Go Beyond Futurama: Into the Wild Green Yonder
We go to the Fox lot for a screening of the new DVD and to interview the cast and creators of this beloved animated series
I was invited down to the Fox studio lot for a screening and roundtable interviews for Futurama: Into the Wild Green Yonder, which hits the shelves on DVD and Blu-ray on February 24. I shouldn't have been surprised when there were cars lined up around the block to get into this screening/party for what might be the last Futurama DVD ever... but hopefully isn't. However, before we got to see this advanced screening of the DVD, the selected press members there got to take part in some roundtable chats with some of the integral parts of these popular DVD's. The first person we talked to that night was none other than executive producer David X. Cohen, who was with creator Matt Groening on this series from the beginning. Here's what Cohen had to say about this new DVD.
David X. Cohen
So tell us a little about the storyline for this one.
David X. Cohen: So this fourth, and hopefully not final Futurama: Into the Wild Green Yonder DVD, it's basically, of the four, this is the real big sci-fi one. We tried to hit different areas of sci-fi. The first DVD is the time-travel story, the second one is this monster movie kind of thing, the third one was a fantasy, swords and sorcery thing and this one is kind of a return to epic sci-fi. You won't realize this at first when it starts out in Mars Vegas, but basically it's a story with a couple of battles. There is a huge billion-year battle that affects the fate of the universe and, of course there is a battle of the sexes with our sexy female characters, Leela and Amy and others are pitted against our sexist male humans and robots, so you'll see those two battles overlapping.
Are there going to be any classic sci-fi movies that you're nodding to?
David X. Cohen: A little bit of inspiration, as you'll see at the end, from 2001. Not that we ripped off too much, but just a little bit of the visuals at the end. That, I would say, would be one of the greatest sci-fi movies of all time. Aside from that, that's the main one.
I remember you said awhile ago that Snoop Dogg was doing a voice in this. So what other guest voices can we look forward to?
David X. Cohen: We have a bunch of guest voices in this one. Snoop Dogg stars in this one - Snoop Dogg's head, of course - stars as the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. We have Penn Jillette appearing as his head. He is a celebrity in Mars Vegas what we'll be seeing. We have Seth McFarlane, from Family Guy, making a cameo, which I would say I challenge people to figure out he did. You can write this or not, but what he does is we have, for the first time, done a version of the main title theme music with lyrics, with a swinging 60s version of the theme. Seth McFarlane sings it as a certain Rat Packer, who I won't name. He is unbelievable. He's a man of too many talents. He makes you feel bad about yourself. He's an artist, he's a writer and then he does voices and then he can sing like a professional singer. So Seth McFarlane making a surprise guest appearance and that's not all. We have Bill Hendrie, who may mean something to our longtime fans. He had a radio show, a hilarious radio show, for a long time, where it was a call-in show, but he was the callers. He's appeared numerous times on Futurama throughout its run on TV as all of members of this family, the Waterfall family. So he appears again as that. Oh, and Number 9 Man. That's another kind of a treat for our longtime fans. We have a character who has appeared from the pilot on, in the background, in crowd scenes and just walking around town. He wears this white robe with the number 9 on it and never spoken a word. Tonight you will get to meet Number 9 Man and find out his purpose in the universe. He plays a major part in this movie, so, again, another treat for the longtime fans.
So what other kinds of angles can we look for in the film?
David X. Cohen: For our science fans, we always try to include some kind of a challenge, some kind of a scientific reference that they have to decode. So we have a very very difficult one for our astrophysicists. I had an actual astrophysicist who is an old friend of mine, provide me with the data. There is a little secret towards the end of the movie, a very subtle visual, I don't want to give anything away, but it harkens back to something we did in the pilot. There was a real subtle secret thing that we stuck in the pilot that a lot of fans noticed and we've kind of done a related thing here at the end of this movie. We have, near the end of this, a spectacular finale where basically all of the people, all the characters we've ever used, assemble for the grand finale. There's this really tremendous crowd sequence with hundreds of monsters, robots, everybody that we've ever seen on Futurama and we really wanted to have the wrap-up of this, just in case. As it turned out, it was such a huge shot that the Korean animators, who were doing all the coloring and everything, they actually assessed a fine against the American animators, our animation studio Rough Draft in the L.A. area. We actually had to pay a fine, but we decided to keep it in there. Oh, of course, Zapp Brannigan is back and we couldn't do the last one without a big part for Zapp Brannigan.
Are there stories still floating around if they do decide to pick up more?
David X. Cohen: I have, in my mind, what will happen next, if we're back. We're ready. This question, I'm sure, is on all the fan's minds, if this is the last one or not, but, the good news is, we have not gotten a "no" yet. We haven't gotten a shut-down-stop-thinking order yet, but it is under consideration, but we don't know, none of us know that answer. It's familiar territory for Futurama. Several times when we were on TV, we were left at the end of the season, going past the deadline, then we were cancelled then we were brought back, so we're used to this spot. It's quite possible that we could be back, but I just don't know. I just tell people 50-50, but by no means is it a done deal that this is the last one. We do need them to buy this DVD. I am sure they are keeping a careful eye on these numbers, so we do have to hock these DVD's and get the fans out there. They're looking at those numbers, and they've been doing great so far, even though the economy is sinking, so we'll see how they'll do in the new world order.
At this point, we were going to rotate when we hear...
Matt Groening: So what's Matt Groening really like?
What's funny about that was the invite said that Matt Groening would be there, but not participating in the roundtables and what's even funnier than that was he was being paired up with Cohen and, since they were rotating, we got to talk to him by himself at the end. Awesomeness!
Anyway, the next group that came to our little table was some of the voice talent in Maurice LaMarche - a legendary voice actor who has voiced the likes of Yosemite Sam, The Brain from Pinky and the Brain and, in this DVD, the voices of Morbo, Kif Kroker, the DonBot, Clamps and others - and Lauren Tom, who provides the voices of Amy Wong, Inez Wong and others. Here's what they had to say about this new DVD.
Maurice LaMarche and Lauren Tom
So tell us about the whole feminist thing in this one.
Lauren Tom: Yes, there is. They're trying to combat the evil, and the evil is my father, Leo Wong, building this horrible casino.
Maurice LaMarche: You mean big business is the enemy? You never hear of that coming out of Hollywood.
Lauren Tom: But with these Harvard guys, the first movie, I could barely follow it, and I read the script! I had to really see it to see what was going on (Laughs). Oh my God. I couldn't keep it straight.
I've seen in some of the features that you guys are all in the booths together, and that's not usually what most animation does, they do everyone separately, but you guys are always together right?
Lauren Tom: Yeah. We always did the series that way to. It's much like a radio play.
Maurice LaMarche: As much as we could, yeah.
Lauren Tom: Yeah. And the famous guest stars were usually on their own too.
So did you guys work with any of the guest stars? Did you work with Snoop?
Lauren Tom: I wish. They usually come in on their own.
Maurice LaMarche: Yeah, Snoop came in separately and Penn Jillette did his from his studio up in Vegas.
How involved are you guys on the features on this DVD?
Lauren Tom: Oh, I did one.
Maurice LaMarche: It's behind the scenes of Futurama: Into the Wild Green Yonder. We actually call it Futurama: The Making Of... It.
You guys work on a lot of shows, so do you get extra pleasure out of working on something like Futurama?
Lauren Tom: Oh, yeah. It's in a more rarified thing because it's a nighttime show and it's more for adults.
Maurice LaMarche: For me, I've gotten to be on a whole bunch of shows, but this one and The Critic and Pinky and the Brain, those three, I think are the best written - and I've guest-voiced on The Simpsons a lot - those four, I think, are the best-written shows on TV. This show, is in a class by itself. We've got our Harvard lampoon graduate writing staff and it's just the cleverest, funniest stuff. And, not to mention that in the realm of science fiction and animation, you really have something where any story can be told. You've got no limits.
So is it hard not to crack up when you're recording?
Maurice LaMarche: Thank God we're not doing live radio, let's just put it that way.
Lauren Tom: These guys are hilarious.
Maurice LaMarche: When we had first started, I had worked with Billy West, in fact, we did his first cartoon show in 1987. It was his first cartoon show and I was already a veteran of three years in the business. He was this Boston radio guy and he could do anything. It was like two guys from the Planet Krypton. He's Kal-El and I'm Mon-El. I told John (DiMaggio) at the first recording session, I gave him a pillow and said, 'Here. You're going to need this," because he cracked up so much during the table read and I knew he would keep blowing takes. John was just hugging that pillow. We record like a movie, so we do scenes. We don't just do pages or a few lines. Everything makes sense.
David said he had some ideas for if they would buy some more of these DVD's, so would this be something that you guys would always come back for?
Maurice LaMarche: Oh, goodness gracious, yes. We would only hope so. You live to be on a show for seven, eight, nine, ten - ten is the magic number, where you're in it forever. We would love to have a 100th episode party and a tenth season and a shindig and a 20th anniversary bash and all that stuff. It's staying employed. We're the ultimate vagabonds.
Next up we had more vocal talents with Billy West, the one-man vocal gang who does the voices for Fry, Professor Farnsworth, Dr. Zoidberg, Leo Wong, Richard Nixon's head and Zapp Brannigan and Phil LaMarr, who performs as the voice of Hermes Conrad and others. Here's what these two had to say about their experiences on this show.
Billy West and Phil LaMarr
So tell us how much fun it was to work on this film?
Billy West: We did them really fast. We did a lot of stuff at once, not like the TV show where it would be one every week, but we didn't have to do an hour and a half movie every week, just a half-hour show. So I was in good shape but by the time we got to these DVD movies, I never really knew what it was like to carry on in the fashion with the characters for an hour and a half, and it would take four hours to record. It was a lot of work, but it was nothing but fun. There was no downside to it and when they said they were going to do these DVD's, I was more than thrilled because it's my favorite show. That's the truth.
Phil LaMarr: That's right, because for the series, you would do a half-hour episode in four hours. You'd do that like three every five weeks, something like that. But the DVD movies, they wrote the entire script, which is basically the size of four episodes, and you're doing it in roughly a week. For Billy doing three major characters...
Billy West: I started to falter and one day I lost my mind and I did something that I had never done over all the years. I did the wrong voice for a character and everyone went, 'Ohhhh.'
Phil LaMarr: We did that because that's something that happens with every other voice actor, but it had never happened in like eight years with Billy.
Billy West: It took eight years to lose that many brain cells.
Do you remember which character you actually did the voice with?
Billy West: It was the Professor voice was coming out for Zapp Branningan. Something real incongruous.
Phil LaMarr: To give you an idea of how rare that is, in the first episode Futurama, there's a scene where Fry has just arrived and the Professor is bringing Fry to see the Planet Express doctor, Doctor Zoidberg. Billy is playing all three characters. This is the first recording and he recorded all three of those voices talking to each other for an entire scene on the fly. Usually, when people have multiple characters in one scene, you'll do one time through where you just read one character, you'll do another time through where you'll do the other character. He had all three talking to each other flawlessly. Watch that season and you cannot tell it's the same person doing all the voices. There's just absolutely no way to tell.
So how involved were you on the special features on these DVD's?
Billy West: Everytime there was a commentary to be done, I would show up, and this is the one I missed. I missed this one and I was bummed out. I had a boating accident. No, I wasn't around. I was working.
Our last interview was with the great Matt Groening, who really shouldn't need any introduction at all... but for those who might, Groening created Futurama and this little show called The Simpsons you might have heard of. Here's what this TV legend had to say about this new DVD.
We hear there are a lot of pop culture references here, so what do you decide what to put in?
Matt Groening: One of the great things about doing an animated project like Futurama, is you can do anything. Digressions of all kinds. What we tried to do at the core was to have solid science-fiction ideas and underneath all the silly jokes and all the pop culture references is a really serious science-fiction concept, and that's what we do. The opening song is sung by Seth MacFarlane of Family Guy and he's, I feel, sort of my counterpart. He created this amazingly successful animated how on Fox, but I've never been over to where they do Family Guy and I went over and visited. I didn't realize that - I think my job is pretty hard, I feel sorry for myself - but Seth does voices. So not only is he working on the writing and the animation, but he goes into a recording studio, so they have a recording studio set up right there where they do Family Guy, and that's just brilliant. We're scattered all over the place for The Simpsons.
You do The Simpsons with everyone at the table at the same time, and you also do Futurama that way.
Matt Groening: Yes, but some actors have multiple parts. So it's not that crowded.
Did you always insist on that on The Simpsons and just carry it over to Futurama, because not everyone does it that way?
Matt Groening: With The Simpsons, I believe that idea of having all the actors at the same time was something that came from James L. Brooks, who is brilliant with actors and he just wanted to make sure that we kept the emotion alive. Yeah, it is different from a lot of animation in the past, and it does help, but now the actors know their characters so well, that we have actors that literally phone it in. They're doing movie projects all over the place, so they have to be on the phone. They're so good it doesn't matter. I mean, it matters, but we can work with it.
David had said he has some ideas in his head if they do pick up more, so will everyone be on board?
Matt Groening: The great thing about Futurama is we were cancelled once, so we've experienced what it's like to think it's all over. And when we came back, you never know. Everybody has other jobs, but everybody came back. All the actors came back, the animators, the same animation studio and yeah. Futurama has kind of been an underdog show from the beginning. Fox didn't really understand it at first and then we found a great second home on the Cartoon Network and then a great third home now on Comedy Central, so I'm pretty happy.
So do you think this will actually be like a Family Guy, where you can get it back on the air?
Matt Groening: We don't know. We're talking with Fox about doing more episodes and I hope we can. Just looking at the numbers, it seems to make sense. They're making money.
So are the talks a little more serious now that these DVD's are making money?
Matt Groening: You know, I think every one, because we have another one, they say, 'Well, let's see how the next one does.' And because of the economy, we'll see. It's very easy for an executive to say no. That's a very easy decision... except for whoever passed on The Sopranos (Laugh).
Should we tell fans to send anything to Fox?
Matt Groening: No, no, no. You know, the first time Futurama went away, the fans were unbelievable. We had a petition that was 140,000 names that was delivered to Fox. That number may be way off, but I think it's very close. Hundreds of thousands of names, anyway. It just took awhile for them to realize that there was more to be done with Futurama. In fact, they came to us with the idea of doing the DVD movies. They said, 'How about one?' We said, "How about two?' They said, 'How about three?' And we said, 'How about four?' They said, 'OK, four.' That's how it went. It was really fun. I mean, literally, one meeting, we went from talking about possibly doing one DVD movie to doing four. So that was great.
Do you think they look at the success of Futurama in this format and think they can do this with other shows? I mean, would they ever say, 'It's too expensive to do The Simpsons 22 episodes a year, lets do three movies a year?'
Matt Groening: With The Simpsons, I don't think there's any end in sight. It's such a worldwide phenomenon still. There may be factors I'm not aware of, but I'd be surprised if The Simpsons went away anytime soon.
It'll be like Meet the Press.
Matt Groening: Well, when it finally becomes exactly like Meet the Press, then we'll finally give it up (Laughs).
After that we were treated to a reception where the cast and crew lingered about and enjoyed a nice food spread and an open bar (Great success!) before we all got to see Futurama: Into the Wild Green Yonder on the big screen next door at the Zanuck Theater. This was simply the best of the four DVD's that were released and I was laughing almost the entire time. CLICK HERE for my full review of the DVD and all the special features that come with it.
Well, that about wraps up my night at the Fox lot for this side-splitting new DVD, Futurama: Into the Wild Green Yonder, which is available on DVD and Blu-ray on February 24. If you're a fan of this series - or have been curious about it for awhile but never checked it out - this will be quite a treat. Peace in. Gallagher out!