Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Friends of the Studio 1: Kevin Smith

We are going to start doing a post every now and then about people who are "friends of the studio." Powerhouse has had the opportunity to work with some great people, Stephen Silver, Frank Cho, Rachel Griffiths, Norman Lear...

But the most obvious person to start this off with would be director and all-around great guy, Kevin Smith, without whom the animation studio might not exist at all.

In 2002, Powerhouse animated a short called Heroes that Brad Graeber had written for a contest that parodied Marvel Comics:

It might be a little hard to watch now, but keep in mind this was 2002 and we were working in Flash 3.

It was fun to work on. We all did voices. It was also a break from some pretty lean times. Due to the recent downturn in traditional feature film and television animation work, there wasn't a lot of work coming into the studio and we had not paid ourselves in quite a while.

According to animation studio mythology, Frank Gabriel sent it to a friend to see it before we submitted it to contest just to see what he thought. That friend sent it to a friend, who sent it to a friend and so on and so forth. And somehow it made it all the way to Joe Quesada, EIC at Marvel.

The next morning when we came in we had several phone calls and e-mails from our internet service provider. We were a small studio and we only had an entry level website. We had gone 2GBs over our bandwidth allocation. The fines were terribly high for each MB we went over the limit. We were feverishly taking down the site and trying to figure out what happened. The fines were certainly not in our budget. Then the phone rang. It was Kevin Smith. At first we thought it was a joke, but it wasn't. It was the start of a relationship that lasted for several years and could not have happened at a better time.

The first thing we did was animate a commercial that was never produced for the film Dogma called Hosties.

At the time, we had also made a MAME cabinet that ran off of Flash. Due the previously mentioned "lean times" we were trying to sell the idea to companies to make arcade machines that played Flash games and demo reels for their lobbies. We even made an online commercial to promote it:

Mr. Smith had seen this and asked if we could make a version for Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez as a wrap party present for the film Jersey Girl. We wrote a proposal, which Kevin then took and added a bunch of gags and inside jokes and developed the script. We also sent ideas for a Dogma game and a game based off of the Clerks animated series. We had 8 weeks till the wrap of the film, where Kevin wanted to give the arcade machine to them.

We worked most of the hours of those 8 weeks. We were still programming the game when we drove it straight from Austin to New York City in a U-haul attached to Brad's jeep. We took turns working, sleeping, and driving in shifts. We presented the arcade machine on the last night of shooting, with paparazzi everywhere ruining multiple takes of the final scene. We installed the machine in the couples' apartment. That part is pretty hazy, I personally only remember that the refrigerator was 100% full of diet-caffeine-free cokes, and showing a bodyguard how to play Frogger on the machine.

The machines before we left for New York

Frank Gabriel, Jennifer Lopez, Ben Affleck, Brad Graeber and Stephen Parker.

After NY we installed the other machine in the Jay and Silent Bob Secret Stash store in Red Bank. We met with Kevin, and for the first time started talking about the animated film. We got swag to take to the people back at the studio, Kevin signed a book "next stop feature film." It was pretty exciting.

Kevin Smith with his machine at the Secret Stash in Red Bank.

When we got back from the trip, if I remember correctly we slept for a couple of days. Then we had a barrage of calls and requests from press outlets. Here are some clips from that:

We talked budget for a film with Kevin and Scott Mosier, and did a 35mm test for the film to be produced in Flash. This was kind of a new idea at the time so they wanted to see what it would look like. Jason Mewes was not available at the time to do voice work, so we used audio from the Flying Car piece mixed with audio from the Empire Strikes back.

The piece might have some issues, but we are still proud that it was done in a few weeks by 4 guys out of pieced together audio.

We had the footage put to 35mm film and sent to LA, and we flew out and watched it at the Miramax lot with Kevin, Scott Mosier, and by Chris Bailey who had directed the cartoon series.

Phil Benson, Kevin Smith, Bruce Tinnin, Chris Bailey, Frank Gabriel, Scott Mosier, and Brad Graeber

We next wrote some more budgets for the flick but things stalled. We don't know if it was due to the test or if anybody else saw the 35mm print. We went to a couple of comic conventions with Kevin and co. and showed Heroes, Hosties, and the film test to throngs of Kevin's fans. We got to meet folks like Ming, Brian O'Halloran,Bob Chapman, and Jason Mewes. Kevin really surrounds himself with good people, and though we were definitely on the periphery of the circle, it was a great group of people to be around.

Jason Mewes watching Heroes from the stage at the Dallas Wizard Comic Convention

Next we animated the Lost Scene for the Clerks X dvd. I don't know if is some weird universal constant for View Askew projects, but we had 8 weeks on this project as well...which was 8 minutes of animation. Despite the tight timeline, we worked more with Kevin, Phil, and Scott, going over gags and boards which made the piece even more enjoyable to work on. Rolling Stone said the piece was the "best bonus feature of 2004"

Over the next few years we would run into Kevin in events here in Austin. Brad flew to New York to attend a pre-screening of Clerks 2 and his Captain Capitalism cartoons ran on Kevin's Moviepoopshoot site. We took the studio to see Clerks 2 at SXSW when Kevin came and gave a talk. We attended a midnight screening of House Party II with Kevin at the Alamo. We met with Kevin's agent at Endeavour to talk about the film and possibly doing shorts. We wrote several budgets and would pitch ideas to Kevin and co. on how we could possibly do things. We heard that there were issues with the Clerks cartoon and Disney and Miramax due to the split.

Eventually things fizzled out. We have not heard from Kevin for a while.

We don't know what happened to the Jen Saves Ben arcade machine. And yes, people ask us that every time.

That being said, it was those jobs in the beginning and the recognition that they gave us that allowed a 5 person studio to survive a time when traditional animation was almost dead. It allowed us to become the successful 30+ people studio that we are today. For that we will always be indebted to Kevin Smith.

So, much love and props to Kevin Smith...and, sir, if you ever want to pick that flick up or those characters in shorts again, please do give us a call. We got more folks now, you should see what we can do in 8 weeks.

1 comment:

  1. Having arcade machines is such a nice way to incorporate fun and profit into your business. With many to choose from, there is one that will be able to fit into your business to add fun and money for you.