Why is Sit Down, Shut Up animated when it's based on a live-action show?
Mitch Hurwitz: Hilariously – I mean, the joke is on me on this one – but I had this script and we were going to try to set it up at – you know, you go out and you bid it, basically you pitch it to different networks, and you try to get a little bidding war. And what everyone kind of said is, we’re interested in the idea of a show about teachers, but these characters are way too broad and way too self-centered and oblivious, and you have to rewrite it.
So I thought, maybe I can avoid some work – and this is where the joke becomes on me – I can avoid some work by doing it as an animated show. Cut to like 17 months later, and I’m still rewriting the pilot. Yesterday at 5 o’clock, I was still rewriting the pilot, still putting jokes in. I mean, it just, it never ends, as you know, in the animation world – which is kind of great, also. But I will say, the short answer is, the show is very daft and silly, and Will Forte’s character (Stuart) in the Australian show takes these pills – and we did this in our pilot – takes these pills and ends up inadvertently growing breasts. We think they’re steroids, but he sort of is – they turn out to be female hormone replacements and he becomes quite buxom. And that was like their big broad joke, and nobody wanted to do it live action.
In a weird way, it becomes one of our smaller jokes. Like in rewriting it, it wasn’t broad enough in a way to be animation, so I really had to start pushing the boundaries again. I mean, it’s been a great joy, but it fell somewhere in between live action and animation, and in many ways that’s why it was kind of a precursor for me to Arrested Development, because I wrote it originally – I adapted it before I made Arrested Development, and I loved the idea of like, can you do live action and have these broad elements and make them plausible? So anyway, I’ve loved doing animation. We’ll see if it works or not, but I know that FOX at the time was saying, okay, is there anybody else out there who has a style and a sense of humor and a voice that we can have do animation, aside from the people we have to pay $100 million a year to – which is really Seth (MacFarlane, creator of Family Guy). So I was the beneficiary of that.
By the way, the answer to that question is, I think there are a lot of comedy writers, including Will Forte on this line, who have their own really distinct, funny style. But you have to fight for it. I mean, it’s very, very tough to get your voice through the system at network television, and for good reason: there’s a lot of money at stake and people are really, really worried about losing an audience and losing advertisers. And for some reason they’ve left this door open in animation where they’re like, oh, yes, you can do anything there. You can have a big sense of humor there. But everywhere else, you really have to follow our rules. It’s like still trying to find a way in to get past the system. And I think they even kind of want you to get past the system.
Will, how did you training as an actor prepare you for voicing a character for a cartoon?
Will Forte: I actually did a voice a long time ago in a show called Clonw High, for MTV. The guys who created that are doing Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, coming up; but that was a long time ago, and yes, it was – but yes, it’s been years, so it was – Mitch kind of touched on this earlier: it’s very different doing a voice. You think that you’re delivering so much emotion in your voice, you think you’re doing it too big, and then they ask for it bigger, and you just realize, oh, my God – you know, all they have to work with is your voice. So you really have to just kind of learn to convey the emotions more, and I found myself a lot of times it just means making goofy faces as you’re doing – you just find yourself making the weirdest faces, that you would never make when you’re acting – like it’s live-action.
Mitch Hurwitz: Interestingly, when you have done those bigger things, it brings out the best work of the animators. That’s when they start to find like all these little eye shifts and nose raises and just stuff like that. So it is like communicating through a sheet or something.
Do the animators reference video of the actors recording their lines?
Mitch Hurwitz: I think they did, but I don’t think they really used them.
Will Forte: Yes, I feel like you did in the very beginning, right?
Mitch Hurwitz: I know. But I think it’s like anything, it’s almost like an actor not wanting a line reading. It’s like, no, no, we know how to draw.
Why did you decide to use Rough Draft Studios to do the animation?
Mitch Hurwitz: Bill Oakley and Josh Weinstein – Bill is no longer with the show, but they had had a great experience with them on Futurama. And I met Claudia Katz (animation producer) and just loved her immediately, and – all those guys at the time. Rich Moore (animation director) was there, Peter – you’ll have to check spelling on this, but Peter Avanzino (animation director) is such a creative, funny guy. And this really elevated it, I mean way beyond what – I can’t imagine we would have done ourselves.
Why did you decide to use real photos as backgrounds for the animated characters?
Mitch Hurwitz: I could bluff a little bit and say we wanted to set the show in the real world, and the writing staff is made up of people that come from live action and from animation, so it expresses that mix well. But in fact, it really was just an aesthetic thing. I saw Mo Willems’ book Knuffle Bunny on a shelf in a bookstore. All these pictures of Brooklyn and these little drawings on top of it. And then I got in touch with Mo, and he actually designs [Sit Down, Shut Up's] characters.