Fans of RoboCop have something really exciting to look forward to. A new feature-length retrospective is doing a deep dive into this seminal sci-fi franchise, spanning the original Paul Verhoeven directed movie along with its sequels, TV shows and all the merchandise that has come in its wake. RoboDoc: The Creation of Robocop is in-depth expose that includes over 100 interviews along with never-before-seen footage and set videos.
RoboDoc will examine the cultural impact Robocop has had over the last 30 years. Right now, the current cut is sitting at over 6 hours. The movie is made by fans for fans of the franchise. And it promises to bring quite a bit of recently discovered information to the forefront. While there have been some Robocop documentaries in the past, this is being called the most definitive behind-the-scenes account of what went down, and it will arrive as the final word on what really happened on set.
Hot on the heels of our exclusive 19-minute clip of the RoboCop documentary, which showed the creation of iconic Enforcement Droid ED-209, and the people behind bringing the robot to life, we have an interview with the folks responsible for this epic undertaking. We got to catch up with the creative force behind the documentary as co-directors & co-writers Eastwood Allen and Christopher Griffiths join producer Gary Smart for a discussion about what we can expect to see.
What were your prime directives in bringing the story behind RoboCop to the screen?
Christopher Griffiths: As a lifelong fan of the film and since producing documentaries with Dead Mouse productions, it has been my dream to produce a RoboCop documentary and that became a reality when I took the leap with Gary’s encouragement, to message writer, Ed Neumeier whilst we were out in L.A. shooting our Fright Night documentary to which he happily obliged. After a meal and a few drinks Ed made the mistake of saying “Well you guys should do a documentary on RoboCop!”. Not entirely sure he expected a wealth of emails with plans and ideas to come his way upon our arrival back in the UK.
Before we knew it, a Facebook page was set up by Gary and the news spread like wildfire, which really got our blood pumping. Our aim, like all our projects was to approach this project as fans and deliver for the fans. After an awesome little Kickstarter was produced with the aid of fellow RoboDork, Eastwood and his brilliant animations, we were set to go and little did we realize what would be ahead of us.
Eastwood Allen: We’ve seen the existing documentaries on how RoboCop was made, we grew up with them and I watched them religiously as a youngster. I love them but they cover a lot of the same ground. We wanted to dig a little deeper with ours and cover areas that have never before been talked about on camera. Things like the sound design, the extensive makeups, the weapons, the Robo Team, the set-stories from supporting cast and of course the SQUIBS! So many squibs. We wanted to hear from the folks who were just as close to the film as the principle cast/crew, those people who were on set all day and working 20 hour days, and believe me, those were the guys with the BEST and most entertaining set stories. We’ve got stories which will knock fans’ socks off.
What do you think it is about the original RoboCop that simply can’t be replicated in any of the sequels, the TV shows or the reboot? Why is this particular movie a singularity in and of itself?
Eastwood Allen: Robo was made at the time just before CG was starting to become a thing. For me it’s the height of practical effects. I was a boy when I watched it. It had everything I could want. There’s no dead-weight in the film’s structure. It’s a water-tight script, There’s so much to sink your teeth into. So many iconic set-pieces, a sleek hero with the greatest suit ever designed. The performances are so memorable. I mean, it’s hard for me to think of another film other than maybe Aliens with such a distinctive and thoroughly well-rounded ensemble than those in RoboCop. The bad guys don’t get any better than the Boddicker gang.
The violence is visceral because they captured it live on set. There’s a grit to it, you feel those hits and it’s what makes it one of the greatest action movies ever made. Then there are the layers to it, that you come to understand as you grew up with the film. As Chris likes to say “RoboCop has soul”
Christopher Griffiths: I will set the record in saying I love anything to do with RoboCop and that might be due to Childhood nostalgia in some respects, but despite the end result of his subsequent outings, there have been some nuggets of inspired moments throughout the franchise. As for the first film being head and shoulders above the rest Ed Neumeier and Michael Miner’s storyline is the perfect full circle narrative of redemption and resurrection.
Gary Smart: When you have a movie that is so full of social commentary, you just can’t replicate that as easy as many studios think. That comes from Paul Verhoeven, you don’t have him and you lose the true essence of what RoboCop is.
Eastwood Allen: We’ve learned that the movie was a nightmare to make, relationships were frayed and people were at each others throats because so many individuals wanted nothing but the very best and the blood and sweat is on screen.
Who was the hardest individual to locate and get for an interview, and what was the most important piece of behind-the-scenes info they had to offer once you were able to lock them in and get them to talk about this experience?
Gary Smart: Most of the interviewees were hard to track down. Tom Noonan (RoboCop 2’s ‘Cain’) Gabriel Damon, Calvin Yung, S.D. Nemeth were all difficult for various reasons, agents, scheduling etc. you really have to become a private detective and it’s always a game of ‘who knows, who’.
Eastwood Allen: After a couple years of trying, we finally landed the lead stuntman from the original trilogy, Russell Towery who we were desperate to interview. Russell was sort of this mythical character in the Robo fandom. We knew just how treacherous the production was from all the stories we heard. Russell is the real deal. He’s such a great guy and still working to this day, hence why it was hard to lock him down. I think people forget that out of everyone on the production Russell probably spent the most time on the set with Peter Weller.
He had to learn mime in the suit with Moni Yakim just as Weller did, he had to be at the production’s beck and call to step in at any time. Then on top of that he had to put himself in that cumbersome suit and perform under some crazy conditions. He was hospitalized, hit with fire, glass, explosives. He had it tough, the car park scene for example where RoboCop is escaping down the levels away from the SWAT team is literally just Russell throwing himself onto hard concrete for real, and he did that all night. His interview was eye-opening. He painted the picture of set-life so well. He also pointed out his lesser known cameos he has in the Robo movies which I think fans will get a kick out of.
What was the single most shocking or revealing fact about RoboCop that you learned through doing such extensive research and interviews?
Eastwood Allen: So we’ve been lucky to receive a plethora of unearthed original documents from the production which are full of concepts and ideas by the makers, some of which came to be, others fell by the way side because of time, budget or Verhoeven’s vision. One idea which Michael and Ed originally had was to have RoboCop sprint and intimidate the bad guys, he would inject these cartridges into his legs that would energize him. I just love that visual. I’ve also seen the original casting memos and audition logs by the makers and Orion Pictures. Most of the names in the conversations were new to us. A personal favourite of mine was that Christopher Reeve was at one point considered for Murphy/RoboCop. An offer was sent to him, which would have blown my tiny mind as a kid because Superman was the only reason my parents thought it’d be a good idea to introduce me to a new new hero in RoboCop. Also in the pile of casting ‘maybes’ was a young Nicolas Cage, similarly Mark Hamill and Lance Henrickson. Steven Seagal even had an audition for the leading man, but Verhoeven wasn’t down for that idea.
Christopher Griffiths: Can you honestly imagine the latter? “Deeead or. Alive, YOU’RE COMING WITH ME!!!!”
Eastwood Allen: When Peter Weller was given the role he wanted his (Buckaroo Bonzai) pal Christopher Lloyd for the Dick Jones part. So another fascinating part to making this doc is the “what could haves” and the alternates. The RoboCop character was a lot more brutal in the original drafts too. The writers had him hunt down and murder his maker Bob Morton in the OCP tower after Robo discovers he is trapped as a cyborg. They took the more righteous and heroic route in the end of course.
Christopher Griffiths: On top of the many documents we possess we have unearthed some incredible storyboards including the infamous Murphy visiting his own grave. A scene which was attempted in both the first and second film but ultimately scrapped due to its gothic nature not quite fitting in with the rest of the industrial inner city landscape.
S.D. Nemeth has perhaps one of the most iconic and infamous lines in the movie with ‘I’d buy that for a Dollar.’ His last role was in RoboCop 3 according to IMDB. How was it trying to track him down and getting him to appear in the documentary? Did he have any sort of unique take that maybe the other actors didn’t?
Gary Smart: From our very first project ‘Leviathan: The Story of Hellraiser‘ we knew that a documentary isn’t always about getting the top-billers, sometimes their stories are limited. Some of the most interesting stories come from the bit-players and the crew, the filming may have meant more to them as it was a big deal for them. S.D. Nemeth or ‘Doc’ to his friends was a must for us, his lines are iconic, yet he has never been interviewed about the movie. So, we put on our detective heads and found him, and he was such a charming, gentle and enthusiastic guy, who had no idea how popular his character was.
Eastwood Allen: One of my fondest memories of the production was sitting with Doc in the production office in Burbank. Doc doesn’t do social media or smart phones so I spent some time showing him all of the ‘Bixby Snyder’ fan art, merchandise and memes etc on my phone. He genuinely had no idea that his character had a life beyond the films. He was audibly quite overwhelmed and bit emotional and that was so kinda cool to witness. He had some real grand ideas about Bixby should he ever return to the silver screen.
Peter Weller has always seemed to distance himself from the RoboCop franchise, but has appeared more open to it in recent years. What was the process of trying to get him for an interview and did he explain why he eventually gave into the iconic force of RoboCop?
Gary Smart: We haven’t quite got Dr. Weller yet, we’ve been working on him for 4-years, that’s a documentary in itself! Dr. Weller has been gracious and given us his blessing with the project.
Eastwood Allen: We met with Weller just last week at the ‘For the Love of Sci-Fi’ convention here in England. We hosted his live panel and spoke with him backstage about RoboDoc. He was really great.
Christopher Griffiths: He told us, “So I heard this documentary is like 80 hours?!, Well, get this shit sorted and get me on there.” Meeting Weller face to face has certainly reignited that interest in making another attempt at getting him involved especially as Eastwood has done a magnificent job of really bringing out people’s personalities and match them up with their peers. I still hold out a tiny piece of hope that something could happen, but honestly, who knows? He is very much aware of the project and I have recently expressed to him how this will be the final word on RoboCop.
Eastwood Allen: Whatever happens, fans can rest assure that Weller is in the doc plenty as it stands. We have newly discovered archive audio and video interviews. I can guarantee that there’s certainly a Peter Weller presence throughout. That’s not to say that a new interview wouldn’t be an amazing opportunity as we’d ask questions which have never been asked and there’s a couple of set stories we’d love to hear Weller’s take on.
Gary Smart: We’re still hopeful we can get him… we haven’t quite finished yet.
How much, if any, deleted or unseen footage from the original do we finally get to experience? Is there anything in particular you’re really excited for fans to see?
Eastwood Allen: We have various never before seen rushes from the original RoboCop production from several scenes that are exclusive to RoboDoc including the entire night’s dailies of the Boddicker gang causing carnage with the Cobra Assault Cannons.
Christopher Griffiths: Die hard RoboCop fans will instantly know they are seeing something new or different including alternate takes a scene or two or even just longer takes, which I find to be incredible for any film that has been around for so long.
Eastwood Allen: I think people are gonna be surprised at what we’ve managed to dig up, but it’s taken a lot of work and persistence to find a lot of it. Some of it took over a year to arrive with us. There’s also hours of material we’ve amassed for RoboCop 2 that isn’t available to see anywhere else.
You cover RoboCop 2 and Robocop 3 in the movie. What’s the biggest difference you feel sets those movies apart from the original?
Christopher Griffiths: We originally planned to cover the sequels in minimal detail. Almost like the legacy side of the fist film. Instead we have two 90 minute documentaries covering each film, which are simultaneously being edited alongside the main documentary which currently stands at 4 1/2 hours in length. With the sequels, I get the genuine sense of the outside world mechanics. A rushed sequel that does it’s best at delivering the same goods the first did but not quite getting there.
Eastwood Allen: I still to this day have a lot of time for RoboCop 2. The Robo-Cain stuff in the factory is nightmarishly astonishing. The blocking and the execution by Phil Tippett is still stunning. Peter Kuran told us about how in 1989 they were at the very brink of the CGI takeover, the tides were changing. RoboCop 2 is one of the few films to combine all the visual effects tricks of the past and (then) present. Stop motion, animatronics, matte paintings, opticals to 3D digital renders. If you love visual effects, I don’t know how you can’t enjoy the fight exchanges in that film.
Christopher Griffiths: With the third film it is obvious what the decision was (aiming the film at much younger audience) and ultimately it didn’t work. That’s not to say I do not like them, I love them! But if ever there was a franchise that showcased the mindset of a studio, this is very much it! Nonetheless they are both played frequently in my household and do we have some fantastic interviews for them!
Eastwood Allen: Robert John Burke who played Robo in the third film was one of our favourite interviewees. The man just oozed coolness and he’s still killing it in movies today. We met RJB in New York and he was very candid about his experience on RoboCop 3. He, like Peter had it tough. He gave us a really insightful and off-the cuff interview.
You get to delve into some of the merchandising behind the movie. What was your favorite item released across the span of the franchise, and what were some of the weirder items that you didn’t even know existed before you set out to make this documentary?
Christopher Griffiths: Hard to name one particular item, but having collected RoboCop toys from a young age but one item I never was able to scream loud enough for was the 1993 arm gun from Robocop 3 which I believe fired a nerf rocket! I will one day get that arm!
Eastwood Allen: Jon Davison the RoboCop producer has become a pal of ours since we met him in 2016. He’ll send me stuff from time to time. I received a catalogue of the very first RoboCop commissioned clothing line and toys for kids which was brilliant to flick through. They even had RoboCop multi-vitamins for children! We were told that Jon Davison gave the RoboCop editing team printed tees with “FUCK THE MPAA” written on the front. I’ve pestered everyone including Jon to try and dig one out, but no luck so far!
You have over 90 interviews spanning the trilogy. What is the process of sifting through so much footage, and securing the perfect sound bytes from everyone? What was the break down process, and how difficult was it to sew this all back together?
Eastwood Allen: I think we’re up to 104 sitdown interviews (this far). None of the sifting was actually difficult it has just been so time consuming. I’m a stickler for organization and making sure all workflows are efficient. You really have to be when working on a project of such scale. It was just a case of transcribing all the interviews by scene/topics and from there I informed the team that we had every single scene from the first Robocop covered in depth. We made the decision to structure the first doc on RoboCop as a scene-by scene analysis. I’ve never seen a doc done in this way before.
There’s the hardcore Robo-fan trivia but I hope it’ll be an enjoyable watch for casual filmmaking fans too. We cover everything, but not for the sake of it. It’ll still be lean, trust me. The production level is important to me personally and I know the guys agree, I think the enjoyment is in the details, the small creative touches we’ve included add up to make it a fun and insightful watch. Chris and I work well because we’re both obsessive nerds with RoboCop.
We can finish each others sentences, its a bit mental. Because of that our short-hand is really good and we can throw ideas around. If we can impress each other, then that’s enough to go in the final product. We’re always thinking of what the fans would wanna focus on.
We had a few pals help us out with the post-production at the very start of the project with some offline work, but for the best part of 3 years it’s literally just been myself and Chris working on all the post-production. I’ve handled all of the editing, motion graphics, vfx, sound, music supervision and compositing for the main RoboCop feature (currently 5 hours long) Chris is working his magic on the editing for the sequels features. We wish we could afford a bigger team but we don’t have the budget for it. We’re working on RoboDoc out of a love and passion for the material. We do this in-between our regular/freelance work and it’s not always easy to find the time. Anybody working in media can tell you. What we’d all give to do this stuff full-time!
What is the one thing you hope fans of RoboCop are able to take away from the documentary?
Gary Smart: I really hope that the fans see this documentary as an ‘experience’. This is not your normal documentary; I really don’t think there is another project like this out there. The amount of detail, animations, graphics and behind-the-scenes material is astonishing. Eastwood and Chris have done a tremendous job and with such a huge undertaking, a project like this takes time!
Christopher Griffiths: We are very much aware that people are getting antsy about the documentary’s release date and that can only be a good thing! However it is completely understandable why they are getting so anxious and we foolishly keep thinking it will be done “anytime soon” but the reality is, we have full time jobs and myself and Eastwood are executing a full workforce load in our spare time. We’re ensuring that we keep people in the loop and ultimately dishing out a number of completed sequences as proof of our work. That is the best answer I can offer at this point.
Eastwood Allen: I can’t see there ever being another RoboCop documentary with this amount of contributors or materials. so we have a duty to give this the proper treatment. I can understand that people want to watch this NOW and we did initially promise 2017 (30th anniversary) but the project has morphed into something far more grandiose. I hope people can understand that we’re not delaying the release out of laziness or lackluster, it’s actually way more effort for all involved to go down our decided route, and when all the edit-suite dust has settled, RoboDoc and it’s 7-8 hour runtime will be worth the wait.
It’s safe to say fans of RoboCop have been extremely excited since the very first RoboDoc trailer dropped, as they should be. Stay tuned for more from the team behind RoboDoc: The Creation of Robocop as we get closer to an official release date in 2020.