A Conversation with EARTHWORM JIM Creator Doug TenNapel

Animator. Writer. Cartoonist. Video Game Designer. Comic Book Artist. Doug TenNapel is all of these things, and in 1994 his many talents funneled into one project when created the critically acclaimed video game, Earthworm Jim. Originally released on Sega Genesis, the story follows Jim, a normal earthworm until  a "special suit" falls out of the sky and allows him to operate much like a human, at which point he is tasked to rescue and protect Princess What's-Her-Name. Earthworm Jim stood out amongst all other titles as being a unique, wildly rebellious dark comedy that played as a parody of other games. The television commercial, which featured an elderly woman eating live worms, was pulled from multiple networks due to complaints from nauseated viewers. However, that did not stop the game from becoming a hit; earning itself a sequel, toy line and animated series. Today we take a nostalgic look back at the career of the man who told us to "eat dirt" in the 90s, and discover all of the things he did that brought him to Earthworm Jim, and where that game took him.   

Jason Anders: Long before creating Earthworm Jim you worked in television animation. What led to your job as an animator on Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, and what was your experience on that series like? 
Doug TenNapel: That first job was a big one for me. I was like many artists who graduate from college and ask, “How am I going to ever get paid for what I love doing?” I had been a freelance illustrator for just over two years when that opportunity opened up and I lucked out to get it. My animation skill was clunky at best, but I figured my workaholism would make up for my lack of skill. After a year at that job I learned so much about how television animation worked. I learned to read an exposure sheet, make sure my shots hooked up to the previous and following content, and I had to work with others on a large crew. Many of the friends I met on that project in 1991 are still dear friends of mine today and we are dispersed throughout the entertainment industry working for feature, TV and video game animation companies.

JA: Did you meet John Astin while working on that show?

DT: I did not meet John Astin but our crew was far stranger than his role on The Addams Family! I did get a chance to meet his son, Sean Astin, a few years ago. He's a nice guy.

JA: In 1993 you were an animator on the Sega Genesis adaptation of Jurassic Park, easily one of the greatest 16-bit video games of all time! Tell me about your transformation to video games and the challenges involved.
DT: After leaving Attack of the Killer Tomatoes I went right back into unemployment despair. I was in San Diego and discovered that many of my co-workers on Killer Tomatoes were getting animation jobs in video games. This was news to me because for some reason I assumed all video games were made in Japan. There were a number of small gaming companies that were alive and well in San Diego. I started contracting on little-known titles and I quickly got a reputation for being able to animate really fast. Due to the limitations of the cartridges at the time, I could do all of the animation for a game in two weeks. That saved the developers a lot of money and I found enough work to keep me busy around the clock. I had a decent amount of animation to show other video game companies that were exploding at the time due to the sheer amount of games being made in the early 90s.

My first real job was at BlueSky Software. They hired me and paid me a little extra to not do any side freelance work. I became a company man and got to work as an animator on a number of titles at the same time. Within the first year they landed the Jurassic Park game and I was offered the lead position. I got to visit the Jurassic Park set and meet two of my heroes who were working on the movie: Stan Winston and Phil Tippet. The latter just found out that the movie wouldn’t be using his stop-motion work because they decided to go with computer animation on the dinosaurs.
There are moments were I’m just lucky enough to be at the right place at the right time - and on my day that I visited Phil Tippet, he was so upset at losing the Jurassic Park gig that he threw a stop-motion puppet of one of the Velociraptors into the chair right next to where I was sitting! I picked up the puppet and it felt absolutely amazing in my hands. This was the most high-end puppet I’ve ever touched. The machining of the armature was the best money could buy, and the foam work on top of the armature felt like real skin. It moved like a dream. I looked at Phil and asked if I could shoot the puppet and digitize the images for the video game. He put us in contact with the studio lawyers and they agreed to let us use it if we took out a $75,000 insurance policy on the puppet. 

Like my work on Killer Tomatoes, I wasn’t the greatest animator to inherit such a great project, but I worked long hours to get my stop-motion skills to some level using that puppet. I had done a lot of stop-motion puppet animation on my dad's 8mm camera since the 4th grade. The game was finished on time and on budget and while I find the gameplay a little clunky, that project taught me a lot about gaming and opened up an opportunity to work for Virgin Interactive where my career was about to step up far beyond what I could have imagined.
JA: Was it fun to animate Ren & Stimpy: Stimpy's Invention?

DT: I remember that we had to slam that game out pretty quick. My animation wasn’t great, but I really love John Kricfalusi and respect his work. We made the game really silly and just wanted the players to be able to get together and have a good time. That’s back when studios didn’t get too involved in our work because they considered video games voodoo. Games are, of course, voodoo. That may be the first time the studios were right about something.

JA: Let's talk about the origins of Earthworm Jim...

DT: That whole game happened because I met David Perry, Mike Dietz and Ed Schofield when I got hired at Virgin Games. I didn’t do well when I landed at that company. I inherited the SNES version of The Jungle Book Game and the crew and I didn’t click very well. Within a few months I felt like I made a big mistake leaving BlueSky, but David Perry and his crew had made so many hits for Virgin Games that they decided to leave the company to start Shiny Entertainment under direct funding of Playmates Toys. They were looking for an animator and I had become friends with Mike and Ed, so I was begging them to put in a good word for me. I was super desperate and not sure if Virgin Games would ever pan out for me. That unemployment knot in my gut was rearing its ugly head on the horizon.
Mike Dietz was also interviewing Larry Ahern (Day of the Tentacle, Monkey Island) and he didn’t get back to Shiny because he was on vacation in Hawaii. Shiny said they knew I could animate but wanted to know if I could be creative. They asked me to come up with a character that weekend and bring it in. I sat down and came up with Earthworm Jim and most of the bad guys. It was one of the easiest things I’ve created, but I was mostly just terrified of not getting the job. When I presented the characters to them they hired me. 

Once I landed at Shiny we started to goof around with Earthworm Jim as a game idea. We put together a pitch for Playmates but still weren’t certain they would let us do the game. We were entertaining doing the Beavis and Butt-head game instead. But once Playmates saw our pitch they agreed to make the game. That’s just another instance of how lucky I am. It’s hard to believe that something like that would happen, especially when life doesn’t seem to go the way I want it to when I really need it. But those first three years in animation took me from Killer Tomatoes to working on my own character that became a smash hit thanks to the Shiny team. 

JA: Do you have a favorite element that made its way into the Earthworm Jim games?

DT: My favorite part of the EWJ game was that the lead character is just a total idiot who does his best and ends up saving the world. He has become a symbol of my whole career! I like how he is a moron but has just enough competence and heart to be a hero. He’s a vulnerable worm that fell into a super suit that cannot be destroyed. 
JA: Only one year later saw the release of Earthworm Jim 2 - how did the idea of a sequel come about, and were there any story elements or characters that never saw the light of day?

DT: While working at Shiny, we always overdeveloped our games so there would be a lot of ideas that didn’t make it in. We didn’t come up with great stuff, we came up with a lot of stuff and threw out the things that were too stupid or too difficult to make. What’s left over becomes the game! We knew we would make a sequel because the game did so well with the gaming press. They went ape for it. I think we needed to just capitalize on the game engine and see if we could squeak out another game. Some of our ideas were a little too aggressive and the game suffered for it, but most people still respected what we were trying to do. I liked having that kind of support. This was at a time where gamers were more about playing and having fun than being professional critics. It was different back then.

JA: How surreal was it to see Earthworm Jim brought to life by Universal as an animated series and to hear the voice of Homer Simpson speak as a character you created?

DT: That was a surreal moment. The Simpsons had only been on the air for three years back then and Dan Castellaneta was a real catch. I remember listening to a lot of people trying out for the voice and his was the clear winner. Having my own TV series was an even bigger dream come true than the video game because I’d been watching cartoons a lot longer than I’d been playing games. I went from animating other people’s characters to executive-producing my own series. Suddenly, I was tracking Neilson ratings and monitoring a mass audience. I became aware of how a lot of people feel about my work instead of just me looking at an isolated image in my sketchbooks.
The Earthworm Jim series was animated by Universal, so I got to spend a lot of time on the lot. I remember driving my beat-up pick-up truck around the sets, sitting in on the record sessions and reviewing scripts. I didn’t have a lot of input on the show, I just did approvals and designed any new characters that showed up on the series. I was mostly just watching and learning how to make a show by experiencing it from the front row. 

JA: Do you have a favorite episode?

DT: I suppose my favorite episode was "The Anti-Fish". It’s just a really stupid, silly episode that I can’t believe exists!

JA: Is there a medium you most enjoy working in? 

DT: I like comics best. No offense to the other mediums I work in, they’re all a wonderful experience, but when I make a graphic novel I get to write and draw the whole story by myself with little collaboration from others. It’s where my storytelling is best, and I think it’s the most powerful medium for my skill set. 
JA: Creature Tech is such a wonderful, original story - do you think Fox will ever move forward on production of a film adaptation since they obtained the rights?

DT: I don’t know if they will, but they should if they want to make a lot of money and entertain the masses! Last time I checked that was Fox’s job so let’s hope they get to it. That graphic novel is one where I just made something very personal and I thought I was the only one who would like it. Come to find out a lot of us are on the same page. It’s a broadly American sci-fi comedy with mile-long flying space eels, so how could it not work?

JA: What is the last thing you drew?

DT: This:
JA: What are you working on now that you are excited about?

DT: I’m finishing up our last season of VeggieTales in the City for Netflix/Dreamworks and I’m excited about that. I’ve got a few pitches in the hopper I’m getting ready to take around to the studios this spring, and I am writing two graphic novels. I’m always excited about what’s next because that’s where I live. 

JA: What originally inspired you to get into animation?

DT: I got into animation because when a drawing moves, it seems alive. It’s a study of life. I love life and making drawings come alive is a great magic trick to pull off. I like drawing, but the drawing sits there and someone needs to make that thing come to life! 

JA: What inspires you now?

DT: All things that are true, good and beautiful. I find little patience in media that’s ugly, dark or false… and there’s a lot of that. 
JA: How has working in the industry changed since you first started?

DT: Well, the Internet happened. That changed a lot of problems that artists used to have with accessing a mass audience. The audience has a lot more power than when I started, as we are all digitally connected and we all consume a lot more media, so there is a bigger work force required to create that media. Unfortunately, the quality of storytelling hasn’t progressed much. If anything, I’d say we’re going backwards culturally.

JA: What advice would you give to those who want to follow in your footsteps?

DT: Turn around and run away! Seriously, I think someone who works harder than the next guy and gets a few lucky breaks can do what I do. It’s not easy, and I still feel that unemployment knot in my gut, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m an artist, no matter if I’m successful or not. I can’t change that.

JA: If you had to sum up your art in three words, what would they be?

DT: Fun, odd and thoughtful. That’s what I’m trying to do, anyways.
Follow Doug on Twitter: @TenNapel
Visit Doug's Website: TenNapel.com 

Hurricane Life: A Conversation with Dana Terrace

Storyboard Artist, Animator and Director Dana Terrace stops by Fülle Circle to discuss the race cars, lasers and aeroplanes that may or not be in her next big project (with Showrunner Matthew Youngberg and Co-Producer/Head Writer Frank Angones), Disney XD's nostalgic return to Duckburg in a reimagining of the 1987 series, DuckTales. We also discuss Gravity Falls, her childhood obsession with cats, the appeal of Carl Barks, and her advice for aspiring animators.  

Jason Anders: Do you remember the first cartoon you fell in love with as a kid?

Dana Terrace: I had always watched cartoons as a kid, but the first thing I obsessed over was Pokémon. It was 1999, I was eight years old, and I wanted a furry friend with magical powers to beat people up for me. I watched everything else but I never missed a new Pokémon episode. I didn't know what an animator was, but I knew "I want to do that - whatever it is." 

JA: What first influenced you to start drawing and what were your favorite things to draw?

DT: I don't know when I started. I've been drawing since I could hold a pencil. What encouraged me to continue was that every time I sat down with a marker and pad of paper the adults would leave me alone. I was an anti-social kid so when I discovered this trick I used it as much as I could.

I was big into cats. Every character was either a cat or a cat-girl in a dress being chased by ghosts and dinosaur ghosts. One of my favorite drawings from 1998 shows a cat-girl swinging by a vine over a pit of lava, and the cat is saying "this SUKS" (suks crossed out twice and rewritten in all caps). 
JA: Was DuckTales a show that you were into as a kid?

DT: Nope! I never watched it until I was hired onto the show. I watched a bunch of episodes for study but had a hard time with the relationship between Webby and the triplets. It felt hateful and mean. That's something I love about the writers on our show, they treat Webby like one of the kids and make her a joy to board! Besides that, I've read a lot of Carl Barks/Don Rosa comics. Those are just delightful. 

I feel like I should add a caveat: Though I didn't grow up with the original show, literally everyone else on the crew did - all of the writers, board artists, designers, directors, etc. They are very aware of keeping the "spirit" of the show intact. I just wanted to work on a show with cute animals going on adventures.

JA: Where are you from originally?

DT: I'm from New Haven County in Connecticut. Then I was in NYC for four years to go to college. 

JA: Is college a path you'd encourage for those who want to pursue a career in animation?

DT: My time at School of Visual Arts was a mix of experiences. It wasn't perfect. I made some great friends there and they had the facilities I needed to make my own short films. However, I found the program lacking in actual knowledge of how the industry works. Many of the teachers hadn't worked in the industry for over twenty years and were very out of the loop with how things worked. Of course there were exceptions; I had some amazing animation/layout teachers and a couple of figure-drawing teachers who completely changed the way I approached drawing. But because we were so far away from LA studios it was hard for us to imagine what an active professional looked like. I learned a lot from my peers, online tutorials, and students from CalArts and Gobelins that I would talk to in forums. 

I don't want to discourage anyone from doing anything just because of my singular experience. It all comes down to the individual. Some people have amazing experiences in school, I didn't. Art school isn't for everyone, especially those in financial straights, but there are alternatives! There are a million online classes students can take that offer a solid animation education by current working professionals at a fraction of the cost. It takes a lot of hard work and dedication to strike out on your own but it isn't impossible. I hope students look at both options very carefully to decide what's best for them! 
JA: How did you land a job working on Gravity Falls, and what was your immediate reaction to the offer?

DT: It was strange! I hadn't watched Gravity Falls before they contacted me and sent a storyboarding test. Someone on the crew found my Tumblr and liked my drawings enough to email me! I did the test and they immediately wanted to bring me on as a revisionist. At the same time I was waiting to hear back from Steven Universe for a position. I was leaning more towards SU, I was a fan of Rebecca Sugar ever since I saw her films at SVA, but they took too long to reply and I needed a job so I half-heartedly accepted Gravity Falls’ offer. I think it turned out alright. 

JA: What is your fondest memory of working on Gravity Falls?

DT: There are so many good memories on Gravity Falls - drinking with the crew and playing Smash Bros., drunkenly playing Smash Bros. with the crew, etc. 

One memory I go back to is storyboarding on “Dipper and Mabel Vs the Future.” There was a scene where Mabel is sadly looking through her scrapbook while Stan attempts to cheer her up. It was a real "father/daughter" kind of moment and, having lost my own father around Mabel's age, I poured my heart into it. I don't know how much of that came out in the finished animation, especially after some things were cut for time, but it was the first time I didn’t get notes from my director. If I went back I'd change a million things, but I remember being very satisfied and proud at that moment. 
JA: How did the opportunity of working on the new DuckTales present itself?

DT: The Line Producer for DuckTales was also LP for season two of Gravity Falls. When she heard I was looking for work in November 2015 she hit me up! I was originally offered a boarding position, but I had just finished boarding for a few projects that left a bad taste in my mouth. So I took a chance and asked if they had a director's position open. Fortunately, they did - and even more fortunately, they were desperate enough to try me out! 

JA: What do you love most about DuckTales, both the new and original show?

DT: I can't say much about the original show, but I'm a big fan of the Carl Barks comics. What I love the most is the way he drew Scrooge and Donald. Their closed-eye designs were so cute and their smiles so appealing. Happily, we've integrated some of those Barks-isms into our designs. 

I feel so biased talking about the show I worked on. Of course I love it! The scripts are funny, the characters have depth, and best of all Webby has an actual goddamn personality besides "girl". She's my favorite character to work with. I think people will appreciate what we've done with her. 
JA: What can we expect from the new series?

DT: Same as the old; really cute animal characters going on adventures, but with a little more personality for the kids and a little more depth for every character all-around. I think people will like it!

JA: What is your all-time favorite piece of animation?

DT: If you're talking about animation as in “which piece of pure context-less piece of art do I like”, I go back to the scene in Ghost in the Shell when Major Kusanagi's arms are being ripped apart while trying to defeat a terrorist robot, or the marching parade in Paprika, or just the little looped GIFs made by talented friends like Jeff Liu, Spencer Wan and Toniko Pantoja.

Just for the sake of narrowing it down, my favorite animated movie is Princess Mononoke. It's stunning, heart-breaking and otherworldly. Without fail I start crying ten minutes into the film every time. I'm awful to watch it with. 
JA: What inspires you?

DT: The inevitability of death! Before I die I want to make sure I put 120% into my passion. 

JA: What advice would you give to artists who are just starting out and trying to get their foot in the door?

DT: I say this all the time: DRAW! Draw every goddamn day. Or write every day, if that's your thing, and show your work to people, online and offline. Learn how to take critique and never let yourself hide behind "styles". That's how amateur artists stay amateurs. If you want to get into animation it will behoove you to be versatile. At the end of the day, the quality of your work is all that matters. 

JA: How would you describe yourself in three words?

DT: Very. Tired. UUUGHHH.

Follow @DanaTerrace on Twitter
Follow Dana on Tumblr

"Writing Community: A Conversation with Producer Emily Cutler" By Alyssa Merwin & Jason Anders

Playwright. Producer. Television & Film Writer. Actress. Stand-Up. Sketch. When it comes to comedy, Emily Cutler has done it all. She hasn't gone unrecognized for it, either - winning the L.A. Times Gold Derby Television Award in 2010 for "Comedy Episode of the Year" for writing the acclaimed Community episode "Modern Warfare." It was her writing on Dan Harmon's underrated NBC series that made us want to reach out for the following interview, which she was more than gracious with her time for, meeting us at a coffee shop next to CBS Radford before starting her day at The Odd Couple and allowing us to ask her all about her life and career. Oh, and about being Patrick Duffy's daughter-in-law...

Jason Anders: So if I can ask a personal question to start off with, what's it like having Patrick Duffy as a father-in-law?

Emily Cutler: Oh, you did your research! He's an absolute delight, the dad you always wish you had.

JA: I felt like he was my dad having grown up with Step by Step (1991)...

EC: See, I was of the Dallas (1978) time. I've only seen Step by Step recently, which was surreal because now I know him. He's a delightful, lovely, down-to-earth human being. I got lucky in the father-in-law department.

JA: Did you grow up a TV junkie?

EC: I watched everything. I was of the generation when MTV was starting, so we were glued to it. I watched Barney Miller (1974), Gilligan's Island (1964) and The Brady Bunch (1969) reruns. I wouldn't say I was a junkie, but I loved TV.

When I was a kid I liked The Love Boat (1977) because I was young and thought it was a naughty show. Fantasy Island (1977) was a good show, which apparently they are trying to remake right now.
(Thomas Lennon & Matthew Perry on the CBS Radford lot for The Odd Couple)
JA: Everything is being remade...

EC: Yes. Working on The Odd Couple (2015) I can certainly attest to that.

JA: How are you enjoying working on The Odd Couple?

EC: The cast and crew I am working with have been a delight and that is not always the case. In fact, most often it is not the case. You're dealing with a lot of creative types and, often, "crazy" comes along with that. On this particular show everyone is down-to-earth, rational, very respectful and wants to get their work done. It's refreshing.

Alyssa Merwin: How does working on a television series differ now from when you first started?

EC: The staffs are smaller, for sure. There's not as much money being thrown around. As comedy changes, the tone of the room changes. It's not as "set-up, set-up, joke" all the time, sometimes it's a different style of writing, but it hasn't changed that much. I don't even think it's changed that much since the time of Garry Marshall, who actually comes into our room a lot because he's a producer on the show. Essentially, at its core, writing comedy is the same.

I loved the original Odd Couple (1970), I loved Jack Klugman and Tony Randall. If you go back and watch those episodes, the scripts are really just two guys sitting in their apartment talking. There really wasn't a guest cast, it was more like a play. We've rounded out this version and made it more of an ensemble, but at the heart of the show it is these two guys trying to get along. We found actors who are very similar to the roles they're playing, which I think they did with the original Odd Couple.
(Matthew Perry & Yvette Nicole Brown in The Odd Couple)
JA: ... Matthew Perry and Yvette Nicole Brown can do no wrong. 

EC: Matthew Perry is delightful and brings to it his own cadence and rhythm. Yvette Nicole Brown's name got bandied about and I said she was really terrific to work with, she's just at the beginning of her comedy career. She could have her own show. She can do it all and is one of the nicest people in the world. She's the whole package.

AM: Community was such a unique, consistently funny show - what was it like working on those first few seasons?

EC: I think what makes a show special is the voice of the creator; if they fight for it and it's clear then the show is going to be interesting, whether or not it's a success or a failure. Dan Harmon is a mad genius - I really mean genius and I really mean mad. He had a vision and a very specific voice and our job was to help him realize it. Most of the people on the staff got it and had a somewhat similar voice as well. He was the guiding force behind that, it was Dan laid out on a page across your television set.
(Community - "Modern Warfare")
TV is all about collaboration, if you can't collaborate you don't want to be in television. Dan Harmon had to learn how to collaborate. He was used to working on his own. He pushed back against the powers-that-be and just fought for his vision. When they were saying "no" he was saying "well that's what I'm going to do." It's not always the best way to be in television, it can earn you a bad reputation, but he saw what he wanted to do and said, "if we're not going to do it this way then this is not something I want to do." They pretty much caved and let him. The show was crazy, every episode was different - there was even claymation and animation - and after a while they just started to trust him. We got to do amazing things and creatively it was a fantastic place to be.

Time-wise and personal life-wise it was not the best place to be because we spent the night there a couple times a week. We worked very, very late. It was not the most organized way to work but it produced some amazing creative results, so that's the trade-off.

AM: You were responsible for the very first paintball episode, writing "Modern Warfare", which became a tradition...

EC: I did. I can't remember where the idea came from - I know Dan wanted to do something that had to do with paintball and we started talking about different tropes and ways that we could tell the story. I put in the element of the two main characters, Britta and Jeff, having a physical relationship and working through it because we wanted to ground the episode in something so that it wasn't all just craziness. Justin Lin directed it. You don't get a better creative experience than that.
(Community - "Contemporary American Poultry")
AM: You also co-wrote the episode "Contemporary American Poultry" with Karey Dornetto - is it difficult to incorporate homages? 

EC: If you're a movie and TV person like I am, that's the most fun to do. What Dan really wanted to do is make sure that it wasn't just purely a spoof, he wanted it to have reality for our characters and actually tell an emotional story as well as a big, fun romp. A lot of the episodes I really liked were very simple, more about the characters and not big and splashy. We kind of sprinkled those in. If you're not invested in the characters the homages are going to get tiring after a while.

AM: Did you like the paintball episodes that they made after "Modern Warfare"?

EC: I liked them, but I personally would not have done another paintball episode. I liked it just being its own thing. I know what they were thinking and the subsequent paintball episodes were really cool, but I liked having it at just the one. You want to make it fresh and different and I definitely think they did. If you're telling a different emotional story each time, that will differentiate them. It really starts at what story you want to tell about the characters - all the other stuff is just icing on the cake.

AM: How challenging is it to have characters evolve while trying to keep them recognizable without being repetitive?    

EC: That's just life - the essence of who we are is the same even though our situations might change and it's fun to see how the characters might react and evolve. I didn't see the sixth season, but I'm looking forward to it so don't tell me anything. Also, you're working with a cast that's amazing who are bringing a lot to it and are always surprising. When your actors can surprise you, it's great. Community was a playground of pure creativity, it's a great place to be in when you can do whatever you want and let your imagination run wild. A lot of time in television you can't do that, especially in a multi-cam.  
(Community - "Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas")
JA: What has been your best education as a writer?

EC: Community. Dan Harmon had a very specific way of doing things, I don't know if you're familiar with the wheel (story circle), which was a real education. I came onto that show as a co-producer and I'd never been on a set alone, Dan just said,"okay, go produce your episode." You were really thrown into essentially making a short film every week. Other than that, every show is an education - not only in writing but in dealing with people.

JA: Do you prefer a studio audience or no?

EC: I was an actor for a while and I loved the feeling of getting something back. You're writing in a vacuum in a lot of these single-camera shows, which I also enjoy, but I love getting the immediate feedback of knowing if something works or not. An audience doesn't lie, if they don't laugh then your joke isn't working. It's fun having a tape night each week, I haven't done multi-cam in a long time and I'm really having a good time.

JA: How difficult is it to rewrite jokes on the spot when a punchline fails with the studio audience?

EC: That's a muscle you have to constantly flex and keep well-oiled. If you take a lot of time away and come back then you're a little rusty and you've got to build that up again. It's exciting, very electric, to all be on a set with everyone pitching jokes - again, it's super collaborative.
(One of Emily Cutler's first spec scripts was for NBC's Frasier)
JA: Do you remember the initial spark for you in being an entertainer?

EC: I just came out that way - I was always a performer and always writing. I was an actor for a long time and it was frustrating to be auditioning for your five-line part on Babylon 5 or whatever, and I just started writing in my downtime. I wrote plays and multi-cams. I think my first spec scripts were Mad About You and Fraiser and it just seemed like I found my place and tribe of people. I just sat down and wrote them to see if I could.

I met director Steven Shainberg, who was living in the building with a friend of mine, and he said, "I know a comedy writer, would you like me to pass your work on?" He gave it to writer Jon Feldman who said, "this is incredible. You do this, you have a shot." I think he may have passed my script on to his agent who said he would "hip-pocket" me, which means sort of represent me. My career just took off from there.

AM: What has been your most surreal career moment?

EC: I sold a movie with a partner at the time and we were walking on the Sony lot complaining about some note we'd been given, and I went "wait a minute, stop. Look where we are. Look what we're arguing about. We're being given notes at Sony, and they bought our movie. Holy shit."

The same thing happened on the Warner Bros. lot because you have that iconic tower. Also, the first time anyone pays you to do anything in this industry it's crazy. Even to this day when my agents negotiate money I'm still so shocked that anyone is paying me to do anything - I'd practically do it for free. Actually, now that I've said this, I will also do it for an incredibly large amount of money.
JA: What do you love most about what you do?

EC: I get to be around funny people all day. I have thought about writing a drama because that seems exciting, too - but I get to sit in a room with the funniest people ever and all we do all day is laugh. It's like a dream. I have to remind myself every day, when I'm tired and cranky waking up super early, that I'm really lucky.

I think that the hardest thing is to be a mother with this demanding job, and even though I'm having a lot of fun I have two kids at home who I want to see. When I was on Community for two seasons I think they were maybe two and four and I rarely saw them. Was it worth it? I don't know. I wouldn't take a job like that now. If I were to meet a Dan Harmon, even if I thought the show was the best thing in the world, and they said I'd be there until 2 a.m. I would have to say no. If you're twenty it's great, but your priorities change.

JA: How did you become involved with The Michael J. Fox Show?

EC: I was brought on only in the initial stages when there was a writers' room here. The whole production was moving to New York and I didn't want to move because my kids were in school here, so I didn't go with them.

That show was a gamble. My dad has Parkinson's so I'm very familiar with what that means. Michael is super talented and it was just a matter of if audiences would accept it and allow comedy to come out of this very difficult situation. I thought the show got better and better but I think people just had a tough time seeing him with Parkinson's. I think they couldn't get past it, which is a shame - I think that he was so beloved as an actor that it made people feel sad and maybe guilty for laughing, but I thought it was really well done. The show runner, Sam Laybourne, is really talented and the staff of writers was amazing. I just think that was the bump in the road.
(Christopher Lloyd guest stars on The Michael J. Fox Show - 2013)
AM: How do you feel television has changed since Netflix and Hulu?

EC: I watched all of Mad Men streaming and it was just amazing. When I caught up to the last season and had to watch it with commercials it really changed the experience. It changes the structure a little bit because what we do in a multi-cam on a network show is featuring act breaks with a tease to get you to come back, not having commercials on Netflix changes the flow of the script. I think watching shows streaming is great, you just have to restructure your script. Shows now are cut way down... I think they're nineteen minutes? You have to tell your story in a very limited amount of time. A lot of things get truncated, some stories cannot be told as fully as you want them to be told. It's a big adjustment.

You asked earlier how things are different in comedy, that is one way; shows are getting shorter and shorter and I wish they weren't. I wish there was more time to tell your story. You have to get to your key points faster and it's not as satisfying. I do think that at places like Netflix and Hulu there's a lot more creative freedom because there's not as many cooks in the kitchen, so it's a wonderful creative place to be. I have yet to write for one of those places, but I would really like to.

JA: What are you watching now?

EC: A lot of cable. I recently started watching The Affair on Showtime. I watch a lot of dramas. When I watch comedy on television it feels like work, I'm not necessarily just letting it flow over me. I sample everything because I like to see what's out there and what people are doing but I haven't found a comedy recently that makes me want to tune in every week.
(ABC's Suburgatory - 2011 - Produced by Emily Cutler)
AM: How do you feel working on a drama would differ from working on a comedy?

EC: I think it's more attention to story. You're freed from having a couple of jokes per page. It would be a challenge for me to do that because I think I'd try and make the drama as funny as possible, which might not be helpful. It's a different muscle and not something I've done before. Sometimes you're in the writers' room for up to twelve hours per day with people who are very serious all the time and I'm not a very serious person. It would be interesting to see if I could fit in to that. I would miss laughing all day.

Telling a story is telling a story, and defining a character is defining a character. Every character wants something and most people have conflict, so it's not that different, you're just thinking of it in a more dramatic and serious way. At the heart of it you're telling a story.

JA: What are your favorite movies?

EC: Midnight Run (1988), Waiting for Guffman (1996), Goodfellas (1990), and Casino (1995). Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994) is a perfect romantic comedy.
(NBC's Growing Up Fisher - Co-Executive Produced by Emily Cutler)
AM: What makes a great script?

EC: I can probably tell in the first page or two if someone can write. All of your characters shouldn't sound alike. Specificity is what I look for in a writer. It's the difference between saying "they were staying at a hotel" as opposed to "they were staying at the Holiday Inn." Specificity gives me a picture in my mind.

We just had the argument in the writers' room about whether it's better to write a spec script or a pilot of your own - both serve a purpose; the spec script is going to show that you can write for other characters in another voice, the pilot is your own voice with characters you've created. I like reading a pilot because I'm going to see specifically what your voice is, and if no real voice is coming through then the script just doesn't interest me.

I feel that way with people, too. If I meet someone who has nothing to say and no voice they wouldn't be as interesting to me as someone who has a strong voice and a strong opinion about things.

JA: What is your advice for aspiring writers in the industry?

EC: Write something you're passionate about, no matter what people tell you. Write what you think you can write the best and find what your voice is (you may have to write a lot of crappy drafts before you get to something good.) Each thing helps you find your voice. Don't try to be something you're not - go to your personal experience, it's far more interesting than you think.

Also, meet as many people as you can. It really does help. Sit down with people and get your work out there. The more people that read you, the better. You don't always have to take everybody's notes, but definitely ask for notes and take them. When you first start writing you put all of yourself into it and crank out this draft, making it as perfect as you can, and then somebody gives you notes and you feel like your baby is being ripped apart. It's important to hear all of those notes, even if you don't take them, and take them graciously... don't fight back. A lot of times your instinct is to say, "but I put that in there for a reason!" Just hear everything, take it in, and use what you think will make your script better.
(ABC's How to Live with Your Parents for the Rest of Your Life - 2013 - Supervising Producer)
AM: What advice would you give about being collaborative?

EC: When I asked Garry Marshall what he would tell the writers he said, "be nice." You're in a room with these people spending more time with them than you do your own family, so you have to be a team player. That doesn't mean swallowing your voice, it means hearing everybody, knowing when to fight for something, knowing which hills to die on, and which times to stay quiet. It's kind of like a family, you have to put out fires sometimes. If you're delightful and a pleasant person to be around you'll get a job over someone who isn't pleasant to be around. Know when to talk and know when to listen. I'm still learning that.

Be prepared to rewrite. A lot of TV and film is rewriting and it's a painful process and a painful thing to learn because you worked so hard on your first draft. You have to be willing to change it.

AM: How do you deal with negative criticism and low ratings when they come around?

EC: A lot of people didn't tune in to Community, but we felt like we were doing good work. It depends on what your goal is. It didn't reach the wide audience that I'm sure people hoped it would, but the audience it did reach were impacted in a strong way. Our goal as creative people is to just do the best work we can. It stinks if people don't watch it, but you're hopefully doing it for the journey and not just the destination.
(Watch The Odd Couple on CBS - Thursdays at 8:30/7:30c)
JA: If you had to sum up your life with three words, what would they be?

EC: Hectic. Challenging. Delightful.

Follow Emily Cutler on Twitter at @CutlerEmily

"The Quintessential Scream Queen Mom: A Conversation with Dee Wallace" By Jason Anders

Having appeared in over ninety television shows and a hundred films, Dee Wallace is probably best known for her role as Elliot's mom in Steven Spielberg's 1982 film, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. The high school drama teacher found her way from Kansas City to the studio backlots of Hollywood delivering baked goods to casting directors which would lead to her first acting job... just one of the many stories she was kind enough to take time out her busy schedule to share with me.

Jason Anders: My first question is how do you have time for an interview with eighteen films currently on your roster?

Dee Wallace: Well, you just make time for the things you want to do and here I am with you!

JA: Do you remember your first job?

DW: I baked cookies to get on all of the lots. I was at Universal and taking my chocolate-chip cookies to Reuben Cannon, one of the few casting directors who came out and met me. He said, "come on in and let's talk!" As I was sitting there he was called to the set because one of the girls didn't show up - he turned around and looked at me and said, "what size do you wear" and I responded, "what size do you need?" So that was my first gig, playing the waitress on Lucas Tanner (1974).
JA: Which is your favorite of all your television guest spots? 

DW: Lou Grant in 1978 - I played on the "Hooker" episode - I had done some pretty good guest star appearances before, but this was really a tour de force role. The casting director from Blake Edwards' 10 (1979) happened to see it, and that's how I ended up in that film. It was just an amazing part with an amazing cast and director, and it led me into a really big feature film.

JA: Do you have a least favorite guest role experience?

DW: I do remember being frustrated on Ally McBeal (Buried Pleasures - 1999) because I was playing a lawyer and every time I would try and do something relatively dramatic the director would come up and say, "don't do anything, Dee. The cast are the stars of this show. The guests are not supposed to do anything." I had worked with the director several times in my career, and this time was a little frustrating.
(Dee Wallace and Danny Pintauro in Cujo - 1983)
JA: Yeah, because why bring in established actors if you aren't going to allow them to act?

DW: That's absolutely what I said to him! Why would they bring in one of the queens of the emotional world to come in and do nothing? But I guess, in a good way, I was a name enough to support the show... any work when you are an actor is a blessing, my darling.

JA: Who was the director on that episode, and what had you worked with him before on?

DW: Mel Damski - you're asking me to go back forty years! Mel and I have worked together three or four times on guest star roles. He was just doing his job, doing what he's told to do, and I thank him for remembering me and thinking enough of me to bring me in.

JA: Do you have a favorite character you've played?

DW: Oh yes, Donna Trenton in Cujo (1983). Stephen King loved the film and our interpretation of it. He was happy that we didn't kill the kid at the end.
(Lobby card for The Howling - 1981)
JA: One of my favorites is your performance in The Howling (1981)...

DW: Joe Dante is just fun! That's the first word that comes to mind when I think of Joe. He's an incredibly inventive director. All of the cartoons and film clips on the television he purchased himself because the studio wouldn't cough up the money to do it. It was his idea to use all of the character's names and references from all the old werewolf movies. He was always creative and could just tap dance on the spot. He's still a good friend and I would love to work with him again.

JA: What to you is the most important aspect of the actor/ director relationship?

DW: Well I think the most important thing between an actor and director is respect for each other. Actors are children... and probably most directors are children, too - but there's a psychological way of working together that's a very important part of the creative process, and it begins with respect. Everybody works differently and needs different things to create the best performance that they can. I, again, have worked with the very best; Blake Edwards, Steven Spielberg, Joe Dante and Peter Jackson. Lewis Teague literally walked on two days into the shoot of Cujo and took over the direction and did an amazing job. I've often thought that Lewis should have been given a lot more breaks in the business. I've really worked with the best of the best.
(Steven Spielberg and Dee Wallace on the set of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial - 1982)
They all allow me to do my work in the way that I need to do it. I think that's really important for so many of the young directors who are learning, who may be afraid that they are not going to be able to maintain control on the set. They don't realize that you have to give an actor their creative freedom so that they can bring their own creative ideas, improvisation and emotional take while following the careful direction and vision of the director.

If you put a box around an actor you won't get as good of a performance. That's where television falls down. In my perspective, we have so many writers and producers in television that it's really become almost too sacrilege. An actor can't paraphrase or bring in any kind of creativity, and I think it suffers. I think the whole project suffers.

JA: By the way, I loved your performance in The Frighteners (1996)...

DW: Oh yeah, I had a great time killing everybody! (laughs) It was such a beautiful, phenominal arc for an actress - going from who you think was the victim to a maniacal killer. You know, before E.T. I played a lot of psychos, hookers, alcoholics and crazy drug addicts. Once E.T. hit, for the next fifteen years I became the quintessential mom. It gets old!
JA: That being said, how did you feel about playing Laurie Strode's mom in Halloween (2007)?

DW: That was a no brainer. And I knew that Rob Zombie was bringing all of us in to pay homage to our careers. Dude, who doesn't love Rob Zombie? You're not going to talk to anyone you ever interview in this world who doesn't love Rob Zombie. He's just the best. He's a great person, beautifully down-to-earth, very available to everybody and a really great director. I love the way he directs, he lets you start with the script and then improvise, encouraging you to bring in whatever your creativity sees in the part. Everybody just has a lot of fun, and that's how he gets that real in-the-moment feel... that, and three hand-held cameras. It's a great way of directing and I loved it.

JA: What did you think of the film?

DW: I loved all of it! It got a little graphic, but that's just me. Everyone kept saying "the remake" but I lovingly refer to it as a "Rob-make." He went back and explored how it all took place and how it happened. After everything we've seen, you couldn't take the original and redo it. You just couldn't. We've come too far and have seen too much, we've explored too many avenues with violence. I think everybody is just looking for a way to ditch any remake, and justifiably so in most cases, but not this one.
(Scout Taylor-Compton, Rob Zombie and Dee Wallace on the set of Halloween - 2007)
I also love the girls. Scout Taylor-Compton and I have become very good friends - we do a lot of conventions together and we're going to be at Fangoria over the Halloween weekend in Vegas. We spent many nights on that set singing to the top of our lungs at 3 a.m. sitting on the doorstep. She's a great girl and extremely talented, as is Danielle Harris. I didn't get to really work with Danielle that much, but I know her from doing a lot of the conventions together - she's a very smart, very "with it" lady who knows who she is and what she wants. I'm blessed and always have been to work with young people who are extremely talented.

JA: What are your favorite performances you've seen on film?

DW: Sally Field in Norma Rae (1979)and in just about every role she's done. Also, Meryl Streep in The Bridges of Madison County (1995).

JA: What originally inspired you to go into acting?

DW: My mother was a wonderful actress in Kansas City, and I watched her one Easter give a thirty-minute reading called "The Crucifixion." I looked around and the place was packed, everyone was crying. I just thought, "wow, my mom moved all of these people." I'm sure I was an actor in one of my past lives because I came in dancing and acting, as did my daughter. She's just a chip off the old block. Maybe we were in vaudeville together.
JA: So it looks like your daughter is pursuing the same dream?

DW: Oh yeah, she's just finished a part in her fourth film. She's played a part in Sebastian (2011) and also stars in Henry John and the Little Bug (2009). She's on her way!

JA: What was your reaction to her interest in the same career?

DW: You know, Jason, I just want her to be happy. I want her to be fulfilled and give back to the world. You can give a lot back as an actor. I've given her advice before that her dad gave me - I remember when I got the reviews for The Howling and was so excited just saying,"oh my God, they love me!" He just looked at me and said, "honey, if you believe the good ones then you've got to believe the bad ones." I said to her, "you're the only one who will ever really know, so you have to judge yourself. You have to be true to the integrity of who you are." I really think that's the most important thing in life, in any profession that you go into - to meet your own integrity.

JA: If you had to sum up your life with just one word, what would it be?

DW: Blessed.

Follow Dee Wallace on Twitter at @Dee_Wallace
Visit Dee Wallace's official website HERE