• INTERVIEW: Brian Volk Weiss on Toys That Made Us Season 3

    Well this is certainly a big week for My Little Pony!

    Yesterday we had an announcement for a brand new cartoon series airing on Discovery Family in 2020. On Friday the Documentary series the Toys that Made Us will release its third season.

    As part of that season, they dedicated an episode to My Little Pony!

    To help celebrate the occasion, Equestria Daily had the distinct honor to interview the creator, director, and show runner of the series Brian Volk Weiss.

    After the break you'll be able to find the full interview were we go into quite a bit of detail about his creative process for the series, and what really surprised him about the toys of My Little Pony.

    The Illustrious Q: Brian, thank you so much for sitting down to be interviewed by a Equestria Daily tonight. I know creating, producing, directing, and even promoting a documentary series is very, very time intensive. So it's a huge honor for you to take time out of your schedule to sit down with us.

    Brian Volk Weiss: Without being cheesy, man, the honor is certainly all mine. The fact that anybody cares at all, about what I have to say is still somewhat surprising.

    TIQ: Well you've covered Transformers, GI Joe and He-Man in basically the first season and that was most of my childhood right there. And then season two was Star Wars and Star Trek and that was the rest of it.

    So yeah, your series has been amazing for me just to be able to see and watch over these last two seasons. So I'm really looking forward to seeing what season three has in store.

    BVW: Well, you're very kind, man, and we certainly don't take it for granted. You know that people seem to dig the show.

    TIQ: Well we certainly dug it enough that apparently Netflix decided to renew this eight part documentary series and make it an ongoing. So how stoked were you when the series was picked up for its third season?

    BVW: Stoked isn't a strong enough word. I mean, I produced a lot of first season shows. I've produced very few third season and second season shows. This is certainly my first series ever that got a third season. So I couldn't be happier. The whole thing for three years after the show was initially greenlit, I was saying, "This is surreal, this is surreal. Everything is surreal."

    But then we were at the San Diego Comic-Con this year, and they put us in the big room and there's like thousands and thousands of people and I literally was looking at this and this is like “I’m living in a movie.” It's not even surreal anymore. I feel like I'm living in a movie. I never thought I'd be on a panel at Comic-Con, let alone in front of thousands of people.

    So yeah, that's the best way I can describe it. I feel like I'm living in a movie.

    TIQ: Gee, it almost sounds as if someone should make a documentary about what goes into making The Toys That Made Us.

    BVW: No, I don't know how great that would be, but I think maybe if it was a short film. Like real short.

    TIQ: Yes, real short film as opposed to the unexpected five part documentary series you've basically made for Hasbro over the last, well, it's going to be three seasons.

    BVW: That's true, but don't forget Mattel, LEGO, and everybody else. But the fact that they even return our phone calls is certainly, a word I don't use often, blessing.

    TIQ: I can believe that. 

    When you first started on the series, did you ever expect to spend as much time working on Hasbro toy lines as you've actually done?

    BVW: No. This show got greenlit about three years ago. I absolutely cannot believe this show was even greenlit at all. It is literally just amazing to me that this has happened. Like, yeah, cannot believe it. And it's been three years.

    TIQ: And hopefully many more to come. We'll see what the future holds with season three and how well that's received.  

    BVW: Yes, I hope people like it because there ain't going to be a season four it if they don't.

    TIQ: Very true. Very true. And considering that season three has a My Little Pony episode, I'm pretty sure you're going to get a lot of eyes on this season, that's for sure.

    BVW: I hope so. From your lips to God's ears as they say.

    TIQ: Yep. And that ends up bringing us to the meat and potatoes of this interview actually. So how did you come up with the idea for doing an episode dedicated to what's basically the third major iconic 1980s Hasbro toy line, My Little Pony?

    BVW: I got these three kind of quasi rules in my brain. The first rule I call it the Mount Rushmore of toys rule. My theory is this: When we're considering doing a toy line, does that line have one or more characters that could be on a theoretical Mount Rushmore of toys.

    So for an example, my wife doesn't know anything about Transformers. But she can recognize Optimus Prime. She can recognize Bumblebee. And that means those characters could be on a Mount Rushmore of toys. Same thing with My Little Pony, if there was a pink pony on the Mount Rushmore, everybody would be like, "Oh, that's My Little Pony." So that's the first box that got checked.

    The second box it's very important that we do toys that are multi-generational. A lot of people are like, "You got to do Mask. You got to do Mask." and I'm like, "no, I don't because it was on the air for two years." They only made the line for technically three but really two, and nobody, not ages 38 to 48 is going to even know what the hell Mask is. These episodes are not cheap. So to spend all this money on an episode about a toy that only 10 years of humans who are alive are aware of, that's not a good use of Netflix's money.

    My Little Pony, arguably is going into at least its third, almost its fourth generation of fans. So there's people older than me that like it, I like it, and two of my three kids like it. So that's box number two that My Little Pony checked.

    In box number three, every episode, the toy in question has to have a good story. We need a good story. There's some toys that are massive hits that are icons, but basically somebody had an idea, it got greenlit and then it got put on store shelves, and it was a huge hit. That's not very exciting. You need to have ups and downs, and twists and turns, and My Little Pony got very similar in many ways to the He-Man episode. She has a lot of twists and turns.

    TIQ: Yeah. To put that in mildly, because I've been to a couple of My Little Pony conventions with Bonnie,Zacherle. She's gone into the origin story for My Little Pony on more than one occasion and my mind's just been blown. It's like, okay, I did not realize that the toy line business, the toy industry, was that freaking competitive?

    BVW: Yep. Oh it is.

    TIQ: And speaking of Bonnie, the trailer for season three focuses a lot on the My Little Pony toys and it also showcases that you've met and interviewed the creator of the toy line Bonnie Zacherle, the creator of the My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic cartoon show, Lauren Faust, the voice actress behind Twilight Sparkle, Tara Strong, and my all time favorite Star Trek actor who's also the voice of Discord, John de Lancie, just to name a few of the people who I'm guessing have been interviewed for this documentary series. Now I don't want to fish for spoilers in the upcoming season. So instead I'm going to ask you a different question. 

    What were some of the stories that cropped up while interviewing these people, which you unfortunately had to leave on the cutting room floor?

    BVW: Well we had to leave a lot on the cutting room floor, as we always do. The good news is, we put a Blu-ray out a month ago that has sold super duper well. So that all but guarantees we will be putting another one out next year. The Blu-ray that came out just has seasons one and two. Due to it doing as well as it has, we're almost definitely going to do season three next year and we'll include a lot of the stuff that we cut out.

    I'm going to be very honest with you, I typically do not talk about stuff we cut out before a premiere, and usually not within six to 12 months of a premiere. I tend to ease up a bit a year later and start saying stuff I wouldn't say now. So pardon me for dodging your question a little bit.

    TIQ: No, no, no. It's completely understandable. I definitely get where you're coming from. As an artist and as a creator, you don't want to talk about the stuff that's missing from the work when you're trying to showcase what's actually in the film itself.

    BVW: Yeah, but I also, and I'm just thinking out loud right now, sometimes you have an instinct. You have an instinct, but you don't really know what's the foundation of that instinct. In this case, I think it's like I want people watching the show. I don't want them thinking about what's not in the show. I want them to think about what's in the show, and not be like, "Oh, I wish this was there." That's what I'm saying.

    A year from now, when most people who are going to watch it have already seen it, yeah then I'm going to hit it up hard. It'll also be on the Blu-ray I predict, if there's another one. Which I think I there will be.

    TIQ: Well that's definitely a good teaser and incentive for people to buy the potential season three Blu-rays. So here's hoping that's in the cards. 

    Over the course of the previous two seasons, you've interviewed fans of these various toy lines who have humongous toy collections. Did the size of the My Little Pony toy collections that you ended up featuring in this episode surprise you at all?

    BVW: Yes, they definitely surprised me, because one of the things that's interesting about My Little Pony that is obvious when you think about it, but it's not that obvious until you really see it.

    There's certain things in life that theoretically makes sense in your head, but until you actually are standing there or seeing something, you just can't really get it until you're there. And the thing to me that I did not realize about My Little Pony until I was in a room with a collection of it is almost every single other toy is some degree of dark. GI Joe is dark. Transformers even. Optimus Prime is a dark red and a dark blue. Soundwave, dark blue. Star Scream, gray. Snake Eyes, all black. Even Lady Jaye, darker green. The Wolverine, dark green.

    My Little Pony, it's all super duper, bright.

    So when you walk into a room of only GI Joe, it's a dark room. When you walk into a room of every My Little Pony, it's a bright, beautiful rainbow and it's, in a good way, overwhelming. It's like sensory overload, because it's just this bright explosion of colors. It's very cool and warm, and in many ways soothing.

    I've met with the crazy collectors, and I mean that is compliment. I am a crazy collector too. I was in a room that was only GI Joe and I'm like, "Dude, what is that? A 20 Watt light bulb?" And he's like, "No, that's actually a 100 Watt light bulb." But because the toys are so dark, it's dark. But My Little Pony is the opposite. Like a 100 Watt light bulb, you'd probably go blind. It's good if it's a 20 Watt light bulb.

    So that's what I found very different and unique to My Little Pony. These collections are just beautiful, warm, bright colors. That is very soothing. And I don't think there's any other toy like that. Even Hello Kitty, it's not the same bright, bright colors.

    TIQ: Yeah. Hello Kitty I know happens to be very white as opposed to "here's the whole rainbow."

    BVW: Right.

    TIQ: Which is definitely a very, very surprising thing when you actually think about it. And one of the other things that I'm kind of curious about is how much do you end up going into the licensed toys that My Little Pony has had over the years? 

    Like I know for He-Man, primarily the products for that toy line came straight from Mattel, but for My Little Pony, the primary creators of the toys and the the IP holder is Hasbro. Hasbro also has a practice of actually licensing out their own IPs to other companies, and even other toy companies, to make more products that either Hasbro's not interested in making at the time, or they just don't have the capacity to make.

    BVW: The majority of what we covered are the actual ponies themselves or they experiment every now and then with different kind of My Little Pony type toys. Like they did mermaid My Little Ponies once. So we go a lot into that stuff. A lot of what Hasbro and Mattel and everybody licenses out, they're not the actual toys.

    It's more of the consumer products. And I made a very deliberate choice when the show was greenlit, before season one started shooting, to not really get into consumer products. It's so easy when you make a documentary about almost any topic to just meander into little crevices of niche aspects of the topic at hand. So I always worked very hard to establish rules so that the shows that we produce don't do that. And consumer products, LEGO does the same thing, Barbie does the same thing, is a real tributary to the main river that I don't really like going down because that's another show. I really try to keep the topic on the main product that's being sold.

    TIQ: That makes sense. Thank you. So I know that you also ended up interviewing Lauren Faust for the documentary, mostly because she was in the trailer.

    BVW: Yes, we did.

    TIQ: How much time do you end up devoting to the animated history of the, well, the cartoon history of the My Little Pony toy line?

    BVW: We get into a fair amount because as with GI Joe and Transformers, and unlike Barbie, and unlike Hello Kitty, and in certain ways, unlike Star Trek, the cartoon really is what made it work. You know the toy itself did well, but it was the cartoon that really gave the characters a voice. So yeah, you really can't do My Little Pony without getting into the cartoon. Like Star Trek had a cartoon, but it had nothing to do with the success of the toy line or the show in general. So, but My Little Pony just like Transformers, I don't know if there's a success without the cartoons. So it's a big part of the show.

    TIQ: There's going to be a lot of people who are going to be very, very excited to hear that. That's for sure.

    BVW: Good. I'm happy to hear that.

    TIQ: And speaking of people who are going to be happy about hearing that the history of the show is going to be in there, were you aware of the adult, My Little Pony fan base, the Bronies, before making the My Little Pony documentary?

    BVW: Yeah, I was, because I had seen John de Lancie's doc. And again, I'm not a Brony. I mean I don't go to conventions. I don't dress up like anything, but I get it. My daughter was really into it, still is.

    The thing about Bronies that I don't think a lot of people understand is, if you don't know anything about My Little Pony, it's like, "why are these old dudes into these little colored ponies?" But if you watch the cartoon, very quickly, you start to realize, "well, these ponies all have different personalities, just like the Transformers. Like there's a pony version of Optimus Prime, there's a pony version of Bumblebee, there's a pony version of Megatron in the later series. So why?"

    It's all about the writing, and it's all about the characters. So why would it be okay that men are into trucks that transform into robots, that have good personalities and good plots, who wouldn't be into ponies that have good personalities and good plots? And the majority of the Bronies that we talked to, that's really what they say. They're like, I watched the show because my sister was into it, and then I fell in love with it. And I mean that's basically what happened.

    By the way, I had the same thing with, what do you call it on Amazon, what is it called? [The Marvelous Ms.] Maisel, you know, that show. That's the antithesis of a show that I would watch. I say that because I'm really not into stuff about behind the scenes of show business. I don't like stuff, especially that's behind the scenes of comedy, because I do a lot of comedy. I'm really not into a show like that.

    I'm also not into a period piece from like the 30s, but my wife was watching it, and I'm sitting there in bed reading or whatever, and I can tell by listening to the dialogue that it's a great show. And of course now I'm the bigger fan of Maisel than my wife is. And that's similar to what happens with Pony, where you basically have a great show, with great writing, and great characters. It's going to rub off and that's why those Bronies.

    Now we don't dedicate a lot of time to the episode about this. Partly because John de Lancie's  doc was so good. I understand it and I get it. Like I said, I have a whole collection of My Little Pony now.

    So I am a Brony? I don't think so, but as of season three, I am way more into My Little Pony than I am into wrestling and also Power Rangers, easily.

    TIQ: That's really good to hear. What were some of the things that absolutely surprised you when you were making this episode dedicated to My Little Pony?

    BVW: I surprised that there is a very similar dynamic between the creators with each other. That is very similar to the He-Man [episode] of it all. You have a lot of people taking credit for a lot of things. And one of the core things about making a show like this is unlike the people that are claiming credit that in many cases don't talk to each other, we talk to everybody. We kind of can figure out, oh this guy did this, this gal did that.

    So we're very good at putting pieces together, and very often, and this did happen with the He-Man episode as well, we can say to these people after the cameras stopped, "Hey just so you know, you think that guy hates you. He doesn't. He actually feels bad you guys aren't friends."

    In many cases, and this actually happened with My Little Pony as well, two people incorrectly thought the other hated the other. We were able to tell them after the cameras had stopped—by the way, we never say this ahead of time—we're like, "Maybe you should text so and so, because she feels bad about what went down. And I bet if you guys talked you'd feel pretty good about your relationship." So that's a part of it as well.

    TIQ: Yeah, being able to mend friendships. That's very topical surprisingly.

    BVW: So to quote the great show Quantum Leap: "to make right where once went wrong."

    TIQ: Brian, I wish we were on the exact same coast, because you'd basically be my best friend.

    BVW: That's very kind of you to say.

    TIQ: I love Quantum Leap, and that pretty much just goes through all the questions that I had for this interview. There's just one left that I'd like to finish off any interview with and that is, do you have anything else you'd like to talk about for the audience of a Equestria Daily?

    BVW: You know, we have a spin off of The Toys That Made Us coming out also this month on November 29th, The Movies That Made Us. It's premiering. So if you're a fan of The Toys That Made Us, please check out The Movies That Made Us, because I hope you'll dig it. If you'd like toys, I'm pretty sure you'll like The Movies That Made Us.

    TIQ: Thank you very much, Brian. Thank you so much for your time. It's been an absolute pleasure.

    BVW: Thank you, and vice versa. I feel the same way.

    TIQ: Thank you very much. Have a good night.