Monday, April 7, 2008

Make Mine Assy McGee

Assy McGee, a show that I’ve been directing for the last year, premiered on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim on Sunday 12:30 AM, on Sunday April 6. It was my first foray into directing for an “adult” audience, after a career mostly spent in children’s/preschool projects. It was a welcome change and the more cinematic attributes of older programming have already begun to influence my sensibility on a new independent children’s film I’m working on (more on that in a subsequent post.)

TV animation gets a bum rap from just about everybody. It is usually measured against what was lost, while I would argue it should instead receive credit for what it preserved. It kept industry alive, allowing decades worth of animation artists to earn a living in their occupation of choice. Yes, TV animation is a different model than what came before. There’s a greater reliance on scripts and soundtracks over the demands of animation, which by sheer cost, is always kept at a minimum. Still, who among us would deny the importance of script (or story) and soundtrack in any successful animation made in the last 75 years? To criticize TV animation for its dependence on strong scripts and soundtracks is akin to criticizing trees for having leaves.

It’s hard for me to think of Assy McGee without comparing it to MTV’s Friday (which, was a short lived 8 episode animated series produced in NY in 2006-2007). Here’s how MTV got it wrong with Friday and Adult Swim got it right with Assy McGee. Note: I don’t doubt MTV’s ability to find success anew in animation, and I certainly hope they do.

MTV Friday’s:
Step one:
Green light a show based on (semi-popular) series of movies. This will automatically give the show urban edge and recogniziblity in the marketplace. Right?

Step two:
Ensure failure by making the show a soulless creator-less venture, a product of committee.

Step three:
Hire an amazing crew of artists and production personale.

Step four:
Second-guess every stage of production. Re-write episodes. Re-record actors. Make committee changes that weaken the product with every passing minute.

Step five:
The amazing crew of artists and production staff work tirelessly to salvage the show.

Step six:
The network cancels the show after airing only a small handful of episodes. Project over. Pretend the whole thing never happened in the first place.

Assy McGee
Step one:
Start with a quirky creator-driven show co-created by Carl W. Adams and H. Jon Benjamin, and a head writer/executive producer Matt Harrigan.

Step two:
Write scripts that actually start out funny. Make changes that make it even funnier. Repeat during the whole production process.

Step three:
Record excellent actors that take said script and plus it ten-fold by improvising new material and embellishing the rest.

Step four:
Hire a crew of amazing artists and production personale. Working as the NY crew, we had animators: Justin Simonich, Dagan Moriarty, Danielle Keenan, Adam Rosette, Meredith Gran, and Mira Scharf. Background design by Adrian Urquidez and Bob Levy (my dad! See BG image above). Character design by Jason McDonald. Add to this group incredibly talented artists and production staff in Watertown, MA, including; creative director Andre Lyman, business manager Carrie Snyder, producer Julia King, Bob Keough (storyboards/animatics), Matt Durso and Cara FitzGibbon (storyboards & animation revision), Adam Swanson (additional props/character/bg design), audio editor Abe Stein, and editor and visual effects Vanessa Pyne.

Step five:
Encourage creative contributions from every member of the crew.

Step six:
Air the show to a major advertising campaign, including official sponsorship by Toyota’s Scion. Toy line on its way. There’s going to be an Assy McGee bank. Guess where the coin goes?

Is Assy McGee a perfect show that will please everyone? Nope. And, nor is it trying to be. Creatively, Assy McGee teeters the balance between coherence and utter incomprehensibility. That’s a pretty powerful mojo to power any work of art or piece of commerce. I would argue that unlike a product made by committee, Assy McGee has something that is rarely associated with TV product: spontaneity.

Missed the premiere? Watch the episode now at:


Unknown said...

Assy has been a great production and i agree with you 100% - its so effective and funny because it is creator driven show.

I can't wait to order my assy piggy bank! Come on season 2!!!!!!

Emmett said...

Mr. Levy,

A friend just told me that it seems like more shows nowadays are being controlled by the creators. Is that true? (I mentioned this entry to him when he told me).

David B. Levy said...

Hi Emmett,
Yes, thankfully we are still in the age of creator-driven TV animation...but, as the MTV story shows, not all shows have a strong creator at the helm... some are comitte shows.... another such show by comittee is Cartoon Network's Andre 3000. That show is considered a failure at Cartoon Network. Again, another great crew working on it, but it can't save a comittee product. Comittee products never work.

David B. Levy said...

Adam, you rock! Thanks for all the hard work on the series...

v0llrath said...

'waitin for a promise' from that assy episode where they're at the amusement park is a fucking great song!!! i was expecting it to be some long lost 80s alt-country song until i realized it was composed for the show. who the fuck are abe stein and andre lyman? why have we not heard more songs by these guys?? assy OST?

Unknown said...

I love the soundtrack. Any chance they'll release it on CD?

Corey Baines said...

I love the different approach to the intro of the show each episode. The added lyrics really caught me off guard.

Kincaid said...

Dave - I loved Assy - Was a great cartoon. Understand what you said.
I would like to be in contact with you regarding other cartoons? Please contact me so we can talk.

Jerod Freitag said...

I don't mean to pitch so publicly, but I had the amazing fortune to watch Cop and a Half starring Burt Reynolds the other day and immediately realized how perfect it would be if you did a shot for shot remake of the movie, with Assy as Burt or even better, get complete rights to the film and just digitally insert Assy in Burt's place! the only dialogue you'd have to re-record is Burt's.... it would have to be word for word (ad libbing farts is totally acceptable)... if you do this, I don't need anything but an Assy McGee Bank and maybe get to meet you guys.