In this exclusive interview we talk to Thunderbirds 1965 producer Stephen La Rivière about this FAB project which aims to produce up to three brand new episodes of classic Thunderbirds.
How did TB65 come about?
Thunderbirds 1965 came about as a result of Filmed in Supermarionation. For many years I’d wanted to have a go at recreating Thunderbirds – not just filming scenes with the puppets, but actually making a proper recreation of the show. Something that would look like it was shot in the 60s. For Filmed in Supermarionation, Andrew T. Smith and I conceived the idea that the interviews could be linked by new scenes featuring Penelope and Parker. We had an amazing response to what we were doing and so we thought, “Wouldn’t it be great to do a whole episode in Supermarionation?”
Anyway, to cut a long story short, we knew about the mini-albums; a source of not only new stories, but more crucially the original voices (the one thing we’d struggle to replicate). With the 50th anniversary coming up, I suggested to ITV that we do this as a one off project to celebrate – and I’m thrilled to say they gave us their blessing!
How did you get David Elliott on board?
Dave Elliott has been a friend for many years and has been a great source of advice about how to film the puppets. When we got the go ahead for TB65 it seemed obvious that the best way to success is to surround ourselves with the best – and who better than the people who made the original? David will be joining us as the Supervising Director for the whole project, and, best of all, he will be directing one of the episodes himself. His first episode of Thunderbirds in 49 years!
Are there any other interesting names involved that fans might recognise?
We’ll be revealing more great names attached to the project over the course of the Kickstarter. But we were thrilled to announce yesterday that David Tremont of Weta Workshop fame will be joining us. Anyone who’s seen Lord of the Rings will know how fantastic the miniature work is – so we’re very lucky that David is joining our other talented model maker Mamas Pitsillis who is currently building us a stunning Thunderbird 1.
Are you using all classic techniques, or will there be some modern ‘upgrades’?
All the classic techniques pretty much, with the odd concession to technology. For Filmed in Supermarionation the very talented Justin T. Lee did a lot of digital post work – but this time the aim is to shoot it all in camera! So that’s real sets, real puppets and real explosions! Justin will still be kept very busy though. He’s a very talented artist and technician (very much our own John Read) and has deconstructed every element of how the shows were originally made. On a technical level, there is no one else who knows more about these shows. This will enable us to recapture the 1960s look perfectly.
What will be your biggest challenges to make this authentic?
Making sure our puppets and models are accurate recreations. Making sure that we get the lighting right. The Supermarionation shows have a very specific look – which most modern recreations miss. We’ve studied the episodes in detail – and talked to the original crew – in order that we can replicate on set what they were doing. The right lighting, the right lenses, the right style of editing. Every single element needs to be perfect in order for the final effect to be convincing. But it’s not just potential technical problems – we need to capture that sense of style the original series had. I spent a lovely day last week with the costume designer who’s been submitting some FAB designs for the characters to wear. We hope Penelope will be setting trends once again.
But one of the key ways TB65 will be like the original series will be down to teamwork. Lots of people who are all experts in their particular field, just like on the original series.
How will you be adapting the stories for the screen?
I don’t want to say too much at this stage – mainly because I want people to sit down to these stories and experience a genuinely new adventure. Needless to say, the mini-albums are audio only stories and it’s our job to adapt these for the screen. That doesn’t just mean slavishly filming the scenes on the recording – it means turning the whole thing into a cinematic experience. We’re aiming for the best of Thunderbirds. I’m really excited about the first one we’re doing, The Abominable Snowman. That’s going to be a real Perils of Penelope type drama. It’ll have a nailbiting end – will International Rescue save Penelope in time? Well, you probably know the answer to that already. Anyway, we know exactly what we’re going to do – and we can’t wait to show those results to our audience.
Did you ever imagine you’d be making new episodes of classic Thunderbirds? Do you feel any pressure being the man in charge of making the first new original-style episodes in 49 years?
Well, I can say I’ve imagined making them – but even recently I never thought it would actually happen. And yes, there’s enormous pressure. These episodes have to be absolutely right. They have to look and feel right. And they have to be entertaining. There’s an expectant audience – who have helped fund these episodes – wanting the first episode of Classic Thunderbirds in 49 years. So the pressure is huge. But I feel very confident, post Filmed in Supermarionation, that if anyone can do it, we can. And fortunately, it is ‘we’ and not just me. Andrew T. Smith and Justin T. Lee are leading up the operation with me and we are surrounded by a wealth of talent.
What has the reaction been like so far?
We’ve raised nearly £100,000 in a week. We got to our target in just five days and at the time of writing we still have 23 days to go. The reaction has been amazing. Thunderbirds is much loved after fifty years and I’m so happy that we’re going to be able to ressurect Supermarionation – perhaps for the last time. We hope for those watching the episodes, and those fortunate enough to visit the studio, that it’s going to be like 1965 all over again.
How can fans help TB65 lift off?
Two ways – firstly, by pledging on the Thunderbirds 1965 Kickstarter campaign. Without the money, the project simply can’t happen. But also by sharing the message. The more people who know about the project the bigger our chances are of success. And every little really does count on a project like this.
Time to join International Rescue!
If you’d like to make sure these episodes get made, and make sure that you can get a copy (DVDs and Blu-Rays are exclusive to backers) then head over to the TB65 Kickstarter page now and get involved!