I love to look up obscure Transformers memorabilia, production documents, cel sheets, comic book art, storyboards and other cool junk.
I’ll never own any of it, these things are out of my price range as a collector, and prices have only gotten more crazy high over the last decade or so.
While it’s great on one level that certain kinds of stuff is out there if you want to hunt for it – on the other hand the way a lot of this material makes its way into collections can be dubious.
Production materials find way into the world through unofficial channels – found in a dumpster, stolen by an ex employee, sold on ebay etc.
Sometimes we get a Jim Sorensen, who hunts out obscure material like the Hasbro/Sunbow TF model sheets, and has those model sheets and reference material turned into books for everyone to enjoy. But not many people have that kind of passion, dedication and community spirit.
Other times someone obtains some rare and unique production materials – and it remains in their collection for good and that is the end of it (well until they die, or sell it on ebay I guess). Sometimes it’s a public piece, and people hear about it – other times its a private deal for something *rumored* to even exist at all.
THE SELF-PRESERVATION SOCIETY
I’m the kind of person that if I had my hands on some obscure reference material such as productions scripts, story boards, cel sheets, sketches, art etc – I would scan and upload them for people to enjoy. Although this sort of stuff can sell for some serious money, to me they have no actual value in dollars. Their true value is in their IDEAS and history of the Transformers brand itself. These are cheap disposable material, easily replicated in digital format. I mean you can’t do that with say a production prototype, I’m really talking about flat words and pictures here. And I’m talking explicitly about pre and production material here, not stolen comic book art or anything like that (that should be returned to its true owner where possible).
The upside with reproductions and facsimiles of production material is that everyone gets to enjoy them, and anyone into the history and lore of Transformers media can then at least use those digital files for writing and reference etc, as well as the aesthetic enjoyment. If no book exists, you could at least in theory print out some things for your own reference.
We will never have a true Transformers Museum, so it’s up to fans to preserve the history of the hobby. HASBRO has often dropped the ball in this regard, when it comes to the history of the brand – they are often clueless or just don’t care (with rare exception when there is a buck to be made) and leave a lot of the preservation to Takara.
The downside of a scan of say a sketch or piece of art, at a high resolution – is that there is a small side industry of pirated materials that are turned into posters, tshirts etc and then sold on places like ebay. Some people make a profit from this sort of thing, often from China or countries where the laws around copyright are different, or ignored for corporate and intellectual property.
I’D BUY THAT FOR A DOLLAR!
Recently I was looking at some old ebay and Heritage auctions, including one that was for the movie production storyboards for the Transformers Movie (1986). I was amazed that such a thing had gotten into the hands of someone who was going to sell it.
To me that movie is somewhat sacred. It’s the source of many myths, lies and exaggerations in Transformers lore, the early drafts of the scripts, the various pre and post production changes that fans argue about what happened and why – I love it all.
There is a story about these storyboards and the various hands the original has passed through. I find it stupid that Hasbro didn’t keep it themselves (which is part of the story, you can look it up yourself if you like, it’s not what this post is about) – if they had it in their possession they could have been reprinted in a modern facsimile edition. Sure the market would be small, but it could have been print to order, or a limited run etc. And without someone dedicated working there to get a project like that going – it probably would never happen anyway.
I FOUND THIS OUT THE BACK
But Hasbro are notoriously pretty awful about preserving anything from their Transformers history. Any to be fair most pre-digital materials like storyboards usually go in the dumpster. Most movie materials are considered a disposable part of pre-production. If film makers kept everything, studios would run out of space to store all that crap.
I’m grateful that the Transformers 1986 Movie Storyboards were found again at all, rather than disappearing forever. But I feel a little sad that this piece of Transformers history was auctioned off like a piece of meat. The final price it sold for is kind of insane when you consider it’s just pieces of beat up black and white paper.
The storyboards and all versions of the script, would make a for an amazing coffee table book. To some fans a black and white book of scribbles, pen notes, script drafts and storyboards would be a bit bland. Sure, I get it. But throw some color images (Intro and Appendix) in there, add in a bit of commentary from people like Jim Sorensen and Chris McFeely and Flint Dille and it would really bring to life material that can be a bit dry. For me though, that shit is super exciting – it’s the ideas and raw material that formed so much of what we love.
THE WORLD ACCORDING TO BOB
Years back Bob Budianksy was at some convention or other and showed some of his original notes. Not computer files, not model sheets, not even full scripts.
Just plain ordinary notes on one dollar worth of paper. People loved it, it got them psyched up. The material (the paper) was the most mundane thing you can imagine, worthless really. But the IDEAS on that paper… literally priceless if you look at all that has come after the fact.
It makes me a little sad that the storyboards are not in some Transformers museum somewhere, as the storyboards are the first version of the movie, they are the (along with the various drafts of the script) the blueprints and the skeleton on which the finished theatrical film was built. I love that film about everything about it.
To me its a significant part of Transformers history and something to be preserved for all fans to enjoy. I don’t like that ONE fan somewhere in the world gets to enjoy it, and hoard it away.
Perhaps some people feel this way about toy prototypes? I don’t care about toy prototypes at all. However a high quality book of photos and commentary about that sort of thing is a book I would buy for sure. So maybe there are fans who say “so what, who gives a flying fuck about some dusty old scripts and storyboards?”
It’s a strange thing in our culture where during the production of a TV show, movie etc, the materials used during production are considered disposable. Only years later with nostalgia, or a fandom that has grown around a certain media property that unexpectedly lasts – do we start craving these things like Gollum in lord of the rings.
Often production materials are found in the garbage. In some cases things from TV shows and movies are literally found in dumpsters and then go on to be sold for thousands of dollars. Props, bits of sets, screen worn clothing – all kinds of stuff. The floating barrels from JAWS for example. Who could have ever predicted those would be valuable one day? Who would even think to keep them? Well somebody clearly did.
Things are a little different in 2017 – there has never been a bigger after market for props and screen used production materials and related paraphernalia such as licensed high end toys and statues. Corporations have a big side business not just in licensed action figures and toys etc, but in selling off screen used props and materials. They are not just int the movie entertainment game, but the long running I.P. game.
The days of just finding super valuable things in dumpsters for free, are long gone (with rare exceptions) as more and more companies realize how valuable their I.P. is, and how fans are interested not just in the final product, and the story we are being told, but in the pre-production, production and post-production process, the story BEHIND the story, the larger story you get to discover for yourself if you care to. And some rare fans get to own a little piece of movie history, a little piece of magic to marvel at.
The proliferation of DVD/BD “extra features” over the last decade or two so has given us so much material that normally goes in the studio vault, the cutting room floor, on into the garbage. We get to see things previously only the director got to see. Discarded idea, things that didn’t work, alternate takes on things that did work.
Creators never know which of their creations are going to take off and fly, and which are gong to crash and burn. Keeping every scrap, doodle, draft, and aborted stop-start take on an idea would be impractical. But it would also be a shame when the next Bugs Bunny, Batman or Optimus Prime comes along, and we don’t get to see the original art, or see the names they *almost* were called, or how some project that went on to spawn an empire, was nearly canned at the planning stages.
Whether toy box art, comic book original art, plans, documents and all the behind that scenes stuff that preceded The Transformers all adds up to interesting stuff in my book. The few scrappy remains we get to hear about today are mostly folks talking on podcasts, or the odd convention panel bit of trivia. Most of the old stuff is lost to the ravages of time and fallacious memory.
IN THE BEGINNING
On the rare occasion we get to see an original document, or part of the creative process – it’s great when everyone gets to see it. For example Jim Shooter’s original treatment / outline for The Transformers fiction. Imagine if that was never transcribed and nobody got to see it. Fortunately any fan that cares to can devour that bit of text anytime they like, thanks to the transcribed text on various sites such the Transforming Seminarian blog – and Jim’s larger picture behind the scenes story told over two enthralling blog posts on his own website.
Jim Shooter’s Original Transformers Treatment (featured on Transforming Seminarian blog)
(featured on Jim Shooter blog)
While things like concept art and storyboards are common tools in film pre-production today, with the move to digital media for the majority of these materials – pre-digital production materials become even more rare and potentially valuable.
The real value to me is not in any ebay auction of something dusty and forgotten relic for a silly price. The value to me is in the preservation of the material itself, so that it can be seen and understood by other people down the line, who may not even be born yet.
It’s only an animated film. It’s only a piece of 80’s entertainment about robots smashing shit up to sell toys. It’s only for kids. It’s only the death of a icon. It’s only the transformation of another icon. It’s only the passing of a mantle and the birth of a new hero. It’s only non-stop rock and roll. It’s only a movie stuffed to the bursting seams with so many exciting ideas and new things. It’s only myth and magic in the modern day.
It’s only a movie, to be forgotten and lost to the ravages of time.
*Picture of the original Transformers Movie Storyboards (pink folder) courtesy of The Space Bridge / Facebook website https://www.facebook.com/TheSpacebridge/
*JAWS Barrels image from Stephan Belanger blog
*Ebay Store listing screen cap of Storyboard Acution courtesy of ebay.com
*For items in The Space Bridge ebay store please visit: