First, a little background: I’ve been a longtime contributor to the TFWiki, going by the name Bluestreak7 in my edits. I usually focus on minutia and little things that don’t get noticed that much, be it character plot sections in the Energon or Cybertron series or housecleaning like de-orphaning pages and removing dead links. I’ve always wanted to make a bigger impact on the site, but never really found my niche.
The time came where we submitted questions for Hasbro. A few would be selected and sent for them to answer. My submission was a querying for information regarding the fifth season of the original Transformers cartoon. It’s an odd little season. Season 4 had finished with just a three part introduction of the years’ toyline, showing off the entire product line in less than 90 minutes. However, any plans to continue season 4 were scrapped. When the next year came around, Hasbro decided to repackage many episodes with new live action intros and outros featuring a stop motion Optimus Prime and a boy named Tommy Kennedy. These were the episodes I first saw on TV, being five at the time.
My question was not submitted, but fellow wiki editor Monzo pointed me to this image of a screenshot showing the credits for the fifth season. Immediately I began my detective work, which means I googled. I started with the producer, who would have led the whole thing. Finding the website for Tim Speidel, I found he worked for Griffin Bacal, Hasbro’s marketing firm at the time. I had a feeling I had the right guy to get some information.
I went weeks without starting any contact, but eventually e-mailed him and asked if he would be interested in an interview of sorts about his work. He responded enthusiastically but wanted to have a phone conversation. I expected just to keep e-mail correspondence. So last week Wednesday I called him up and we talked Transformers for about a half hour. Like most who worked on the series back in the day, it was just a job for him but one he remembers fondly.
I was not able to record the conversation, but I will highlight some of the points he made and stories he shared.
He could not remember much about Jason Jansen, the boy who played Tommy Kennedy. Transformers fans I have been trying to find information about him and I was hoping to crack the case, but he only remembers him being great at his lines. I do have some leads in that he was from the New York area where the footage was shot and that he was definitely a member of the Screen Actors Guid. They would not have hired him if he was not.
Griffin Bacal worked with Broadcast Arts, which was director Peter Wallach’s organization. Peter Wallach is the son of actor Eli Wallach. Peter Wallach and production designer/director of photography Mike Sullivan came up with the idea of using a giant Optimus Prime head and hand for the closeup shots. They felt they lucked out having Prime have a mouthpiece instead of lips, making lipsych that much easier. It was manipulated by seven to eight operators using hand hydraulics, similar to Jabba the Hutt in Return of the Jedi. The props were initially warehoused, but Mr. Speidel believes they have since been destroyed.
All the season openers and closers were shot within three to four days on 35mm film. The last parts shot on set were the young actor’s lines. Right after he finished and the director called a wrap, a crane snapped in two, crashing down onto the giant hand where the boy was standing moments ago. Attached to the crane was the camera operator and the camera. Apparently everyone ran to see if the camera was okay and only checked on the operator secondly. However, if Jason Jansen was still on his mark, the crane would have most likely killed him.
Editing was done in New York at Rutt Video on 27th St. The budget was shrinking, so editor Lisa Orlando worked for bargain rates. Tim Speidel would help out with the edits and leave the building in the early morning hours. He said the area was ripe with prostitutes, who seemed to alternate between nights. On certain nights female would be walking the streets and on other nights appeared to be the male shifts. The business may have been running out of the same building as the editing.
Overall it was a nice conversation. He couldn’t remember everything, but I was glad for the bits of information I was able to pull. Hopefully some of this information will be useful on the wiki. Now if only we could find Jason Jansen.