Jan 25 2013

Dreams Do Come True

Am I in a coma? I seem to have gone over the rainbow into a magical land where…

1. More Star Wars movies are being made.

2. Michael Arndt is writing one.

3. Lawrence Kasdan is writing one.

4. J.J. Abrams is directing one.

Five years ago, I would have thought these were from a ridiculous wish list I wrote in my Trapper Keeper. It’s like my home football team hasn’t won a game in 20 years and now we’re going to the Superbowl.

See? I’m so out of my mind that I made a SPORTS metaphor.

May The Force continue to be with us!


Jan 2 2013

The Horizon Just Around The Corner

Hey, long time no blog. This is probably because I love the immediacy of Twitter for my immediate musings. I save this space for the more significant updates. The irritating thing about this business is that so many times I share info about projects too early — just when I think that a project is a certainty, it evaporates out from under me (please refer to the last three years of my life on “Fraggle Rock”). But recently several things have percolated enough that they are worth talking about here. And as 2013 begins, sharing them makes me feel all optimistic and full of hope and stuff.

FROG AND TOAD – Many of you have been asking about the status of this film since it was announced in the trades. Craig Bartlett has written a very funny script that I am attached to direct for the Jim Henson Company. We are several drafts in, and recently completed a “round table” punch-up session that involved a handful of funny writers that Henson pulled together. They’ve taken the comedy to the next level with new material, and we are carving that down into a new draft. This will accompany some early concept art and Henson will use that to seek out a larger studio and financial partner. This next step will move us to production — that could take a month or it could take a year.

The tone is a really unique one, a kind of tone I haven’t seen in an animated film. We started with the premise of taking the kids books we all loved and aging them up a bit to become a Hope & Crosby “Road Movie” with frogs. The banter is similar to the kind I am hearing on shows like “New Girl,” “Parks & Recreation,” “Ben & Kate” and the best of the Apatow movies. This gives it a contemporary feel, while the world will stay very true to the books with an almost vintage aesthetic. Still charming and “old fashioned,” but very funny and relevant. And we’re going to make sure it has a lot of physical comedy, with chases right out of the “Wallace & Gromit” shorts.

We’ve just begun to discuss casting, which is very exciting, but at this point we are still in the script stage, working towards a production greenlight.

NEW BOOK – I tweeted about this a few days ago. I’m very excited to have finished a seventeen-chapter Young Adult adventure novel. This was something I picked up and put down for the past five years and now I’ve finally finished the sucker. It was very “recreational writing” for me. I took everything I loved as a ten year old boy and put it in one book: zepplins, harpoon guns, jet packs, volcanoes and Russian submarine captains. It centers around my ultimate adventure character, who is Doctor Who, Willy Wonka and Mary Poppins rolled into one, surviving “Indiana Jones”-sized cliffhangers. Fun, fun, fun. I’m doing a final edit of the book now, and then sending it out to publishers. If anyone likes it, I have a whole series of books planned for the character. I can’t tell you any more, but I will when I can!

KROGZILLA 2 – Many of you have asked about this and… I got nothin.’ Well, almost nothin.’ What I can report is that my summer web series “KROGZILLA GETS A JOB” was one of the most popular on the “Shut Up! Cartoons” channel, it’s been nominated for a Web Academy Award, and its channel is the #1 most profitable channel of all YouTube-funded channels. Number one! So that all bodes well for a second season. I am told that the execs at “Shut Up! Cartoons” are discussing the new year of content soon, so I am hopeful that Krogzilla will live on with new episodes. It’s not up to me, but I’ll let you know when I know.

VEGGIE TALES – I wrote two episodes for Bob & Larry last year, and now there are some very interesting developments in the land of talking vegetables. Dreamworks just bought Classic Media… which owns Big Idea… which makes Veggie Tales. Follow me? So now Dreamworks owns Veggie Tales! Crazy. And even crazier was how Dreamworks called me up to write the new episode, due for Christmas next year. I’ve been talking to DWA execs about lots of different projects, so they were surprised when my name popped up on their radar as a potential writer for the next Veggie installment.

We have landed on a very funny, thrill-packed story and I am currently working on the script (seriously… I should be writing on it right now instead of this blog). Big Idea and Dreamworks anticipate production beginning immediately.

After days of story sessions at DWA, I am happy to report that the Christian message is not being watered down with them involved. On the contrary, it is being encouraged. The Christmas episode will be just as Jesus-centered as ever, and it will be part of a major campaign to highlight the Veggie’s 20th anniversary this year. No pressure… maybe I should stop blogging and get back to that draft.

OH YEAH – And a film I wrote a few years ago called “ESCAPE FROM PLANET EARTH” in finally hitting theaters this February! I haven’t seen the final product, but the trailer looks pretty awesome. You can check it out HERE.

There are many, many more projects I have in development that I can’t share yet… I am notorious for keeping “many pots burning on many stoves”… in many kitchens… all on simmer. Is something burning? I’d better go check. Just know that I’ll report back here if anything else… comes to a boil. I LOVE METAPHORS!!!!

Nov 15 2012

KROGZILLA nominated for Best Animated Web Series

Another nice pat on Krogzilla’s big scaly back: The National Academy of Web Television Awards has just nominated “KROGZILLA GETS A JOB” for “Best Animated Series.” I’m in good company, with only four other entries — one being Tom Hanks’ exec produced “Electric City” and the classic “Red Vs. Blue.” A fellow ShutUp! Cartoons series is also nominated, “Do’s & Don’ts.” That’s TWO series from the same channel, people. A very encouraging nod for our little show, indeed.

Aug 28 2012

More Love for Krogzilla

Thanks for all the comments on YouTube and Krogzilla’s Facebook Page. I’m very happy to report that USATODAY.com picked the series last week as one of their favorites on the web!

And if you ever need a sea monster fix, please visit the Facebook page. I’ve just posted a ton of FAN ART, some Behind the Scenes pics and early Design Sketches. And as always, Krogzilla has stuff to say on Twitter.

Viva la season two!

Aug 22 2012

KZ Commetary: Episode 10, “Deconstruction”

At long last, here I am to wrap up the series and talk about the final episode in this run, aptly titled Deconstruction.” It was always my goal to end Krogzilla’s job-hunting arc but to also, you know, SAY something. This series started out as a funny premise, but as I wrote the scripts I realized it was about something more. Lots of us have gone through some soul-crushing “downsizing” over the last few years. I know many, many very successful people who suddenly had to re-invent themselves again, and even switch careers. That’s what Krogzilla is really a metaphor for: those of us who have been “200 feet tall,” unstoppable and at the top of our game, only to suddenly find ourselves fighting for the lowest position. I’ve heard from some of you and I know you relate. So when it came time to finish up Krog’s storyline, I wanted to take a risk… I wanted to play less to jokes and more to sentiment. In short, my target was the tone of a Wes Anderson movie; melancholy yet hopeful, emotional yet funny, and never getting too sappy while trying to say something deeply true.

From the moment I put Krogzilla on the job hunt, the inevitable question I had to ask is, “where does he end up? What would make him happy?” And it seemed like the answer was a positive spin on tearing down buildings. The workers who have to destroy a building before putting up the new one is an interesting and ironic profession, and ideal for our hero. There’s so much to say with it! It was also very important to me to not reveal what job Krog was interviewing for, at least not right away.

By making the boss a very sage-like mentor, I could also get away with a lot of “nail-on-the-head” message statements. The foreman’s voice was performed by Joel McCrary, who was just perfect. Joel has played many “salt-of-the-earth” blue collar and dad types, and he knew just how much gravitas to give this guy without going too far over the top. And many of you caught the fact that this very same character was the FIRST PERSON Krogzilla encountered in Episode 1 — the first guy he meets ends up being the guy with the answers at the end. I’d like to say I planned that, but it was one of those happy accidents created by budget constraints. As I tried to lower the number of characters to be created, I combined this foreman character with the gardener from Episode 1. I figured that in this world, they could conceivably be the same guy. Now it’s so perfect, but I never would have done it on purpose. It makes the foreman that much more sage-like!

Hats off to Ryan and his team at Silly Monster Media. They put a lot of extra time into our final show. We all wanted to “finish strong,” and make it one of the best episodes. The backgrounds have more color and detail, there are more props and some animated bulldozers thrown in there, and most of the episode is led by an original song.

Let me talk about that for a minute, because it still amazes me. Nick Flora is an independent musician in Nashville who I’ve gotten to know over the last couple years. I love his music and the tone of his stuff seemed ideal for that “Wes Anderson” vibe I wanted to achieve. It also doesn’t hurt that one of Nick’s favorite movies is “Rushmore.” I asked for him to write something in that zone, but it also needed lyrics that referenced both elements of monster movies and the experience of finding a new place in life. In about two weeks, he sent me the song CREATURES (GETTING CLOSER),” and it was exactly what I was hoping for. Just a magical little song that nailed it. I couldn’t be happier with it. I’m very proud of what it says and the emotion it evokes as we see Krogzilla happily working in the rubble. You can hear the full song and purchase it on iTunes HERE.

For the final scene, it was important to revisit Marcus and see that he and Krog will continue to be friends. And of course, I needed one more appearance from Jeff. I like pulling a little at the heartstrings and then popping that balloon with a laugh… just before it gets too sentimental. I think we got there.

I’ve had such a great time making this web series, but the other extremely gratifying thing has been the response from the audience. Web-based content is so interactive, I could read viewers’ thoughts on an episode within MINUTES of posting it. I’ve found that those on the Facebook page are much kinder and invested than the YouTube Commenters. The first is like someone stopping by your house to visit and the second is more like a random stranger walking past your house and shouting stuff at you from the street. As I finished this last episode, I knew it was a risk. I’m very aware of ShutUp! Cartoons’ demographic. Most of them would rather see hot chicks and ninjas beheading each other or a fart joke followed by a nice explosion. I get it. Most of the shows are designed for fast laughs and short attention spans. And here I come with my talky thing filled with awkward pauses, long-form character development and absolutely NO beheadings. I mean, I made a show about a monster who never eats anyone or really does anything monstrous! I felt like I could maintain that if there was enough comedy between the characters. But now I was going to do something a little softer at the end, mostly set to music. I was a bit nervous. I had no idea how the main audience would react! I could almost see the YouTube comments: “Boooooring. FAIL. Where R tha jokes??”

But the audience seemed to like it. The Thursday that it posted, I was between meetings and settled down at a Starbucks to read the reactions. An hour after the episode posted, I was seeing some of the nicest comments I’ve ever gotten. Stuff like, “So glad Krog found his purpose!,” “Emotional and fulfilling,” “Aw, that almost made me cry,” and “What a satisfying conclusion. He’s really happy.”

There I am, sitting in a Starbucks, teary-eyed. Not only did they like it, they GOT it. There was a connection made between the art and the audience. And not only that, I felt like my risk had paid off. I had trusted my audience with a little more complexity and they were gladly receptive. That’s ultimately the best I could’ve hoped for. Thanks, guys.

Many of you are concerned that, with a title like “KROGZILLA GETS A JOB,” there can be no second season. Krogzilla HAS a job, so what’s left? Lots. I titled the show “–GETS A JOB” for a reason. The show is designed to evolve with each season. So the next batch of episodes will follow a new facet of the monster’s life, and the title will reflect that. It might be retitled “Krogzilla Goes to College” or “Krogzilla Gets A Date.” Not sure yet. Marcus does say that he’s thinking of going back to school… I wanted to lay down those breadcrumbs for the future.

What is the future of Krogzilla? That’s up to Shut Up! Cartoons… and you. If you love the series, tweet, Facebook and comment to the folks at Shut Up! Cartoons and tell them you like it! I’d love to do more, and to see where the big green guy ends up next.

Aug 3 2012

KZ Commentary: Episode 9, “Price Bombers”

Ah, the mega-everything store PRICE BOMBERS.” At least that’s what I decided to call it so I didn’t get sued by Target. But Target is the new Walmart… which was the new K-Mart. My family and I all go to Target now like it’s the town square. We stay there all afternoon, and get everything from groceries to clothing to car supplies. It’s weirdly inclusive. And it seemed like the perfect place for Krogzilla to work.

This is one of my favorite episodes because there are so many new characters here and so much happens. First there’s the uptight manager Darren, who is played with extreme effeminate fussiness by Josh Greene. It’s a big shout-out to Dean Pelton on “Community,” which is one of my favorite characters on one of my favorite shows. I love Darren’s opening speech, and ooooh was Josh chomping at the bit to do it. Super-duper high maintenance and “always gets Krogzilla confused” with some guy named Jeremy? Let that sink in and let’s all feel sorry for Jeremy for a moment. Many of you fans will also recognize the re-use of character design here: Darren looks suspiciously like the executive from the architectural firm in episode 4. Amazing what some re-coloring and a new voice does, right?

The “Zombie Girls” are another couple of characters that I KNEW I wanted to put somewhere in this series… because they are based on two real girls. Oh yes. I have Karen Whipple  to thank for this, since she is the one that encountered them in a Party City. As Karen tells it, she overheard two teenage girls talking exactly like this as they checked out the zombie masks in the Halloween section. They seemed to be obsessed with being zombie-SOMETHINGS for a party coming up. They just couldn’t decide if they should be zombie cheerleaders, zombie nurses, zombie hookers, or just slutty zombie girls in short skirts. When Karen told me about these chicks and did the voice, I had to make them shoppers in this mainstream store. My wife Vicki got seriously valley as the second zombie girl. I wish I’d had more time to explore the strange, bent minds of these two, but the brief exchange at the T-Shirt rack is all I had time for.

The girls also paved the way for a payoff with the “Taco Salad” reference. I must explain and give a shout-out to actor David Storrs. He used to do an improv character who would mumble about taco salad, simply because Dave thought it was funny to say. He’s right. When you say it over and over again, “taco salad” starts to sound increasingly goofy. And the way Darren says it, I guess he’s from Minnesota.

Then we come to THE RETURN OF REGURGITOR! Yes, fans, I agree. Get this guy his own series, because he’s super funny. Ken Marino returns again and brings more of his signature smugness. The magic improv moment in this scene was when Krogzilla asks if Regurgitor wants to “take another shot, or do you wanna call in your stunt man??” Ken, the master of turning things back on the other guy, came up with the brilliant 180: “You… you wanna beat up my stunt man?” There were a lot of great alternates that I wish I had time for: “You mean Hank? He’s not working right now. He’s with his family on vacation. I guess I could call him up, maybe you guys can get together. What do you have against Hank?” On and on, more and more uncomfortable for poor Krog. And I loved it.

This episode also ends with a wonderful cacophony of the little boy, the monsters fighting, and the Zombie Girls mumbling. It’s a jumble of sounds that bring out several funny moments, depending on who you’re listening to. Personally, I want a Regurgitor T-Shirt with his final line on it: “I make myself throw up and I make a lot of money doing it!”

Okay, you K-Z, Kro Zo fans… we’re winding down. The last hurrah is already online, so check out the final EPISODE 10 and I’d love to hear what you think. I’ll have my final thoughts soon.

Jul 25 2012

Krogzilla featured in Variety

Kind cool…

Googling for giggles – Entertainment News, Just For Laughs, Media – Variety

Jul 23 2012

KZ Commentary: Episode 8, “The Sub”

I’ve had a lot of friends make ends meet as a substitute teacher, so I thought this would be an obvious job to tackle. I’ve also heard that there are not a lot of requirements to become a sub. I like the idea of a character who barely understands human culture having to educate some humans. Honestly, I’ve had teachers who barely spoke English who were teaching me American History, so it didn’t seem like too far of a stretch. The major drawback for the classroom scene was that I could not cut to a room full of kids reacting and talking to Krog as I originally intended. This was budget-driven again, and so we only show a lot of “tops of heads” as we did with the birthday party episode. I have to admit, it took some of the fun out of the script — I envisioned a lot of funny reactions that I just couldn’t get. And without anyone else to cut to, it made the entire scene very challenging to direct and to keep interesting.

I had pressure from the guys at Smosh.com to make sure the show wasn’t getting “too talky,” and here I had my most “talky” scene ever! In the middle of production, I just asked my animators to look for ANY opportunity to lay in visual sight gags and activity in the classroom. The most economical additions seemed to be paper airplanes and spitwads (I thought the airplanes were a nice subtle nod to Krog’s past). And then the animators added one of the biggest laughs in the first scene by adding the, ahem, chart of the male reproductive system that Krog pulls down accidentally. That was all from the animators. And it laid in a good joke.

The rest of Krog’s speech (about what coasts he prefers to destroy) fell a bit flat, I have to admit. Not sure where the comedy got lost, but I have to cop to this — it doesn’t have the more lively jokes or banter of other episodes. Perhaps it’s because Krogzilla ended up having no one to really banter with. Which is why the next scene in the break room perks everyone up and plays so nicely by contrast.

In the break room, we meet Alan, an Asian American teacher played by Jason Gerali (who also bullied “Mucus Marcus” in episode 5). Alan triggers some of Krogzilla’s worst racially-awkward missteps — the kind of conversational trainwrecks I loved from Ricky Gervais in the original episodes of “The Office.” Krogzilla just digs himself deeper and deeper by acknowledging the painful connection between giant monsters and Japanese people. Then Jeff the Barnacle pops up to make things even worse! Shout out to MY old stomping grounds of TULSA here. The “Jeff Lance” joke at the end was pure ad-lib and I love it.

Vanessa Ragland plays another character for me here, the Vice Principal. She was supposed to be a new onscreen character, but fell victim to the continuing pressure to lower character count and save money. So Vanessa’s voice was reduced to an intercom box, which could conceivably happen in a school. And who knows, maybe her delightful voice as she fires Krogzilla is all the funnier as it comes from an impersonal box.

One more bit of trivia: Smosh had very few requirements for me regarding content. Some were obvious (no R-rated swears, no nudity, no drug use), but they also wanted no smoking or even any references to smoking. My little wink at this is Alan coming into the break room to tell Krog just that: “You can’t smoke in here.” Then we get one more sight gag from our main monster: smoke pours from his nostrils when he drinks too much coffee. Good to know.

We’re coming to the end of the series’ run, and I’m sad! But the next two episodes are some of my favorites. I’m happy to report that next week is chock FULL of new characters, and the return of an old nemesis (cough-cough-lava vomit!!-cough).

Jul 17 2012

KZ Commentary: Episode 7, “Pet Store”

Ah, what could be more ironic than a huge beast trying to work in a pet store? In this show, Krogzilla is really pulled in a lot of directions. On one hand, he’s completely sympathetic to the caged reptiles, calling them “slaves” to the humans. On the other hand, he sees a lot of the animals as part of a big buffet line. I’ll be honest, Krogzilla’s appetite for cats is a bit of an homage to ALF. Y’know, “Alf?” The 80′s puppet sitcom? Alien living with a family? Okay, super old reference.

I enjoyed writing this episode which was a bit of a departure from the format. In this one, Krog and Marcus don’t even GET the job. They’re just trying to apply and they really blow it. I liked bringing Marcus back into the show here (and a lot of you seem to like him too — thanks). This creates some “buddy movie” banter between the two — Krog giving in to his inappropriate monster instincts, and Marcus trying to cover for him. And the pet store manager is completely humorless. She ain’t havin’ it!

I wrote this part with my sister Katie Hooten in mind. Katie is the next Tina Fey. Her observations and deadpan delivery always strike me funny. I thought, “If anyone needs to shoot down these two guys, it’s Katie.” Katie has done a ton of work behind the camera as a producer, and is now making her way in the industry as a screenwriter. It was fun to put her behind the mic and get her to perform again. I’m still playing with a rule I’ve created for this show that no one is really amazed that Krog is a monster. They’re more irritated by it… as if monsters are a new kind of minority or social class that we are all getting used to.

This episode has two punchlines to it. One is the traditional “button,” where Krog’s appetite finally gets the best of him and he eats a whole cage of parakeets. Then I go into a bit of an epilogue outside the store. And this scene gets weirder and weirder. I really enjoy the loose and improvisational argument that Josh Greene and I have as we exit the store. Then the most awkward and creepy character in the series appears — a delivery guy played by Ken Marino. A lot of these lines were improvised, taken much farther than I wrote, and we found some pretty funny stuff. WHAT is this guy into? Why does he want Krog as his pet… or as his photography model? Why is he so into reptiles in an almost fetishistic way? I don’t want to know. But it made me laugh.

A little trivia: Ken’s character was originally written to be a skinny GOTH guy, with emo hair, eye makeup and studded collar. I think the voice was even recorded with that in mind. But the animators let me know early on that I had written way to many characters for the budget… like TWICE as many. It takes time to build each of these characters in Flash Animation and time equals money. The solution is something that many of you have picked up on. I created several “types” that would have interchangeable hair, mustaches, skin coloring and wardrobe accessories. Thus, the delivery guy bears a striking resemblance to Vince the Big Dogs manager… or the mall security guard. And you may notice that SHIRLEY the pet store manager is the exact same type as LOLA the pink-haired bully from Episode 5. I’m kind of proud of that design. With color changes alone, I took the exact same character design from punk rock hoodlum to conservative African American in a business skirt! Ta-da! It’s all in the color styling, folks.

You’ll see these character double-ups throughout the series. I was still able to choose my battles and create specific, unique stand-alone characters when I really felt I needed them. I hope the reused character designs don’t affect the feel of a city FULL of characters, which is what I wanted. Think of it like the Muppets… a lot of those guys were the same shape with different noses, right?

I keep waiting for animal lovers to speak out against this one, but I guess we ALL eat birds, don’t we? Next week, Krog not only tries to fit in with humans… he is given the job of educating them. Or… not educating them, as the case may be.

Jul 11 2012

KZ Commentary: Episode 6, “Party Marty”

In this episode, Krogzilla has a demeaning job that I and many, many of my friends have had: the job of entertaining at children’s birthday parties. Now I’ve never personally had to put on the costume of a TV character, but I thought that situation had the most comedic “juice” to it. What’s weirder than a monster putting on another monster suit? It’s always fun for me to create the “world within the world,” and by that I mean creating fake products and shows within the world I’m already creating in. When a character in a TV show sits down to watch a TV show, what do they watch? For this birthday party character, I thought clowns and Barney were much too played out. Same with Dora or Sesame Street characters. My kids recently became hooked on “Yo Gabba Gabba” like it was crack cocaine, and I love the zany color schemes and designs of that show. So Party Marty comes from a similar type of program.

And I love the ring of that name: “Party Marty.” I can’t believe there isn’t a TV character with that name already. I wish I could print up T-Shirts.

Yes, the episode starts kind of dark with Marcus and Krogzilla talking about how “those animals in there” are going to watch Krogzilla “defiling himself.” But younger kids have no idea what that dialogue is about and it always provokes muffled, forbidden laughter from the adults. Honestly, if you’ve ever had to earn money by dancing around for a crowd of kids, you know it can be an endurance test.

The best part of this show was that I got my kids involved. Both of my boys are very young, but they love performing and learning how a project is put together. My five year-old Elliot has already shot and edited his own movie! Getting them both in the recording studio to say the right lines was a bigger problem. Nathaniel (two years old) was the real diva. He wouldn’t say a thing until I brought Josh Greene’s little dog into the booth. Oh sure, then Nathaniel would say the lines to HIM. Another kid performer was my niece Eva. She’s been performing and speaking publicly for much of her young life, so she not only played the sassy little girl in this show, but she also voiced the girl in the movie theater (episode 5). (Trivia fact for all you “Hoodwinked” buffs, the song “Eva Deanna” on the soundtrack is about HER!) I love real kids’ voices. There’s nothing like seeing a character that has been animated to an unpolished, real kid’s voice. It makes it funnier too (such as Nathaniel barking “Do da dance!”).

Episode 6 also marks the first performance on the show from my wife Vicki. She does a great sing-songy mom in this one. I also made her scream a lot, which she was not crazy about.

I had so many ideas for this show, but budget kept me hemmed in a bit. I wanted Krogzilla to leap into a bounce house, then hear it POP and deflate. Too much for our animation schedule. I also wanted some crazier destruction with a pinata and a table of presents. But you have to choose your battles. There’s another sight gag in this one that I credit the animators with — during Krogzilla’s rapid-fire balloon animal session. A certain phallic balloon sculpture appears that COULD be a sword or… a horrible mistake at a kids’ party. Wow, did the YouTube commenters pick up on THAT one. Hmmm, maybe 100 comments on that moment alone? I GET it that you get it, guys. Glad you saw it. Glad it made you LOL and OMG so much, for Pete’s sake.

Krogzilla’s next horrible job adventure is right around the corner, and it has plenty of creepy, uncomfortable moments. And kitties.

another site by