The series co-creator talks about the new DVD, Al Gore and the future of Futurama
David X. Cohen is one happy man. When Fox canceled his popular animated show Futurama, which he co-created with The Simpsons creator Matt Groening, many considered it a travesty. Now, four years later, Cohen is set to launch a new slate of Futurama DVD's with the first new material since the series' cancellation. The first in this series is Futurama the Movie: Bender's Big Score, which hits the shelves on November 27, and I had a chance to talk to Cohen over the phone.
David X. Cohen: Yes, you noticed that (Laughs). Yes, we are definitely hoping to follow in the footsteps of Family Guy. Here's the thing. We had our fingers crossed when we went off the air, but really we thought it was a long-shot. And the fans just would not let it die. They kept watching the re-runs and buying the DVD's and it just took about three years for Fox to take note. I think that, combined with the fact that the Family Guy return by a similar route was so successful, caused them to call us up one day and say, 'Hey. Wanna try the same thing?' So yeah, Family Guy has paved the way for shows to return to life this way, and it's definitely given us a shot in the arm.
So are you just going to keep trying with this movie and the other movies that are coming out?
David X. Cohen: The other three movies are already written and they're in Korea being animated. They're all pretty much done, from the writing point of view. They're all in production right now. So, no matter how this first one does, we are plowing onward with the other ones. Obviously, our hope would be that this one will do really well and they'll say, 'Hey, not just those three additional movies, but let's go beyond that' either in the form of Family Guy and get us back on the air, or, something I would really love to do is a feature film, personally. They also have the evidence, now, that the TV shows can make that jump with The Simpsons Movie. The evidence is mounting that there's all different ways of bringing these shows back, and I'm willing to come back in any different ways that they're willing to have us (Laughs). We can do video games, movies, I'll do anything, just give me a phone call.
So, they started this up initially? They came to you?
David X. Cohen: Well, here's what happened. We went off the air, the show continued to do surprisingly well on Cartoon Network, and Matt Groening and I started to call them, about I'd say once every six months or so and we'd say, 'Hey, the DVD's are selling really well, and there's a real hardcore fan base that are watching these episodes every night on Cartoon Network, so what would you think about a direct-to-DVD movie?' So we actually proposed it several times, and each time, they wouldn't rule it out they'd say they'd think about it, and look at the numbers and that kind of thing. Then, three years passed and we get a phone call and, suddenly they had a great idea which was, 'Hey, have you guys ever considered doing a DVD movie?' So we said, 'That is a great idea, that you guys had.' (Laughs) We went with it, but it suddenly became their idea after the first four times we called them. The final fact of it was that it was their idea, and all credit to them, and we were happy to oblige. (Laughs) After all that, all that drama, they've been incredibly supportive. That's a new thing we obviously weren't expecting after being dumped all over by the network the first time around. This time we are only dealing with the studio, not the network since we're not going on the Fox network. It's a different group of people and they have been incredibly supportive, to the point that when we walked into the very first meeting, to discuss if we should even do this. We got all of our arguments ready, and I had a pow-wow with Matt and we discussed the reasons why we think we should do a DVD movie, and we walked in the door, ready to argue our case, and the first thing they say is, 'We think we have to do at least two of these movies, to make it financially viable, with the economies of scale.' So we walk in the door, ready to argue why we should do one, and they said we have to do at least two. It turned into a big chicken game after that. 'How 'bout three? How 'bout four?' and we ended up settling there. But, really, they were very gung-ho once they finally did come around. We had this big premiere at the Cinerama Dome, this huge theater in L.A. just a few days ago. Another unexpected and very huge show of support. The movie takes a lot of shots at Fox executives.
David X. Cohen: They're the Fox executives of old, apparently, because they are with us this time, amazingly.
Was the cast eager to be involved with the show again after all this time?
David X. Cohen: Yeah. One of the good things about this show, and one of the reasons we really did want to come back, is that it's a group of people, all across the board, who, I just feel like I'll never get to work with such interesting and talented people again. The writers, the cast and the animators and the composer, they're all just amazing people. One thing we really wanted to do was to reassemble this original team, which we were able to do, amazingly. Part of it, I think, is that the other people also wanted to be involved with it. Over the years, I would run into the cast members, the years we were off the air, and they would constantly ask me when we were coming back and, especially after Family Guy they were like, 'Come on. Let's do it, let's do it, let's do it." So they were lobbying as hard as anybody. Billy West especially, who plays Fry and the Professor and Zoidberg and a host of other characters, was so eager that on his website, at one point, when it was just a rumor that started that we were coming back for 53 new episodes or some preposterous number...
David X. Cohen: ... his imagination ran wild. You could just see his enthusiasm leaking into it and destroying the facts, but that's just a sign of how enthusiastic the cast was, and they're all back. Every single person is back.
Yeah, I saw that you brought Coolio and Sarah Silverman back, and they were only on one episode each. Why did you bring those two back for this movie?
David X. Cohen: Oh, well it was just kind of a general principle that we wanted to have a whole bunch of cameos, and treats for the hardcore fans that we know are going to be buying this DVD. We really wanted to reward them by giving them some things that we knew that they would be the only ones who would appreciate it. So, if you don't know who they are, it makes no difference. But for the fans who know that one episode inside and out, they are going to get a reward for sticking with us. Also Seymour the Dog will be back, from one of our most controversial episodes, where we learn about Fry's dog that he had, in the 20th Century, and it made a lot of people angry because, a lot of people said, 'Hey. You actually made me cry at the end of the episode, and I'm very mad and how dare you.'
David X. Cohen: So we brought Seymour back for this movie as well, and HypnoToad of course makes an appearance, another fan favorite.
I see there's also Al Gore as well.
David X. Cohen: Al Gore is almost a regular at this point, because he appeared twice before, so he is almost a regular cast member. Yes, Al Gore is in it, and there's a big epic time-travel plot in this movie, and, for example, one thing we are going to see, is what really happened at the recount of the 2000 Presidential election.
David X. Cohen: Yeah, and Bender may have played a role in that. He was great, and our inspiration from him being in it, we made this a carbon-neutral production. This is Fox's first carbon-neutral DVD. NewsCorp is pretty eager to become carbon-neutral, so they helped us out a lot. We worked with this wind energy producer to get carbon credits to cancel out any pollution we caused. We tried to reduce the packaging a little by removing the plastic nub that the DVD normally sits on, things like that. So, hopefully we made our former Vice-President proud of us.
Is this DVD a departure from the show at all, or is it still in the same sort of vein as the show?
David X. Cohen: We definitely wanted to keep the same tone. It's going to go down in history, it's going to be part of the Futurama collection, so we didn't want it to be anything radically different. There are a few things that are different. Along with it being feature-length, we wanted it to have the look and feel of a feature, so its widescreen, which we never did before, and it's in 5.1 Dolby Surround Sound, which we never did before, so it has a much more cinematic feel. There's an amazing battle sequence, that is fully worthy of a theatrical presentation, I would say. Something you would never see on TV, I don't think so. A bunch of things also just make it more movie-like. The dialogue and the content I think is in keeping with what we were doing before. But the one other area, where I think we went a little crazy, was when they make a delivery to the nude beach planet.
David X. Cohen: Because we had no network censors this time around, we had no one to object to nude aliens that we wanted to show. Also, and a little bit of nude crew members, so if you like nude lobsters and stuff, this is definitely the DVD for you.
Finally, since Al Gore is so popular on your show, are there any plans to bring any other politicians into the fray?
David X. Cohen: Good question. I don't think we have any in the upcoming movies, but here's an anecdote about the series the first time around. One of Al Gore's appearances was before the primaries when he was running for President, and we actually had to offer Bill Bradley equal time, or get him to sign a waiver that said he didn't care. So he ultimately did sign a waiver that said it was OK. That's one of my memento's from the first time around, the Bill Bradley waiver that he was going to allow Al Gore to appear on Futurama. So, no Schwarzenegger, or any of our politicians of today. However, I will say that we will be seeing, in the fourth movie, the future Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and he is played by Snoop Dogg.
(Laughs) That is awesome.
David X. Cohen: That is our political scene for you.
Futurama the Movie: Bender's Big Score will be released on DVD on November 27.
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