I have always been a big sci-fi fan. I read the classics like Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clark and loved watching the likes of Luc Besson. Since 2009 my main focus has been film and TV but I have also written a few small stories and novellas exploring the world of science fiction.
I have been a fan of Timothy Pattinson’s (Sci-Fi) for years and have followed his career from early writing for TV Classics, through to his more recent endeavors for Disney, where he created, wrote and executive produced The Good Dinosaur. I was lucky enough to hear from his press secretary that he was willing to do an interview, and I couldn’t believe my luck. I have been a big fan of Timothy’s for years, and it is a great pleasure to finally interview him.
To begin with, can you tell us a little about yourself? What are you currently doing?
I am currently overseeing a team of writers and production designers as we prepare for series development on a new project for the Disney+ streaming service. In the past year, I’ve also been lucky enough to pen a children’s picture book, co-written with my wife Priscilla, and to write and direct a short film, which we also star in.
As for my own history, I was born in London, the son of the photographer Robin Pattinson and the writer/editor Mary McIntosh. I grew up in London and went to school at Westminster School. In 1995, I graduated from Oxford University with a degree in English Literature.
As a fan of sci-fi, can you tell us about your earliest experiences with it? What was your first exposure to science fiction?
The first time I can remember being really gripped by sci-fi was when I read Harry Harrison’s Make Room! Make Room! as a child. It was one of the first British books to be translated into English and it was a thrilling experience to discover something so new and exciting. Also, I remember watching a lot of classic sci-fi films as a child, particularly those by the masters of the genre – Alfred Hitchcock, Douglas Sirk, and Howard Hawks. I have always been particularly attached to spaceships and robots and have a huge collection of them. The main character in my short story ‘The Most Expensive Robot in History’ is quite possibly the most famous robot in English literature – Marvin – from the classic A.J. and the Robot stories by Isaac Asimov. I still have all of his novels, though I’ve read them many times, as they are still among my favorite pieces of fiction. My childhood heroes were often scientists or engineers who worked on robots or other futuristic devices, which of course led me down the path of science fiction. I loved writing as a child and was always encouraged to write by my parents, who are both authors. I wrote a short story about the Disney character Goofy for my nativity play when I was nine years old. It was the first part of my childhood dream to write for Disney, and here I am, over 17 years later, helping to bring Goofy to life on the big screen!
Your Early Career
You began your career in radio, eventually moving to TV and Film. How did you get into writing for TV and Film? What made you choose this route in particular?
When I graduated from Oxford, I had a few options open to me. I could have gone into teaching, journalism or even politics. I was fortunate enough to receive a scholarship to study for a master’s degree at the prestigious London Film School, where I learnt a great deal about screen writing and producing. While there I was part of the producing team for a series of shorts called ‘The Real Ghostbusters’ with the wonderful Ivan Reitman. It was a fantastic opportunity and being able to work with such wonderful people was an education and a thrill.
A few years later I secured a job at Disney, initially as a writer’s assistant on a little show called ‘DuckTales’. It was really fantastic. Walt Disney Studios had just gotten a license to make their own Tarzan movies, so there was this whole world of possibility. Writing for animation is a really different kettle of fish to writing for live action. You have a lot of freedom, as you don’t have to worry about actors and cameras, but you also have to be mindful of the fact that your script has to match the animation frame by frame. It was such a glorious opportunity to learn about film and to write for Disney. One of my first assignments was to write the screenplay for a feature-length film called ‘The Most Expensive Robot in History’. I love that name – what was your inspiration for it?
The Most Expensive Robot in History is based on a concept I explored in my first novel, The Stars Are Also Dust. It’s about these two rival brothers, who are also racing to be the first to develop and sell a time machine. It’s a fantastic story, set in the not-too-distant future, and it continues the tradition of my childhood. I love it when writers discover connections between stories, even if they are just subconscious links. It’s funny how things turn up – ‘The Most Expensive Robot in History’ was originally intended as a follow-up to ‘The Stars Are Also Dust’. When I first started writing (The Stars Are Also Dust, in particular), I didn’t see it as a series, but it just kind of developed as I went along. I knew I wanted to write about time travel, as I love that idea so much, but I didn’t know exactly how it would fit in with the rest of the story. As it turns out, it’s grown to be a sort of prequel, set several hundred years before the events of ‘The Stars Are Also Dust’ and ‘The Most Expensive Robot in History’. It’s thrilling for a writer to discover these connections, even if they are not conscious decisions but rather happenstance.
The Good Dinosaur
You have worked in television and film, but you have also written short stories, novellas and novels. Can you tell us about The Good Dinosaur? How did you come up with the concept for it?
The Good Dinosaur, as you may or may not know, is the name of a very popular extinct dinosaur species, which Disney and its affiliates have been trying to get right for years. The film will be released in December 2020. It is based on an idea that I had many years ago, when I was living in LA. I was coming back from a business trip, when I felt this immense sense of longing, this desire to go back in time and help my favorite dinosaur survive the Cretaceous Period. It was very basic – the idea of re-living one of the most amazing periods of history as a living creature. Since that time I’ve been working on the screenplay, with a fantastic team, including Peter Sohn, who has a background in paleontology and is one of the best screenwriters out there. We are also fortunate to have a wonderful cast, including the wonderful Stephen Curry as Velociraptor, and the great Ben Lamb as Pteranodon, who looks exactly like the character Woody from the Toy Story franchise. It has been a real labor of love and I hope you all enjoy it as much as I do!
What Are You Currently Working On?
What are you currently working on?
I am currently working on the first draft of my next novel, which is set in the distant future. I have several other projects that I’m actively pitching, including a detective novel, which is set in modern day and will feature a detective who battles it out with a cannibalistic dinosaur, led by an over-eager cave-man. I have also written a small number of short stories, which are mostly humorous tales about the apocalypse. My most recent novella, ‘Black Wind’, was published in June 2020 and is available to buy now.
I have two young sons, Milo, who is six, and Abel, who is two. I spend a lot of time with them, taking them to movies and plays, and letting them get involved in the story-telling and the characters. I love the opportunity to bond with my kids while still being able to provide them with some adult supervision. It’s a very modern family setup, which I’m very proud of.
Where Do You See Yourself In Five Years?
Where do you see yourself in five years?