Wizards: Tales of Arcadia co-executive producers Chad Quandt and Aaron Waltke spoke to The Natural Aristocrat about the season finale, character deaths as a sharpened narrative tool, TWD alumni Steven Yeun’s comedic performance ‘deserving an award’, and their own Arthurian inspirations.
Warning: This interview contains major spoilers for Wizards: Tales of Arcadia.
The Natural Aristocrat [Nir Regev]: Where did the whole ‘Fuzz Buckets’ line Douxie is always saying on Wizards originate from?
Chad Quandt: Was it Ian [Rickett] who came up with that one?
Aaron Waltke: I actually remember the history of it! In our writers’ room, Ian or Andy [Schmidt] were pitching the idea of Douxie having this ‘Dang It!’ line of his own. Since he’s always mopping up and cleaning, one of them says, “Aw Buckets!” When we first pitched the idea during a table read for the pilot to Guillermo del Toro, he silenced the room and said, “He should say Fuzz Buckets!” (laughs)
The last action scene in the season finale has a modern Marvel/Star Wars big budget production feel to it. There’s all these different character-specific final showdowns happening at the same time. Did you pretty much have free reign to bring everything you envisioned from pen & paper to screen?
Chad Quandt: First of all, thanks for the compliment! That is a huge testament for our entire production team working with us when we were coming to them in the early stages. “So, here is the finale we’re picturing!” You start to lay out, you know the dream version of that and you hope that their hearts don’t stop! (laughs) You’re giving them essentially like a laundry list of huge spectacles to hit.
They completely nailed it. Everything from like you said, Marvel/Star Wars like-battles, to still giving that same loving care to the intimate moments at the end too. They made a character saying goodbye to each other and having last moments feel just as important.
Aaron Waltke: Yeah, Guillermo always had a joking or perhaps half-joking mantra on all of Tales of Arcadia, which is “The ambition should always exceed the budget!” And of course, it drove our producer Chad Hammes crazy because he had to actually deal with the budget. But what it really translated to was like ‘don’t break The bank every time’ but use all of your craft & your ability to evoke these emotions and the sensibilities of epic-ness.
Use every trick of the trade and every artistic ability that you can to get that feeling of drama, thrill, and action & adventure. Everybody just pulled out all the stops! I do have to give a special shout out to our editorial team as well in that final sequence and our directors. Never underestimate the power of parallel editing to make something feel amazing.
Have you ever had to completely rewrite scenes in the past because of budget concerns? You mentioned earlier hoping your dream vision doesn’t make ‘their hearts stop.’
Aaron Waltke: I think that there’s been some scenes that we’ve had to adjust to help them not picture the most budget breaking version. Wouldn’t you agree Chad?
Chad Quandt: Yeah, I mean it’s also a common thing when you’re dealing with writing is rewriting. There definitely were earlier versions of the story where we might have even had full layouts in our head, season grids, or plans for. But it wasn’t without going through the process with our writers, our producers, and Guillermo to really keep rehoning this story to be as potent & powerful as possible.
So, I don’t know if it’s really that we had to throw a whole scene just right into the garbage. It’s more like there was probably extra scenes that we wanted to do but we really didn’t have the time. And those will just be a favorite scenes that our writers will enjoy and will never get to see the light of day. We’re just savoring that, were rubbing that in the network’s faces basically.
Aaron Waltke: (laughs)
Until Merlin’s death late into the season, it seemed that characters could always be resurrected. The dynamic felt a bit reminiscent of Dragon Ball Z. Did that ease the second-guessing burden of writing a ‘character death’ because you can always bring them back in a way?
Chad Quandt: I think that despite getting to have some surprise returns in Wizards using time travel & magic, that the show has always tried to make death be taken seriously. So, when it does happen to a character, it’s not a fake out. It can’t just be waved away even in a world of magic. Even if a character is to come back from death, there are consequences.
The characters have to react it, the outcome of what that character’s death means for the people around them has an impact. So, that it doesn’t feel like, “Well now we have to go racing around the world to get the Dragon Balls!” When you lose your character, you want to say goodbye to them, and treat them with the same reverie. Would you agree Aaron?
Aaron Waltke: Yeah, we thought it opened up interesting story possibilities if Morgana could be resurrected by the Arcane Order in terms of, “But what’s the cost of that?” Both the emotional and the literal, where she suddenly is the champion of magic, and she’s expected to put away these human lives that was once a part of. That’s a deeply emotional consequence.
I think Morgana dealing with her own mortality profoundly changes her in a lot of ways. One of her reactions when she’s brought back is “Please send me back! It was so peaceful…” It was a take on immortality as a curse. Whenever we dealt with death we tried to have some sort of meaning or purpose to the story.
For me, the strongest ‘character death’ scene was very early into the season when King Arthur accidentally causes Morgana to fall then smashes Excalibur in agony. But Merlin’s was exceptionally meaningful as well. Which character death do you feel most impacted you while creating Wizards: Tales of Arcadia?
Aaron Waltke: It’s hard to pick a favorite!
Chad Quandt: I feel like the one that hit the hardest in the entire series was probably ‘AAARRRGGHH!!!’ in the original Trollhunters because he was one of my favorite characters to write for. I think saying goodbye to Merlin resonated for me in particular but I think Morgana was also a heartbreaking split for the two siblings. serious was probably arc and Troll Hunter just go with all my favorite characters.
Aaron Waltke: We’re dealing with characters that do a lot of bad things but a lot of good things as well. They change their mind and realize the error of their ways and wonder whether they can do something in time to make a difference or if it’s too late. First and foremost, it needs a tragic quality to it.
If only they’d learned that lesson before all these horrible things happened. Or they tried but it wasn’t enough to save themselves but perhaps, enough to save other people. We don’t really deal with characters that are just scenery chewing villains or paragons of virtue heroes in Trollhunters. We always want to see the collections of bad & good and see where they land & change.
Was Arthur & Morgana’s brother/sister relationship in Wizards inspired by Star Wars in some fashion? What were your biggest inspirations when crafting Wizards: Tales of Arcadia?
Chad Quandt: I feel we’re definitely kids who’s grown up with Star Wars burnt into our brains. It’s great to be able to reference it for character moments. I think Aaron and I were more actually inspired just from the legends Arthur, Morgana, and the Knights of the Round Table that we’d grown up with. Both of us are medieval war nerds. As soon as we knew they were going to Camelot, it was what parts of those lessons do we want to see, and what were our own provisions and interpretations of what Morgana can be. What the Lady of the Lake can be. Based on the blurriness of the legends mixing into one another over the years.
Aaron Waltke: Yeah, that’s kind of the fun of Arthurian legends is that there are so many takes on it. It’s basically a ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’. So we wanted to lean into that. You know the heroic noble Arthur who was sort of lionized over the century into legend… When you meet the real person, you suddenly have to reconcile that Arthur and others were deeply flawed people. Maybe the Lady of the Lake isn’t necessarily a lady in the obvious sense.
Ultimately though, they’re always very dramatic. Like Game of Thrones, from where we got Lena Headey (Morgana), our Arthur, James Faulkner, who was another Games of Thrones veteran. Everybody on that show in particular was able to embrace that deeply personal emotional connection to the characters. That’s what we wanted to explore in Wizards.
The Arcane Order took over the Jim’s mind and seemed to infiltrate Arthur’s as well at first with the yellow eyes. Why did they choose to not take Morgana’s free will and leave her mind intact?
Aaron Waltke: I think she was a powerful character in her own right and they felt initially that she would be the most suited to bring about their mysterious destiny. They had eluded to her being the one bringing the balance between magic and humanity. Which required some form of agency to make the prophecy to come true. They needed someone to volunteer from one world and fight for the other. That’s a vague theme we deal throughout all of Tales of Arcadia. Bridging the battle between two worlds. You know, are you going to pick a side or do you abdicate the game and go your own way?
Steve seemed to probably have been the most fun character to write lines for!
Chad Quandt: Yeah, Steven Yeun is Steve, there’s no way they’re not merged into one perfect, lovable doofus at this point in Tales of Arcadia. I think he’s one of the most fun characters to write for. But the other part of that is getting to go into the recording studio with Steven Yeun and and see him become Steve to that level. The guy should get an award for it!
He’s been killing it as this lovable jock that’s gone through the whole arc! Just hearing him taking each line in each scene and and getting so into it… I think everyone of our favorite memories is getting to see Steven Yeun and Cole [Sand], who plays Eli (Pepperjack) get to be together in the same room and playing off of each other. That’s some of the most rewarding stuff to write.
Aaron Waltke: Absolutely! I agree with all of that!
Did you find time travel to be an enjoyable, smooth concept to utilize or a complex beast? Considering people always end up finding some kind of loophole in the process.
Chad Quandt: It’s certainly a challenge to write time travel I think in any level. You have to go into, ‘What is your own understanding of time travel?’ Time travel is the first conversation you have with your writers in the development team. It’s definitely a challenge to make it be as airtight as possible because it’s so rewarding to have a very clean timeline… But also letting our characters embrace the time map that they’re using in the series. That time is incredibly wibbly-wobbly. And as soon as you start to pull on threads the whole thing can get completely messed up. Playing with the sort of chaos of the of the genre itself.
Aaron Waltke: Yeah, and we kind of leaned into that headache inducing quality in a way because we wanted it to have an emotional ramification. In this case it was sort of a symbol for Douxie and Merlin of the burden that a wizard carries. I think at one point Merlin says, ‘A wizard’s burden is making the choices that a mortal cannot.’ That means also dealing with the consequences… Like when you can intervene to change fate and when it’s too much to bare. That’s a lot of responsibility you know for for anyone to make.
But sometimes at least in Merlin’s case, that’s the only way that he could see to make the world a better place. In terms of the time travel… I love time travel stories and I love those big, intricate, crunchy, weirdo rules they follow! Or don’t follow! Like Doctor Who, who I think has fifteen different rules of time travel depending on the episode. But ultimately, it came down to what’s important to the drama and the stakes of our story? How does it have an emotional impact on Douxie, Jim, Claire… And Steve. I’m not totally sure Steve even realized he was in the past! (laughs)
Wizards: Tales of Arcadia ended on a definite cliffhanger which surprised me because when I spoke to Guillermo del Toro about 3Below it seemed like ‘only’ a trilogy was cemented.
Aaron Waltke: There’s not much we can say, as the story goes. But suffice to say, you have accurately identified that Wizards: Tales of Arcadia ended on a cliffhanger with promises of adventures to come. The Tales of Arcadia really wouldn’t be complete until everybody returns.
Chad Quandt: Yeah, keep watching!
Editors Note – Trollhunters: Rise of the Titans, an original film, was confirmed shortly after this interview by Netflix. It’s due to arrive in 2021.
Trollhunters… 3 Below… Wizards… the saga concludes in Trollhunters: Rise of the Titans, a Netflix original film coming 2021. pic.twitter.com/lomyDi74qw
— Tales of Arcadia: Wizards (@talesofarcadia) August 7, 2020
Remember to be on the lookout for upcoming Netflix original film Trollhunters: Rise of the Titans in 2021!
Check out an interview with Tales of Arcadia creator Guillermo del Toro and ‘Krel’ voice actor Diego Luna from New York Comic Con!
Fan of Netflix’s Ozark? Be sure to read The Natural Aristocrat®’s interview with actress Lisa Emery on Ozark’s Darlene Snell, Season 4, the Coronavirus pandemic, and much more!