FX Sweet­ens the Toon Deal

This month, the cable net­work de­buts Chozen, an in­trigu­ing new an­i­mated se­ries about a white gay rap­per—and show­cases a di­a­bol­i­cally dif­fer­ent new sea­son of Archer. by Ramin Za­hed

Animation Magazine - - Content -

This month, the cable net­work de­buts Chozen, an in­trigu­ing new an­i­mated se­ries about a white gay rap­per—and show­cases a di­a­bol­i­cally dif­fer­ent new sea­son of Archer. by Ramin Za­hed

T“As far as the lead be­ing gay, I fig­ured why not? It’s fun to play with tropes com­mon in hard­core rap, which is usu­ally ripe with

he Fox net­work might be the home of An­i­ma­tion Dom­i­na­tion, but it’s sis­ter cable net­work FX that is serv­ing up some sweet com­pe­ti­tion this month. Not only do we get to en­joy an ex­cit­ing new sea­son about ev­ery­one’s fa­vorite self-in­volved spy Archer, there’s also the de­but of Chozen, Grant Dek­ernion’s crazy new se­ries about a white gay rap­per ad­just­ing to reg­u­lar life af­ter be­ing re­leased from prison.

Dek­ernion, who used to be a writer’s as­sis­tant on HBO’s com­edy se­ries East­bound and Down, tells us that he be­gan to think about cre­at­ing a show that in­volved hip hop mu­sic a few years ago. “I wanted to tell a story that I hadn’t seen in an­i­ma­tion be­fore—some­thing with unique char­ac­ters,” he says. “So I talked to the folks at Rough House [pro­duc­tion com­pany for East­bound and Down] and we came up with a solid idea and pitched it to FX about two years ago.”

The se­ries’ an­i­ma­tion is pro­duced by Floyd County Pro­duc­tions in At­lanta, which also works on Archer. Stylis­ti­cally the toon is dif­fer­ent from Archer, and the an­i­ma­tion is done in Flash, as well as Pho­to­shop and Af­ter Ef­fects. “Th­ese guys are able to pro­duce a high­qual­ity prod­uct in a rel­a­tively short amount of

misog­yny and sex­ism. I wanted to take a dif­fer­ent point of view.”

— Chozen’s cre­ator/exec pro­ducer Grant Dek­ernion

time,” says Dek­ernion. “I be­lieve we can de­liver an episode in three months’ time, which is un­be­liev­able.”

Voiced by Bobby Moyni­han, Danny McBride, Michael Pena, Kathryn Hahn and Method Man, Chozen def­i­nitely doesn’t shy away from go­ing where few an­i­mated shows have gone be­fore. “I re­ally wanted a dif­fer­ent take on the usual rap star TV show or movie,” notes Dek­ernion. “As far as the lead be­ing gay, I fig­ured why not? It’s fun to play with tropes com­mon in hard­core rap, which is usu­ally ripe with misog­yny and sex­ism. I wanted to take a dif­fer­ent point of view. Our main char­ac­ter is some­one you want to root for. He is not the smartest tool in the shed, but you re­ally want him to ac­com­plish his dream. As a teenager, he was sent to prison for a crime he didn’t com­mit, and now he has to re-ac­cli­mate him­self to the world out­side.”

Chozen’s show run­ner and exec pro­ducer is Tom Brady, a TV sit­com vet­eran who has worked on both an­i­mated shows such as The Simp­sons and The Critic and live-ac­tion fare such as Sports Night and Men Be­hav­ing Badly. He says he jumped at the op­por­tu­nity to work on the toon. “I was look­ing for some­thing ex­cit­ing and fresh that cuts through the noise out there, and this was it,” he notes. “It of­fers a com­bi­na­tion of things that we haven’t seen be­fore—this char­ac­ter has no use for la­bels—he’s cocky, dy­namic and quite re­silient. A lot of the hu­mor of the show comes from the fact that he got locked up as a teen, and most of his ex­pe­ri­ences are col­ored by his time in prison. He’s missed out on pop cul­ture and tech ad­vance­ments, and his sex­u­al­ity also makes him a lit­tle dif­fer­ent.”

Brady and Dek­ernion both say that they’re not try­ing to push but­tons or tackle is­sues just for the sake of be­ing con­tro­ver­sial or po­lit­i­cal. “You can use an­i­ma­tion as so­cial com­men­tary and you don’t have to write slap­stick and goofy jokes all the time,” says Brady. “Chozen is mod­eled af­ter the cur­rent trend in com­edy, which is more grounded. It’s got gritty hu­mor and flawed char­ac­ters and is based on real life. Grant worked in the mu­sic busi­ness be­fore he was a writer on East­bound and Down. He has a bril­liant, twisted mind and knows the rap world very well. The show is re­ally the cul­mi­na­tion of ev­ery­thing he’s done.”

While all this de­vo­tion to real-world sit­u­a­tions may be seen as a plus in some cir­cles, the ques­tion that comes to mind is, why did they even need to make this show an­i­mated? Brady says the medium comes in handy when they cre­ate mu­sic videos or get in­side some of the char­ac­ters’ heads. “Things get a lit­tle fan­tas­ti­cal at times, when he want to high­light the char­ac­ter’s emo­tional state, when he smokes some­thing or gets drunk, we can play with the pos­si­bil­i­ties of an­i­ma­tion,” he ex­plains.

“I love work­ing with the an­i­ma­tion team at Floyd,” says Dek­ernion. “Archer is my fa­vorite an­i­mated com­edy. I’ve al­ways loved dif­fer­ent kinds of an­i­ma­tion— Heavy Metal and Akira are two of my fa­vorite movies. I am also a huge fan of Robotech. Fam­ily Guy, Black Dy­na­mite, The Boon­docks— they are all great come­dies that are smart and fun.”

At the end of the day, Dek­ernion says he feels in­sanely for­tu­nate. “I’m so grate­ful to have the sup­port of peo­ple like Danny McBride, Jody Hill and David Gor­don Green [exec producers for Rough House] who took a shine to the story and helped me get to where I am to­day,” says the Chozen one. “I guess the les­son here is to re­ally ded­i­cate your­self to your project and put your head down, keep writ­ing and rewrit­ing. Just do the work … It’s not easy and it’s not al­ways fun, but in the process, you end up find­ing some­thing much bet­ter.”

Mean­while, on Archer…

“I love the dy­namic of th­ese six, seven char­ac­ters and how they bitch at each other. I think the re­la­tion­ship be­tween them re­ally works well.

That’s why we picked them up and put them in a to­tally new sit­u­a­tion.”

Now that we’ve met Archer’s new an­i­mated com­pan­ion show on FX, we need to find out what is hap­pen­ing to the su­per­spy and his team in the show’s fifth sea­son. So when we got the show’s ta­lented writer and exec pro­ducer Matt Thomp­son on the phone, we were hop­ing for a big scoop. How­ever, things are never that easy!

“What we’re do­ing on the new sea­son is kind of a big se­cret,” says Thomp­son. “We’re chang­ing a lot of things, and when peo­ple see it, they’re ei­ther go­ing to love it or hate it.”

What Thomp­son does tell us is this: “We’re go­ing to find out that ISIS is shut­ting down and they’re not go­ing to be spies any­more,” says the se­cre­tive exec pro­ducer. “It’s go­ing to change things up and af­ter peo­ple see what [show cre­ator] Adam Reed and I have done, they’re go­ing to say, ‘You are a ge­nius’ or ‘You to­tally f---ed it up.’”

Thomp­son fur­ther ex­plains that he and Reed were kind of get­ting bored with do­ing the same thing they had done in pre­vi­ous sea­sons of the show, which first de­buted on FX in Jan­uary of 2010. “We tend to do things that in­ter­est us and hope it in­ter­ests oth­ers as well. Adam ac­tu­ally writes all the scripts for the se­ries. We are go­ing to have the same char­ac­ters as be­fore, but they’re go­ing to do dif­fer­ent things, ”

When we press him on de­tails about guest stars, he gives us a few tid­bits. “We don’t have a lot of juicy guest roles, be­cause the show is de­signed to work on just our char­ac­ters talk­ing to each other,” he notes. “But this sea­son we do have a few great voices. Ron Perl­man is com­ing back as Ra­mon Li­mon (the gay, for­mer spy for Fidel Cas­tro), as are Thomas Len­non and Gary Cole. We’re work­ing on a three-part fi­nale and we have some­one spe­cial in mind for that. I am also work­ing hard on get­ting singer Kenny Log­gins do a guest voice, maybe do ‘Dan­ger Zone’ on the show. He has stood the test of time.”

The toon, which is pro­duced by Floyd County Pro­duc­tions in At­lanta, has of­ten been praised for its clean, crisp vi­su­als, which blend 2D an­i­ma­tion with CG el­e­ments. Archer is cre­ated us­ing Adobe Il­lus­tra­tor for the char­ac­ters, Pho­to­shop for back­grounds and Af­ter Ef­fects for the an­i­ma­tion, and the ac­tion is sup­ple­mented with Cin­ema 4D and 3ds Max. Ac­cord­ing to Thomp­son, they al­low Reed three weeks to write each episode, then they have three weeks to draw it and three weeks to an­i­mate the show. “Since we have built our li­brary of as­sets, we can spend more money on the 3D stuff, and I think ev­ery­one can agree that the show looks bet­ter now than when we started,” he adds.

Right now, Floyd County em­ploys about 130 peo­ple and takes ad­van­tage of Ge­or­gia’s gen­er­ous film tax credit pro­gram. In ad­di­tion to Archer and Chozen, the stu­dio is also work­ing on Seth Ro­gen’s up­com­ing Big­foot toon, which got a pi­lot or­der from FX last Au­gust.

Su­per­spy’s Se­cret Recipe?

So what is Archer’s for­mula for suc­cess? How did Reed and Thomp­son hit the com­edy jack­pot? “It goes back to some­thing an old boss told me, that the com­edy comes down to how th­ese room­mates bicker,” replies Thomp­son. “I love the dy­namic of th­ese six, seven char­ac­ters and how they bitch at each other. I think the re­la­tion­ship be­tween th­ese peo­ple re­ally works well. That’s why we picked them up and put them in a to­tally new sit­u­a­tion. In my mind, th­ese seven peo­ple re­ally ex­ist: They com­ple­ment each other in a be­liev­able way, and they bicker!”

Another big rule on the show is that the ac­tion hap­pens in a time­less world. “I’m a big con­sumer of what’s go­ing on in pop cul­ture,” he notes. “We don’t do Lind­say Lo­han jokes. We sur­round our­selves with im­prov com­edy and comics, and sit around and chat with them. We are not do­ing aliens and di­nosaurs and talk­ing fish. The show has real world rules (al­though we just started to bend them with the holo­gram lady, Krieger’s vir­tual girl­friend). The goal was not to make the show too wacky. Let’s just make them an­gry at each other. It boils down to six or seven great voiceover

— Archer’s exec pro­ducer Matt Thomp­son

peo­ple mak­ing it be­liev­able—like a three-act Broad­way play.”

Look­ing back at the days when he was work­ing on Adult Swim shows such as Space Ghost Coast to Coast and Sealab 2021, the toon com­edy vet­eran ac­knowl­edges that it’s a whole new ball game th­ese days. “On Sealab, we lost money be­cause it cost us about $35,000 an episode and we got $33,000 for it. Back then, you had to move to L.A. and find a job as a pro­duc­tion as­sis­tant, but now you can stay where you are. Wait un­til you’re more es­tab­lished. If your show gets enough hits on the web, some­one is go­ing to pay at­ten­tion. Our lead an­i­ma­tor made his own One Di­rec­tion fan car­toon, and it just blew up. He got more trac­tion from that than work­ing on Archer. So the les­son is, if you can do some­thing, throw it on YouTube and don’t worry about how much money you’re go­ing to make.” The fifth sea­son of Archer pre­mieres on Mon­day, Jan. 13 at 10 p.m. It is fol­lowed by the pre­miere of the new se­ries Chozen at 10:30 p.m.

Eat Yo’ Heart Out, Eminem: Chozen pushes the en­ve­lope and shat­ters stereo­types with its edgy themes and un­likely cast of char­ac­ters.

Rockin’ the Boat: The fifth sea­son of Archer is ex­pected to push the re­set but­ton in a ma­jor way.

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