TV Insights, Observations and Obsessions from the NYTVF
Check out our Q&A series with Fest Founder Terence Gray (and others), designed to provide submitting artists and TV fans with insight to the current development landscape. If you're thinking about submitting to the NYTVF, this is for you.
Mike Luciano and Phil Matarese were Brooklyn-based comedians when they submitted their off-kilter animated series Animals. to the NYTVF's Independent Pilot Competition in 2013. In addition to being named the Fest's Best Comedy that year, the series was a popular pick among industry attendees, the creators earned a shout-out from Fest Keynote speaker (and Arrested Development creator) Mitch Hurwitz, and the team was signed by ICM.
Two and a half years later – after partnering with Mark and Jay Duplass, who came on as executive producers, and enjoying a much buzzed-about screening at Sundance in January 2015 – Animals. premieres its first of two guaranteed seasons on HBO on Friday, February 5.
First off, congratulations on Animals. being picked up for two seasons by HBO. What can you tell us about the project?
Phil Matarese: Whoa it feels weird writing this instead of talking it. Ok, Animals. is an animated show about NYC animals. So: rats, pigeons, dogs, cats, horses, squirrels, etc. etc. etc. There's actually a lot of animals in New York. Every episode focuses on different animals and veers off into little "sketches" of different species. It's not really a sketch show, though. We also have a nonspeaking human storyline that serializes the season. It's a very pretty show. The mouths don't move.
Animals. was an Official Selection at the 2013 NYTVF, where it won Best Comedy. Tell us about the trajectory of the project go from NYTVF to HBO?
PM: I'm gonna let Mike mostly take this one. But if he goes on too long; winning NYTVF made everything possible. Agents, managers, getting in front of Duplasses, etc.
Mike Luciano: This is gonna sound like pandering – and sure, maybe it is a little bit – but the truth is that the New York Television Festival was the first time, for us, that the seemingly impenetrable wall between us, independent creators, and the enigmatic, all powerful machine known as 'the industry' felt like it dropped. The access to industry professionals of all stripes for artists/creators was clearly something NYTVF makes a focus, and that's what made all the difference for us. We met our agents, our managers, and executives at a number of studios, networks, and distribution platforms that we still are in contact with today.
From there, Mark Duplass saw the pilot we made. Phil and I were at our day jobs and saw we were getting a Skype call from an unknown Los Angeles number, so we dove into our office supply closet to take it. Suddenly, we were on the phone with one of our heroes talking about how to make Animals. into a show. Mark's whole idea revolved around skirting the typical, drawn out, and many times disappointing process of pitching a pilot idea to networks, and instead offered to help get us funding, resources, and the cast to make a full season of our show right then. To Phil & myself, two people who like the make the show from all angles, that made a whole lot of sense. He couldn't promise that the show would wind up anywhere, but he did promise it would get made, with full creative control in our court. We quit our jobs and moved to LA a few weeks later.
Over the next year, we built a tiny, VERY tiny arsenal of animators to help us make the first batch of episodes in an apartment that was also where Phil and I lived. No one new how to make an animated show, but we did what we always did which was figure it out to the best of our abilities & resources and keep moving forward. All the while, we had some of the best comedy minds walking into our makeshift bedroom recording studio to improvise with us- Marc Maron, Aziz Ansari, Molly Shannon, etc. It was all very surreal.
At some point, we heard that Sundance was interested in screening our first two episodes. To us, it just felt like the perfect way to debut the show to represent how we made it. We wound up being the first television show without a network or studio to screen in their festival's history. Simultaneously, the link of those eps got sent out to just about every TV network/platform there is. We got back and had a bunch of meetings. HBO was the place that just got what we were doing. And fully supported it. They gave us two seasons. We still can't believe it. It's where we dreamed Animals. would wind up all those years back when we'd sit late at night in bars imagining this as a show.
We know that the Mark and Jay Duplass are on-board as Executive Producers – what can you tell us about the development of the series?
PM: It was a lot of fun expanding the universe and figuring out how make a ~30minute runtime feel warranted. A lot of the web-series DNA is still in here (the sketches, it being Phil & Mike, etc). The Duplasses (Dupli?) are incredible storytellers, especially in the emotional sense. We do read-throughs of every outline Mike and I write with them, not only to make sure it's improv-able but also to make sure that emotional story is tight and rewarding. We love them so much. They're like our dads / brothers. It's weird.
There’s a strong comedic voice cast on the series. How did you get all of those amazing people involved?
PM: A lot of that is a testament to the Duplass bros. People signed on knowing it'd be a weird and fun thing but also something of quality. It's VO too so people can just roll out of bed and pretend to be a racist dog or something. We're incredibly grateful of everyone who gave us their time and energy.
As you've shifted from digital to television, what has that process been like?
PM: HBO is known for giving their creators freedom and we're here to tell you it's FALSE THEY'VE GOT US HOSTAGE IN SANTA MONICA I MISS MY PARENTS. J/K they're totally awesome and give us barely any notes, and when they do it's always smart & beneficial. This show's been Phil & Mike since Day 1, and it's very much remained that. It's a snapshot of who we are at 26 and.... Mike's age.
What are you watching on TV right now? Where do you see innovative programming?
PM: Right now I'm watching the children's cartoon show Clarence and that's about it.
ML: I just watched the first episode of Louis CK's Horace and Pete and it blew my mind. It felt like watching what I imagine great theater from the 70's to be like, but it's about America right NOW. Incredible cast and felt like a new form altogether – something between TV, theater, film, and web series. That blurring of the lines to me is a sign something innovative being introduced. Produced & released by Louis CK himself, no distribution platform. Indie TV in purest form. I loved it.
What advice do you have for producers looking to write/create a television pilot? What should they focus on, and what do you feel can be left out?
PM: Do do do do do do do do do it. Don't talk about the hockey script you're going to write. Write it, finish it, rewrite it, refinish it, shoot it, etc. Your project is like a balloon, and the more hot air you let out of it, the weaker it becomes. If you keep all the air inside of your balloon (project) then you show it to people they'll be like "Whoa a balloon, that's sick." If you talk about it before it's anything you feel like you're doing something but you're not. Then you show it to people and they're like "Oh, a deflated piece of rubber – ya anyone can do that u dweeb."
Don't spread yourself too thin, focus on your thing, and never give up. Mike and I would be working in my apartment at 3am and think "What the fuck even IS an agent how in god's name do you get one?" but we never let it slow us down or harped on it too much. Things will happen, you just have to keep falling forward and believing in your project and yourself.Something we used to do, which might sound self-congratulatory or conceited or whatever, but we used to get really drunk in like 2013 and just think about the final version of this could be. "This will be a show" we'd say again and again. It was like a very unhealthy version of vision-boarding. But that gave us the confidence to walk in a room and really feel like we had something of substance.
Don't sell your thing too early, too. Some start-up app shit might offer you $5 grand, which seems dope at the time, but make sure they're heart is in it as much as yours. If not – fuck them, you don't owe them shit, bb.
Lastly, you don't ever have to ask for permission to make anything.
Last, lastly, Hail Satan.
ML: Everything Phil said. Except the hail Satan part. The only other thing I'll add is giving yourself a deadline is essential. It gives you a box to work in and relieves you of the crippling burden of possibility. Getting your work FINISHED is infinitely more important than making it COMPLETE or PERFECT. It can be entering a festival, or as simple as telling everyone you know to meet at your house or a bar venue on a specific date at a specific time. Then you REALLY have to make something. Or everyone will hate you and call you a failure. I don't want that. Additionally, screening in front of an audience gives you a feel for how the work is being received rather than just a friend commenting on YouTube 'really fun!' It helps you gauge when something isn't working or needs to be paced better. Ok, that's it. You know what, let’s bring back the Hail Satan part, I grew into it.
Any advice for creators submitting to the New York Television Festival?
PM: NYTVF was the most important thing to happen to Animals. I cannot oversell the importance of being involved in this Festival. It was one of the greatest weeks of my life. As for practical advice: For the love of everything holy get the sound right. Bad sound is just hell. Put money into sound.
ML: Don't be discouraged if you don't get in. Keep doing it. Make something new every year. People gravitate toward people who walk the walk and follow through no matter the product's end result. Remember each time you make something new, you get better. So when your 50th pilot finally gets in, all the industry gatekeepers will be wowed by your overnight success. Little do they know it's been a result putting in the WORK all along! JOKES ON YOU!
Thanks, guys! Remember, NYTVFers: Animals. premieres on HBO on February 5.
Check out previous downloads here:
Q&A with the Jamz | Alumni Q&A (Richard Keith and Erin Cardillo) - 5/29/15 | Alumni Q&A (Damian Lanigan) - 5/29/15 | Chicago Comedy Panel - 5/18/15 | Big Laughs at Just For Laughs - 5/5/15 | Alumni Q&A (Whatever Linda) - 3/27/15 | Insights from the intern bullpen - 8/27/14 | Insights from the intern bullpen - 8/19/14 | Insights from the intern bullpen - 8/6/14 | Insights from the intern bullpen - 7/30/14 | Insights from the intern bullpen - 7/24/14 | Rory Covey of My Damn Channel's Honchos - 4/10/14 | Drama advice from Siobhan Byrne O'Connor - 4/3/14 | NYTVF Alum Danny Abrahms - 3/21/14 | Drama Advice - 3/13/14 | Advice from Chicago - 3/10/14 | Unscripted LA Panel - 2/25/14 | Drama Development - 2/20/14 | MSN Development - 2/12/14 | Casting - 2/5/14 | The Network Development Process - 1/29/14 | History Development - 1/15/14 | Comedy Formats - 3/18/13 | A&E Pipeline - 4/3/13| Fox Script Contest - 4/10/13 | From Film to TV - 5/17/13 | Lifetime Unscripted - 9/4/13