DVD sales speak volumes and nobody’s listening more closely
than Fox. After robust sales in the home market paved the way for a
and re-opened production on
and David X. Cohen’s beloved sci-fi animated series, unceremoniously canceled in
2003 — is returning for four new DVD movies. The show is also reappearing on television: each DVD will be chopped into four episodes, to be aired on Comedy
Central in 2008.
The first DVD,
Bender’s Big Score (in stores this Tuesday), features everything
Futurama fans should expect from the series: one-liners from Bender and
Zoidberg, an earnest love story between Fry and Leela, a head-swimmingly
intricate time travel plot, and Al Gore’s angry head. Rotten Tomatoes spoke with
Dwayne Carey-Hill, director of Bender’s Big Score, and Claudia Katz,
producer for Futurama‘s animation studio, Rough Draft, on the joys and
perils of returning to one of television’s best animated series ever.
After Futurama ended, at what point did it look
like it could come back?
Claudia Katz: At first it felt like it was never ending because it was so
inconclusive. We weren’t cancelled but sort of went to a slow fizzle. [But] I
think it was at least three years before anything was plausible.
Dwayne Carey-Hill: And never in this concept. Never four DVDs. I think we
always hoped we’d do a movie. A big, grand scale sort of thing. We all felt like
the look was great, the writing was great, and there was so much more to do with
it that it would make for a good feature.
At Comic-Con, Rich Moore
said the budget was a little bit smaller but the CG department was a little
bit bigger. How did that change your approach to the movie?
CK: The budget basically was a little smaller than it was than that last
time we worked on it, which was probably five years ago. The only real change
was computer technology has improved to the point where you can get a lot more
bang for your buck from a hardware/software perspective. Honestly, our margins
are just a lot smaller and all the money is going up on the screen.
Did you approach Bender’s Big Score as four episodes put together or
as a single feature?
DC-H: The writers had to approach it like four episodes and we had to
keep it in mind that we’d direct it like one movie.
CK: We definitely had internal milestones we were trying to lock. We
divvied it up and wanted part one done by this date and part two done by this
date. But you would do that with any movie. You have to divide and conquer.
Was there any difficulty transitioning from TV series to feature?
CK: Working in 16:9, which is great except that we still have to protect
the 4:3 standard depth. That was a little tricky from a composition standpoint
because anything else you can pan and scan. That’s an extra element for the
directors and the storyboard people to have to worry about when that wasn’t
really there before. We’re working in HD and that takes a certain amount of
planning and legwork but, really, by the time we got to the fourth season of
Futurama we really had the whole thing running pretty smoothly. We had
gotten to the point where we had honed it down to a phenomenal crew and
unfortunately as soon as we got to that perfect point…
It got cancelled.
CK: We were only able to bring some of those people back and I think the
initial challenge was trying to staff up a fairly large group of people while
production was going on
The Simpsons Movie
and several other movies. We were initially concerned about it.
DC-H: But we ended up having a really great crew.
There are a lot of guest voices lined up for Futurama,
like Al Gore
CK: I have to say his acting this time around is really terrific. I was
personally a little surprised!
DC-H: He was less the candidate and more the actor.
What other guest stars will be in the four movies?
CK: I don’t know if we can talk about that.
DC-H: Really fun ones!
Were there certain elements fans responded to in the shows that you made a
point of including in the movies?
CK: The first movie in particular, the fans will feel very well honored.
It sort of tips a hat to the fans. There’s a lot of really cool inside stuff in
it. All of them really pay homage to the fans.
DC-H: We definitely talked. He was a director on the series. I wound up
being a director on the series and he ended up working on
Drawn Together and I worked under him as one of the directors on
Drawn Together, so we’ve had a great working relationship. I was really
excited to work with him on these four DVDs. We’d trade ideas, we’d talk about
which characters we’d trade between the series, which characters would look
good, try them out in different shots and play them out in different ideas. At
the same time we each had such difficult workloads that we both had to fend for
What did you contribute to the story of the first movie and the third
DC-H: I’m really fortunate to get a well-written script. And from the
script, just like the series, we take off and storyboard it, trying to make sure
their jokes play well visually. A lot of writers will write things that sound
funny but are then hard to translate to pictures. That’s a struggle. I just move
forward and try to tell it in picture. If I see some bumps in the road that need
The first DVD has a lot of back and forth storytelling and it’s really
important to keep track of who’s who and where they are. When you see the DVD
you’ll understand. I had to make sure their writing comes out really well on the
Considering that there might not be more after these DVDs, will there be
closure at the end of the fourth movie?
CK: The way the series ended was a little anti-climactic, and we feel
really lucky to have gotten to re-visit the project again. If we’re done I think
we all feel much better about it.
All four films are completed now?
CK: We’re still in production. We’ve delivered the first but we won’t be
delivering the color on the second DVD until sometime in December. We’re not
even halfway through from that standpoint.
Have any stories been developed past these four movies?
CK: That’s really a writer question. I’m sure there’s always a story
they’d like to do that they didn’t get to do.
DC-H: I’m sure if they had the opportunity they’d write lots more.
What would it take for the show to be renewed after the
16 Comedy Central episodes? Would one DVD selling well be enough?
CK: Ultimately, those are business decisions. The better those DVDs sell,
the greater the interest will be. That’s sort of the Family Guy model of
return. I think that’s what gets people’s attention so if sales for the first
and second are great there might be some discussion there. I’m not sure if the
Comedy Central deal is a cable window. I’m not really sure what the specific
points of that deal are.
What aspect ratio will Comedy Central air the episodes
CK: I don’t think we know that yet. We think it will air as a letterboxed
version but I’m not really sure what the plans are for that.
DC-H: I think the series itself should have always been widescreen. It
was a really great-looking show. So even though we had to compensate for the 4:3
and keep that as a consideration, hopefully they’ll air it as a widescreen
because it really looks so much better.
Do you know when the episodes will air on Comedy Central?
CK: The old episodes will begin to air in January 1st, 2008, but I
have no idea what their plans for the new episodes are.
Any favorite Futurama episodes?
DC-H: I really like "Parasites Lost" and "The Devil’s Hands are Idle
CK: I have a holy trinity of Futurama episodes. The first would be "All’s
Well That Roswell," "Parasites Lost," and [then] it’s a tie between "The Devil’s
Hands are Idle Playthings," and "The Sting."
What’s in store for Rough Draft after Futurama?
DC-H: Big things.
CK: We’re going to single-handedly settle the writers strike.
Bender’s Big Score is out in stores this Tuesday.