Ben Jones: Directing Batman: The Brave and the Bold

Blog@: Review: Brave and the Bold

November 14 will be have an interesting night for Batman: The Brave & The Bold for director Ben Jones. The series will premier on Cartoon Network at 8:00 p.m. (Eastern - Note the new time) that evening. One of the episodes he directed, “The Rise of the Blue Beetle,” is the one chosen to lead it all off.

Then again, he certainly has the qualities one looks for in an episodic director.

Jones started off like a lot of animators, working for a few different people before landing a solid gig at Warner Bros. His earliest listing is on Jim Lee’s WildC.A.T.S. in 1994. From there he worked a lot with such masters as Chuck Jones and John Kricfalusi, finally landing a steady gig at Warner Bros. in the early part of this decade as a storyboard artist on shows like Mucha Lucha. He would then move on to episode director on shows like Glen Murakami’s Teen Titans and James Tucker’s Legion of Super Heroes.

And yes, Jones did do storyboards on more serious WB Animation efforts like Justice League and New Frontier, but an overview of his history will show he has worked on a lot of shows where combining action with a lighter touch is mandatory.

One thing DC and and the series is trying to do, according to a Warner Bros. source, is recognize that there is a large group of heroes that haven’t been touched in animation or with Batman, as well as a new generation of readers of kids that have no idea of said heroes. The studio is seeking to capitalize on both in the series.

How successful was Jones? Honestly if “Rise of the Blue Beetle” is any indicator, he’s done one heck of a job. He’s managed to come up with a bright, lighter take on the Dark Knight that’s not going to insult the legacy left by the likes of Alan Burnett, Paul Dini and Bruce Timm.

That said, here’s Jones:

Newsarama: Ben, I understand your background is primarily in character design?

Ben Jones: No. Actually it’s in doing storyboards. I did one character design job on WildC.A.T.S. but that was years ago. That was only six weeks and I wasn’t terribly happy doing it. I also worked with Chuck Jones for a while. After that, I started doing storyboards for television.

NRAMA: Was the character design more James Tucker?

BJ: That was almost entirely James. He also has Lynell Forsall and Mike Manley who are much better designers than I am.

NRAMA: Would you say your storyboard background helps you in directing? I mean in the pilot episode, there is a lot of action going down.

BJ: Oh yeah. The hardest part of storyboarding is trying to fit all that’s in the script. They are pretty jam packed. We’re trying not to hold still for too long. We want to keep things moving.

NRAMA: So you’re position is episodic director or something like that?

BJ: They just call it “director” but that’s about right. James (Tucker) is the producer. Then there are three directors; me, Michael Chang and Brandon Vietti. We three handle one individual episode at a time. Michael Jelenic is the story editor and he handles all the writers. There are a lot more writers than directors.

NRAMA: From my interview with Michael Jelenic, I understand that JM DeMatteis and Paul Dini wrote scripts. Who are some of the other writers you personally are working with?

BJ: Matt Wayne is writing an episode or two. Steven Melching has written a couple.

NRAMA: What shows do you use for inspiration on this project?

BJ: The primary inspiration, of course, is the comics from the 40s through the 60s. We looked at most of the Batman titles, of course, but also World’s Finest and other titles of the same era. We also incorporated comics from the later eras. There are some 70s and 80s in there as well.

NRAMA: Dick Spang in particular?

BJ: We also threw in some Kirby stuff as well. In the Blue Beetle part of the show, we threw in some Kirby in there. His influence is on everybody. He’s impossible to avoid, so you might as well embrace it.

NRAMA: Any anime stylings?

BJ: Actually, we went more with the Cully Hamner design but just skinnied him up a bit. I think if you put our Blue Beetle against the comic, the look is pretty close.

NRAMA: What is it like trying to pick which DC characters you are going to use? You really are using a lot of different characters, many of which hadn’t been used before.

BJ: It’s like being at a really big buffet and trying to choose between a hundred different foods. There are a lot of things that would be really awesome to do. The problem isn’t coming up with ideas. The problem is which to actually pick, especially as we only have 26 episodes. How it was done was everyone has their favorite characters. So we suggested to James which we liked to see. From there, he and the story editors narrowed it down to the ones they could do stories about.

NRAMA: Did DC provide any input on that? Did they suggest characters or tell you there were some you can’t use?

BJ: We got a few “no’s” on a couple of characters, but generally we got what we wanted.

NRAMA: So what were some of the characters you want to see, Ben?

BJ: My favorite character as a kid was Red Tornado. I was told before I even started on the show that he was going to be one of them. That excited me. As luck would have it, he’s popping up in the other directors’ shows than mine.

NRAMA: This is the android Tornado, right?

BJ: Oh yeah. As obscure as we’re getting, we’re not digging Ma Hunkle yet.

NRAMA: Maybe a cameo appearance?

BJ: I wouldn’t say that’s impossible. Now that sounds like a good idea. It would be kind of nice to have them both in one episode.

NRAMA: So in putting this pilot together, what did you really want to establish for the series?

BJ: It’s true for most series, but the biggest thing we tried to do with the first episode is try to figure out, with no road map, what the direction of the show was going to be. We wanted to figure out what was acceptable and what wasn’t. How is Batman going to act? That was one thing everyone had their own ideas on. Also, with this pilot in particular, we wanted to establish the character of the Blue Beetle as well. That was important because he is another commonly recurring character.

NRAMA: Was it decided early that Blue Beetle would be in the pilot?

BJ: That was decided before I was hired. So I don’t know. I do know there are a group of guest stars that appear more frequently, like Blue Beetle, Red Tornado, Green Arrow, Aquaman and, at least I’m thinking, Plastic Man.

NRAMA: That’s interesting. You have those posters you have hanging on Jamie’s wall and they are all on there.

BJ: There’s a few spoilers about upcoming characters on there. If you take the time to freeze frame his room, you’ll get some clues.

NRAMA: How does it feel to be part of the same block that includes Clone Wars, Secret Saturdays and Ben 10?

BJ: Awesome! I like the idea that there’s a cluster of shows that’s like the old Saturday morning shows.

NRAMA: Do you feel you’re in good company?

BJ: I think so. I mean I know the guy who runs Star Wars, Dave Filoni. He’s an old pal of mine. We used to play hockey together. I admit it’s no surprise to see him doing Star Wars. It’s turned out better than I expected, so many people I know doing so well.

NRAMA: It feels kind of like you, Michael Chang, Mike Jelenic and a few others are part of a new generation of animators at Warners. I mean the past generation included Bruce Timm, Paul Dini, Alan Burnett and their colleagues. Now here comes you guys, and a few others.

BJ: It’s a bit more nebulous than that. I mean James was well established before I got in. Then again, I do have to admit I only got excited about doing superhero cartoons again when I saw Bruce and Paul’s first Batman series. I was still in college at the time. I mean I loved Super Friends and Jonny Quest as a kid but when I got older I found liking some of them kind of embarrassing. Then Bruce came along and showed there was a new way that actually let you do it right. So here I am.

NRAMA: So saying you’re part of a new generation is possible.

BJ: I guess so. If you attribute the quote to yourself, then yeah.

NRAMA: So how far are you into the 26 episodes?

BJ: Well, the first 26 episodes are divided into two seasons of 13. Episode 13 kind of puts a cap on the first season. Then the next 13 are of their own. There’s not a lot of continuity, but there is some. As far as where we are, I think the storyboards for Episode 26 is being done as we speak. So we’re pretty far into it. We have three shows in the can.

NRAMA: I think there’s been talk about Brave & Bold for about two years. That means there’s usually been production going on for a year or so previously. So, for starters, how does it feel to see it finally getting on the air?

BJ: It’s pretty good. The whole animation business is like a show is in development for a long, long time and then when it’s into production it’s in and out the door. Once you start seeing the footage come back, it’s really worth it though.

NRAMA: Would you say Brave & Bold is aiming for a new generation of Batman fans?

BJ: Yeah, but we want to keep the old fans too. We want everybody to watch.

NRAMA: So let me get this straight. We’re going to see a lot of characters but not necessarily what we should expect.

NRAMA: So how do you feel about your pilot finally hitting the airwaves in a few weeks?

BJ: I feel great. I’m really looking forward to November 14 right now. I mean I also have a lot of new footage coming in at that time and I’ll have to go over those new shows coming in. That gives me something to think about besides sitting and waiting for the debut.

NRAMA: Still, I don’t know about you, but it’s something to have the screener in your hands, but quite another to see it on the tube, commercials and all.

BJ: It really does feel different when you know everyone else watching TV is watching it with you.

LOG LINES:

Warner Bros. Animation has provided Newsarama with the log lines for the first three episodes of Batman: The Brave & The Bold. Here they are:

Friday, Nov. 14: "Rise of the Blue Beetle! " - Batman and Blue Beetle team up to save an alien race from Kanjar Ro.

Friday, Nov. 21: "Terror on Dinosaur Island! " - Batman and Plastic Man thwart Gorilla Grodd's plot to devolve humans into primates.

Friday, Nov. 28 :"Evil Under the Sea!" - Batman aids Aquaman as Ocean Master and Black Manta team up to assassinate him.

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