Brian Volk-Weiss Gives a Behind-the-Scenes Look at ‘The Toys That Made Us’ Season 3
If you were a young millennial or Gen X-er and didn’t live in a sewer like certain heroes in a half-shell, chances are you let your imagination run wild playing with Power Rangers, My Little Pony, wrestling and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles toys. This is what makes Season 3 of The Toys That Made Us so anticipated. The Netflix docu-series returns with four more episodes tapping into many childhoods. Show creator Brian Volk-Weiss worked on the new season with an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality.
“I think with Seasons 1 and 2, based on what we heard from the fans is we got the pathos and the emotion right, but we also got the humor and comedy right,” he said. “We had enough of the stories of the important things from each line right. We also got the right amount of the business aspect of this story right.”
Two adjustments were made based on feedback from the passionate audience: The new installments will have no cursing and reenactments.
“I didn’t predict the co-viewing with Seasons 1 and 2 of multiple generations. I didn’t think there would be 5-year-old kids in the room,” Volk -Weiss explained. “The other thing we did different was the percentage of our budget as it relates to money and time that went into the reenactments that opened every episode, I decided not to do them because we barely got any feedback on them.”
Along with talking Toys, the busy producer and director sat down to provide insight on his other projects including an upcoming Netflix spin-off The Movies That Made Us and Behind the Attraction on Disney+.
Was there any dream “get,” or one creator/producer who required a lot of time and effort logistically to talk with this season?
Brian Volk -Weiss: [Power Rangers producer] Haim Saban does not do very many interviews to begin with, but the thing he really talks about the least lately is Power Rangers. This was a major change from Seasons 2 and 1, in particular. With Season 1 we had to spend a lot of time convincing people we were even telling the truth, and we were making a show about toys for Netflix. By Season 3, Saban for example, loved the first two seasons. He was like, “How come you didn’t do Power Rangers?”
Not only did we get him, when we were told we only had an hour for the interview, I think we talked to him for almost three hours. His assistants kept coming over to show him notes and stuff. He kept waving them away. [TMNT co-creator] Peter Laird has done interviews, and we certainly weren’t the first. But dude, we got an interview with him. We were with him for five hours. I want to be very careful not to give away any spoilers on this topic. But we got an interview. I’ll leave it at that.
One big overarching message for me through the series is what a big impact Toys ‘R’ Us was to the industry in giving relative unproven commodities like a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles a chance.
I have an amazing wife and three awesome kids. That’s all that matters in life to me. So I feel very silly saying what I’m about to say. It is very gut-wrenching and depressing to me that Toys ‘R’ Us is gone. The one I used to go to near my office for 16 years, I drive by it two to five times a month and it’s still there. The sign and everything is still there. Keeping this relative, it’s not family. But it’s very depressing to me. It’s not coming back. The thing that made Toys ‘R’ Us if you strip away the nostalgia and the giraffe, at its core, it was a dedicated distribution system to all 50 states that was directly connected to the biggest toy manufacturers on earth. That is gone. The logo, Geoffrey, they can put that on wallets, backpacks and everything. Target could license it. Southwest Airlines licensed Pan Am for a couple of years. It just painted its planes differently. It wasn’t back. This is the same thing. That distribution network is gone.
One thing about Season 3 of Toys That Made Us is it stays true to a proven formula. It’s so successful that you’re spinning off this series with The Movies That Made Us. What is it like to parlay your winning approach into another thing people love?
Die Hard has been getting DVD extras, behind the scenes stuff for 30 years. So, one of the challenges we had with Movies is there were a lot more documentaries making up movies than there were toys. What we had to do is really boil down every story into two categories. One is stuff that a lot of people know and we need to put in the episode for the story to make sense. Then, stuff because we had the resources that Netflix gave us with their budget and support that we can find out nobody else could.
The budget was so great and goes to is enough money to hire not just great researchers. We had the time to get these inside scoops. One of the main things I get asked is if we tried to get Bruce Willis. I’m not going to lie and say we didn’t try to get him. But we didn’t try too hard. The reason is because if you look at those DVD extras you see him on there like, “I remember walking on the broken glass.” You can only hear it so many times…We thought, “Why did Die Hard look like it was shot a week ago even though it’s like 30 years old?” So getting Jan de Bont, the cinematographer, that was really hard. I would say we spent more time and energy trying to get him than Bruce Willis. At the end of the day, if you’re going to spend time watching The Movies That Made Us Die Hard episode, you probably are already a fan and walked on the glass.
Are you going to bring this same approach to Behind the Attraction that you are working on with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson for Disney+?
There are certain aspects we will be using in that regard. That is the blend of pathos and comedy. We are definitely going to cover the emotion of the story, and as much as we can, use comedy to move the story forward. But the thing that is interesting about Behind the Attractions is we are making it for Disney. We didn’t make the Transformers episode of Toys for Hasbro. It’s a different situation. We have access. If I told you, and I can’t, where i was on Wednesday of this week and today at 2 o’clock it’s amazing. It is unbelievable what they are letting us see and do. The people we are talking to. It’s mind-blowing and still can’t believe it.
If there were more seasons of The Toys That Made Us, what topics do you want to cover?
I definitely want to do Hot Wheels, which of course include Micro Machines. I definitely want to do superheroes, Batman/Super Friends. I would like to do Dungeons & Dragons. I’ll give you a weird one where the story is awesome. That is Nerf. Just Google “generation Nerf,” and that says it all. Here is the thing that will blow your mind. If you look at the top five bestselling toys, every year for the last 35 years, the only toy that never leaves the top five is Nerf. The thing that makes it weird and people don’t think about is the fact it doesn’t have characters. That’s why people forget about it …If they green-light eight more [episodes], I really want to do Happy Meals.
If I get a last season and know it, the last episode I would do The Toys That Should Have Not Been Made. The final column of that episode would be LJN’s Dune line, because the way everybody talks about Star Wars, we have the same words coming from different people about Dune….They all talk about how they thought it would be the biggest thing of all time. I’ve always been interested in failure, so what this does is make every episode work better because you would appreciate how delicate and random the success is. That’s my dream. Of course, I want to do Robotech, Voltron. Cabbage Patch Kids could be a two-hour episode. Nintendo could be its own series. There is a lot out there.
The Toys That Made Us Season 3, Friday, November 15, Netflix