Bum bum ba-bum, bum ba-bum, bum-ba-bum!
For five seasons now, the stop-motion animated comedy Robot Chicken has been one of the top-rated series on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim lineup. Co-created by Seth Green and Matt Senreich, the centerpiece of the pop culture-skewering series has been its trilogy Robot Chicken: Star Wars specials, which poke fun at everyone’s favorite stories taking place in a galaxy far, far, away. In the deranged (but in a good way) world of Green, Senreich, and a team of writers led by Doug Goldstein and Tom Root, the specials have shown everything from the lighter side of the Dark Emperor, to custom mods to Vader’s armor.
With this week’s release of Robot Chicken: Star Wars Episode III, Green and Senreich spoke to MTV Geek about the making of the special, what’s next for these two creators, the secret to not getting sued, and their comprehensive plan to for global domination.
MTV Geek: When you created the first Robot Chicken Star Wars special, did you think imagine it’d receive the kind of huge response it has and spawn two sequels?
Seth Green: I love questions like that. Yes, of course, it was always our master plan to embed ourselves into the Lucasfilm empire. We always intended to make a trilogy, we obviously anticipated the success of our late-night, ad-sponsored, 15-minute cable show. Of course, we realized we were pioneering a new online and television format. I had all the ideas for Star Wars. You know, Gene Rodenberry called me and told me while I was in the womb that he would be the vessel through which we would create Star Trek.
It’s all been predetermined. This has all happened before and it’ll all happen again.
Matt Senreich: And every day I bow down to Seth with his wisdom.
SG: It’s true. Matt has set up a unique core of secret followers, we’ve got a temple.
No. No, obviously there way we could have planned any of this. We’re still surprised we didn’t get sued.
Geek: Well, that’s one of the great things about the show: you’re able to kind of fire at will and no one gets hurt. I mean, you haven’t had any negative response, have you?
MS: No, for the most part. I mean, the one thing I always come back to is it’s like Saturday Night Live, where you do sketch comedy and you make fun of things. And as long as there’s parody behind it, you can do whatever it is you want.
SG: We’re just not really mean. I think that’s the big thing that delineates us from a lot of the parody content that’s out there. We make jokes that are based on human folly, not on someone’s mistake. We don’t go out of our way to point out where peoples’ shortcomings are. We only say, “Isn’t that funny?”
I think that’s a big difference in why people don’t chase after us with flaming sticks and pitchforks.
Geek: What kind of jokes give you guys pause in the writers’ room?
MS: All the time. We actually have one on the DVD. Did it make the cut? The “Ahmed” one?
SG: I don’t remember. I’m not sure—
MS: The “Ahmed” deleted animatic on the DVD, that was one that gave us pause. I’m pretty sure it’s on the DVD. If it’s not, that’s one that gave us pause without saying what it is.
SG: It is on there because we went back and forth about everyone’s comfort level.
Geek: So what’s the collaborative process like? Who gets to decide what gets an up or down vote?
SG: We have a democracy.
MS: We have a four-way democracy, a four-way voting system. It’s Seth and myself and our two head writers, Tom [Root] and Doug [Goldstein]. It has to be three to one to get in the show and if not, it dies by the wayside.
Geek: Was that how you guys reached the decision to have the Emperor (voiced by Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane) be the focus of Episode III?
SG: That was actually Matt’s idea. Matt had an idea a while ago to tell the story of all six movies through the eyes of the Emperor. And we were always—we were never clear how long that would take to tell. We always kind of envisioned it as a 90-minute thing, but we had an hour-long special here and it just seemed like the perfect place to tell this story. We didn’t think that we were going to make a fourth one. We thought, “Alright, we better do this.”
Geek: I’m always getting the impression that what you guys do is kind of seat-of-your pants—you don’t know if the show is coming back so you just try to do what you can now. Is that an accurate impression?
SG: Yeah, it’s easy when you look back to say, “Of course that would be the natural path,” but anyone who’s ever had any degree of success or failure will probably tell you the same thing: we have no idea if any of this is going to work, it’s always just our own tastes and assumptions, so we’re always pleased when people get the joke or react the way we hoped they would.
MS: Yeah, I think the biggest thing we’re always fighting is how long can we be funny? It’s one of those things where we’re just constantly doing what makes us or the writers laugh and projecting it onto the audience, hoping that they find the same things funny that we find funny.
Geek: What’s happening with Season 6? Is that one currently in production?
MS: Not right now. We’re actually on a hiatus right now.
We were picked up for a fifth and sixth season, but we’re in the middle of a million things right now.
Geek: Well, of course we all expect to have Robot Chicken around every month, all year long.
MS: I was going to say we have Season 5, part 2 coming out—I think starting in September/October. We’re actually going to show off a teaser of it at San Diego Comic Con.
Geek: Well, I hope I get a chance to check it out while I’m there.
MS: Yeah, we’re going to show off some fun stuff from it.
Geek: What keeps you coming back to the show each season? Do you ever have any kind of trepidation about going back to it?
SG: Yeah, it’s like an athlete preparing for a decathlon. The first time we made this show, we made it in about three months less time than we do now. We made it with half as much money as we’re able to now. So, it was a brutal experience we all knew was going to be long and complicated but until we actually did it there [was] no real sense of how long and how complicated. But once we’d done it the first year, we were like “Oh!” [We saw] exactly how long and exactly how complicated it is.
Every time we go back into it, it’s always kind of a deep breath and a training montage: chin-ups in the barn and punching logs—kind of getting ourselves ready to make this show again.
MS: I think the simple thing that brings us back is we’re playing with friends. It all just boils down to that.
Geek: Is the process at all different for the Star Wars specials? It seems like these are more technically polished and sophisticated.
SG: There is, yeah. We all put our best efforts into Star Wars. Everybody who works on the show probably got their start in stop-motion, probably with something having to do with Star Wars. Everyone gets a little more excited and puts on their Sunday best.
The additional cinematics of this episode were due to two things: one was the overall narrative style of it—if we wanted it to connect and end with one another. Also, Chris McKay, who directs the regular season, directed this episode, which was different, and Chris wanted to bring a lot more complicated camera shots. We’ve advanced a lot over the last five seasons and so Chris was able to employ all those techniques to make this look bigger and a little bit more polished.
Geek: So knowing that you were doing something more narratively complex pushed you to be more technologically complex.
SG: A little. With the show, as we make it, we’ll tend to make five episodes at the same time. And so the opportunity to do anything complicated or really stylistic is limited. But when you’re doing something like Star Wars and dedicating all of your resources to these short bursts of production—albeit in the middle of regular production—you’re able to experiment a little bit more.
Geek: What else are you guys up to? Seth, I’ve been hearing little bits here and there about a movie you’re currently shooting called Sexy Evil Genius.
SG: I finished it, actually. We finished it about two weeks ago. It’s an independent film starring Katee Sackhoff, Michelle Trachtenberg, Harold Perrineau, Billy Baldwin, and myself. [It’s] sort of like Rope or The Last Supper. It’s a twisty psychological thriller that takes place in one set. It’s awesome.
Geek: And Matt, what are you up to right now?
MS: Uh, right now? Gosh, I don’t know how much I can actually say.
SG: What can we actually talk about?
MS: Yeah. We’re doing a bunch of Stoopid Monkey (the production company behind Robot Chicken) animated shorts. Am I allowed to say that?
SG: That would be as much as you could say, yeah. We’re expanding our Stoopid Monkey brand into actual content this year. Very very soon you guys will get to see it. We’re excited to tell you more about it, but we kind of can’t right now.
MS: Yeah, and I’m writing stuff that I can’t talk about yet.
Geek: And I know you guys get this question all the time, but I’m still going to ask it: what’s the status of Titan Maximum?
MS: It really boils down to the schedule. If we were to do that, I don’t think we could do some of the other stuff including Robot Chicken that we want to do.
SG: People don’t realize how complicated and time-consuming each of these productions are. It becomes about developing [a] pipeline. We like to put all of our best energy, effort, and resources to whatever production we’re working on at the time. And when you do multiple productions at the same time, it makes it really difficult to put the same quality control on it.
Titan is such a big show, and other things have kind of gotten in front of it as far as pipeline goes.
MS: I think Tom and I focus most of our time and energy on it. We just want to be sure that when we go back to it, it’s us doing it. It’s like Jackson and Doc doing Venture Brothers, they wouldn’t want anyone else doing it.
Geek: I really love the work that you guys do. The passion and the polish is evident with each special that you do. Is there anything you’d like to say to your fans before we wrap up?
SG: Did you see our featurette with George Lucas?
Geek: No, I didn’t get to check it out.
SG: For the DVD, George let us interview him for half an hour. We cut that down into the best clips so that people could watch it on the DVD. But what you get is a peek at him that people rarely get. Because whenever he’s on-camera, he’s usually very polished and business-like. But with us, he is who he is which is kind of relaxed and fun and sarcastic, and really, really silly. So there’s a great featurette with a bunch of us asking him a bunch of fun questions and fans would really love that.
Robot Chicken: Star Wars Episode III is on DVD and Blu-ray now.
Check out a deleted sketch in animatic form!