Scratch Pad Exclusive: Interview with Michael Buckley

Posted: October 19, 2010 by RacattackForce in Animation, Animation Editorials, Animation Interviews, Authors, Interviews, RacattackForce, Site News
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I’m a New Yorker at heart: I love this crazy city with its beat-boxing subway conductors, parks to make-up for the large amount of concrete, and unusual amount of stray cats. But I’m also an animation lover, and beyond a crap-load of independent films, this large city has a small voice in the animation community. Very few animated series and films are produced in NYC, so whenever I hear that a new animation project is underway in the Big Apple, I become ecstatic and try to do all I can to help promote it. That is part of the reason for the following interview.

You may know of  Michael Buckley for his bestselling children books — he’s the creator of the book series The Sisters Grimm and N.E.R.D.S. But he is also the co-creator of the upcoming Cartoon Network series Robotomy, which is about two teenage robots (Thrasher and Blastus) who attend high school on the ultra-violent planet of Insanus. Directed by Christy Karacas, co-creator of the hit [adult swim] series Superjail!, Robotomy is being produced at New York’s own World Leaders Entertainment. In response to an amazing trailer (above) and the lack of network promotion, I decided to sit down with Mr. Buckley and discover just what makes this show tick. Interview after the jump.

Me: To start off, what was your childhood like?
Michael Buckley: To be honest, it was pretty Dickensian. Inappropriate role models. Lots of divorces. Good times…good times. I had lots of siblings and we had no money: it was like the Brady Bunch on welfare.

Me: How did that factor into your becoming a writer?
Buckley: Well, when things suck you look for an escape. Comics, cartoons, and stories were great places to get lost. I read voraciously and then as I got older I discovered stand up, and that was a huge influence. My older brother Jeff turned me on to people like Steve Martin, Woody Allen and Richard Pryor. Early on, I knew I wanted to make people laugh. It wasn’t long before I realized I was pretty good at it. Most funny people have sad upbringings. I think it’s a federal law…

Me: Well, that’s one crappy federal law. So, where did the idea for Robotomy come from?
Buckley: That’s a fun story. Three years ago, CN came to me and asked me to put a show together for them. The first person I called was my writing partner Joe Deasy — we’ve been writing together 16 years. So we sent over 5 ideas…and they hated all of them. Then six months later they called and asked us to try again… they hated all those. Then another six months, and here they come again. Joe and I put together four more ideas, and then a fifth that we thought they would never want. It started with this idea of doing very primitive robots — like bugs — and it just evolved from there. Naturally, CN loved the idea we thought they’d hate. Naturally, they only liked the worst parts of it, and they had us crowbar some very bad ideas into it before we got to this — which ironically, is very close to our original pitch.

Me: That’s hilarious! How did Christy Karacas get involved?
Buckley: Cartoon Network introduced us: they thought we’d made a perfect fit because of his show Superjail!. He also had experience running his own show, which Joe and I needed badly. He also has a very original style. He’s pulling triple duty on Superjail!, our show, and his band, Cheeseburger. He makes me look lazy.

Me: That’s frikken amazing. And speaking of experience, didn’t you work in television for a time, before The Sisters Grimm?
Buckley: Well, Joe and I had a few development deals around town — MTV, Nick — but very little of what we did was ever seen. I did some work for Discovery Channel, too. You can make a good living working on stuff no one sees. But we didn’t have any real experience making a TV show that is actually on TV.

Me: What were the biggest struggles in producing your first series?
Buckley: What hasn’t been a struggle? TV is tough on the creative soul, man. Three different bosses in three years, a truck load of stupid ideas … early on they wanted us to put an “urban-type” teenager on the show, but they didn’t want him to be the main character. There was one unique character on the show, the human, but he’s not the main character! Just purely stupid. Luckily, we finally have a couple of execs who are bright and understand story telling. That’s both good and bad ’cause the worst thing in the world is a smart suit.

Since they have great ideas you can’t dismiss them thus – lots of rewriting. The hardest thing though has been the back and forth about the tone. Robotomy is full of fart jokes but it is also pretty smart. It pushes boundaries that CN has never pushed during this time slot. We forget that Adult Swim is a totally different animal. They can do stuff that would never happen on CN. So, Robotomy is walking a fine line. We’re a bridge from the kid’s stuff to the grown up stuff and CN had some trouble figuring out how to get across that bridge. I mean, as much as I want to strangle them sometimes I do have to admit making these shows is an expensive undertaking! We spent a couple million dollars making 10 episodes that are only 11 minutes long! So, naturally they freak when we want to do some jokes that border on adult. So we all went round and round on it but what resulted is almost exactly what Joe and I were hoping for … in the world of Cartoon Network, our show is groundbreaking.

The art is just stunning and insane. The scripts are clever and inappropriate. The music is punk rock, and I’m not talking some watered down stuff — this is like the Hives meets Motorhead meets the Circle Jerks. I think people are going to be surprised by it – and I think that’s making the network nervous, too. Regular Show and MAD are pretty irreverent but Robotomy – that’s a whole nother planet. It wasn’t easy but I guess Joe and I are proud of it. Now, would I willingly do all that to myself, again? Maybe — but there would have to be a truck load of cash to go with it.

Me: Looking back on all the episodes done so far, is there anything you wish you could have changed?
Buckley: Well, it’s hard not to look at it as many times as we do and not see little problems. There are jokes I’d cut. Maybe I could have been more pushy about the colors on the show, but at the end of the day it’s never going to be perfect. The process is collaborative and sometimes, for the sake of the working environment, you have to pick your battles. I don’t think that anyone thought Joe and I would really want to produce the show. You know, they hand out these executive producer credits like candy. But Joe and I really wanted to get in and get our hands dirty – learn it all from the ground up. Sometimes we rubbed people the wrong way to get what we wanted but in the end we have been living with this show longer than anyone. We know it back and forth. and in the end, we got what we wanted and I think everyone likes the end result.

Robotomy premieres Monday, October 25th at 8:45 ET/PT.

  1. Jeff Harris says:

    Great interview. Been following up on Mr. Buckley’s other works as well. Sisters Grimm would be a GREAT series (fairy tale creatures are real, and it’s up to the sisters, descendants of the original brothers, to keep them enclosed) as would N.E.R.D.S., which just screams like a natural successor to Kids Next Door in animation. Can’t wait for Robotomy, and I’m still ticked Cartoon Network barely shows love for the series.

  2. Kieran Pertnav says:

    I love how they submitted dozens of ideas and the execs ended up liking what is essentially the exact same concept they’ve been ordering for the past several years, but with a different twist. What a shocker.
    Great interview though, you really went past the generic questions and got to some pretty interesting stories. Good job.

  3. Git says:

    It’s really a shame when a production that costs that much gets treated like crap. CN, we understand that you worry about the content, but that doesn’t mean that you promote your inhouse production A WEEK before it airs. A “parental advisory” note in the commercials would have done just fine.

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