Interview: James Cross, Co-founder of Cross/Rogers, on Witch's Night Out and The Gift of Winter
Earlier this week I mentioned that the awesome holiday TV specials Witch's Night Outand The Gift of Winter are now available on their first official DVD releases. This news was brought to my attention by one of the partners of the production company that owns the specials, Cross/Rogers Productions. Cross/Rogers co-founder James Cross was nice enough to allow me to ask him a few questions about the specials, how they came to DVD after so many years, and what fans can expect in the future from Bazooey, Small, Tender, and the rest of the gang.
Brian: Witch's Night Out and The Gift of Winter have only been available previously on VHS for a brief time. What were the hurdles keeping it from release on DVD before and what led to their long-awaited release now?
James: To answer your first question was Jonathan himself. He just simply stopped and moved on to other expressions of art. He's a true evolving artist. Never knowing the cult following these cartoons had and the impact that it had on people that had seen them, me being one of those kids in 1978.
Brian: How did you become involved with the creators of the specials, Jonathan Rogers and Jean Rankin?
James: It all started when I was 7 back in 1978, when I turned the family TV on and saw the cartoon Witch's Night Out for the first time. It changed my life forever, and at that moment I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to become an animator and make cartoons just like this. I drew all my life, but at that moment sitting on our living room floor eating a Swanson TV dinner ( YUK!), it was very clear. Over the years I did searches on John trying to get a lead but I was always one step behind. It was simply to thank him for making this little cartoon that I watched at least 10,000 times since the tape came out in 1986 that I still have but is worn out.
Finally, he showed up under another name online (Jonathan Rogers), and I was able to contact him and thank him for being a help in my 20-plus years in animation. At this time I was a director and had worked on many shows, Web sites, and games. Surprisingly, he emailed me back and over months we talked almost everyday and a partnership was formed based on my enthusiasm and drive to make things happen. The man just simply believed in me and I believed in him. Jonathan is one of the most colorful and real people I have ever met. What you see is what you get. Hard work was quickly coming ahead as I, with help from great friends, was able to restore the films from the original stock while finding distribution for both specials. It was clearly one of the hardest but rewarding quests I've ever had to this day. I became a detective, putting all the pieces together to bring these classics back to the world where they belong.
While doing this, Jonathan and I started coming up with new stories and ideas for more stuff, as well as a plan to make these cartoons into a franchise for viewers to enjoy for years to come. Cross/Rogers was born.
Brian: The official Web sites for the specials have development images for a possible new sequel. Is there any news you can share about this?
James: Just that things are about to get pretty lively around the Cross/Rogers camp. We are taking steps very lightly and putting all of our ingredients into the pot to make great food for viewers. Stories and ideas that have meaning and getting back to family entertainment the way it was back in the day. The Gift of Winter and Witch's Night Out have deep meaning of the holidays. We are taking that same formula into the new projects we are creating but pulling forward the characters, making them living breathing people.
Brian: The Gift of Winter first aired in 1974 and Witch's Night Out in 1978. What is it about these specials that can appeal to audiences today?
James: They are very honest films. They are us. Whereas you have projects today that center around a popular character from a movie, these people are your next door neighbors or family members. Everyone has that Aunt Malicious in their family--I know I did, two of them (LOL)! The animation is real. I say that because it was animated straight ahead not using in-betweens. Just free expression of the artist. Animation back then and still today, in some films, you do the first drawing, then the last, and one in between, and then you fill in all the others drawings. That didn't appeal to John, who was and still is an expressive artist. And to top that off, they animated straight to cels, no rough (WOW!). There are guys today that would pass out if they had to do that. Very hard to do while keeping the expression of the character going. Raw honest animation and the brilliant writing from Jean and John made these shows timeless. The voice talents and the music have a rhythm to it. The voices almost sing to you when they talk.. The jokes are not dated, and the human emotions are understood to kids and adults, making these classics perfect family films.
Brian: Animation has changed dramatically since the 1970s. How would a new special take advantage of these advances, or would a new special stick to more traditional methods of animation?
James: Well as you know, animation is ever evolving. I see nothing wrong with that whatsoever. It has kept me in the game for over a decade. It is the artist behind the technology that makes a film good. John and Jean had limitations and were able to make a masterpiece. Even Gift was brilliant in the execution. We will stay within the boundaries making it the Cross/Rogers style, but of course using today's methods to push the creativity forward. Our worlds will be deeper, but the stamp of Witch's will be there 100 percent.
Brian: Are there any plans to release any other previous Rogers/Rankin projects on DVD in the future?
James: Yes! We are building a empire that our families will be able to pass down for years to come. We both are 100 percent family men. Things will come out over the years, but building a strong foundation is the main focus right now. Putting the classics out was a big leap in the right direction. People are getting familiar with the cast and fans are passing the word. It is no longer a cartoon that fans remember back in the day, but here, in your face! The next step is to carefully push things out that keep the feel and growth of the franchise giving people food for thought. We have lifetimes.
Brian: Finally, each of the characters has their own unique personality. Do you have a favorite?
James: I love them all. They remind me of people I knew all my life. If you think about it, we are all of them. That's what John and Jeans attempted to do. Sometimes I have my Rotten days and most of the time my Bazooey days. I always liked Small. I drew him all the time as a kid.
James: Thank you very much. This would never have happened if it wasn't for the fans. We all kept these cartoons alive. I love the fact that people pour their hearts out every time they talk about these cartoons online. They remember exactly where they were when they watched it. It made all the hills and valleys I went through bringing them back with Jon worth it. This by far was a perfect storm to make this happen. It is all about the fans. If you have a strong fan base, you will automatically pull others in. You can't push aside that foundation to try and get new ones. But if you honestly express yourself, fans old and new will know it's the same formula. Cross/Roger is for the family, by the family, and we thank you from the bottom of our hearts.
Thanks to James for taking time to share this wonderful news about these beloved specials. I can't wait to see what Cross/Rogers has in store! You can purchase Witch's Night Outhere and The Gift of Winterhere. Thanks.