Friday, August 12, 2011

Donovan Cook interview, part 2

Read Part 1 here

How did you pitch 2 Stupid Dogs? Who did you go to?
Specifically at Hanna-Barbera? We pitched Stupid Dogs pretty much anywhere. I think the only place that never got us to Stupid Dogs pitch was Disney TV. At the time nobody was really making short cartoons. John [Kricfalusi] had been doing it on Ren & Stimpy.

Just to be clear on the timeline, we created Stupid Dogs before the Ren & Stimpy pilot came out. Some people have been a little nasty about saying that Stupid Dogs was a ripoff, and if you watch the two of them back-to-back they're very different shows. John K. is a really amazing guy but he had different sensibilities than I do and the people that made Stupid Dogs, with me and Hanna-Barbera. So when I went to work at Spumco on Ren & Stimpy I had already pitched the show everywhere and we were in the long process of making a deal at Hanna-Barbera.

So we pitched all around and Hanna-Barbera was one of the last places. Hanna-Barbera happened to be making Tom and Jerry Kids short cartoons, so when I took the show to Warner Bros., or Fox TV, or alot of those places they would say "yeah, it looks like it could be funny but their shorts. What do you do with them?" I would be "well, you put three of them together and you get half-hour." I mean, that's how we watched Looney Tunes, so it was a little weird that so many television and production executives wouldn't really know what to do with it but at Hanna-Barbera they were making these Tom and Jerry Kids shorts so they immediately knew how to put shorts on television and I pitched to Margot McDonough, who was the creative executive there at the time and she got it and liked it.

The crazy thing is this got pitched on a Tuesday, and on Thursday Turner took over the company. So there was quite a bit of turnmoil and it took quite a long time to make the deal because they were interested and liked it, but for months they had no idea who was going to run the company. David Kirschner was running Hanna-Barbera at the time but they had no idea who was going to run it and finally they found Fred Seibert but it then was months before he actually came to California to take over so it was a long, drawn-out process as it often is, but it all worked out in the end.

Was Bill and Joe anywhere at Hanna-Barbera at the time?
Oh yeah, they were both there. They came in everyday. It's funny, I look back at it now and I regret not spending enough time with them but we got to see them alot. My best Joe Barbera story...we made updated Secret Squirrel cartoons at the same time we made the first season of Stupid Dogs and I took the first storyboard we had for Secret Squirrel and took it to Joe to show it to him. He was so funny because when I first took it to him to say "Hey Joe, how are you doing? You know, we're doing new versions of your cartoon, Secret Squirrel and I wanted to show you one of the storyboards". Joe said "we didn't make Secret Squirrel!" [laugh] And he literally had a plush toy of Secret Squirrel on his shelf. I took it off the shelf and handed it to him and said "yeah, you did. Look, you have a toy of it."

So I pitched him the whole storyboard, I think the first one was the one we called "Goldflipper." I pitched the whole board, the big damn thing, doing the voices, and at the end he cuddles the plush toy and looks at it and says "Oh Secret, they ruined you!" [laugh] It was heartbreaking, obviously, at the time but it's hysterical because it was like "Wait a minute! Ten minutes ago you told me you didn't create this character and now you're cuddling the toy and saying that I ruined it." But they were both great and they were always there and they obviously had alot of stories and good advice. It was a real treat to be able to spend time at the studio when they were still there.

Was it your idea to include Secret Squirrel in the show, or someone else's?
Yeah, that was my idea. For some reason Hanna-Barbera didn't think it was a great idea to run three Stupid Dogs cartoons in a row, which I never did understand that, so Fred said "Let's put something inbetween. What do you want to do?" I said that one of the many Hanna-Barbera cartoons that I loved as a kid was Secret Squirrel, and asked if I can mess around with that, and they said "sure".

Paul Rudish was also in our class at CalArts and I've always been a giant fan of Paul's work and so I called him up and asked if he wanted to come in and redevelop the show. I was there couple months on my own so Paul was the first person that I hired and he came in and immediately worked on redeveloping Secret Squirrel. I think alot of the Secret Squirrel cartoons we made are fantastic, but I don't know if it ever really worked having them inbetween Stupid Dogs. Back then we got some feedback from audiences saying they were confused, so it might not have been the best choice for what to put inbetween, but on their own some of those Secret Squirrel cartoons are fantastic. Paul really worked hard on those. He was really hands-on.

Was Larry Huber in charge of all the Secret Squirrels?
I had never produced a show before and didn't really have any idea of what I was doing, because when we finalized the deal and they hired me to be the creator/producer/director of the show...I was 22, I had been out of school for not long, I think two years, so I really had no experience, so it was Fred...I owe alot to Fred. Some of the people in the production management at Hanna-Barbera were pretty reluctant to let me run the show, but Fred was the one that said "Let's let him try, but let's give him someone who knows what he's doing as a partner." So they teamed me up with Larry and he was amazing with not just with me, but everybody, including Paul and Craig [McCracken], Genndy [Tartakovsky], Rob [Renzetti], everybody that was there. They all learned so much from Larry. But pretty quickly, Larry and I decided to split duties, so he basically teamed up with Paul to work on the Secret Squirrel, and I ran Stupid Dogs, but we collaborated on all of them. I think I directed quite a few of the voice sessions for the Secret Squirrel shorts and all the storyboard pitches...Larry was there for all the Stupid Dog pitches, and I was there for all the Secret Squirrel pitches, but we decided to stay out of each other's hair for a little bit, by splitting up the two shows that way.

I have no idea what he's doing now, but Larry spent years working on these really great stuff; he had a great run before any of us kids showed up at Hanna-Barbera. He was really a special guy and he was a real veteran, but he embraced a kind of this chaos this new generation showed up and all wanting to try crazy ideas for new cartoons. He had alot of impact on alot of cartoons that were made in the '90s and the 2000s with Cartoon Network and Frederator and stuff. He's tremendous guy.

Who would you consider to be the key people in 2 Stupid Dogs, (writers, storyboards, etc.)?
Mark Saraceni was story editor, but we all wrote outlines. I think my role was for seven-minute cartoons we'd have no more than a three or four page outlines. So what we would do is anybody who had an idea for one of the cartoons...I had a pretty long list of 'em from all the development work that I had done that I spent trying to pitch it, but we would have lunch meetings trying to talk about premise ideas for cartoons and then we would pick the ones we like and then Saraceni would go off and, he wrote alot of the outlines and Lane Raichert I think wrote some, Henry Gilroy wrote some outlines, Richard Pursel did us a favor and wrote up a few, I met him at Spumco...but then majority of the writing was done on the wall in the storyboards.

So the board artists would get the outlines, which like I said was three or four pages, which really had just, here's the setup, here's what's the conflict's going to be, some ideas of what will happen, how things will escalate, and sometimes it will have a solid ending, sometimes it will not. And the storyboard artists would spend maybe two or three weeks doing a rough storyboard where they would develop much of the material and the gags. It would get pinned up and pitch it and we'd spend a day or so kinda tearing it down as a group. Most of the storyboard artists and much of the crew would watch the pitch and stay together for the rest of the afternoon and pitch new gags and new character stuff and situations and kinda cover the wall with post-it notes and the board artists would go away for couple more weeks to sort it all out.

So the guys that were doing so much of the storyboards...Genndy, Rob Renzetti became really key guys in the storyboards. Tuck Tucker was there for a while in the first season. But the key people on 2 Stupid Dogs were Craig McCracken, he was huge. Mike Moon, and Rob Renzetti, Tartakovsky. All those guys that wound up running the place for years after that. We were all part of the first season here and everyone was tremendously impactful on the show.

Continue to Part 3

Interview (C) Charles Brubaker
2 Stupid Dogs, Secret Squirrel (C) Hanna-Barbera Cartoons, Inc.

1 comment:

Yeldarb86 said...

One of the animation magazines gave 2 Stupid Dogs (plus Rocko's Modern Life) an unfair critique when determining the ranks of Ren & Stimpy's first few "successors". Rocko particularly became memorable enough for the comparisons to be superficial at most.

Joe Barbera's reaction to the new Secret Squirrel is strange, to say the least. Hanna-Barbera allowed damage to their better-known creations for 20+ years, when in fact, this new regime gave one of their old properties a fresh perspective.