David Silverman's Chat at Stanford University

Report 1
Report 2

Report 1

by Royal James Kopperud
From: royalk@leland.Stanford.EDU (Royal James Kopperud)
Subject: Summary of Silverman's Talk (Long)
Date: 20 Jan 1994 20:15:17 GMT
Organization: Stanford University, CA 94305, USA
Message-ID: <2hmool$3sf@nntp2.Stanford.EDU>

Following is a long set of notes on the talk by David Silverman at Stanford. The comments are drawn from my notes, and may contain the usual errors, etc.

The Student Speaker's Bureau brought Supervising Director/Animator David Silverman to Stanford last night. The presentation lasted over 2 hours during which Silverman gave a history of the Simpsons, talked about his involvement with the series, showed several extended film clips, fielded questions, and drew sketches. Silverman was wearing jeans and a Jurassic Bart tee-shirt, which he described as a bootleg with "two copyright infringements on one shirt." He's about 36 years old, but could easily pass for someone in his 20's. The audience was about 400 people, mostly college students with a few real adults and even a couple of 7-year-olds.

Silverman was born in NY, but grew up in Maryland, near D.C. he attended the University of Maryland for 2 years starting in '75, but transferred to UCLA after that. He showed a animation project of his from UCLA called Mariner Man during the talk.

Silverman described the animation scene in 1983 as nearly dead. "There were smerfs on TV, and something called He-Man." When Disney produced the bomb Black Cauldron, it almost killed Disney Animation for good. Only the intervention of Roy Disney Jr. saved the division. Silverman did some Saturday morning animation including Mr. T, and Turbo Team. Turbo team was about a guy "who turned into a car when he got excited." Animation was in a pretty sorry state, according to Silverman.

By 1987, Silverman had pretty much given up on animation. He was working on a film called One Crazy Summer, when he met Wes Archer. Their company won the Tracy Ullman contract. They animated their first season of TU spots from 3/87 to 9/87, and started a second season in 1/88. In March, the writers' strike started. In September, they started up again. The watershed for animation happened in '88, when Roger Rabbit was released, and commercial interest in animation was revived.

Jim Brooks of the Tracy Ullman Show convinced Barry Diller to do the show. Silverman says that Jim Brooks had a Life in Hell poster in his office and said, "we should get this guy and have him animate for us." Originally, they wanted to animate Life in Hell, but the arrangement would have required Matt Groenig to release his copyright to the network, which he was unwilling to do. So instead, Groenig did a short story based on his family. (No mention of Homer Simpson from Day of the Locust, or whatever, only Matt's father.) At first, Bart and Homer were the only developed characters. Lisa was basically a male Bart.

During the presentation, Silverman ran about and hour of clips from the show. A number of the clips were complete Ullman episodes. He tells about Dan Castlenetta doing Homer's original voice as a Walter Matthau impression, and the voice does match Matthau's well.

The sequence of events in creating a show was something like this: 1 week to animate, 1 week to cell paint, 1 week to shoot. these were 70 hour weeks. Now that the show is a series, there is a much larger staff, and the animation has improved. The 1st year there were 12,000 to 14,000 cells per show, not the total is 20,000 to 23,000 cells.

Silverman explained the process of making a current episode. Most animated shows are done at least in part in Korea. In many series, only the story boards are done in the US. The Simpsons, however, has key animation and poses done here. Silverman indicated that even more of the show may be done here in the future, especially if computers are used as they are at Disney. Apparently at Disney, all ink, paint, and camera work is done on computers. Only the artwork and key poses are done by hand.

The talking motions are done by Ken Holliday, who apparently does just about all Hollywood Animation. Holliday assigns one of about 60 mouth shapes to each frame to match the dialog. The entire process from story board to finish takes about 6 months.

Each year, all the writers meet in a writer's retreat and come up with the ideas for the whole year. Head Writer David Merkin, from Get A Life, assigns about 15 writers to the various episodes. They write the scenes and rewrite. They do a cast read-through on Thursday, check for laughs inside the group (in response to a question, Silverman said that no test audiences are used, but admitted that they do pay attention to reactions to the shows). They rewrite on Friday and again on Monday. Then they do pencil tests on the animation, and rewrite. Rewrites continue even after the returns from Korea come back.

On his feelings about episodes, Silverman said the he staff was disappointed with Homer the Vigilante, because of the flat ending. It had a better ending that ended up on the cutting room floor. Among his favorites: 3 Men and a Comic Book.

This year, 2 episodes may be held over because of the earth quake. Scheduling is very tight, and the studio is closed so the artists cannot get their materials out.

On Matt Groening's involvement, Silverman described it as extensive. Groening is at all writing sessions, all animatic tests, all color sessions.

Each episode is shot to perhaps 23 minutes, with 21 minutes in the final. So about 2 minutes of good gags are cut at the last minute. Over the history of the show there are 2 1/2 hours of unseen gags. In response to a question, he said that perhaps these will be added to video versions of the shows.

Celebrity voices get a standard fee for their participation. It is an easy job for them. Magic Johnson and Bob Hope were recorded at home. Dustin Hoffman was recorded in New York. In the future, these recordings can be done by satellite. Richard Nixon was not approached to do his voice. Don Rickles was asked to do a section, and told the producers to "stick it where the sun don't shine" (Silverman's words). Instead the Sea Captain at the all you can eat restaurant was used, and the Rickles section was cancelled.

The Springfield is "the same Springfield as Father Knows Best" and was chosen because there is one in just about every state. Several questioners tried to dig out the answers to this type of FAQ, but Silverman sidestepped most of the questions with a sly smile. He was clearly aware of the appeal these mysteries have for regular viewers. For example, Liz Taylor will have another word, but he won't tell us what it will be.

The spoken Michael Jackson was really him, billed under another name. Because he is under contract with CBS, however, he cannot sing for anyone else. Therefore, his own stand-in singer did the singing voice.

About half the celebs volunteer, about half are approached for their roles.

Film parodies in the Simpsons come both from the writers and the animators. In some cases they are written into the script, in others, they are animated in later.

On the ethnic diversity of the show: Yes, in the first episode, Burns was black. He was colored in, and it was too difficult to change all the scenes. Apu is almost universally positively received by Indians. After all, he is really just about the only sane person there. Silverman's defense against the accusation of negative ethnic stereotypes is, "look at Homer."

Outtakes from Halloween: film clips of the devil bowling with Homer's head, it breaks on the pins, and inside is the donut IOU. Bart pesters Satan for a Ferrari. The lawyer gives a free pizza if you don't win the case in 30 minutes. Bart wets the bed (?). Homer reads the instructions on the air horn, "Outdoor use my ass, it works perfectly well inside." Bart eats mice with breakfast. The janitor from school tells about madness on the Royal Navy ship. Clearly, if they release extended versions of the shows on video, the network will be jammed with talk.

One of Silverman's final comments: "Smithers is obviously very affectionate to his boss, and his boss is understanding."

OK, that's it, sorry for the length. If you ever get the chance to see this guy speak, do it. Very fun.

Commence Flaming.

Report 2

by Scott Kister

David Silverman, a writer and director of the Simpsons gave a lecture at Stanford University last night. During the lecture he showed numerous clips of the Simpsons, showing their progression from the Ullman Shorts to the full series.

The auditorium was very crowded. There were several hundred people there. The talk lasted for 2 1/2 hours and only ended because we got kicked out of the building.

As a bonus, we saw this years entire Halloween episode including an extra two minutes of footage that was cut for time. This bonus coverage included

Act 1:
Bart says "I'd sell my soul to the devil for a Formula 1 race car"
Flanders-Devil pops up with the car.
Bart changes his mind and Ned disappears.
Marge: "Bart, stop pestering the devil."
(How could they cut this one????)

In Hell, a monster picks up Homer's head from a pile and bowls it towards some spiked pins. The head breaks in half and an IOU note comes out. I couldn't read what it said.

After Homer wins his trial, Lionel Hutz comes back with a pizza box and says here's the free pizza I owe you since you lost. Marge says "But we didn't lose.". Hutz: That's just as well because the box is empty. (Shows empty box)

Act 2:
Not sure which were cut. There was a long story by Willy I don't remember in the aired show. Also, Homer drove by the bus in his car. Was this in the aired show?

Act 3:
Bart floats into the kitchen wearing sunglasses. Marge has cooked him a special breakfast of dead mice. Homer complains that he didn't get a special breakfast.

Not sure which other scenes were cut.

Other little tidbits:

There were supposed to be only 4 first season episodes, but James Brooks convinced somebody (Fox?) to do 13.

Groening didn't want to give up the rights to Life In Hell to Fox, so he created the Simpsons.

Klasky-Csupo is pronounced Class-key Choop-oh

It takes 6 months/episode

There will be an episode where SSB returns and runs for mayor.

There will be an episode Mrs. Bouvier's Lover where Grandpa Simpson and Marge's mom hook up. It will be based on/parody The Graduate.

Major spoiler:

In the episode, Homer complains that if Grandpa and Marge's mom get married then the kids will be mutants. Then there is a shot of the kids turning pink, and looking human (5 fingers???)

They rewrite each episode several times. All of the writes go over each script and there is a read-through, then another rewrite.

They use Animatise? pencil drawings that are sent overseas.

They are waiting for 100 episodes before syndication starts. After this season they will have 107.

BAD NEWS!!!! Due to the quake, 2 episodes may need to be postponed until next year.

It really was Michael Jackson's voice. He contractually could not sing, so he had a stand-in singer

In Bart Falls In Love, Silverman said that the "A Story" was about Bart, while the "B story" was going to be about Don Rickles. Rickles got very upset about it, so instead they did the story about the Sea Captain -- Arrrrrrhhhh.

In the episode Homer in Outer Space, Homer will dock with potato chips like 2001.

Someone asked why Smither was black at first. The color stylist made a mistake. They were going to change it, but there were too many scenes, so they let it slip -- We'll just say he was in the sun too long.

They have had positive feedback from Indians about the portrayal of Apu. Silverman remarked that they can't really complain since he is the most normal character of any.

There was a question about censorship. In the I&S episode, during the tour there was going to be a scene where the I&S writers were sketching a "real" cat. They said that they were sketching it for accuracy. Then they put a piece of dynamite in it's mouth and blew it up.

The censors wouldn't let this go because they can't blow up a cat on TV. The writers say that they always blow up cats on I&S. The censors said that was different since they are cartoon cats and this was a "real" cat.

Also, Bart had a line "Yea mom, we got screwed". They had to change screwed to hosed.

Why does Bart have 9 spikes on his head? David drew him with 11 and Wes Archer drew him with 7.

I asked why the rake scene lasted so long. Silverman said that they thought it was funny. He then had the audience vote on it. About half said it was funny and half didn't like it.

Jeff Martin wrote all of the songs for the Simpsons, but he is no longer with them.

They couldn't get the rights to Streetcar Named Desire from Tennessee Williams, so they wrote their own songs.

To draw Bart, his body is like a fishing bobber, and his sleeves are like cups.

Silverman likes Beavis 'N Butthead.

They changed the opening scene after the first season because they wanted to add more characters.

There will be no more Grandpa in drag scenes or Hitler jokes this season. When asked how the drag scenes came about, the writers wrote it, we drew it, and it was done.

When asked about an episode based on Clockwork Orange, Silverman said that they had already done it enough, especially with the Dog of Death episode.

Check out The Critic. (What is this? Is it on yet, or is it a new show?)

There is about 2 1/2 extra minutes filmed for each episode. I asked if there were plans to release the original episodes on videotape or laserdisc. He said that they were considering it and that the extra minutes added up to over two and a half hours of unaired footage. (Acutally 250 minutes = 11 entire episodes)

There are lots of strange drawing lying around the studio that he can't even discuss. (In reference to a question about a drawing of The Little Mermaid with her bra popping off that is supposedly in Disney HQ)

The color stylist at Klasky-Csupo made the Simpsons with yellow skin and Marge with blue hair. Groening liked it, so it stuck.

At a meeting, they decided Lisa needed a character, so James Brooks said that she would be a genius who plays Baritone Saxaphone in a dysfunctional family and so it was.

There will be an I&S Land episode by John Swartzwelder. It will be a very involved I&S episode. "A bit violent (laugh)."

I asked how they correctly lip-synced the Super Bowl winners. He said that they actually guessed it correctly.

Meanwhile, he was drawing the different characters -- Bart, Homer, Barney, Krusty, SSB, and Nelson. He autographed these and gave them away.

Their season lasts 63 weeks -- they are still working on the last season while the next is starting.

There are 17 writes, 20 post-production crew, 100 people in the US and 150 overseas.

About an I&S episode: He didn't think they could sustain it for 30 minutes. It is very basic, they kill each other.

The Christmas special was actually the ninth episode created, which is why we don't see Santa's Little Helper much in the first season shows.

David Silverman said that Maggie had another word coming up, but it was a secret. However, I just read Bill Oakley's note that it had been cut.???o

When asked how much Elizabeth Taylor was paid for her one word, he said "about $20", then laughed. Most of the stars want to do the show. There is no rehearsal, makeup or lines to memorize. About half of the stars come to us and we ask about half of them.

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