DVD sales speak volumes and nobody's listening more closely than Fox. After robust sales in the home market paved the way for a Firefly movie (Serenity) and re-opened production on Family Guy, Futurama -- Matt Groening's and David X. Cohen's beloved sci-fi animated series, unceremoniously canceled in 2003 -- is returning for four new DVD
movies. The show is also reappearing on television: each DVD will be
chopped into four episodes, to be aired on Comedy Central in 2008.
The first DVD, Bender's Big Score (in stores this Tuesday), features
everything Futurama fans should expect from the series: one-liners from
Bender and Zoidberg, an earnest love story between Fry and Leela, a
head-swimmingly intricate time travel plot, and Al Gore's angry head.
Rotten Tomatoes spoke with Dwayne Carey-Hill, director of Bender's Big
Score, and Claudia Katz, producer for Futurama's animation studio,
Rough Draft, on the joys and perils of returning to one of television's
best animated series ever.
After Futurama ended, at what point did it look like it could come back?
Claudia Katz: At
first it felt like it was never ending because it was so inconclusive.
We weren't cancelled but sort of went to a slow fizzle. [But] I think
it was at least three years before anything was plausible.
And never in this concept. Never four DVDs. I think we always hoped
we'd do a movie. A big, grand scale sort of thing. We all felt like the
look was great, the writing was great, and there was so much more to do
with it that it would make for a good feature.
At Comic-Con, Rich Moore said the budget was a little bit smaller but
the CG department was a little bit bigger. How did that change your
approach to the movie?
CK: The budget
basically was a little smaller than it was than that last time we
worked on it, which was probably five years ago. The only real change
was computer technology has improved to the point where you can get a
lot more bang for your buck from a hardware/software perspective.
Honestly, our margins are just a lot smaller and all the money is going
up on the screen.
Did you approach Bender's Big Score as four episodes put together or as a single feature?
DC-H: The writers had to approach it like four episodes and we had to keep it in mind that we'd direct it like one movie.
CK: We definitely
had internal milestones we were trying to lock. We divvied it up and
wanted part one done by this date and part two done by this date. But
you would do that with any movie. You have to divide and conquer.
Was there any difficulty transitioning from TV series to feature?
CK: Working in
16:9, which is great except that we still have to protect the 4:3
standard depth. That was a little tricky from a composition standpoint
because anything else you can pan and scan. That's an extra element for
the directors and the storyboard people to have to worry about when
that wasn't really there before. We're working in HD and that takes a
certain amount of planning and legwork but, really, by the time we got
to the fourth season of Futurama we really had the whole thing running
pretty smoothly. We had gotten to the point where we had honed it down
to a phenomenal crew and unfortunately as soon as we got to that
It got cancelled.
CK: We were only
able to bring some of those people back and I think the initial
challenge was trying to staff up a fairly large group of people while
production was going on The Simpsons Movie and several other movies. We
were initially concerned about it.
DC-H: But we ended up having a really great crew.
There are a lot of guest voices lined up for Futurama, like Al Gore again.
CK: I have to say his acting this time around is really terrific. I was personally a little surprised!
DC-H: He was less the candidate and more the actor.
What other guest stars will be in the four movies?
CK: I don't know if we can talk about that.
DC-H: Really fun ones!
Were there certain elements fans responded to in the shows that you made a point of including in the movies?
CK: The first movie
in particular, the fans will feel very well honored. It sort of tips a
hat to the fans. There's a lot of really cool inside stuff in it. All
of them really pay homage to the fans.
Dwayne, you're doing two movies and Pete Avanzino is doing the other two movies. What was the working relationship like?
DC-H: We definitely
talked. He was a director on the series. I wound up being a director on
the series and he ended up working on Drawn Together and I worked under
him as one of the directors on Drawn Together, so we've had a great
working relationship. I was really excited to work with him on these
four DVDs. We'd trade ideas, we'd talk about which characters we'd
trade between the series, which characters would look good, try them
out in different shots and play them out in different ideas. At the
same time we each had such difficult workloads that we both had to fend
What did you contribute to the story of the first movie and the third movie?
DC-H: I'm really
fortunate to get a well-written script. And from the script, just like
the series, we take off and storyboard it, trying to make sure their
jokes play well visually. A lot of writers will write things that sound
funny but are then hard to translate to pictures. That's a struggle. I
just move forward and try to tell it in picture. If I see some bumps in
the road that need ironing out...
The first DVD has a lot of back and forth storytelling and it's really
important to keep track of who's who and where they are. When you see
the DVD you'll understand. I had to make sure their writing comes out
really well on the screen.
Considering that there might not be more after these DVDs, will there be closure at the end of the fourth movie?
CK: The way the
series ended was a little anti-climactic, and we feel really lucky to
have gotten to re-visit the project again. If we're done I think we all
feel much better about it.
All four films are completed now?
CK: We're still in
production. We've delivered the first but we won't be delivering the
color on the second DVD until sometime in December. We're not even
halfway through from that standpoint.
Have any stories been developed past these four movies?
CK: That's really a writer question. I'm sure there's always a story they'd like to do that they didn't get to do.
DC-H: I'm sure if they had the opportunity they'd write lots more.
What would it take for the show to be renewed after the 16 Comedy Central episodes? Would one DVD selling well be enough?
those are business decisions. The better those DVDs sell, the greater
the interest will be. That's sort of the Family Guy model of return. I
think that's what gets people's attention so if sales for the first and
second are great there might be some discussion there. I'm not sure if
the Comedy Central deal is a cable window. I'm not really sure what the
specific points of that deal are.
What aspect ratio will Comedy Central air the episodes in?
CK: I don't think
we know that yet. We think it will air as a letterboxed version but I'm
not really sure what the plans are for that.
DC-H: I think the
series itself should have always been widescreen. It was a really
great-looking show. So even though we had to compensate for the 4:3 and
keep that as a consideration, hopefully they'll air it as a widescreen
because it really looks so much better.
Do you know when the episodes will air on Comedy Central?
CK: The old episodes will begin to air in January 1st, 2008, but I have no idea what their plans for the new episodes are.
Any favorite Futurama episodes?
DC-H: I really like "Parasites Lost" and "The Devil's Hands are Idle Playthings."
CK: I have a holy
trinity of Futurama episodes. The first would be "All's Well That
Roswell," "Parasites Lost," and [then] it's a tie between "The Devil's
Hands are Idle Playthings," and "The Sting."
What's in store for Rough Draft after Futurama?
DC-H: Big things.
CK: We're going to single-handedly settle the writers strike.