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From The Archives: The GENRE ONLINE.NET Interview – Star Wars: The Clone Wars Supervising Director David Filoni:

The GENRE ONLINE.NET Interview – Star Wars: The Clone Wars Supervising Director David Filoni  

By Mark A. Rivera

David Filoni is an avid fan of Star Wars like most people who grew up watching the classic trilogy when they first premiered on the big screen in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Filoni began his animation career as assistant director for Film Roman’s Emmy®-winning King of the Hill, created by Mike Judge and Greg Daniels.  While at Film Roman, Filoni also served as assistant director for Mission Hill and The Oblongs, both of which ran on The WB.  From there, he moved to Walt Disney Television Animation, where he contributed in various capacities to series such as Teamo SupremoKim PossibleDave the Barbarian and Lilo & Stitch.

Filoni joined Lucasfilm Animation from another touchstone fantasy franchise – Nickelodeon’s animated Avatar: The Last Airbender.  As director of that wildly popular series, Filoni helped further articulate its complex and dynamic world. Now Mr. Filoni is exploring the many war-time tales and unsung stories that take place between Episodes II and III, Filoni works with a worldwide team of artists, animators, writers and episodic directors to create all-new adventures within the iconic Star Wars universe after he realized a lifelong dream when he was named supervising director of Lucasfilm Animation’s Star Wars: The Clone Wars.

I was invited to participate in a conference call interview with Mr. Filoni and found him to be humble and quite enthusiastic. He is both a professional and a fan like most of us and he has the honor to count George Lucas as one of his mentors too. Now how cool is that? Below is a transcript of our discussion.

Mark Rivera: Hi Mr. Filoni. How are you?

David Filoni: I’m all right Mark how are you?

Rivera: Fine thank you. I have a question with regard to the storyline and with regard to the new series and the previous series. I noticed while looking through the press materials as well as some of the episodes that there have been some slight changes and I’d like to know is this new series considered cannon for Star Wars fans or is it more expanded universe and does it counteract the previous series or does the previous series still count or is it open to whatever you and George decide?

Filoni: You know one of the biggest debates in Star Wars is what counts? You know the idea of what is cannon and you know when I talked to George, I know George always considers his movies cannon yet as a fan I bring him a lot of information that is expanded universe and I get that information to see how he wants me to use it or review it. There is never an implicit connection between the micro-series Cartoon Network did previously and the series we’re doing now, but I’ll try and add little touches and things that I know the fans, who are well versed in that expanded universe will know and understand that this event is taking place kind of along side this. We’re trying to make what we can from the expanded universe really jell and I certainly never think of it as discrediting any of the other material. It’s just that you know, “it’s from a different point of view” and a different look at the war and take on the war. It’s an ever-expanding universe in a lot of ways.  

Rivera: How many episodes per season are you producing and what’s the difference between being the director of the feature film Star Wars: The Clone Wars and being the supervising director of the television series that follows it?

Filoni: Well we’re going to have 22 episodes in the first season and the difference between directing the feature and directing the TV series… a lot of the ways we were producing the material was episodically and then when it grew into the movie there was not a lot of difference, but at the end of the day I had to wrangle the entire time period for the movie and the series and that specific storyline of material was detailed in a much greater way while when I supervise the entire series, I’m involved with every aspect of it from the story and all the way out to the final edit and the color correct, but I have episodic directors that are handling each episode that I guide and give them notes and mentor on how George Lucas likes the story told and how I’d like the story told so the series is very collaborative and every now and then I’ll actually direct one of the episodes entirely by myself, but I have other episode directors, who are great, that work under me as I work on very different areas so it’s kind of a choice of being included in all of it and working on the whole thing as supervising director where as the episodic directors are working on one story within the big picture so you give a little. You take a little, you know… I loved being an episodic director for what I did in Avatar because you can really focus on the one story, but then you know it’s fun to be involved in the big picture as well. So that’s the difference. 

Rivera: Will we get episodes that are purely from the point of view of the Confederacy and also how do you handle the challenge where for example, in the previous series, we didn’t know what was going to happen in Revenge Of The Sith except for the basics and now everyone has seen Revenge Of The Sith, especially the fans and we’re dealing with storylines where we can see the tragedy, like from the first two episodes of the series I screened, I know the Clone Troopers are going to lose their humanity when order 66 is given. How do you handle that in a dramatic way so people don’t just tune out and say, “I know what happens. It’s depressing. These characters are all going to die and this person will betray them.” Also, forgive me for saying this, but I realize the battle droids are supposed to be comic relief to some extent, but there are a little too many “Roger, Rogers”

David Filoni laughs.

Rivera: Though I enjoy it, I admit.

Filoni: Yeah, I’ll answer each point one at a time if I can. An episode from the separatist point of view I think is a great idea and it is something we play around with. We have gotten close to doing that, but we haven’t done one that’s particularly a day in the life of General Grievous or everything from a battle droid point of view. We’ve discussed it and I think that’s one of the nice things about doing the series is that we can take these different points of view, which I think is important and it really ties in with something Obi-Wan Kenobi always says that “many of the truths we cling to depend largely on our own point of view.” Well what is the separatist point of view because I always thought as a fan, it’s interesting that Dooku claims the senate is corrupt and thus being a separatist is a completely just cause, well he’s telling the truth from a certain point of view. And I think I’m very open to telling those stories and am just figuring out the best way to do one like that.

As far as knowing what the ending is, I think one of the things about the prequels was we were all just waiting for Anakin to become Darth Vader. I wanted to see him in that suit again and hear the voice. That’s what I wanted more than anything and it is a challenge because we know what happens to Anakin, we know what happens to Obi-Wan, we even know that clones betray them. But I think that by building up interesting characters within this storyline. Within this part of the saga that we know what happens to the clones, but we don’t know what happens to Captain Rex? We know what happens to the Jedi, but specifically what happened to Ahsoka? The fans are already asking those questions and if we plan the story correctly, knowing that there is this tidal wave of dramatic experience for both the clones and the Jedi and the Republic coming to an end. Now which of these characters will survive that? Will any of them survive that becomes the question and we don’t know what happens to Ahsoka. We don’t know what happens to Captain Rex. Even Asajj Ventress, there has been a version of what happened to her in the comic books. Sometimes there are different versions of what happened to her so how does she meet her end? I think we are starting to see the Star Wars Saga through those characters as opposed to the big classic ones we know like Yoda, Anakin, and Obi-Wan. There always there and hopefully it will be compelling and will keep the audience wondering and we also give little pieces of the puzzle along the way. We’ll tell you a little bit more about Palpatine and we’ll tell you a little bit more about Anakin’s relationship with him. Things like that that help make things easier to understand on a deeper or different level so when you watch Revenge Of The Sith again and then you go, “Oh I see. I understand better why that occurred.”

The battle droids are an interesting one. My take on the battle droids personally is the standard battle droid was built at a time before the war and they were built to protect freighter convoys and that lends into their goofiness. You know they’re not as serious as the world that is coming. The world of the Empire and I think as we move forward in the war you start to see the droids change. Not necessarily the “Roger, Roger” droids, but the super battle droids are already more menacing than the regular battle droids and the destroyer droids are more menacing than the super battle droids and we have other new types of droids, more diabolical droids. It’s kind of as the war goes on, the serious nature of the universe is being created by all these evil forces. It’s a progressive thing and where we are at now is kind of like the highflying times of adventure in the Clone Wars where maybe it will end in a month or two.

Rivera: I have my own point of view about the Ahsoka character. I’ll tell you what I thought of and you don’t have to tell me if I’m right or wrong.  We all know Anakin has a problem with loss so pretty much I figure the setup there is Ahsoka is another person for him to lose. How is he going to be able to let go of her as a student? Now I might be wrong, but from one fan to another, even though we’re both professionals, I wanted to share that point of view and I was wondering while I realize you can’t reveal spoilers, in working with the series, is there already a broad story arc for the entire series in place because I think I read somewhere that George is interested in making the series approximately one hundred episodes long or something along those lines. So in your mind, do you have a broad idea of where you want to take each season if it goes the full length and where you want it to end?  

Filoni: It is actually something I’m constantly working on now. I’ve given how this all wraps up and how this connects to Revenge Of The Sith and I have been thinking about it and I’ve shot it all in my head about five different ways and had different endings and different outcomes for things. I’ve talked a little bit about this with George, but I’m really working out, frankly how it works. For me I like to present things to him and get his thoughts on it. He likes when I come at him with ideas. Yeah I’m always working on what the bigger overall story is, especially now that we have a lot of episodes under our belt and we know what we’re doing with this period and what George wants us to do with this is the big question. What is a Star Wars television series like and how does that work? We know how some of these stories come out. We know what happens to the Jedi. We know what happens to the clones and know the Empire gets formed. How do you create a series and suspend interest knowing those facts and that’s one of the things we keep working on. I hit different people up with different questions and it’s exciting. We plot things out and even if it doesn’t happen that way in the end, we’re always working things out.  

You’re observations about Ahsoka are interesting because I like that your connecting it with ideas about Anakin and I think of knowing what Anakin is like and how he is teaching her and understanding that in the movie, we are showing Anakin as a very good person and someone who cares and not just someone definitely drawn to the dark side and these are all important things that effect her in the future, but I can’t give away anything more than that. As you can tell, I’d love to have a huge fan discussion with you.

Rivera: Thank you.

Filoni: Maybe after one season at a comic con I can have a big Star Wars get together and everyone can say “Dave, why did you guys do this because I didn’t want that to happen?” or “Hey I liked that.” I’d love to do that kind of thing. So I just appreciate the question.

Rivera: Thank you. Is the live action series going to happen? I know it’s not true until the Lucasfilm Press Department tells us. So do you think you will eventually make the transition to directing live action like the way Andrew Adamson went from directing the first two Shrek films to directing the first two Narnia movies?

Filoni: That’s really far out for me right now, but I think that everything that I’ve learned from George has really gotten me interested in live action. We had several discussions about the difference between how he does things in a live action film and how I learned to do things as an animation director and you know I really look at a lot of what I do, the future of my career as being credit to George because he has been my primary teacher now for the last three years.

Rivera: You’re very lucky.

Filoni: Exactly so I think if I did anything like moving on to live action, he would be incredibly proud I was able to make that leap and it was really in large course due to a lot of what he has taught me. Filmmaking in the end is storytelling using images – animation or live action.

Rivera: He strikes me like the way you describe him. Kind of the way Francis Ford Coppola taught him when he worked with him so you are one of the Padawans I guess. I actually was an intern for Lucasfilm a long time ago, it was back in 1990 and there was nothing happening aside from Young Indiana Jones and obviously I couldn’t talk about that back then with all those things the make you sign before you get started. I have heard him described as the benevolent dictator or whatnot. Would you say there is truth to that and you don’t have to answer that by the way…

David laughs.

Rivera: I don’t want to put you in an awkward situation; you know what I mean because hey man, you have the dream gig.

Filoni: Right. George has been great to me and he has been a big part of everything we’ve done and that’s been my experience. He’s definitely a creative force and it’s been fun for me to work with him. I think I had to earn a lot of trust and respect, but when coming in to work on his baby, a universe he created, you have to earn his trust. You to prove yourself and all I can say is that it has been nothing but a positive experience for me at Lucasfilm as a fan coming here it has been very positive. It’s a great place to work and a very creative place.

Rivera: I saw that in the film you directed Christopher Lee, Samuel L. Jackson, and well Anthony Daniels is probably the best sport in the world, I mean he always provides the voice on everything featuring C3PO and in the TV series you have people who are very good at what they do and they do a great job at portraying a character, but when you direct actors, whether it is Christopher Lee for the feature film or the person who does Dooku’s voice for the TV series, do you get to give the actors a bit more freedom on how they say a line or even adlib?

Filoni: Working with actors is a very collaborative process. It’s important to tell the actors that while they are playing an iconic character, they really have to be the character in their own right. I want them to bring a lot of themselves to the role as well.

Star Wars: The Clone Wars premieres on Cartoon Network with two episodes beginning at 8pm (ET/PT) on Friday, October 3, 2008.

© Copyright 2008 By Mark A. Rivera 
All Rights Reserved.

Republished on April 24, 2023. 

(C) Copyright 2008-2023 By Mark A. Rivera

All Rights Reserved.