Dino Fury, debuting Saturday on Nickelodeon, will mark its 28th season with a new team, a new executive producer in Simon Bennett and a return to a dinosaur theme used in Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and last seen in 2015’s Dino Charge series. And like much of the film and TV industry, it’s also the first season in production amidst the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic.
Ahead of the show’s debut, we spoke with Bennett on the challenges of creating the long-running children’s show under the potential of lockdown, running pre-production on the show virtually and about new plot elements that bring a BuzzFeed-like social media agency literally into the show.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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CNET: I know it’s your first season as executive producer, so I wanted to start off by asking what was it like transitioning off just directing episodes of last season’s Power Rangers Beast Morphers to taking over for this season.
Bennett: It’s been challenging but really interesting. The level of detail required for this particular role in that I’ve got creative engagement at so many levels of the show from initial story concept to scripts to casting to direction to editing to visual effects to music to sound design, you know, right across the full spectrum of the show whereas obviously as a director I’m working with a three week lead in time, a particular set of scripts and a two-week shoot on a block of episodes. So the piece of the pie that I’m across is much bigger.
I did have a long transition period with Chip Lin who was in this role previously. We worked together probably 18 months before he returned to the States where I walked through his role with him and saw what was involved, but this isn’t entirely new for me because I have worked in this creative producer showrunner role on New Zealand productions, including fantasy seasons like Maddigan’s Quest and The Almighty Johnsons, long-running adult drama series like Outrageous Fortune and a long running soap Shortland Street.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, I imagine auditions for the new cast had to be conducted virtually. How did that process go?
Auditioning was all done remotely for the actors in the States. In New Zealand, we were able to audition in person because we don’t have the same COVID situation here most of the time. We have been in and out of lockdown, for instance, I think from March to about July last year while we were still in the development phase we were in full lockdown, but we kept writing via Zoom.
But since the shoot started we’ve had a clear run with occasional alarms and minor lockdowns but we’ve pretty much been able to work business as usual, which I think has been great for the cast because they know what things are like back in the States and there’s a real freedom here in terms of being able to go to restaurants and get out and about.
Historically the show shoots multiple episodes at once. Is that element continuing or do you have to stretch the filming length a bit to allow for safety protocols?
The shooting schedule is pretty much as it always has been. We shoot two or three episodes at a time and we have two units shooting: a main unit which is our drama unit and a second unit which is our action unit. It’s quite a complex machine that’s well-honed over 15 years of filming in New Zealand to enable us to maintain the output and the delivery schedule that we have to meet. We’re producing three episodes every two weeks is the speed at which we are working, but given we have two full-time units that helps us explain how that’s achievable.
We are kind of aware that should an outbreak happen, we might have to postpone shooting. In fact, right now we’re on a three-day hiatus because of the three cases in Auckland, and the government has imposed a three-day lockdown in Auckland while they do contact tracing. So that’s the first time it happened in a hundred days since we started shooting, but we are planned for this and expecting it because it would be very very unlikely that it didn’t happen at some stage during the shoot.
The new Dino Fury series is adapting elements of the Japanese series Kishiryu Sentai Ryusoulger. Can you talk about that process, do you watch the full original series? And relatedly Dino Fury will the first time since the original Mighty Morphin Power Rangers where a ranger who was originally male in the source series will be a woman, in this case the Green Ranger Izzy being played by Tessa Rao. Were there any challenges with that adaptation or is it straightforward since it’s just a suit and voice acting?
It’s always challenging adapting Sentai, and the way in which the show is made and written is that the writers watch each episode as it comes out because we don’t get any kind of advanced preview of the Sentai episodes. So during the early stages of development on Dino Fury, every week we would watch that week’s episode just after it’s played in Japan and once it was available online to view and we would be analyzing that episode: what is the usable footage in here?
It’s generally fights and Megazord fights, and it’s usually only about three to four minutes per episode of Sentai footage that we use, but it’s a springboard for our stories. Basically, the aesthetic of that particular Sentai season generates the world in which our season has set and also triggers ideas, but we don’t follow the Sentai storylines at all.
Power Rangers is its own unique thing that incorporates a certain amount of high production value action footage that it would take a lot more days and a lot more resources if we were to try to shoot that material as well here. So it’s a strange hybrid creature Power Rangers because it is derived from the visuals of Super Sentai, but it is its own particular story and world that there’s no relation to the storylines of Sentai.
When you are writing at the same time as you were viewing the footage there is a certain edge of the seat factor because you don’t know what’s around the corner. You don’t even know if, for instance, the character that we’ve come to call Void Knight, which is the purple-suited figure from Ryusoulger, we didn’t know if that character was going to be a big bad across the entire Sentai season or not. We had to make that decision early on with Dino Fury because we just didn’t know what was coming. So it is tricky for the writers particularly when they don’t know what’s coming next in Japan.
You asked as well about the gender switch of the Green Ranger, that really hasn’t provided a lot of difficulties for us the reason we did it was we wanted more female representation on the show, and the Sentai didn’t give us that, and it had been done historically in the past with the Power Rangers. The morphing process does interesting things to people’s physiques, people can get shorter or taller, so they can switch gender physiques as well, and it’s just something I think once it’s established will not be too much of an issue for the audience. I’m really happy with our character and we’ve also across the board not just with the range of characters tried to address diversity in our casting and our representation.
While the show still airs linearly initially, longer tail shows find a home on streaming services. Do you have to keep that in mind as well, or is it important to hit those constraints?
We have to meet the Nickelodeon technical requirements for a commercial half-hour episode which is 22 minutes, 30 [seconds] as our actual duration and you know, there are restrictions like how long the open titles can be, how long the closing credits can be, what is the minimum act duration, so that structure is really strict and that is dictated by the commissioning network, which for us is Nickelodeon.
It does have a long life on streaming services obviously, but also Power Rangers sells to terrestrial networks around the world so I think they tend to have similar format expectations for half-hour episodes so the fact that we are meeting the Nickelodeon tech specs also helps as far as international sales are concerned. I don’t know the details of this since I don’t really have to deal with that aspect of the show, but I do know what the templates that we have to meet is.
I think creatively what the fact that so many people stream Power Rangers has done, historically there was a stipulation that each episode had to be standalone episodes that serial threads were discouraged. We could maybe do a two-parter at the beginning of a season and a two-parter for the finale, but apart from that every episode had to be standalone because our audience was very young and they were unable to watch one episode a week at a particular time, and they would forget stuff that was the expectation. But I think now that’s relaxed a bit because I know with Dino Fury we are consciously weaving more character acts through the entire season as well as what we hope will be an engaging villains story thread that runs right through the entire season. So I’d say that that we are able to integrate more serial elements than we’ve historically been able to do.
Turning to the first episode’s story, the set representing BuzzBlast, a clear parody of BuzzFeed, where Pink Ranger Amelia (Hunter Reno) works is a very developed set. Will this workspace become the new hangout for the cast?
It’s basically driven by the fact that we have a certain number of studio sets in the show and we have to have a certain amount of studio material available for weather reasons and also because we can shoot more quickly in the studio than we can on location, so the traditional studio sets have been a monster base and a Ranger base and then what we call a social set which in Ninja Steel was a school and in Beast Morphers was a gym: those are large studio sets.
We didn’t want to set this one in a high school because we felt it’s been done before quite recently and we wanted to age up our teams so they were young adults rather than high school age teenagers. And we thought well what’s a cool place that could be both a workplace and a hangout for our team characters and also can bring story through the door and the idea of a social media agency felt contemporary. It felt like something that kids would understand and it also was an environment that could tie in with what was happening with beasts, the monsters of the week as well as providing interesting other stories that can walk through the door because it’s a quirky news agency. Other Power Rangers enter that world across the season, so it does become a regular.
And then there was another line that mentions Zords are seen in the news of this show’s world, are we just demonstrating that Power Rangers are already known about to allow for faster introductions to the show’s concepts?
That’s correct. There’s certain things that our characters know about Power Rangers historically, they are not the first ever team in this universe. In terms of the superfans, I think it’s fair to say that this season takes place in the main universe rather than the Dino Charge universe where dinosaurs are still present. We’ve deliberately allowed interconnectivity with previous Power Ranger seasons that will influence story across the episodes but I can’t say more than that.
Power Rangers Dino Fury will have its first episode premiere on Nickelodeon in the US on Saturday at 8 a.m. on both the east and west coasts.