Futurama is one of the most loved shows to have ever graced the television airwaves. This show follows Phillip Fry, a 25-year-old pizza delivery boy whose life is going nowhere. When he accidentally freezes himself on December 31, 1999, he wakes up 1,000 years in the future and has a chance to make a fresh start. He goes to work for the Planet Express Corporation, a futuristic delivery service that transports packages to all five quadrants of the universe. His companions include the delivery ship's captain, Leela, a beautiful one-eyed female alien who kicks some serious butt, and Bender, a robot with very human flaws.
Recently, we had a chance to sit down with Futurama producer Claudia Katz to talk about the show and the upcoming straight to DVD Futurama movie, Bender's Big Score. This is the first piece of original programming of the show since 2003. Katz is also a partner at RoughDraftStudios which is the animation house behind Futurama.
What brought about the production of 4 Futurama movies?
Claudia Katz: Probably the most important component was, I believe, when Comedy Central started sort of negotiating for the cable window rights and Fox said, "Hey, would you be interested in new episodes?" They sort of agreed to commit to 16 new episodes. At that time we were sort of negotiating on these DVD movies and there was a question of doing 2 or 3, then it looked like it was going to be 3. I think when Comedy Central committed to the 16 it turned into 4 because, really, each of these DVD movies is going to be sort of divided into 4 episodes. Honestly, part of the reason is also economics. It's sort of the more of them we do the greater the economies of scale are.
When dealing with the kind of humor that the show deals with, what do you think is the best way of keeping everything evergreen? I only ask because I know how long it takes to make these things.
Claudia Katz: I think Futurama tends to, and this is not exclusive to us, tends to sort of turn sci-fi conventions on their ear for humor, as opposed to super relevant pop culture shows, or fleeting pop culture references where 5 years later you're like, "I think I know what they're talking about." I think a lot of that lies in sort of the relationship between those characters but also twisting a lot of the conventions of science fiction and the sitcom on its ear. There's always new sci-fi stuff so it's always easy to sort of take that and run with it.
Seeing how well The Simpsons Movie did in the theater, did you guys ever think about going out theatrically with Futurama?
Claudia Katz: Not with these. My great hope is that eventually there will be a true Futurama feature that is designed that way from the beginning. These were definitely written as features however our production model is definitely a direct-to-video production model. If we were going to do a true feature it would be ideal if we sort of started that way.
Could you describe a little bit about what your job is producing for animation?
Claudia Katz: Basically, I pretty much set up the production in terms of the budget, the scheduling, the staff that works on it and the constraints within which we have to work and deliver. It's pretty much like finding the right people for the right job and giving them the best tools possible to enable them to do the best job. It's really trying to find great people and talented people. We're sort of doing the same components here we did on the series but we're moving at a breakneck speed. You really have to stay on top of it because it would be a terrible snowball if you had one.
Do you have an aspect of production that is maybe your favorite out of all them?
Claudia Katz: At this point we've worked with Matt (Groening; the show's creator) so long, it's sort of really rewarding to be challenged consistently on these movies and then get the satisfaction of delivering them. And having everybody really pleased with the work that we're doing.
What might fans be able to expect from the next three Futurama movies? We seem to know a little bit about Bender's Big Score...
Claudia Katz: There are some big, sci-fi/fantasy genres that have been untapped thus far that we're going to get into. I think I can say, there's a little bit of Lord of the Rings-type fantasy stuff coming up that's pretty cool. There's just a lot of really great sci-fi stuff. All the movies are really, really well written and are each different from each other and a lot of fun. I think in many ways Futurama is extremely well suited toward a feature because the ideas can be so big. It's sort of like a very epic premise.
Which is all the more impressive because you were doing it as a TV show and now you have a much larger canvas.
Claudia Katz: Yeah, but I don't know if most people appreciate in most animated sitcoms you sort of get to rely on... a lot of the episode will take place in the house, or sort of fairly recurring locations. With Futurama we've never really had that luxury. It's a great challenge but it also makes the show fun to work on because you can definitely never get bored.
Futurama the Movie: Bender's Big Score comes to DVD on November 23 from Fox Home Entertainment.