INTERVIEW The Masterminds Of ‘The Rock-afire Explosion’ Speak Out

Answers from Writer Bradford Thomason and Director Brett Whitcomb

The Tech caught up with the writer and director of The Rock-afire Explosion, getting a closer glimpse of the duo’s documentary and the madness behind those crazy robotic animals.

TT: What were your first reactions when you saw the new Rock-afire videos on Youtube?

BW & BT: Our first reactions were confusion and nostalgia. We remembered The Rock-afire Explosion and Showbiz Pizza, but really hadn’t thought about either in years. It was beautiful but odd, because we had no idea people still had these things. Once we saw the clips, we did a search for more videos by Chris Thrash and found one in which he explains the programming process. Despite the fact that he was too “camera shy” to show his face, his southern drawl and earnest presentation sparked our curiosity. “Who is this guy,” we wondered. “How did he get this… thing?” We had to find out.

TT: Why should we care about an animatronic rock band from almost 20 years ago?

BW & BT: In some ways we wondered the same thing early on. I mean, we remembered it, but we didn’t love it like the fans in the film do. Flash forward several months and it became clear to us that The Rock-afire Explosion was really special to a lot of people. And even for those who don’t worship at the altar of animatronic rock, the spectacle is enough. Entertainment has changed so much, and kids seems content with digital screens, CGI, and interactive television. The Rock-afire Explosion is so much more than that. It’s not just a relic from the past; it’s a reminder of a time when children’s entertainment was more tangible, more imaginative.

TT: Both of you are students in the Houston area and the film was shot on a limited budget. What were some of the challenges and rewards of making this documentary?

BW & BT: It was certainly tough at times, traveling on our own dollar. It helps to take chances and do things you’re not sure about. So much of film making is instinct and money isn’t always necessary to get things done. It certainly helps, but if you can do without it, the prospect of doing something without funding becomes that much more exciting. Plus, this way, we can make the film we want without compromise. That’s the real bonus of working without funding.

TT: In the film, the prototypical Rock-afire Explosion fan is in their late 20s, and spent their childhood at Showbiz Pizza. Are you in that demographic? Do you think the film uniquely resonates with people of that era? How do people who have never seen Rock-afire react to this film?

BW & BT: We are all in our late 20s, early 30s and we do believe the film resonates with people of our generation. If you remember The Rock-afire Explosion, this will be a special treat. However, it is important to us that the film connect with people who have never been to or even heard of Showbiz Pizza. This is why we made it a human story, and not just a “Rock-afire history lesson.” So far, people from all walks of life have connected with the film. We’re very pleased. More than an “80s nostalgia film,” we think “The Rock-afire Explosion” speaks to more universal, eternal quests for childhood and imaginative youth. But, really, it can speak to whatever the viewer sees. Sure there is nostalgia — that’s what keeps it fun and colorful — but we like to think there is much more than that. The film also has a strong human element without manufacturing or embellishing drama. That’s what we hoped to achieve.