- Written by Eric Ratcliffe on Monday, June 16 2008 and posted in Columns
Thats 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?
I couldn't be happier. I'd love to try and organize them into one
group - I try to communicate directly with fans as much as possible and
to always be accessible, we're hoping to set up a web site for Greg
that can finally be a hub for fans to get fresh content and communicate
directly with us and the characters. I'll be at Comic Con 08 on
Saturday the 26th doing a signing of our new DVD at the SHOUT Factory
DVD booth. Honestly though, GTB is something very difficult to do in
the 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 pull
off. The show started on public access and will likely end up on the
internet --- it's a perfect place for us, and we're thankful to any
fans 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?
is a tricky area for me because first of all, I had so many amazing
experiences making the GTB Fox show. I was learning to produce, write
and perform on a major production, I was working with some amazingly
talented 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'm
somehow disappointing fans who love the Fox series, or insulting the
hard 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 triumphs
here and there, but we set out to make something very different than
the final product. I felt we were watered-down. Not in terms of
adult comedy, so much as in STYLE of comedy. We don't like sitcom
jokes, punch-lines, unnatural dialogue or stories about learning
heartfelt lessons. We wanted to do what eventually became "The
Office." Realistic characters whose comedy came from vulnerable and
human personality traits. It wasn't about improv versus scripted so
much 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?
question. I find it's much easier for me to pour out ideas, dialogue,
characters concepts, when I'm rambling to other people. Whether
casually or professionally. I thrive on give-and-take. When it
comes to scripting I like to be left alone to get things on paper, but
as far as really riffing, all my experience does come primarily from
improvisation and thinking on my feet. And I really relish doing that
with 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?
friend Matthew Huffman and I sold a script to Sony Pictures a few years
ago. It's called "Me & My Monster," and it's a grim little fairy
tale 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 a
tiny creature who becomes his best friend. As the boy grows into a
man, the creature grows into --- a gigantic beast. Originally it was
a dark film that caught the attention of Neil Jordan as a director.
Since then we worked with McG, and now Jon Favreau (Iron-Man) has
recently attached himself. Though he is taking the film in the
direction of a comedy more in line with his movie Elf, the script has
always been more of a drama to us. A coming of age story about a boy
needing to let go of childhood things.
sold an unproduced pilot to WB a few years ago, a comedy about a family
living on a space station in the year 3000, called "The Spaces," and
recently I'm writing a feature which is best described as a high comedy
version of "Flash Gordon." So I really dig science fiction, and I
think it can blend nicely with comedy. "Ghostbusters," is probably my
favorite movie of all time.
for Drama, I just love character dramas. In fact, when our GTB stuff
is at its best, I honestly feel we are trying to write dramatic beats
for 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 for
drama in every scene, with the hopes that by "playing it straight," it
will end up being hilarious. I also feel like GTB is essentially
science fiction, since we're operating under the concept that
"Fabricated Americans" are real people, living among us in some
Eric: The 13 episodes of the greg the bunny series that aired on Fox seemed
to be a bit constrained in what you guys could do, was the network too
involved in the show? Do you wish that you guys were given more freedom
to execute your ideas?
was a tough situation. Normally your show-runner shields you from too
much network meddling. Unfortunately, we didn't really see eye-to-eye
with our show runner, so in the long run I felt we needed more
shielding from him than from the network. He was a nice man and he
wanted the best for our show. He wasn't a villain by any means. He
just didn't see the show the way we did. It was hard. We owed him a
great debt because he was the man who basically got us on the air in
the 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 going
for, and at the time we could not point to shows like The Office as an
example since they did not yet exist. The network was actually
pretty laid back, ironically. Standards was an issue of course, but
we expected as much. They said that sexual innuendo with a puppet was
bestiality, that because Greg seemed so young any sexual jokes
involving him would be seen as pedophilia, they were really reaching.
The biggest problem with both the network AND the show runner, and I
believe this is very obvious in the series, is that they made the
terrible mistake of having us write more for the humans than the
puppets. They were so obsessed with having the father from American
Pie and the son from Austin Powers, that they almost forgot about our
characters and had us write lovey-dovey episode arcs about Eugene Levy
and Seth Green learning to love one another. It's the plot of at
least three of our shows. Even our actors were uncomfortable with
that kind of attention. We always wanted the show to be about
puppet-human relations. What if Warren and Sarah Silverman's
character had an affair? What if Junction Jack tried to legally adopt
Tardy Turtle? But they were more interested in a workplace sitcom
that just so happened to have puppets in it.
Eric: The return to IFC, was it natural or was it difficult at first?
was strange - we'd left them to go do the Fox series, but I don't think
anyone 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 "back
door pilot." We took a little of what we'd learned from Fox - some
technical tricks, such as having monitors and rolling carts for the
puppeteers, plus a larger crew, but went back to a largely improvised
script and a very dark story. In retrospect, I think our jokes might
have been a little TOO dark for their own sake, since we were just so
happy to be back on cable and kind of abused the privilege. IFC was
not real happy with the final product, and while I think it was a
pretty 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 the
cutting room from a series of improvised scenes. Anyway, rather than
pick us up for a half-hour series, they asked us to do short-form movie
parodies 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?
the stuff we've ever done for the IFC - going back to the early days
back in 1999, has been based on lists given to us by the network.
They have certain movies on their schedule for the year, and obviously
they want us to parody something relevant to what they're going to be
showing. So while we indeed had our favorites, such as David Lynch's
Eraserhead, Woody Allen's Annie Hall and Lars Von Trier's Dogville,
most of the movies came from the IFC vault. Sometimes, we'd try to
force a movie on them that they did not have the rights to. For
example, during their Francis Ford Coppola festival, they showed every
one of his movies EXCEPT the Godfather. So we begged to do a
Godfather parody. You'll notice that often we will go
behind-the-scenes of the show, so that you actually see Greg and Warren
shooting the parodies, or making reference to the IFC. I think we
had Warren make fun of our doing a Pulp Fiction parody. By then it
had been done so many times and we wanted to acknowledge the fact, so
we had a scene of Warren complaining about it.
Eric: How did you become a staff writer on Robot Chicken?
met Seth Green when we hired him to play Jimmy on Greg the Bunny's fox
series, and he and I were just all gay for each other on day one. I
mean, we just loved all the same geek culture, our friends all got
along, it was the start of a beautiful friendship. As we were
shooting GTB, Seth was working with his buddies from Toyfare magazine
on "Sweet J," which was the precursor to what would become Robot
Chicken. Seth knew I did a lot of character voices (obviously I've
played many GTB characters over the years) so he had me come do a lot
of the voice recordings for season one. At the top of the second
season he asked me to join the writing staff. I'd gotten friendly
with a lot of the gang there, and it seemed like a natural fit. I
would 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 an
upcoming special episode. It's great working with friends - it's a
safe and friendly environment.
Eric: Do you find being a voice actor on Robot Chicken is different then being the voice of greg and warren?
to me, character acting is the same in the sense that I try to put
myself in the character's situation and really be in the moment. To
me, honesty is what makes something hopefully seem funnier. So the
approach to the performance is absolutely the same. But, it is quite
different to record for RC than to perform on GTB. For one thing, on
GTB I have to be physically wearing the puppets as I record the
dialogue. All the GTB stuff is done live-action on camera, so if you
see Greg, Warren, Blah, Pal or Wumpus talking, that's my hand in there
and my voice doing the acting as the scene is being shot. It's
exhausting, but I love it. With Robot Chicken, the stuff is
obviously animated in post-production, so to record the voices it's
just me in a sound booth being directed by Seth and Matt while we read
from the script. So physically, it's a lot easier. Also, on GTB
I'm always reacting to another actor. Even if it's a scene between
two of my own characters, we usually have a stand-in that I'm reacting
to. On RC, someone else usually has already recorded the other
dialogue 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 good
about trying to give me stuff to react to as part of his direction, but
I really love natural dialogue and being able to interact or even
over-lap with another actor.
Eric: greg, Warren and count blah all survived the return to IFC, who would
you say is the favorite character to write for? And who seems to be
the most difficult?
think we can all agree that Warren is the best to write for, and is
probably my favorite to perform, with Blah a close second. They're
just REAL guys to me. Greg is always a bit of a character, or a
persona. But Warren and Blah - they're REAL GUYS to me. With real
issues and their dialogue just flows freely. They're also just so fun
to write for because they always get you thinking --- How would Blah
interview for a bank loan? Would he wear the cape? Does Warren
teach an acting class? What would it be like? We can just go all
day. The hardest character is probably Greg, because we want to
make sure he doesn't get to annoying. He has a shrill voice and a
very manic personality. We want to make sure he comes across as a
vulnerable and sweet kid, who is also so desperate to succeed that he
will turn into a real jerk at a moment's notice. As we write our
movie we are trying extremely hard to make Greg a complete and
realistically fleshed-out (for lack of a better term) character.
Eric: Skeletor being your most infamously known character that you voice on
robot chicken, how'd that come about? And do you write the dialogue for
the character yourself in the sketches he appears in?
was written into season one and I think one day Seth just casually
asked me if I could do the voice, and I did an impression for him that
got me hired. I'd already been slated to do some other voices and
union rules state that each actor can do up to 3 voices per episode for
the 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 Skeletor
so much they keep writing more sketches for him. I think Tom Root and
Mike Fasolo write for him the most. In fact, I just did a recording
for him that will appear in season 4, and you can hear him on a
commentary track on the season three DVD. I showed up to a
commentary recording one day and suddenly realized that I wasn't even
IN the episode they had me commenting on --- so a the last minute, I
decided 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 improvising
something without a net.
Eric: Do you read any comic books and if so do you ever see yourself writing
something one day? Following people like Seth who have already wrote a
I was actually part of the creative team who helped to launch THE
FRESHMEN. Hugh Sterbakov is actually the writer, based on a story by
him and Seth. Originally the were going to write it with myself and
my buddy Matthew, but we had another commitment. Hugh thanked us by
giving us a nod in the first series - when the characters go to the
Huffman-Milano dam. It's a great comic and it's 100% full of Hugh's
amazing writing and Seth's gleeful humor. Growing up I read comics
based on movies --- star wars, aliens, with some batman for good
measure. Watchmen was of course required reading growing up. I'm a
geek of many obsessions but a lot of comics are new to me. Geoff
Johns, who is a good friend in our circle, asked me if I'd ever like to
write a comic and I certainly would - though I'm not entirely sure what
I'd do. I did once write and illustrate a comic noir about a dirty
cop with a stop sign for a head. Something tells me it won't really
be a big pitch for the folks at DC.
Eric: The robot chicken writing staff seems to come from all different
aspects of pop culture ranging from comic books to television to movies
do you find that this helps idea's flow better in the writing room?
will say for sure that everyone has their strengths. Recently we were
working on some sketches based on "Star Wars," and it was interesting
to see who came up with what. Hugh Davidson is an actor with a
background in the Groundlings. He has a wicked sense of humor
but absolutely no real knowledge (or tolerance) of pop culture --- so
he may not know what the hell Tron is, but he'll for damn sure write
some crazy stuff for it. On the other hand you have writers like
Breckin Meyer, who grew up steeped in pop culture and can tell you
exactly who each of the Voltron team members are. Some of the guys
like lowbrow humor, others like more political satire and as a result
you get a real mixed bag. Like most sketch shows, some stuff works
and some doesn't - but there's always something for everyone.
Eric: How would you describe your own writing style?
never had to do that before, but I'd say I'm pretty detail obsessed.
I really like to try and capture awkward moments, human vulnerabilities
and natural speech patterns. I love dialogue and am very verbal. I
over-write and strive to edit myself constructively. As evidenced by
this interview, I rarely say anything with one sentence. :)
Eric: And finally whats coming up for you Dan? Please plug away.
now I have a really cool and stylistic adventure series that I've
co-created with photographer Brian McCarty of McCartyphotoworks.com,
which we're pitching to networks like Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon.
movie "Me & My Monster," is being directed by Jon Favreau over at
Sony Pictures and will hopefully go into production before the next
Iron Man movie, so cross your fingers for me on that one.
working on a Greg the Bunny feature film - a mockumentary that explores
the lives of the main characters and their struggle as puppets in a
human world, and actors in an unforgiving industry.
I'm trying to put together a GTB website that will also launch some
original content by myself and some of my friends, that will hopefully
be 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: http://www.myspace.com/junktape
Posted originally: 2008-06-16 04:38:47
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About the Author - Eric Ratcliffe
Eric Ratcliffe is the host of The Why I Love Comics podcast, as well as the writer of the long running and award winning webcomic New Comic Day! When not interviewing the biggest names in geek culture, Eric writes the occasional column about something he is enjoying or informing people about webseries, podcasts, gadgets or many other cool things. You can also find Eric on Email/twitter/facebook/youtube/steam/x-box live and many other social media avenues on the internet.
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