ROB SCHRAB's Hits & Misses: Directing TV & Comics Future?
Our two-part interview with Scud: The Disposable Assassin creator Rob Schrab on his new collection But I Can’t Do Anything Else!: The Art of Rob Schrab concludes today. In this part, Schrab talks about his recent work directing TV, and what it would take for him to do a new comic book series.[read Part 1: Art and a "Box of Rejection" here]
Newsarama: Rob, I always read interviews with this screenwriter or another where they say, “I was working on this, and nothing happened,” and I think, “Wow, that sounds really cool! I’d like to see that!” Do you have any hopes of that?
Rob Schrab: Oh yeah, it could turn into a pitching tool – that would be wonderful, that would be cool if it were a way to get things moving and I could see these ideas through to a book or movie or animated series. Crazier things have happened.
Nrama: Is there anything you’d want to do as a straight-on comic, as opposed to a film or TV pitch you’ve repurposed to comic format?
Schrab: Yeah! It’s the time frame…I go through this struggle every time I finish a project. Right now I’m working on Children’s Hospital, Rob Corddry’s show on Adult Swim, I’m directing a bunch of episodes and writing an episode, and after that I’ve got an offer to do another show.
But I always go, “Hmm, should I direct six episodes of this show about shooting guns and robots and aliens and comedy and so on, or should I do a comic about robots and guns and so on?” Right now I’m trying to concentrate on the directing and auteur-ing, because I’d like to write a feature script and direct it, like my idols.
It’s crazy that I’m not just cranking out books like Doug TenNapel, who can’t stop making books! He’s a machine! I can’t keep up with him! He has the most amazing work ethic I’ve ever seen, where he can finish two amazing pages a day, while it takes me 12 hours to finish one page.
For a 90-page book, you’re talking 12 hours a day for three months straight, which is a lot of time to take off from directing and TV and movies. If you disappear for three months, people forget about you, while if you’re working on a show like Children’s Hospital, people go, “Hey, we’re doing this in late February, want to work on this next?” And you know what you’re doing for the next month and a half.
So when do you plan that vacation, which isn’t really a vacation, but work? I miss it, though. Scud was so much fun, and the medium is great, and the fans are great, and Image is great. Putting together this book has made me go, “Gosh, I’d love to revisit some of these ideas!
Nrama: Will we see your first script, Big Ant Movie?
Schrab: Strangely, there wasn’t much artwork for that! When (Dan) Harmon and I were talking about giant ants, we knew what we were talking about – a giant ant is a giant ant, like an updated version of Them!.
So I never really drew any pictures for that, but the script is still sitting around, and it’s pretty fun…it would make a good comic book. I’ve toyed with the idea of doing that as a comic…I’ve toyed with doing Tentakills as a comic, as it’s a fun story and would be visually great too. This stuff is sitting around in a box in my office…I would love for people to see these stories!
I think it’s a crime that many of those scripts won’t be seen by people. I’d leak ‘em if I was sure they wouldn’t be turned into comics or films (laughs). I’ve toyed with having an artist draw them while I worked on movies or TV, but I haven’t met someone who fits the bill yet. And I’d be jealous of them for getting to draw it. (laughs)
Nrama: I remember when I first talked to you, you mentioned your original idea for Monster House, and then Harmon wrote that piece online about that original version, and I thought, “I want to read that…”
Schrab: I’m going to break your heart: The original script wasn’t that good, and Harmon will be the first person to tell you that. That was the first feature script we wrote and got paid for, and we did many drafts. And a lot of those early drafts are pretty embarrassing; I think we would be pretty embarrassed if they ever got out.
Nrama: I’d like to talk about your TV work – you’ve done Children’s Hospital, as you mentioned, along with some episodes of Blue Mountain State for Spike and most recently Parks and Recreation – props for getting to direct Ron Swanson there.
Schrab: Twice, actually! Nick Offerman guested on a Children’s Hospital I did, and we got to do this great Shutter Island-esque spoof in one of the wings of the hospital. He’s just one of the coolest, funniest people I’ve ever met. I’m a huge Nick Offerman fan. He’s so great.
Nrama: What’s it like directing shows where you haven’t written the source material?
Schrab: Well, there’s definitely a lot of stuff that’s the same, a lot that’s different, a lot that’s good, a lot that’s bad…working on Sarah (Silverman)’s show, where you’re the director and writer and executive producer, you can be on set and go, “We are not going to make our day if we shoot all this, we’re going to go into overtime, and we’ll be screwed for the season and it’s only episode three.”
If you’re the creator and executive producer and writer, you can go, “I’ve been doing this for four years, and we’ll have to cut this scene, because it’s running long and we’re not going to film this next scene so we can make it shorter.” And you’re a rock star! You get it done in 11 hours and everyone’s cool.
But when you’re on a TV show that you didn’t create and you’re a gun for hire and you have this crazy scheme, you have to track down the producer, and sometimes there’s more than one or two, and you go through your whole debate, and they can still go, “Yeah, but I really like that scene, and I want to see it shot,” and you have to do it.
So things like that can be…not a problem, but a challenge. Children’s Hospital was the first show I directed after Sarah’s show, and it was the first one I did as a gun for hire, that I didn’t write or create. I went in and I was nervous – I’m a big fan of Rob Corddry and David Wain, and here I am working for them!
It was kind of a thrill in that first set-up when we were shooting. I think whenever there’s a new director on the set, I think everybody on set kind of holds their breath – “Does this guy know what he’s doing, or is this going to be a long, painful week?” So we did the set-up, I went “action,” and then “cut,” and it just felt good to have that command over the set.
It really reminded me that I am good at what I do. And there was a lot of pride in that, because working on a show where you’re the boss, I had people telling me that, but they kind of had to because I was the boss! (laughs) But when it’s not your show and they tell you that, you know it’s true, and it’s that truth that keeps you moving. That was a great feeling.
I did Blue Mountain State up in Canada, which was a different experience because the crew spoke French [laughs]. That was a challenge, but we made it through. The show is all about sports and football and frat houses, which is totally not me at all – I went to art school! But I wanted to do something different out of my comfort zone, and I had a great time and learned a lot! The cast is really funny, and it’s not for everyone, but neither was Sarah’s show.
After that, I directed Parks & Rec in the fall, though it didn’t air until recently. It’s such a good show, and a great cast, and they make the show way different than I’m used to, because it’s a documentary style. They’ve got that dialed in so tightly, and the cast is so experienced and professional, that you’re just there to assist the actors if they need to come up with bits and keep this ball rolling and to make sure everything is clear.
It was a great experience – again, I learned a lot, and the crew was great, and it was another time where I was a big fan of the cast, like Amy Poehler and Aziz Ansari and Adam Scott, who did an episode of Sarah’s show last year. It was a good time.
Nrama: But if you’re getting into Thursday night NBC comedy, that begs a question I’ve wanted to ask you from the beginning – would you direct an episode of Community, given your relationship with Harmon?
Schrab: Oh, yeah. There’s a Scud cameo in the Dungeons & Dragons episode, and Richard Ayoade of Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace was doing an episode and I really wanted to meet him. Apparently, he’s a big fan of Heat Vision and Jack.
Harmon and I have been talking about it for a while. It has a lot to do with schedules – I was working on Parks & Rec last fall, so I wasn’t available then. I want it to be something special, and I want to get a job on a show not because of who I know. I don’t want to work on Community because Harmon is one of my oldest friends, I want someone to suggest me to him because of my work. And Dan wants an episode that fits my sensibility as well.
Nrama: Any progress on the Heat Vision and Jack movie?
Schrab: Right now, it’s kind of at a standstill. I wish I could say more – it went as far as it could go. It’s really an interesting time in movies right now – movie’s aren’t’ making as much as they used to, and people are kind of freaking out right now. That’s why you’re seeing so many gimmick movies – 3-D, sequels, remakes, reboots, and it’s not going to get any better.
When something isn’t a proven thing, it’s a little difficult to get it moving. I think they raised the bar way too high with some of these movies, how much they need to make to be “successful.” It’s a frustrating market right now – look at Scott Pilgrim, if you’d told me that would have come in fifth or sixth, I would have told you that you were crazy. People are spending too much to make and advertise movies, but they almost have to, because there’s too much competing with them on TV, the Internet, and Netflix and all this other stuff. Who wants to leave the house?
The Sarah Silverman Program died because no one was watching – a lot of the people who watched it saw it on DVR, and a lot of networks don’t count DVR, because people fast-forward over the commercials, and what product wants to advertise on a show where people are speeding over the commercials. And I don’t know who watches TV the old-fashioned way any more.
Nrama: Hate to say this, but I’m part of the problem…
Schrab: I am too! The time of the family sitting down and watching TV from 7 to 10 is no more. Nobody does that. There are too many options. Unfortunately, the entertainment industry is doing their figures based off that method, measuring who’s sitting down to watch TV.
But it’s an exciting time. I think somebody’s going to figure out something new, and be smart enough to go, “This is how we’re going to do it.” Ten years ago, there wasn’t YouTube! What’s going to be the YouTube of this decade? I wish I had an answer, but I don’t. If I did, I’d be rich. (laughs)
Nrama: Getting back to the book, what was the most emotional part of looking back at this material, and how has it prompted you to move forward in your career?
Schrab: It was kind of like looking through a high school yearbook, and looking back at my career in this business to how I evolved from comic books to screenwriting and such. A lot was “Oh, I was so naïve back then!” and another part was, “Aw, I miss being naïve! I loved that enthusiasm!”
And I’m registered to go to Comic-Con, and hopefully I’ll be there to promote the book. I might even sit in on the Children’s Hospital panel. So if you see me there, say hi!
But I Can’t Do Anything Else!: The Art of Rob Schrab is in stores from Image Comics now. Schrab appears at Meltdown Comics in LA on April 14 for a special book launch party – for more information, visit www.meltcomics.com.