NICKandMORE presents a special interview by James Harvey (The World’s Finest, Marvel Animation Age) as he talks with filmmaker Isaac Elliott-Fisher about his work on the new Turtle Power: The Definitive History of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles documentary. Touching upon the major milestones of the beloved Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise, Turtle Power goes further than ever before, creating an experience and a movie that no fan – diehard or casual – should miss. Continue below as Fisher gives us a peek behind the amazing work that went into the definitive exploration behind these butt-kicking terrapins!
James Harvey: So, the most obvious question off the bat, why do this documentary? What inspired you to do Turtle Power: The Definitive History of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles?
Isaac Elliott-Fisher: I grew up in the early 1990s at the peek of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles awesomeness in a small rural town in Ontario, Canada. When I was about four-years-old I was dropped off in a friend’s backyard to play in the sandbox with some neighborhood kids, and they all had these crazy toys that looked so cool! There was just something about the these Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles toys that caught my attention, something mystical about their design and backstory that pulled me in and hooked me there for good. Fast-forward to my college years and I was collecting toys again, this time more specifically related to films and pop culture icons that I was interested in. It was in 2007, mid-way through my Film School experience that the fourth installment in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise hit theatres and it re-inspired me to start collecting Ninja Turtles again.
I started digging into the history of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and found that there wasn’t much out there for sources on what appeared to be a far more interesting origin story than I had expected. After a couple of years of collecting and thinking about it I finally decided to bring it up with two filmmakers from my hometown area who I had been working with on a few music videos and other projects. I approached Randall Lobb (writer/director) and Mark Hussey (post production), fresh out of film school in the fall of 2008 with an idea to co-produce a film about the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. 2009 was to be the 25th anniversary year of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, so in January we started down a path that would take us in directions that we never could have imagined.
JH: Alright, now that we have that established, can you tell us a little about yourself in particular?
Isaac Elliott-Fisher: I grew up in a small town in rural Southwestern Ontario called Clinton. I was always fascinated with movies, toys, how things worked, cameras and so on. Before I even ventured into post secondary to study film-making, I filmed and distributed a documentary on another passion of mine, Toyota Land Cruisers. I was only 19 at the time, crossing Canada and the United States on my own, shooting, directing, and hosting a feature length documentary that would go on to sell all over the world. I am currently living in Paris, Ontario and work as a freelance cinematographer and an independent film producer.
JH: What is it about the Ninja Turtles that inspired you to go to incredible lengths for this documentary? What do you find so appealing, so enjoyable about those characters?
Isaac Elliott-Fisher: From the beginning it was always the history and behind the scenes look that I was interested in. When I was a kid I thought even the packaging art was interesting and cool and wanted to know more – who drew this, where did it come from and so on. Once we started filming it was amazing how deep the rabbit hole went. We discovered this franchise has one of the most inspiring rags-to-riches stories in American pop culture. The Turtles themselves are appealing on so many levels, gender, ethnicity, religion; these lines are blurred so perfectly, that almost anyone can find something to relate to with the Turtles.
JH: The documentary is primarily focused on the four big firsts of the franchise: the first comics, the first animated series, the first toys, and the first movie. Why do you consider these to be the most relevant? What’s your take on it?
Isaac Elliott-Fisher: We worked very hard for over five years collecting and editing footage and images for this film. It was by far the hardest part to select what stayed and what had to be left aside. We felt that even though we have collected content on more aspects of the franchise, the firsts were the most important; the most popular, had the most interesting stories, and really what most people will feel nostalgic by and enjoy. We feel that it is a great platform to discover the story behind the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and we hope to continue to tell the story of the Turtles through other media releases of our content down the road (crossing fingers).
JH: Can you shed some light on just how far you went to get these interviews. Based on what you’ve posted online, as you openly journaled your work for fans, you’ve gone to some pretty extreme lengths.
Isaac Elliott-Fisher: We traveled many times into the US, on many different occasions, mostly to New York/Northampton and California. We also commissioned a cinematographer to shoot the interview with Steve Barron in London England while I performed the interview over Skype, so I guess that is geographically how far we went. We had to make a lot of calls and send a lot of emails, but we captured somewhere in the ballpark of 80+ interviews for the film. Some completely by accident and those are always cool! As we often say “happy accidents” which is a line we borrow from Kevin Eastman in the film.
JH: This was an incredible ordeal to put together. What type of stumbling blocks did you encounter? Was the process what you imagined, or was there a lot of the unexpected?
Isaac Elliott-Fisher: Almost nothing was expected throughout the process of making this film. In the sense that, every step we made, there was a new amazing opportunity or experience to be had. For instance we started out thinking this was going to be a primarily fan driven documentary, mostly told from their perspectives. To our surprise both Peter and Kevin opened the lid on this amazing story and in some cases literally opened up their homes to us, then we realized the snowball was going to keep getting bigger and bigger. The biggest stumbling blocks came later. As Randall put it so well at our Panel at San Diego Comic-Con, I will quote him: “Trying to do something that is the opposite of what the world wants you to do. Everybody says no. Putting your pants on every morning and doing what you’re going to do. If you want to do something, just do it.”
JH: What kind of perspective did this put on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fandom? Did it give you a new outlook on the fandom and the franchise as a whole?
Isaac Elliott-Fisher: Out of the three of us I came in as the “Turtle fan.” After spending this many years and countless hours digging deep into the franchise history it starts to change your perspective. I know for Mark and Randall it brought them all new perspectives and appreciations into a world they knew very little about, so they enjoyed that process. For me it shifted my memories of something that was simply childhood nostalgia. Once you spend that much time with something that had specific feelings attached to it, it starts to shift, not in a bad way, but it became a much bigger memory, and it means a great deal to me. It was an honor to be part of this history.
JH: Following that, how does it feel to have your work as part of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles‘ 30th anniversary celebrations? It must be surreal to be a fan who is on the other side of the celebrations, being part of it.
Isaac Elliott-Fisher: It has always been a great pleasure to go behind the curtain, being part of something, or getting access is always a cool thing to experience. We came along at the right place at the right time, and it is very cool to be part of something as big as this! We were at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con (2014) and we were sitting in on the Hall H Paramount panel (the largest hall at con for those who aren’t familiar, sits 6.5 thousand people). They were about to show footage from the new Paramount live-action film, and to our great surprise they started with 3 minutes of our footage cut into an awesome trailer, that was a real treat! We were grinning from ear to ear!
JH: And, to keep in the spirit, care to name off some of your favorite episodes from the 1980/90s cartoon, the 2003 4Kids animated series, the new Nickelodeon CG-animated show, and, heck, maybe even your favorite movie or comic issue? Tell us some of your favorite Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles moments!
Isaac Elliott-Fisher: It is so hard to pick favorites with anything like this, and I fear I might come off as boring [laughs]. I have watched every episode from the original cartoon, but it was a few years ago, and I have also watched almost all of the 2003 series. I’d have to say I am a big fan of the original five episodes of the old cartoon, and I love the episodes of the 2003 show that are the closest to specific issues in the comics … that and the one where they cut off Shredder’s head! Overall, however, my favorite aspect of the franchise would have to be the first live-action movie from 1990! But I am really looking forward to the new movie as well! It looks awesome!
JH: With that in mind, if you’re able to release more of your documentary work, what would the next hypothetical installment focus on?
Isaac Elliott-Fisher: We would do one of many things, possibly do installments like individual bonus features, or do a second full film like a volume series, something like that.
JH: Out of this entire experience, what is the one key memory or moment you’ll take from all of this? Out of everything you got to do and experience, what moment, to you, encapsulates all of it?
Isaac Elliott-Fisher: It is almost impossible to pick one, we met so many amazing people. That is probably the biggest thing we will take away from it, the overwhelming positive outpouring of support and kindness from everyone involved. As a fan, living in one of Kevin’s houses was amazing, shooting the Jim Henson Studios interviews with Brian Henson, meeting Kevin Clash, Judith Hoag, James Avery, Kevin and Peter, all the artists, and so on and so on. If I had to pick one, I might choose the moment where I am sitting on a dock in New York watching the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie on a large outdoor screen as part of the opening of the Tibeca Film Festival along side Kevin Eastman and the director Steve Barron.
JH: Which brings us back to the Turtle Power: The Definitive History of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles documentary. Did you set out what you wanted to do with this, and, having seen the final cut, are you proud of what you’ve accomplished? Is the die-hard Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fan within satisfied?
Isaac Elliott-Fisher: I feel that we accomplished light-years beyond our expectations, we are very proud of what we have done. As a fan I feel that we have explored the aspects of the franchise that fans are most interested in and shared those with fans around the world, which is a pretty special thing. As a cinematographer and filmmaker, I am always pushing myself to do better technically, but such is life, the story we told here is the most important, and I feel that we delivered on that.
JH: With that said, and I’m sure you’ve likely already answered this, but can you give us one last reason to rush out and pick up Turtle Power: The Definitive History of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles documentary on August 12th, 2014?
Isaac Elliott-Fisher: “The Turtles are kind of like a cartoon version of The Beatles,” as Lloyd Goldfine says. He was the head writer and executive for the 4Kids 2003 animated show. “There is just something built into the core of these four green guys, something that is enduring… forever.” If you grew up with these characters, or they have touched your life in any way, this is a film for you. In fact, this story is truly about two guys who had a dream, and they took that dream and ran with it, and it became something very special. So this film is for all of us, it tells us to follow our hearts and dreams, and that they can become a reality. And given how things are today, that’s an important message to still believe in.
Many thanks to Isaac for his hard work and participation in this Q & A.
“Turtle Power: The Definitive History of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” is available to own on DVD and Digital HD from Paramount Home Entertainment.
*Interviewer’s Note: Just a quick note – “Turtle Power: The Definitive History of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” is a spectacular piece of work. Insightful, interesting, and quite a compelling watch. You’ll have a smile on your face, and perhaps a little tear, when the end credits roll. – JH*
Here’s a look at the Turtle Power: The Definitive History of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles DVD menu: