Earlier this week we gave you a hands-on look at the new Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season Two Declassified hardcover. Whether you're a diehard fan of Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. or a casual viewer, the book is full of great insight, summaries, and behind the scenes information. Similar to the first volume, a high amount of production was put into the overall package.
Troy Benjamin is the lucky guy that gets to compile all the information and write up everything about the show for the books. It seems like a crazy process and we had the chance to talk to Troy about the book and what it takes to put it out.
COMIC VINE: You also worked on the Season One Declassified book, correct?
TROY BENJAMIN: Yeah I did. I was actually doing the Season 1 DVD behind the scenes content and also did the Season One Declassified book. It was a lot of fun doing those simultaneously.
CV: How long does it take to put together books like these? Do you start as soon as the new season does?
TROY: On the second season, yes. On the first season, it came about very quickly. Marvel does all the art books for each of the features and they and they planned on doing one for S.H.I.E.L.D. but they weren’t quite sure what it was going to be. It happened very fortuitously that I was sitting at lunch with Megan Thomas Bradner, Sam Thomas, and Emma Fleischer. For whatever reason I said, “Hey, I’ve always wanted to make a behind the scenes book.” The next day they called and said, “Funny story, remember when you said that? Can you do it in six weeks?” The first season book happened very fast. It was a six week turnaround, maybe a little more than than that when all is said and done. The second season, I started when they started in August/September of last year and finished about the same time they finished the season.
CV: How many times do you watch each episode?
TROY: [laughs] Man, it depends. Especially on the more serialized type episodes where’s there’s a lot of thread and things that are moving the whole season forward. I’ll probably watch them…ten times? A dozen times? We do summaries for the book. We also do analyses so I have to know them inside and out when I talk to the writers. I point out Easter Eggs and recurring themes. You have to carry that plot in your head too. I watch them…I think I’ve seen the first two seasons probably ten times over.
CV: When you watch, do you watch first for enjoyment or do you just zoom in on specific themes as you’re watching?
TROY: A little bit of both. A little of column A and column B. By the time I get to see the episodes, I’ve already read the script, been on set, and have seen them make the actual episode. The first time I get to see it there’s a certain level of enjoyment because you get to see it all put together. You kind of go, “Oh, that’s how they did that! That’s how the visual effect finally turned out.” I also love the cast and the crew are so good at live-Tweeting the episodes. It’s fun to sit there, watch the episodes, see the cast reacting, and then see people’s reactions to certain elements that you know are coming. But right off the bat, time is of the essence. I start deconstructing and analyzing episodes because stuff will naturally change from script to air. I want to make sure what I’m writing is accurate. I’ll already be taking notes during that first viewing of the episode.
CV: You mentioned the Easter Eggs. Are they mentioned in the scripts at all? Do they give you any heads up or do they make you figure it all out yourself?
TROY: It depends on what kind of Easter Egg it is. If it’s in the Marvel Universe like the Roxxon Oil corporation shows up or if they throw a little nod to…like last season the mountains were called the Kolpack Mountains after Mark Kolpack, the Visual Effects Supervisor. A lot of those are in the scripts. Other Easter Eggs, you start to realize, are recurring themes.
Like I love that they have Bendeery Beer, which shows up a lot in the second season. Those are ones that aren’t necessarily scripted but you start seeing them reoccur. Every time Hunter holds a beer, it’s a Bendeery Beer, for the most part. It’s stuff you start to see when the episode goes to air. The writers and the showrunners, Maurissa [Tacharoen] and Jed [Whedon], are so incredibly smart and so incredibly steeped into the lore that a lot of it is written on the page from day one.
CV: When you start putting it all together, the pictures and the concept art, does Marvel Studios give you a bunch of files that you sift through or do you ask for specific things for each episode?
TROY: I think it’s a little bit of both. They accumulate stuff for me as production goes along. They’re basically making a mini-movie every couple of weeks. They’ll set artwork aside and photos. On every episode, they have a production photographer that shows up, especially on the big days or when something important happens or when there’s a cool set or costume. They’ll start accumulating those assets for me. They also are pretty good natured when I come to them with wish lists. I’ll say, “Hey guys, I’ve noticed that Bendeery Beer is a recurring theme. Can I talk to Props and get the label? Can we print that pure label for everybody to see in the book?” So they’ll set things aside and they’ll also take requests, which is nice. It’s a lot of management and sifting through the coolest because you only have a certain amount of pages that you’re able to cram full of stuff. You have to pick and choose from the best of the best. Especially on the second season, with the Art Department, visual effects, stunts, and photography plus we had production story boards in this year, so there was a lot to prioritize. It’s a good problem to have, when you have too much stuff.
CV: How much input do you have in the layout of each page with which image you’ll use and knowing how much text you’ll need.
TROY: It’s a collaborative process with my editors, Jeff Youngquist and Sarah Brunstad out in New York. What I’ll do when I write the manuscript, I’ll call out certain images I’m writing about specifically. If I’m talking about the HYDRA rooftop that Bobbi and Simmons jumps off of, I’ll call and say, “I have a photo of this and I have an overhead bird’s eye art department view of it.” I’ll put those file names in for them to tell them which images to show to connect the dots to what I’m talking about. That way they can punctuate it in the book with the visual. Then it becomes a back and forth process from there. They’ll do a first layout pass and send some stuff to myself and the show. Everybody gives their feedback. They’ll find images they feel are worthy of big splash pages or two-page spreads. Then I’ll write another caption for it.
In terms of the design, I don’t have a lot of input because they have such awesome designers. Whatever feedback I could give them is probably lesser than what they would do on their own. The only thing I can claim credit for is on the Season One book, I really loved the design for the Level 7 Classified binders. I had said, “It’d be really cool if you pull the book out of the slipcase and it looks like one of those folders that Coulson is always carrying around. So that, I can take a slice of credit for but not all of it.
CV: What’s your favorite thing about working on these books?
TROY: Oh man, there’s so many things. I would be remiss if I didn’t say it was getting to work with this cast and crew. There’s so many cynical and jaded people in Hollywood and I know you hear a lot of sets say, “Oh we’re all friends and we all hang out after.” With Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., everyone is the nicest, sweetest, most accommodating person. From Maurissa and Jed down to the Second PA who still knows you by name and says hello to you every morning. Everyone is just so friendly. For me, it’s a blessing for writing a book like this because everybody gives you such great access. Everyone wants to be involved and participate. They’ll call you or email you and say, “Oh we’re doing this and we should talk about it for the book.” They’re really enthusiastic about it, which I love. The professional side of me loves that aspect of it.
The fanboy in me loves that I get to observe this universe on a weekly basis and basically get paid to be a fan of the show, dissect it and do all the stuff we do on forums, Twitter, and social networking. We have that conversation but actually pour over it and have an open dialogue with the creators of this material. To me, as a fan, that’s the most rewarding and favorite part because in high school I had a fan site that I ran. We poured over episodes of animated series. As a DVD producer, I went through every season of The X-Files and picked out all the times there was black oil or the alien showed up and started tracking it all. It was all sort of good training for this moment.
CV: Will you be working on a Season Three Declassified book?
TROY: Yes. Yes, we are working on a Season Three book right now. They’ve started production as well so it’s been a lot of fun seeing what’s coming down for the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season Two Declassified is now available. Season Three premieres on September 29, on ABC at 9 p.m. ET/PT. You can follow Troy on Twitter at @TroyStillPlays.