We had an interview with Marc Handler, one of the writers of Power Rangers Super Samurai and Power Rangers Megaforce. Marc wrote the The Bullzord, Trust Me, and Fight Fire With Fire episodes from Power Rangers Super Samurai. He worked on 4 episodes in Power Rangers Megaforce (Going Viral, Robo Knight, Gosei Ultimate, and The Messenger). Marc is currently busy with a new project and won't be writing any episodes in Power Rangers Super Megaforce. It's no surprise that Marc was my favorite writer in Super Samurai and Megaforce.
Special thanks to Marc for taking the time for our interview.
Have you seen Power Rangers before writing for Power Rangers Super Samurai?
Yes. I've seen Power Rangers over the years starting with Mighty Morphin way back when. I was particularly aware of it because I wrote for the original Voltron and there were always comparisons because of the similarities between the 2 shows. Voltron was animation and Power Rangers is live action, but they both had teams of super heroes piloting giant robots, and they both came out of the same tradition in Japanese story telling. I liked the fact that these shows were linked because they were both part of a cultural shift where we started bringing Japanese concepts to the West. I was glad to see that happening with both shows and was happy to be part of it.
As they say, there is no problem so great or small that it cannot be solved with the help of a giant robot.
One thing I liked about the original Mighty Morphin was that there was a lot of very broad humor; it didn't take itself too seriously. It was colorful and splashy – funny - so I liked the original spirit of the show very much.
Did you watch the Shinkenger episodes before writing the Super Samurai versions?
Yes I watched them individually, then with our creative team we had meetings where we watched segments and discussed them with the other writers and our creative team. We traded notes about them. Also, I have friends and loved ones from Japan who went over some of the episodes with me and they were able to interpret them more deeply for me and to put them in context, so I got a little better understanding of what was going on.
I also went way back and watched clips from some of the very early shows on Japanese television that used this concept – adventures of a team of five superheroes – and got a little better sense of how this concept fits into the larger picture of Japanese storytelling.
Checking out the original shows is one of the fun parts of the process for me.
How much of your own input did you have for your episodes?
It was grand mix – I have a lot of input, but of course the final decisions are made by the producers and executives. That’s the way all TV series work.
So I would go over the original episodes from Japan and come up with my own ideas for the American version. My ideas would go first to our story editor, James Bates, and I would get his notes and his feedback, and then I would make modifications based on that. James’ notes were always helpful – I felt like we were building the stories together which is the way it’s supposed to be.
And then the story would go to the producers and execs and we would have story conferences and make more changes until we came up with the final approach to the episode.
So everyone had a lot of input and that's a good thing. When you have a solid creative process with a lot of positive input, the story ideally gets better as you go.
The consultations with the producers were interesting since they were often in New Zealand, so we would be skyping half way across the world. Of course the producers input is crucial since they know what they need in terms of the production. They know what they can shoot and what they can build. IOW, I may have a great idea for a scene, but if it’s not practical for them to shoot it, or to build that set – whatever – then it has to be changed to something that we can actually accomplish. An idea is worthless if it’s not executable.
And of course they would give feedback on the details as well. I remember I had one line of dialogue in Super Samurai where one of the girls says, “Hey, let’s get together sometime” or “We should have a girls’ day out some time.” – and I was told – no, cut that line. When I asked why they said, that’s what people in L.A. say when they never want to see you again. Ha ha.
So overall, the process we used was a standard process for a TV series where you have a creative team, everyone is giving their input, and – if it’s working right – you eventually end up with the best possible script that’s going to fit the show and work for everyone on the production.
For me, in our series, the essential player in all that was our story editor James Bates. I’ve worked with many story editors over the years and Bates is among the very best. He always had terrific ideas and always plussed my scripts, so they got stronger after his input.
A good story editor is essential because he knows the arc of the series and how each episode fits in. He also knows what each writer is working on at any given time. We may have 5 or 6 scripts being written at a particular time. When I'm writing a script, I know my story, but I don’t know what decisions have been made about the other stories that come before and after mine – and those decisions are fluid, they’re constantly changing. The story editor is the guy who has to stay on top of that, keep it all straight, and make sure the stories fit together so the season has continuity. This is especially difficult with a complex series like the Power Rangers with so many different weapons, zords, bad guys and complicated developments in the overall season. So with Bates, I knew that he would make sure that what I was doing would fit with the other writers and with the spirit of the series. And he always had good creative ideas for the stories as well, so he deserves a lot of the credit for the success the series. Actually, it’s nice to be doing an interview where I have a chance to say that, since we don’t often have a chance to discuss it. The director and the actors can’t shine unless they have good scripts to work with, and that requires a strong Story Editor. Unsung hero.
From the writer’s point of view, when you’re developing episodes, it’s a funny process. Of course you always think your own ideas are great, otherwise you wouldn't put them out there. You keep searching until you find an idea that you love, and then when you find it and you write it up and of course you want everybody to say “Great idea – brilliant!” So if they don't love it, you think, what’s wrong with them? Why don’t they love my idea? But of course that’s a normal part of the process – every TV writer deals with that -- and a lot of times when your ideas get rejected, you end up coming up with a new idea that you like better, so out of that process the story gets stronger. That’s the way it is when the process is working right.
Of course sometimes you have an idea that gets shot down and you think, no that really was a good idea. Then you feel sorry for yourself. Poor me. Wahh wahh. That’s when you need to remind yourself that this is a collaborative medium and this is all part of the process. If you’re a writer and you want your work to stay exactly the way you want it word for word, beat for beat, then write a novel or a short story or a poem. You can write exactly what you want and live or die by it. But when you're writing for television, it’s a collaborative medium, many many talented people contribute to the final product; other people are going to have to say your lines; other people will have to shoot the scenes, so you have to find a form that serves everyone and works for the whole team. And when it all comes together, then you have a really good feeling about being part of a creative team and supporting that team.
Which super samurai episode was your favorite to work on?
Well, you know you get into each episode as you write it, and you fall in love with the characters and the story each time, so each one is your favorite as you’re working on it, but I suppose Bullzord was especially exciting for me because it was the first. You know Power Rangers is one of the great series, so being invited to write for it was really sweet. Jumping into the first episode and orienting myself to this whole season and what was going on with these particular characters in this version of Power Rangers was exciting.
My take on it FWIW was that it seemed like the original Power Rangers was much lighter and I liked that, I liked the lightness of the originalist series, but here the Japanese series that this season was based on seemed to be a more serious and deeper series than I had expected. And I like that as well. Some of the aspects of it were particularly interesting, like Decker and Dayu. Those characters were so compelling for me. Decker’s goal in the original series was just to have a really good fight. He was completely amoral. He was a pure warrior who wanted nothing more than a worthy opponent to go up against. He was hungry for that, driven to it. For Westerners, that a very unusual motivation. It’s a very distinctly Japanese concept. So it gave the show deep roots in Japanese culture, deeper than I expected, and created a very strong and distinct platform for the American version. I was delving into all of that for the first time when I was working on the Bullzord episode and really getting immersed in the Power Rangers world for the first time.
Also, the backstory of the Bullzord itself was a nice addition to the mythology of the series and the idea that this boy, Cody, was well meaning, but he unleashed forces that he couldn’t control, that’s a classical concept that made for a very engaging story.
The final episodes in the season were also very interesting for me. The surprise when Jayden’s sister shows up, the dynamic between them, and the whole Red Ranger as Shadow Warrior thing was very cool. The Shadow Warrior concept also has deep roots in Japanese culture. Kagamusha explores that theme in depth -- it’s one of my all time favorite films -- so it was cool to work on a story line that deals with that concept.
How many Power Rangers megaforce episodes did you write?
Did you face any challenges in writing the megaforce episodes?
Before the season began we all got together and met, the writers, the story editor and producers, and we had some all-day sessions trying to decide how we were going to approach this season, making overarching decisions. I enjoyed being part of that. It's always fun to share ideas with other creative people. A lot of the time as a writer you are very isolated. You are working by yourself on your own computer, disconnected from the other people on the show, so it's refreshing to get together with the team and share ideas. The challenge was to come up with an overall plan, overall vision for this new season
Going forward from there, I think the major challenges were creating each new character. As new characters come into the series, you have to make decisions about who they are, what drives them. I had the privilege and good luck to write the first episode with Robo Knight, so that was a big challenge since he's a very distinct character. That’s the kind of challenge that I enjoy. I especially liked this idea that after they meet him, the Power Rangers thank him and welcome him and he just walks away from them without saying a word. That was really interesting and it was right for the character. You know he doesn’t have any people skills; he's a robot, right? So he’s not programmed to be polite or to have social interaction with living humans. So that leaves the Power Rangers with this big question. How do they work with an ally who is mecha? Can they work with him? Is he even on their side? So there’s a lot of things to work out. They are going to have to develop a relationship with him which means bridging that gap between humans and mecha.
Another good challenge was working on Noah’s character. He had been introduced of course in the first couple of episodes, but I think Going Viral was the first time we really featured and focused specifically on him, so that gave us a chance to explore his personality. That was also a great challenge, to define him and see what makes him tick. It was especially fun to develop the way he plays off of Jake – they’re best friends but they have opposite personalities – so there was a lot to work with there, lots of room to play with the dialogue between them. I particularly liked the idea that that Noah is the guy who doesn't think he belongs in the group. He has never seen himself as a superhero type at all; quite the contrary. So he faces that question in the episode: Am I the right guy for this? Can I do this? This is very universal; we all feel that way at different times in our lives. Can I really do this? Can I live up to the expectations? Maybe I’m not supposed to be here. Those were great character issues to deal with. When someone asks him, “Are you a super hero” he really has to think about it; he needs to answer that question not just for them, but for himself.
Power Rangers is an action show and we all love the action, but some of the most fun scenes to write are when the characters are just hanging out. When Jake is hitting on Gia, or when Noah and Jake are giving each other a hard time. When I’m writing, I really enjoy having these characters just mixing interacting and see what happens. It’s like playing with your chemistry set. I wrote American dialogue previously for a series I love called Cowboy Bebop, and I had the same feeling with that series – it had terrific action sequences, but often the most fun scenes to write were when the characters were just hanging around on the Bebop (their ship) playing around and giving each other a hard time. We would get different insights into their characters and their lives in this casual setting.
There are also major technical challenges on Power Rangers. The show is so complex; there are so many different types of weapons and equipment and vehicles and callouts, and all of those things keep evolving throughout the season. The enemies keep changing as well. We have to keep track of all that as we’re writing, and we’re often working against tight deadlines. I may finish one episode, and my next episode is 5 episodes later. What happened in the interim? How has the series evolved to this next point? Many of the decisions are being made as we go. How do the new vehicles work? What are they called? It's practically impossible to keep up and stay 100% accurate. Fortunately, we got indispensable help with that from our story coordinator, James Mastroianni. James is a producer in his own right and he wore many different hats on this show, but along with his other duties, he was the guy who kept track of all of the changes in the series as they developed, all of the equipment, the callouts, new weapons, and he would keep us up to date on how they changed, how they transformed, all the technical terminology and information that the writers absolutely needed. I went to him constantly to figure out what I needed to do -- a thousand questions. There’s a great character from the book Catch-22 --the character's name is ex-PFC Wintergreen – he’s just an ex-private but you come to realize that he’s they guy who is actually running the whole war – there’s all these generals and people from the Defense Department and various important people, but it turns out if you really want to get something done, you have to go to ex-PFC Wintergreen. James Mastroianni was our ex-PFC Wintergreen. The guy in the background making everything work.
Is there anything else that you can share about the episodes you worked on?
When I started writing my first Megaforce script, we had not yet determined what Tensou would be like; we didn't know what he would look like or sound like, so I was kind of writing him blind. That actually turned out to be positive. It gave me a chance to play with him and his dialogue and have some effect on how he finally turned out. I was very happy with the final character; he made me laugh and I thought he fit with the original spirit of the Power Rangers.
What projects are you currently working on?
Thanks for asking, but unfortunately I can’t talk about my current project because it hasn’t been announced to the public. I wish I could because I’m very lit up about it. I can tell you that I’m conducting this interview from Shanghai where I’m currently living and working on a new animation series for Disney China -- I'm immersed in it, probably obsessed with it - I get to work closely with the local animators which is a treat – we’re designing the characters right now and writing the first set of scripts. It’s a collaboration between Chinese and American companies and between Chinese and American creators, so it's very cool to have this kind of direct collaboration across cultures. I think this is the future. In the past we would often pass projects back and forth like a football, but now we are forming teams from the beginning that include American and Asian creators in China, in Japan and in Korea. When we do that, we can tune in and learn from each other, build on each others’ strengths, and we all benefit from that.
Over 20 years ago when Mighty Morphin came out, it was groundbreaking to make these kinds of connections between Japanese and American entertainment. Japanese culture and American culture mixed together to create something really exceptional. There is no guidebook on how to work across cultures, we have to figure it out as we go along, to learn to connect with each other; that's really the ultimate challenge for me and it’s an ongoing challenge. The key of course is for Asians and Westerners to respect each other and listen to each other. When we do that, all kinds of new possibilities open up.
One final point. For those of us who work on shows like Power Rangers, we love the shows and we love the work, but we are often disconnected from the fans. When I'm writing, the fans are always in my mind – I’m thinking about the people who love the show and are going to be watching it -- but I rarely interact with them. For me the whole thing is a communication from us to you -- that's what it's all about. To do that, we get inside these characters – the writers do that and the directors and actors do the same thing - so the characters become part of our lives, and it’s all about bringing that to you – to the people who love the show.
But somewhere between what we are transmitting and what we hope you are receiving, there are a lot of business decisions, technical issues, broadcasting issues, advertising and distribution – these are all things that are necessary to get the show out there - but somewhere underneath it all is the essential communication between the people who create the stories and bring them to life, and you guys who watch them. So you’re always in our minds when we’re creating this, and I never lose sight of the fact that, if you weren't there to receive it, it wouldn't exist. So you guys are essential to this process, just as important as the creators. Despite that, we don't get to interact with you very often. Writers especially work in isolation much of the time, so it's really a privilege to come out of my cage and do an interview like this and connect up a little bit with the fans and especially to give you your props, let you know that you are appreciated. Thanks for that.
Last edited by Fury Diamond; 05-16-2013 at 10:50 PM.
I understand why this guy is a writer, his last paragraph was amazing! And good grammar too. Just sayin'.
That last paragraph is why I want to write for a career.
And yet Marc still wrote some CHESSY lines in Megaforce("Are you some sort of superhero?" "Are you a policeman?" come to mind).
Checking out the original shows is one of the fun parts of the process for me.
Sounds like this guy knows with what he's doing. If only they had gotten a much better show runner to work with, I might've gotten a different opinion about Samurai/Super Samurai and Megaforce.