Megas XLR: Interview with Jody Schaeffer by Jerry Whitworth
Comic Art Community: One of the best animated series produced in the United States during the 2000s, it’s interesting that Megas XLR was produced by creators relatively new to the animation industry at the time. Further, those creators have gone on to becoming movers and shakers in animation today. Could you tell us a little bit about that time at New York’s School of Visual Arts that gave the animated world the likes of Jody Schaeffer, George Krstic, Chris Prynoski, and Tony Cupo and how these elements came together to dream up the concept for Lowbrow, or what fans know today as Megas XLR?
Jody Schaeffer: Well, truth be told, we weren’t all that new to the biz when we produced it. Linda Simensky, the producer we ambushed, was actually a friend because I took a class of hers back in SVA. Chris P had a series under his belt (MTV Downtown, which only went for one season), and George was head writer on that. And before then, Chris directed the animated hallucination sequence in the Beavis and Butthead movie. That one was fun to work on, lol.
So really, between us we had several years of production experience before delving into Megas. But SVA was seminal to our careers because it introduced us to people in the industry such as Linda. There was still quite a lot going on in East Coast animation at the time, and the School of Visual Arts let us tap into that. We’re still east coast boys at heart.
CAC: Could you tell us about the genesis of Megas? George Krstic has said it came about while playing video games with you about a show that mashed up a lot of your interests together. What were some of your influences and what was the creative process like making the pilot (and how it changed when the series was ordered)?
JS: Well literally what happened was, while we were playing games, I told George that it boiled down to its most basic, what I wanted to see on TV was “a big fat screaming idiot driving a giant robot”. It sort of snowballed from there. George came up with the Glorft, Chris designed the original Megas concept, it was really a collaborative effort.
Basically we knew we wanted to portray everything we got a kick out of, and looked for ways to incorporate it. We had all the usual influences: giant mecha, pro wrestling, cars, we loved them all and wanted to see them all mashed into one show.
CAC: I understand you supplied the hardware used to create the pilot. Chris Colon of Two Strangers One Podcast was curious what software you used and I heard that you had to Frankenstein your computer in order to get the project made. While Flash animation and 3D CGI are quickly becoming the norm for modern animation, you guys were really pioneers spending your own time and money to make your own product the way you wanted it to be made. Why did you decide to take this route, what issues did you face, and roughly how long did it take to produce the pilot for the animation phase?
JS: Oh, geez, that was fifteen years ago now. I couldn’t tell you what pieces I bought, lol.
But I can tell you why. We weren’t seeing anyone out there making cartoons the way we wanted to see them, so we knew we’d just have to make one. And the only way to do that was if we had our own rig.
CAC: You transferred the pilot to VHS cassette and took it to San Diego Comic Con to your friend and former teacher Linda Simensky, an executive from Cartoon Network. How did that series of events come about and what transpired from the convention to being contacted about interest in the show to Megas XLR competing to be the next Cartoon Cartoon?
JS: Oh, it was easy enough. It was an excuse to go to Comic Con! Lol…
Linda knew we were coming and she was happy to sit with us for a moment and take our pitch packet. From there she was sufficiently interested in what we had to offer to let us make a pilot at the Burbank studio. Like I said, she already knew us from her class at SVA. Granted, she knew me as “that guy that always fell asleep in her class”, but in my defense I was working full time and commuting to school five days a week. She’s also very understanding.
CAC: Working up the pilot at the Burbank studio, did you know the show was going to compete to see if a series would be ordered? And after Megas won, it took roughly two years for the show to hit the air. Is that common or did you guys run into any snags during the process of turning the pilot into a series? I recently heard the story about how Bruce Campbell was cast for the show after Chris P put the “Battle Royale” script in his hands at a convention and was surprised that it only took a week or so before Bruce was in the recording booth.
JS: Yes, we were aware it was part of their competition. We were pretty confident about it, tho. We were just that stoked about making it.
We hit a big snag, actually: September 11. We were on track for a greenlight when the towers fell, and everything got put on hold. Everyone was in shock. I had friends that worked there that were headed in when the planes hit. It was grim. In that context, our delay was no big deal.
Once things got rolling tho, they moved quickly enough.
CAC: What were some of your most memorable “geek-gasms” from working on the show’s two seasons?
JS: There were so many. Getting to work with Bruce Campbell was one. Peter Cullen and Frank Welker were also a big deal to us. And getting Steve Blum and Wendee Lee to be main characters??? I still geek out over that one!
I still talk to Steve and Wendee. That’s another reason to geek out, lol. They love Megas almost as much as we do! They saw what we were trying to do and were on board from the getgo!
CAC: Despite Megas XLR fostering dedicated, hardcore fans, the show unfortunately ended after two seasons. I think many, myself included, have a hard time believing the show’s audience was that small that the series came to a close. How did you find out about the show being canceled and what was your reaction to the news? Was there any immediate attempts to try and resurrect the series or look into a change of venue?
JS: It took them a while to come to a decision and tell us. They had Teen Titans and Ben 10 in their roster and tho our ratings were doing on par with theirs, CN felt that they didn’t need three in-house shows that went after the same basic demographic. We also skewed a little older, and that wasn’t a good thing back then.
Since it took so long to tell us, we had already sort of figured it out by the time the news came. There was no talk of resurrection at first, mainly we just wanted to move on to the next thing. A while later tho, we began to reflect on how cool it was, and how we still had stories to tell.
CAC: And you guys certainly moved on to work on other projects. Chris P founded Titmouse, George worked on the first two seasons of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, and you worked with Titmouse as well as on series like Issues (about superheroes in therapy) and Mad (based on concepts of the popular magazine). How did you find out about Cartoon Network abandoning the domestic airing rights to Megas XLR? Also, what happened following that news?
JS: We found out when we started poking around and asking, really. We were curious if there was any way we could work with CN to revive the property. It’s safe to say we were shocked, lol.
As for what happened following, well, you’re seeing it unfold in real time. You’ll know something as soon as we do!
CAC: Based on the work you and your fellow creators have been doing in recent years, it would seem you all have a fairly good working relationship with Cartoon Network so that certainly gives some hope to fans. That said, given CN can’t air Megas in the US anymore, are you still just negotiating with CN alone or have you guys started talking to other networks, say Disney XD, Nickelodeon, or the Hub to see if there’s interest in bringing the series back into syndication on one of those channels? With Motorcity just coming to an end on Disney, Nickelodeon renewing interest in its action content with Legend of Korra, Ninja Turtles, Kung Fu Panda, and Power Rangers, and the Hub licensing series from Time Warner (Batman: TAS, Superman: TAS, etc), a series like Megas has a lot of potential with another station.
JS: I can’t discuss what we may have in store for Megas. Again, rest assured when we have some news to tell, you will be in the loop!
To learn the latest developments on Megas XLR, follow the Twitter feeds of its creators:
> Jody Schaeffer
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