Netflix: The Toys That Made Us|
With so many retro toys out there, why did you feel the need to begin with Star Wars?
Brian Volk-Weiss: It’s the one I knew the best. We did all eight episodes simultaneously, so in theory there is not really a first episode. However, of all the toys before we started, the one where I have a PhD in would be Star Wars. Star Wars is the number one toy of all time. It has been every year for 30 years approximately. That’s another reason why. Due to its popularity, it’s probably not the worst idea to start with that one.
You said you were an authoritative figure on Star Wars yourself. Did you feature any of your collection in the episode?
Volk-Weiss: Yes! Yes I did. In the Star Wars episode, it was all my stuff from when I was a kid. The diecast Millenium Falcon in the episode, that’s mine from when I was eight. The Stormtrooper is mine from when I was like five. I also have a lot of stuff in the Star Trek episode and the G.I. Joe episode but a lot of those things were things I got later but the Star Wars stuff is mine from when I was playing with toys and not collecting them.
So these are the originals and not purchased later in life?
Volk-Weiss: Yeah, exactly. They got a little crayon on them and they are all banged up.
What was your favorite part of making this documentary series?
Volk-Weiss: Without a doubt it was meeting the people that creatively and business-wise did the artistic work and also took the business risk to make the things that made the toys that affected my childhood so much. Jim Swearingen literally carved what would be the first C-3PO and Darth Vader figures and I’m sitting there shaking his hand, touching the hand that held the Exacto knife and the putty that made that. That was amazing. The other amazing thing was seeing a lot of the things that led to the toys that we all played with. We were filming in Denmark, in the ‘80’s there was only one LEGO factory that made all of the world’s LEGOS and now there are four or five, and I saw and I touched the molds that made all the two by six bricks. So every brick I played with as a kid of that size came out of that mold and every kid all over the planet that played with a brick that size came out of that mold. The people and the things and in third place, going to the places. In the first episode we brought Jim Swearing and Corky Steiner back to where Kenner used to be and doing that was one of my earliest visions of what we can do with the show and being there...seeing that happen, I was tearing up.
What do you think makes toys from this era so cherished as opposed to modern toys?
Volk-Weiss: Time goes by, so you and I can talk in 40 years and see if today’s toys are in a vintage store. Forty years from now people could be looking for Hatchimals and Shopkins. I think they will. Part of the reason these vintage toys are so popular right now is just because enough time has passed. The other thing is, when I was a kid I would come home from school and the only things I could do were homework, talk to my mom, or watch G.I. Joe. When my kids come home, they have iPads and YouTube and all this other stuff. Also when I was a kid there were three networks and now there are like 6,000. When I was little there was just such a concentration into the media which succeeded that it unified us and made it very powerful. That attention onto limited amount of media has been tremendously deluded. I’m not saying that that’s bad, but it has been very deluded for modern kids.
Do you see a product line from the modern era that will ever be documentary worthy?
Volk-Weiss: I do think Hatchimals, I do think Shopkins, definitely Shopkins. I guarantee in 40 years from now that Shopkins can be huge in vintage toy stores, and flea markets, and auctions. One of the things that I am just starting to see now when I go to conventions is Power Rangers. To the best of my knowledge, I don’t remember seeing tables and tables of Power Ranger figures until about three or four years ago. I was never into Power Rangers, so for me this was like a controlled experiment. Power Rangers was five or six years behind G.I. Joe and Transformers so adults between 30 and 35 now, who were kids when Return of the Jedi had come and gone and there were no more Star Wars figures, their toy was Power Rangers. So about a month ago, I was at a convention and there was this Power Rangers table and there were a couple of Power Rangers toys that were $600 or $700. Nostalgia is something we carry with us but I also believe it to be generational.
What do you think the staying power of traditional toys is now (plastic action figures) versus mixed media like Hatchimals, other electronic toys, or interactive toys like Sphero?
Volk-Weiss: Sphero droid is a very cool technology but at the end of the day, it’s a Star Wars character. If that same toy came out not connected to The Force Awakens, there would probably be only 10 percent of the sales and the cultural impact that it had. I don’t think it was the technology that sold it. One of the most popular toys right now is the balloon things with the straws that fill 30 water balloons at the same time. Do I think that will be a big thing 30 or 40 years from now? No, of course not. There’s no characters. I do believe anything linked to a television show or series will have staying power. For example, my daughter is crazy about Princess Sofia and I guarantee that if she is still into collecting toys 30 or 40 years from now then she will be all about Princess Sofia. I would say Princess Sofia is more dominate, more powerful, and longer lasting already than Care Bears or Strawberry Shortcake was 30 years ago.
We loved how at the end of each episode you featured collector’s collections during the credits. Do you have that at the end of each episode and what is the backstory behind it?
Volk-Weiss: Yes it is featured at the end of each episode. We had a lot of collector’s working with us behind the scenes, as noted in the credits. Some episodes had two experts and some had 10 or 12 experts. However, the show is not about collections, it’s not about collections. I felt that that had been done. It’s the story behind what led to these iconic brands becoming these iconic brands. That being said, I suddenly realized in post that we really should have something to show the ramifications of these brands. One of the things I wanted to do was to go to Jet Propulsion Lab near my office and film people that said they were inspired by these toys. We didn’t do that but what we did was we posted the collections because this show is about the toys but there are no toys without the rabid fan base.
So did people just contribute pictures?
Volk-Weiss: Yeah, so we had a Facebook page for about a year and people were just sending us pictures and we just picked the ones that we thought were best. Unfortunately, we couldn’t do them all. There were days that we were getting 20 or 30 pictures a day from different people. They didn’t all have to be big, we were picking the ones that we thought were the most relevant.
If there was an appetite for a second season, what would you want to cover?
Volk-Weiss: We have not had a second season green lit. If we did though, it would be My Little Pony, Hot Wheels, Matchbox, Robotech, Power Rangers, Dungeons and Dragons, and I would love to do an episode only on Batman. My guess is that if we were to do an episode on Batman it would be about all the superpower characters. Batman, Superman, and the Secret Wars toys that came out. Wrestling figures, which is something that I am not into at all, would probably be an episode because that was so big and continues to be big. One of the other things that I really want to do is at least one themed episode which would not be based on a toy line but an idea. The first one I would love to do, given the chance, would be called “The Toys That Should Have Not Been Made.” The greatest example is the toy line for the movie “Dune.” A buddy of mine introduced me to the toys, which I now have become obsessed with. I ask myself “What were these people thinking?” After this series, I now know how hard it is to make a toy and just wonder who thought this would be a good idea, making a toy line based on “Dune.” They did a phenomenal job on the characters in the six-inch scale made in really good plastic but I don’t know how they got green lit.
You said Star Wars was your favorite toy line but were there any others that resonated with you as a child?
Volk-Weiss: The big ones were Star Wars, G.I. Joe, and Transformers. I was really into G.I. Joe and really into Transformers and I was not into Masters of the Universe at all. I did not own a He-Man figure until about five months ago.
I’m curious to see that episode. Did you cover the whole period with the Dolph Lundgren movie?
Volk-Weiss: Yeah. We interviewed Dolph, we interviewed the writer. One of the misconceptions about the show is that we only focus on the ‘80’s, and yes we do focus heavily on the ‘80’s for sure but we cover the entire story. Just using Star Wars as an example, we start with George Lucas directing A New Hope and we end with The Last Jedi. We were working on that one until two weeks ago.
Anything else you want to say to potential viewers deciding whether or not to invest the time in your documentary?
Volk-Weiss: We really tried to make the show for everybody. My background is in comedy, so we really tried to use humor to help tell every story. This is not a history lesson on toys. It’s meant to be fun. It’s a fun topic. My wife is not into anything toy related and I let her see some of the episodes, she is generally vocal about what she doesn’t like, and she seemed to enjoy them. When I was in the editing bay I would think to myself, “would my wife start playing with my phone at this point?” or “would my wife walk out of the room at this point?” So we really tried hard to have someone like my wife enjoy the Star Wars episode and conversely I thought the Barbie episode would be enjoyable to a non-Barbie fan. We tried really hard to make toys like Barbie and He-Man relatable to collectors that don’t relate to them. We would want those making the decision on what to watch to know that it’s an enjoyable subject that we worked hard to tell in a fun and moving type of way.
“The Toys That Made Us” premieres this Friday on Netflix. The first four episodes featuring Star Wars, Barbie, Masters of the Universe, and G.I. Joe launch on Friday while the second half of the season featuring Transformers, Star Trek, Hello Kitty, and LEGO launch sometime in early 2018.