Opening this Friday is a animated movie that you may have heard of…it’s called “The Simpsons.” So to help promote the film, 20th Century Fox held a press conference a few days ago with Matt Groening, James Brooks, Al Jean, David Silverman and MikeScully to talk about the upcoming movie and how it all came together.
The only thing I’ll warn you about before reading or listening to the press conference is….spoilers are discussed. There’s nothing that will ruin the movie, but if you want to saviour each joke and be completely surprised… I’d wait to read this till after you see the movie.
But if you’re the type of person who is cool with knowing a little before you see the movie, you’ll really enjoy the conversation below. All the people are key members of “The Simpsons” staff, and each played a big part in the creation of the movie.
And before you read the press conference… a few days ago I posted 10 movie clips from “The Simpsons” movie. If you missed them you can click here to watch them.
Finally, as always you can listen to the audio of the press conference by clicking here. It’s an MP3 and easily placed on a portable player.
And with that… here are Matt Groening, James Brooks, Al Jean, David Silverman and MikeScully. “The Simpsons” movie opens July 27th.
Moderator: On my far right is Al Jean. Al is a Producer and Writer on the movie. He’s been with the show for many, many years. In fact, he’s the current show runner. He was also a show runner many years ago. What’s interesting about Al, what I found absolutely unbelievable, is that he ran the show and worked on the movie simultaneously. If you know what a showrunner does it’s all developing, all encompassing. In fact, he wrote the movie simultaneously. It’s a remarkable feat. Next to Al is Mike Scully. Mike was also a showrunner on the show. Mike also worked on ‘Everybody Loves Raymond’ and for ‘The Simpsons’ [TV show]. Then we have Jim Brooks. Jim, many of you I’m sure have spoken with before. He’s an Oscar-winning director, ‘Terms of Endearment’; ‘Broadcast News’; ‘As Good As It Gets’ and many, many others. He was one of the original forces on ‘The Simpsons’ and many others, like ‘Taxi’ and ‘Mary Tyler Moore.’ Next to Jim is David Silverman. David is the director of the movie. David also directed ‘Monsters, Inc,” and was one of the original directors of the “Tracy Ullman” shorts. Right?
DAVID SILVERMAN: The original animator, yeah.
Moderator: And now supervising director of the series. And left Pixar just to work on this movie. And next to Dave is Matt Groening. No introduction necessary. Matt created with The Simpsons 20 years ago. He was asked by Jim Brooks to create some filler for the “Tracy Ullman Show” and on the spot came up with the Simpsons family. That’s our panel. So go ahead and ask questions.
QUESTION: Everyone, just say their names into their mikes before we begin, so that we get their voices on tape before we start.
AL JEAN: Al Jean.
MIKE SCULLY: Mike Scully.
JIM BROOKS: Jim Brooks.
DAVID SILVERMAN: David Silverman.
MATT GROENING: Matt Groening. And he’s right, the original title for ‘The Simpsons’ was ‘FILLER.’ [LAUGHS]
QUESTION: Matt, why has it taken eighteen years to get this movie made and how have you, as well as the Simpsons, evolved in that time?
MATT GROENING: It’s taken 18 years because we’re lazy. Well, we’ve been asked that question quite a bit, and we don’t have a good answer. Why has it taken 18 years?
JAMES BROOKS: My current answer is 15 years to get up the nerve, and 4 years to get it done.
Q: How have you evolved and how has the Simpsons evolved in that eighteen years?
MATT GROENING: Well, you know what’s great about this movie is, is on the TV show, we’re working very quickly on a tight schedule, a tight budget. And on the movie, we were able to work on the script until we got it right. We took a long time writing the script. Then we went into production and we tried animation that is far more ambitious than anything we’ve ever done in the past, I believe. It’s inspiring to the entire ‘Simpson’ enterprise.
Q: I have some fan questions. One is, what was the decision to leap from Rainier Wolfcastle and just go right to ArnoldSchwarzenegger?
AL JEAN: When we’re doing a film, we had to have a President character in the movie. You know a lot of movies there’s President Johnson or so phony guy who’s just a fill in for…
MATT GROENING: Lyndon Johnson was not a phony.
Al JEAN: Nor Andrew Jackson.
AL JEAN: And then Jim suggested that we use
Q: That’s why.
DAVID SILVERMAN: Initially, we first did a more of a caricature of
Q: How much deliberation went into which Fox show would be at the bottom of the movie?
DAVID SILVERMAN: That actually changed. In the original draft of the script, they were doing different kinds of reality shows at the time, than the one we originally chose. I think the original show was a show called ‘Ship of Skanks.’
AL JEAN: Then there was “Star Dancers Act.” Fortunately, they keep coming up with brilliant reality shows.
Q: What’s the challenge of remaining contemporary, and remaining in tune with contemporary pop culture and political events? Gentlemen?
AL JEAN: Both with the show and the movie, what happens is we write a year ahead on the show and four years ahead on the movie. So we actually don’t do Jay Leno-type jokes about things in the moment. We do jokes about larger trends: the environment. We’ll do things like how hard it is to get prescription drugs and its unaffordable. With this film, what we found is the longer the time length between when we started it, the more the issues in the film became relevant and we lucked out in that regard.
Q: Can you talk about the government being involved with the movie and there’s even something about Mickey Mouse….
JAMES BROOKS: We’re governed by what’s funny. We like to think we’re more pro-American than Mickey Mouse.
MATT GROENING: The fact is this has been a collaborative effort from the very beginning, from the very beginning of the series. It’s amazing. That’s the nature of animation. It’s great writers at its best when animation works. It’s great writers; great actors and great musicians working together to make something even better. On ‘The Simpsons’ I would say that we definitely like to comment on what’s going on in the world. As Jim said, we try to be funny. If we can figure out a way to be funny about it, then we’ve come part of the way in accomplishing our task.
Q: Who takes final responsibility?
JB: You know it’s an amazing thing when something is what we call ‘table written’. The group changes – it was very large at the beginning, it got smaller, it shifted a few times. But it’s as democratic an enterprise as you can possibly imagine. I mean somebody can be passionate about something and unless it gets a laugh at the table it probably won’t happen. You know, the long discussions that ended up, the discussion themselves produce a result so this is very much a team project.
AJ: There are more Democrats too.
MG: It’s very, very hard to describe the process of working with other people, writing jokes, in the same room for hours a day, late into the night for months and in this case years, on end. I think it’s sort of like trying to be amorous with a three-headed dog. You’re going to get licked a lot, but someone’s going to get bitten by the end of it.
DS: It’s a group effort. You know, you can try and needle us further, but…
JB: We’ve been with it at the beginning. We care so much about The Simpsons so that, it sounds like rhetoric but it’s true. We all feel we’re serving something that’s taking care of us, it’s much bigger than any one of us. So everybody’s trying, so the boss is something out there that we all try and serve. And as weird as that sounds, it’s as close as I can come to the truth about this.
Q: Most of us hope the show will carry on forever, but how much longer do you guys think you can keep the creative process ticking along?
JB: This has been enormously energizing. Doing this movie has just, you know, because it’s all home grown, just so many of the people connected with the show contributed to this movie, so many. And everybody was around it and we’d have a draft, we’d circulate it to the show writers, they’d give us feedback. So I think it’s been a great bonding, energizing thing so we haven’t felt better in a long time.
Q: What sort of lifespan did you envisage for it at the very beginning?
JB: Well I tend to be pessimistic. If you’re going to ask, ask Matt.
MG: No, I always thought that the series would be successful. I thought if we could get it on the air, I thought kids would tune in for sure. I didn’t know if adults would give an animated prime time TV series a chance, but I thought kids would. And the fact is adults did too. I would say that one of the interesting things about this whole process has been as famous and big “The Simpsons” have been around the world for the last 18 years, we were basically working in the dark. We’d work very hard on the show and then we’d go home and watch it with our families. And with the making of the movie and the attention that it’s got and the promotions around the movie, specifically Kwik-e-Mart – to see the lines outside of Kwik-e-Mart and the enthusiasm of people were staggering. And yesterday we were in
Q: A lot of people tend to forget that “The Simpsons” have been on the big screen before, in a short before “War of the Roses.” What lessons have you learned from that big screen back then that you’ve applied to this movie now?
DS: We kind of completely forgot about that. So I guess not.
Q: Can I ask you about the challenges of the animation of bringing this to the big screen? Anything in particular because of either the style or 2-D animation in bringing it to the big screen?
DS: It was always a balance of what you wanted to elaborate on for the big screen but you don’t want to cut your ties from what the show is, neither the specific acting style of “The Simpsons,” which may have born out of a limitation of animation but it was also a conscious choice in terms of performance of comedy instilments, and holding back and being more realistic, really, in how people perform. As Matt had crazy, goofy looking animation characters who act more and more like human characters act. And that actually calls for more restraint than many realize. We tried things that were more animated and we realized we wanted something that has a control to it.
JB: We really tested the system though, because at the end of the road, two weeks pass where you’re allowed to make any changes, where it’s impossible, where things are being processed, David managed to make some key changes in the key emotional scene in the movie, you know, when Marge does her take. And there were two acting changes in there, which I think really added to it.
AJ: The production team did an amazing job. You know, normally when we do retakes of the show it takes a month or a month and a half to get them back. We were turning around animation this film in a week at the end. And we could actually think of a joke, see it and then project it in a day almost.
DS: At a certain point, earlier and then much later in the production we had actually our animation and clean up staff to do specific shots. So we were able to do, as you say, not only have things turned around overseas but also here in town, just to make sure we had this key emotional or key acting things finished. And so that was very liberating. Additionally, wide screen format, we went to the widest screen possible, 2-3-5 ratio as opposed to a 1-8-5 standard widescreen ratio to give a greater distinction between the show and the movie and then added more color details to the backgrounds.
Q: A follow up to that, what were you able to do in this film that TV wouldn’t let you do that you’re really proud of and happy you got to do?
JB: Well strangely, nothing that we weren’t able to do in the early days of the show but lately it’s become very repressive and we’re so happy with the PG-13 because of ‘irreverent humour throughout’. I mean, we won’t get a better review than that.
AJ: In television what happened is in the light of the Janet Jackson thing, all networks got constricted by the FCC, so the movie takes a little more liberties and we wanted to do a story that was more of a movie story and had a more emotional nature. It wasn’t like
Q: The song Spider-Pig, why’d it take 12 people to write it? Who was responsible for Spider Pig?
AJ: It came into the movie fairly late. It was after the screening in Portland and David Mirkin saw Marge was looking up at the pig tracks on the ceiling and said, ‘Where did they come from?’ and I said ‘Well, Homer should be holding the pig and saying ‘It’s the amazing Spider-Pig’. And then David Silverman and David Mirkin started singing that song and we’re generous with writing credits.
DS: Our feeling is that regardless of who in the room wrote it and because it came from the room’s energy that everybody should get credit.
Q: Matt, were you surprised?
MG: I was listening and laughing … And I think I would have thought of it.
AJ: I think this is the best year ever for those guys that wrote the original Spiderman (theme).
Q: So there’s allusions for hard core fans in this film? I’m thinking of the ambulance at the end.
JB: Oh great, great.
Q: I know that’s one of your favourite scenes when Homer falls down.
MG: Yes, definitely Homer going over the
Q: So I’m wondering if this is going to affect the series at all. I mean are there going to be allusions to anything in the movie in future “Simpsons” episodes.
AJ: Because the movie was written up until a couple of weeks ago, we weren’t always sure what was going to be in the movie. And there are allusions to the film in the TV show but the other thing I want to say is, the movie you see on the screen is complete. You don’t have to then watch the show. But if you like the movie, there’s a show that we can recommend – the season premiere is on September 23rd.
Q: Certain characters might still be dead on the show?
AJ: Remember he’s a doctor!
Q: How surprised are you that this has lasted 18 years?
MG: Well, as a cartoonist, this is beyond most cartoonists’ dreams. People go into cartooning because they’re shy and angry. I’m talking about that’s when you’re sitting in the back of a classroom drawing cartoons of the teacher. I was just talking the other day with these guys about it. I went through a phase where people would introduce me at parties as a cartoonist and everybody felt sorry for me. “Oh, Matt’s a cartoonist.” Then people further feeling sorry for me would ask me to draw
Q: And voiced brilliantly.
MG: Dan Castellaneta, yeah. Let’s talk about the voices. The voices of our cast are absolutely perfect. Dan Castellaneta as Homer and Krusty the Clown and Grandpa and all the rest is actually unbelievable. In fact, I think one of our favorite scenes in the movie is Homer trudging through the snow talking to himself, cajoling himself to keep going and as he often does, disagreeing with himself. It was an improvisation by Dan and it’s absolutely perfect.
Q: After doing this process, are you thinking sequel?
AJ: We started this movie because we had bought all the ownership rights to pink donuts. So we’d have to think of a similar concept for movie 2.
Q: So are you seriously looking at a sequel?
JB: No, it would hubris I think. We just finished making this.
Q: But it wouldn’t be another 18 years?
DS: I think it’s 16.
MS: Ideas like pig crap don’t come overnight. You gotta [take time.]
Q: How did you decide to give
JB: That was early.
AJ: I’d always wanted to do two things. Bart’s always kind of a bad kid. Having him think about not being so bad, having him think about what it would be like if
Q: How big a hurry is 7-11 in to turn the Kwik-e-Mart’s back?
JB: I don’t know, I was just asking the other day. I was over there. It was great.
Q: Do you ever decide a joke goes too far or not good?
JB: All the time. All the time. All the time. There’s a joke that I think is one of our favourite jokes and it didn’t click until very late in the process and that’s when the people from church run to the bar and the people from the bar run to church. We had that at test screenings and it wasn’t happening and we loved the joke. Our mettle was really tested because we kept on holding on, we kept on shifting it minutely in order and then it clicked. We all felt relieved that we no longer had to challenge one of our favourite jokes, but that’s what we do.
Q: Can you talk about the structure of a Simpsons joke?
MS: We do lots of different kinds of jokes. My particular favourite kind is when we set up something where we’re deliberately leading the audience to what they think the joke is, like the reveal of Bart at the end of the skateboard sequence. The audience thinks the whole joke is how many different ways can we hide Bart, and then to give them the little extra. Or the hammer in the eye. Let them think we’re doing to do this joke and do the other. That’s one of my favourites, but we do all different kinds. I think that’s part of the fun. If you just did the same style over and over again, it’d get boring.
JB: And it never stops. We got to talking the other day that it’s driving me a little nuts because I felt we could have gone further with the cojones joke. There was something we could do with that super glue and I forget what I told you, you agreed with me, so that was tough.
DS: I was going to say, the cojones joke, they actually added in more and we thought it was funny but then we realized, you know, less is more in this case. As funny as the additional stuff is, cut it back and leave people wanting more.
AJ: Also things that happened to us like the To Be Continued was in the movie for a long time. Then when the Sopranos finale happened, we thought everyone’s going to think we’re making fun of that. If they do, good, but actually it was our idea first. They stole it.
Q: With a bigger screen, did you feel pressure to put in more sight gags?
JB: I think we did actually. I think we spent so long on this, but there was group of months where we were particularly feverish about the physical jokes. We’d be feverish about different aspects of the picture at different times.
AJ: One example would be when we were editing, there’s a scene where they have nooses for the family and there’s a noose with a pacifier on it for Maggie. We kept having different lines for Homer after that and then we realized nothing was probably as good as Maggie reacting and her mouth drops open and her pacifier falls out. A lot of it was just actually taking dialogue out. We were saying in the elevator, we actually wrote three movies and didn’t give you the bad two. There’s a lot of work that you don’t see that led to what we have.
DS: I think we were trying too, we thought, “Oh, the big screen, we can put more physical details, movement in the background.” And you really can’t because what it does is distracts. It upstages, especially more so with animation because animation being a caricature of life, any additional movements you had where it may be a background element in live action, feels like, “Oh, that’s important for me to watch what happens.” So we tried that and it didn’t really work.
AJ: There are really nice cool touches where you see the painting in the
Q: Have you thought about the DVD for this?
JB: We have had initial thoughts. We had one section we wanted to do, things that didn’t make the picture, if they’d only laughed in
Q: How will this go over in
JB: I don’t know. What do you think?
Q: This wasn’t a big departure like “
JB: Our mission to ourselves, what we said we wanted to do was be true to ourselves, be true to the Simpsons and still do things that make it worth a movie that we’ve never done before. That was what we wanted. We didn’t want to go uptown and suddenly be very different. We were very cognizant because we’d taken so long deciding to do the movie, that we wanted it to be worth it.
Q: Was it difficult to do a movie story, not just stretch a normal story?
AJ: That was where it was great to work with Jim because he had done movies and David had directed but in terms of story…
MS: I had seen a few.
AJ: Jim always said, “It’s going to be funny but there has to be that point 20-30 minutes in where the audience realizes they’re captivated by the story.” That was why the church scene came in. There’s a conscious effort in the writing to go from fast to slow, shift pace at different points and have emotional moments that you can only get when you’re really involved in the story.
DS: It was a great education watching how we evolved the second act to keep momentum going. We had other versions of the second act that essentially told the same story but they’re a little bit sort of meandering. It didn’t quite work and then we came up with some really great ideas that gave the audience a sense of purpose in which direction we’re going to be going and then kept it and we could hang the jokes on better.
AJ: We wrote a scene where Marge and the kids went on The View, but that didn’t really work.
Q: What did you take away from that test screening?
JB: There were more than tweaks. More than tweaks. This picture kept on changing, changing in substantial ways. If you come in and start on page one, it was always like that. I’ve done movies but I’ve never had an experience like this one. This is different, the process was different, everything about it was different.
AJ: Between Portland and Phoenix for example, the scene at the end with the villain and Homer and Bart, that came in. The boyfriend that Lisa has changed. His final form came out of people at the screening. Substantial things.
Q: How did you keep (the test audiences) from saying anything about it?
JB: This I just chalk it off- – this is impossible from my experience. That’s the one thing. There are at least 2,000 people I guess who saw this movie in previews as we tried to work out the script. Every preview would start with somebody making the speech, “Please don’t give it away. These guys are still working on it.” And they honoured it. To have 2,000 people, some of the people who live on the Internet, not violating it is amazing to me. They just didn’t want to spoil the fun for others. It’s extraordinary.
Q: What are the challenges of keeping the series fresh at this point?
AJ: The biggest challenge for everybody who works on the series as well, is that having done 400 episodes and a film, we definitely don’t want to repeat ourselves. We’re always conscious of just how beloved the franchise is so everything we do, we just want to do it not because we want to keep it going just to keep it going. On the other hand, like Jim said, it was energizing. So many people from the show worked on the movie. I was here in the first season and I never thought I would see anything like this again and here we are.
Q: Isn’t there an endless supply of new topics (like the FCC) and new young writers?
JB: The government is our co-pilot.
AJ: I don’t know if I’d say endless. I think that we’re all mortal but it’s the greatest thing in the world to write for. The universe of “The Simpsons” is so wide and the topics you can touch on, you can do emotions, you can do slapstick and it’s the greatest job I’ve ever had.
MG: And we have 300 secondary characters on the show.
AJ: But we only have to pay eight people.
Q: Matt, you said you wanted to have an episode for every day of the year. How doe it feel to be way past that?
MG: That’s right. It’s odd. It’s very odd. I guess we have to shoot for 700-odd.
MS: It probably feels a lot like having sex with a four-headed cat. [Laughter]
MS: There’s your headline people!
Q: In the universe of “The Simpsons,” is
AJ: That’s a joke in the movie. It’s one of the many things Homer doesn’t know.
Q: He doesn’t know
AJ: He doesn’t know that
MG: The original idea for going to Alaska was that Homer looked at a map and saw Homer,
Q: Talk about the influence of Bad Day at Black Rock and It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World?
DS: It was actually a suggestion of a friend of mine who has done art direction for widescreen before. He said look at those, particularly Bad Day at Black Rock, just look for the almost architectural approach to the staging, just to get your mind about staging things for widescreen, the composition and staging. Mad, Mad World is great because you have a lot of characters, a lot of funny characters in one shot, in one take sometimes. Really well staged in where they’re placed. And you focus your attention. You’ve got eight or ten funny people in one shot and it’s really well done. You’re looking at this, you’re looking at this, you’re looking at that. That’s key in directing, where you want to eye to go. So both of those films are very good examples of a big wide canvas, a lot of people but directing the eye specifically where you want it to go.
Q; Will things that happen in the movie affect the series, like Lisa’s boyfriend continuing?
JB: We talked about it, we talked about. I’m inclined to hope we can bring him back.
AJ: Part of it was over the writing, the character kept changing. His name was Dexter, then Adrien, then Colin. We couldn’t settle on one but Jim thinks that an Irish romance would be suitably tragic for Lisa.
MS: Yeardly Smith had asked, “Is there any way she could possibly keep this one?” Because in the show, we’ve done a few romances and they always end unhappy for her.
JB: And we have active discussions about who Colin’s father should be.
AJ: Well, Yeardly’s really funny. She says, “Every time you give Lisa something, you take it away whether it’s a boy or a pony.”
Q: Why did you choose Green Day?
AJ: We were writing a scene where we wanted to have a rock band talk about the environment and then get attacked by the town. A letter came in saying Green Day would like to be on “The Simpsons” on that day that we were writing the scene. Then of course it took 18 months to negotiate the deal.
Q: But you killed them?
MG: We’re known to do that to rock groups.
Q: Do any of you have a favourite of the 300 supporting characters that you just couldn’t find a line for in the movie? I saw Disco Stu several times or even Sideshow Bob.
MG: The sequel is Disco Stu. [laughter]
AJ: Disco Stu returns in The Simpsons Movie #2.
JB: Well Sideshow Bob we had a lot of talk about and kept on trying to work it into the story.
DS: Disco Stu was a pretty good example. He had a few lines from time to time. At least the joke within the movie that didn’t work and [inaudible] at the end where we just said Disco Stu will return in The Simpsons #2.
Q: Is this the only movie that you’re involved in now?
JB: Well actually I have 50 pages of script that four years ago I said I’ll be back in a minute. [laughs]
Q: Since this took such a long time, what were the voice tracking sessions like as opposed to the television show where everything has to get done relatively quickly?
DS: The recording sessions?
AL JEAN: In TV, it’ll be 22 years so the lesson is always you’ve got to let it go and then in the film the lesson was you’ll never let it go.
JB: With the actors, we did some preliminary DVD commentary the other day and two of the actors were talking about how nothing has been more exhausting for them because of what they went through and thank God they were also exhilarated by it.
MG: Marge’s big speech in the middle of the movie we did more than 100 takes and kept rewriting and different kinds of performances and going through that and going in different ways.
DS: We animated it at least twice completely and then the final animation was just kind of tweaked on additionally.
AJ: So we hope you like it. [laughs]
DS: We were really trying to get to a woman who is completely broken and her spirit is defeated. I got there I guess by breaking the actress’ spirit. She worked so hard at it and she wanted it to be as good and that’s also a big impact Jim had on that whole scene. The whole goodbye scene, a lot of that was just we were just going to stop doing jokes and do something really emotional and change the rhythm slightly and let the audience really care about this and it worked. Julie (Kavner) did a great job on it but it was probably 100, 150 takes for the scene.
JB: I think one of my favourite shots of the movie is when Homer is sitting down in front of the television set — just that shot of David’s which to me is a glimpse of Homer as we’ve never seen him.
DS: The idea was he’s like a little boy watching TV.
[Al Jean’s cell phone starts ringing]
MG: I got an idea. That cell phone should pop out of the pig’s mouth. [laughter]
AJ: I am so embarrassed.
Q: Can you talk about Albert Brooks being part of the film? Did he jump on enthusiastically?
JB: Well he just said if you’re doing a movie, I’d like to do this. And we just jumped on it and he ended up working so hard.
Q: Who’s idea was it to use the shocked Disney animals?
AJ: I just always wanted to do a romantic scene with Homer and Marge where you satirized those Disney movies.
DS: Helpful, helping animals.
AJ: Lauren MacMullan directed the animation in that sequence and did an unbelievable job. She’s one of the many brilliant directors we had work on it.
Q: Regarding the superstar cameo in this movie, how hard was it to acquire this particular person’s services? (Tom Hanks)
JB: One phone call, you know. He couldn’t have been better about it.
Q: He makes fun of himself as well towards the end.
JB: Yeah. We loved that joke so much we put it in the end credits.
MG: He or she. [laughter]
DS: [laughs] Or them.
Q: Didn’t you have to have the ultimate movie cameo for “The Simpsons Movie?”
JB: In retrospect. [laughs]
MS: At first it was Johnny Knoxville.
Q: Disney can be very litigious when it’s in a bloody-minded mood…
AJ: So can Fox. [laughter]
Q: How do you think they will react to that little assortment of Disney characters?
AJ: Well in Season four we did a thing called Steamboat Itchy, which was Rich Moore’s fantasy version of Steamboat Willie. I found out afterwards when they were drawing it up, the animators referred to it as Steamboat Lawsuit. That’s their Holy Grail, that cartoon.
DS: I don’t know why we weren’t sued because there’s a shot right out of Steamboat Willie in it.
JB: You’re talking about the train, right?
Q: No, the little animals, the birds.
JB: Oh, I thought you were talking about the evil corporation. [laughter] I think that might bother them more.
AJ: Just when they calmed down from the death of the Bambi scene.
MG: The Slambi scene.
DS: They resemble the characters, but in a court of law it would never hold up.
MG: There are no spots on that pony.
DS: No spots at all.
Q: Could each of you tell us your favourite episode from the 400 Simpson episodes?
MS: 37. [laughs]
Q: I’ll tell you mine.
Q: Mine’s The Strange Journey of Our Homer. What’s all of yours?
AJ: Mine is next season’s premiere, September 23rd. [laughter] It’s called He Loves to Fly when it D’ohs and it guest stars Stephen Colbert and also Lionel Richie. Stephen Colbert plays a life coach who helps Homer achieve his dreams.
Q: Can I get everyone’s favourite episode?
JB: Bart the Genius comes to mind quickly. I just think that we did things with animation when that happened that just opened doors for us and Lisa and the Substitute Teacher is always meaningful to me on another level.
DS: I think of all the ones I’ve had the good fortune to direct and I’ve always enjoyed Homey the Clown because it was so much fun to do and it came out very funny. One that jumps to mind is a second season one called Three Men and a Comic Book because I just love the whole notion of it. It was great format and the references to the Treasure of the Sierra Madre at the end always tickled me.
MG: I like when Homer ate the Guatemalan insanity pepper and then had a hallucination of a coyote spirit voiced by Johnny Cash. That was pretty great. I also like the Frank Grimes episode and there was an episode from the last couple seasons where Homer was in the garage trying to kill spiders and the tables were turned on him. Do you remember what that episode was? Raymond Percy directed it. It was fantastic.
AJ: Tim Long wrote it. It was where Homer bought an RV and lived in the RV while Marge was in the house.
MS: I would say the episode where Bart sells his soul.
DS: There are so many. That’s a favorite. Lisa’s Wedding.
[Al Jean’s cell phone rings again.]
JB: Al and his cell phone. [laughter]
MS: There’s one that’s up for an Emmy this year that Al just submitted called The Ha Ha Couple. I think it’s a really terrific episode. It holds up against any of the classics.
DS: I was going to say that one too. The other one that I really enjoy is Lisa on Ice where Bart and Lisa are rivals on a hockey team. The end of the second act particularly is hilarious.
AJ: My favorite Simpsons movie is “The Simpsons Movie.” [laughter]
Q: Do you see an audience demanding more, not in terms of animation, but CGI? The Simpsons is a great cartoon but it’s simple.
DS: If somehow “The Simpsons Movie” helps reinvigorate a love for traditional 2-D animation, that would make us all very happy.
Q: Do you think that will happen and The Simpsons Movie will reenergize the 2-D form?
MG: I don’t know.
JB: That’s so great. You’re very eloquent about that.
MG: There is something about the hand drawn gesture. I think it’s why comic books are successful. Comic books are not drawn with computers. They’re people. Fans have their favorite artists. In The Simpsons I can see specific personalities of animators and directors. I can see David Silverman in basically everything that the Simpsons are today because of the rules that David and his cohorts established back in 1989. Back in the very early days we were basically making it up from scene to scene and realized that the characters had to look the same if it were going to be professional and these days we still try to obey the rule of no unnecessary motion and no unnecessary lines. [He goes over to The Simpson Movie poster on display to demonstrate his point.] Here’s Homer, very simple. In a regular animated character, in a conventional non-Simpson cartoon, if you’re going to indicate some kind of emotion of anger, it would probably be the lines would frown and there’d be lines up here and there’d be all sorts of extraneous lines. In “The Simpsons,” we try to do every single emotion without adding extra lines, maybe a line here. Even in this poster where Homer has his mouth full of donut, we debated this line [indicates line near Homer’s mouth]. What if he didn’t have that? What if it’s just like that?
DS: That was two years by the way. [laughs]
MG: And so I love it – that deer in the headlights look that we have in this poster is something that you don’t see in other movies.
Q: Is it because he’s stupid and he doesn’t think too much?
JB: We had a wild thing happen to us in a trailer with a joke based on a CGI bunny and the audience started to laugh when they saw the bunny. Without knowing it was a Simpsons movie at all, when they saw the CGI image, they knew it was satirical. Then we had an early trailer that said the picture that dares to be ugly. [laughter]