Johnny-Five.com : Interviews : S. S. Wilson
 
S. S. Wilson       S. S. Wilson - Writer, Short Circuit and Short Circuit 2

E-mail interview. Mailed September 28, 2000. Received October 14, 2000.
Interviewer:
Mike.

Steve Wilson, AKA S. S. Wilson, co-wrote the original script of Short Circuit with Brent Maddock. I asked him if I could interview him via email. Being the nice guy he is, he agreed. There was so much I wanted to ask, so, pushing my luck, I sent him my plethora of questions. He's a truly awesome guy. I asked him about himself, the movies, the Short Circuit franchise, and more! Currently, Mr. Wilson works for Stampede Entertainment and is working on a new film, Tremors 3. We should all thank Steve by watching his new movie when it comes out!

 
Questions:   Did you have any idea that there would be a Short Circuit 2?
What are you currently working on?   Why was Ben's character renamed Ben Jahrvi in the second movie?
Why do you go by S. S. Wilson and not Steve Wilson?   Why didn't Short Circuit 3 work out?
Are there any Easter Eggs in Short Circuit and Short Circuit 2?   Who owns the Short Circuit franchise?
Are there any good stories you can tell that happened during production?   Could I [or anyone] read a copy of the original script for Short Circuit?
How did you decide on giving no. 5 the name Johnny Five?   Do you know of any cameos by Johnny Five or public appearances?
Does the number "5" have any special meaning?   Do you know when Short Circuit 2 will be on DVD?
Why is Johnny's left eyebrow different from the right one?   Do you have any momentos from the movie you could part with?
Can you explain what those scenes are we see in the end credits?   How close did the movies come to your mental image of the stories?
How much of the production of Short Circuit 1 and 2 did you witness?   What do you do to stay awake late at night to keep the creative juices flowing?
How did Short Circuit 2 get started?    
 
What are you currently working on? What's your role in this project? top

At Stampede Entertainment we are working on Tremors 3. I've co-written it with Nancy Roberts (producer), Brent Maddock (director) and John Whelpley (writer who did much of the first two drafts). I'll be directing what's called the 2nd Unit, a separate film unit that shoots various shots that the main unit doesn't have time to get.

Stampede also has a possible TV series in the works, but we won't know if it's a go for a few more weeks.

Also Brent and I will be sending out a new science fiction script hopefully by the end of the year.

Why do you go by S. S. Wilson and not Steve Wilson? top

When I was in high school, making 8mm movies, I noticed that it was hard to remember actors' names which were "ordinary." That is, if there was a character actor I really liked whose name was John Smith, I found it hard to remember that. But guys like "Denver Pyle" or "River Phoenix" were easy to remember. I knew that Steve Wilson was one of those hard-to-remember names. I didn't want to change my name, so I decided to try to make it more distinctive by using my initals. I never really dreamed I'd make it in the film business, but I stuck it on all my student productions anyway.

By the way, it works. People don't confuse me with all the other Wilsons.

Are there any Easter eggs in Short Circuit and Short Circuit 2? Hidden things you put in there for fans to find or figure out? (One Easter egg I found is Syd Mead's J5 concept design by Howard's chair at Nova headquarters.) top

Since Brent and I did not direct or produce those movies, we had very little input on what the production team did. Generally in Hollywood, the writers don't get very involved in the actual making of the films. In fact I never noticed the Syd Mead design you mentioned!

Are there any good stories you can tell that happened during production? Any gags? Anyone wearing bunny slippers beyond the camera's view? top

Here again, Brent and I were on set very little, so there's not much we can add to the stories that John Badham tells on the DVD. I do remember, on Short Circuit II, that the effects crew used an extra J5 hand as a door knob in one of the production offices in Canada.

Another story I heard involved the remote controlled J5 on SCII. He was operated by a puppeteer wearing a kind of robotic suit. It had metal arms with shoulder, elbow, wrist and finger controls as well as a head bracket. So when the puppeteer moved his arms or head, J5 made the same move. However, when they first powered J5 up for a take, he would instantly assume the position the puppeteer was in. So if the puppeteer's arm happened to be extended when you turned J5 on, J5's arm would snap up and out. Supposedly, more than one crew member got punched out by J5 in this way, so everyone learned to stay out of the way when J5 was powered up.

Have you noticed that director John Badham is the cameraman with the news team that shows up outside Stephanie's front door in Short I?

How did you decide on giving no. 5 the name Johnny Five? Did that arise from Debarge's song "Who's Johnny?" top

Yes. Brent and I weren't particularly happy with the idea that he wanted to give himself a human name. We thought he should just remain Number Five. But they got the rights to the song, and John Badham felt he should have a warmer name, so they went ahead with that idea. Since then Brent and I have learned that fans really like the name Johnny Five, so I guess we were wrong on that one.

Does the number "5" have any special meaning? How did you decide that number 5 would come alive and not 4? And the characters, how did you name them? Do the names have special meanings? top

You know, after all this time I can't remember why we picked the number. I know we talked a lot about it, but I don't know what the reasoning was. In the script for Short Circuit II the two bad guys were called Jones and Saunders, after two mean kids who picked on me in grade school.

Here's one other background tidbit: the whole idea for Short Circuit grew out of an educational film I did with Ron Underwood. It was called, Library Report, and it co-starred a robot (I did the robot's movements via stop-motion animation). The robot in that film is small, but looks a little like Number Five. Anyway, the film was a big hit, selling to lots of schools and libraries, and that's the reason Brent and I started thinking about a feature film starring a robot. That's how we started writing Short Circuit.

Why is Johnny's left eyebrow different from the right one? It looks like a small piece has been cut out of it. top

Wow, can't help you on that one. I never noticed it! Hopefully you'll start getting other members of the production team to answer questions, maybe you'll find out more about this sort of thing.

Can you explain what those scenes are at the end credits of the first movie, but are not in the film? top

Most movies are too long when they are edited together for the first time. There are lots of scenes and bits and pieces that the director likes, but later decides to take out to make the show move faster. John had shot a whole sequence where J5 escapes from some bad guys by going through a junk yard. He felt he had to cut the sequence out, but he hated losing such an expensive scene, so he decided to run it at the end. It was a rather novel idea at the time -- showing the audience not out takes or gags, but actually a scene that wasn't in the movie. They did the same thing on Stuart Little more recently.

How much of the production of Short Circuit 1 and 2 did you witness? top

As I've mentioned, not much. We were on the Nova Robotics set once or twice. We got to watch some of the explosions in the opening sequence (where the robots attack the truck convoy). We were on the set when they were shooting the scene where J5 has leaped off the bridge and is pulling the rip-cord on his parachute. J5 was mounted high up on a platform in front of a rear-projection screen showing footage of the bridge moving behind him. It was a very complicated set up. And we were out at Vasquez Rocks where the final scene takes place (where the phony No.5 blows up). I remember them making us all move way back when the gunship helicopter made its low pass over the Nova team.

On Short II, we went to Canada only once I think. The most fun thing about that was getting to meet Jack Weston, who was a very well known character actor we'd seen in zillions of movies as kids.

How did Short Circuit 2 get started? Who's idea was it to do another movie? top

The studio made so much on Short I that they wanted a Short II. It's always the studio's idea to make sequels. It doesn't happen unless they believe there's more money to be made.

Did you have any idea that there would be a Short Circuit 2? Did you have a script ready? How long did it take to write? top

No, we had no plans for a Short II. We were just happy to have sold Short I (our first feature screenplay sale). So when the studio called and said they wanted to do Short II, that began a long series of meetings with studio executives and producer David Foster to develop the story. Brent and I came up with a few different storylines, and we all settled on the one that was done.

Most screenplays take about 12 weeks to write (at least that's the "normal" amount of time allowed in contracts). The first draft of Short II took about that long. Then we worked on it quite a bit after that, right up until it went into production. The director, Ken Johnson, had ideas he wanted to add and changes he wanted us to make. As a script goes into production, you get input from the director, studio execs, producer -- sometimes even effects and other departments. So we kept working on it till they went off to shoot it.

Why was Ben's character (Ben Jabituya) renamed Ben Jahrvi in the second movie? top

I don't know for sure, but I've always assumed it was because the name "Jabituya" was a gag name, and they felt Ben should have a more realistic Indian name the second time around.

Why didn't Short Circuit 3 work out? Can you reveal what you wanted to do in the film? Is there still hope for a third movie? top

Short II, though it did very well, didn't make quite enough money for the studio to get real excited about Short III. We threw around a few ideas, but no one was willing to commit to spending the money for a sequel. One story we thought about was an adventure where Number Five goes to college and unknowingly gets involved with international spies.

Who owns the Short Circuit franchise? You? Tri-Star? Johnny Five is a great character and deserves more stories written about him. Would you allow others to use the Short Circuit franchise to make new movies, novels, comic books, etc.? What if a fan wanted to make and sell toy J5 robots? top

Believe it or not, I don't know the name of the company which owns the rights to J5 and the movies. The company that made the first movie, called PSO, went out of business soon after (Short Circuit was its only hit). Tri-Star made the second movie. But my understanding is the rights actually went to someone else later on. I've never looked into it. Over the years I've heard talk about a J5 TV series and an animated series, but they've never really pursued it as far as I know However, owners of such rights are very protective of them. One would have to contact them and go through official contract negotiations to use the character, even in something simple like a comic or toy. If someone had a good idea, I guess it would be worth finding them and talking to them, since they're not doing anything with the character now. Probably one would start by calling Tri-Star and asking them who owns the rights.

Just out of curiousity, could I [or anyone] read a copy of the original script for Short Circuit? I'd like to see how it's changed in the movie. top

Sorry, I don't think we have any copies of stuff going back that far (if I ever clean up my garage and find one, I'll let you know). As a writer you end up with 12 or 14 drafts of everything you write (including the movies that don't get made). Eventually you just start throwing it all out. There are many script-selling services on the WEB, though. Have you tried to find Short Circuit there?

I can tell you that John Badham shot it almost exactly as we wrote it, changing only the character of Ben and some of the dialogue. That's only happened a few times in our career. Usually directors change our scripts a lot more.

Do you know of any cameos by Johnny Five or public appearances? I saw J5's arm in Star Trek Voyager, did you know Eric Allard was still flaunting J5's parts? top

Here again, you've noticed more than I have!

Do you know when Short Circuit 2 will be on DVD and if it will have extra goodies like the first one did? top

Don't know if there are plans for a Short II DVD. You might contact the company that did Short I. (Image Entertainment) and see if they have a contract to do it.

Do you have any momentos from the movie you could part with? Is anything from the films at auction? top

All I have is a poster and a mini-Number Five from Short II (one of the toys Ben is seen selling). And he got smashed in the CA Northridge earthquake (his own poster fell off the wall and smashed him!). He's in pieces that I keep meaning to try to fix someday.

Unfortunately, the writer is not the best guy to ask these questions. Writers don't usually get much or have much to do with the production. As your website grows, maybe you'll uncover people with memorabilia. Did you have any luck finding out if All Effects still exists as a company? I would think Eric Allard might have stored a lot of stuff.

How close did the movies come to your mental image of the stories? top

Both movies came pretty close, much closer than most things we write. John Badham made Short I a little sillier than we'd imagined it (changing Ben to the Indian character, making the security guards and Marner kind of broad), but still did a very nice job, in our opinion. We were more disappointed in Short II, but in part because we never felt we got the script quite right. Late in pre-production we got the idea that we should reduce the number of villains (actually combine the parts of Ben's partner and the Jack Weston villain) and simplify the story. We think it would have made the movie more fun and less complicated to follow. But the director and studio didn't want to change it that late in the game.

What do you do to stay awake late at night to keep the creative juices flowing? If you could "not sleep," would you? top

I've always been the kind of person who stays up till I get a job done. In fact, I just went almost 48 straight hours (I slept 3 1/2 somewhere in there) to get a draft of Tremors 3 ready for the production team. But I don't think I would not sleep. It's nice to turn in once and a while and just rest. The other thing I do is play dumb computer games as a break -- like each time I finish a major scene, I get to play one round of some old game like PacMan.


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