Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Literal Videos

Not too long ago I declared that, where story-driven songs are concerned, I prefer music videos to be as literal as possible. When I'm listening to a song that tells a story, I picture the events happening, and if there is going to be a video, I am disappointed when it fails to depict those events. For example, nowhere in the video for Pink's "Get This Party Started" was she seen gettin' flashy in her Mercedes Benz. What gives?

Fountains of Wayne excels at songs with stories that evoke very specific visuals, and their "Stacy's Mom" video is a good example of one that takes the song fairly literally (even if the kids are disturbingly younger than I would have guessed). Anyway, I didn't realize until today that there is a video for "Someone to Love," the single off their album Traffic and Weather from earlier this year. The fact that it features Demetri Martin is a bonus, but I also love that it tells the story almost exactly as I'd pictured it.

Fountains of Wayne - Someone To Love (hi)

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Tip: Stop the video as soon as the song fades out or you'll be greeted with loud, glitchy static at the end of the video.

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Friday, October 12, 2007

Out Of Jimmy's Head Commentary 1: "Talent Show!"

Out of Jimmy's Head episodes have been piling up, and I've yet to write anything about them. Hope you have them memorized, though, because I'm going to start from the beginning:

Episode 1: "Talent Show!"

The Title

When the show was still called "Re-Animated," this episode was titled "Re-jected: A Story of a Talent Show." Originally all the episode titles followed that format, so we had a several-page-long list of every word starting with "Re," compiled by last summer's intern on the movie. After the show title changed to "Out of Jimmy's Head," the "re" titles went out the window. The new titling scheme was simply to include an exclamation mark in the every title, but that seems to be an affectation that no one else realized we were doing on purpose, so the episode titles on the internet, TiVo listings, and the world at large don't have them.

General Thoughts

This was one of the first episodes written. We chose it to air first since it provides a nice vehicle to introduce a bunch of the kids at school who make up the recurring supporting cast. One problem with the movie were that jokey supporting characters like Animal-Loving Kevin never had a formal introduction, so it was difficult to make the connection between, say, a llama in science class or the duck on the field trip and the sleepy-eyed kid invariably sitting next to them. Most reviewers just seemed to notice the odd presence of animals in these scenes, which was fair enough, since we never actually got a close-up of Kevin or any character saying a line like "Hey, that Kevin sure likes animals!" We sought to remedy this in the series, hence Dad's line "So, Animal-Loving Kevin, whaddaya got for us?" along with scenes that make Kevin's relationship with the duck crystal clear. Incidentally, the duck singing opera was a weird joke that really came alive for us onscreen. It was a favorite moment for the room from the first cut we saw. We all especially like the shot of the blond boy extra looking moved--perhaps the one example of an extra acting and actually making a scene better.

Also (re-) introduced in this episode is Becky, a boring, nerdy girl whose attitude-laden T-shirts ("Superstar," "Man-Eater", etc.) make promises her personality can't match. In the movie, she appeared in several scenes but was pretty much mute. Like Kevin's animals, the T-shirt gag was practically a background detail that was never hit very hard, and probably unnoticed by all but viewers with the sharpest TVs. We still don't hit the T-shirt gag hard here at all, but then again, there may not be a good way to make a person wearing an incongruous T-shirt into a really hard joke. The main difference is we've resigned ourselves to no one ever noticing it.

Along with Becky, we meet Gramps, the school's oldest student. Gramps is played by John Bliss, who is the mean old dead company founder from Andy Richter Controls the Universe. He is very funny. We would have loved to use him more, but there were fears that kids viewing the show can't stand the sight of the elderly.

Another character from the movie, re-appearing here, is Easily Excited Kid (known on Wikipedia as Enthusiastic Kid and "Yeah" Boy before being deleted entirely from the characters page). In the movie, he would thrust his fist in the air and say "Yeah!" at every opportunity, even when others did not share his enthusiasm. It was perhaps the only supporting cast running gag that actually came across, and actually played pretty well. In the series, EEK (as we often call him in scripts) has graduated to delivering full sentences, though he still punctuates them with his trademark catchphrase. Incidentally, this kid actor loves his catchphrase. When the movie screened last fall at Cartoon Network, I remember seeing him at the theater, saying "Yeah!" to anyone who would listen. At this point, he also seems to add it to his lines whether we write it for him or not.

Also returning is Logan, the cool kid who makes fun of Jimmy in the first scene. This kid is cool. If you talk to him, just the way he carries himself, the way he talks, instantly makes you feel like an uncool loser.

The Writing

"Talent Show" also seemed like an appropriate first episode because the story had a strong focus on how the cartoon characters were influencing Jimmy's life. The original ending had Jimmy simply telling bad jokes to get back in Tux's good graces, but it was felt that Jimmy throwing away his shot at popularity just to win back an imaginary friend seemed a bit too depressing, and perhaps not all that much fun to watch. The addition of the musical number makes it at least spectacular for the TV audience, if not Jimmy's audience, and the tying in of the Robin story lets us feel that Jimmy has at least gained some real-world advantage by publicly humiliating himself.

Another change was to tie in Sonny's failed plot via the dimensional vortex, to up the stakes of Tux running away. Briefly, a version was considered in which Sonny would succeed in capturing Tux and torturing him by putting him in terrible cartoons. Robin would discover this, download Tux onto an iPod, and bring it to the talent show where she would tell Jimmy what happened and Jimmy could upload Tux back into his head. Ultimately it was decided that this might be a little too complicated. You know, it being the first episode and all. Besides, we can't show iPods.

(Side note: Because we are a kid's show we are not allowed to show or name recognizable brand name products, including iPods. So every time we write a joke that calls for recorded music, sounds, or a personal stereo device, we then have to write "MP3 player." Trouble is, the only MP3 player that is obvious and easily recognizable, and thus ideal for making a joke "read," is an iPod. And you can't sub in a Walkman or tape deck or boom box because kids don't use those anymore. Hence, the Sonny joke in this episode where he blames Mittens (his bag of money) for saving up for an MP3 player, and we see Mittens wearing big stereo headphones. The joke originally called for white earbuds, but we couldn't do that.)

Jimmy's rap was difficult. We were very worried about straying into the territory of shows that include rap but are clearly written by people who know very little about it, especially because we knew very little about it. At one point we toyed with changing Jimmy's act to "Snaps" style insults but it was felt that that would come off as too mean-spirited. To lessen the cheesiness, I pushed hard for giving the rap a more contemporary flow, with internal rhymes and less predictable rhythms--more Eminem than Fresh Prince, as opposed to the "da da da da da da da da da da RHYME / da da da da da da da da da da da RHYME" thing you always see on bad TV sitcom raps. That helped somewhat, but the idea that the school loves Jimmy's rapping is admittedly still a pretty big buy.

Music and Animation

The music for Tux's big number was composed to match our lyrics by composer Paul Buckley, who quickly and impressively turned a bunch of fairly arbitrary lyrics into a credible, even catchy, show tune. And of course, the animation came out great. Under Matt Danner's guidance, the slightly redesigned cartoon characters can do squash-and-stretch (an animation term that means pretty much what it sounds like), and some clever Flash techniques allow them to make animation that pushes the models farther and looks less like Flash and more like traditional animation. All of this makes the animation much more loose and dynamic than it was in the movie. The characters go off-model a lot more, too, which seems to have upset a few viewers who were fans of the original movie's character designs, but also allows for much funnier and more expressive characters. Even some of the show's most avid haters have admitted that the animation shines.

Deleted Scenes

There were last-minute trims to this episode to make Dad less mean. These included Dad saying to EEK, "Breakdancing, huh? Pretty lame talent," and Dad introducing Becky as "Some girl who's so unremarkable I can't even remember her name, so let's just call her... Becky!" I suppose it makes the joke of Becky's boringness less clear, but the loss of this gratuitous meanness doesn't seem to hurt the episode any. Fortunately, Dad's funnier mean lines, like "You believe in yourself! And that's what's going to make your act so unintentionally hilarious!" still remain. Also cut at the last minute: A tag featuring additional footage of the duck singing opera.

In the scene where Craig eats Mom's dehydrated pasta pellets, then takes a sip of water, at one point a cut came back where someone had added a special effect of Craig's stomach expanding cartoonishly. This was not in the script, and we were not particularly fond of it. This footage with the effect appeared in some of the ads and promotion for the show, though we had it removed just in time for the episode to air. At least one person online has spotted the discrepancy between the version in the ads and in the episode.

We had written, and shot, a scene introducing Too-Tall Brian, a tall boy whose head is always out of frame (seen in the movie following Craig's declaration that "everybody loves a tall guy"). Brian's talent was that he could spin his head all the way around, which he proceeded to do offscreen, resulting in uncomfortable sound effects and the crowd's disgusted reaction. The special effect employed to create Too-Tall Brian consists of having an extra stand on a box just high enough to make someone appear impossibly tall. Trouble was, as shot, you could clearly see the guy's knees, making it very obvious that we were looking at a guy standing on a box. Brian was cut and would never return. It's just as well; any shot in which he had to interact with another character tended to be cumbersome to execute. One relic of this gag remains, though: Tux's line "I haven't seen a head spin like that since my ex-wife--she was an owl!" is intended to be a reaction to Brian's act. Without it, the joke is really apropos of nothing, but somehow it kind of works anyway.

Man, that was long. I could go on, but I shouldn't. See, this is why I put off writing a commentary for so long.

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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Emails With My Mom

My Mom:

You can still help people by calling for help. Don't walk into a trap yourself.


Subject: Fwd: Fw: New Rape Scam, please read
In Beware....

This was passed on to me by a friend:

Sunday afternoon around 5 PM, I headed to the Target in Wheaton, IL where crime is very rare and is mostly like bikes being stolen. It was still light outside and I parked close to the entrance. As I got out of my car and began walking towards Target, an older lady shouted to me from the passenger seat of a car parked about 30 feet away.

"Ma'am you must help me, help me please, help me Ma'am!" I looked her in the eyes and started to walk towards her when all of a sudden I remembered an email my Mom had sent me a week or two ago, about rapists and abductions using elderly people to lure women.

I paused, memorized the license plate, and immediately headed into Target to get a manager to come help this lady just in case something was up. While the woman manager headed out there, I kept a close watch just because I was curious what was wrong with the lady and wanted to make sure nothing happened.

As the Target lady walked toward the car and got very close to the old woman in order to help her, the back door flew open. A large man with a stocking cap on jumped out and stuck a gun to the lady's stomach and shoved her into the backseat of the car.

I yelled out, "call 911" several times. Just as I was saying that, a policeman who happened to be on the other side of the parking lot--and who saw the entire thing happen--raced over to the car. He was able to stop the car and arrest the male as well as the old lady who was involved in the scheme.

By God's grace everyone was all right--including myself--although I think we were quite shaken up. Like many of you, I would not in a million years have left an elderly person who was yelling for help if it weren't for the e-mail I had read last week. So I wanted to pass this along so you all can be aware and remember that you really can't trust anyone these days. You just never know when something like this could happen. I would have never dreamed it to happen to me especially on a Sunday afternoon at a Target in a "safe" area!

It definitely was not a coincidence that my mom sent the email just a few days before this happened. Please be careful, and always be aware of your surroundings. Just because you don't go over to help someone, does not mean you have to leave them in trouble, but don't go ALONE; you really don't know what kind of criminal activity might be going on.


Me:

http://www.snopes.com/crime/warnings/wheaton.asp

My Mom:

I didn't really believe it to be true, however, someone reading the story can get the idea. Now it is proven to be false someone else can try it without people suspecting it. You can never be too careful.

Me:

I knew you were going to say that. That is the rationale for everyone who forwards false warnings. Maybe I should invent a horrible story and email it to people, and then everyone will have to be afraid even though I made it up because now someone could get the idea.

Speaking of which, I heard that street gangs put poison on shopping cart handles and if you touch your face while you're shopping you could get very sick and die. Tell everyone you know.

My Mom:

You are not supposed to touch the germ infested shopping cart handle and then touch your face. My friend Dee always wears disposable gloves for shopping carts and gas pumps.

Me:

Your friend Dee = insane.

I did not account for the high level of craziness that already exists among you and your friends, no doubt a result of the scare-tactic emails you all forward to each other and believe wholeheartedly. I guess I will have to come up with a more ridiculous story to get a reaction from you.

My Mom:

You can never be too careful.

Me:

Yes you can. By putting gloves on just to use a shopping cart. That is being too careful.

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