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Conversations with yourself #10: The Greg The Bunny edition

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Rain Partier

Postby LOLtron » Sun Jun 15, 2008 11:38 pm

ImageThats right hemophiliacs, after a few emails back and forth dan milano was able to free some time for an interview with yours truly.

For those not in the know Dan is the co-creator of the series Greg The bunny which started on the IFC channel, got picked up on fox for 13 episodes and was cancelled (basically because fox cancels all good programming) and returned to its routs on IFC.

Dan is also a writer for the popular adult swim show Robot Chicken and voices many characters on the show.

Read on hemophiliacs!

Eric: Greg has really gained a loyal cult following, how do you feel about this?

Dan: Truly,I couldn't be happier.   I'd love to try and organize them into onegroup - I try to communicate directly with fans as much as possible andto always be accessible, we're hoping to set up a web site for Gregthat can finally be a hub for fans to get fresh content and communicatedirectly with us and the characters.    I'll be at Comic Con 08 onSaturday the 26th doing a signing of our new DVD at the SHOUT FactoryDVD booth.    Honestly though, GTB is something very difficult to do inthe mainstream.    It's simply not what most studios want it to be,which is one of the reasons the Fox show was very difficult to pulloff.    The show started on public access and will likely end up on theinternet --- it's a perfect place for us, and we're thankful to anyfans who have followed us over the years.

Eric: The original pitch for the greg the bunny show that landed on fox was more about improv then scripting or as you put it "more like larry david", are you disappointed with the end product of the show?

Dan: Thisis a tricky area for me because first of all, I had so many amazingexperiences making the GTB Fox show.   I was learning to produce, writeand perform on a major production, I was working with some amazinglytalented people, and the show went on to please a lot of people.  Sometimes I worry that if I complain about the end result, that I'msomehow disappointing fans who love the Fox series, or insulting thehard work of the people who helped us put it together.    That said,yes - I am disappointed, ultimately, with how the show turned out.   For better or worse, it simply wasn't the show we set out to make.   I'm proud that we pulled it off at all, and there are little triumphshere and there, but we set out to make something very different thanthe final product.    I felt we were watered-down.   Not in terms ofadult comedy, so much as in STYLE of comedy.   We don't like sitcomjokes, punch-lines, unnatural dialogue or stories about learningheartfelt lessons.    We wanted to do what eventually became "TheOffice."    Realistic characters whose comedy came from vulnerable andhuman personality traits.   It wasn't about improv versus scripted somuch as docu-dramedy versus sitcom.

Eric: Do you find that its easier to write by yourself or do you enjoy the group dynamic all pitching in ideas together?

Dan: Goodquestion.   I find it's much easier for me to pour out ideas, dialogue,characters concepts, when I'm rambling to other people.   Whethercasually or professionally.   I thrive on give-and-take.   When itcomes to scripting I like to be left alone to get things on paper, butas far as really riffing, all my experience does come primarily fromimprovisation and thinking on my feet.   And I really relish doing thatwith my friends.

Eric: Your writing has always been in tune to comedy, do you ever consider branching out to drama or science fiction or action?

Dan: Myfriend Matthew Huffman and I sold a script to Sony Pictures a few yearsago.   It's called "Me & My Monster," and it's a grim little fairytale which is being produced by Laura (Spider-Man) Ziskin and Stan(creature FX guru) Winston.   It's the story of a young boy who meets atiny creature who becomes his best friend.   As the boy grows into aman, the creature grows into --- a gigantic beast.    Originally it wasa dark film that caught the attention of Neil Jordan as a director.  Since then we worked with McG, and now Jon Favreau (Iron-Man) hasrecently attached himself.    Though he is taking the film in thedirection of a comedy more in line with his movie Elf, the script hasalways been more of a drama to us.   A coming of age story about a boyneeding to let go of childhood things.   
Isold an unproduced pilot to WB a few years ago, a comedy about a familyliving on a space station in the year 3000, called "The Spaces," andrecently I'm writing a feature which is best described as a high comedyversion of "Flash Gordon."    So I really dig science fiction, and Ithink it can blend nicely with comedy.   "Ghostbusters," is probably myfavorite movie of all time.
Asfor Drama, I just love character dramas.   In fact, when our GTB stuffis at its best, I honestly feel we are trying to write dramatic beatsfor the characters that only play as funny because they are puppets.  We're working now on a GTB movie and our goal is to go straight fordrama in every scene, with the hopes that by "playing it straight," itwill end up being hilarious.    I also feel like GTB is essentiallyscience fiction, since we're operating under the concept that"Fabricated Americans" are real people, living among us in somealternate reality.
Eric: The 13 episodes of the greg the bunny series that aired on Fox seemedto be a bit constrained in what you guys could do, was the network tooinvolved in the show? Do you wish that you guys were given more freedomto execute your ideas?

Dan: Itwas a tough situation.   Normally your show-runner shields you from toomuch network meddling.   Unfortunately, we didn't really see eye-to-eyewith our show runner, so in the long run I felt we needed moreshielding from him than from the network.   He was a nice man and hewanted the best for our show.   He wasn't a villain by any means.   Hejust didn't see the show the way we did.   It was hard.   We owed him agreat debt because he was the man who basically got us on the air inthe first place.   But the cost was losing so much creative control to him.   He thought he could drop our characters into a sitcom world.  I don't think he really understood or trusted the tone we were goingfor, and at the time we could not point to shows like The Office as anexample since they did not yet exist.     The network was actuallypretty laid back, ironically.    Standards was an issue of course, butwe expected as much.   They said that sexual innuendo with a puppet wasbestiality, that because Greg seemed so young any sexual jokesinvolving him would be seen as pedophilia, they were really reaching.   The biggest problem with both the network AND the show runner, and Ibelieve this is very obvious in the series, is that they made theterrible mistake of having us write more for the humans than thepuppets.     They were so obsessed with having the father from AmericanPie and the son from Austin Powers, that they almost forgot about ourcharacters and had us write lovey-dovey episode arcs about Eugene Levyand Seth Green learning to love one another.    It's the plot of atleast three of our shows.   Even our actors were uncomfortable withthat kind of attention.    We always wanted the show to be aboutpuppet-human relations.   What if Warren and Sarah Silverman'scharacter had an affair?   What if Junction Jack tried to legally adoptTardy Turtle?    But they were more interested in a workplace sitcomthat just so happened to have puppets in it.

Eric: The return to IFC, was it natural or was it difficult at first?

Dan: Itwas strange - we'd left them to go do the Fox series, but I don't thinkanyone could fault us for that.   Rather than pick us up for a series,they had us shoot a 30-minute special for them as something of a "backdoor pilot."    We took a little of what we'd learned from Fox - sometechnical tricks, such as having monitors and rolling carts for thepuppeteers, plus a larger crew, but went back to a largely improvisedscript and a very dark story.   In retrospect, I think our jokes mighthave been a little TOO dark for their own sake, since we were just sohappy to be back on cable and kind of abused the privilege.    IFC wasnot real happy with the final product, and while I think it was apretty fun show, I must admit that the story did not gel naturally --it was hard to try and do 22 minutes of narrative and edit it in thecutting room from a series of improvised scenes.    Anyway, rather thanpick us up for a half-hour series, they asked us to do short-form movieparodies with our characters.   They paid us, we did it.   It was fun.

Eric: The movies that you've parodied on the IFC show, are they all movies that you love or did you write out a list of ideas to use?

Dan: Allthe stuff we've ever done for the IFC - going back to the early daysback in 1999, has been based on lists given to us by the network.  They have certain movies on their schedule for the year, and obviouslythey want us to parody something relevant to what they're going to beshowing.   So while we indeed had our favorites, such as David Lynch'sEraserhead, Woody Allen's Annie Hall and Lars Von Trier's Dogville,most of the movies came from the IFC vault.    Sometimes, we'd try toforce a movie on them that they did not have the rights to.    Forexample, during their Francis Ford Coppola festival, they showed everyone of his movies EXCEPT the Godfather.    So we begged to do aGodfather parody.    You'll notice that often we will gobehind-the-scenes of the show, so that you actually see Greg and Warrenshooting the parodies, or making reference to the IFC.    I think wehad Warren make fun of our doing a Pulp Fiction parody.   By then ithad been done so many times and we wanted to acknowledge the fact, sowe had a scene of Warren complaining about it.

Eric: How did you become a staff writer on Robot Chicken?

Dan: Imet Seth Green when we hired him to play Jimmy on Greg the Bunny's foxseries, and he and I were just all gay for each other on day one.  Imean, we just loved all the same geek culture, our friends all gotalong, it was the start of a beautiful friendship.    As we wereshooting GTB, Seth was working with his buddies from Toyfare magazineon "Sweet J," which was the precursor to what would become RobotChicken.  Seth knew I did a lot of character voices (obviously I'veplayed many GTB characters over the years) so he had me come do a lotof the voice recordings for season one.    At the top of the secondseason he asked me to join the writing staff.   I'd gotten friendlywith a lot of the gang there, and it seemed like a natural fit.   Iwould have written for them even more, if I'd had the schedule free.   But as it stands, I only wrote for season two, and more recently on anupcoming special episode.    It's great working with friends - it's asafe and friendly environment.

Eric: Do you find being a voice actor on Robot Chicken is different then being the voice of greg and warren?

Dan: Wellto me, character acting is the same in the sense that I try to putmyself in the character's situation and really be in the moment.  Tome, honesty is what makes something hopefully seem funnier.   So theapproach to the performance is absolutely the same.   But, it is quitedifferent to record for RC than to perform on GTB.   For one thing, onGTB I have to be physically wearing the puppets as I record thedialogue.    All the GTB stuff is done live-action on camera, so if yousee Greg, Warren, Blah, Pal or Wumpus talking, that's my hand in thereand my voice doing the acting as the scene is being shot.   It'sexhausting, but I love it.    With Robot Chicken, the stuff isobviously animated in post-production, so to record the voices it'sjust me in a sound booth being directed by Seth and Matt while we readfrom the script.   So physically, it's a lot easier.    Also, on GTBI'm always reacting to another actor.   Even if it's a scene betweentwo of my own characters, we usually have a stand-in that I'm reactingto.    On RC, someone else usually has already recorded the otherdialogue for the scene, so I have to just do my part of the sketch,isolated, for reasons of getting a clean recording.    Seth can be goodabout trying to give me stuff to react to as part of his direction, butI really love natural dialogue and being able to interact or evenover-lap with another actor.

Eric: greg, Warren and count blah all survived the return to IFC, who wouldyou say is the favorite character to write for? And who seems to be the most difficult?

Dan: Ithink we can all agree that Warren is the best to write for, and isprobably my favorite to perform, with Blah a close second.   They'rejust REAL guys to me.   Greg is always a bit of a character, or apersona.   But Warren and Blah - they're REAL GUYS to me.   With realissues and their dialogue just flows freely.   They're also just so funto write for because they always get you thinking --- How would Blahinterview for a bank loan?   Would he wear the cape?    Does Warrenteach an acting class?   What would it be like?   We can just go allday.     The hardest character is probably Greg, because we want tomake sure he doesn't get to annoying.   He has a shrill voice and avery manic personality.   We want to make sure he comes across as avulnerable and sweet kid, who is also so desperate to succeed that hewill turn into a real jerk at a moment's notice.   As we write ourmovie we are trying extremely hard to make Greg a complete andrealistically fleshed-out (for lack of a better term) character.

Eric: Skeletor being your most infamously known character that you voice onrobot chicken, how'd that come about? And do you write the dialogue forthe character yourself in the sketches he appears in?

Dan: Skeletorwas written into season one and I think one day Seth just casuallyasked me if I could do the voice, and I did an impression for him thatgot me hired.    I'd already been slated to do some other voices andunion rules state that each actor can do up to 3 voices per episode forthe same rate, so they threw Skeletor on the pile.   I love that voice.  I did not write the sketch, but the guys tell me they love Skeletorso much they keep writing more sketches for him.   I think Tom Root andMike Fasolo write for him the most.   In fact, I just did a recordingfor him that will appear in season 4, and you can hear him on acommentary track on the season three DVD.     I showed up to acommentary recording one day and suddenly realized that I wasn't evenIN the episode they had me commenting on --- so a the last minute, Idecided to just comment as Skeletor.   I think it came out pretty good- it's an example of me just totally making crap up in one, long take -so you won't get a better example, for good or worse, of me improvisingsomething without a net.  

Eric: Do you read any comic books and if so do you ever see yourself writingsomething one day? Following people like Seth who have already wrote afew comics?

Dan: Funny,I was actually part of the creative team who helped to launch THEFRESHMEN.   Hugh Sterbakov is actually the writer, based on a story byhim and Seth.   Originally the were going to write it with myself andmy buddy Matthew, but we had another commitment.   Hugh thanked us bygiving us a nod in the first series - when the characters go to theHuffman-Milano dam.    It's a great comic and it's 100% full of Hugh'samazing writing and Seth's gleeful humor.     Growing up I read comicsbased on movies --- star wars, aliens, with some batman for goodmeasure.    Watchmen was of course required reading growing up.   I'm ageek of many obsessions but a lot of comics are new to me.   GeoffJohns, who is a good friend in our circle, asked me if I'd ever like towrite a comic and I certainly would - though I'm not entirely sure whatI'd do.   I did once write and illustrate a comic noir about a dirtycop with a stop sign for a head.    Something tells me it won't reallybe a big pitch for the folks at DC.   
Eric: The robot chicken writing staff seems to come from all differentaspects of pop culture ranging from comic books to television to moviesdo you find that this helps idea's flow better in the writing room?

Dan: Iwill say for sure that everyone has their strengths.   Recently we wereworking on some sketches based on "Star Wars," and it was interestingto see who came up with what.   Hugh Davidson is an actor with abackground in the Groundlings.   He has a wicked sense of humorbut absolutely no real knowledge (or tolerance) of pop culture --- sohe may not know what the hell Tron is, but he'll for damn sure writesome crazy stuff for it.    On the other hand you have writers likeBreckin Meyer, who grew up steeped in pop culture and can tell youexactly who each of the Voltron team members are.   Some of the guyslike lowbrow humor, others like more political satire and as a resultyou get a real mixed bag.    Like most sketch shows, some stuff worksand some doesn't - but there's always something for everyone.

Eric: How would you describe your own writing style?

Dan: I'venever had to do that before, but I'd say I'm pretty detail obsessed.  I really like to try and capture awkward moments, human vulnerabilitiesand natural speech patterns.   I love dialogue and am very verbal.   Iover-write and strive to edit myself constructively.   As evidenced bythis interview, I rarely say anything with one sentence.  :)

Eric: And finally whats coming up for you Dan? Please plug away.
Dan: Rightnow I have a really cool and stylistic adventure series that I'veco-created with photographer Brian McCarty of,which we're pitching to networks like Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon.
Mymovie "Me & My Monster," is being directed by Jon Favreau over atSony Pictures and will hopefully go into production before the nextIron Man movie, so cross your fingers for me on that one.
We'reworking on a Greg the Bunny feature film - a mockumentary that exploresthe lives of the main characters and their struggle as puppets in ahuman world, and actors in an unforgiving industry.
Finally,I'm trying to put together a GTB website that will also launch someoriginal content by myself and some of my friends, that will hopefullybe up sometime around Comic Con 2008.

There are currently 3 volumes of Greg the Bunny on dvd, the original fox series and two volumes from IFC.

Dan himself can be found on his myspace page:
Posted originally: 2008-06-16 04:38:47

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