Animated Shorts: The Minds Behind 'Phineas and Ferb'
by Steve Fritz
Date: 31 July 2008 Time: 02:23 PM ET
Ani Shorts: The Phineas and Ferb Team
This Tuesday, Disneyland wasn’t the only thing shaking in L.A.Yes, the earthquake did make things interesting in Anaheim, but our story takes place 45 or so miles north, in nearby Burbank. That’s where Dan Povenmire and Jeff “Swampy” Marsh have been shaking things up with their show Phineas & Ferb. As fans of the series know, Povenmire and Marsh hit the proverbial jackpot with this series. They are contracted to do a whopping 104 episodes (52 hours), a hefty introductory order by any standard. According to TV.com, since the show’s debut this spring, they’ve completed 40 episodes. There’s a lot more in the works.
“We’ve completely finished 26 half hours,” says Swampy. “That comes to about two episodes per half hour,” chimes in Povenmire. “So we’ve really completed 52. So we’re about three-quarters the way through airing them. We are actually working on the second season.” “The pre-production part,” Marsh continues. “You know, writing, storyboards, recording and putting together the animatics. We’re doing 18 of them.” “Just to be clear, the second season is 39 half hours, which means 78 episodes,” says Povenmire, whose math just may be a tad off, but this is Hollywood after all. “Something like that.” Whatever the numbers, Povenmire and Marsh have come up with a formula that works. As explained in the opening theme song, our heroes are two stepbrothers who have 104 days of summer vacation. That doesn’t mean Phineas Flynn (voiced by Vincent Martella) or Ferb Fletcher (Thomas Sangster) will spend it lolling at the local pool. Each episode finds the fast friends figuring out one way or another coming up with a way to enjoy the day to the fullest. Whether it’s building a rollercoaster and full beach in their back yard or causing a blizzard in July, they live the day to the fullest. There’s two key subplots to all this. As any fan knows, there’s an older sister, Candace Flynn (Ashley Tisdale), in the mix. She’s out to foil any scheme they hatch, if only on GP. Usually she’s the one who has her dreams stomped on harder than a boot in the face. If that isn’t enough, the boys have a pet platypus named Perry (Dee Bradley Baker). What they don’t know, or maybe just don’t care, is he’s really a secret agent who’s total agenda is to foil the latest evil scheme of the demented Dr. Doofenschmirtz (Povenmire). Somehow Povenmire, Marsh and their team manage to take this formula and keep it fresh. If that isn’t enough, they also throw in a new musical number inside each 11-minute episode. What’s actually amazing is they have produced so bloody many episodes in so short a time. Producing 104 of them in the tight time period of two years would crush more mortal men. “The only time we hit the wall was when they originally ordered 16 half hours and then upped it to 26,” says Povenmire. “I remember then worrying ‘How are we going to come up with 52 different stories?’ As it turned out, we managed to still keep them strong and since then we haven’t worried.” “What also doesn’t hurt is we have an incredible staff,” continues Marsh. “The writers and even the production staff constantly come up with new material. In fact, good ideas have really come from everywhere. They are constantly surprising us. They come up with stuff we never would have thought of.” “One of the characters we’ve seen really grow is Major Monogram (voiced by Marsh),” Povenmire returns, “the guy who gives Perry the Platypus his marching orders. We originally created him as a means to get some exposition. He would tell Perry what his mission was and then send him off as quickly as possible. Then the board artists started coming up with all kinds of wonderful ideas of things to do with him. One came up with this assistant that works for him, who we have since named Carl. Because of them we now have a whole new character in the show to play with.” They are also coming up with incredible ways to play within the walls of that formula, constantly coming up with refreshingly different plot lines. A good example of this is the episode “Dude, We're Gettin' the Band Back Together!” where Phineas and Ferb help their parents celebrate their wedding anniversary. They decide a good idea would be to reform their parents favorite band, Love Handel. The joke is the members of the band are parodies of former musicians Povenmire and Marsh, as well as another writer in their creative team, Bobby Gaylord. “Oh god! You liked that one?,” Marsh exclaims “Actually we do too.” “It’s our favorite episode. We just love it,” Povemire harmonizes. “We like all the songs. The story has a really good feel to it and it’s sort of touching in the end. It’s not our actual voices, but Swampy was the drummer.” The fact is, as stated in the past, the inside joke is Povenmire and Marsh were in various bands in the L.A. scene over the last decade or so. It’s actually a fact the two are very proud of. “Bobby had a minor hit a few years ago called ‘Suicide,’” Swampy admits. “It was just brilliant.” “He actually had an album out called Fuzzatronic Dreams,” says Povenmire. “There’s a funny story to all this. When he actually started working for us he twisted my arm to give his CD a listen. So as a favor I put it on in my car, just so I could actually say I listened to it when I saw him the next day. After I listened to it, it stayed in my car for two solid weeks. It was so good!” As it turns out, Povenmire used to play anything from quirky pop to the blues, while Marsh was in a ska band. So the music they come up with is incredibly diverse. “What we do is have Friday evening music sessions,” says Marsh. “We go into one of the writing rooms with our guitars, notepads and paper. From there we try to come up with songs for whatever episode we’re working on.” “For instance, we did an episode about X-ray glasses last week, so we came up with a song about them that Friday,” says Povenmire.. “The fun is we get to write in any genre we want to,” continues Marsh. “Broadway, lounge, teen pop stuff, weird trans-Euro electro stuff; we do it. It doesn’t get much better than that.” The payoff? Aside ‘Dude’ currently being considered their rapidly growing fan base’s favorite episode, the show now has not one, but two, Daytime Emmy awards for songwriting. The next thing that should happen, of course, is a CD. Povenmire thinks it will be out by next summer. The only thing one shouldn’t expect is them forming a true band and taking the show on the road, much like Brandon Small has done with Dethklok. “No,” Marsh says firmly, “when we get a break we’ll talk about it. For right now, we’re going to be heads down working on cartoons. Maybe sometime late in 2010. We’ll support a reunion tour for some band like the Jonas Brothers or Mylie Cyrus. I’d love to do something like Tha Gorillaz. That kind of show. They’re great.” The reaction the two got at this year’s San Diego Comic Con was apparently also quite amazing. “That was a huge, huge rush,” says Povenmire. “I was a little worried that we wouldn’t be able to fill the room. “I got a little misty when the line that went all the way down to the Legends Center and then went all the way back was for us. I thought the line was for Lost or Heroes or something like that. So it was a real, real thrill to realize it was for us.” “We also got lots and lots of parents,” says Marsh. “It made us feel like we were rock stars because we never had that kind of success before. And when the parents were leaning in behind the kids and saying ‘thank you’ because they could watch it with their kids…” “…Thanking us for making an adult show for kids,” Povenmire cuts in. “Kids don’t mind smart shows. They like them.” But to be honest, it gets to the core of what is turning Phineas & Ferb into a major success. When you rack it up with other hit kids shows this year like Chowder, Spectacular Spider-Man and the last season of Avatar, you’d think the networks would see the trend. According to Marsh they sort of are, but need convincing. “It’s taken a while to convince them,” he notes. “Once they found out that it can be successful…” “Guys like us can’t get a day off,” Povenmire jumps in again. “Actually, what often happens is some network guy will go ‘Do you think kids are going to get that joke?’ Our answer usually is, ‘We don’t care! There’ll be another joke coming at them in five seconds.’ All we care about is whatever we do is make sure the kid doesn’t want to turn the channel.” “I love the fact that when a joke makes me laugh but not my kid, she’ll turn around and ask me why was I laughing,” says Marsh. “I make sure to give an answer and I say it a way to make it seem really cool. Dan said something to someone else earlier this morning, and that is you can put on a cartoon by Bugs Bunny after watching it for 20 years, and get a new joke you didn’t see before.” If anything, one would guess that Povenmire and Marsh have developed their own version of the legendary Termite Terrace, the legendary home of the original Looney Tunes. They don’t mind the metaphor when it’s brought up. “Every year I play back Looney Tunes, I got more and more jokes,” says Povenmire. “We try to inject that kind of humor into Phineas & Ferb. Like the old Termite Terrace guys, all we’re really trying to do is make ourselves laugh. We figure if we can make ourselves laugh, we can make both the adults and kids laugh.” As it stands, this week sees the release of their first DVD, “The Fast & The Phineas.” It includes ten episodes as well as a rather eclectic mix of extra content, including the Povenmire and Marsh personally marching us through their original pitch animatic. “That was our idea,” says Povemire, who also narrates the pitch. “As far as we knew, no one has ever thrown in their pitch animatic. We thought it was an interesting and different enough thing to include.” “We were very pleased and proud that the original pitch to Disney,” says Marsh. “The original story that we wrote, was almost identical to what went on the air, with the exception of some stuff that was just cut for time.” “And the theme song ended up being a much more rockin’ version,” says Povenmire. As for the future of the show, the two are already starting to think, believe it or not, past the initial order of 104 episodes. A special about the holiday season is already in the development stages. “After all, there’s a lot more holidays to write about!” says Povenmire. “There’s so many other vacations to do!” Marsh adds. Sounds like they will keep things rocking in Southern California for some time to come. TIGHT PANTS & SPECTACULAR STUNTS COMPETE IN ODDPARENTS SPECIAL Some might say that Nickelodeon has been dipping too deeply into the pixie dust, but they announced that Butch Hartman’s Fairly OddParents will be doing a parody of the Olympics this Friday, August 1 at 8:00 p.m. eastern. Entitled “The Fairly Oddlympics,” the fairies, anti-fairies and pixies stage their own version of the venerable athletic event, with the fate of the universe, and Timmy, as the prize. But when Jurgen goes down with a major injury, things start looking really bad for the good guys. Guest appearances include Olympic gold medalist Scott Hamilton, who swears it was all a dream (or nightmare), and Ben Stein. The special will be repeated on Saturday morning at 10:00 a.m. eastern. Nick also announced it will air five new Spongebob episodes next week. They will then follow it with five new Oddparents the week of August 11-15 and then five new Tak’s the week of August 18. All the episodes will air at 6:00 p.m. eastern. NEXT COLUMN: A slew of releases from Kino Video brings some of the finest of Europe’s high art animation to our country, including works by Michel Ocelot, Jan Svankmayer and more..