens were to invade today, how would you recommend we defend Earth?

Duck and cover, Matt. Duck and cover.

Seriously, we could launch the nucs, but (as Mr. Turtledove showed us in "World in the Balance") that's a two edged sword. A thousand nucs going off in a short time period would bring on a full blown Nuclear Winter and that's pretty much it for the planet. I'd call that a Pyrrhic Victory to the extreme.

I actually deal with this concept in a couple of the numerous "War of the World: Goliath"  comics  that we've run over the last year and a half in Heavy Metal magazine.

In one story I postulated that the invader's used a type of nuclear reactor to power their tripods. And the English "lose" Manchester in an attempt to harness their power. So they take another captured reactor on a one way suicide mission in a battle train to use as a super weapon to annihilate a Martian foothold in Coventry.

In another story, the returning invader use an atmospheric nuc to create an EMP blast to take all radio communications in their targeted area.

If we do a sequel, I'd like to address this in the actual films themselves. So help us do a sequel.  Come out and catch the film and spread the word. End of commercial. :)

Not to get to philosophical, but do you think war with another alien race is inevitable after first contact?

That's the trillion dollar question, isn't it? I don't know. It's impossible to know. If the aliens are anything like us in our currently, semi-evolved state, then yeah get ready for a big fight, but perhaps they have transcended the drives in us that seem to make conflicts inevitable. I mean, lately I've become more aware of just how much I need to personally evolve as a human being. I'd like to think that any major star faring race would have taken that big internal step, but you just can say. Maybe it's a consciousness without any "mercy" in it's development. My cats evolved in the same gene pool as us, but they are a bit short on "mercy" themselves. So Aliens...who can say.

I'd say to hope for the best. but hang on to your nucs. And get some colonies, space platforms and yes, weapon's systems set up in orbit and throughout the solar system. 'Just to hang on to the "high ground".

Actually, I'm more worried about the "singularity", that inevitable moment in which the first computer becomes truly self-aware. At that point we will have essentially created an alien invasion in our own backyards/offices.

What will happen? Friend or foe? Robby the Robot or Skynet? I may not live to see it, but my son certainly will.

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