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Transcript:Welcome to Republic City (commentary)

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Iroh and Earth Kingdom children Admit mistakes when they occur and seek to restore honor.

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Michael Dante DiMartino Hi, everybody! This is Mike DiMartino, co-creator and executive produce of Legend of Korra. Welcome to the commentary.
Bryan Konietzko And this is Bryan Konietzko, the other co-creator and executive producer.
Janet Varney And this is Janet Varney. I play Korra.
Mike Hi, Janet!
Janet Hi, guys!
Bryan See, whenever we do this with the professional voice actors, their voices all sound, uh, so much better than ours.
Janet I was just thinking about how professional and cool you guys sounded as you were introducing. [Mike and Bryan laugh.] You were like, "Welcome to the world of commentary".
Bryan I think that, and then I go back and listen to it and I'm like, "Did I have marbles in my mouth?".
Janet Oh! No way!
Mike I will never listen to this again. [Everyone laughs.] So, uh ... a little disclaimer. We've done many of these ... uh ... these commentaries out of order. A little bit jumbled. Uh ... so we are actually doing this very first commentary of the first episode-
Bryan Almost last!
Janet Mhmm. Mhmm.
Mike So, if later on you hear some repetition, maybe we've talked about the same stuff, please, please forgive that ... 'cause who knows. That was days ago, weeks ago.
Janet Well, you know, the best way to combat that would just be for us to talk about something totally unrelated to the show. [Everyone laughs.] So if you guys want to talk about old Laverne and Shirley episodes-
Bryan Yes. We're gonna do a commentary about Laverne and Shirley's ... uh ... series finale.
Janet I'm gonna say 90% of the people listening to this don't even know who Laverne and Shirley are. I feel like an old lady.
Bryan That's probably true. [Laughs.] Yeah so this begins our big crazy, um ... kinda coming back to this universe that Mike and I created ten years ago. Um ... and uh ... I'd say by the time this aired we had been working on it for two years – uh, just over two years.
Mike Yeah yeah we had a pretty good length of time to develop it and you know start writing the scripts and do some visual development stuff before we were in full production. Um ... not as much as we could have used probably, but we had a few months so that was nice.
Bryan And uh pretty early on, we had an idea for this ... this introduction to Korra and it was the idea that Aang was such a reluctant hero, um ... which you know is one kind of archetype. So with Korra ... the whole idea, like, if Mike and I were gonna come back to this world, we just ... we didn't want to water down the story arcs and character arcs of our previous characters, you know. We love those characters, we love that story, but we felt that was the story we set out to tell. We finished it and uh ... if we were gonna come back we wanted to do something for us that ... that at least for us was fresh and new and one way to do that was to do a new Avatar and to make that new Avatar as different as possible from Aang. Um ... and not to like spite Aang's character [Mike and Janet laugh.] or something-
Janet We showed it good, didn't we?
Bryan No, but just so it would feel like we weren't writing the same thing over and over again, and when Nickelodeon approached us about coming back and doing something new ... I mean we always thought they would want us to just like "No we want Aang and those characters". But they really surprised us, they said "You can do whatever you want". So, uh ... I think I was like driving on the 5 like over Thanksgiving holiday and-
Janet What was the weather like then?
Bryan It was uh- [Mike laughs.]
Janet I really want to set the tone.
Bryan It was a little gray, you know?
Janet Okay, okay.
Bryan Kinda driving through the central valley, uh, of California and uh ... I just thought, "What if it's a girl?". And you know that was just ... that's not the only difference between Korra and Aang but it was just, uh, like ... that one idea for me just kinda opened up this new possibility and I called Mike and he was like, "Huh. Yeah, that's cool" and from there it uh lead to her character. But anyways the idea that we wanted to see her as this toddler who wants to be the Avatar-
Janet With, by the way, the cutest little belly I have ever seen in my life. [Everyone laughs.] It was one of my favorite scenes of Korra in the entire series, and it's not even my voice.
Mike And a little fun fact is that the girl who plays Korra is named Cora, and it's Dee Bradley Baker's, uh, daughter, who is the actor who plays Naga and Pabu and Tarrlok and all that.
Janet And Cora is such a natural. She blew me away. I haven't had the chance to work with her, of course, that many days, but the days I worked with her she was like more of a professional than I'll ever be. [Laughs.] She can do anything.
Mike She is learning from her dad.
Janet Yeah, she is amazing.
Bryan Here's uh ... I don't want to bad mouth our amazing cast, but here's a little, a little secret. The kid actors we have are all way more professional than the adult actors we have.
Janet I know.
Bryan The adult actors, it's like we have to like scold them and like "Guys, be quiet, please, behave."
Janet Listen, I am not the worst. I am hardly the worst because it's the people who have working forever who aren't as afraid as I am to screw something up that can really just go nuts.
Mike They all know each other. They go way back.
Bryan They have this very off color banter that goes on and on and on, and then we get ... the kid actors come in and we usually do them together and they just sit there, stoic and like [Janet laughs.] upright postures and uh like Logan here [Refers to scene where Meelo runs away from Katara.] and uh and uh.
Mike So, Katara is played uh ... by Eva Marie Saint.
Janet So cool.
Mike The famous actress from ... she was in a bunch of Hitchcock movies.
Bryan Yes.
Mike Very sweet, very sweet lady. She is about Katara's age, I think.
Bryan Yeah and that was a tough, a very tough role to cast. I think ... it was just hard for Mike and I to take ... this was the first one of our old ... uh you know precious characters and trying to like-
Mike Yeah she still had to seem like Katara and seem tough and also you know-
Bryan Warm-
Mike She is a grandma now and gentle.
Janet Yeah. [Scene with Katara and Pema's pregnancy begins.] and there is Maria Bamford as Pema.
Mike Yes.
Janet We looooove Maria.
Mike Yes. She is very funny.
No commentary for a short period of time until Meelo snowbends and Pema begins to ask about Tenzin's siblings.
Mike Um ... Do you remember the first day you came in to audition Janet? [Bryan laughs.]
Janet Um ... the first day that I met you guys? Cause I think I auditioned probably by myself before you were in the mix maybe.
Mike I don't know. Maybe.
Janet Cause maybe through the initial screening process to make sure that I wasn't like a total dud. [Everyone laughs.] To not waste you guys time. I remember ... you know what, I don't remember it that well. Were we at the ... were we at the um ... the studio that's kinda off in the different building?
Mike Yeah. That's where I first saw you, I remember. So I don't know if you had read before that but uh-
Janet I think I read once before that.
Bryan I actually don't remember so [Mike laughs.] I don't even know if I was there.
Mike Maybe Bryan was there.
Janet Listen. If you can describe the day you were driving in the car, having the memory about Korra being a girl-
Mike Yeah, usually Bryan remembers everything and I-
Janet I want you to be like "it was a breezy, calm day."
Bryan I usually have a four-year cloud of not remembering things-
Janet Oh! So this falls right into that. Great!
Bryan So then like four years later, "Oh yeah, remember that one time." But I do, I do remember your call back audition where we paired you up with uh ... with P.J. Byrne who plays Bolin and uh David Faustino who plays Mako and I remember it was really cool-
Mike Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Bryan That we got to have you guys actually ...
Janet Yeah, that was a really, really cool day and that was the day I think that it really became ... you know you try so hard, I've said this in interviews about Korra before, but you try-you try so hard to not get too attached to the idea of something because most of the time you don't get the part. And so I really tried to stay removed from this and ... but that day was so much fun and it was so cool getting to do that mix and match and getting to like spend more time with you guys and play with the dialogue a little bit that ... I just was the whole time telling myself "Don't get excited, don't get attached to this. Do not. Janet what are you doing? What are you doing? Why do you want this more than you have ever wanted anything? Stop it. Stop it." So that really became real for me that day and ... I told the story about when I got the part before but as you remember when Korra became a girl [Laughs.], I remember that I was at a craft store in uh ... the Valley buying some doodads cause I like doing crafts when my agent called me.
Bryan Ugh. You're such a girl.
Janet Yup but it's so true. I don't even think of myself as that girl but my agent called me and I got it.
Bryan Korra wouldn't make crafts.
Janet She might. She might. She MIGHT.
Bryan She scrapbooks.
Mike I think she made that saddle. [Referring to Korra as she puts saddle on Naga.]
Janet Yeah. She probably makes stuff for Naga from time to time. She probably hand painted that saddle.
Bryan Ok. Ok.
Janet Yeah. And when I got the call that I got it, I didn't go outside. I was just standing in like the aisle where the beads are sold. [Mike and Bryan laugh.] I literally jumped up and down.
Bryan Aww.
Janet I couldn't get over it. I didn't know what was in store for me, now, of course, I regret taking the part. [Bryan laughs.] But at the time ...
Mike [Referring to Katara's speech to Korra before leaving.] I always loved this, this little scene cause this was kind of our you know, handing off the torch to the next Avatar and Katara was our ... our kind of voice of that.
Bryan And this was ... this scene mirrored uh ... when Katara embarked on her journey-
Mike Right, right, right.
Bryan With her brother to go try to rescue Aang from the Fire Nation. So Mike and I ... we were very conscious of that scene and that's how Katara's journey began in the Southern Water Tribe, and Korra's was beginning in a very similar way with her, you know, grandmother sort of giving her the, uh ... her blessing.
Mike I also like to show her parents which is very different from Aang.
Janet Mhm.
Mike Like, she's got a family.
Janet Very attractive family might I add.
Bryan Yeah. It's pretty different from most animated, uh ... heroes or heroines usually.
Mike Yeah we didn't see them much in this book but we'll see more of them in Book Two.
Janet And, side note, just getting a glimpse of that car for so many of us who love the sensibility of the city and everything that was to come ... that was such a great teaser moment. Like "Wait a minute, what's that car? That's super cool. Wait, what's happening here?"
Bryan Yeah cause like where Korra lives ... this could have been Aang's time. It's still a little bit more traditional. So it actually uh ... you know we, we did run into a little bit of a battle making Korra a girl. Um ... there were some departments who will go ... who will remain unnamed who ... uh ... just for silly economic data reasons where like "well ... series with female leads don't perform well." and all this junk.
Janet Oh! The sexism department. [Everyone laughs.] It's weird that they have a department for that but ...
Bryan Yeah. They do. But uh ... you know people who were resistant to the idea eventually to their credit said "ah let's ... let the GUYS-"
Mike "Let those crazy guys do what they want to."
Bryan "The MEN ... [Janet laughs.]Let's let the two men do that crazy girl thing" and uh ... you know I mean Mike and I weren't ... it wasn't a calculated thing. It was just a little idea that just felt right, and we always loved having strong female characters and I think Avatar was pretty known for that and that always just felt natural to us. Um ... and uh ... so were just like "Come on, it's 2012." I heard -
Mike It was 2010 at the time.
Bryan It was 2010! [Mike laughs.]
Janet Well the four-year cloud. No one has to remember for it for a year.
Mike Yeah, it took them couple years for them to catch up.
Bryan I can't believe Mike is correcting me on dates. [Janet and Mike laugh.] This is a big step in uh ... our relationship. Um ... so ... but it was pretty interesting by the time it came out it just so happened Hunger Games ... the movie was premiering and Brave was about to come out and, uh, ... it was just this sort of zeitgeist of you know all this stuff. And it's not like again, it's not like we were trying to be a part of any movement but it was-
Janet Yeah, you can't really anticipate that, it was just sort of serendipitous.
Bryan Yeah. I saw an awesome Josh Whedon quote that was like ... someone said "why do you write such great strong female characters?" and he goes "Cause you're still asking me that question." You know and it's just you know a no brainer. Like why should that even be an issue.
Mike Yeah. It's a little different in TV and stuff but ... cause in like a lot of the YA, young adult novels out there, like are written by women and have a lot of female heroines in them. So it's not, like, that strange to people who would be interested in the show you know like a teenage audiences and stuff. I think they are used to it now.
Bryan But everybody know that boys don't know how to read right? Girls-
Mike I mean I don't think girls are playing video games. [Janet laughs.]
Bryan Girls are the only ones with the power of reading.
Janet Oh! They ... they're wordbenders?
Mike [Laughs.] Yeah.
Bryan And then boys around 17, 18 you know ... they can read. [Mike laughs.]
No commentary for a short period of time until Korra begins to talk back to the Equalist Protestor
Bryan See. I can be sexist against boys 'cause I am one. So it's okay. No it's uh ... it is true and I mean even a lot of like ... like, action movies, live-action movies are, you know, for a few years now have had female leads. Um ... so I don't know. It just seemed like a no brainer to us and uh ... glad we got away with it.
Mike It all worked out.
Bryan Yeah and then everyone was just like "oh yeah, of course." And the big really satisfying moment was they tested it with some, you know, kids of different age groups right before we uh ... premiered. They had like ... they had to like pull that question out of the ... the boys, the test subjects. They were like "So uh ... are you bothered that Korra is a girl?" [Janet laughs.] And they all ... every boy they talked to was like "what? No." And they were like "well what do you think about her?" "She is awesome." "And it's okay that she is a girl?" [Mike laughs.] "Yeah."
Janet Those testing ... audiences,  like, that must be so painful for you guys.
Mike Well, we don't go to those. [Laughs.]
Janet Well uh ... good choice cause I can't imagine how-
Mike Luckily for us, it was more of a "after the fact", like, let's just see what the kids are saying. Not like ... they didn't use it as any sort of like "Oh, we have to tailor this show to what these kids say."
Bryan Yeah. I think it was just ... they did it to see kind of looking ahead to see if they were you know-
Mike It's kind of more of like a marketing thing. "What do kids respond to?" And it's like some of that stuff is valuable, but I feel like as artists and writers and stuff you just gotta ... gotta do what feels right and what you love and if it connects with you, it's probably gonna connect with some other people out there.
Janet That's such a good point. It's also a point you may have brought up in another commentary we did. [Laughs.]
Mike Oh! I might be repeating myself in the future.
Janet I feel like ... the only reason I thought that was I thought I remembered saying what a great point earlier to [Mike laughs.] the same point.
Mike We are just doing the exact same commentary.
Bryan Yup!
Janet We have a script, you guys, you know ... and now I am supposed to say we are reading off a commentary script.
Bryan But we also did a lot of interviews together-
Mike Like at San Diego Comic Con
Janet That's true.
Bryan And I don't know how many people saw those so ...
Janet Well I was going to bring up one quick thing if you guys don't mind which is um ... a little earlier when Korra first met the Equalists uh ... first got exposed to the idea of the Equalist movement and uh ... how cool and fascinating I think it is that you guys brought in opposition that you can actually relate to and that's something that ... I hate to name-drop but I actually had the good fortune of meeting and uh ... having a conversation with Josh Whedon recently, and he was talking about ... I was talking about The Incredibles being such a great movie and he said, "Well, I struggle with that movie a little bit because I feel like there is an underlying message that some people are just more powerful and better than others." And I said "Okay, you need to watch Legend of Korra." [Mike and Bryan laugh.] Because it really grapples with that. This idea that you know ... you can understand why someone who can't bend would feel resentment. Especially when you have bullies like this [Referring to the Triple Threat Triad.] out there terrorizing people. So I just thought it was such a great, um, plot device for you guys and it really makes people think.
Bryan Well, I think for you know one of the biggest inspirations for the entire Avatar universe was the work of Hayao Miyazaki and, uh ... I just remember at a time in my career when I was particularly disenchanted with working on, ... uh, American animated sitcoms which you know ... obviously millions of people love but, just as an artist didn't speak to me and the stuff I wanted to put out there in the world. It's usually just really sarcastic and ... insincere and, kind of just mostly parodies and things and I just wanted to ... make something really earnest and kinda heartfelt and sincere so you know. When I saw Mononoke and ... Princess Mononoke and it was like really no clear cut good guys or bad guys you know. It was just people with conflicting uh ... agendas and interests and philosophies and uh ... kinda, you know, you set up the villain but then you realize she is just taking care of all of these like ... lepers and whatnot and um ... that, that ... it wasn't the first time I had seen a story like that but it just ... it hit me at a time in my career where I needed to see that.
Janet Sure.
Bryan And that's the kind of stuff that really resonates with Mike and me and I feel like ... it's, uh, you know, and the older you get you realize that there are really no absolutes and most of life is just this grey area and uh ... so we thought we ... would teach kids that hard lesson as early as possible. [Janet laughs.]
Mike Yeah, yeah.
Bryan It's not good versus evil kids. The only good versus evil is inside of you. [Janet and Mike laugh.]
Janet Uh ... I don't even know what to say after that-
Bryan THERE IS NOTHING TO SAY! [Laughs.]
Janet That's amazing. Cut to a full length sound of me walking out the door. [Everyone laughs.] "Freaks! SLAM!"
Mike So here is, uh ... Lin Beifong, played by Mindy Sterling.
Janet Such a great character.
Bryan Mindy is awesome.
Janet She is so great.
Bryan Yeah and she loves this character. It's so, it's so like ... heartwarming to talk to her about this character. She just uh-
Mike I'm trying to remember when we were like "Oh! Toph's daughter is gonna be a main character." I think we had thrown around ideas, like, you know ... we knew there would be characters like Tenzin who kinda were tied to the old characters or related to them.
Bryan I mean, I do remember there was a point where we had like "Everybody's kid is a character." [Mike and Janet laugh.] And then we said, "Okay, this is getting a little ridiculous." And we settled on these two uh ... as the main ones but-
Mike Yeah and we needed Korra to have a kind of foil ... you know in the city other than just the Equalists to kind of set up some conflicts with her and uh ... Lin Beifong ... it seemed like Toph's daughter would be a ... kind of a ... tough lady. [Bryan laughs.]
Janet She is so great. Whenever anyone says what other character do you love besides Korra that you would want to play or that you just admire, I say Lin Beifong. You know ... particularly because of her arc, you know, through season one. It's just so beautiful.
Bryan She was fun. I mean you know like ... you never know what the audience's reactions will be but ... I, Mike and I were pretty confident, we're like, as were writing we were like "Wow! This character is gonna be cool and I think people are really gonna like her." So there is a little moment [Referring to Korra's gesture to Lin on the way out.]-
Janet I love that moment.
Bryan A little moment when we used ... uh that's some stuff we used uh video acting reference where we act out stuff for the animators to uh-
Janet I don't know why I have never been asked to do that. [Bryan and Mike laugh.] But I am very bitter.
Mike I remember, too, when we first wrote this first episode, we hadn't figured out yet that uh ... Beifong and Tenzin ... we know they had a history, you know, because they obviously knew each other for a long time but we hadn't ever ... we hadn't hit upon the idea that they were an item back in the day but uh-
Bryan I think that was still ... I think that was your idea.
Mike Yeah. One day, I was like, I was thinking of that scene "That's like an old couple who ... you know, know each other so well."
Janet I love it. I love that.
Mike And they must have dated for a while.
Bryan But just like if you ... you know are in a real situation like that ... you know even though we didn't have that totally figured out, you go back and you go "Oh! That ... that adds a whole layer to that conversation."
Janet It makes so much sense too because um ... and I know that you guys did ... I think we do talk about this on future commentary but this idea of Tenzin wanting to be so peaceful and really being more like Korra than he is willing to admit and you can so see how that relationship with Lin would have played out and that he ended up with someone very sweet and even-tempered cause even he needed more of that in his life and he was probably at odds with Lin.
Bryan That's ... that's a good observation. [Laughs.]
Janet I could write a whole backstory episode about these guys. Clearly, I have given it a lot of thought.
Bryan There is also that idea that um ... you know when you get to be ripe old ages like ours [Mike laughs.] that there are people who you will ... who will be a big part of your life that you love but maybe that's not the person you are meant to be with your whole life and ... but they teach you a lot about yourself and about relationships and stuff. So it's like ... I love this idea that he, you know Tenzin, will always love Lin and she always will love him and ... but there is like a dynamic that just wasn't healthy or wasn't like conducive to a life together but ... you know they were still very valuable to each other.
Janet Oh! Another beautifully put little nugget from you over here. [Mike and Bryan laugh.] I almost feel like I'm in therapy but it's really-
Bryan Yeah. I'm for ... you can hire me for DVD commentaries. [Janet and Mike laugh.] I'm just putting that out there. Mike says DVD commentaries are kind of '90s.
Mike Yeah. I think they're kinda '90s. [Bryan laughs.] But I don't know. Is anyone listening to this right now?
Janet Yeah. Way to insult anyone who is enjoying this.
Mike No, no. I thank you for listening to this but ... I haven't listened to a DVD commentary in a long time. [Bryan laughs.]
Janet I guess I haven't really either. [Mike laughs.]
Mike Do kids even have DVDs these days? Do they even know what those are? I don't know. [Janet laughs.]
Bryan So this was fun, because we never had the ability to do this in Avatar where you have radio broadcasting so ... this was a really cool ... for us it was really cool to ... you have this kinda balance like "Oh! They're just wrapping it up on this happy note," but it's like, this is being sent out into the world and all sorts of ears are listening. Oh, I just love that creepy Chi Blocker. Lurking in the background.
Janet Oh, that's so good.
Mike Yeah we wanted to you know ... have a little teaser of Amon but not fully show him yet, or tell people what he was all about.
Bryan But initially we were like ... we thought we ... yeah we scaled it back.
Mike The first outline we wrote had like a whole fight with Amon but-
Bryan Like the second scene. [Janet laughs.]
Janet Yeah! Let's get right into it.
Mike Yeah. But it didn't quite all fit so.
Janet I am always delighted when I see an Amon cosplayer. Delighted and a little freaked out because he is scary.
Bryan When we were at San Diego Comic Con like, it's always really exhausting. It's fun but really exhausting. Janet and PJ and David and Mike and I had a really long day and there was one just lurking in the background. [Janet and Bryan laugh.] All scary, sort of.

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