jacksonpublick (jacksonpublick) wrote,

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It's That Time Again...

Bad news first: The release date for The Venture Bros. Season One DVD has been postponed. Not sure of the exact date yet, but it will be out around the time of the second season's premiere (but still before it), that they might better cross-promote one another. Apologies for the unintentional misinformation in previous journal entries, and to those who've expressed a real eagerness to get their hands on a copy.

Good news: In what I suppose is fast becoming an annual holiday tradition for us, we've once again teamed up with IGN/Filmforce and concocted another aural stocking stuffer for you all to enjoy (and cringe at when The Monarch hits--or doesn't hit--the high notes). Merry Christmas, everyone...

Production-wise, Doc and I are currently writing the season finale. Bafflingly enough, as soon as we finish it we have to write the season's second to last episode. We're all crazy behind schedule and stuff and everyone's working their asses off and freaking out about the potential subway strike, but we shall overcome...

Well, Adult Swim will be airing the Venture Bros. pilot this Christmas. Which is weird for me, since it's so old and the show has grown so much since then (both in season one, the proof of which you've already seen, and in the upcoming season). But it certainly has its charms--some interesting Flash trickery, especially with respect to camera moves and stuff (thanks mostly to the ingenuity of Mike Foran); some dynamic shots (courtesy of Bill Presing's storyboards); and a really sharp background style (a combination of Nash and Marina Dunnigan's fine efforts).

Since the pilot was produced in the fall of 2002 and originally aired in February of 2003, I hadn't even heard of Livejournal yet (if it even existed), so I've never done a production journal for it.

So here goes (skip ahead if you get bored...there are pretty pictures at the bottom):

The first draft of the pilot was written in spring 2000 in a four night spurt of creative energy. At the time I spent my days as a storyboard artist for Mo Willems's "Sheep in the Big City" at Curious Pictures. For about a month I had been meeting sporadically with some executives at Comedy Central to pitch an animated series based on a comic strip I did back in college ("Uncle Nature") with my friend Ralph Vincelli. I was also co-publishing the Monkeysuit anthologies with my friends and had been noodling around with The Venture Bros. as a potential comic book story for our next issue, having gathered notes and sketches for the characters for a couple of years running. 'Round about the time Comedy Central was getting ready to say "thanks but no thanks" to my pitch, I was realizing that my Venture Bros. notes were too extensive to fit in a short comic story--so I gathered them up one night, sat down on my bed, opened my laptop, and started typing some of the dialogue and scenarios into a screenwriting program. I had the first eight pages of the pilot script within a few hours, and went to bed happy. The next day was the last meeting with Comedy Central, which they ended by asking me if I had "anything else." I told them I did, that it was better than what I'd been pitching them all along, and that I needed the rest of the week to finish it. I was feeling pretty proud of myself and pretty good about my chances of getting Venture Bros. picked up, but the following Monday came, I handed them my script, and they politely turned it down.

Later that summer, The Tick got picked up as a live action television series, and I was off to the figurative Hollywood (actually Culver City and Venice Beach) to work on that. Through that I got an agent, and through the agent I got another bite at Venture Bros.--this time from an animation studio known for its claymation, who wanted to launch a CG division with an adult animated comedy--namely, The Venture Bros. Long story short, there were shakeups in the company that year, executives came and went--mostly the ones I was dealing with--the company decided a half hour weekly CG show would be prohibitively expensive, and Venture Bros. was homeless once again. Then The Tick got canceled, and after a prolonged and demeaning bout with unemployment, I was ready to move back to New York. But before I did, I decided to take out the old Venture Bros. script and give it another look, since it had been making the rounds as one of my writing samples and I hadn't bothered to give it another draft in over a year. Well, it needed some work. It was a little rough around the edges...and, well...after 9/11 the Arab joke definitely had to go. It also needed better packaging. So I spent my last month in L.A. rewriting the script and doing dozens of illustrations. Hundreds of dollars and many trips to Kinkos later (as well as many panicked midnight calls to Doc Hammer for Photoshop and printing advice) I had my pitch package ready. But who to send it to? I tried Comedy Central, in hopes that there wasn't much inter-office communication between their L.A. and N.Y. headquarters, or that personnel changes might bring executives into their fold who were more favorable to my little project, but no dice. They turned it down again. On the plus side, in preparing for my meeting with them I had contacted Jeff Nodelman, who started up Noodlesoup in New York with a bunch of my Monkeysuit friends, and had been assured that the show could be done attractively and on the cheap at their studio.

Then my friend Eli told me about Adult Swim. Apparently, Cartoon Network had started airing some pretty weird, grown up stuff late at night. Before hearing about this, I had never considered pitching Cartoon Network because I didn't want to tone The Venture Bros. down, but now...

I dug up an old phone number for Linda Simensky, who was then in development at CN. I asked her if I could send along my pitch, she said yes, and when I got back to New York I did just that. I also moved into a strange little workspace on the Lower East Side with the unlikely name of Astrobase--Go! Two weeks later Linda called me back and through the magic of lucky timing (they had already greenlit two of the three pilots they budgeted for that year and were searching for a third) and I suppose a convincing pitch package, the Venture Bros. pilot was a go.

Of course, there were months of contract negotiations and stuff like that. And their broadcast standards were a little more stringent in those pre-Family Guy days, so I got a list of minor changes I had to make. But we were greenlit with no development hassles and no major alterations to the script. We were to begin production in September...

...and then two weeks before we began work, Lazzo called. And scared the crap out of me. He wasn't sure if the show warranted a half hour time slot and had some issues with the second act of the script. Ultimately he was wrong about the former and absolutely right about the latter--I changed the script for the better (most of the ninja scenes were added at this point) and we were off and running.

One of the astounding things about the pilot was how many things went my way while we were producing it. Right out of the gate I got just about everything I wanted: Cartoon Network to let me produce it in New York (I had no interest in returning to L.A.), and at Noodlesoup, with my friends. I got James Urbaniak, who I had seen in a friend's performance art/comedy show years earlier and never forgotten. I got Patrick Warburton, who was born to play Brock even though I didn't know who he was when I made Brock up and, oddly enough, never connected with the chraracter the whole time we were filming The Tick. I got to fly my friend Eli in from California to do layout. And I got...J.G. Thirlwell.

Waaaaay back in 1998 or so, when I was still playing around with The Venture Bros. as a short comic book story, a friend of mine lent me his copy of Steroid Maximus's first album. The minute I heard it, it was like I was hearing the soundtrack to this comic story of mine, and indeed it was hearing that music that first conjured moving images of the characters in my head. I saw the whole title sequence play out. When it came time to find a composer for the pilot, I tracked J.G. down, and to my delight learned that he was not just the man behind Steroid Maximus, but behind Foetus as well. And better still, after a six year hiatus, he was just then releasing a brand new Steroid Maximus album which was even better than the first! He was too busy with a project at the time to do an original score for the pilot but was gracious enough to license us music from three of his albums, and in some cases prepare new edits and mixes of some of the songs. It really was an unbelievable moment of kismet for me, and the pilot sounded like no other cartoon in the world. You can imagine how happy I was to hear he was free to score season one from the ground up...and I continue to be so as he begins his work on season two.

The production was hard, but a ton of fun. I had never directed anything before, or had one of my own personal creations get animated. For years I'd watched so many scripts and storyboards of mine get destroyed as they passed through the grinding wheel of other productions that it was a thrill to get in there and finally have control over the way my ideas were presented. And I couldn't have asked for a more talented team of artists and animators to help me realize those ideas--many of them still work on the show now, two seasons later. They turned a VERY low budget pilot (and indeed, a lower budget series) into a tiny gem of style and substance.

Though Doc didn't work on the pilot initially, he was well apprised of its progress as we'd been sharing a studio for over a year by the time it was finished. His band was on tour most of the time we were in production but the minute he got back to New York he began doing the post-production for it. He not only crafted what I consider to be the best opening title sequence of any cartoon out there, but also edited the film and took on the monumental task of editing all of J.G.'s music to fit the picture. It was during this process we began the first of many casual, impromptu discussions that would create the material which would eventually fuel the engine of season one's episodes. And I will never forget the last few days of editing. Noodlesoup had already booked a club for our grand pilot premiere party so we had a hard deadline looming. I got a wicked stomach flu--the spraying hot liquid spastically out of every hole in your body kind of stomach flu--and drifted in and out of consciousness while Doc did his work those last two days. By the time of the party, I was all better but of course Doc had caught the flu from me, so, sadly, he couldn't attend. Which was the only bummer of an otherwise great night I'll probably never forget.

Seeing the pilot again (and we recently watched it for the first time in two years so we could do commentary for the DVD) is a lot like seeing an old girlfriend. You recognize every inch of her, you know at one point in time you were deeply involved with her, and yet you have no connection to her whatsoever, save for a tiny bit of inexplicable embarrassment in her presence, mixed with a tiny bit of pride because, hey--she's not half bad looking.

Content-wise, there are plenty of differences between it and the series, but, amazingly, a lot of stuff is the same. Though the background style is more painterly, the characters look and sound a little different and the boys are quite underdeveloped, the key elements are all there. Dr. Venture, Brock, the boys, The Monarch, Dr. Girlfriend--even White, Billy, Prof. Impossible and Doc's womb nightmares make appearances. Time, experience, personal growth and the unmistakable touch of Doc Hammer's collaborative input have changed the show immeasurably.

Before I go, as if you could possibly still be reading this at this point, as promised, here are some more sneak peeks at the increasingly colorful world of the Ventures...

The Venture living room...

...and Dr. Venture's laboratory...

We love you,

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