David X. Cohen on Futurama's DVD Future

Back to the Futurama with Billy West

It’s getting to be a habit. Not that I’m minding.

Earlier this year we had a particularly great interview with David X. Cohen about the first Futurama direct-to-DVD release, Bender’s Big Score. So, with the release of the second D2D in this series of four, Beast With A Billion Backs, was released, we couldn’t turn that opportunity down.

Like the first interview, Cohen was more than ready to talk about anything asked. Also like before, we found him funny, intelligent and full of insights regarding the series he and Matt Groening co-created. Here’s what he had to say:

Newsarama: Got to say, the plot for Beast With A Billion Backs is a lot simpler than Bender’s Big Score.

David X Cohen: Yes. Beast With A Thousand Backs didn’t require as many charts to keep track of the action.

NRAMA: Was it a simpler writing process in general or was there anything that kept you hopping?

DXC: Each movie is a challenge, but from its conception this was much simpler than Bender’s Big Score. This movie you can kind of sit back, relax and take it all in. The previous one was for those people who like to freeze frame, double check to see if the plot is consistent and all that stuff.

Not that we haven’t stuck some fun things in it. We always throw in some things for the hardcore viewer.

NRAMA: I just love the opening credits where the ship goes right into the big screen.

DXC: You noticed that eh? We also liked it. There will be variances on that in the third and fourth movies. There will be complete different interiors but we decided to follow through on that concept.

NRAMA: What happened? Started to run out of public domain stuff to stick in there?

DXC: (Laughs). Oh, we still have a clip in there, because they do fly into the clip. Basically, we got the clip and then started thinking, ‘OK, what can we do with it?’ Actually, the third is like this one and the fourth one is completely different. We’re doing a completely new thing with the fourth one. It will be a complete re-conception of the opening title music, with lyrics, It’s really a swinging version of the Futurama theme.

NRAMA: Alf Clausen thought that up, didn’t he?

DXC: No. Christopher King.

NRAMA: Really. Still, it’s a really cool theme song, I think.

DXC: It really is. It’s also a great theme because it’s really open to interpretation. We’ve already been using this rocking remix for the extended opening titles and the DVDs. You’ll see others in the upcoming DVDs. For instance there’s a psychedelic version of one coming soon. There’s also a redneck version.

NRAMA: Let’s backtrack a little. How did Bender’s Big Score do sales-wise?

DXC: From everything we know, and mind you it’s always hard to gleam exact numbers out of them, even our own studio, the results were more than satisfactory for all. As far as we know, everybody was taken quite by surprised by the overall sales, in a good way I should add. Now they’re waiting to see if Beast does as well.

NRAMA: One thing we’ve noticed over here at Newsarama is animation DVDs may not do as well initially as some other releases, but they have a lot of legs. By that we mean their sales continue for much longer than others.

DXC: Yeah. It’s shocking, but we started working on Futurama ten years ago this year. We did the five seasons, give or take. It’s certainly not the steady production of The Simpsons. This leads me to think of the original Star Trek as our model, not any animated series. As everyone knows, it went away but the fans wouldn’t let it die. Hopefully that’s our fate as well.

NRAMA: So what is it about Futurama that makes it survive?

DXC: It’s partially the subject matter. I think science fiction and animation fans are both very detailed and enjoy plot. They like to go back and see what they missed the first time around, some detail in the background or something. They pay special attention to the DVD extras. So we have very dedicated fans. Then again, both genres have very dedicated fans. If you do the work and provide the details, provide them something that’s worth watching a third or fourth time, they will stay loyal to you for years.

I mean we have to fend off comments and challenges at every con we attend. I always have to have some half-baked explanation for every detail. I mean it can get amazing. In the interest of a joke we will let some small bit of history go ignored. You can bet it’ll be brought up sooner or later. My excuse of last resort is with all the time travel the crew does, the Futurama space-time continuum could have been altered. The fans will usually swallow that.

NRAMA: So getting back to the present. What was the initial conception of this? Did you always have Yivo in mind?

DXC: This is how I look at it. When I found out we had a deal for four movies, I decided I wanted to hit four different areas of science fiction and fantasy. The first one, as you now know, was a big time travel/pandemonius adventure/epic. This one was sort of a joke on monster movies. You do have a monster and Earth being taken over by it. Of course, you then add this disturbing intergalactic love story on top of it, kind of like Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land. So now you’ve had your monster movie with a twist. In the next one, we move into fantasy with dungeons and dragons. The last one we move into much more hardcore sci-fi space epic.

So the original conception was, OK, giant monster comes through this hole in the universe. From there, we asked, well what’s the means of his attack? We don’t want to go down the obvious road, so we came up with that very disturbing relationship story.

NRAMA: You could say it’s all about relationships in this one.

DXC: It certainly is. I tried to make that point in the commentary, at least between when I could get a word in between Billy West and John DiMaggio. We kind of started off with the relationship between Fry and his girlfriend. Then we get him jealous because she has five other boyfriends. Then he takes the ultimate opposite side of the equation. After all, he’s the spokesperson for this trillion-creature relationship.

NRAMA: Then you have Bender’s relationships; finding himself on the outside of it all because he’s a robot, not to forget Leela also ending up a solo act.

DXC: Yes. Bender is really the hateful, jilted lover, and he does take it a little far. If you look at it from a bigger perspective, all living beings become involved in the relationship with Yivo while all the artificial beings are left out. That’s kind of the biggest discussion in our discussion of relationships.

NRAMA: What about the League of Robots?

DXC: We just came up with those group of robots and then had to come up for a name. The very first name we came up was ‘League of Robots’ and we went with it. We all laughed. It was the most wooden…

NRAMA: mechanical and stiff…

DXC: (Laughs) Yes! Name we could think of. I mean we’re supposed to be so clever and the best name we could think of was League of Robots.

NRAMA: Well, I could see there being a secret cabal of robots quietly maximizing the world for their old comfort.

DXC: Thanks! I’ll use that if such a question comes up at a convention. You never know when you need that kind of answer ready.

NRAMA: I’m always available on a freelance basis. Getting back though, Rough Draft still did the bulk of the production?

DXC: I want to make sure Rough Draft gets their credit because they’re some fine people working there. Peter Avanzino, the director, also deserves a major shout out. The front menu, where Zap Brannigan’s forces are going in and out of the tentacles, that is one continuous 3D shot. It’s probably the longest 3D shot we’ve ever done. You would not see that on a TV show. That’s strictly a movie kind of shot. When I see that I feel we’ve succeeded in turning Futurama into something epic.

NRAMA: I caught the cookie of the Farmer’s Wikipedia in there.

DXC: You know we threw that in because the guys just came up with such an excellent design on it. Then when you saw it in the show we realized no one could really see it. There will probably be a couple more easter eggs in the next one.

NRAMA: It would have been cool if it opened up and provided some references.

DXC: Well, speaking of DVD extras, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention what I think is the coolest DVD extra ever. It’s the ‘Lost Adventure,’ which is over 30 minutes long. It was done for the Futurama video game. It was written by George Burns and J. Stewart, who were the original writers of the show. It includes the original voice cast and I worked on it as the voice director. It wasn’t farmed out. It was done all in house. We’ve been trying for years to get that out.

NRAMA: The eternal question. Are we ever going to have a final answer on the relationship between Leela and Fry? I mean at the end of the series it looked they were going to be together, now they most definitely aren’t.

DXC: Well, we’re going to go a little further down that avenue in DVD 4. So, I don’t want to get too far ahead. DVD 3 is more of a romp. With DVD 4, that’s going to be central to the entire storyline. We’ve worked hard on it.

In fact, one of the reasons why we worked so hard on it is we still don’t know if after the fourth DVD if we’ll be back again. In a way it’s a very similar situation to the last episode of the TV series. We didn’t know if that was it or not, so we kind of set it up so we didn’t exactly say ‘This is it. Goodbye!’ but we made sure there was closure. It certainly was better than blowing up all the characters in one big atomic blast. This way we set things up so viewers and writers would have been satisfied, just in case the DVD is the last one.

NRAMA: So, overall, feel pretty good about all that’s coming out?

DXC: I have to admit I do. The reception to the first one was great. Personally, I think we’ve gotten better and better as we’ve gone along. We learned to make adjustments to the longer form. I think you’ll see that with each one we’ve gotten a little more cinematic.

Believe it or not, we’ve just put the final touches on the third one as we speak. I mean the movie’s been done. Now we’re finishing up all the extras, packaging and all that. The reason for the long length between releases is we’re going to do simultaneous Blu-Ray/HD releases with the DVD. That means we had to do some extra steps before they come out.

NRAMA: One thing I couldn’t help but notice, we have you coming out direct-to-DVD. There’s also the latest Batman and Marvel stuff coming. It looks like the D2D market is finally taking hold. Less than a few years ago, who would have thought of it? How do you feel about this part of the animation industry?

DXC: What I think is really important is there are also films like Persepolis that I think are really cool, and not being as successful as they deserve to be. I like that in the age of 3D kids movies, occasionally something like Persepolis can slip through. It gives me hope when doing things like Futurama. I’d like to see that variety of options continue. Even if 3D movies are the rage at the moment, sooner or later something else is going to come along and that will be the big thing. I just want to see there always be room for more elegant things. I mean, with Persepolis, you can learn a lot more from that movie than you can from a whole week of news.

NRAMA: One thing I’m looking forward to is Tony Millionaire’s new show, Drinky Crow.

DXC: Yes! Which is also being done by Futurama writer Eric Kaplan, who was one of the writers on Beast With A Billion Backs. So it’s all coming together. That things bares watching two or three times each episode. There’s little things in the corners—like what are those bugs doing?—that need to be seen more than once.

NRAMA: Well, no matter what, best of luck with the series.

DXC: Thanks, and talk to you next November with the third DVD.

NEXT COLUMN(S): In the can are eye-opening interviews with Gen Fukunaga, President of FUNimation, and Craig Kyle, VP of Marvel Animation.

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