[Interview] Brendan Hay & Tze Chun for GREMLINS: SECRETS OF THE MOGWAI

[Interview] Brendan Hay & Tze Chun for GREMLINS: SECRETS OF THE MOGWAI

GREMLINS: SECRETS OF THE MOGWAI takes viewers back to 1920s Shanghai where the Wing family first meets the young Mogwai called Gizmo. Sam Wing (future shop owner Mr. Wing in the 1984 Gremlins film) accepts the dangerous task to take Gizmo home and embarks on a journey through the Chinese countryside. Sam and Gizmo are joined by a teenage street thief named Elle, and together, they encounter – and sometimes battle – colorful monsters and spirits from Chinese folklore. Along their quest, they are pursued by a power-hungry industrialist and his growing army of evil Gremlins.

For GREMLINS: SECRETS OF THE MOGWAI, Nightmarish Conjurings’ Sarah Musnicky spoke with Showrunner/Producer/Co-writer Tze Chun and Co-writer/Producer Brendan Hay. During their conversation, they discussed the thought process behind creating a prequel to Gremlins, tapping into the balance of comedy common in Chinese storytelling, and which character was their favorite.

I know you guys are both huge fans of Gremlins. Can you talk to me about the process of pitching this kid’s animated series and getting it into development?

Tze Chun: This project started with a conversation between Amblin and Warner Brothers, Sam Register and Spielberg, about wanting to do a Gremlins animated prequel. They had some thoughts about maybe doing it with a young Mr. Wing. When I came in, one of the things I talked about was just wanting to do something that was as epic as those Amblin movies that I grew up watching. Things like Goonies, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and of course, Gremlins, and setting it in 1920s China, I thought it was a great opportunity to be able to weave in the Chinese spirits and creatures and monsters that I grew up hearing about. Very early on in the process, Brendan came on board. Brendan is the biggest Gremlins fan in the entire world, and that came through the first time we talked. We just worked together to shape a story that we as fans would have loved to have seen either now or when we were kids.

Brendan Hay: Yeah, and everybody on the crew kept feeling that way. It was nice and it just kept rolling. Everybody kept adding their passion [to it].


Courtesy Max

Gremlins inherently is kind of kid-friendly. It’s a good transitional horror, but can you guys talk to me about the process of figuring out the tone and sort of scaling back a little bit on the horror to make it palpable for kids?

Brendan Hay: It was always really important to us to, as you kind of alluded to, the original Gremlins film is to so many people, myself included a gateway to horror. I saw it slightly younger than I probably should have, but it stayed with me. I was like six or seven when I saw the first film and as all great horror for kids does, it scares you, but you also feel a little braver by the end because you made it through. And even if you have nightmares, you find yourself still wanting to see more of it. It’s kind of the, oh, I had a nightmare last night that there’s a gremlin in the house trying to kill my mom, but I also kind of want to flip through the storybook of it again and see the stills from the movie and relive it.

So, that push-pull was important. I think kids can handle a little more than they’re given credit for and enjoy it more than parents sometimes think they do. So, we went into it as wanting to embrace the full cuteness and heartfelt emotion that you get from Gizmo, but also Gremlins kill people. They are just straight-up murderers. They come from a very wanting to have fun place. It’s fun murder, but they kill and dismember and do all this kind of stuff, but always with a laugh. I think Tze brought up a good point of you can go really dark when you can always like sting the darkness with a joke. And Gremlins just do that so naturally and I will toss it to Tze on this, but it also actually dovetails perfectly with Chinese mythology.

Tze Chun: When I first watched the Gremlins movies, like Brendan, I was too young, and I was like definitely traumatized by it. But also the tone of it was something I hadn’t seen in Western media before where it’s funny, but it’s also scary. But weirdly having grown up watching Chinese horror movies and things like Journey to the West, which is this epic adventure with really weird spirits and creatures and monsters…

The Monkey King.

Tze Chun: Yeah! The tone of that is actually also really funny and really strange and weird and scary. Chinese monsters have a lot of that in them. They have a lot of personality. And so, that was really fun to be able to mash those two things in the show and maybe introduce Western audiences to Chinese mythology in a way that they haven’t seen before.

Brendan Hay: Yeah, and I will say also the one other probably after Joe Dante’s movies and Amblin, Stephen Chow was probably our other guiding light through the whole series for that kind of thing. Any of his movies will make you laugh out loud, and there is also always a moment in most of his movies that’s like, that is so much gorier than I expected in something this light and fun. So, yes, it definitely helps you remember something. It makes the movies and TV shows unique.

The animation process

Courtesy Max

In watching it, especially with the…I keep referring to them as the turnt Gremlins, but there’s like a Looney Tunes-esque quality to their shenanigans on screen, which I think helps emphasize the comedy, along with the crazy crap that they get up to.

Brendan Hay: Absolutely, Joe Dante loves Looney Toones to the point that he put them in Gremlins 2. I think that’s another one that’s such a natural throughline.

How much were you guys involved in the animation process for SECRETS OF THE MOGWAI? Because I’m wholly ignorant in terms of producer influence on animation.

Tze Chun: From very early on, the animation, character design, all that stuff was happening concurrently with the writers’ room. And so, that was really great in that we were all on the Warner’s ranch. So there were like 100 or so of us, I think, just walking into each other’s offices and weighing in and looking at animatics and storyboards and it was a really collaborative process. Honestly, one of the things I always want to bring up is that, when Brandon and I started the writers’ room and pitched the show and talked through it, at every stage when we brought on more and more of our team, the show just got better and better. Because everybody just added so much to it, and the crew on the show was really incredible.

Brendan Hay: Just for the process, Tze and I were usually running the writers’ room and just checking in on things but honestly, like he was saying, we had so little to really do in a sense on the rest because our leads were so strong like we have Michael Chang, Dan Krall, Tara Rueping, Dougg Williams; This amazing squad of people who brought not just a passion for Gremlins, but were always trying to find like, what’s the more unique drawing? What’s the way to sell this scare? Or this aha moment, even a little stronger in the animation or the acting? No moment was left untouched. If there’s a chance to do something new or to try something even better, we took it and that just goes to show you, it was a great group.

A look into Chinese culture

Courtesy Max

In terms of the animation styles, one of the things that I really liked was how there was a switch in certain scenes with art styles, from the 3D style to the more guo ha art style later on SECRETS OF THE MOGWAI. It was super cool and also another way to introduce people to that particular aspect of Chinese culture via the artwork.

Brendan Hay: Thank you. That was really fun. I think [Stephanie] Gonzaga gets credit for drawing that. It was also funny. I know originally, we had a plan to do that [style] one more episode and against all expectations, that cost more and was so much more time intensive than almost the rest of the season. [Laughs]

Tze Chun: So, I hope people enjoy it. [Laughs] 

It emphasized the otherworldliness I think. To wrap things up, in terms of the new characters that were introduced, which ones have become your favorite in working on GREMLINS: SECRETS OF THE MOGWAI?

Tze Chun: You know, this is a cop-out answer. But I’ve just been looking back at all the initial character designs that our team put together and Dan Krall, in particular, who was there very early on with things like Grandpa and Sam. It’s really been an amazing process just seeing all these characters come to life over the course of the last few years. And I will say every time and one of the things about animation is it takes so long that sometimes you forget you did something and then when you see it you’re like, Oh, we did look at 18 versions of that cat, who was on screen for three seconds. We made the right choice. We really liked that cat.

Brendan Hay: Yeah, I’ll go straight up. I would write Noggin forever. I cannot get enough Noggin. Of all the Gremlins, Noggin is my favorite. I also wish we got to have even more Celestial Administrator. I feel like he’s got a very rich and personal life that I would love to share somehow.

The first six episodes of GREMLINS: SECRETS OF THE MOGWAI are available now on Max. Want to learn more? Check out our review here.

Sarah Musnicky
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