• MLP Season 1-5 Supervising Director Jayson Thiessen Answers A Ton of Questions For Us! Interview Time!

    Jayson Thiessen Interview 2016

    Years ago, back when Friendship is Magic was a brand new thing and pony was just starting it's rise to incredibly popularity, we interviewed Jayson Thiessen about all things My Little Pony. The guy has been pluggin away at the TV series for longer than we have been around! With his recent shift to the official movie releasing in 2017, we figured it was a good time to revisit it.

    Below the break, we bombard the poor guy with way too many questions to make up for not bugging him all these years. Expect insights into how things work behind the scenes! Expect responses to our wild fandom! Expect movie hype! And expect a sweet potato recipe. Yeah, we went there.

    Head on down below to check it out!

    I don’t think we have ever asked this specifically, but for those not aware, what were your daily duties as director on Friendship is Magic? What are you passing on to Big Jim now that you have switched to the 2017 movie full time?

    JT: That’s a long answer… Let’s just say I was in charge of all the creative aspects of production. I commented on scripts, approved designs, supervised voice direction, directed storyboards, animatics, layout, animation, editing, music, sound design, final mix… everything on the creative end! I had help of course from my Co-director, Jim Miller and James Wootton before him. Now Jim is in charge of all that stuff with HIS co-directors! It’s all on him now! Muhuhahaha!

    It has been a whopping five years for us now, and probably more for you. What is it like working on a show that was such a huge internet sensation? Does it still amaze you that so many adult men are into cartoon ponies?

    JT: It’s certainly a great feeling to know that the show that you work so hard to make is being enjoyed by so many unexpected people. Every time I tell someone what I do for a living it becomes a whole conversation. They either can’t believe it’s true or tell me about people they know who are big fans… or they reveal that THEY are. It’s never a short chat.

    The fandom tends to be a lot more critical than the original target audience for the show, especially with the rise of "analysis". Does this side of us ever bother you? Do you ever take any feedback and plan around it in the future? Or do you largely ignore it?

    JT: Criticism is just part of the job, you have to be thick skinned about it. You’re never going to please everybody. All you can do is tell stories that you believe in to the best of your ability and take it all in stride. Some people’s opinions I agree with, some I do not, and some I can tell are just trying to get more views. Those are the WORST because it’s clear they’re only piggybacking on the hype of the show for their own benefit.

    If you knew bronies would be a thing when first planning FiM, do you think the team would have modified anything in the beginning?

    JT: I think we would have put more into making sure there were less little mistakes in the animation… Who knew people would be going through it frame by frame looking for flaws? It was meant to be played at 24 frames per second!! I watch old episodes now and see SO many “oopsies” It makes me cringe.

    What aspects of Friendship is Magic do you think caused such a massive explosion of love for it? Are these things you focused on continuing to do as the seasons roll forward?

    JT: I’d like to think that classic storytelling driven by strong, well-rounded characters in storylines that are meaningful and emotional while also delivering laughs will always work. There are plenty of shows that just focus on being as funny as they can as often as they can, and I just can’t connect with them. They’re “funny” but I just can’t care about them enough to keep watching. It’s a shame… but maybe I’m wrong because they are often popular shows too.

    Are there any especially funny moments behind the scenes that stand out to you in your years directing pony?

    JT: NO! Cartoons are SERIOUS BUSINESS!

    If you had to pick a favorite thing you personally influenced in the content or spirit of Friendship is Magic during your time as Supervising Director, what would you pick?

    JT: Getting Weird Al Yankovic on the show definitely tops the list. Also getting to experiment with other mediums like the felt stop motion and others is up there.

    You were our first Dr. Hooves before Peter New gave him a British accent, and our first Bulk Biceps long before he had that name. Overall, who was your favorite character to voice act and why?

    JT: Bulk Biceps, because I basically just screamed at the top of my lungs into the mic. It’s very therapeutic.

    A lot of people thought Tanks for the Memories was a way for the team to deal with the concept of death, without actually going there; especially with the crying scene. Was that the original intention?

    JT: Yes. It’s a touchy subject that most people do not want a show like ours to tackle, but it’s actually better sometimes when you can’t do it head on. It forces you to be more clever and use metaphor and subtext rather than just be right on the nose.

    Traveling Equestria was something we did a lot of in season 5 with the Cutie Map, and we built some amazing lore for the fandom to play with because of it. Were there any that didn't quite make the cut that you thought would be a lot of fun to explore? Maybe places like Hollow Shades or the Dragon Empire?

    JT: Anywhere we weren’t able to explore just leaves more places for future episodes and seasons to play with.

    We've seen an increase in "Epic" episodes over the past few seasons. Does pony have a much larger budget than it used to? Or did you all simply master animating them so well that it leaves room for more time to really expand things out with guest stars and huge musical numbers?

    JT: There isn’t any significant budget increases that I know about. Over time we get more efficient and the world stakes increase as the show matures and grows. The production team works extremely hard putting their all into the quality of the show. If it wasn’t for their dedication and love, it wouldn’t be what it is now!

    The season finale was probably one of the darkest we have seen with World War 2 style Equestria taking the center stage. Is that something you have always been allowed to explore? Or a more recent opening of themes?

    JT: It’s again due to the maturity of the show over time. In season one we never would have been able to do something so dark, but little by little, we proved that the audience can handle it. I’m glad it worked out that way because it allowed us to grow with it and learn all the nuances it needs to feel earned and not just spectacle.

    Episode 100 was awesome. Few disagree with that statement. What sort of influence did you have on the choice of brony fandom shoutouts? Did you think it was a good or bad idea, or simply that it was another episode? Is it exciting to work on a show that gets to 100 episodes or is it fairly commonplace for you these days?

    JT: To be honest, I was kind of worried about pandering to the fans so much, I thought it was a knife’s edge and could alienate a lot of people… but at the same time I thought it was right to honour the people that love the show and helped make it so popular. In the end I think it worked out for the best and I’m glad it went over as well as it did.

    It’s certainly an amazing feeling to be able to achieve 100+ episodes! I don’t know if i’ll ever get that chance again, so I value it highly and am very proud.

    Of all the brony fandom characters celebrated in episode 100, Derpy Hooves was probably the most significant. She went from being completely axed a few years ago, to playing a major role with a ridiculously cute voice and demeanor in the big celebratory episode. How did you all decide on how you would portray her? Were there a few other ideas on what she would do, or how she would act in the episode?

    JT: In our minds, she was always the lovable klutz just trying to do her best. Despite what some people thought, we were always well intentioned with her. We love her!

    And in the realm of cutting things, we heard M.A. Larson mention a few scenes from episode 100 that didn’t quite make it, including bat ponies, a “Devil went down to Georgia” music battle between Sombra and Octavia, and more. Were there any others that you all had that didn’t air in the end?

    JT: I try to not regret. You gotta cut the right things to make the storytelling better and not pine for what could have been too much.

    Has there ever been anything in the last five seasons that when looking back, you would have changed based on how the show played out?

    JT: I would have wanted to spend more time building towards Twilight’s Princessdom. Set it up early on and give tiny hints to the possibility.

    Is Hasbro more or less pushy about adding certain things these days? We saw a lot of product placement early on, but aside from the upcoming swan boat, the concept seems to have waned over time. (At least, I don't think I remember ever seeing Applejack with a pink truck in the show.) Do they give you a lot more freedom than they used to? Or do they still influence a lot of what happens?

    JT: Hasbro is a toy and entertainment company, it’s inevitable that the two will meet. They’ve been very reasonable when it comes to how toy designs make it into the show. We try to make them fit into the stories as flawlessly as possible. I’d like to think we’ve gotten a bit better at it over time.

    How does the process of getting guest stars on the show work? Is it really as fluid as a twitter message and a yes or no like we see on our end?

    JT: If there’s a star we feel would work for an episode, we approach them through the proper channels… but seeing a big star express interest in the show publicly does help get the ball rolling.

    As an obvious fan of potatoes, give us your best potato-related recipe.

    JT: I love me home made sweet potato fries. Cut it into thinnish strips and stir in a bowl with just enough olive oil to coat them all lightly. Then add salt, pepper and the spice of your choice (curry powder, cinnamon, or chili powder work well… or make your own concoction) then on to a tray and into the oven at 400F for 20 minutes or so. Yum!

    Was there ever any talk of a spin off series for the show outside of Equestria Girls? We saw a lot of rumbling about splitting the Cutie Mark Crusaders into their own thing early on, and obvious excitement about the idea from the fandom. If Hasbro handed you a blank check and said “Make a pony spinoff!” how would you play it out?

    JT: I dunno, My Little Turkey?

    The My Little Pony comics are one of the tools we use to survive the inevitable pony episode hiatuses. Typically, they tend to be pretty different than what we expect in the show. Luna in particular is much more silly in the comics, almost completely abandoning her serious personality in recent episodes in favor of a more "out of her timeline" jokey style. How much sharing of information between your team and IDW's comic staff is going on? Do you both typically do your own thing?

    JT: We do our own thing, and the comics choose to follow us or do their own thing. We don’t have much if any communication.

    In the episode Princess Spike, the OC Character Avatars for IDW MLP Comic Writer Katie Cook and IDW MLP Comic Artist Andy Price made cameo appearances as attendees of the friendship summit. How did the cameo for those two come about?

    JT: We’re friends with them and we gave them a shout out. They’ve done the same for us.

    We have seen this guy in the background, and despite several "hints" at a relationship with Twilight in both toys and movies, he never really went anywhere. Were there ever plans to add Flash Sentry to ponyland from Equestria Girls in a major role?

    JT: Nope.

    And on the topic of relationships, it seems to be something that has been completely avoided for the mane 6 over the last few years. Was this due to the possible reaction from fans? Or was it never in the original vision of the show to begin with?

    JT: You answered your own question with the second option.

    Does the team prefer creating their own villains? Or do you like bringing in the old school G1 bad guys and modifying them to fit the current world?

    JT: A little from column A, and a little from column B.

    The number of show episodes that depend on continuity has slowly gone up over the years. How do you find a balance between keeping the show accessible for casual viewers and telling more involved stories that many dedicated viewers, kids and adults, seem to enjoy?

    JT: It’s definitely harder and harder to keep track of it all. It’s great to honour the continuity and we do it as much as we can… but at some point you gotta move forward and build something new.

    If Hasbro suddenly decided to shift into generation 5 after the movie, would you want to direct it?

    JT: There’s a whole lot of “It depends” in the answer to that question.

    Everyone wondered how you would top the Season 4 finale, and Starlight Glimmer rewriting time did not disappoint. Should we already start getting hyped about the Season 6 finale?

    JT: I have nothing to do with season 6. So for Jim and his team’s sake… GET SO INCREDIBLY HYPED FOR SEASON 6 FINALE! AAAAAAUUGHHHH!!!!!

    I think that about covers it! Thanks a ton for answering our crazy fandom questions! Was there anything else you’d like to leave us before you get back to making us an awesome 2017 pony movie?

    JT: Have patience… we’re doing our best to make the movie well worth the wait!

    Follow Jayson Thiessen on Twitter over here!

    (Equestions changed to Questions. It was a dumb pun at 3 AM anyway)