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Wed, 11 Apr '12

Grimm Portent: An Interview with Jon Schnepp and Ben Jackendoff

These Fairy Tales are about to go Heavy Metal.

By: Chris Fealy

Between the glut of Snow White-related movies and shows with titles like Once Upon a Time and Grimm, it may seem like fairy tales have become the new zombies which had become the new vampires which had...well, you get the picture. Before your write off the genre though, you should take a look at Zenescope's new project, Grimm Fairy Tales the animated series. With animation powerhouse Titmouse, director Jon Schnepp (Metalocalypse, The Venture Bros.), Game of Thrones' flaxen-haired queen Lena Headey and Briana Evigan (Step Up 2, Sorority Girls) on board, this series has some serious potential. We caught up with director Jon Schepp and Zenescope's Benjamin Jackendoff to talk about creating an anthology, the ins and outs of crowdfunding a project and, well, computer gravy.

Nerdist News: First of all, congratulations on the announcement. It’s very exciting stuff.

Jon Schnepp:
Right on.

Benjamin Jackendoff: Thanks, man.

NN: With the success of projects like Snow White and the Huntsman and NBC’s Grimm, it seems like it’s very much in the zeitgeist right now to do a darker, grittier take on classic fairy tales. What is about Grimm Fairy Tales that excites you?

: I met Ben through his Comic Book Sundays - he’s been having this event once a month, having people trade and talk comics. He’s always telling me about his friends at Zenescope, this and that. I’d seen the covers, y’know, girls in lingerie, and I’m more into traditional superhero stuff, crime dramas - I’m a big [Ed Brubaker’s] Criminal fan. I’ve been doing Dethklokk for 8 years; I’ve been doing mostly the concert videos and the music videos. I’ve always wanted to do different styles of animation, but, budget-wise, we just couldn’t do it, so sometimes I would just do the Bakshi-style stuff like add clouds, invert the animated characters or do more symbolic stuff that’s fun to watch in a music video format. I really wanted to do an anthology-style movie just like Heavy Metal or Tales from the Crypt, but a more evil version. So, I was kind of kicking that around, working on a little script myself, but then at Comic-Con last year, Ben was like, “Come by the booth and meet these guys.” I stopped by and met Joe and Ralph and picked up a bunch of the issues and it was like wow, these are really well-written, they’re really fun. It really is, literally, like a Tales from the Crypt-meets-Heavy Metal, so I was like BAM! Let’s try to put this together, let’s work on it. We started having a bunch of meetings, trying to figure out which stories would work. We started putting it together then went out to a bunch of different producers in Hollywood and it just seemed like we were in the low-low-low-level. They were like, “We can get you $300,000 to $400,000 for a cool feature.” That’s too little.

BJ: For that you could only afford stick puppets!

JS: Animation takes a lot of time and you have to pay a ton of people. It didn’t seem like that was working out, plus the bigger Hollywood studios don’t want to make R-rated anything anymore. They just do PG-13 everything. They especially don’t want to do an anthology.

BJ: They look at you like you’re crazy.

JS: I was thinking about Kickstarter and Joe was on the same wavelength. We thought that it made sense, so why not try it? That was a couple months ago and it took a while to get everything going; we were watching other people getting their projects funded, so we’re basically putting it in the hands of the fans. Anybody who wants to see an amazing animated Heavy Metal anthology, Tales from the Crypt-style horror, really cool violence and crazy stories all through the Grimm Fairy Tales eye, that’s what we’re going to make. It’s basically full creative freedom; we’re going to do exactly what we want to do with this series. The way I always look at it is that I’m a fanboy, I’m a nerd, I trust my gut instinct because the things that I want to see? I can’t wait to see The Avengers. I have full confidence in it because it’s Joss Whedon - he wrote and directed it. It’s the kind of thing where you do what’s in your gut because you know that all these other people are going to enjoy it. That’s kind of where we’re at: we’re going with our gut and we’re going to put it in the hands of the people to see if they want us.

NN: In terms of the animation style, you mentioned Heavy Metal is an inspiration. Would it be a variety of different animation styles or one constant throughout?

The wraparounds, so to speak, are going to be done in one style, but when we actually go into the Grimm Fairy Tale part of it, it’s going to be totally different animation styles. We’re going to be doing rotoscope, anime - every style that I love is going to be in there. Some will be full-color, blast-out rainbow style. It’s going to be fantastic. We’ve already been doing preliminary art, just pre-production stuff with a bunch of different artists that are trying different styles. We’re just doing that on our own dime. We’re not funded or anything yet. 

NN: Sounds very much like a passion project.

Right! None of us are taking fees. I’m not taking a director’s fee or producer’s fee through any of the Kickstarter money that we raise. After we reach our quote, which is to make the feature film, then we can pay ourselves a little bit of money. Ultimately, we just want to put the money into actually making the project. We’ll get paid later through iTunes or something like that.

NN: Once the funding is raised, where do you see this project going? Where would you like to see it end up?

There’s a lot of different ways to make it happen. Our goal is to bring this to an audience. That’s our goal, no matter what. And if it’s selling each episode through iTunes, then that’s what we’ll do. The more money we raise, the more we can make. Our real goal is to make this Heavy Metal-style movie. We didn’t want to go out and just take money from people; we wanted to say, “Look, we can do this.” Give us $175,000 and we’re going to make something amazing, awesome, epic - all these things - and we’re going to stay true to the source material, but we’ll also expand upon it. Just take it to the next level. So, whether it comes down to going straight to iTunes or whether its a network or whether Warner Bros. says, “Oh my god, this is amazing! We want to buy this as a film,” then excellent.

JS: The ultimate goal is to make this project eight episodes in total and then through the wraparound elements we have a B-story that goes through. 

NN: That’ll be a nice reward for watching the series from start to finish.

And also brand new animation.

There’s stuff that won’t even be in those episodes. When the movie gets made, that’s where you’re getting the movie. 

JS: So there’s eight standalone episodes and this variant version.

BJ: [laughs] Super-chrome edition.

JS: It’s really fun and exciting to try and do it that way. That’s how we broke down all the scripts. We have a working storyline where each of the Grimm stories cuts in at the right time. We’re pretty excited about it.

NN: How long do you envision each episode being?

Eleven and a half minutes. We’re going with that kind of route, so if you put two together it becomes a half-hour show. We’re making it so that the episodes themselves can run on any network that does eleven-to-fifteen minute or twenty-two minute episodes. 

NN: Sort of like Adult Swim’s model? That’s been very successful for them.

Yeah, I’ve been working with Adult Swim for the last fifteen years or so they’re obviously a possibility. There are other networks too that are interested in doing this kind of stuff too. 

NN: Are the folks at Titmouse excited to flex their creative muscles? Much of their work is more comedy-focused, so we imagine this is a welcome change. 

JS: Very excited, very much so. I’ve been doing Metalocalypse for eight years now. The fourth season comes out April 29th; I directed the first episode and it’s got a ton of fan art in it. I don’t want to ruin anything. With people on deviantART and all these other fans drawing the characters, I had the idea to incorporate them because we have a sequence that would be great if we just brought in all these different artists that have been drawing the characters for the past six years. So, I put it out there to the fan community - I have a bunch of contacts on all these different sites - that, hey, if you want your art in the show, sign a release and I’ll get it in there. You’re going to see an explosion of happy fans come April 29th. Dreams come true for them.

BJ: That’s a cool thing, even with this Kickstarter we’re giving back: Do you want to be a voice? Pledge this - you’ll actually be a voice. Do you want to be killed by Jon here? He will swipe you head off! 

JS: It’s true. In the most gory way possible, I will murder you for a certain amount of money so that we can actually animate it.

BJ: Crowdfunding allows for fans to say, “Here’s my dollar. I’m excited to see what you can bring because of the catalogue of work behind you.” And what’s awesome is we’re not just saying “hey, we’re going to make this.” We’re saying “hey, we’re going to make this AND you get all this other cool stuff too.”

JS: We spent a solid month or two coming up with cool incentives and pounding out ideas. Basically, if you contribute this much, you’re not only going to get the animated episodes and movie, but also all this other great stuff. 

BJ: We haven’t even announced everything we’ll be giving away yet. We haven’t even said them.

JS: That’s right. We haven’t even dropped the super bomb. 

BJ: The super bomb is coming.

JS: Like the incredible actor or actress that we’re going to announce. 

NN: How involved are Zenescope founders and
Grimm Fairy Tales creators Ralph Tedesco and Joe Brusha? 

They’re very much involved. We’ve been meeting with them and I’ve been talking with them since I agreed to do this about five months ago. I went out to Pennsylvania to have a group meeting. When I went to New York Comic-Con in October we talked about it. Basically, we’re taking what they wrote and adapting it. It’s basically what they made, but we’re adding stuff. I’m going to add some of my directorial flourishes, some of my style to it. Obviously the styles are going to look a bit different than what they drew, so it’s going to be this very different thing, but still very close to Zenescope’s Grimm Fairy Tales

BJ: It’s going to be a team effort. The real core of it is that you find what really works - whether it’s in a comic or this or that - and that’s what your bringing to life. It doesn’t mean it has to be exactly verbatim because you’re taking it to a different medium. We’re not taking these and looking them as storyboards. This is the material. This is our next level. We’re bringing next level s#!t, man.

JS: [laughs] I agree with Ben about his trans-media x cross-fusion next level-style thing. 

BJ: [laughs] Next-level poppin’ trans...

JS: Trans-biscuits and rippin’ it with f@$#in’ computer gravy. 

BJ: Boom! Animation love.

NN: These pull quotes just write themselves, guys.

Hey, we’re big fans of Nerdist, so we’re just happy to be on your site.

To find out more about the Grimm Fairy Tales animated series, check out their Kickstarter or visit Zenescope's website.

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