Interview: Talking John Carter and the Gods of Hollywood with the Sci-Fi Christian Podcast

John Carter and the Gods of Hollywood

Daniel Butcher, who blogs at Between Disney and who reviewed John Carter and the Gods of Hollywood, invited me to be  guest on one of the podcast shows he’s involved in, and we had a lively discussion. Others on the interview were Matt Anderson and Koby Radcliffe.  It was a fun and stimulating conversation.   Ironically, although I’m sure they told me in advance and I just blanked on it, it was only after the interview was over that I found out it would be going up on The Sci-Fi Christian, which may explain why I got caught a little flatfooted with questions about ERB’s religious views.  I think I muddled through, okay, but I’d be interested in hearing from the experts here who could elaborate and explain what I should have said.  I think I have a pretty decent idea of Burroughs’ religious views — but had I known where I was going to be appearing (which it was my responsibility to figure out, duh), I would have done a little homework on it prior to the interview.

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Podcast Interview : Michael D. Sellers on the Sci-Fi Christian Network

 

 

 

15 comments

  • MCR you’ve got some good points in your last comment, many of which I don’t argue with. For example:

    There is a simple explanation for this-human incompetence. As you yourself mentioned in the podcast MT Carney and her team were busy with other projects, including The Muppets. Yes she should have possibly outsourced the marketing but why? This was an in house Disney production, not a Pixar movie (despite Stanton’s failed attempts to use the infallible Pixar method on it). It wasn’t a Bruckheimer production, a Spielberg/DreamWorks project or a Marvel movie. She just made the mistake of not hiring enough people to balance out the work. She also from what I can tell got no support from her bosses, Iger and Ross, when it came to dealing with Stanton. There hasn’t been any stories of conflicts between her and the Muppets filmmakers but Stanton? He hated everything they suggested. He stuck to his “tell them nothing” idea of vague trailers and posters. He took responsibility for changing the title and then when Carney was gone placed all the blame on her team for it after he discovered it got negative response. It just seems that you and the theorists are ignoring something that simple.

    All of that is reasonable and much of it is essentially a piece of the puzzle……Carney miscalculated or wanted to strut her stuff or whatever . . . . but she failed to appreciate how many irons she would have in the fire . . . . . but if the “word” from on high had been “whatever you do, don’t screw up John Carter”, do you think she would have just slotted it in as a “regular” Disney pic and just let it wait its turn in line until the Muppets team was available? Or would she had grabbed a tiny sliver of the overall marketing budget and added some more talented bodies to the team, which is all that would have been required to cause John Carter to be visible in the marketplace from August to November when it was losing ground daily to the movies that were out there in the marketplace? Of course she would have made an adjustment. But for all the reasons we’ve discussed ad nauseam, JC didn’t rise to the level of warranting that kind of attention.

    So you’re citing valid points about MT Carney and her reasons for doing what she did, and that’s a piece of the puzzle. But it’s not the whole puzzle.

    You keep claiming that John Carter had to go to make way for Star Wars as Disney’s only scifi property. Then why have they allowed Marvel to proceed with Guardians of the Galaxy, which is more Star Wars like than standard superhero fare? Or why if Iger was certain he was going to get Star Wars why didn’t he just cancel it from the start? You said it yourself: “John Carter never seemed a particularly bright idea to Iger.” I know the major reasoning for it (not to annoy Pixar) but he didn’t seem to mind driving a wedge between Bruckheimer, Gore Verbinski and Johnny Depp when Ross cancelled The Lone Ranger originally. Or especially Depp who felt loyalty to Dick Cook and according to some reports almost bailed out of the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean, a film he did out of respect and admiration for Cook. If Iger had no problem alienating them why was he using kid gloves with Stanton, a man who has made it clear he has zero respect for Iger, Ross or Disney for that matter (something probably still left over from his and Pixar’s “us against them” mentality over the first Toy Story I suspect).

    First of all, you’re overstating what I’ve been saying. I’ve been saying that it appears that Bob Iger, the Zodanga of acquisition CEO’s, moved on from Marvel (which diminished JC’s relevance to the Disney master plan) to Lucasfilm (which diminished it even further, and possible — repeat possibly — caused John Carter to stand as a possible repeat possible impediment to the Lucasfilm deal. Did this mean that Iger set out to actively sabotage John Carter? I dont’ think so. He’s too professional for that. Did it mean that he just “let it run its course” …..I think so. “We gave it the promotion it deserved” was his quote and that’s a pretty interesting quote. He said it in the context of saying that he had a very good idea it was going to tank. The sentence just before that quote was something along the lines of “We weren’t going to not distribute it…..”– meaning, in context, I (Iger) knew it was going to tank but we weren’t going to pull the plug on distributing it…….but we weren’t going to go overboard promoting a turkey. Hence ‘We gave it the promotion it deserved.” Those are Iger’s words, with only a little bit of interpretation.

    I’m going to end by trying to state something clearly that will hopefully provide some perspective. I do not see something like the failure of John Carter failing because of one reason. I do not, and never have, maintained that the Lucasfilm acquisition meant JC had to fail. Never said that. All I’ve ever said is that the new information becoming available suggests that it was perhaps a contributing factor to the overall passivity with which senior Disney management grappled, or didn’t grapple, with the need to effectively promote John Carter. There were many other contributing factors — simple executive inexperience (Carney), directorial decision-making in both the production and marketing area, Disney/Pixar Politics, personnel changes midstream …….. there’s no one simple reason. So I would not want to over-emphasize the “Lucasfilm factor” — nor would I be inclined to ignore it. It’s just part of the mix.

    Finally, I have no personal animosity toward Star Wars. I’m just lukewarm to it. It failed to grab me — and I was really open to it. I’ve mentioned that I went to the Grauman Chinese Theater on opening day of the first SW and was prepared to be wowed….I just wasn’t. I don’t feel resentful about it — truthfully , I think Star Wars is probably a better fit for Disney than John Carter ever was…….one of the other many reasons for the JC failure was that there was brand misalignment between what A Princess of Mars really was (an interplanetary romance) and what Disney wanted to sell it as (an adventure for 10-14 year old boys). Star Wars always felt to me like it was a lot more kid friendly than APOM ever was . . . . . . and that tension between the Burroughs soure material and what Stanton was making and what Disney was selling was always part of the problem too. So I don’t begrudge the decision to go for Star wars . . . . .if it provokes any feeling for me, it’s just sort of sign,oh well.

  • “It’s not conspiracy. It’s just bizness.”

    And Luca Brasi sleeps with the fishes. 😉

    Look you keep saying that but the way it reads it comes across that way, that you-or rather the “peeps” you’re talking to are convinced this was the only reason that John Carter got the shaft, that it was to “clear the decks” for Star Wars.

    I’ll go back to an earlier comment I made about occam’s razor. There is a simple explanation for this-human incompetence. As you yourself mentioned in the podcast MT Carney and her team were busy with other projects, including The Muppets. Yes she should have possibly outsourced the marketing but why? This was an in house Disney production, not a Pixar movie (despite Stanton’s failed attempts to use the infallible Pixar method on it). It wasn’t a Bruckheimer production, a Spielberg/DreamWorks project or a Marvel movie. She just made the mistake of not hiring enough people to balance out the work. She also from what I can tell got no support from her bosses, Iger and Ross, when it came to dealing with Stanton. There hasn’t been any stories of conflicts between her and the Muppets filmmakers but Stanton? He hated everything they suggested. He stuck to his “tell them nothing” idea of vague trailers and posters. He took responsibility for changing the title and then when Carney was gone placed all the blame on her team for it after he discovered it got negative response. It just seems that you and the theorists are ignoring something that simple.

    Or how about this: You keep claiming that John Carter had to go to make way for Star Wars as Disney’s only scifi property. Then why have they allowed Marvel to proceed with Guardians of the Galaxy, which is more Star Wars like than standard superhero fare? Or why if Iger was certain he was going to get Star Wars why didn’t he just cancel it from the start? You said it yourself: “John Carter never seemed a particularly bright idea to Iger.” I know the major reasoning for it (not to annoy Pixar) but he didn’t seem to mind driving a wedge between Bruckheimer, Gore Verbinski and Johnny Depp when Ross cancelled The Lone Ranger originally. Or especially Depp who felt loyalty to Dick Cook and according to some reports almost bailed out of the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean, a film he did out of respect and admiration for Cook. If Iger had no problem alienating them why was he using kid gloves with Stanton, a man who has made it clear he has zero respect for Iger, Ross or Disney for that matter (something probably still left over from his and Pixar’s “us against them” mentality over the first Toy Story I suspect).

    As I said earlier I know you never liked SW and it bothers you that a pretender to the throne of Burroughs managed to become a popular and loved movie. The real problem is that the king’s throne was given in the case of Disney John Carter to the court jester-or rather Brutus who stabbed the king in the back for his own personal gain, et tu Andrew. Maybe he should have avoided the Ides of March or not become Michael Cimino and realize what he was doing. Because as you said Iger was just doing bizness. It was Stanton who threw poor ERB to the fishes.

  • MCR …. first of all, it’s not a conspiracy and I never use words like that or even imply that. It’s competing and possibly conflicting interests. It’s the same thing with the Marvel acquisition. Whatever stars aligned to cause John Carter to get greenlit in 2007 were not in alignment beginning in 2009 when Iger landed Marvel, thus solving Disney’s “boy franchise” problem and making John Carter less relevant than it might hve been — and then the stars became misaligned even moreso as, Zodanga-like (!), he moved on in the acquisition game to Lucasfilms. It’s not conspiracy. It’s just bizness. John Carter never seemed a particularly bright idea to Iger; he is not about growing a franchise, he’s about acquiring them. The jury is in on that one. So whatever combination of reasons that allowed John Carter to get greenlit (Dick Cook having authority to greenlight it on his own, Pixar political issues, keeping Andrew Stanton on the Disney farm) did not stay in alignment long enough or well enough to cause there to be any kind of big push with the marketing of John Carter. John Carter was expendable, perhaps all the way from the beginning, but certainly from the time they got Marvel, and Lucasfilm on the horizon was part of it too. But it’s not a conspiracy.

    Now . . . I do have something new that I’ll put out here now. I’m only saying it in a comment and not as a post or article because it’s not confirmed well enough to go to press with it. But just among us folks yakking on this comment thread, I will say that I have had a conversation recently with a professional animator who does work for Disney who insists — repeat insists — that everybody over there among the animators knew about Lucasfilms for “all of 2012”. He cites chapter of verse of numerous different people being fully aware that Lucasfilms was going to drop before John Carter came out–and understanding that there was no urgency and even a possible conflict of interest if John Carter did well enough to warrant a sequel. These peeps inferred that when Ross made the doomsday announcement of the 200M loss it was done because Iger wanted to clear the deck of John Carter and assure Lucas that the coast was clear for the Star Wars to be the only epic sci-fi franchise in Disneyland.

    Now . . . . . that’s NOT a conspiracy . . . . . it’s just a perception of people who knew t the time that Lucasfilms was on the radar, and who inferred that it played a big part in the announcement. They could be completely wrong because none of these guys are deep enough inside to really know the thought process that went into the announcement. But they did know about Lucasfilms at the time, and they did interpret the announcement had to do with the Lucasfilms acquisition.

    I will say a million times . . . . this is not conspiracy theory stuff. It’s corporate hardball, plain and simple.

    And I want to say very clearly — the info I cited above is from one source, a credible one, but it’s not enough to make me certain that it can be relied upon. I’m still digging and if I hear it from some other people, then I would be inclined to fully believe it. As it is, I’m just reporting what someone shard with me . . . .

  • I finally got around to listening and you did a good job handling the religion question and didn’t come across as muddled. I also did like hearing from someone who didn’t lke the movie and you trying to defend Stanton’s bad choices.

    If there was just one nitpick its just this: Please stop with the Star Wars conspiracy. OK you don’t like those film, we get it. There is still no proof that this played any part in John Carter’s demise. If Star Wars is responsible for anything involving John Carter it’s probably that Stanton was too busy stealing things from Lucas than actually reading Burroughs.

    OK?

  • Billy: You are absolutely correct! Believing animals were created for humans to eat is as disturbing as believing people were created for animals to eat. I find much more comfort in the belief that life is both a beautiful and ugly accident…as ERB did. Stepping off the soapbox now. :)

  • woodythewino says:
    Atheists tend to have more respect for other life forms than religious folks, as most consider them fellow animals instead of food.

    That’s interesting. I am just trying to think this through.

    So let’s say a fellow animal like a Lion eats an Atheist. Does that make it a Religious Lion?

  • Hi Mike — no worries …… I tried to make sure it didn’t sound like I was blaming anybody for my being caught flatfooted……it was really my fault. I listened to it and I don’t sound as “deer in the headlights” as I felt . . . . .the thing is, if I had known, I would have really thought more about that issue and been more prepared to talk seriously about it. As you can see from the comments here (particularly fellow ERBian Abraham Sherman), there is some interesting ground to be covered regarding ERB, religion, spiritualism, and related topics.

    I really enjoyed the interview and it was, as they say here in Hollywood …. “all good”. 😉

  • I thought you answered the question about ERB’s religious views well. The whole interview was enjoyable.

    One thing to note about ERB’s religious beliefs, as far as they are evident in his works, is that he seemed to bear no more resentment toward religious institutions which were corrupt (Cult of Issus, Cult of Tur, Cult of La) than he bore toward other societal institutions which were corrupt (communist Thark culture, various totalitarian governments, out of control science – see “Synthetic Men” and others). It seems that he viewed religion as merely another man-made institution, an object of equal-opportunity satire and criticism.

    I suspect that ERB’s skeptical views were influenced by the western cultural imposition practiced by some of the named-religion missionaries of his era, as evident in the tone and content of his poem “The Black Man’s Burden”, and in his references to missionaries as peddlers of “mother hubbards”. ERB would be relieved, though perhaps not converted, ha ha, by the intentional cultural sensitivity practiced by a much larger proportion of today’s missionaries.

    Ironically, the idea that any man could know that all religions are false, manipulative constructions, untrue in their ultimate claims, is itself a religious notion. Perhaps that fact, or a general sense along those lines, was what lingered in the back of ERB’s mind and had something to do with his greater interest in spiritual issues later in life and his final words, which according to his grandson John Ralston Burroughs, were “Thank God for everything.”

    The (1) strong Victorian morality evident throughout ERB’s works, rooted heavily in heritage Christianity, (2) distinctly spiritual/supernatural moments like John Carter’s translation to Mars, and (3) clear undertones of religious skepticism, make ERB an intriguing figure to anyone interested in these issues.

  • Wow! That was great. I really like how they gave you time to talk without mindless interruptions. I thought you did very well on the spiritual issue. It was just a small portion of the total talk and then they moved on. It was interesting to hear the person who did not like the movie and why and your answers. Excellence!!!

  • Hi, Mr. Sellers! In the interest of full disclosure, I’m a regular writer for the blog portion of the Sci-Fi Christian (not involved with the podcast’s production). I regret you were caught off guard by the spirituality question. I would never have guessed if you hadn’t said something here; I thought you gave a great interview, and I’m glad your appearance on the show was a positive experience. I don’t think anyone at the SFC would have wanted you to misrepresent Burroughs, and am certain the question wasn’t asked with any agenda other than getting his spiritual views on the table.

    I am currently reading your book and am really enjoying it (even though thinking about how the movie’s marketing was such a disservice still makes me sad!). My two cents is that Stanton really shouldn’t have started the film on Mars. I’ve heard people who like the opening on Mars compare it to “The Lord of the Rings,” but, as Burroughs did in his books, Tolkien really let readers discover the larger world of Middle-earth along with Frodo and the hobbits.

    I really liked your connection (in the interview) of John Carter to the Arthurian legend. King Arthur has long been one of my favorite interests, but I hadn’t seen Barsoom’s links to Camelot. Very cool!

    Thanks again for the interview – it was great to hear!

  • I’m currently reading (at last!) all the Tarzan books, and one of my favorite so far is the apparently ill-appreciated Jungle Tales of Tarzan. It contains some of the sweetest comments on religion when Tarzan tries to understand the meaning of the word “God”. Truly a gem by my book. Tarzan Against the Moon is just epic!

  • I’m glad you represented ERB faithfully (it pissed me off when the tour guide at Monticello told me Thomas Jefferson was a Christian). I could tell he leaned towards atheism when I first read POM as a teenager. Atheists tend to have more respect for other life forms than religious folks, as most consider them fellow animals instead of food. ERB made this quite clear in Tarzan as well as JC. Are we not the Holy Therns?

  • Thanks Bill! Glad to see I didn’t muck it up too badly. This part from your article pretty much matches what I said:

    In discussions with his sons Hulbert and Jack, Edgar Rice Burroughs stated his religious attitude clearly: he did not believe in the Bible, Christ, the Immaculate Conception or God. He called himself an atheist. To his sons, Burroughs, who did not attend church, had often expressed his dislike for any form of organized or sectarian religion.

    At times, especially because of his efforts to be tolerant about other people’s religious views, he gave the impression of being an agnostic. On occasion when he termed himself a “religious” man, he was referring to his objectives of following the moral or ethical precepts taught by Christ or found in the philosophies of the Greeks and the Romans.

    I said he wasn’t a Christian and was suspicious of organized religion — but that he had a spiritual quality that is evident in some of his books, particularly A Princess of Mars, where John Carter’s method of getting from Earth to Mars and the sense of fulfillment and destiny that he experiences once upon Mars definitely has a spiritual component.

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