Guardians Of The Galaxy TV show: Cort Lane and Stephen Wacker interview

We chatted to two of the producers of Marvel Entertainment’s new Guardians Of The Galaxy animated TV series…

James Gunn’s Guardians Of The Galaxy movie was the surprise hit of 2014’s summer blockbuster season. Under the stewardship of the Slither and Super director, Marvel Studios had a major success on its hands with that one.

It was the fourth biggest Marvel Cinematic Universe film at the global box office, and its sequel – Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol.2, with Gunn back at the helm – is hotly anticipated by legions of fans around the globe. The film has even started influencing the Marvel Comics themselves, which is a pretty big stamp of approval.

With all that taken into account, then, it shouldn’t be taken as too much of a surprise that an animated show inspired by the film has come into existence as well. Cort Lane and Stephen Wacker – two of the executives from Marvel Entertainment – have overseen the project. The show is coming to UK screens on the 7th of November, via Disney XD.

We chatted to Lane and Wacker over the phone about all things Guardians…

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First things first, then… When did the idea originate to bring the Guardians Of The Galaxy to TV?

Cort Lane: Early in the development of the film, there was a real sense that Marvel had something special. A year prior to the film’s release, Marvel felt confident enough to send us into development on an animated series.

So we read the script. Which was really far along at that point. It had all the songs listed. And, it really it had all the scenes. And a few extras that you didn’t see in the final film. And we started from there. So, a year prior to the film release.

As we got closer to the release, Marvel felt more and more confident. Not in a cocky way at all, but they understood that ‘wow, this really good. Audiences are gonna love this.’ And it’s very friendly to kids, too. There’s lots of fun, cool weirdness that kids are gonna love in animation as well. So, that’s how we went.

From there, how was the creative team brought together? And what was their brief like?

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Stephen Wacker: Well, Cort and I – along with our head of production Erik Radomski – we had a few meeting with Joe Quesada about things we could do in the show, and the kind of show that we both wanted. I think, our first choice was… Marty Eisenberg – the guy who is our story editor. He’s worked with us on our show Hulk And The Agents Of S.M.A.S.H. along with Henry Gilroy, who helped us get the show off the ground.

It really came together pretty quickly and easily. We knew the kind of show we wanted, and we knew the tone, and those guys went away and wrote up a little treatise pitch, and they hit it right the first time. Cort, do you remember anything?

CL: The only thing I’d add is – we had the opportunity to create these shorts which helped us get the feel of the characters and spend a little extra time developing the show.

Were those the ‘Origins’ shorts [embedded above]?

CL: Yeah, that was a great opportunity. We knew starting the series that, unlike our other series like Avengers or Spider-Man, that even after the film the audience doesn’t know that much about the individual characters, other than Peter [Quill, aka Star-Lord, aka Chris Pratt’s movie character].

So the shorts gave us an opportunity to, sort of, give a little bit of the backstory. To the kids, to the viewers, who were seeing these characters coming out of the film.

Was it a tough balance to get the tone right for those kids, do you think? These guys are outlaws with dark backstories, as well as being superheroes… Is that a hard line to tread?

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SW: Well, I think kids hate outlaws.

CL: [Laughs]

SW: I think the kids are going to see a lot of themselves in these characters. No kid is all good, or all bad… these characters, in Guardians, have chequered pasts, for sure. But as we see in the film, they can aim for something higher. They do have a personal quest, each of them. There’s a reason they’ve ended up like they are.

And I think their personalities are so different. That lends to conflict. And out of conflict comes character.

CL: Yeah, the flaws and the humour – that’s what makes them so relatable.

The show is already well underway in the USA, but in the UK it hasn’t started yet. What can you tease to us about where the story is going to go?

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CL: Sure. The short version is that it’s an epic scavenger hunt through the cosmos. And we get to go to a lot of points along the Marvel universe. And meet a lot of interesting characters. Some of them very weird. Some of them unsavoury.

And a lot of it is tied to the past of each of the Guardians. In particular, there’s this very powerful object which is connected to Peter, and his past. And they have to get it to save the universe, of course, but everyone else wants it too.

And, along the way, we meet characters from the Guardians’ individual pasts… who may hate them. And, in Peter’s case, dated them. There’s conflict and there’s humour in that. And we get to see these characters redeem themselves.

And, from your standpoint, how do you see the film and the series to be linked?

SW: We pick up… the last scene in the film is Quill saying to the team “little good, little bad, little bit of both.” That’s where we pick up from. Now, we tell our own story. We’ve gotta do over 13-hours of animation before the next film even comes out. So, the movie’s gonna tell its own story, and we’re gonna tell ours. But, we use the same launching pad. They’re not meant to be tied into one another.

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I think, in terms of tone, they sit very closely to each other. We’re trying to recapture some of the magic that James [Gunn] and his crew brought to the movie. Part of that is the music that we use on the show. We’ve licensed twelve-or-so actual seventies songs. That was part of Cort’s life for a year, trying to nail down those legalities. Um, and I think the music goes a long way to help capture the spirit of the film.

Was James Gunn consulted at all? Did he help out with any advice, at all?

SW: Not directly. We work very closely with Joe Quesada [Marvel Entertainment’s Chief Creative Officer and – at the time of his retirement from the role – the longest-serving Editor-In-Chief of Marvel Comics since Stan Lee] especially. And also with [Marvel Comics publisher] Dan Buckley, who was working with Marvel Studios and relaying information back and forth.

The studio was kind enough to share with us – the script a year ahead of release, and early cuts without special effects – so we could really get the tone and voice right.

And do your writers have the freedom to bring in any Marvel characters they want, or are there quite strict restrictions?

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CL: No… I mean, we have a really robust number of characters throughout the season. A lot of cosmic characters that fans will know from the Guardians books.… and also characters from other parts of the Marvel cosmos. We’ve had a lot of fun playing with them, and connecting them with our Guardians characters in the animated series.

One of the things we’ve seen in the US is that Cosmo as a character is really popular with our audience. He’s a Russian cosmonaut dog who speaks telepathically. And is pretty funny. And a final called Titus from the Nova books who is a cop gone bad from the Nova Core. And so, there’s a lot of fun to be had.

And we have The Collector in our show, and we also get to meet his brother. See the conflict that his brother creates.

SW: The restrictions on characters is where I get to be a bad guy. Because our writers want to use everybody! And, err, sometimes I have to be the one saying ‘look, we’ve got a lot of characters here… lets make sure we service them well.’

CL: [Laughs]

SW: And they burn me an effigy, I’m sure. But yeah, as the series go on, as we get into season 2… there’s no shortage of Marvel characters out there, and we’re going to be bringing in as many as possible.

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And just finally before we go… One of the great things you did with the Ultimate Spider-Man show was to bring in Clark Gregg as Phil Coulson – a character who, at the time, couldn’t be linked to Spider-Man in the movies. Do you have any of that in Guardians? Are you bringing in any characters we wouldn’t normally associate with that team?

SW: Err… there is… I can’t remember if we’ve spoken about it publicly, though, Cort?

CL: [Laughs] You will meet heroes and villains, from other corners of the Marvel universe. And I think we should probably leave it at that. Because the middle of this season is an epic war between different factions in the Marvel universe.

SW: And if you’re familiar with our other films and our other animated series, you’ll recognise one of the characters.

Okay, let the speculation begin then!

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SW: Good! I look forward to your comments section!

Cort Lane and Stephen Wacker, thank you very much!

The Guardians Of The Galaxy TV show premieres in the UK on Saturday 7th November at 8am, with an hour-long special on Disney XD.

The first twenty minutes has already been released online.

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