Simpsons creators talk about new Film
Simpsons creators talk about new movie and reflect on 18 TV seasons.
By Richard J. Davis
After eighteen seasons, four hundred episodes and numerous awards and honors, The Simpsons has become a feature-length motion picture. Four of the movie’s main creators — series executive producer James L. Brooks, creator Matt Groening, current show runner Al Jean, writer Mike Scully and director David Silverman — were recently on hand at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills to talk with reporters about the new movie as well as the series.
Dressed casually in jeans and sports coats, they looked more like hip college professors than some of the most talented men in Hollywood.
The group seemed to be ready and waiting for the first question: Why did it take eighteen years to finally make the movie? “We were lazy,” replied Groening in a casual, open manner.
Al Jean had a more serious reply, “We waited 18 years because we didn’t want to make it just because we could; we wanted to make a movie because it was right. We wanted to create a story that demanded the scope offered by a film. The Simpsons Movie is not three episodes of the show strung together, it has a heart. It centers on the forces that can tear apart a family and a town, and it looks at how a man might put his life back together in such a situation.”
“For me, it took 15 years to get up the nerve and four to get it done,” added Brooks.
They then discussed what it was like to write the sometimes topical Simpsons episodes. Unlike late-night-talk-show comedians, Al Jean explained, we have to write jokes for shows up to a year in advance, which meant choosing larger trends; things like the high cost of health care or global warming — topics that aren’t likely to be solved soon.
Brooks felt that the movie had more of the things they could get away with before “Janet Jackson.” “We weren’t thinking of making a South Park movie, filling the film with things we couldn’t get on TV. But on the other hand we’re happy with our PG rating.”
They went on to talk about what they had set out to do in terms of creating a movie that kept the TV show’s characteristics while, at the same time, making the most of the big screen. “What separates the movie from the TV show,” says Brooks, “is scale.” One thing the producers didn’t want to do was simply re-create “The Simpsons” for the big screen. “We’re telling a story that demands ninety minutes and a big-screen format,” said Jean.
Instead of just filling the movie with gags every five minutes, Brooks felt it needed emotional beats as well to balance things out, saying “there’s nothing more important to the Simpsons franchise than clocking laughs as much as you possibly can and including big set pieces. This made creating emotion more challenging. But we needed it. It’s emotion on which the jokes hang together and which leads the audience to care about what happens to the characters.”
Emotion was such an important element that for some of the scenes, the actors did more than four hundred takes to get the tone correct. “People have to be captivated by the story,” says Brooks. “The show is something we care very much about. It’s grown much bigger than us and, in a way, we serve the Simpsons,” he added.
After talking about the film, the men took some time to reflect on their experiences over the eighteen seasons.
“I always thought that the series would be successful,” says Groening, “I knew kids would tune in but I didn’t know adults would. For a long time we were in the dark about the show’s popularity. Early on, when people found out I was a cartoonist, they’d ask me to draw Snoopy or Garfield. But when they started asking me to draw Homer, that’s when I felt successful.”
For Brooks, creating the film has been reenergizing. “I’ve never had an experience like this one,” he says. Paradoxically, a lot of work went into not doing something. The writers wrote and rewrote, and after the screenings, they’d rewrite some more. “There’s a lot of work that you don’t see,” says Brooks. “A lot was written and thrown out.”
Brooks closed by saying “we wanted to be true to ourselves, true to the Simpsons and true to the movie.” And besides who deserves an Epic more than a guy named Homer?
Tags: Simpsons , Art , Interview , Comedy
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