canned impromptu interview we also received conducted with the creators of this fine piece of cinematic beauty. And after the jump we have a few new stills from the upcoming Master Shake epic that’s bound to rock your socks off with your feet still in ‘em. Enjoy!
How did you two meet?
Dave Willis: It’s interesting. Matt and I didn’t meet until we worked together over here, but when I was in college, Matt was filming Hellraiser III on my campus. We never met, but they were busy blowing up the new student life building or the business administration building or something.
Matt Maiellaro: I worked on Hellraiser III, Children of the Corn 2, Basketcase 3…I sort of sought out the pictures and got myself a job on them. I was a big horror fan growing up.
DW: Matt helped start Space Ghost. I came into that in the middle. I worked on a Cartoon Network shoot, and they hooked me up with Andy Merrill, who is the voice of Brak and was a Space Ghost producer in the early years and throughout a big chunk of the ’90s. But I sent him a letter. My sister’s a Special Ed teacher, so she had one of her students copy a letter I wrote. It basically says “Dear Sirs. My name is Robert. I am 8. I recommend Dave Willis without reservation. He’s a fine, upstandingâ€¦” and then there’s a picture of a car and then “Love, Robert.” I got hired off that and worked my way up. It’s weird. I’d just gotten hired, and Matt had just quit three weeks earlier to do some movie stuff in L.A., and then he came backâ€¦So I’d been working on Space Ghost from ’96 to ’98, and then Matt came back to write for it, so we started working togetherâ€¦We’d just written this Space Ghost Coast To Coast scriptâ€¦
MM: Space Ghost had gone to a fast food restaurant and he’d ordered a ton of food. He didn’t have the money to pay for it, so in lieu of money, the burger chain said: â€œWe’re going to put our mascots on your show.â€? That was going to be Master Shake, Meatwad and Frylock, and they were gonna just sort of hijack the show.
So thatâ€™s how Aqua Teen Hunger Force was born?
DW: I think it showed maybe how bored we were with Space Ghost and Zorak that these fast-food characters came in and sort of took over the show. It never got made, because there wasn’t enough Space Ghost in there, and Master Shake and Meatwad and Frylock just took it over completely. We always liked that script. It seemed like it dawned on us a couple of months later that it’d be a cool show on its own.
MM: You donâ€™t see this in the show as a whole, but in the process of coming up with the show, there was an idea that maybe they were corporate mascots that a life of their own. Thatâ€™s not even part of the show, but I think that was part of the thought process.
DW: In the beginning, we had to throw a detective angle onto it. The network kind of wanted that. â€œWhat do they do?â€? â€œI donâ€™t know, they just kind of hang out.â€?
MM: It was like pitching to a brick wall.
How did Aqua Teen develop once the pitch was accepted?
DW: I think we did everything wrong in the beginning, but we believed in the idea, and they gave us enough rope to see if we could pull it off.
MM: The first season was one show. It took an entire year to develop, animate and put one show together. And it aired like Dec. 31, at 1 a.m., so it would hit that year’s budget. We totally did it the wrong way. We had come from producing Space Ghost, so we figured, well, that’ll be an easy way to do this show, and of course it was exactly the wrong way to do it. We learned a lot of expensive lessons.
DW: We had already started the second one before the first one was done, to ensure that we got picked up. We took it upon ourselves to record number two, and I remember our boss Mike was like: â€œYou did what?! I haven’t even seen number one yet!â€?
MM: But they gave us the money to do it, so at the end of the day, they must have believed in it and believed in us. But it was really awkward. It called upon qualities that neither one of us has in spades, to kind of sell yourself and sell this product. It’s a lot easier just to do it.
What has your experience been working for Adult Swim?
DW: I think we’re pretty blessed.
MM: There’s not a lot of great comedy out there on TV. With this stuff, if it’s not funny, at least it’s weird and unexpected. Maybe we’re not successful every time out of the gate, but at least we try to do something completely different. Most of network television is so homogenized by the time it’s reached the air. There are few hurdles we have to clear before getting something on the air. Once we write it and put it together, that’s about itâ€¦ We get to do things nobody else would let us do. I wrote a spec for Third Rock From the Sun, and they just look at it like: â€œThere’s no way, it’s too bizarre, the kind of things you do.” Everybody else out there is scared, they’re spending so much money that they want to make sure your idea fits this template that’s been working forever. Over here, we get to come up with crazy ideas. Food items have a show. We do have more freedom here. You can feel it. It’s not like we’re making it in a basement for eight other people. It’s definitely a business, with a business model and ad sales and all that. But to make an analogy, I keep hearing it’s like roulette. Instead of putting all your chips on one thing, it’s all about spreading out the chips. These shows have such small budgets. As a viewer, if a 15-minute show sucks, just stick around. There’ll be something else on soon. No one else is making these short shows out there that I can think of.
DW: We were using this editor from LA on this one show, and he was talking to us about the third act, and we were like: â€œWhat, the last 90 seconds?â€? People talk about trying to end on a cliffhanger, but we’ve gotten to a point where we just instinctively go to a non sequitur and that just wraps it up. If we went to half an hour, we’d actually have to have…
MM: An outline.
DW: Yeah, we’d actually have to outline stuff.
Can you please talk a little bit more about your creative process?
DW: We get together on a Monday, crank out the script, maybe get together on a weekend to write and rewrite. We tend to not invest too much time in it. We record on a Friday, not really word for word, just mess around with it. Then give to an editor who messes with it for a couple of weeks, sort of an audio cut. After that, weâ€™ll look at it, Matt and I, and give suggestions and make changes, since weâ€™ve got to write the next week, it takes about six weeks, and they work on it on their own. Theyâ€™ll put a rough picture to it, using Photoshop, and basically make an anamatic. Then weâ€™ll send it to these guys down the street who spend three weeks or so giving it all the animation. Then weâ€™ll spend a few days with another guy, adding sound effects and music, and then weâ€™re doneâ€¦We pitch in with voices whenever we can because it’s too hard to audition and hire and direct. It’s a lot easier to just do it yourselfâ€¦The guy who’s the main voice of Master Shake, Dana Snyder, is really really talented, and helped us take that character in a totally different direction. We try to encourage as much improvisation inside the studio as possible. But the story stays the same, and the lines for the most part stay the same; they just get tweaked and made more real.
In conclusion, how would you describe Aqua Teen Hunger Force?
MM: They just hang out, and stuff happens to them. Itâ€™s sort of like â€˜Threeâ€™s Companyâ€™ on acid.