Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Digging Up the Dirt with KillDozer and Carl King, Writer of That Monster Show



Every monster kid loves spotting cleverly placed horror references in cartoons. A solid example is all of the Shining references in the Toy Story franchise. After a while you start to day dream about a cartoon made just for you where it's not a team of cool kids and a talking dog tracking down fake ghosts or even a hotel where monsters stay for the summer. Well thanks to an extremely talented group of monster kids, that dream is a reality and we can all cheer that a successful crowd funding campaign has brought us an "Adult Swim" style cartoon series titled That Monster Show! I was lucky enough to dig up the dirt with the brilliant composer and jack of all trades Carl King who is one of the minds behind this awesome idea!




KillDozer: That Monster Show looks incredible and seems to be the cartoon that the horror community has been waiting for. Where did the inspiration begin? Was it always planned as an animated show? 

Carl King: Thank you very much! After screening my animated episode called "The Oracle of Outer Space" at L.A. Comic Con last year, I decided I wanted to tell a story that was more intelligible. The Oracle of Outer Space was too weird, and suffered from a problem that Upright Citizens Brigade calls “Crazytown.” I made MANY storytelling / writing mistakes, and I wanted to start over with a different premise. As for the genre and inspiration… I grew up watching this guy called Dr. Paul Bearer on WTOG, Tampa / St. Petersburg. He had a show called Creature Feature from the 70's to the 90's. I also collected Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine since I was a teenager. My favorite part of that was reading the letters from the readers, and the old ads. I think those two “60's Monster” elements make for a great aesthetic / starting point for an animated show. The rest of the equation / inspiration is stranding the monsters in 1960's Florida. I grew up in Florida, with all the flamingos and golf courses and seashells and orange groves. I know what it’s like to be stranded there in the sun.


KD: With an idea like this do you start with characters and build a world around them? Or did you already have the setting and feel planned out in your mind?

CK: I started with the simple recipe: 1. characters 2. in a location they don’t want to be. 60's Monsters don’t belong in the Florida sunshine. It’s classic fish-out-of-water. It’s one of those storytelling templates that create instant conflict. I’m spending a lot of time fleshing out their personalities and quirks, as well as their story arcs. Each character will deal with obstacles and go through a change. It’s fun to pair up characters who are opposites, watch them struggle and argue.


KD: Can you tell us about the characters in the show? Are they all of your own creation? Who were they inspired by?

CK: All of the protagonists are vaguely based on the traditional horror creatures we know about. A vampire, a Frankenstein monster, a mutant / alien, a werewolf, a ghost. But they’re all warped versions. They have flaws and personal problems, which causes them to not always get along. They all have their own needs and goals. There are also lots of Floridians in the local town, some villains, etc. Each character’s personality is definitely based on aspects of people I have known. I tend to be curious about people and their psychology. I try to figure out what makes them act the way they do, or what they REALLY want. You can find all these personality archetypes in real life and borrow them for the show. You just boil them down to their essence… whether it is the need for attention or the need for control or the need to feel superior.


KD: What was it like to cast the voice actors for That Monster Show? When working on an animated project like this, do you have an idea of what a character will sound like already?

CK: That’s a great question, and the first thing I look for is pre-existing vocal abilities, acting skills, and professionalism. I don’t mean to sound cynical but everyone wants to be a voice actor. It seems like such an easy and fun job on the surface. But I don’t want to hire someone that is impossible to get ahold of or get back into the studio for another session. You can’t have people that are only there for the immediate excitement of it. Second, sometimes a person just has a striking voice and they’d be just right for a single role. So even if they’re not a professional voice actor, sometimes it’s just someone I know that is perfect for a character. I want to make sure that each main character sounds totally different. There needs to be contrast. I start by thinking about the character’s personality — the range of emotions they need to express. Then I match that to the voice actor that I think can best embody that.


LeeAnna Vamp has a very “vulnerable” and “sweet” voice in my opinion. So I casted her as the ghost girl, Victoria Em, because that’s what the story’s character needs… a purity and innocence.


Joanie Brosas can do very cartoony kid voices or a sassy southern waitress and it sounds authentic to her! She’s full of energy and charm and it's just exploding from her. So whatever the character and actor, it needs to sound authentic, rather than a person “doing a voice.” It has to be believable.


This guy Dan Foster does an incredible voice of Professor Sylvanus Huxley, the host of the show — and he has tons of acting skills, works in Hollywood professionally.


Same with Julia Aks, who is playing Draculaana, the Vampire Queen — she does a lot of comedy acting video directing, and even sings opera!


On the other end of the spectrum, I’m also working with Cole Johnson, who is new to voice acting but has a natural and maybe undiscovered talent for improv comedy. I’ve spent whole weekends with him at conventions and he is just hilarious 24/7. In my experience, a lot of comedians are mean, for whatever reason. But he’s got this friendly and empathetic personality. I tested him, and he can take a line of dialogue on the page, extract the essence, expand on it, give me ten variations with different phrasing and add his own touch. And he happened to have the perfect voice for our Werewolf character, Bernie, who is sort of a lovable stoner surfer type. It just fits him. So you don't necessarily need to be a professional with a huge reel to get into this. Most importantly, whoever the actor is, the voice just needs to be there and flow out. You don’t want a struggle. One other thing I’ll add… it’s crucial that a voice actor can read a scene and understand it. They need to get the inherent drama of it. What are the characters doing, what is the scene about, etc. These are basic acting skills. It’s not just about making your voice sound funny.


KD: What were the first steps you took to make That Monster Show a reality?

CK: The first step was figuring out a concept and a name for the show. I spent many hours over a period of weeks with a huge list of names, and making them into logos. I bought all these extra reference coffee-table books of old movie posters and went back through my Famous Monsters of Filmland magazines looking for inspiration. I actually settled on a different show name and poster design and domain name. At the last minute before launching the Kickstarter I did one last Google search to make sure it wasn’t used before. My worst nightmare: the concept and name I picked already existed. Not as a cartoon, but as a fiction story. I decided to take a couple of months and rework it, and move forward with my second favorite option, That Monster Show. Not the greatest, but it summed it up and I figured I could come up with another title as I went — if one occurred to me. But it ended up fitting very well with the story itself! 


KD: Congratulations on the successful Kickstarter campaign! What has the process of crowdfunding been like? Any suggestions you would give to others looking to fund projects such as yours?

CK: Crowdfunding has always been a massive amount of work. It becomes nearly as much work and stress as the project itself. So in a way, you end up doing TWO projects when you set out to do one. My advice is to be prepared for the 30-day marathon. Come up with a list, in advance, of stories you can tell every day. Map it out. You’ll need to find a reason to post about it constantly without annoying all of your friends. Unveil concept sketches, announce voice actors, music, guests, news, anything you can think of. Try to keep it happening during those 30 days. There is also a dead-zone in the middle of the campaign where you can’t stop pedaling that bike. Every little bit builds momentum. Don’t just launch the campaign, then wait 30 days and tell everyone it’s ending. Find a way to keep it alive and changing. Also, try to recruit people into the project that will help you promote it. It helps if you can find actors or musicians or collaborators who understand how much work it is to create something like this out of nothing. I think it was Peter David who (somewhere) wrote (and I am paraphrasing) : "to have a successful comic book, you need two of the following three things. One, a famous character, two, a famous writer, three, a great story”. As an independent creator I always think about that. If no one knows who I am and no one knows what the thing is that I am making, it’s going to be an uphill battle. This is why movie studios spend so much on having star actors and directors. You see this in the art world as well, at events like Monsterpalooza. Paintings and shirts of famous movie characters far outsell original characters. That’s not to sound cynical, or that it absolutely can’t be done, but if people don’t immediately identify what it is you are offering and are already interested in it, you’ve probably got a torturous amount of work ahead of you.


KD: What does the future hold for That Monster Show now that things are in full swing?

CK: Lots of research and planning right now! I have a big color-coded spreadsheet of scenes and story arcs and episodes. I think, “What is this series missing?” I just rewatched the first two seasons of Twin Peaks as conceptual reference. What does that show have that draws me in so much? How would I achieve that with my own character and world? What mistakes did they make that I can learn from? It helps a lot to have conceptual references...


KD: Tell me about the people writing for the show. Is the talent made up of fellow monster kids or horror enthusiasts?  

CK: I am the only writer at this time. I have considered hiring a professional writer to help me, but so far it’s going well. Just taking a lot longer than I hoped. It’s a trade off. I’m not sure the chaos and problems inherent in having more writers are worth it right now. If this show were to continue to grow I’d definitely need more writers. Some of my voice actors have a talent for improv acting, so inevitably some things will change once we’re recording. So that’s always an enjoyable second phase of the creative “writing” process. We always think of random things when recording. Usually a lot of laughing, too. 


KD: Being a monster kid father I have to ask: is That Monster Show family friendly? Is that a question that ever had a different answer?

CK: I’m not settled on that, actually. By default I planned to make it based in Adult Swim -type humor. But as it is right now, it’s a cohesive story that any audience should be able to enjoy. I don’t have a goal to make it full of poop jokes and blood and profanity. It’s probably more along the lines of Star Wars... but we shall see! 


KD: What do you hope audiences will get out of the show?

CK: The personal challenge for me is writing something that audiences will understand. The writer (now director) Aaron Sorkin says all he wants to know from a reader is “Did you understand it?” That is a bigger challenge than you’d expect. I took a bunch of screenwriting classes and we’d take turns reading everyone’s scripts, acting out the parts. I’m not exaggerating when I say that 9 out of 10 screenplays made zero sense to me. I couldn’t tell what the scene was basically about, who the characters were, and my mind would wander. The writing was always too pretentious and flowery. I wanted to say, “Put away the thesaurus”. So… the simple answer beyond hoping people UNDERSTAND my story, is that they will be entertained. We’ll see if I can reach that secondary goal! 


KD: How many hats do you wear in making That Monster Show come to life?

CK: Everything aside from doing the voices and the drawing. I write the story and scripts (this is the central job, maybe underestimated by everyone including me), plan the character personalities and visual appearances, cast and record the voice actors, score the music, edit everything together with sound effects, put together a “text animatic", beg my animator to change a few last things, and make sure everyone gets paid. Lance Myers is my artist / animator and I have some very talented voice actors who perform my ideas and bring everything to life. I am “Everything Else." 


KD: Are there any difficulties that come with producing an animated project that doesn't exist when working in live action?

CK: This is a really good question! I love it. As far as I can tell, the answer is definitely NO! That’s why I love animation. Far fewer problems. When you work with live action there are so many variables — you are a victim to everything... from people’s moods, to lighting problems, to weather, to sound problems, to gear setup and breakdown, to scheduling — live action is a nightmare in my opinion. So many people standing around, so much time going by. I worked in documentaries and a lot of promotional videos for years and it was generally unpleasant. I mostly found myself wishing I were at home getting something done. I love the control that animation gives me. I’m only limited by what I can write, what I can get my voice actors to say, and what I can make Lance animate. It fits my temperament. 


KD: Where can everyone go to view That Monster Show? Where can we follow you on social media?

CK: As of right now the plan is to release Episode 1 of That Monster Show everywhere I can online (YouTube, Vimeo-On-Demand, etc.) and the following 4 episodes as an audio podcast on iTunes. The story will also be accompanied by additional visuals, because there are going to be some fun characters and scenes to see. If I can somehow get a manager / agent to help me sell the show, then it can be released in more places. My website is CarlKingdom.com, and I’m on Facebook and Twitter as carlking, and Instagram as carlkingdom. 


KD: Okay, time for some silly questions. If you could combine this with any other cartoon universe which would it be and why?

CK: My favorite cartoon universe has always been Masters of the Universe. I love the blend of fantasy and sci-fi, and how colorful and distinct the characters are. But that also made me think — wouldn’t Twin Peaks make an awesome animated show? If it were done in a 60's / 70's style? As far as combining cartoon universes, I think that’s always a great idea. Let’s mix them all up. 


KD: If the show became big enough to have its own theme park what would it be called?

CK: The show was actually conceived as taking place in a theme park. I don’t want to say what it was called because I don’t want to somehow run into weird legal issues. But wouldn’t it be awesome if Haunted Mansion were as big as Disney itself, and you could stay in it?


KD: If there was a That Monster Show arcade game would you want it to be a pinball machine or an old school standing video game?

CK: Oh, man. A standing video game. You’ve made me think back to Rampage and Gauntlet. I miss those sorts of simple games, where you throw in a quarter and play with a joystick and a button or two. This team of Monsters could definitely work in a game like that, each with their own magic abilities and visual effects… 

~💀~

You can still support That Monster Show on both Kickstarter and Indiegogo!
And get to know the cast of voice actors on Carl King's YouTube Channel.


-KillDozer

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