“Digimon: The Movie” – The Blog
“Digimon: The Movie” – The Blog: Part I: The Super Shocking News
With the 20th anniversary of “Digimon: The Movie” on October 6th, I thought I’d jot down some thoughts about an amazing experience in my life. A dream come true, really. The opportunity to voice-direct and write a screenplay for a movie. A real movie. The kind that plays in theaters, with popcorn and everything. Believe me, I could write a book, and maybe one day I will, but for now, I’ll just blog about it.
My memory’s sketchy due to my brain surgery (actually, I’m just old), but I think it was the spring of 1999. Bob Buchholz and I finished writing and voice directing the end of “Digimon’s” first season, and we were in negotiations for season 02. Fox Family wanted us back for the new season, which didn’t surprise us after the success of the show.
But what shocked us was they also wanted us to make THREE new theatrically released “Digimon” movies! After Bob and I climbed off the floor, they decided instead they wanted us to turn three movies into just one. And it will be aptly titled, “Digimon: The Movie.”
Huh. That’s a lot different. And a lot harder, it seemed to us. But still, the opportunity to make a movie seen on thousands of screens worldwide was an amazing shock and thrill! Definitely one of the best moments of my life.
“Digimon: The Movie” – The Blog: Part 2: After Shocks
So we went to work on a schedule. It was going to be tough making “Digimon 02” and “Digimon: The Movie” at the same time. So we brought in more writers for the series, while Bob and I wrote the movie.
First thing was to watch the three parts that we had to turn into one coherent movie. I loved the first one, “Digimon Adventure.” It was so nostalgic with lovely childlike animation. Then came “Digimon Adventure: Our War Game!” Fantastic. This is the one I was most excited about. The animation was slicker than the series, and the kids were slightly more grown-up. Tons of potential for comedy and storylines. And the ending was great! Big moment, joke, blackout! Fun day at the movies for everyone!
And then we watched the third movie, “Digimon Adventure 02: Digimon Hurricane Landing!!/Transcendent Evolution!! The Golden Digimentals”. Catchy title. It was, uh… slow. We weren’t thrilled. The thought of squeezing this footage into the other two was a puzzle to be solved, for sure. I was VERY concerned it couldn’t be done, and even if it could, should it be done?
So I called an emergency meeting to express my concerns. Haim Saban himself would watch the movies that night, and we’d meet in his office the next morning. Also in the meeting was “Digimon: The Movie” producer Terri-Lei O’Malley and President of Production Eric Rollman. Plus a lawyer and assistant or two. Haim sat down with his coffee and said, ‘’It took me a week to watch that third movie last night.” We all cracked up. He heard my concerns and asked what I had in mind.
“Digimon: The Movie” – The Blog: Part 3: What to do with Part 3
My idea was to use the first two parts for “Digimon: The Movie.” Have Tai narrate to tie in the two stories. Then, we use part three to make a separate straight-to-video release. Or add it to the bonus features for the DVD release.
Terri wanted to use the second and third parts for “Digimon: The Movie.” Then they could use the first part as a TV special or a DVD extra. Haim asked Bob, “And you, his silent partner, you agree with your loud partner [meaning me]?” Bob laughed and said he agreed with me, but we could make any version they wanted.
Terri’s big concern was the first part’s animation didn’t match the last two parts. I argued that if it worked for “The Wizard of Oz,” it could work for us! Terri was also afraid Toei Animation might be upset if we didn’t use all three parts.
Haim quickly asked ominously, “You’re not talking to my contacts in Japan, are you?!” Terri said, “No-” but before she could finish, Haim barked at me, “Are you talking to my Japanese contacts?!” I quickly answered “No!” as if under questioning for murder. Haim turned to Bob and formidably asked, “Are you talking to my contacts in Japan?!” Bob threw up his hands and said, “I don’t even eat sushi!”
The room cracked up! The head of legal and Eric both had concerns we were obligated to use all three parts in “Digimon: The Movie.” There were a lot of moving parts between Saban, Fox Family, 20th Century Fox, Toei Animation and toymaker Bandai. The decision was we could cut down part three considerably, but we had to use a decent portion of it.
“Digimon: The Movie” – The Blog: Part 4: The Puzzle Pieces
Bob and I needed something to grab onto to tie all three parts together into one “Digimon: The Movie.” So we thought what did all three parts have in common? There was one item that kept coming up over and over again: A Digi-egg. It seemed a perfect way to tie the stories together.
But we struggled a lot with what that story would actually be! We threw out tons of ideas, too many to count. We knew we could edit the footage anyway we wanted, which was a great advantage. Still, a good story eluded us. After many days and nights of nothing, we finally came up with a storyline that made sense logically. But even though I agreed it was a complete story, it was still convoluted nonetheless.
And the thing I disliked the most was introducing eight new major characters an hour into the movie. It went against everything I knew about screenwriting. So once again, I called a meeting with the big wigs. No Haim this time; just Terri, Eric, me and Bob. But Eric and Terri said we need to use all three films, so let’s make it work. End of discussion.
Once it was decided this was the story for “Digimon: The Movie,” we started editing right away. We pieced the footage together the way Bob and I saw the story playing out on screen. When that was done, we had what was called a “locked picture.” This way, all the departments can have a copy and work, knowing the time codes won’t change anymore. We give a copy to the sound effects department, the music department, foley artists, etc. And most importantly, a copy for me and Bob to write to!
“Digimon: The Movie” – The Blog: Part 5: The Writing
Writing the dialogue was one of the most fun times of my career – most and frustrating, too. I just knew, even if we wrote the funniest script ever, that the third film’s footage was gonna kill it. But I had a job to do. So I tried my best to do it, but I was a very angry person at that time.
I disagreed with the decision from the top so much, I let it ruin part of the experience for me. 20 years later, I am a lot calmer and can see it from a distance. I was miserable to work with at times. Poor Bob and Terri took the brunt.
I was also working a LOT! About 20 hours a day, 6 days a week, with half a day on Sunday. All the while we worked on “Digimon: The Movie,” we were ALSO working on “Digimon” season 02! It was an insane schedule, especially when you’re a cranky asshole like I was at the time.
And it didn’t help my beloved NY Mets were in the playoffs while we were writing, and I couldn’t watch! At one point, Bob threw me out of the office and told me to go home and watch the game. That helped calm me down a bit for sure. The Mets lost the 1999 series to the Braves, but I had bigger problems. We had a movie to write!
“Digimon: The Movie” – The Blog: Part 6: The Jokes
First thing was since Tai wasn’t in part 3, he couldn’t narrate. So Lara Jill Miller’s Kari just got a lot more dialogue. We wrote so many jokes in our writing session we couldn’t use them all – which is a good thing, because a lot of our first choices for jokes were rejected. That’s par for the course in show biz, but we lost some funny stuff.
My favorite joke was when Diaboromon was in NY. In the released version of “Digimon: The Movie,” Izzy says, “He’s heading for the subway system.” And Tai replies, “Good, that’ll slow him down for sure.” It’s kind of an okay joke. But in the first script, Izzy says, “He’s headed to Yankee Stadium!” And Tai says, “The Yankees don’t need him – they need pitching!” Great joke, written by Bob.
We also had a ton of fun adding a storyline for Tai’s mom, played by Dorothy Fahn. Bob and I worked backward a lot. I think a lot of writers do this. We saw the punchline we wanted, then went back and set it up.
So the punchline was Izzy running to the bathroom with stomach issues. Then we saw he kept ingesting things given to him by Tai’s mom. We made her into not just a bad cook but a person with no clue on what’s even edible. Tai knew better from growing up not to eat a single thing she offered, but Izzy was clueless. So when he starts downing some disgusting concoction, Tai says, “Izzy, you’re the bravest kid I’ve ever known.”
“Digimon: The Movie” – The Blog: Part 7: Oldies But Goodies
There were jokes in the movie that Bob and I had been doing for years. Bob and I met taking old movies and replacing the audio with a new dubbed comedy version. Bob wrote for “Mad Movies” on Nickelodeon, and I joined the writing staff for new projects right after that. We also did a ton of live shows all over the country.
We also used this technique with NFL Films, where we won an Emmy for our comedy work. And in so many of those projects, some jokes ALWAYS worked!
One was the Three-Bean Salad joke in “Digimon: The Movie.” “I’ll make three-bean salad.” “No, thanks.” “That’s okay – I only had two beans anyway.” It was ridiculous and always got a big laugh, no matter how we told it. If someone held up three fingers in any project we worked on, we tried to work that joke in! When we knew Tai’s mom was a bad cook, we knew she had to think about making a three-bean salad.
Another oldie but goodie was telling a joke so old, it didn’t matter if you screwed it up. A perfect joke we used a lot was the duck joke. “A guy walks into a bar with a duck. The bartender says, “We don’t serve pigs.” The guys say, “It’s not a pig. It’s a duck.” The bartender says, “I was talking to the duck.”
In “Digimon: The Movie,” we saw a perfect part to use it. Willis says, “Our Digimon seem to be getting along.” Then we see Terriermon holding court, and just finishing a joke. “…And the guy says I was talking to the duck.” All the Digimon laugh. Perfect footage for that joke.
“Digimon: The Movie” – Part 8: The Recording
Finally, we started recording. I did the directing, and Bob and Terri sat behind me in the control room. If they wanted something different from a take, they would just chime in freely. We recorded in the Saban building in Westwood. The biggest difference between the show recordings and movie recordings was FOOD! Screen Actors Guild had all kinds of rules for movies, and we had a luscious spread every day, plus meals. Joshua Seth (Tai) and I still talk about how the food felt like we finally arrived in Hollywood!
When Neil Kaplan came in to record his part, I fulfilled a dream of his for two years. He’d been bugging me like crazy to do his impersonation of old-time actor “Ed Wynn” somewhere in “Digimon.” I mean, he was obsessed with it. And I never let him once.
Finally, I had a character in “Digimon: The Movie” who only spoke one word. A teacher who was giving a test to Joe and said “Finished!” when time was up. At the very end of our recording session, I asked Neil to do one last character. When we were ready to record, I pressed the talkback button and said to Neil, “Now.” No other info was given to him. The mic went hot, and in his best Ed Wynn voice, he screamed, “Finished!” Neil’s never been happier.
“Digimon: The Movie” – Part 09: That Damn Cat!
There was a simple joke that went off the rails in “Digimon: The Movie.” A brief moment when Tai scoots his cat from the computer. So Bob and I decided, “let’s have the cat using the internet.” We had very little screen time to tell the joke, so we wanted to keep it simple. Finally, we settled on an AOL type voice saying, “That’s for visiting MEOW.com.” But the MEOW would be an actual cat saying, “meow.” I mean, it’s a site for cats, by cats. Get it?
Anyway, it was cute and funny, and it turned into a nightmare! I was the first to record the cat’s voice. I went in the booth and in one take did, “Meow,” and I thought it was over. But Terri LOVED cats more than anything on earth. She wanted me to sound like HER cat. I couldn’t. So she got in the booth and tried, but she wasn’t happy with her own performance either.
Dave Mallow tried, but Terri still wasn’t happy. So she and I tried a bunch more. We were all sick of meows by then, so she just told dialogue editor Mike Garcia to pick one. Mike and I called each other Boom Boom, because when I heard a take I liked, I would say, “Boom.” And when Mike made note that’s the take I wanted, he’d reply, “Boom.”
Much later on, at the internal screening of “Digimon: The Movie” for Fox execs, that cat came on the screen. I noticed right away, the “MEOW” was the very first take I did before Terri or Dave ever tried one. I looked around to find out where Mike was sitting. On the other end of my row, I saw Mike Garcia staring at me, grinning from ear to ear! BOOM!
“Digimon: The Movie” – Part 10: That’s a Wrap
When we created the recording schedule, I made sure the last two actors were Wendee Lee and Michael Sorich. Wendee was the first voice-director of “Digimon,” so it was only fitting she be there when we cracked the champagne. And Michael was her main backup (along with Richard Epcar, who wasn’t in “Digimon: The Movie”).
After I directed Wendee, I cracked the champagne. Bob took a turn directing Michael while we sipped on the bubbly. Terri and I did, anyway; I’m not sure Wendee drinks.
Afterward, there was cake in the conference room and more champagne. Hugs, congrats and laughter all around. What a great memory! I thanked the three people most responsible for making me a part of the process.
First Terri for making me the showrunner during season one. Then Rita Acosta Majkut for bringing me in to voice-direct “Digimon” in the first place. And finally, my dear friend Maureen Smith, President of Fox Family Worldwide. She was (and is) my biggest cheerleader. I knew her opinion meant a lot to Haim Saban. So when he handed me and Bob this huge project, both Haim and Maureen had faith we’d deliver.
“Digimon: The Movie” – Part 11: The Voice of God
Once all the dialogue was recorded, we brought all the audio elements together for the audio mix. When I heard the songs Ron Kenan, President of Music at Saban, was able to license, I was blown away! Big popular songs of the day! It was a kick-ass soundtrack!
The last thing we did was have the promo department make us a “Digimon: The Movie” trailer. We hired voice-actor Jess Harnell to do the narration. Jess is a wild man, and hilariously funny, always a walking good-time. Jess was great, but it sounded like a TV show promo. Not a big movie that will be playing on thousands of screens.
Fox decided to pay for the big man, the Jedi master of trailer narration, the “voice of God” himself, Don LaFontaine. Don recorded the VO for the trailer in five minutes and got back in his limo and took off. He probably told his driver, “Keep it running.”
We found out our trailer would be attached to the new “Pokemon” movie at the time. So one day on a lunch break, a bunch of us went to the movies in Westwood to see it. We watched the trailer, and I heard Don LaFontaine said, “An adventure too big for television…’Digimon: The Movie!’” And for the first time, I felt like it was a real movie. In a theater, with popcorn and everything.
“Digimon: The Movie” – Part 12: The Premiere
The premiere was fantastic. Joshua Seth told me he got a limo. I didn’t get a limo. But I still had a blast. It was held on the 20th Century Fox lot, and it was really special. But when I went to take my seat, no one saved a seat for Bob and me or our guests! The only seats we could find were in the back row with the fans. And that’s where we belonged.
At a premiere, you never know if friends and colleagues laugh to be polite or it’s genuine. But the fans will only laugh if it’s funny!
Unfortunately, my biggest fear came true. As soon as the ending of the Our War Games part happened, the audience started to leave. Like physically get up to go, the show’s over folks, goodnight! But up on that screen came “4 Years Later,” and the audience sat back down confused. “Hey guys, I know the movie feels over, but trust me, there are 20 more confusing minutes to watch!” Oh, well.
On the opening weekend of “Digimon: The Movie,” Bob and I went to see it with a paying audience in Burbank. That was even more special to me than the premiere. When a person who’s paying money laughs, you know without a doubt it’s genuine.
“Digimon: The Movie” – Part 13: The Legacy
Being associated with this film has given me immeasurable opportunities. It gave me credibility within the entertainment industry that I hadn’t achieved before that point, even with an Emmy Award.
People are still writing reviews for “Digimon: The Movie” 20 years after its release. There are tweets that talk about Tai’s mom’s cooking with over 35,000 likes! The film has a life of its own now.
I’m so proud it keeps finding an audience. That’s all a filmmaker can ask for. I only wish the same success for my latest film, “Fame-ish.” It’s about a washed-up voice-director named Jeff Nimoy who succumbs to the pitfalls of a small-time celebrity at an anime convention. I can’t wait to see who plays Jeff Nimoy!
Anyway, if I’m writing blogs about “Fame-ish” to an interested audience in 20 years, I’ll be extremely happy! Heck, I’ll be extremely happy I’m still alive in 20 years!