It's only taken 18 seasons but the much-anticipated The Simpsons Movie finally hits theaters on July 27, 2007. In support of the release of the animated feature film the creative team behind the movie - Matt Groening, James Brooks, David Silverman, Mike Scully and Al Jean - took part in a press conference to discuss why it took so long to figure out how to make the transition to the big screen.
The Simpsons LA Press Conference
Matt, why has it taken 18 years to get this movie made and how have you, as well as The Simpsons, evolved in that time?
Matt Groening: “It’s taken 18 years because we’re lazy. We’ve been asked that question quite a bit and we don’t have a good answer. Why has it taken 18 years?”
James Brooks: “My current answer is 15 years to get up the nerve and four years to get it done.”
And how have you evolved and how has The Simpsons evolved in that 18 years?
Matt Groening: “Well, you know what’s great about this movie is, on the TV show we were working very quickly, on a tight schedule, a tight budget. And on the movie we were able to work on the script until we got it right. We took a long time writing the script. And then we went into production and we tried animation that is far more ambitious than anything we’ve ever done in the past. I think it’s inspiring to the entire Simpsons enterprise.”
What went into the decision to leap from Rainier Wolfcastle and just go right to Arnold Schwarzenegger?
Al Jean: “During the film - we had a President character in the movie – and in a lot of movies you will see there’s, you know, President Johnson and there’s some phoney.”
Matt Groening: “Lyndon Johnson was not a phoney”
Al Jean: “Nor Andrew Johnson… And then Jim suggested that we use Schwarzenegger and so over the course of the movie we were just praying that he would get re-elected.”
David Silverman: “Initially we first did more of a caricature of Arnold Schwarzenegger and I think, led by Matt, the final conclusion was, ‘Why don’t we just use our Rainier Wolfcastle character?’ Because that suggestion of Schwarzenegger, just sort of make the guy a little more wrinkled and change the hairstyle…and that’s what we ended up doing.”
What’s the challenge of remaining in tune with contemporary pop culture and political events?
Al Jean: “Well both with the show and the movie, what happens is that we worked four years ahead on the movie so we actually don’t do Jay Leno type jokes about things of the moment. We do jokes about larger trends. like the environment. We’ll do themes, you know, like how hard it is to get prescription drugs in the United States that are horrible. And with this film what we found is the longer the time went between after we started, the more the issues in the film became relevant. We lucked out, I think.”
James Brooks: “Well we’re governed by what’s funny. We like to think we’re more pro-American than Mickey Mouse.”
Matt Groening: “The fact is this has been a collaborative effort from the very beginning of the series. It’s an amazing thing. That’s the nature of animation - that’s how animation works, is great writers, great actors and great musicians working together to create something even better. On The Simpsons I will say that we definitely like to comment on what’s going on in the world and as Jim said, we try to be funny. You know, if we can figure out a way of being funny about it, then we’ve gone part of the way of accomplishing our task.”
Who takes final responsibility?
James Brooks: “You know, it’s an amazing thing when something is what we call ‘table written’. The group changes - it was very large at the beginning, it got smaller. It shifted a few times. But it’s as democratic an enterprise as you can possibly imagine. I mean somebody can be passionate about something and unless it gets a laugh at the table, it probably won’t happen. You know, the long discussions that ended up, the discussion themselves produce a result so this is very much a team project.”
Matt Groening: “It’s very, very hard to describe the process of working with other people, writing jokes, in the same room for hours a day, late into the night for months and in this case years, on end. I think it’s sort of like trying to be amorous with a three-headed dog. You’re going to get licked a lot, but someone’s going to get bitten by the end of it.”
David Silverman: “It’s a group effort. You know, you can try and needle us further, but …”
James Brooks: “We’ve been with it at the beginning. We care so much about the Simpsons so that - it sounds like rhetoric, but it’s true - we all feel we’re serving something that’s taking care of us. It’s much bigger than any one of us. So everybody’s trying, so the boss is something out there that we all try and serve. And as weird as that sounds, it’s as close as I can come to the truth about this.”
Most of us hope the show will carry on forever, but how much longer do you guys think you can keep the creative process ticking along?
James Brooks: “This has been enormously energizing. Doing this movie has just, you know, because it’s all home grown, just so many of the people connected with the show contributed to this movie, so many. And everybody was around it and we’d have a draft, we’d circulate it to the show writers, they’d give us feedback. So I think it’s been a great bonding, energizing thing so we haven’t felt better in a long time.”