Skewering the Force: Matt Senreich Talks Robot Chicken

Senreich on Robot Chicken Star Wars II

Boba Fett, a popular Robot Chicken target

WARNING: SOME TRULY OUT OF THIS WORLD SPOILERS.

If Matt Senreich seems like a particularly happy guy, one can’t blame him. Since he and Seth Green created and launched Robot Chicken, the show has garnered its share of Emmy’s and Annies, become one of the biggest shows on Adult Swim and has even earned the right to parody the likes of Star Wars. Not bad for a guy who likes to collect action figures.

To top it, this Sunday [AS] will debut RC’s second Star Wars parody, and believe it when one says no Lucas-created character gets out of it unscathed. Before it’s done you’ll see Jar Jar Binks doing a “Gecko” commercial, Palpatine having an incredibly bad case of hood hair and Boba Fett being Boba Fett (at least their version of him).

But that isn’t all. A whole fourth season of Robot Chicken starts the first weekend in December. As Senreich says, it sounds like the most extreme season yet.

Here’s what he has to say:

Newsarama: Let’s start with a look back at the first Star Wars special. Sadly, even though you were nominated, you didn’t win the Emmy for that one…

Matt Senreich: Yeah, I’m embarrassed to say we lost the Emmy. Still, the nomination was very flattering. It was kind of baffling. Who’d have thought that a 22-minute after-midnight special would be nominated? To us it’s amazing that people are recognizing our show as that good. We’re just goofing around.

NRAMA: How many action figures do you use on one of these specials?

MS: I don’t know exactly for Star Wars. I know it’s a little bit larger than our average. For a regular episode we probably make about 120 toys a week.

NRAMA: That’s made, not bought?

MS: Yes. Or as we say, we “re-purpose” some of them. Everything we end up buying we re-purpose them for animation. We will take things like the He-Man figures because in the first season we learned very quickly that regular figures don’t hold their poses long. The joints get loose very quickly if you moving them a lot. What we need them to do are hold. So we mold new bodies for a lot of the figures we want to use.

NRAMA: You primarily use a lot of Ray Harryhausen’s old techniques?

MS: Pretty much. He’s an inspiration for all the animators we have on staff.

NRAMA: What was it like working with Mr. Lucas’ crew?

MS: It’s been a trip. They’ve been overly generous. It’s been really flattering. They let us do pretty much everything we want with the exception of little things.

NRAMA: Yeah…I remember in the special, and I think in the regular series too, there was a sequence of Luke and Leia in bed…

MS: I was shocked that they let us do that. About the strongest thing they didn’t let us do was mention the word “penis.” There’s a careful balance between the two. They have a wicked sense of humor. It’s the one thing we always say about George. The outside world doesn’t know this but he’s really a funny guy. He’s very quick at coming back to whatever you have. Watching him banter back and forth is like watching a top line debate.

I think when they love something and they know what it’s going to be, it’s not hard to get approved by them. What we do is talk everything through with them. They’ve gotten to the point where they are trusting us. What they don’t like, we are willing to change. We also talk everything through.

Also, Dave Filoni over on Clone Wars is an amazing guy. We get along with the Lucasfilm Animation guys in a buddy buddy kind of way. It’s a support system. So while David is not working on our stuff and we’re not working on his stuff, we go back and forth. We send each other random cool toys. I just found him one from the old D&D series that he’s totally geeking out over. It’s fun to go back and forth with them.

NRAMA: It’s something to see all us geeks starting to profit from it all.

MS: Exactly. We each try to challenge each other on what’s the coolest thing I could find.

NRAMA: Getting back to the special, is there some kind of thing where people are trying to make Jar Jar Binks popular? I mean he’s going to be a hero in an upcoming episode of Clone Wars. In your second special you have him doing the celebrity guest appearance for a “Gecko” commercial.

What did happen at that meal on Cloud City? What did happen at that meal on Cloud City?

MS: You know, I think Jar Jar is one of the characters where…well…for starters Ahmed Best is just phenomenal (as the voice of Jar Jar—ED). He’s just a great talent. He just walked into that role knowing it was going to be a certain way and he took it. For us, we just think he’s a hilarious character. We had to do something with him for our show, something really over the top and animated. We just had a good time.

NRAMA:I mean I love the bit you had Jar Jar in the first special. If I was Darth Vader I would have thrown him out of a window, too.

MS: Well, they knew each other. We just wanted to see what that reunion would be like. And any time we can bring in Ahmed, he’s just hysterical. I love watching him in the booth. We just let him run.

NRAMA: No Bush this time? Was that because you knew he wasn’t going to be President by the time this airs?

MS: You know, that was one of those cases where anything could have happened. We didn’t necessarily want George Bush in the first special, but financially it made sense. For the first special we only had enough to do 16 new minutes, so we re-purposed some older stuff. This time around, we have 20 minutes of new footage. The only thing we added was that dinner sequence (with Lando, Darth, Han, Luke, etc).

NRAMA: One thing I liked was the return of Palpatine as a Newhart type of character.

MS: That character has become my favorite character of the entire Robot Chicken universe. He’s just that guy.

NRAMA: I loved the sequence with him having the hair cut.

MS: I loved the sequence where he’s just standing there waiting for his bag at the airport. Seth MacFarlane’s performance on that character just takes it to a whole another level.

NRAMA: Now let’s get into this. There seems to be an interesting rivalry between you and Mr. MacFarlane. He does Blue Harvest where he puts you guys down…

MS: You know what’s interesting? It’s really not a rivalry. We’re really good friends with those guys. It turns into one of those situations where we call each other up to make sure we don’t step on each others toes. Like in the first one there was a sequence where there was this garbage thing, a trash compactor joke that they were doing. When we heard it we decided we would stay away from that. I just think they wanted to give us a little nudge, a little jab in the ribs. That’s why they did the ending that they did. It was really funny.

Apparently the story is Seth (Green) went in to do his voice work on Blue Harvest, and they threw those lines in as a nod to us. From what I understand, there’s going to be another one in their Empire one, too. It’s nice because MacFarlane does voices on our show and Seth is Chris on Family Guy. We’ve had Alex Borstein on our show. Mila Kunis works on both. Mike Henry’s been on our show. Everybody goes back and forth. We talk to Gary Goodman all the time. It’s a really nice healthy relationship. I’m surprised we don’t have bowling teams and play against each other.

NRAMA: Well, make MacFarlane buy the shirts as he’s now the $100 million man.

MS: (Roars). That’s just so funny because he’s such a funny guy. We like to film him wearing big sunglasses because he’s so not like that. He’s going to show up in our fourth season premiere.

NRAMA: And he’s in the extra content of the third season DVD.

MS: Yeah. We were filming the and he just leaned his head into the shoot. We’ve always believed in making characters of ourselves. We’re now sticking that stereotype on him for no real reason.

NRAMA: Now people didn’t know what to expect with the first parody, outside of the announcement that George Lucas would be in it. Do you feel more pressure this time because of the anticipation?

MS: I don’t think it’s so much pressure. We have a little bit more freedom to actually tell some stories. With the first one, there was a little more fear going in because we weren’t sure about what we were going to do.

With this one, I think we settled in. Now we know what we’re capable of doing, so we really capitalized on it.

NRAMA: Would you say that Mike Lazzo and Keith Crofford gave you plenty of rope to hang yourselves?

MS: Oh yeah! I love the combination of the two of them. For the first six episodes I was sure that Keith hated me. Then I realized that he would hang out with us.

NRAMA: So it’s Mike Lazzo that really hates you?

MS: Yep. Lazzo’s the one who likes to punch me in the stomach. (Laughs). Lazzo’s just fun. What it’s really about is they’re both just brilliant. The complement each other so well. They created Adult Swim out of nothing and it’s like nothing that people have ever seen. Further, you can tell this is just a network where they are just having fun.

NRAMA: So what can we anticipate for the fourth season?

MS: For our season premiere, we have Joss Whedon, Seth MacFarlane and Rob Moore playing themselves. All three of them did spectacular acting jobs. I don’t know why they don’t act in real life. That was a blast. Tequila will mock herself in a fun way. Of course, we tackle all the classics. We have a great He-Man sketch. There are a lot of things we have thought about parodying, like Robotech, but we haven’t come up with an idea good enough to do it. We do come back to Voltron.

NRAMA: Are there any subjects you haven’t touched that you feel you should do?

MS: There are some of the video game properties that we always talk about, but haven’t found the right into them yet. We do have a Castlevania one coming up. There are some other things I hope we get to eventually.

NRAMA: I guess what you can say is pop culture is a rich and fertile field and you’ll plow every corner sooner or later.

MS: Exactly. For instance, we didn’t do that much with politics this season because we weren’t sure what to do. We weren’t sure who was going to be president. We weren’t sure if Obama or McCain would be relevant by the time we completed something. That means there’s no Sarah Palin either. If we were able to produce things as fast as Tina Fey could, then there would be no question. The thing is we need a little more time to do animation.

NRAMA: Because you still do animation the old fashioned way, one frame at a time.

MS: Pretty much. We do have 15 stages with 12-13 of them going at any time. The animators stand there all day. The patience they have is unbelievable.

NRAMA: Overall, do you feel pretty good about the way Robot Chicken has turned out?

MS: So far so good. I’m still in awe that it’s out and I’m still working on it. I’m getting paid to work with toys! I’m going to do this for as long as I can.

Robot Chicken Star Wars: Episode II airs this Sunday (Nov 16th) night at 11:30 pm EST/PST.

LAST CALL FOR STUTTGART

The 16th Stuttgart International Festival of Animated Film wants to remind all that their deadline for submissions is December 1, 2008 for the following categories:

- International Competition for animated short films

- International student film competition Young Animation

- International children’s film competition Tricks for Kids

- International competition for TV series Animated Series

- International feature film competition AniMovie

The commissioned film work competition Under Commission and the German Animation Screenplay Award are open for submissions until January 15, 2009.

The 16th Stuttgart International Festival of Animated Film will take place from May 05 to May 10, 2009. The entry forms and regulations as well as further information regarding the festival can be found on www.itfs.de. If you have questions regarding entries please direct your inquiries to Andrea Bauer: bauer@festival-gmbh.de

ANIBOOM COMPETITION D/L IS DECEMBER 1

aniBoom, wants to remind creators everywhere that its third annual aniBoom Awards are open for submissions from independent animators of all types around the globe through December 1, 2008. More than 850 submissions have been received so far, and are now being viewed and ranked by the community on aniBoom.com and by a select panel of entertainment industry luminaries. At stake is a Grand Prize for the overall winner that includes a $25,000 investment in commercial development and a distribution deal with aniBoom that will enable the winning animator to receive significant career-making exposure through a variety of outlets and channels.

In addition, three selected Community Favorites will be selected based on aniBoom’s online animation community ranking, as well as three Top Selections by the competition’s panel of Judges. All six selections will be awarded a share of the $50,000 in cash and prizes, including ToonBoom software and CG Society books. All 50 of the top picks will receive prizes including Stash DVD magazines with coupon cards inserted, valued at $55 each.

“We’ve watched the aniBoom Awards evolve, over the past two years, into a genuine industry showcase reflective of the company’s mission: to inspire and publish untapped talent worldwide, introduce new work to global mass audiences, and to partner with these preeminent creators to commercialize original animated content for multi-platform distribution,” said Uri Shinar, Founder and President of aniBoom. “We have every reason to expect this year’s competition will be robust and exciting – meeting and even surpassing what we’ve come to expect from our aspiring artists’ community.”

The esteemed panel of industry luminaries to review competition entries are: Yair Landau, former President of Sony Pictures Digital; John Mass, Executive Vice President at the international William Morris Agency; Peter Hirshberg, Chairman of the Executive Committee & CMO, Technorati Inc.; Mauro Del Rio, Founder and Chairman of Buongiorno; Ellen Goldsmith-Vein, Founder and CEO of the Gotham Group; Barbara Corday, Senior Television Producer at Columbia Pictures; Yehuda Wurtzel, Senior Vice President, Content Development and Productization, aniBoom.

NEXT COLUMN: Mickey Mouse…he turns 80 and still doesn’t have a single gray hair…or is that hare?

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