Dave Filoni is the man in charge of making The Clone Wars the best show on television. Instrumental since day one, he writes and directs episodes, works with the actors, and keeps the look and feel of the show moving in the right direction.
We’ve talked quite a few times over the years, and this time I caught up with him in San Diego during Comic-Con.
In the interview, Dave talks about the season premiere, aludes to Ahsoka’s fate, and professes his love for Doctor Who.
The new season starts tomorrow, Friday, September 16 on Cartoon Network. You can read my review of the premiere here.
(And special thanks to JawaJames from Club Jade (GONK) for helping me with the transcription of this interview.)
Big Shiny Robot!: How are you?
Dave Filoni: I’m good. You know, it’s a big one this year, more people than ever before. It’s exciting to see so many people into these types of stories and movies. I always think Comic-Con is the big reason why you get Thor, you get the Iron Mans, Green Lantern, without seeing the support, so you know, it’s exciting.
BSR!: Is this a big source of support for you guys?
DF: I think so. It’s always important to come out, to talk to fans directly, to show them directly what we’re working on, to let them be involved that way. This year, I made sure we brought a lot of clips – didn’t want to be coy, didn’t want to show just one thing. For the people who wait in line and pay a lot of money to come down here, I said let’s make it worth their while and Cary Silver, the producer, agreed. I think things were really well received.
BSR!: The footage you showed – I don’t want to talk too much about it, because I know you’ll just give me vague, dodgy answers…
DF: You never know, I gave away a lot yesterday.
DF: I thought so, for me, yeah.
BSR!: It seemed that in the run up to season three, you guys were giving everything away. It felt that way. I’m counting off the press release: there’s the mysteries of the Force story arc, and this story arc, etc. You could almost count all the story arcs before the season even starts. Except for the Wookiee one, that was a big secret.
DF: And that has to do with, there was no footage at that time. [laughs] More than anything else.
BSR!: One question I asked you at Celebration that I am going to ask you again now because it was a great questions and it kept me guessing completely: What sort of movies have you been going back to reference or homage this next season? I know last season, you said Predator, which seemed so bizarre to me. But now you see the Wookiee Hunt episodes, and I get it: Predator. But it was nice guessing about that. What about this season?
DF: This season, I feel like we’ve hit a really strong stride with The Clone Wars where we have a great understanding now of what it takes to make a really great episode. I think it just depends on which kind of story we are doing. I went back and actually watched the films like Chinatown because I felt like we could have done better when we did the political corruption episodes that we did. We’re not doing very many of those story anymore, if any, but I thought, “That’s a really great example of how you do it.” A lot of ways, too, with Yojimbo, there’s a lot of root corruption going on, which is a motivator for the story. A lot of Sanjiro, too. Kurosawa is always an influence. It was an influence on George [Lucas], so it’s always good to go back and stay up on those films. Joel [Aron] and I are constantly referencing The Third Man in regards to lighting. You got to push the lighting.
BSR!: You did a Harry Lime-less The Third Man episode…
DF: Yeah, kinda. So those are the kind of things I’ve been looking at. And more popular culture, I’m paying attention to what a lot of other people are doing, a lot of other people attempting CG TV series, and I’ve been going to the summer films. It’s fun and you never know what’s going to influence you or not. I watch Game of Thrones, and thought that was great. It was really interesting to see how they told that story. Always watching… Doctor Who, I’ve been watching quite a bit. I found a lot of relativity between what we’ve done and what they’re doing. They’re trying to do this science fiction story epic on a TV scale, but they want to make it feel bigger and I think it does. It’s interesting to see because we both deal with logic that can be difficult at times. How is the audience going to understand what the hero is going through and how they come out of it?
BSR!: Like ‘Blink’?
DF: That episode was fantastic.
BSR!: ..where you could struggle with what the hero was dealing with without seeing the hero.
DF: Right there. The Doctor wasn’t even the main character. It was very interesting.
BSR!: With Season Three, since last we talked, I don’t want to talk too much about it, but my blood is up about it: it’s the continuity stuff. How can you make a definitive statement to say this is this, and that was that. Can you?
DF: [laughs] I don’t know that I can. I make my TV series and it works with George Lucas’ films. That’s the intention of it, and that’s George’s intention. There are all kinds of great stories being made in Star Wars. I think people underestimate what a massive operation it really is, and all the creative talents coming to it. In all the time in little ways, we’re doing things to stay in line with each other. I think it’s a growing process but at the end of the day, my task is, “Does George like this show?” and he really likes the show. That’s the beginning, middle, end of it for me. And I like the show. We’ve really grown in making this series. It’s just a process. I understand when people think that things have gone out of continuity, but we’re trying to serve as a story and tell stories that we need to tell. When we can fit things together, we do. When we can’t, we can’t shy away from doing what must be done. That’s about how it is.
BSR!: How much regular input does George have? Is he still in all the writing meetings, pitching stories?
DF: He’s letting go to a certain degree, but I always go over all the stories with him. He comes in and watches all the color final with me. But I have a lot of oversight over the whole thing. Christian [Taylor] and I have been handling the writing in a major way. That’s the whole purpose of us. George entrusts us with this project and we make it the way that he taught me. We fly a bit more on our own now but any question that I have, I can always just drop him a line. It’s not difficult at all to get a hold of him. Like I said, it’s always his universe. It’s not that difficult – to stay in keeping with what he wants. The filmmaker’s logic that we’ve learned and we apply, it works on the show.
BSR!: As far as the stuff in season four coming up, the first arc is the Mon Calamari stuff. What challenges did you guys have? A lot of people are going to compare it to the two minutes they saw in the Genndy Tartakovsky series. How much of it was patterned after that? Did you look at that much?
DF: No, we really didn’t. We don’t refer to that series really ever. It’s not a point of reference for us. It’s not to say that we don’t enjoy it. I watched it when it came on and I enjoyed it, but we’re doing the cinematic version of it for our series. We had to create these cities and the culture. It’s funny – I’ll say it’s a completely different thing. It might look really similar by nature of the subject matter.
BSR!: You’ve got that one two-minute episode, and maybe four lines of dialogue, and it seems similar insofar as the setting and some of the people involved.
DF: Absolutely, Kit Fisto is a no brainer. So I think in regards to that, there were some similarities. They used Kit Fisto, let’s use Kit Fisto and honor that idea. I like the designs they had done for the Quarren soldiers, so I instructed the designer, Killian [Plunkett], “You should look at this stuff and what Hasbro had done,” and keep ours in line with that. The Mon Cal soldiers, we made them a lot more high tech looking than what had been seen before because they seem like a pretty high tech people. We see Mon Calamari star cruisers. It’s all kinds of decisions you make when you’re making your film. I think both exist nicely – they’re both exciting stories to watch.
BSR!: You mentioned last night, Boba Fett. He’s never been necessarily my favorite character. Fetts always tend to have very anticlimactic endings, but we’re seeing Boba Fett grow on the show. From where we’ve seen him last on The Clone Wars, the next time we see him is standing next to Jabba in A New Hope. You’ve got a lot of room to work there. How far do you see yourself taking the evolution of Boba Fett on this show?
DF: I think we really warmed up to Boba and the concept of playing with his character. We did the arc in season two. Just as Ahsoka got older, Boba will be a little bit older. I think that opened up different doors for us. He’s a really interesting character. What I like about him the most is that when I get into a story with him, we can really play up that Dollars trilogy, Sergio Leone vibe. I really enjoy that. There’s such a great feeling to those old Westerns.
BSR!: He’s got a The Outlaw Josey Wales thing. You guys killed my family, and I’m gonna screw all of you up.
DF: That idea – where does his morality really lie? At what point does he decide that he’ll just do the job, or if he realizes that the job is not morally correct, does he take the job? I think that those are some interesting concepts for him to struggle with, especially growing up in the shadow of Jango Fett, who was a really well known bounty hunter. There’s room there, and I think we approach it respectfully when we get into it on the show.
BSR!: Are you guys going to be exploring much of Boba’s sense of that every time he’s staring at a clone, he’s looking the mirror at both himself and his dad?
DF: I don’t think we get too much into that in the future. We looked at that when he was a lot younger because it is interesting. The clones themselves are really interesting, I have to say. The idea that we’ve been able to give them personalities, to be very individual. You really feel that Rex, Fives, and Hardcase are different clones. Dee Baker is a testament to how good he is with his voice but it is interesting that people accept them as different. People get very attached to those individual personalities. The clones are fantastic to work with. We’re always doing a big arc story with them.
BSR!: Dee mentioned that the big arc that he got to do bothered him – there was some moral quandaries.
DF: Very emotional, yeah.
BSR!: Can you talk at all about the sorts of stuff that we might see that might give Dee pause.
DF: [Laughs] I don’t know if I can. It’s a testament to Dee’s commitment to the characters that he got so involved in portraying them. He really allowed himself to embody these soldiers out there. It’s something that I always take seriously: a lot of servicemen and women come up to us at conventions and say they really like the portrayal of the soldiers, and the clones, and the dilemmas you show they go through. It’s an important aspect of the show.
Again, I think people really like, say, Captain Rex. He’s almost the everyman on the show. He doesn’t have the super abilities that Anakin and Obi-wan have. If Rex is going to get out of a situation, he’s going to do it through guts and muscle and his wits. That’s really compelling, and it’s really draining when we have him in these extreme situations – how does Rex get out of them? I think the audience is always a little more on edge because I’ve shown in the show that I’m not afraid to take one of them out. That was true with Echo, and a lot of people felt like Echo should have had a bigger, more heroic death. Unfortunately, that’s not always how that works, is it? He’s doing his duty, like Obi-wan says in Revenge of the Sith, “They’re doing their jobs so we can do ours.” It’s a hard lesson, but I think Echo would say that he died giving his all as a character, trying to save that group, get them off the Citadel. And I forget that Dee’s all those guys. I feel bad – I tell him that I keep killing off his characters, but at least he’s still there, so he’s never going to run out.
BSR!: One of the things I’ve noticed you’re very good at, particularly with Ahsoka – something happens to Ahsoka to take her out of the story, whether she dies or moves on, or escapes Order 66. I’ve got a thousand possibilities of what can happen. But the most likely scenario is that she is probably going to die. I think that’s an expectation that everybody has and I think you’re very good at playing with that expectation and putting Ahsoka in these situations where “Oh, is she… no, it’s not” – you get really concerned. I’ve got worked up watching Ahsoka get into situations that I thought she’d never get out of. Anakin throws her into the same situations, and I feel that the second I put that guard down with “Oh, she’s safe, that’s never gonna happen”, that’s when she’s going to get it.
DF: She’s a very interesting story. I’m really excited about some of the things we’re doing with her and her development as a character. When she first shows up now when you go back and watch The Clone Wars movie, she feels so young. Her behavior and her attitude: so young. And now, after the end of ‘Wookiee Hunt,’ she’s a much more mature different character. I think it’s a credit to Ashley [Eckstein] and her performances as Ahsoka that has changed and gotten wiser over the years and how she portrays her and the writing of Ahsoka which has changed. Our ability to take this girl, which some fans thought, “I’m not too sure about this character” or “She annoyes me”, and now people are like “Please don’t kill her! Please don’t do that” and “What’s going to happen to her?” It’s great that they’re concerned about her. They’re concerned for Rex, they’re concerned for her. But you never know. I work on that dilemma all the time because I want to make sure that whatever happens, it will be proper.
BSR!: I think everybody’s excited to see what that is, whatever it is.