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The 80's: Installment X: TRANSFORMERS THE MOVIE LOST DRAFT: THE SECRET OF CYBERTON
TRANSFORMERS: THE MOVIE: The Secret of Cybertron
I don’t know when I first heard about Transformers: The Movie. I’m sure there was talk drifting around about it, but I’m also quite sure that I paid no attention to it. I had too much join my own plate with the show and this was a ‘never trouble trouble’ situation. I figured that sooner or later it would surface or... maybe not. A lot of movies are talked about that never happen. I’d learned that in my ‘snipe hunt’ phase.
In fact, probably 90% of the moves you hear about never happen,. I do remember Doug Booth and I talking after the few sweetening sessions where they’d project the TV show on a theatrical screen at Paramount. Doug pointed out that, “if you got all of the shots right and maybe buffed the animation a little bit, these could be movies. They’re not bad to watch.”
I agreed. It wasn’t Snow White, but it was okay to watch.
You have to remember that this was before Disney came out with run that started with ‘The Little Mermaid” and in this period, animated movies were both extremely rare and very low quality. The disney classics like Fantasia and Pinocchio were rarely screened except, maybe, now and then at revival houses or on TV or limited VHS releases. So most animated movies were either weird art and foreign films played at art houses or unwatchable things for kids. Maybe I’m being a little harsh, but i don’t think so.
Anyway, at one point, Jay told me that the script for Transformers: The Movie had come in. (“: The Movie was an ’80’s way of saying that something that you thought of as a TV show or play or record album had been turned into a movie. I think Star Trek might have started that trend).
I asked how it was.
He said, something to the effect that ‘there’s a lot of good stuff in it, but it needs a lot of work.’ They Fed-Exed (everything was sent around by Fedex back then unless it was short and urgent and they used faxes which, a couple years earlier were rare and magical things and were now just coming of age.
A quick aside on Fax Machines. They seemed like magic at the time. Now they’re a technology I hope will die. At Lucasfilm, we had to go to a special office in a special building in Century City to send a Fax, and it cost something like $10 a page to do it. Then, I blinked and all of the sudden, faxes were ubiquitous. Everyone had one and they were affordable. At first, the pages came in on weird paper that didn’t hold its ink very well so you had to Xerox it very quickly or it would go blank.
Anyway, I remember reading the script and finding it very hard to follow. That was probably not the Writer, Ron Friedman’s fault. It was a first draft and read like a loosely assembled laundry list of really cool ideas and a warehouse of great visuals, but not really a movie. I’ve had people send things form the internet purporting to be the first draft of the script, but they didn’t look familiar. They seem to be either later drafts or things that were edited later, but I can’t be sure.
Jay came out to L.A. and we had a couple meetings trying to figure out what we’d do for a rewrite. Eventually, we settled on a strategy of starting fresh with the story and putting in good stuff from the script in a new context. We didn’t have a digital file of the script, because then, even if Ron had turned over a disc, it was unlikely to be compatible with my word processor. And besides, it's always better when you start a second draft with a blank page, anyway. While Word Processors brought a lot of efficiency, they also make it too easy to leave stuff in, there was something about the old typewriter days when you had to retype everything that forced the writer to re-confront every scene and line of dialogue afresh.
I remember Professor Jim Boyle at USC saying that it was best to re-type when you were tired and crabby, it made it more likely that you wouldn't re-insert the crap. Of course, digital allows you to keep numerous drafts and mix and match so you don’t have the prejudice of not making changes because you didn’t want to re-type the page all over again. I’m a huge fan, even in the digital age of reading a script out loud with other stakeholders. Steven used to do that at Amblin’. Nobody ever wants to do it. I’m not sure why.
I can’t remember exactly when we decided that we were going to write a whole script, but at some point Jay took up residence on my couch in my Westwood apartment and we started hammering away. Day and night. Obsessive. Maybe we took breaks to attend Wally’s recording session, but basically it was all movie, all the time.
A week later we had a draft called ‘The Secret of Cybertron.’ When we were done, we thought we had something truly great. It was an intense experience. We knew most of the characters in the beginning of the movie, but didn’t know the stars (Hot Rod, Galvatron, Kup, or Unicorn at all). And, behind the idea of making a movie was the business reality of introducing a whole new year’s product line while ‘discontinuing’ several of the stars from the first two seasons. After all, the thinking was, how many Optimus, Megatrons, Starscreams and Bumblebees can one kid buy?
When Jay and I got done, we thought we had the best script ever written by anybody for any reason,
The overall premise of The Secret of Cybertron as I recall was that Unicorn was coming to destroy Cybertron and he was sort-of acting in league with the Decepticons (or they were acting in his interests). The Autobots were determined to stop this, but they had no idea how. Finally, they realized that the Autobot Matrix had a secret power: It could transform Cybertron. The problem was that it had to be inserted at the very center of Cybertron and the Decepticons had holed up in there and set numerous traps to stop the Autobots from succeeding. At one point, every autobot we’ve ever known scream into Cybertron in something ike the Transformers equivalent of the Charge of the Light brigade to install the key. ((Or at least, that’s how I remember the story and remember, memory is a very tricky thing. In any case, in one charge we wiped out 90% of the 1985 Transformers product line.
I think one of my models was Sam Peckilnpah’s The Wild Bunch which was probably the most violent movie I saw in my entire childhood. No exactly children’s are and imagine the trauma that would have been caused if kids had seen their entire product line slaughtered.
Joe and Tom didn’t share our feeling that this was the greatest script ever and the Secret of Cybertron had a short, ugly life. The only people who ever read it were Tom and Joe, Jay, Roger Slifer and I, to the best of my knowledge. Nelson might have gotten one, too. Maybe Hildy and Carole had copies at one point. But it had a short, exciting life and was filed somewhere.
For that reason, nobody has a copy of it. I’ve asked around and… nothing…