Executive Producers Ben Jones and John C. Reilly took some time to discuss their animated series Stone Quackers which airs Thursdays at Midnight on FX X.
Full interview after the jump!
I never, ever thought I’d see a version of Blue Velvet in cartoon form, so—or even use those two words together in the same sentence. So, how did you guys get the idea to, kind of, do a show based on that?
Ben Jones: Well, the Family Guy, they led off one of their seasons with their parody of Star Wars, which is definitely, culturally and creatively important to them, and I asked the Quackers, “What was a movie that inspires us—that we might want to celebrate?” And, that was certainly one of them. It’s an important movie for me, yes, creatively and spiritually, maybe.
Do you think you might do any more David Lynch covers or maybe you could even get him to guest star and voice a character?
Ben Jones: I would hope so. Yes, or I don’t even think he’s a real person. To me, he’s definitely more of a deity or a God. Maybe John has a better, more realistic—
John C. Reilly: No, he’s also a guru of mine. I practice transcendental meditation and he’s a big proponent of that, so he’s a big inspiration in a lot of ways. He’s literally a guru to me, even though I’ve never met him.
Ben Jones: Yes, absolutely.
I was wondering, for John—what was it about this project and working with Ben, in particular, that made you want to get involved?
John C. Reilly: I was actually first exposed to Ben through his artwork. I saw a show that my friend, Mike Diamond, curated at MOCA, and his piece was my favorite piece of the whole show. And, then it turns out we had a mutual friend, Eric Wareheim, and Eric just had nothing but great things to say about Ben. And, then I went in and met with everyone, and he was a delightful chat, and Whit [Thomas] and Clay [Tatum] were also very charming, funny guys, and we quickly just started telling stories about our childhood and juvenile delinquency. It just seemed like a really inspiring, fun thing to do.
But, to tell you the truth, like, actually the first thing I saw of Ben—what was the thing called? Chrome—that first short you did that was the prequel to Problem Solverz?
Ben Jones: We had Neon Knome. That was a good one.
John C. Reilly: Neon Knome—that’s it. So, I saw Neon Knome, and myself, and a lot of my friends were obsessed with that for a long time. I just thought it was this mysterious thing created by some weirdo somewhere, and then that was true, but it also turned out that Ben had done a lot of other things and—anyway, so I was already a big fan.
So, when this came my way, I thought, wow, I must be a cool person to be asked by such a cool person to do such a cool project.
What makes Stone Quackers stand out from the rest of the animations out there, like currently on TV?
Ben Jones: That’s a good question. Yes, I mean, well there’s lots of great things about how we make this. First off, we make it with a very small team, it’s like three or four people drawing it for the designs, and then ten people animating it, and that makes it a very different creative experience, making it. And, I think the end product, you can kind of tell it’s a little bit more like, maybe experimental isn’t a good word, but it’s more an artistic project than a kind of commodity or a product of like a big studio, and so I think that kind of makes it a little bit more crafted and a little bit more unique, more like a Wes Anderson film and less like a—I don’t know, Charlie’s Angels 2, or something, which are both great films but a—
Yes. That’s one of the things as to why it’s different than other shows.
John C. Reilly: I don’t have a huge awareness of the other animation on TV other than, say The Simpsons or something, but what I can say, what I think it has going for it is, I can tell from the creative process that improvisation is embraced, and used which gives it a real kind of spark of excitement and originality, and it’s really, it’s also very personal, these stories.
For the most part, or at least the characters come from the real lives of Whit and Clay. And also I think having Ben’s perspective as an artist is different, and I don’t know, it’s different than just trying to please people with a cartoon. It’s more—there seems to be more depth to the expression, and certainly visually it’s pretty unique.
Ben Jones: Yes. I’ve just tried to create a world for the characters to kind of explore and inhabit. Yes, and that’s been, I think that’s a much different process than some other shows, and I think it’s really fun for us to kind of work in that zone.
This is for John. In Stone Quackers, you play “Officer Barry.” Can you describe your character, and can you tell us what your favorite episode has been so far?
John C. Reilly: Well, you could read the description in the press release for the description of my character, but yes, he’s a police officer in the community that Whit and Clay live in. I haven’t really seen any of the full episodes, yet, but my favorite one to make was probably, I don’t know. I mean, my favorite interactions on the shows have been—oh, I know, my favorite— I think the favorite one I did was the last one which may have not have aired yet, which is where the boys try to teach me to be a tougher guy.
They teach me not to be someone who gets their beak busted, which is a euphemism for getting his balls busted. In Stone Quackers, it’s getting your beak busted by your cohorts. So, that was pretty fun, and I also liked really—I really liked working with Heather Lawless, who plays “Dottie” in the show. She’s really, really funny, and we do a lot of ridiculous romantic interactions in the show. I hope that answers your question.
John, for—what’s different about recording a series like Stone Quackers compared to recording something like, Wreck-It Ralph, a film?
John C. Reilly: They’re pretty similar, in my experience. In terms of—what I like about doing voice-over, in general, is that you’re never fighting the sun. When you’re doing films, you’re always fighting either the clock or the sun or you’re always desperate when this kind of scramble to get what you’re trying to get in as quickly as you can. But with animation, the voice recording is always moving faster than the animators can move, so you have the luxury of exploring and improvising and goofing around.
I guess one difference between Wreck-It Ralph and this was these are episodes, so the story arc is, you know—
It takes place within one session as opposed to Wreck-It Ralph, which was months of getting that arc complete. But honestly, I felt really lucky, and I was very careful before I agreed to do this, that it would feel similar to my experience on Wreck-It Ralph because I got really spoiled on that, by that director. He gave me a lot of freedom, and it was just fun to be together, and I quickly realized meeting Ben and these guys that this would also be a fun hang. That’s pretty much my criteria at this point for everything in my career. It has to be a fun hang or it’s really not worth it.
I wanted to ask you about your role as executive producer on this. What does that mean you have to do?
John C. Reilly: It means I get more money.
John C. Reilly: I make money off the actual creative people involved in the show. It’s like all executive producers; it’s really just an empty title by which I can direct money towards my bank account.
Ben Jones: No. We did this one episode with the Doobie Brothers, and it was a song from the Doobie Brothers, and we choreographed this whole animation dance routine to it, and then someone made a horrible decision to save money, and swap a sound alike in for that moment and I made—I don’t know how or why I would show that to John and he just raised a red flag, thankfully, and I think that it was a great role for him to play, which is just calling bull**** on this, sometimes bad decisions. It’s been super helpful to have this kind of guru for our community to be in the creative process just saying like, “F*** that, go for it.” That’s my dream executive producer.
John C. Reilly: So, I have to give an actual answer. I thought I could just give a smart*** answer. I don’t know what he thinks is so funny. Ah, yes, you know I’m kidding. At this point, like, I’m finding this terrible thing happening where I’m the oldest person in the room when I go out to a movie set or any creative endeavor, so I guess with age and experience comes good advice, sometimes, and—
Ben Jones: Yes.
John C. Reilly: So, yes. Just slowly embracing that part where you can help people do what they’re trying to do just by sticking your name on it.
With the target of this being kind of older kids or adults, basically, watching this at midnight, do you feel like you have a little more freedom in terms of what you say? Obviously, you can kind of go to places and say things that you wouldn’t have been able to say, like in Wreck-It Ralph. I mean, this does seem more like the target that would have been a fan of Talladega Nights or Step Brothers, or one of those.
John C. Reilly: Well, I don’t think because it’s on at midnight means anything these days. You make something, the whole world’s going to see it, and I can’t tell you how many times a nine or ten-year old has come up to me and said, “I love Step Brothers, and that part when you say like, “F*** this shit.” It’s kind of startling like you can try to guide your material towards a certain age group or audience, but in fact, it’s just out there, and I think the kind of anarchic fun spirit of this show really appeals to a lot of different people, but I never try to feel constrained.
The only constraint, I don’t really try to edit myself in terms of like content. What edits you is the character, like “Ralph” wouldn’t swear, whatever. He wouldn’t do stuff that was like R-rated because he’s not like an R-rated character. You know what I mean? He was sort of an innocent—so I didn’t feel constrained, like oh, I can’t say this, I can’t say that. I was just honoring who he was.
John, I was curious if you had any say in what your character would look like or did you leave it all to Ben and the animators to do that?
John C. Reilly: No. I didn’t really. I mean, they all look like ducks, so I mean, so I didn’t try to change that. I think we did have like a brief conversation Ben, about like—
Ben Jones: Yes.
John C. Reilly: I was like really, you’re going to put curly hair on the duck? Okay, I honestly don’t remember. I just have so much respect for Ben as an artist that I just was like, whatever. I’m going to be delighted by whatever it is, so I put myself in his hands regarding that.
Ben Jones: Yes.
John C. Reilly: Did you try to make him look like me, Ben?
Ben Jones: I remember inventing this language as a whole, like what the eyes, and the nose, and the mouth, and the hair would function globally in the universe, but when it comes down to characters, much like improv or a joke, that stuff just kind of happens, and you can tweak it in the moment. But I don’t think there’s that much of a precise discussion in terms of any of the design, it’s more these overall rules. That’s a little nerdy, but the truth.
Ben, being on FX with Stone Quackers, is there anything different? In the past, you’ve worked with—you’ve had shows on FOX or Cartoon Network. Is there anything different with dealing with FXX, with getting notes, or with content that you can or cannot air, or any sort of influence they have?
Ben Jones: Yes. I mean, I think the main difference, so to speak, or the main important amazing insane thing is that we’re on after The Simpsons, and that’s like telling a young David Letterman that he’s going to be on after Johnny Carson. We have this amazing opportunity, and I just can’t even imagine that we’re expanding on what they’ve done as a cultural force, and not only just as a visual thing, so that’s what this affords us. In terms of the specifics, like, yes, again, I don’t—I can’t remember day-to-day on anything. I can’t even remember if we asked John if it was okay to make him have a big beak, and chest hair, but yes, this is just about—you turn on, kids are watching The Simpsons, and then all of a sudden they see a bunch of ducks. That’s what FXX is all about, and it’s an amazing opportunity.
Is there anything that you wanted to do with this show that you didn’t get to do with any of the other shows you worked on in the past?
Ben Jones: This is—no, I don’t—yes, it’s hard for me—there’s a great documentary by Errol Morris about the, I think it’s called The Fog of War. It just talks about making decisions in the heat of the moment, and I’m definitely in The Fog of War right now. So it’s hard for me to quantify what’s going on or in the past, but I think what we’re doing now feels totally different. Like John said about improvising and stuff, and it’s something I just—I come from a very visual background so Whit and Clay and John are just doing this, it’s kind of a workshop on how to be, how to create these amazing stories, and characters, so that’s what’s different about this show, and it’s just so much better for it.
You were talking about you do a lot of improvisation, so obviously you’re interacting in the studio, which I know some shows the actresses have a script, they go in, do their part, they’re done. If you didn’t have that chance to improvise and interact, would you still be interested in doing any animated series? This is for both of you.
John C. Reilly: No. I wouldn’t be. I’ve had experiences like that, and I have to say that it really stinks, you end up feeling like, I don’t know. It sort of feels like a manual labor job or something, you’re just going in, plugging in, doing this thing everyone told you to do, and then punching your card and getting out, not seeing any of the other actors, and I don’t know. For better or worse, that’s not my skill set. My skill set is like trying to come up with something tailor-made for the moment, so I try to avoid those situations that are going to end up like feeling like what you just described. Ben?
Ben Jones: I agree. Absolutely. Never.
You were mentioning that you do a lot of improvising. How does that impact—is that common in animated series? And, how does that affect the animators?
John C. Reilly: I don’t know how common it is because this is the only one I’ve ever done, but it doesn’t seem to upset the animators on this too much. Ben? Right?
Ben Jones: Not at all because, again, we have everything in house, and it’s a small team so other processes take— other studios will take eight months to turnaround something. We can turnaround something in five minutes, so if there’s a change, we’ve developed a work flow that plays to that.
And, how far afield have you gone from the scripts in the course of the series, so far?
Ben Jones: Yes, 360 degrees to which we were back at the exact same lines written on the—not. Not funny; 100%, absolutely.
John C. Reilly: There’s a similar process to actually when I’ve worked with Will Ferrell in the past where we—you try to come up with a really funny script then you do what’s written a few times until like you feel like you did it really well, and it was funny. Then you start goofing around, and you throw it out, and then you cobble together something that best fits, I guess, at the end of the day.
This question is for both of you. What are, in your opinion, some of the key ingredients that makes for good comedic TV?
Ben Jones: Wow.
John C. Reilly: Well, I think the number one thing is lack of supervision from people who are not creative people in their life. That’s all the stuff that I’ve done with Tim and Eric is like that, the stuff with Ben, like it just doesn’t seem like anyone’s really in charge except the creative people, and that’s how it should be, I think. That’s the best way to get good results. I know whenever there’s someone in the room that feels like your boss, that you have to obey, that tends to kill the comedic spirit, in my experience.
Ben Jones: I agree and I just want to go on record and say the first minute after you’ve watched everything that FXX and FOX has ever produced you can watch Bag Boy and the first minute of Bag Boy is some of the funniest, the funniest scene I’ve ever seen on television. So, that’s the Holy Bible for funny television.
If you guys could get anyone to guest star on the show, who would it be? And, my follow-up would be, what kind of character would you like to build around them?
John C. Reilly: I would choose Don Knotts, and he would be like my superior at the police station.
Ben Jones: That’s good. Yes. I’ll try to get that; I’ll try to second that. We talked about Jerry Lewis. I don’t—he hasn’t gotten back to us, yet.
Why ducks? Any special reason or—
Ben Jones: Yes. I think it’s just kind of a— it’s cartooning. Why do cartoons even exist? It’s an interesting thing, I think. It’s a way to kind of make something that’s even more human than you can draw realistically, like sometimes you can capture someone’s personality as a funny little drawing, and certainly one where you turn humans into characters, they become even more human, and I think it’s a way for us to just explore these characters as real funny people. It’s just something I’ve always drawn.
Since we live in a social media world, what kind of feedback do you get from the fans on this show? And, has any of the feedback influenced any of your writing?
John C. Reilly: I just want to say for the record that I don’t live in a social media world, actually. Well, how about you, Ben?
Ben Jones: I don’t know. Yes. BubbleBlabber, they—we read every review they give us. The first kind of big artistic thing I did was PaperRad.org, and it was a website, so I don’t really differentiate anything, sounds like I’m a cyber punk or something, but a specific answer would be yes, I think the question itself is kind of a—not to criticize the question but an old way of thinking where you do say these things are disconnected, or there’s this new thing of social media. To me, there’s no difference between walking down the street and seeing a homeless person crap in an alley, and reading something on Twitter. It’s all just the same reality, so you have to navigate it intelligently. That made sense, didn’t it?
I have this picture in my head now.
John C. Reilly: Enjoy.
Well, you guys have talked a lot about improvisation, so there’s probably a lot of stuff that doesn’t make it to the final cut that’s really entertaining. Any chance we might get to see some outtakes, like I know the Boogie Nights DVD, oh my God, the outtakes are hilarious of you, John. Could we maybe see something like that with the show? Some outtakes?
Ben Jones: Yes. I will tweet them out to all for our fans which I love and our fans on social media aren’t homeless people defecating in alleys, to tag the last answer that I gave.
John C. Reilly: Didn’t they do that? What movie, what animated—they did that like in Toy Story or something—?
Ben Jones: Yes. Toy Story does a good job.
John C. Reilly: They took outtakes and made it like the cartoons were goofing off camera, whatever.
Ben Jones: Absolutely. We do plan to make little shorts and literally tweet them out and put them on Instagram and Vine, and I think that’s a great format and platform for really fast, short, funny content.