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The Scott And Kris Show, In Web-o-Color

Editor’s note: Been a busy year for Scott Kurtz, what with the Eisner, the convention travel, and the killer revamp on the PvP site. And Kris Straub‘s released four books, a CD, and a new website. So how else to deal with all those demands on your time other than diving into co-producing and co-writing a new animated series for the web? Kurtz and Straub were kind enough to take the time to answer some questions about the upcoming series, how to use Flash to good effect, and Scott’s Dad.

Fleen: So, an animated PvP; you guys dipped your toes into these waters about a year ago. What do you see as the advantage of working with Blind Ferret Entertainment over doing more of the Blamimations?

Kurtz: Well, it’s a whole different animal isn’t it? Blamimations are us dicking around and Blind Ferret is us doing it for real. We’re learning so much behind the scenes about what goes into producing a real animated series. We had a big discussion with Ryan [Sohmer] last night about taking over the voice directing completely and what all goes into that. By the end of the conversation, we decided not to take it over, but to just dip our foot in the pool because we want to learn more before we’re responsible for that whole shebang.

We’re still probably going to do more Blamimations because they are fun and silly to make.

Straub: I’m not even sure the Blamimations qualify as PVP when you get right down to it. I think the fact that it was Brent and Cole and stuff went off the rails close to the beginning. Scott is doing his Livecasts now at Talkshoe, which are kind of like Blamimations freed from their PvP moorings. Nonetheless we’ll keep doing them from time to time, and I know I’m folding that TechnologiMagiTude™ into

Fleen: What’s your production lead time like? Scott, you said in the launch announcement that you’ve been in production for five months; how much have you got in the can besides the trailer?

Kurtz: Most of the last five months have been preparing for everything, not just the first episode. Hiring animators and clean up guys, finding the voice actors, designing the backgrounds and feel of the show, etc. We’re finished with the first episode and working on the 2nd. And it’s still December. We don’t premiere until February. On top of that we’ll be in Canada at BFE Studios all next week working right next to the whole crew. So we should get a lot done.

Fleen: Any plans to have the series episodes synch up with the strip, or will lead times make that prohibitive? Will the series be used to fill in gaps in the main story, or will they be independent of each other?

Straub: It was decided in the earliest stages that PvP: The Series couldn’t just be PvP: The Comic Strip With Voices. This is more like Ultimate PvP, where it’s more important to be true to the characters than it is to cling to strip continuity. I think we wanted to tell new stories rather than deliver animated versions of strips everyone’s read already.

Fleen: What with lead times and having to get scripts for vocal track recording, then getting the animation done
and synched up … can all this be as spontaneous and funny as you guys are when you just riff off each other, or is there a danger that all the humor could get polished away?

Straub: There’s a sequence that opens up Episode 3 that is pretty much verbatim what Scott and I did sitting around his dining room table. The only real difference there is, in a Blamimation we’d just record that and release it that night, whereas for the series we have to plot the visuals around it and do storyboards. I haven’t felt like the material is being weighed down by being “official PvP,” but it is a different
process. It is a less … lazy process.

Kurtz: Well, it’s a different type of comedy from the Blamimations. Those are improv (bad improv at that) and the series is a scripted comedy. But so is my comic strip and I’m very proud of and happy with the humor in that. The trick is to let the voice talent know that we don’t want them “acting” so much. We want it to be very conversational. And you would be suprised how seemless our audio guy can make stuff. He really can make it sound like these two people are in the same room talking even though they never were.

Fleen: Mike and Matt Chapman have had great success with Homestar*Runner, and there’s been some great shorts that have been done in Flash (like Meredith Gran’s Polar-oid) that don’t look “Flash-y”. Scott, in your post announcing the series, you made a point of saying that PvP:TS wouldn’t be in Flash. Was that an important point for you? Is it the allure of knowing that there’s stuff on celluloid somewhere that makes it more like what we used to see on TV growing up?

Kurtz: We’re using Flash; Meredith used Flash the same way we’re using it. We’re doing traditional frame-by-frame animation and using Flash as our input device instead of animating on paper or cells and taking a picture of that. Our animators are sketching out movements, they’re not building puppets in Flash and using the tween feature to make them move.

Straub: Even on Polar-oid you could tell it was Flash from the kinds of brush strokes Meredith uses, but it was so saturated with her fluid style (and totally cel-animated) that the fact that it was Flash didn’t matter. In other words, Flash is full of shorthand tricks that PvP: TS won’t be using.

Kurtz: We could have either learned Flash or found a Flash animator to do that. I would rather we do something that feels more like, yeah, a Charlie Brown special or something. And this means having people draw it that aren’t me. And they have to learn to draw them like me, so there’s a learning curve.

Fleen: Speaking of H*R, those guys put together a several-minutes-long short every week to ten days (and in their creative bursts, two or three a week), for free. Can you compete with a) a subscription model; and b) one update per month?

Kurtz: Look, those guys have been spending the last 10 years learning Flash. I’ve spent the last 10 years developing a comic strip. I don’t know how I could compete with them. If I want to animate PvP on my own like the Chaps, I’ll need to stop everything and dedicate myself full time to learning Flash like they did.

I actually inquired on some animation boards and a lot of people were interested, but of course they want to be paid for their time and of
course I don’t blame them. Along comes Blind Ferret and they have the animators, and they’ll front the costs.

Straub: I think if our content is strong, and we can get everyone as excited about this series as we are, we can easily compete. The thing
is, we can still do the weekly knockoff stuff with Blamimations. That’s another outlet entirely. Could we compete with H*R in its heyday? I don’t know, they were pretty entrenched. But I think we’re safe if it’s just the weekly “Strong Bad makes up three words and Coach Z slurs a vowel, the end” stuff as of late. Yeah, I went there.

Fleen: Any thought given to doing like the Brothers Chaps or the Red vs Blue guys, and offering collections on DVD in the future?

Kurtz: DVD at the end of the year is a done deal. We’re going to be filming behind the scenes stuff as we go along. I don’t have any details on it, but we’ll do one for sure.

Fleen: Traditional hand-drawn animation, professional voice actors, a bunch of dedicated artists: this makes for an expensive undertaking. Howard Tayler theorized that the show is “a labor of love with some steep production costs they’d like to make back.” Fair assessment? Is the real goal of the subscriptions to just keep from taking a bath?

Kurtz: It’s one thing to risk your own money, but it’s a completely different thing for someone else to risk their own money on YOU. I have an easier time risking my own cash. I’ve done it before self-publishing. I don’t want to let the Blind Ferret guys down. I know I won’t let them down creatively, I just want to make sure I don’t let them down financially as well.

Straub: One of the things Ryan told us recently, when we felt like we were annoying him with a bunch of little questions, was “Call me anytime — we’d better get used to each other now, because we’re going to be planning Season 5 together.” And that was such a show of faith and belief that PvP is going to make a tremendous series. Blind Ferret has the head for it to make it work.

Kurtz: They’re confident. They tell me not to worry and that even if pre-orders don’t cover costs, we’ll make it up with DVD sales or some other way. They’re in it for the long haul. They talk about season 2 all the time. So I try to use their confidence as a comfort. But that’s why I’m pushing pre-orders so much because I want to cover costs with that and not have to worry about it anymore. And that’s the best way to help right now is support the show and order the year.

Fleen: Assume PvP:TS is a runaway success — good pre-order numbers, subscriptions go up each month on word-of-mouth, and apart from everybody complaining that the voices don’t match they way they always imagined them, you get good feedback all around. What’s the followup? More frequent episodes, longer episodes, distribution by other means? I’ve noticed a number of people wondering if you’d offer individual episodes through an iTunes-type model.

Straub: We’ll definitely chase down every opportunity, like different means of distribution and other offerings. Maybe next year. For right now, there’s enough on the plate that we need to concentrate on to make Season 1 the best possible.

Fleen: Other side of the coin — if subscriptions can’t support the work from BFE, do you keep the project alive in a cheaper form (like the Blamimations, but with less cracking each other up on the vocal track, maybe)? Or do you call it a noble failure and put it to bed?

Kurtz: No no. Failure is not an option here. We’re making a PvP series and we’re making it to be the best we can do it. There will be 12 episodes this year. We’ll make a DVD with extras at the end of the year and we’ll cover costs. We’re ending the season with a cliff-hanger. We’re not including noble failure as an option. Something pretty catastrophic would have to happen for this to fall apart and have to be put to bed. Everyone is in this for the long haul. Start small, get better, grow bigger. That’s what I did with the comic strip and that’s what we’re going to do with the series.

And as with the strip, the Series has to ask for support until it can grow to support itself. And that’s something the PvP readership has always been great about doing. They support the work.

Fleen: Will any of the episodes feature the song stylings of Mr Straub? I really do love the theme songs to Justin and the BLC Podcast.

Kurtz: Oh yeah. Kris is the first choice on all songs. He’s super-talented and I would rather use him than license music or hire someone else. Did you hear the official power-ballad of the show? We have an unfinished demo of it up here.

Straub: Yeah, I hope I get to write music for some episodes. Episode 10: PvP — The Rock Opera. Is this doable?

Fleen: Most of a year ago, Ctrl+Alt+Del announced a monthly animation (done by BFE) that Scott didn’t think was a great idea. In the months between the CAD announcement and sealing the deal with BFE, what made you change your mind so thoroughly?

Kurtz: Ryan Sohmer’s a charismatic guy. And he said all the right things to change my mind. And he agreed with all of my requirements to be involved in a project like this and put them in writing. He was very skilled at changing my mind. I want to work on animation, I want to learn this. But he had to convince me that BFE was the company to do it with.

He’s very convincing.

Fleen: Scott, any chance we’ll see your dad in the show, or maybe in a DVD extra? What would it take for him to record the voice track? I understand he can be a hard negotiator about things like the craft table and the size of his trailer.

Kurtz: I would like to work him into the show proper and not just make him a DVD extra. Getting a natural reading from him will be the hardest part. I’ve heard him record outgoing answering machine messages. He’s not a natural actor.

Fleen thanks Messers Kurtz and Straub for their time; for more about the upcoming series, check out the interview at Comic Book Resources.

Good interview. I am totally looking forward to the cartoons. I already got my subscription pre-ordered.

Hey guys, Straub went there.

True Fact: After the second year of existence, everything gets progressively worse.

Yep. That’s why I’ve got my subscription to the first year pre-ordered, and my subscription to the second year pre-cancelled.

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