Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.
Upon voicing the title character in WRECK-IT RALPH, John C. Reilly also lends his voice to the character of Officer Barry (pictured above) on STONE QUACKERS, a late night animation programming that airs on FXX.
We spoke with Reilly and creator Ben Jones, who also voices the character Barf, about their ANIMATION DOMINATION segment, how it came to be, and creating their duck animated characters.
Well, thanks for joining us to today and doing the call, gentlemen.
John C. Reilly: “My pleasure.”
Ben Jones: “My pleasure, too.”
I never thought I’d see a version of BLUE VELVET in cartoon form, or even use those two words together in the same sentence. So how did you guys get the idea to, kind of, do a show based on that?
Ben: “Well, FAMILY GUY; they led off one of their seasons with their parody of STAR WARS, which is definitely, culturally and creatively important to them. And I asked the Quackers, ‘What was a movie that inspires us— that we might want to celebrate?’ And, that was certainly one of them. It’s an important movie for me, yes, creatively and spiritually, maybe.”
Do you think you might do any more David Lynch covers, or maybe you could even get him to guest star and voice a character?
Ben: “I would hope so. Yes, or I don’t even think he’s a real person. To me, he’s definitely more of a deity or a God. Maybe John has a better, more realistic—”
John: “No, he’s also a guru of mine. I practice transcendental meditation and he’s a big proponent of that, so he’s a big inspiration in a lot of ways. He’s literally a guru to me, even though I’ve never met him.”
Ben: “Yes, absolutely.”
John, how did you become exposed to Ben’s work?
John: “I was actually first exposed to Ben through his artwork. I saw a show that my friend, Mike Diamond, curated at MOCA, and his piece was my favorite piece of the whole show. And, then it turns out we had a mutual friend, Eric Wareheim, and Eric just had nothing but great things to say about Ben. And then I went in and met with everyone, and he was a delightful chat, and Whit [Thomas] and Clay [Tatum] were also very charming, funny guys, and we quickly just started telling stories about our childhood and juvenile delinquency. It just seemed like a really inspiring, fun thing to do.
But, to tell you the truth, like, actually the first thing I saw of Ben— what was the thing called? Chrome– that first short you did that was the prequel to PROBLEM SOLVERZ?”
Ben: “We had NEON KNOME. That was a good one.”
John: “NEON KNOME— that’s it. So, I saw NEON KNOME, and myself, and a lot of my friends were obsessed with that for a long time. I just thought it was this mysterious thing created by some weirdo somewhere, and then that was true, but it also turned out that Ben had done a lot of other things and– anyway, so, I was already a big fan.
So, when this came my way, I thought, wow, I must be a cool person to be asked by such a cool person to do such a cool project.”
What do you think separates STONE QUACKERS from other animated shows out there?
Ben: “That’s a good question. Yes, I mean, well there’s lots of great things about how we make this. First off, we make it with a very small team, it’s like three or four people drawing it for the designs, and then ten people animating it, and that makes it a very different creative experience, making it. And I think the end product, you can kind of tell it’s a little bit more like, maybe experimental isn’t a good word, but it’s more an artistic project than a kind of commodity or a product of like a big studio, and so I think that kind of makes it a little bit more crafted and a little bit more unique, more like a Wes Anderson film and less like a– I don’t know, CHARLIE’S ANGELS 2 or something, which are both great films. That’s one of the things as to why it’s different than other shows.”
John: “I don’t have a huge awareness of the other animation on TV other than, say THE SIMPSONS or something, but what I can say, what I think it has going for it is, I can tell from the creative process that improvisation is embraced, and used which gives it a real kind of spark of excitement and originality, and it’s really, it’s also very personal, these stories.
For the most part, or at least the characters come from the real lives of Whit and Clay. And also I think having Ben’s perspective as an artist is different, and I don’t know, it’s different than just trying to please people with a cartoon. It’s more– there seems to be more depth to the expression, and certainly visually it’s pretty unique.”
Ben: “Yes. I’ve just tried to create a world for the characters to kind of explore and inhabit. Yes, and that’s been, I think that’s a much different process than some other shows, and I think it’s really fun for us to kind of work in that zone.”
Did John have any say in what his character would look like, or was that all you and the animators?
John: “No. I didn’t really. I mean, they all look like ducks, so I mean, so I didn’t try to change that. I think we did have like a brief conversation. Ben, about like–“
Ben: “Yes, we did.”
John: “I was like, ‘Really, you’re going to put curly hair on the duck? OK?’ I honestly don’t remember. I just have so much respect for Ben as an artist that I just was like, whatever. I’m going to be delighted by whatever it is, so I put myself in his hands regarding that.”
Ben, did you try to make him look like John?
Ben: “I remember inventing this language as a whole, like what the eyes, and the nose, and the mouth, and the hair would function globally in the universe, but when it comes down to characters, much like improv or a joke, that stuff just kind of happens, and you can tweak it in the moment. But I don’t think there’s that much of a precise discussion in terms of any of the design, it’s more these overall rules. That’s a little nerdy, but the truth.”
Why did you decide to go with ducks?
Ben: “I think it’s just kind of a– it’s cartooning. Why do cartoons even exist? It’s an interesting thing, I think. It’s a way to kind of make something that’s even more human than you can draw realistically, like sometimes you can capture someone’s personality as a funny little drawing, and certainly one where you turn humans into characters, they become even more human, and I think it’s a way for us to just explore these characters as real funny people. It’s just something I’ve always drawn.”
Very cool. So what are, in your opinion, some of the key ingredients that makes for good comedic TV?
John: “Well, I think the number one thing is lack of supervision from people who are not creative people in their life. That’s all the stuff that I’ve done with Tim and Eric is like that, the stuff with Ben, like it just doesn’t seem like anyone’s really in charge except the creative people, and that’s how it should be, I think. That’s the best way to get good results. I know whenever there’s someone in the room that feels like your boss, that you have to obey, that tends to kill the comedic spirit, in my experience.”
Ben: “I agree and I just want to go on record and say the first minute after you’ve watched everything that FXX and FOX has ever produced you can watch BAG BOY and the first minute of BAG BOY is some of the funniest, the funniest scene I’ve ever seen on television. So, that’s the Holy Bible for funny television.”
STONE QUACKERS airs as part of ANIMATION DOMINATION, FXX’s late night animation programming block, which airs Thursdays at midnight.