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Oscar® Tour SoCal Day 3 Wraps Up at 20th Century Fox

Day 3 of the LA leg of the Oscar Showcase Tour finished up with a screening for The Simpsons production crew.

Minkyu, Tim and Fondhla in front of one of the countless generic building fronts used in countless shows and commercials.

By Dan Sarto

Our day concluded with a tour of the Fox lot and a screening for Fox Feature Animation and the crew of The Simpsons.  Like the Sony and Paramount lots, the Fox lot is steeped in movie legendry.  Used almost exclusively these days for TV production on shows broadcast seemingly on every network, the lot includes stages used for shows like Bones. Glee and How I Met Your Mother.  Home to the worldwide headquarters of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, the lot also houses facilities used for Fox’s NFL broadcasts.

We did a fast walk past a number of enormous sound stages, as well as snaking in and out of a number of buildings within the famous New York City building facades used in practically every show and commercial known to man.  We also managed to get a fast glimpse at The Simpsons production offices, complete with a cool Bart Simpson topiary and statue of a hand holding a donut that decorate the front yard.

The Bart Simpson topiary stands proudly in front of The Simpsons production offices.

Tim pretends to walk down into a New York subway inside a prop facade.

Tim and Fondhla on the Fox backlot.

A blasted cement door, complete with exposed rebar, from the X-Files TV show. It

actually weighs almost nothing as it's made completely out of foam rubber.

Soon it was time to join the screening for Q&A.  The theatre was packed and included many of David Silverman’s co-workers on The Simpsons as well as his nominated short. After Ron introduced the filmmakers once again, Al Jean, one of the producers of Maggie Simpson and “The Longest Daycare” was dragged down to the front of the stage to answer questions as well.

Al made the room laugh when he commented that this is the only crowd he’s seen watch the film that laughed when the butterfly was killed.  Of course, he said, these are folks who work at Fox.  Someone in the audience told Tim his film made her cry, to which he replied, “Yes! My new goal in life is to make people cry!”  Everyone laughed again.  She continued to ask him what inspired his story.  Tim patiently described how he made his film in the second year of a two year program in London, time spent separated from his girlfriend back in Boston. That separation was on his mind when he came across Rembrandt’s painting, The Philosopher in Meditation, which depicts a spiral staircase that seems to support walking from the ground up and from the ceiling down. That led to an image of someone on the ceiling and someone on the floor, upside down from one another. It seemed to him that image also vividly expressed the idea of being with someone in one sense, but in another sense, being somewhere else, of being in love with someone who was so very different. He was attracted to the image’s potency, which led him to explore the story that image wanted to tell.

Tim was asked how long his film took to complete and how much of the animation he did himself.  He replied that the film took 15 months from concept to completion and that except for a two week vacation he took at one point, he did all the animation, which took six months in total to complete. 

Tim then asked Al if he’d ever actually written anything for his film or if they worked directly from storyboards.  Al replied that there were four other writers, David Mirkin, Michael Price, Joel Cohen and Matt Groening.  They had a quick pitch session.  The butterfly idea was partly inspired by All Quiet on the Western Front, the dying soldier reaching for a butterfly at the end of the movie. They came up with a bunch of gags.  Then David animated the baby hitting the butterfly, which sold them on the idea.

Al then made the audience laugh by explaining that, “Then, like any good Hollywood production company, we sat on the idea for a year.”  He went on to describe how they were given the go-ahead to be shown in front of Ice Age 4, which was a huge thing, meaning 100 million people would see it.  Suddenly, the production went from sitting to a big rush.  He finished by saying there was a 3-4 page treatment that had been done that sat for a year prior to getting the production go-ahead.

Matt complimented Minkyu on his sound design. Minkyu thanked him and talked a bit about his process and decision-making.  According to Minkyu, he only wanted to have music at one point in the film besides the credits, the part where Adam really began to bond with the dog, to accentuate the creation of the relationship.  He didn’t want music to interrupt the feeling of serenity and peace he was hoping to achieve with his depiction of Eden. He didn’t want anything to disrupt the sounds of the breeze and of nature itself.

Fox Q&A (from left to right) Minkyu Lee, Tim Reckart, Fondhla Cronin O'Reilly, David Silverman, Al Jean and Ron Diamond.

Then, someone asked the single greatest question of any screening Q&A I’ve ever attended over the last decade and a half.  It went something like this:

Question: Can you tell us about Adam’s wiener?

Once the audience stopped laughing, Minkyu jumped right in.

ML: That’s a really great question.  I’ve never been asked that. Well, in the beginning, I was consulting with a bunch of people. In the Genesis story, it said that Adam was completely naked. In iterations we’ve seen so far, there has been a leaf or a branch that is conveniently held there.  We were going back and forth, is this going to make this get an R rating?  Is this going to offend people?  We figured, well, who are we going to offend? It’s there in Genesis. So we put it in.  We also figured that if you always cover it somehow, if he’s always leaning or holding something there, then you’re looking at it more [audience is laughing along with him at this point].  Your focus is on, “Is it going to come out? Are they going to show it?”  So, one of the first shots where you see Adam, I was like, “There it is!  Here you go!” 

It was a great answer to a sincere, but funny question. 

Another great exchange was with Fondhla answering a question about whether or not the nomination has changed any of the filmmaker’s lives.  After both Minkyu and Tim shared how they have enjoyed the new attention, the reward of meeting people who have enjoyed and been moved by their films, the potential for new projects, the spate of meetings they were able to setup with development execs, Fondhla chimed in as follows:

FCO: Has it changed my life? No, it hasn’t [laughter]. Like a flower handed to you, for a month, you have this pretty thing to hold onto.  Then eventually it will die and then everyone will forget you [huge laughter]. 

Someone in the crowd: You’re Irish, aren’t you?  It figures [laughter].

FCO:  I use the Oscar nomination as a push for when I present myself to people. I’m taken a tad more seriously.  That’s about it [laughter].

(Bottom row from left to right) Karen Toliver (vp production at Fox Animation), Minkyu Lee and Vanessa Morrison (president of Fox Animation). (Back row from left to right) Matt Groening (creator, writer and producer of The Simpsons and Futurama), Al Jean (writer and producer of The Simpsons), Ron Diamond, Fondhla Cronin O'Reilly, David Silverman and Tim Reckart.

With that exchange, we thanked our hosts, mingled a bit outside, took a group picture and then headed home for a bit of rest before starting up again in the morning at Paramount.