This week I have a very very special Destructo Deviant treat for my readers. In the past I have traveled all over the place and met some interesting people but none can quite compare to Jackson Publick and Doc Hammer creators/writers of the Venture Brothers. These two creative geniuses have given me inspiration in my own life and have taught me that the “little weird kid” can follow their dreams and be successful. You just have to work hard at what drives you the most in life.
Tell the nice people who you are and what you do.
There’s no such thing, particularly at the Astrobase. When we’re in full production, my day is usually split between World Leaders Entertainment, AstroBase Go!, and the extra bedroom/office in my apartment. I show up at World Leaders at about 11am, having tried to get there by 10. I meet with the producer, the artists, review and revise the work they’ve done, etc. Perhaps I’ll do some sketches for the character/prop designers. Or track down some reference for the background designers. Or put a couple hundred post-its on some storyboards. Usually I’m editing an animatic, too, trying to get the timing right and incorporate revised storyboards. Often I’m there till 8 or 9pm. On a good day, and if I’m writing a script with Doc Hammer, I’ll maybe get out of there a little early and head down to the Astrobase, where we’ll jerk around on the internet a bit, write a bit, order food, discuss plots/jokes, maybe watch a DVD. Sometimes we’ll find stuff in the trash to decorate or furnish the Astrobase with. Other times we’ll play darts, or buckle dozens of plastic belts we found in the trash together and dangle them out the eighth floor window to see if they’ll reach the sidewalk. Then I go home. If I haven’t had dinner yet, I’ll have it. Then I’ll skulk into my office, get on my laptop, and try to write a funny script while I fight my need to sleep. Usually I give up around 4am.
Actual writing? I guess a couple or three weeks. But that’s generally spread out over a month of part-time writing (see above) and owes a lot to the ongoing process of jotting down notes and doodles which, for a given episode, may stretch back as long as a year. A lot of a my scripts are based on notes accumulated during the months of off-time between seasons. Around the eighth episode or so, these have usually been depleted and it’s time to start making crap up as we go, which is both terrifying and exhilarating. Doc and I generally alternate scripts and a new episode is due every two weeks–so we technically have a month to write each of them. Then we screw it up by writing together sometimes, thinking it will make it go faster, but all it’s really doing is cutting down the time we have till the next one is due. Especially when we’re late, which we often are.
What is the process of creating a character?
That’s a tough one. A character can be spawned by joking around one night in a funny voice, a real life person, a play on words or by the needs of a particular plot. Some of them start with a simple idea and then gain layers upon layers of incidental details. Some of them gain new dimensions just through what the voice actor brings to them. Featuring the character in multiple episodes causes them to evolve further as we get deeper into whatever it was we liked about him/her in the first place, but also attempt to round them out and avoid repetition of jokes or concepts. We’re almost always drawing on different aspects of our own personalities with most of these guys, too. Putting words in their mouths that we’ve said or thought. Sometimes we take things from our friends and acquaintances and sort of hyperbolize them. Then they begin to play off of each other. A character will also evolve because of a certain chemistry he or she has with another character that feels natural to write for, or which the plot demands. For example, a character we created this past season called “Dr. Henry Killinger” started as a simple play on words–it just sounded funny to me. But it also naturally led to a riff on the real life Henry Kissinger, whose gurgling, thick accent and low key speech patterns are pretty much the antithesis of the usual cartoon villain. Since Killinger’s whole deal is diplomacy and negotiation, we thought it would be funny to stick someone with that mindset into the world of supervillainy, which is usually more about shooting first and dominating the world later. Playing on the “Dr.” part of his name, we gave him what every supervillain needs–a prop; in this case, a medicine bag with a skull on it. And then, just to mess with the audience’s expectations (and because we were in desperate need of an ending) we turned him around and made him into a sort of benevolent, Mary Poppins-esque character, which isn’t revealed until the end of the story. Another new character, who we haven’t yet explored in any depth, is called Sgt. Hatred. He was created when we took a coffee break one night at a local Starbucks and saw a burly, middle-aged man with a military buzzcut looking at foot fetish porn on his laptop. Somewhere between the buzzcut and his peevish expression, Doc decided to dub him “Sgt. Hatred.” We ended up riffing on this weirdo for the rest of the night and melding this material with a previous night’s riff on an as yet unnamed foil for Dr. Orpheus (probably because we were doing the same voice for him as we had for the unnamed character). So now we have a character with a lot of personality and back story to explore in a future episode, since he only got about three lines in the episode we featured him in. And then there are times when just doodling on a piece of copy paper yields a whole new character, just because I like the looks of him.
How do stereotypes play a role in characters you have created?
They probably play a bigger part than I’d like to admit in how I develop characters. Often stereotypes are a starting point, and then we do our damnedest to subvert or confound that stereotype. Make the meglomaniacal villain neurotic and insecure; show the soft side of the psycho killer; etc. If I write a character and you can figure out his whole deal just by looking at him, then I haven’t really created a character–I’ve done a hack job of milking another stereotype. But stereotypes can be useful, particularly in a half hour, episodic comedy show, in that they’re a sort of shorthand for personality. Playing into or against them can, I suppose, free you of a lot of useless exposition with a brand new character because he already has a certain set of built-in attributes that the audience immediately grasps.
If you had to create a character based on yourself what stereotype would your character fall under?
Neurotic, insecure, hypochondriacal, moody creative type.