I’m extremely proud of my brother’s recent work and you need to see it. It’s time for STRATOSPHERIC, the new video from STORY OF THE RUNNING WOLF!
Let’s just say it’s been a long time since both Jareth from “Labyrinth” and Falcor the Luck Dragon were in the same video. Okay, like never. I’ve loved this band for a while now and they are one of the few groups boldly bringing electronic dance music back. This is more than just images put to music. This is a full-on short film, the kind that Michael Jackson used to do for a song (remember those days?). The video was completely conceived and produced by Director Todd Edwards and Producers Katie Hooten and Tim Hooten for Hardy Howl Films.
Another reason I love this video so much (apart from knowing a lot of people in it) is that it does something that music videos rarely do nowadays: it tells a story. Not only that, the story and the images perfectly fit the lyrics and the mood of the song. And the story beats change with the changes in the music. It’s not easy to do that.
Funny, touching, groovy, ironic, epic and full of nostalgia. And you’ll never look at cats or space-time portals the same way again.
Hey youse guys. Lots of stuff going on in my world but I must wait to announce some things. Rest assured that this blog is going to get a lot more interesting soon.
Until then, I can tell you that part of my job is to take MEETINGS. Lots and lots of meetings! Meetings where people tell me that they are “interested” in working with me. Meetings where studio execs just want to “reach out” and “catch up” and “connect” with what I’m up to. I take at least 50 meetings a year, I’d say. Sadly, very few of these meetings are the kind where someone says “We’ll buy it!” or “You’re hired!” and immediately write a check.
What everyone in Hollywood wants is your “next big thing.” They want “the best thing you have.” Or at least that’s what they say. But that’s not true. In my experience — and I’m trying not to be cynical here — what Hollywood really wants is the safest, easiest, cheapest pile of ingredients that will yield the most money. If those ingredients include me or my idea, it’s a win-win. I wish I could tell my younger self from ten years ago that nobody is waiting for my brand new, never heard-of original idea. Not all by itself. They need some “KNOWNS” to prop it up. If that means a big actor who’s interested or a comic book that’s selling or a toy line that the studio already owns, then my idea on top of that might just get the exec to nod their head “yes.”
This is all on my mind because in meeting #456 a few weeks ago, I meant with a very active animation company backed by very successful producers. They liked “Hoodwinked” and “Krogzilla” and some other scripts I’ve written and wanted to know “what I was up to next.” They are looking for movies to make. They pay for scripts. Great! I pitched a few of my ideas to them — two that I am most passionate about. Two ideas that I think would make more than just great movies — they could launch franchises. But here’s where that pesky problem of “not enough easy ingredients” comes in. They were original ideas, not based on pre-existing product. Even worse, they were about worlds that had already been explored in animation recently (i.e., no one wants to hear your caveman movie right now. No one.). I ended the meeting with my favorite topic: I asked the producers what THEY are looking for. What haven’t they seen? What genre are they hoping to work in? Maybe I can actually hit a target they have or fill a need if I KNOW WHAT IT IS. That’s when creative people are most successful in this town.
The producer running this particular company simply said, “Bring us your best. We want the best thing you’re most excited about.”
Lots of execs say this. “Bring us your best.” I’d like to tell you all that this is B—S—.
“My best?” First of all, I just pitched the guy “my best,” or at least my definition of my best. It was the thing I was most excited about. But that didn’t matter. There were not enough known, safe, easy ingredients involved. Secondly, a producer’s definition of “my best” is really what THEY like, not what I like. So in my egotistical creative mind, I have now decided that ANYTHING I do will be “my best.” Why not? Anything that I am allowed to create and get paid for is going to be the BEST version of it I can make. I will never give anything less than all of my effort to make THAT particular thing if it has the good fortune to get made. So that’s the good news. It’s ALL “my best.” Because if I worry about my precious, beloved idea getting the thumbs-up from a studio exec, I’m rarely going to get it, and I will feel defeated most of the time.
It’s all good. It’s all my best. You’ve optioned a toy that has no story? I’ll give you my best version of that story. You bought a script that has a terrible third act? I’ll make it into my best version of that script. You’ve always been obsessed with some public domain legend? I’ll give you my best take on that legend. For too long, I’ve made the mistake of hoping Hollywood would just see how wonderful my new ideas were. For most of this town, NEW IDEAS ARE SCARY. These days, my goal is to take their half-ideas and vague interests and upgrade them into something better. I’m handing them back their own thing that they were already interested in. That’s not being cynical or selling out, it’s just figuring out how to make this big dumb machine work for me.
And in time, with enough successes, perhaps the big dumb machine will even see ME as a golden ingredient… and actually listen to one of those fresh, untested ideas. So when someone tells you to “bring your best,” just nod your head and say “okay”… but inside your head, know that anything and everything you do is going to be your best. Even if it has to start as a board game or an 80′s TV show.
Last minute, but I wanted to let you know that if you are in the Los Angeles area, I’m teaching a class for NEXT FILM on directing this Saturday (3/2/13 – tomorrow morning!). It’ll be at the CBS Radford lot from 9 am – Noon. I’ll get into a lot of the details of how I work and what has worked for many successful directors in the past.
Every once in a while, you don’t have to work for press… you just wake up one morning and get a very nice surprise. ShutUp! Cartoons has become YouTube’s most profitable new channel and so VARIETY is highlighting. The pic they chose to run was one from my show. Superfantastic! Let’s hope this is one more reason for ShutUp! Cartoons to do some more with this big lug.
(You may also read under the pic that I am helping to “Serve up laughs, mostly for young men.” Creepy? Yes.)
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.
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!!!!
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.
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.
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.