From the football field to the silver screen, former pro-football playerhas taken all his drive, ambition, determination and resilience and turned it into a widely successful writing career creating the young adult series “ ,” which smartly green lit into a television series to stream exclusively on Netflix. In an exclusive interview, talks about the genesis of the “ ” and the secret to his success.
You have had a remarkable career in both pro-football and now as a children’s book author. Where do you get that drive from? What pushes you in these diverse fields and careers?
TREVOR: The one thing that people don’t really understand is that athletes have an average of 4 months off every year, and all four of those months come back to back, and they come suddenly and at times unexpectedly. So for instance, if your team is in the playoffs, in your mind, you’re thinking “championship”, and when you lose in the first round, you obviously weren’t quite prepared for it, and the next day, your team is like “ok, see you next season”, and just that fast you’re left to your own devices. It’s sudden and, if you’re not prepared, it can be jarring. Because the very next day, you wake up and literally have NOTHING to do time. It’s what you do with that time that’s important. Then there’s the money that you’ve made to add to that. Time and Money. Some guys take those months and “purge.” Some guys use that time to get back into shape and train. The smart ones prepare for a second career. Internships, media training. Some guys, like myself see that time, money and fame as an opportunity to chase dreams. The SMARTER ones do all of the above. Those dreams you don’t develop at 30 years old. They’re dreams you had in high school or college. My dream was to run a record label. So I started one. My dream was to make film and TV and to write. So I did that. Those 4-6 months for 14 years is how I chipped away and have gotten where I am now. The only downfall of the 4 months is that suddenly come August, I would have to literally stop and go back to being an athlete. Which was fine, but I promised myself I would focus on whatever I was doing at the time. Being an athlete never entered my brain while I was chasing the dreams in those 4 months, because I needed to get away from it to begin with. And being a writer/producer really got no attention while I was being a professional athlete. Then there’s the competitive side of it. I always thought “I can beat them at this…”, and I wasn’t talking about the Pittsburgh Steelers, I was talking about James Cameron. So I worked just as hard at both and it’s paying off. Mike Ehrmantrout said it best: “No half measures.”
Then what inspired you to create a children’s book series around frogs? Where does the name Kulipari come from?
TREVOR: A couple things. (1) My childhood fear of frogs. But for some reason, I was never afraid of poisonous frogs. The colors and the fact there weren’t “filled with pus” as I believed as a kid I guess. Even though poisonous frogs are filled with Venom and toxins. (2) The movie “300.” I remember seeing it and like everyone else, was blown away by the visuals. But I kept seeing scorpions instead of soldiers. And I’m not quite sure why. The image of one lone “hero” staring down 10k scorpions kept popping in my head. (3) “Planet Earth.” I was between homes in Denver and before the cable company could come, I had a Blue Ray DVD player and I kept watching “Planet Earth” over and over again. One of the episodes was about the rain forrest and they kept showing this tree frog flying through the air in slow motion. And being riveted by the outback and the beauty of the entire series, it hit me. “There’s a frog standing over those 10k scorpions.”
(4) The tale of the frog and the scorpions. (Look it up. I tell it to kids every time I go to a school.) I didn’t make up the word “Kulipari”. Its aboriginal for the word “Poison.” The ideas was called “poison” and I just thought that was a little too masculine. So I emailed a professor of Aboriginal Culture to ask him is there a way to say “poison.” He gave me 30 ways to say it in different dialects. When I saw the word “Kulipari,” I knew I had something special and different.
How did the “Kulipari” become a TV show for Netflix?
TREVOR: I was with ICM for a few years and, after I came up with the treatment and art and idea for Kulipari, it was time to shop it. I was shopping it as a movie first. And that was a hard sell in the era of “family CGI movies” to sell, “Poisonous Frogs and Scorpions fighting over water.” “9” didn’t work all that well and studios were apprehensive. For good reason I think. It wasn’t time. But ICM came up with a good idea and wanted to pitch it as a book. So they found a deal with Abrams. However, at the same time, I had a friend who was at Cartoon Network, who was my executive at Disney Channel when I sold them another animated project. So I passed it to him as I knew they were doing more action adventure boys stuff. “Ben 10, “etc. And they loved it. So working on both at the same time, was pretty interesting. The books went forward. Cartoon network wanted to make Kulipari into a comedy. Which would have been fine 6-7 years into it after I’ve established it and using side characters. But not at first. I took the idea back in Turn Around and decided I was going to give myself a green light. Invest my own money. Because no one else will, unless you do. I started calling every production company I could and got an audience with “SPLASH,” a company in L.A. that specializes in animation and foreign rights and merchanize, etc. etc. We hit it off and literally started working on it 5 days after meeting. Liz and Mike and company believed in it and they believed in me. And to be honest, they taught me a whole other side of the business. Like what happens when you make something. And how do you make it. Etc. An education I’ll have forever. We made a few scenes and started going around pitching. Easier to pitch when you say “we’re making this with or without you. Today, it’s one price…tomorrow, it’s another.” Netflix loved it. The execs all read the books and loved the direction. I was pretty far along in the process of Kulipari when we met them.
How involved are you in the creative part of breaking stories and writing the scripts for the show?
TREVOR: The 13 episodes are based on the trilogy. So it’s my story and I wrote it from the very beginning. We had to make some changes for TV because my original idea was to do three seasons. One for each book. Problem with that is animation takes so long that by the time I would have gotten to Season 3, the books would have been 10 years old. So we condensed it. The scripts I didn’t write directly, but I approved all of them as they are the story I wrote earlier. The Kulipari universe starts and stops with me, as I know where the story is going over the next 20 years. For instance, the comic books that I co-wrote which come out starting August are the very next scene after the last scene of the series. Kulipari was a movie script that I first wrote then had to break down into a treatment to then write it with my co-writer as a book.
Are you writing alone or as part of a team? What challenges are there working solo versus in a group?
TREVOR: I always write alone. There has to be one Hymnal. I don’t mind taking suggestions and things. But I always do what’s best of the story and the story going forward. And when you’re the only know who knows which characters are going to die later on, then you write alone. After I write the treatment or a script, I’ll hand it off for polishing. But the first words on paper for any of my projects always come from me. And that goes for all of my projects. I’ve gotten rid of producers who suggested we bring in other writers and all that. No need. I know how to spell. [Laughs]
What kinds of adventures will the “Kulipari” embark upon in the TV show? What kinds of themes and messages do you hope to convey?
TREVOR: The story is of a son of a fallen Kulipari. His name is Darel and unlike his father, he’s not poisonous. But the scorpions are attacking and this time they’ve teamed up with the Spiders who are “night casters”. And together they are going to take the Amphibilands and it’s resources. But for different reasons. It’s up to Darel, who’s trained to be a warrior all his life, but has never been in a real fight, to find a way to save his home and his family. It’s pretty big and criss crosses the outback from the mountains to the coves. I think the message is “Get lost in this universe.” I don’t think it needs a message to appeal to kids. I have a 10-year old. He gets enough messaging at home and with sports and with his teacher. Another one isn’t going to make or break him. It’s entertainment that I want him and his buddies to get lost in. And they do. “Star Wars” nor “Avengers” doesn’t have a message that’s any different from his flag football team does.
What age group are you looking to appeal to with the show? And are you looking to reach beyond that age group as well?
TREVOR: The books are middle grade. So 7 to 11-year olds. The same age as Marvel or Ninja Turtles or anything like that. But it does age up and challenge even at that level because I kill my characters. There’s no knock out blows or coming back alive. When you’re dealing with poisonous animals, there’s a certain level of respect you have to show the source. So like a poisonous frog is deadly, the same way a scorpion is deadly, I made that a part of the Universe. Because unlike Marvel, there’s a way to kill my heroes. There’s literally no way to kill the Hulk or Thor or most of the others. That being said, like Marvel, it can go up and or down. The comics and the prequel trilogy of books will age up to 13 to 16-year old area, where it’s a little more complicated. More “Lord of the Rings” fantasy and sword fights type of story telling. A little more challenging as far as themes. The prequel books deal with a kingdom and betrayal and assassinations and politics. There will be first reader book series as well. For grades K-2. But those will be new characters inhabiting the same universe and be age appropriate. So I’m taking those cues from Marvel/DC and telling a story that the audience can grow with.
What has been the most exciting and rewarding part of working with Netflix to launch the show?
TREVOR: I think the first time I heard the voice actors record. Keith David as Lord Marmoo was just a complete mind blowing experience. Because he sounded like Keith David in my head. Josh as Darel…Amazing. Wendy as Jarrah. Just all of it. That first day I went “Well, shit just got real!” The other part has been Netflix themselves. They really love the show and the serialized nature of it. It’s 13 episodes and if there was ever a time for that kind of thing, it’s now. And they were adamant on that. They got it. And they get it.
Do you see “Kulipari” going beyond one season? Could it run multiple seasons for Netflix?
TREVOR: Yes. And that’s really all I can say at the moment. [Laughs]
How far and wide could the “Kulipari” universe spread, such as toys and other merchandise? Is that in the works?
TREVOR: I signed a licensing deal with Under Armour that has done really great for just a few t shirt designs sold on Amazon and Unerarmour.com. It was supposed to be a test run. Well the test-run sold out of 5 of the 9 designs. So version 2.0 hits this August in stores and is more than t-shirts. It’s hats, shorts, tights, etc. etc. They’re excited about it. As am I. It made sense to me to partner with them because they were the first to put pop culture on performance wear. And Kulipari is about performance. It’s terrain and the outback. Plus, the fact that the four poisons and the insignias for each poison exist, it kind of lends itself to being “teams.” I designed it that way on purpose not to say that you have to pick good or bad. You just pick the one you like. I had a deal with Mattel as well that just expired. So we’re in the process of looking for a new toy partner now. I think next year this time Kulipari will be everywhere. Some of the toys are still available on amazon. GO buy some!
What skills from your football career do you find most useful in you writing career and now working in television?
TREVOR: You know, it’s funny. I think the big thing is you have to put in the preparation. Practice. Practice. Practice. Sharpen your skills. ALWAYS work on your craft. It will pay off in the long run. For instance, the reason Tom Brady is GREAT at football is because while everyone else is partying and enjoying the perks of being a pro football player, he’s watching film…running…lifting weights…etc. And most of the great ones are that. In all sports. It goes the same way for creating IP or entertainment. While most producers are going to industry events and lunch meetings that bare NO fruit…I’m writing. Creating. Focused. Some of that comes from the fact I don’t live in LA. And that’s on purpose. Because maybe I would be hanging out with other producers or writers trying to cultivate relationships. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But the best writers and creators ARE the relationship. You can cultivate and make connections until the cows come home. It’s not going to make a difference if you don’t have anything meaningful to hand over. Sure, we can hang out. But we’re not going to work together because I think this other guy is better than you at his craft. Do you know why he’s better? Because while you were trying to get into Soho House, he was writing. That’s me. The guy that’s writing. Working on his craft. I have a producer friend at a big company. He’s one of I think four partners. And eery time I go to his office, he’s the only one of the partners that’s there. THE ONLY ONE. And that’s why he’s successful. Practice. Get it wrong. Fail. Play again. The last thing in pro athletics you have to have a short memory. Good and or Bad. Somebody bought your script. GREAT. next…They passed. Great…next…
What advice would you offer to aspiring writers and content creators?
TREVOR: If you don’t do it, no one else will. Period. I had to put up my own money. If you don’t have any, find some. That kind of work speaks VOLUMES. Believe me, I’ll hire the kid who has a $2k dollar short film that’s shot on an iPhone that’s really great before I hire the kid with the UCLA film degree and nothing to show me. And that’s probably true for 99% of Hollywood/New York. The artist that I hired that’s going to do a Kulipari series of her own, she did her own Captain America/Bucky Brooks comic. No money. She did it because she loved it and it was amazing. So now she’s working for me. She’ll write and design and do everything to deliver a book. That speaks to something else. Learn how to do everything. An Apple laptop is a powerful powerful tool. I learned how to edit, how to score to picture, how to design, layouts, etc. etc. because I had to. If I wanted it to be what was in my head, I had to do it myself. You can too. Because the more you have, the harder it is to say NO. Everybody has an idea. Everybody even has credits! Credits are no longer enough. Show me what you’ve done for the thing you’re pitching me. Because it will come across whether or not you TRULY believe in it if you’re already done it.
What are you most excited for people to see and experience with “Kulipari”?
TREVOR: The series on Netflix, September 2nd. It’s in 18 different languages around the world. I think it’s going to be pretty big and open up a whole new universe to a lot of fans. And I’ll be standing there with more story to tell. A LOT more…
So mark your calendars for September 2nd and be sure to check out “Kulipari” on Netflix!
SENIOR ENTERTAINMENT REPORTER | Tiffany covers events such as San Diego Comic-Con, WonderCon and press junkets, as well as covering events at the Paley Center in Beverly Hills. She has a great love for television and believes that entertainment is a world of wondrous adventures that deserves to be shared and explored. Tiffany is one of the newest members to the prestigious Television Critics Association and is happy to be able to share her passion for television shows with an even wider audience of fans and her fellow critics..