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Interview with The Writer of Ninja Turtles First Movie: Bobby Herbeck

Bobby-Herbeck-4

 

TeenageMutantNinjaTurtles.com:  How did you come to write the script for the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990) movie?

HERBECK:   I was writing another movie at the time for the company Golden Harvest.   Kim Dawson, who produced and directed Gallagher’s Showtime specials called me up one day and asked me to meet him at the In-N-Out burger in Orange County, California.   He said, “I’ve got something to show you.”  So I went and met with Kim and he showed me the first Ninja Turtles comic book.  It turned out that Gallagher was a huge comic book fan and he had shown it to Kim Dawson.   What was interesting about this, was that the Ninja Turtles cartoon had only been on television by that time for just a few months, and it turned out that in that space of time, Kim, through Gallagher, had gotten the go ahead from Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird to pursue a Turtles movie.  I think they came to an agreement on it on a cocktail napkin or something like that…laughing

So I went to Golden Harvest and [Producer] Tom Gray and told him about it.  He wasn’t interested in it.  He said something like, “Quit messing around with that and finish the movie I’ve hired you to write.”   But I went around to some other places and pitched it.   I was even accused of being a stoner because it was a story about these Turtles who talk and who fight off crime and eat a bunch of pizza…laughing

After taking it everywhere, I finally ended up back at Golden Harvest and Tom Gray.  I was having a drink with Tom Gray one night and I said to him, “Look, just go home and ask your kids who the Ninja Turtles are.”  He had never heard of the Ninja Turtles before.  So later that night, I get a call from Tom Gray saying, “Herbs, babe. Let’s meet for breakfast in the morning and bring your friend.”  I called Kim Dawson and said, “I think we’ve hooked him.”

So we had a meeting that next morning but Tom was still on the fence about it. He said, “Well…I don’t know.”  Kim Dawson spoke up, “Look, you take the best martial artists in the world and you put them in Turtles costumes.  Then you dub the voices.  I mean, it’s already on television…”  About three days later, Tom Gray and I were on a plane to Northhampton, Massachusetts to meet with Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird to convince them that Golden Harvest was the place to make Turtles into a movie, and we did.  The rest is history.

 

How much input did Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird have into the story for the movie?

HERBECK:   When we closed the deal, I went back to Northhampton.  I was instructed to go back and stay with Kevin and Peter until they would sign off on a story idea for the movie.  I thought I was going to be there for a couple weeks, but I was there for a couple months actually.  Kevin and Peter couldn’t agree on anything.   I asked them, “How did you ever get a comic book done?”   They were complete opposites, but both of them are great guys.   So after a couple months, we finally came up with a story that they both agreed on.   From there, I went to England to write the screenplay. I was there for a couple months working on that.   I did that because the director Steve Barron was English.   It was an exciting time.  I got to see how everything came together at the Jim Henson Creature Shop.  After that time, I came back home and then not long after that,  they started shooting the movie down in North Carolina.

 

Was there a lot of fan buzz in the regards to the film as it was about to come out?

HERBECK:  The film opened at a very weird time.  It opened at the end March 1990.  They should’ve opened the film in the summer or at Christmas time.  I put my two cents in and said, “Let’s open it Spring Break Weekend”.    I was driving with Tom Gray one day and he said, “How much do you think we’ll do opening weekend at the box office?”  I said, “We’ll probably do 16-20 million dollars in the first weekend.”   He said, “If we do that much, I’ll buy you a car.  What do you want?”  We pulled up next to a Mercedes at a stop light.  I said, “I want that car.”   In the first weekend, the film did over 20 million dollars at the box office.   I got my car…laughing

 

With that success…Why weren’t you involved with the second and third Turtles movies?

HERBECK:  Well, Raymond Chow, who owned Golden Harvest didn’t want to pay us any more money.  Yet, they sunk more money into the second film then they had spent on the first.  I thought I was going to be writing the second movie.  I went into Tom Gray’s office and said, “I see that you’re going to do a sequel.  When do we start?”  He said,”Herbs, the deal you got  for the first one was all there was, so I took it for you.”  You have to remember, that I was writing for television at the time that I was offered the Turtles job, so I wasn’t familiar with sequel rights for writers in films at that time.  I had only acted in movies up until that point.   It was a business thing.  Eventually, Raymond Chow fired everyone that worked on the first Turtles movie, yet his company, Golden Harvest,  went on to produce two sequels.

 

If you could’ve worked on the sequel…What would you have done differently in regards to the movie that we have now?

HERBECK:  I just thought that it would’ve been cool to see the Turtles doing all kinds of different things.  I thought it would’ve been cool to see one of the Turtles driving a car for example.  I didn’t think the story in the sequel was very good.  The biggest challenge in writing the first Turtles movie was trying to write something that appealed to both the kids and the adults that would be taking them to see the movie.   I think that the ideas about friendship and loyalty in the first movie still really resonate with those that saw the film when it was released and that’s why it is still considered the best of the Turtles films.

 

What do you think about the upcoming Michael Bay Turtles movie that Paramount is putting out this August?

HERBECK:   Well, I hope it does well.  If it does good, then it will inspire fans that haven’t seen the first movie to go back and check it out.    The film is really going to have to do well in order to make the money Paramount spent on it back.  They spent a lot of money on this new Turtles movie.

 

What’s your favorite line that you wrote for any of the Turtles in the first film?

HERBECK:  All of them!   If I had to pick a couple — I really like, “It’s a Kodak moment!”   And I like “Can we keep her?” That’s the line one of the Turtles says when they bring April down into the sewer.

The Author

Justin Bozung

Justin Bozung

Justin Bozung is a film researcher/writer based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He has written for such print publications as Shock Cinema, Fangoria, Paracinema, Whoa, Bijou and Phantom Of The Movies' Videoscope.

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