Bender's Big Score:
Interview with David X. Cohen
In the run-up to the release of Bender's Big Score, we at CGEF were lucky to snatch an interview with Futurama's executive producer David X. Cohen (DXC). Read below what he has to say about Futurama's past, its hiatus period, its resurrection and about the possibility of a future for Futurama.
» Who is DXC?
So, let's get started: For the Futurama virgins among the readers
who just now found this page after googling for virgins, could you
give us a quick rundown of the DXC facts everyone should know? How
did you first get involved with writing and producing comedy,
which projects did you work on before joining Matt Groening to
David X. Cohen in a jar.
I was born in a small log cabin — or was that Abraham Lincoln? I always get us confused. At any rate, one of us is on the $5 bill. Or is it the 10?
I grew up in New Jersey, and planned to be some kind of scientist — inspired by my parents, who are both biologists. In high school: Math Team, Dungeons & Dragons, hacking on the Apple ][... yes, yes, and yes. I was also on the tennis and cross-country teams, so I wasn't entirely a cliché nerd. Just 90% of the way there.
I studied physics at Harvard and wrote for the Harvard Lampoon humor magazine. Then I headed off to get a PhD in computer science at U.C. Berkeley, but I derailed along the way and started writing comedy scripts.
My first success came when some sample material I had written ended up, through a long and tedious series of random events, in the hands of Mike Judge, creator of Beavis & Butthead and later, King of the Hill. He was looking for cheap writers, and I was cheap, and arguably a writer. So I wrote a couple of the early episodes of Beavis and Butthead, and suddenly I had a resumé, once that show turned out to be successful on MTV.
Soon after, I got hired at the Simpsons, and I worked as a writer there for five years before setting off to do Futurama with Matt Groening.
Right, but on to the important things... What is your favorite Star Trek episode, the name of your most advanced D&D character and your favorite science fiction writer?
Favorite Star Trek Episode: I'll go for a slightly off-the-beaten track answer with a Deep Space Nine episode... "Whispers", featuring Miles O'Brien, in a rather Futurama-esque storyline.
Name of my most advanced D&D character: "Sho-Rembo", an Elven fighter-magic user. The name came from a list of suggestions in the Basic Set, back before my friends and I fully understood that we were allowed to use our brains in this game. By the way, I was interviewed for the book "30 Years of Adventure - A Celebration of Dungeons & Dragons", based on Futurama's obsession with the game.
Favorite Science Fiction Writer: Currently I am thoroughly enjoying the work of Vernor Vinge... particularly, "A Fire Upon the Deep", and "A Deepness in the Sky". There are enough great ideas in each of these books for several novels. So you get an excellent value in terms of ideas-per-dollar.
» What happened in 2002/2003
After several months of "hiatus" which our readers perceived as a period of uncertainty and hope for renewal, the FOX fall line-up of 2003 did not include any Futurama. What was this period like for you?
I don't remember any serious talk of us coming back in fall 2003. I can tell you that the writers, at least, were certain we would NOT be on the schedule. There would not have been time to make new episodes at that point anyway, since Fox had aired our last remaining new episodes over the summer. So everyone went off in search of new jobs long before then. We held out hope of resurrection someday, in some form, but we were pretty sure it wasn't going to be immediate.
So what about this large gap from 2003 to 2007 on your resumé...
During Futurama's "hiatus", I worked on numerous movie punch-ups, goofed off plenty, and wrote two TV pilots, which alas never made it to the air. The first was co-written with comic-book artist Joe Matt and former Simpsons writer Donick Cary. It was entitled "The Poor Bastard", and was a live-action adaptation of Joe Matt's fantastic comic book "Peep Show" for HBO. Anyone who is over 18 and not easily offended should definitely check out Joe's comics.
The second pilot was entitled "Grandmaster Freak & the Furious 15", an original idea about an oversized rap group from my home town of Englewood, New Jersey. It was set in the early days of rap when I was in high school. Note that Englewood was the home of Sugar Hill records, where the classic "Rapper's Delight" was recorded, so all this actually makes a little bit of sense. It was an animated pilot for the Fox Network. Ice Cube was on board as a producer and voice if the show had gone forward. It was a good script. You missed out, world!
» The new Futurama Movies
What enabled the four new Direct-to-DVD Futurama movies to go
ahead in the end?
It was 100% a case of the fans saving our necks. DVD sales were excellent, and viewership of the reruns on Adult Swim surpassed all expectations, remaining shockingly high year after year. So after several years of Matt Groening and me calling Fox and saying, "Hey, how about a Futurama DVD movie?", they suddenly called us up one day and said, "Hey, how about a Futurama DVD movie?"
Rumors of new Futurama content seem to have gone on for months and months before it became official. From a story perspective, did you have to peddle alternate versions until FOX was happy, or did you enter and leave negotiations with a single story line in mind?
The delay was actually due to Matt and me trying to reassemble the original team. Also, the original plan for one DVD gradually expanded into four.
The stories were a separate issue. 20th Century Fox Television, the production company, was very supportive and there was no major finagling necessary on that account.
» Bender's Big Score
The first of the four Futurama movies, "Bender's Big Score", is
about to ship to DVD retailers for its release on November 27th.
What has changed when compared to the original 72 TV episodes and
what did you try to preserve?
The goal was to maintain the tone of the show while giving the overall presentation a more cinematic feel. For that reason, we went to widescreen for the first time ever, and mixed the audio in 5.1 surround sound. The writing process was largely the same, however — just supersized. All of the writers on this project were veterans of the series, so I think it will feel pretty consistent... at least, no less consistent than when we were on the air. And the animation is beautiful.
Unlike many other series, Futurama never had any multi-part
episodes. It's a big leap to go from 22 minute self-contained
stories to a feature length movie...
Going to feature length was definitely a challenge. But there were benefits, too, since in virtually every one of our original episodes, we had trouble cramming the plot into 22 minutes, because we were almost always going for grand, movie-like stories anyway. So on one hand it was a relief to have more room to maneuver; on the other hand, we were in uncharted territory.
While we're on the subject of additional content, sort of, I should elaborate on the DVD bonus features, because these have been little publicized even though we worked quite hard on them. So here they are...
A full-length 22-minute episode of "Everybody Loves Hypnotoad". Let me say to any hardcore fans out there who know what I'm talking about that there is slightly more to this than you'd expect. I am pretty interested to see how fans react to this one. I'd estimate that approximately 4% of viewers will consider this the greatest achievement in the history of mankind; the other 96% may experience emotions ranging from fear to confusion to discomfort and itchiness.
"Bite My Shiny Metal X" - A Futurama Math Lecture by Dr. Sarah Greenwald. Yes, you heard me — a math lecture! We are classing up the joint with a real-life math lecture in which Dr. Greenwald discusses various math and science references throughout the history of Futurama. Lots of scenes from the show are included to illustrate her points. It's aimed at an audience that's interested in math, but not necessarily knowledgeable. I think it would also be great for teachers to show in a high school math class. And if the math aspect wasn't exciting enough, you'll also get to see me and Matt and several writers making fools of ourselves on camera. I am pretty proud of this... Futurama may be a dumb cartoon, but we aspire to be slightly less dumb!
Full and highly disorganized commentary, as usual, featuring Billy West, John Dimaggio, Phil Lamarr, Matt, me, writers and artists;
3D models & turnarounds of some spaceships;
A live reading by the Futurama cast of a special Futurama Comic book that purports to explain what the Planet Express Crew has been up to the past few years;
Early character designs;
Still more things I am forgetting about;
Bonus live footage of Al Gore, me, and Matt Groening discussing a Futurama-"Inconvenient Truth" promo, in which yet again I make an idiot of myself, only this time in front of our former Vice President.
One other important thing I want to mention, which has received virtually no press coverage: Drawing inspiration from 3-time Futurama guest star Al Gore, we have worked with News Corp to make this entire project CARBON NEUTRAL, both in terms of production and manufacturing. News Corp has announced that it plans to be carbon neutral as a company by 2010, so we decided to help lead the way.
Two questions I've been asked a lot lately are "when will there be
international releases" and "is there a time schedule for high
definition versions and are they going to be HD-DVD or Blu-ray?"
Do you have an answer for that?
The short answer is: no. I don't think any final decisions have been made yet on either account.
» The Future of Futurama
What has to be done to get the series back into regular
production? Any hope or discussion about this at all?
Tons of hope — big steaming piles of it — but no discussion. Common sense — rarely applicable in Hollywood — dictates that if these DVDs are a smash, Fox will want more. But there is no concrete goal that we know of in terms of a sales figure that would trigger another go 'round.
Of course, if we do come back yet again, it could be in any of several forms: more DVD movies, episodes for Comedy Central or Fox or both, or even... my non-secret wish... a theatrical motion picture.
Thanks for the interview and for bringing Futurama back!
My pleasure! Thanks to everyone for saving our necks once, and here's hoping for still more!
Bender's Big Score is scheduled for release on November 27th, 2007 and can be preordered for $19.99 from amazon.com.
— [-mArc-], November 2007
Futurama TM and © 2007 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved.