W.D. Richter Interview: Catching Up and Looking Forward (Spring, 2006)

This interview originally appeared in the Spring, 2008 edition of the World Watch One newsletter. You can find more information about the newsletter under the question Was there an official Buckaroo Banzai newsletter?

W.D. Richter Interview: Catching Up and Looking Forward
By Alan "Dragon" Smith

BBI Dragon: It’s exciting to see the script for ‘Supersize those Fries’ getting a second chance as a graphic novel. Were any other episodes roughed out as stories or actual scripts back when you were developing BB for television?

W.D. Richter: Mac claimed to have several ideas for new plots, but we never got to explore them for TV. I think he used some in the two new novels he wrote for PocketBooks, neither of which they liked. But they EXIST. And they're good. Someday...

BBI Dragon: That’s right, Mac was working on a series of BB novels called the "Lizardo Quartet." Whatever became of those books?

W.D. Richter: The first one turned out to be much too intense for the publisher's taste so he wrote a second. It took too long, and they seem to resent that enough to not release it. Typical Buckaroo developments.

BBI Dragon: What are the possibilities of the novels ever being published?

W.D. Richter: Simon & Schuster has gotten cold feet about the economic viability of a new BB novel in a publishing climate where so many of their other usually reliable titles are doing poorly now. If they publish neither new BB novel, which is what I suspect will happen, it’s not yet clear to me what we own from this fiasco. At least one novel, I'm sure, that we can take to market after all the nonsense is sorted out. So yet another chapter of BB Wait-And-See begins.

BBI Dragon: Has the nonsense been sorted out? Is it likely to be?

W.D. Richter: Is it hard to push a piece of string? Simon & Schuster has no motivation to accommodate us by having their lawyers spend time debating the matter with their creative people. Time is money and all that. So we’d have to have lawyers contact them to force the issue. “Okay, Simon & Schuster, you have two novels for the price of one. Pass on one and give it to us by such and such a date or we sue.” We’d have to sue, I’m sure. Money, money, money. BB needs a legal defense fund.

BBI Dragon: That must be a little frustrating. It’s like there can't be an economically viable BB ‘anything’ unless someone takes a leap of faith and does ‘something.’ Companies keep getting cold feet because they aren't sure enough they'll make a profit or have the clear rights to do a project. That casts Moonstone Books’ Buckaroo Banzai project in something of an uncertain light.

W.D. Richter: At least they've got the nerve to be in the point position. "I doubt I'd want to disrupt my life for ANY other project."

BBI Dragon: By now, most of us realize that Hollywood listens to our wallets. Lobbying for more BB through a letter writing campaign doesn’t make much sense until there is a better sense of how well the comic books sell. What else can we, as fans, do to promote BB?"

W.D. Richter: You all supported the DVD. If the Moonstone comic is a success, who knows? It's all about a paying audience. Studios and networks want a return on capital. Makes sense, but playing it safe isn't always the way to get one.

BBI Dragon: Let's move into some future speculation. What might be the best route to take in developing a new Buckaroo Banzai film? A prequel chronicling Buckaroo Banzai and the Institute's beginnings? A complete remake of the original? A brand new story in the current times? None of the above? What are your thoughts?

W.D. Richter: Quick response: A brand-new story set in whatever "current times" means in Buckaroo Banzai Land. A remake would seem to say we have no new ideas, and a prequel would be just laboring to set up things that already are in motion.

BBI Dragon: Interesting perspective. Could you expand on each of these scenarios in a little more detail? A remake: They sure seem to be popular these days. Is the whole remake phenomenon mostly just Hollywood being timid about new ideas, or is there more to it than that?

W.D. Richter: Hollywood runs on fear of failure. Traveling on an airplane that's already proven it can fly is much more comforting (until it crashes) than test piloting a new contraption. Precious few Chuck Yeagers out there. Of course, the grand irony is that you can only make a sequel if somebody had the nerve to make the original.

BBI Dragon: A prequel: This idea has stimulated quit a popular discussion among the fans and BBIs over at the Buckaroo Banzai yahoogroup. To sum it up, the feeling seems to be that you could use relatively unknown actors in a story set during the very beginning years of the Banzai Institute to bring a new audience to the world of BB.

W.D. Richter: It seems a prequel's main mission is to explain and justify while it tries to entertain. Boring. It also presumes that the authors actually KNOW or want to know exactly where all their characters came from. Personally, I love the mystery. And when exactly does the prequel start? I can just hear the fan chorus: "WHAT?! They're picking up the story WHEN?!"

BBI Dragon: A brand new story set in current times, BB Land as it is. Depending on the script and the alignment of the planets, this could be a risky approach by current Hollywood standards.

W.D. Richter: Every movie is risky. Every one.

BBI Dragon: Sling-shooting from the '84 docudrama into the present could be challenging.

W.D. Richter: Every movie SHOULD be challenging.

BBI Dragon: One of the controversies with the fans and BBI's is the use of the original actors. Availability and interest aside, and I know that's a big "if," some feel that the original actors need to be in the advancement of the BB storyline, at the very least as older, wiser characters in cameos.

W.D. Richter: Cameos would suggest that the ACTORS themselves ARE the characters and have aged. Ergo, BB himself has aged. So what do you do? Cast young new Cavaliers and plug in Peter Weller? See? This is nuts. A not-fully-thoughtout line of reasoning.

BBI Dragon: On the other side of the discussion are those who feel that fresh faces playing 20 to 30 something characters would be more appropriate and desirable.

W.D. Richter: Mac's and my thesis is that these are ONLY actors portraying the real characters. So let's just tell a new story, set it in some unreal present (as was the first), and have fun with the BB world. People get all worked up about truly tangential stuff. The point is that it's exciting and amusing to travel with these characters of Mac's.

BBI Dragon: So many films these days are using CGI (Computer Generated Imaging) to create environments and characters; often to the exclusion of using equally convincing practical effects. In your opinion, would the next BB film make use of CGI and if so, to what extent?

W.D. Richter: Certainly, I'd use it. But the fun of BB is its roughness and its live-action. A delicate balance.

BBI Dragon: How would you approach a TV project involving BB next time? Would you and Mac adopt similar series concepts or go for something totally different?

W.D. Richter: Impossible to say. I've always wanted it to be a country-western-rock'n'roll-sci-fi variety show with a serialized BB adventure playing in short segments each week. Maybe it's a reality show!

BBI Dragon: The Reality Show format is so very popular these days. From what little I've been able to read about the "variety show" format you and Mac proposed as an alternate BB TV concept, it would be a "make believe" reality show. The audience would make the leap of faith that they are a part of the BB world, watching a show set in BB’s “reality.” The concept isn't typical of the reality show format in that it's not real people as the participants. You'd have to have actors playing, or representing the "real" Team Banzai.

W.D. Richter: Almost exactly right. But we thought we could also bring on real experts in cool fields who would be guests on the show to share their wisdom.

BBI Dragon: I see, maybe a variety show with real experts, that part IS just like the usual reality show format, but you add another element to it, actors playing Team Banzai?

W.D. Richter: I guess, I'm not sure how this could all work. We had no idea how the original movie would work either. We just did it.

BBI Dragon: Would you want to direct a second film or direct the TV show pilot if that should come up again?

W.D. Richter: Only if enough creative freedom were offered and the schedule made sense with my personal life.

BBI Dragon: Would this be your take on any such major project BB or not, enough creative freedom and it would need to fit your personal life schedule?

W.D. Richter: I doubt I'd want to disrupt my life for ANY other project.

BBI Dragon: As the rights to BB Land sit right now, do I understand it correctly; that anything NEW Mac and you have written would be in your control to do with as you can.

W.D. Richter: Not quite. If we could demonstrate that the new stuff grew out of the TV pilot and not the movie, we could own those rights in certain media. I suspect not in feature films, though, because the film rights travel with the original. I think. How do I know? I'm not a lawyer, and there aren't really any contracts for a lawyer to read. I think Begelman ate them.

BBI Dragon: This means that we might be able to see something new from the Land of Buckaroo Banzai if people like Moonstone Comics are willing to take a risk.

W.D. Richter: In the comic world, sure. We could roll out new material forever as long as it traced its origins to the Great Potato Adventure, not that other one about The Eighth Dimension.

BBI Dragon: How do you feel at this moment about the whole ride with the Buckaroo experience and all of its ups and downs?

W.D. Richter: No glib answer, sorry. I'm just delighted that Mac wrote about Buckaroo Banzai and that I got to direct a film about him and seem to be sucked back into this universe on a regular basis. Hope springs internal!

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