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Twisted Metal - Interview with Showrunner Michael J. Smith

We spoke with the showrunner for Twisted Metal and discussed a potential musical, and his hopes for a Destiny movie.

Audio transcription

"I'm not too bad, how are you? How is everyone, I guess, I've just realised.
I'm good.
Yeah. Just before we get started, do you prefer Michael or MJ?
Michael's fine, yeah."

"Michael's fine, cool. So yeah, whenever we're ready to go. Dan, are we recording? Oh, I've just seen the light.
Yeah. So basically, just to kick things off, I guess, considering this has already been out in the US, but for like UK viewers, for European viewers, this is the first time.
So could you sort of quickly, I guess, sales pitch, elevator pitch for maybe people who have heard of the game or maybe they've heard of this series from like the Peacock numbers, for example, that we'll talk about later."

"But, you know, they've heard of it, but they might not.
You might not even know what they're getting into.
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, so Twisted Metal is an action comedy that takes place in the post-apocalypse about this guy, John Doe, who's like a post-apocalyptic essentially post-Mates driver who delivers packages between these walled cities and he gets this opportunity to actually go inside one of the walled cities, which never happens."

"But he has to pick up a package halfway across the divided states of America and bring it back.
It's kind of a road trip movie, but along the way he meets this woman, Quiet, and it becomes a story about the two of them and facing off against Sweet Tooth the Clown and crazy post-apocalyptic highway patrolmen and all sorts of fun characters from the game."

"And they're doing it in these incredible battle-ready demolition derby cars.
Yeah.
That's kind of the elevator pitch of it.
It's fun, irreverent, it's a little bloody, but it's a good time."

"It is a good time.
I was going to say I spotted Sweet Tooth behind you there on the poster.
Yeah.
So there's Sweet Tooth, there's other people that we won't spoil."

"We won't spoil.
I appreciate that.
Yeah.
So this has clearly got some heavy roots in the game, whereas it might not be necessarily adapting one of the game's stories."

"They're just sort of more like crash car games, really.
They don't really have a narrative, but you guys have actually...
I mean, you guys have decided one in."

"How much experience did you have with the Twisted Metal franchise before you sort of took on this project?
And was there sort of any key things that made you go, Twisted Metal, that's the thing I want to adapt?
Yeah, absolutely."

"I mean, I was a fan of the games from Twisted Metal Black.
That was my first Twisted Metal.
And I had so many fond memories of playing that in my bedroom when I finally was able to sneak a TV in there and just play."

"So I loved that game growing up.
And then when I first played it, I was like, I heard that they were, you know, that Sony and PlayStation were interested in adapting it."

"I had to be involved.
I was just like, I know it's not just being a fan, but also it's like that sort of comedy action is in my wheelhouse.
This is stuff I love to write."

"So the second I heard that they were doing it, I was like, I want to be a part of it, please.
And I worked real hard to get in that room and to pitch, you know, the pilot and how I imagined it."

"Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, who did Deadpool and Zombieland, you know, kind of had the first take on it and, you know, let me kind of run with it and bring it to the show it is now.
So it was, you know, just the opportunity to do."

"I'm a big Mad Max fan.
I'm a big, you know, action fan.
And I love, you know, I love comedy.
So it just felt like the most fun thing to do."

"Yeah.
Yeah.
I mean, talking about like action experiences, talking about your experiences in writing as well, you previously worked on Cobra Kai, you know, sort of another big sort of big hit streaming show."

"How do you sort of translate your experience from something like Cobra Kai?
They're very sort of different in terms of certain aspects, but they also have that sort of focus on very character-driven stories and not like exploding cars in Cobra Kai, but there's a sort of action there, you know."

"Yeah.
There's the karate action and there is the sort of fights and things like that.
Absolutely.
I mean, yeah."

"Oh, yeah.
I mean, look, like you're right.
They are very different shows in a lot of ways.
But what I learned so much on Cobra Kai that I brought into Twisted Metal is it's all about the characters."

"It's all about their journey.
Yeah.
It's all about making them relatable and funny and what makes you root for them.
And I think when it comes to the action, so much of the action, the way we approach it is, what are the characters dealing with in this moment and how does that, you know, translate into the action?
It's just, we think of it a lot like a musical, except instead of breaking into songs, they jump into cars."

"You've made me want a Twisted Metal musical now, I think.
I would love, trust me, I would love that.
Season two, season two.
Season two, maybe, maybe."

"But it's so much about that and making sure that the action isn't just...
You know, we want the action to be fun and cool, but we also want it to feel like there's a flow to it and that the characters are changing or that, you know, this is coming to a head for characters in a lot of ways."

"Yeah.
You're talking a lot about characters.
I mean, we get to know people in sort of ways that you might not expect in Twisted Metal."

"When you hear it, you might just think, you know, imagine you say like a bit of a Mad Max experience, just crashing cars and getting on with things from that or a sort of post-apocalyptic thing."

"But we do get to know people here and there's definite arcs.
How did you get around writing, someone like Sweet Tooth, for example, who not only is a sort of maze to get into from the character in the first place, but you've also got Will On Air and Samoa Joe, as most people would know him from sort of wrestling, playing the body and the voice of the characters."

"Is that sort of a challenge when you're writing it?
Do you think about, is it going to be two separate people going, you know, back and forth?
No."

"I mean, look, when writing the character, so much of Sweet Tooth, what's so fun about Sweet Tooth is that he's changed a little bit each game."

"Because there's so many iterations, there's so many we can pull from.
We can pull from him wishing to be a caterpillar, from the second game, we can wish for him to just, you know, go after the daughter that he tried to murder when he was, you know, I think in 2012 or Black."

"But I think it's 2012.
But so there's a lot of options to choose from.
And I think the way we approached it was, what is the DNA from all those characters that we can translate?
And what is so fun about him is we wanted him to be just like chaos incarnate."

"You know, when he arrives, you don't know what he's going to do.
He can be your friend one moment.
He can, you know, be your enemy the next."

"He can laugh at destroying an entire truck.
He can cry because, you know, something, you know, because he, you know, ran over a sandwich.
Like we really can't control any emotion."

"So he is so much fun to write.
And he also like can get, I don't want to say, you know, he can kind of, he has this almost like otherworldly point of view."

"In some ways, because he's so fun and irreverent.
And I think what was so fun about him and honestly, you know, Samoa Joe and Will Arnett playing the character when writing that didn't really come into play."

"We're just like, let's just get the character down and make sure he feels weighted and funny and dangerous and exciting and you just pops on screen.
And then on the set, it was a challenge for, not on set, but you know, later in post, it was a challenge because, you know, Joe does an amazing performance."

"And then, you know, we basically are kind of, we're kind of doing 80, you know, we're doing voiceover in reverse.
Typically you have the actor provide the voice first and then act to it, but we wanted both of them."

"It was really important to me that both of them, both Samoa Joe and Will Arnett had agency in the character.
I kind of wanted them both to bring themselves into it.
So Joe brought his very, you know, big, just gesticulating, you know, performance, wrestling performance and big, big energy in."

"And then Will brought, you know, his comedy and his point of view and his voice and his concept of sweet tooth and kind of meshed them together."

"And I think, you know, that allows him to be this kind of almost two minds character, like he just works for us in such a fun way.
And it comes across really well as well."

"Cause I remember thinking when I first sort of saw the clips and stuff like that, I thought, gosh, Will Arnett's gone through a massive body transformation.
It comes across really naturally."

"You know, he's Christian Bale himself or something like that, you know.
Oh my God, that's so funny.
Yeah, you know what we actually did, not to get super technical, but what we did was we obviously edited the episode with Joe, brought it in for Will to do his ADR and just told him let's make jokes, improvise."

"We threw him lines on the day.
It was a blast to work with.
And then what we did was we brought his voice into the editing bay and then re-edited the show to his voice."

"So we shifted it around.
So unlike some ADR where like it has to match the lip movement or whatever, since he's wearing a mask, we didn't have to do that."

"So we had a little bit of freedom to make sure the performance worked.
And there were moments where we changed takes to fit Will's voice a little better, you know."

"So it was a blast and they were two, the two of them were super game.
It is, I mean, looking at Twisted Metal, like Twisted Metal Black, for example, even just looking at Ava Varane, it could have really gone one of two ways, I think, this show, because you could have gone in sort of an edgier, darker thing."

"But what I really like about it is the humor, is the sort of like almost the, like on the bright side of the apocalypse in a way, especially stuff like that."

"You sort of like, oh, you know, I didn't want to live here, but I want these guys to, you know, have a good time here, even if it's blowing up every few seconds."

"What was the sort of decision-making behind going with that angle for the show?
For me, like for me, I think that there's a lot of post-apocalyptic shows out there and a lot of them are, and I love a lot of them."

"And a lot of them get very heavy and very dark because post-apocalypse is a very dark concept.
And I think what I love about the game Twisted Metal is that it's just really fun to play."

"It's so much fun to blast your friends, to like shoot a missile at the last moment, explode the car, drive through the wreckage.
Like it feels great."

"And for me, that was like one of the biggest things I wanted to adapt was the fun of the game and the fun it feels to play those things.
And the apocalypse is just more fun with a friend."

"So we just wanted to bring that in and we wanted the show to be, there's so much, look, the world is heavy.
It's, you know, shows are heavy."

"We wanted something to just be an escape and something to just be really fun to watch and something you could just breeze through and just enjoy and come out smiling."

"You know, that was the goal.
I think like it's at least, you know, clearly so far it has worked because like I was in my research, I was finding 400 million views, I believe on Nielsen's data in the first weekend of it growing up."

"Did you guys sort of expect this level of success?
Obviously, you know, you hope for it, but where do you think that stems from in sort of, as you say, it's a good time."

"People are having a good time with it clearly, but what do you think draws just so many people?
I think it's a combo platter of it's really fun.
It's got action."

"It came out in the summer.
We want, you know, I think Peacock wanted it to be a summer blockbuster energy.
And I think, you know, for us, I mean, I was surprised in a good way."

"I mean, I hope it would, people would watch it and really enjoy it.
And I think, part of it too was just people didn't know what to expect."

"Like, oh, it's just a metal.
There's a bit of cynicism to adapting, you know, any video game.
And I think we won over the fans and we won over people who didn't know what to expect because it's got heart and comedy and action."

"And it's just, you just love the characters and you fall in love with their journey, you know?
Yeah.
Just interesting what you said before about like a summer blockbuster for like a streamer."

"And do you think that sort of is becoming more common now?
We're seeing maybe people, I mean, movies are still up.
They actually beat video games, I think in the UK for the first time in like 10 years as an industry last year."

"Wow.
So movies are clearly, you know, back in a big way, but there's also this really, really big streaming audience."

"Do you think they're sort of battling it out almost in terms of the summer blockbuster space where once it would have just been go to the movies for your summer blockbuster?
You know, I think, I think with the way that television and streaming, now that, you know, it's kind of blended, it's kind of blurring the lines between TV and movies."

"Like, you know, you have a lot of these shows like ours where, you know, it's basically what a six hour movie.
Yeah.
It's an event as well to go watch it, yeah."

"Exactly.
And I think like, what's nice about it is like, you can take it at your own pace.
You can binge it."

"You can watch a few at a time.
You can, you know, spread it out for the long winter ahead.
And I think, I'm hopeful that, you know, it keeps going that way and that, and that we can keep making shows like this because I think they're really fun to make and they're really, you know, different."

"And I think what I love so much about TV is, you know, you, you're allowed to live with the character longer and see them change.
And I think in a movie it's, it's obviously a much shorter burst of story and character."

"And with TV, like that's what I fell in love with is the idea of letting these characters grow season over season.
What are their stories moving forward and how do they change and how do they stay the same and, you know, things like that."

"Yeah.
And season over season, you know, I will, you know, I know it's probably very tight lipped, but in December we did get the confirmation of season two."

"I'm not going to push on anything, anything at all.
I'm going to be, you know, very kind."

"But is there any, anything that you are excited about for this season?
Because I feel season one is very, very good at setting the stage and building up who we, who we know by the end."

"And then season two, as you said, maybe a musical.
You know, we've had the idea, or maybe, you know, how, how wild and wacky do you want to go?
Because I feel like there's a lot of ways that you can go with Twisted Metal that are just."

"I think we have, I obviously don't want to spoil anything.
I don't want to spoil the end of season one.
I think like what's, what's fun about our worlds and our shows."

"You never know who's around that corner.
Yeah.
You never know who you're going to meet.
You never know what you're going to see."

"And I think that is something that we're, we're definitely going to see a lot.
We're going to, that's definitely something you'll experience in season two."

"Cool.
Cool.
And Twisted Metal, as you've said before, it's not the only video game adaptation around, especially nowadays that they seem to be popping up left, right center."

"Why do you think that is?
Why do you think there's such sort of a big drive?
I think because, and I think hats off to PlayStation for this too, is they want the fans to be involved in the making of these shows."

"And the people who grew up playing video games are now in a place.
And that isn't to say people who were adapting it earlier, didn't play games, but I think now it's like seeing how video game adaptations in the past have worked."

"Or not worked.
And seeing, you know, now that people are coming into it as a fan, it's like, well, this is how, what I would want to see."

"And I think that's so much of how I came into adapting to some metal is like, what are, what is the coolest stuff I want to see happen?
And who are the cool characters I want to meet?
And how would I want to see them?
So it's always coming from a place of like, what will get the fans excited?
What will get people excited?
And, you know, during, in our writer's room, it's very much, if we aren't cheering, pitching this stuff, it's not going to work."

"So it's definitely coming from that vibe of like, we, you know, I think it's, it's just, people are fans of, of this stuff now."

"And, and, and now they think, you know, they have a chance to make it."

"Yeah.
Cool.
I mean, apart from this upcoming second season, then I have to, is there anything else that you would love to adapt as a video game?
Is there any other video game adaptation that is just sitting in your backlog that you'd go, I'd love to bring that to life."

"I got to, Destiny.
I'm a big Destiny fan.
I think that would be such a fun world to adapt and, and, and take a crack at."

"I love that game.
And then if I was going to go like obscure, medieval, that, the PlayStation game."

"Evil spell, E-V-I-L.
Yes.
Yes.
Yeah."

"Yes.
Yeah.
Yeah.
I always call it mid-eye evil.
And I don't think that's evil, but, but that game I think would be super fun to adapt."

"It's like kind of funny and like taking a crack at a funny fantasy feels like, I don't know.
I don't know if you've played the Sony sort of almost smash bros esque like game where they had all the characters."

"They had the guy from medieval whose name is slipped by me.
That's sweet tooth.
Obviously you could put that whole thing together, make your own."

"A PlayStation kingdom hearts would be a blast.
Sorry to interrupt.
I have to make this last question.
That's okay.
That's perfectly fine."

"Yeah, I guess I'll just, I'll just carry on with, I think we'll go back to sort of characters actually.
Something that I thought was really interesting is how you guys developed the characters in a way that may be."

"So like John Doe, for example, is a way of sort of almost feels like it's like giving the players, as you said, like a chance to sort of not, you know, not all of us, none of us are Anthony Mackie apart from Anthony Mackie, but it almost puts them in that sort of, you know, point in the story almost instead of making the show."

"For example, a lot of people might've thought, Oh, we'll make the show about sweet tooth or they'd want those sort of characters to be the primary character."

"But I found it really interesting that you guys sort of went with your own sort of characters and story.
So could you just explain maybe the decision-making behind that?
Absolutely."

"I mean, look like what's so fun about sweet tooth.
Oh, sorry.
What's so fun about twisted metal is that there's what eight games and so many fun characters that you that are crazy and cool."

"And I think for, for me, it was super important that when you watch the show, you relate to the characters and care about the characters."

"And I think what's so great about John Doe is, you know, his entire backstory is about not having a memory.
So he kind of was able to come into this as a bit of a blank slate."

"Yeah.
Which allows the audience and the audience is coming into this too, kind of a blank slate.
They don't know what to expect."

"They don't know what they're going to experience.
So it felt like a good opportunity to bring in someone to have a character who is, it can be the cipher for the audience in a lot of ways and learn these things as John learns them."

"Since he's never like driven path, California.
So him, the more he had these, the more he's seeing new things and learning new things."

"And the audience gets to experience that too.
And I think centering it on a character like that, as opposed to someone like sweet tooth allows these characters to come in and be big and be boisterous and be cool and new and different."

"And I think like approaching the season was very much.
About who are John and quiet.
What is the relationship like and what stage is the relationship in and who might they meet at each stage of that relationship, but it also."

"Allowed you to kind of meet each meet a new character almost every episode and kind of understand what makes them tick and how did they live in this crazy world and, and, and yeah, it just felt like a good way to just have a strong baseline that you relate to the character and their journey."

"And then we can go crazier and go big.
Yeah.
Brilliant.
Awesome.
That's okay."

"That's perfectly fine.
Thank you so much for your time.
Thank you.
Thank you, Alex."

"It was nice meeting you.
Yeah.
Destiny movie.
Yeah.
Destiny movie show, Matt, whatever."

"Yeah.
I would love it.
I would love it.
It'd be a blast.
Brilliant."

"Have a good evening, Alex.
Take care.
You too.
See you later."

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