Greg Singer sat down with Drew Carey in October of last year to discuss his experience of creating Drew Careys Green Screen Show.
Drew Careys Green Screen Show had a shooting star trajectory on The WB network during the waning months of 2004. It was bright and brief, and despite the best wishes of its faithful (albeit small) audience, the show was quietly shelved after airing only five of its 12 episodes. Some say the show was not promoted properly, and others merely hoped it would be given time to find its niche. Regardless, it seemed that the first full season would not see the light of screen, and the prospects dimmed for a future of eclectic primetime independent animation.
Then, in the spring of 2005, the Green Screen Show was given new life as Comedy Central decided to acquire the hybrid improv-animation program. Presently, the Green Screen Show is in rotation during Monday afternoons (2:00 pm) and Tuesday evenings (7:00 pm), and one can watch the first season in its entirety.
The following interview with Drew Carey came on the heels of the shows birth, over a year ago. It is a little memory in a bottle, floating back to us now across oceans of time.
Greg Singer: Whats the history of the Green Screen Show, in terms of how you came up with the idea and pursued it?
Drew Carey: I dont know There were a couple of commercials on TV that I thought were really cool. Remember that NFL one where they would put things on peoples heads, like the machine on top of the coach, or something like that, to make it look like a computer head and then the Microsoft commercial where they would show kids dreaming about what they wanted to do when they got older, like conducting an orchestra or whatever. So, there was that, and then I had done some greenscreen work a couple of months before, so I had greenscreen in my mind, I think.
I was on stage one night, and they were doing [the improvisational game] Moving People, and I thought it was going really well. I thought, wow, wouldnt this be great if you just saw them moving around, you could just see them in their environment. It was like a vision so strongly in my head as I was watching it from the back wall, I thought, oh, we could put them in greenscreen suits on a greenscreen stage, and we could get rid of everything. I thought we could do a whole show like that. Everything we do, we could just put a greenscreen down. So that idea was in November (2003), and I kind of let it sit in my head over the holidays, because nobodys doing much anyway.
Around the first of the year, I called my agent and stuff, and started meeting with Ron [Diamond, founding exec producer of Acme Filmworks] in February. We had a nice conversation for two-and-a-half hours. I just didnt realize how complicated it all was. So, thank God, I partnered up with someone who knows what the hell hes doing. Id be so lost otherwise. That first meeting when we were at Dalts [restaurant], when we were talking about how far away everything (the green) had to be from the performers, and all that shit, and they had brought all these models, and I was, like, What? I thought you just threw some green behind us. Even on The Drew Carey Show, when we did greenscreen, we had green already set up, and wed just lower the curtain and do our little thing, for driving scenes and stuff like that.
GS: Those were backplates, you didnt have to worry about three-dimensional objects.
DC: Exactly. All that stuff.
GS: What other experiences have you had with cartoons?
DC: We did a thing on The Drew Carey Show where I did a scene with Daffy Duck. They had air guns set up all over the stage that would make papers fly, and they had a tiny Daffy Duck I would talk to. We did tons of special effects on The Drew Carey Show. Every season we would do something crazy.
GS: Is the Green Screen Show turning out as you imagined, or is it something wildly different?
DC: No, my first idea was just to have this big get-high film, where one thing would flow to the other. Its not as I imagined, but I am very happy with how it turned out. I am so glad, that testing process was really important for us. We learned a lot, because people were lost. In my head, I saw it as one game going into the next, one animation flowing into the next one. I figured everyone would know the games. But no one knew what the hell was going on, they got confused. So, this is a lot better.
GS: Is there something in particular about the show that inspires you?
DC: Yeah, its the way that everybody works so hard on it, and how much everybody loves it that is working on it. Thats really cool. I like the idea that everybody is involved in a project they think is good. Theres nothing worse than working on a show where you know its a piece of shit. Where youre in that kind of situation, Well, thats what the client wants. I guess we have to give it to them Whereas, here, everybody really digs what were doing, and they like doing stuff they think is fun. So, thats always a good thing. Thats how it was on The Drew Carey Show, and Whose Line is it Anyway? I like when people are doing something they just like doing.
GS: So, things in general are going well?
DC: I cant complain. I make a living. Yeah, things are going good. I mean, I knew the ratings would be tough. But theres nothing we can do about that.
GS: Are there any of the games, any of the animation, that you like best?
DC: When I came up with the idea [for the show], I was so excited about Moving People; I thought that would be our strongest thing, our slam-dunk. That turns out to be the hardest, the biggest nowhere. When we were first originally trying this, I liked the idea that you could make everybody disappear. I mean, you couldnt get rid of their hands, because of the way they were touching people. Oh well. I wanted one thing, but didnt get away with it, didnt think it through.
GS: Do you have any favorites among the games for the actual animation?
DC: Yoga, just because everything fell apart during the game. We were doing it live, and the whole thing fell apart. It was really fun, but it seemed like we were doing the first part of the game just for us. There were all these jokes, just for us, all the way through. Then it ended up being really funny. Some of the games you think wouldnt even work that well, but once you put the animation and music in, youre, like, holy cow, that really sold that thing. Like Toaster (Hollywood Moments), we edited it and stuff, and we thought this could be something. Once they put the sound effects and music and stuff in, its just great. That makes the whole thing.
GS: Is doing the improv for the Green Screen Show somehow different than for previous shows?
DC: No, its the same. Well, its not Whose Line is it Anyway? at all. Its more like when we do our theater shows. We really take our time with stuff, letting our characters develop a little more. With Whose Line, we didnt have to, because the producers thought of all the characters for you. Youre going to be this character, or this character, and heres the exact situation youre going to be in. It would be really specific. Then, most of that show was just commitment, as big as [the actors] could make it. We knew it would be funny, because we thought of [the situation and kinds of characters] ahead of time for them. You just hope that when they did the improv that they would get it, and they always did because theyre all really smart. In [the Green Screen Show], everybody is just totally winging it, just like we do on stage at the Improv.
GS: This is more off the top of your head
DC: Its all up to the audience suggestions, and were on our own. These tapings are rough. We learned from the tapings, too, because we did four hours a night. Thats too long, man. We were watching a game today that was taped very late, like 10:15 in the evening, and you could tell the energy was really low, and everybodys just struggling to think of something. Thats after three-plus hours of improvising, with like a 15-minute break. You just get fried, its really exhausting. The percentage of games we used from the last hour of tapings was a lot lower than the first half.
GS: Though, Shakespeare by Janet Perlman was the last game on day two of taping, and that was a great one.
DC: Right. I like when they put jokes in the animation, stuff that you never thought of. Like in Shakespeare, there was a really funny moment where Jeff [Davis] it seems like nothing when Im telling it to you but they have all of these cardboard cutout sheep, and when Jeffs walking, he knocks one of the sheep over. To me, when they do stuff like that, thats really funny. Nobodys ever done anything like this on TV.
GS: Your overall experience has been very exciting?
DC: Yeah, I like that its something new and different. Though, Blues Clues successfully combines live-action and animation. Its fantastic, for kids especially. When I thought of the [Green Screen Show], when we were going along and excited to do something cool that no one ever did, I was flipping around [television] and Blues Clues was on Nickelodeon or something like that. I was, like, What the fuck. No, Im joking around nobody has ever done what were doing. This is monumental.
Ive been telling everybody the parking lot guy [Paul] had a good take on the show he said, Its kind of like whiskey, you take a couple of sips and let it grow on you. Thats exactly what its like. Its a weird show, its like whiskey. You got to taste it a couple times to get used to it. Once people watch the show once or twice, then they really like it. Thats what were hoping. I explain it for people, even critics, and I say, youre going to watch this, and youre either going to get it or youre not going to get it. But I dont mind doing a show like that. Id rather do a show like that than its so lame, so vanilla, that its good for everybody.
GS: Whats your impression of The WBs take on it?
DC: I think they get it. They had to see it. Honestly, they were the same way. They were, like, oh, we kinda get it, and yeah, it seems like a good idea, but when they saw it they were along for the ride as much as we were. We all learned from the pilot, we all learned from the notes. They were really great.
GS: What would you change for the back nine, or for a second season, in terms of the animation?
DC: I wouldnt mind doing a game letting the animators animate everything. Not use the actors, just use their voices as a soundtrack, where you dont even see them at all, and just let the animators animate everything. Then they could do anything they wanted, all over the place. I think it would be fun to try it for one or two games. I want to do stuff thats not stupid, and not the same shit. Thats all I care about, doing something thats fun.
Now that the Green Screen Show is airing on Comedy Central, there may be interest to continue production for another season. Understandably, a year later, expectations are tempered. With the show looking to outlets in international territories, as well, perhaps a shooting star really can make dreams come true.
Full disclosure: Green Screen Show exec producer Ron Diamond is also the founder and co-publisher of Animation World Network.
Greg Singer is an animation welfare advocate, eating in Los Angeles.