Twenty-six directors devise terrible ways to die, from A to Z, in the horror anthology The ABCs of Death. And in his first foray into the horror-film world, TV animation veteran Jon Schnepp (Metalocalypse, The Venture Bros.) dives headfirst into chaos with "W Is For WTF," a stoner's fever dream that mashes zombie clowns, a mysterious chem trail, animated depravity, and Schnepp himself into the most random and, yes, WTF-inducing segment of the bunch.
Movieline spoke with Schnepp about his "W Is For WTF" (behold the exclusive image above!), how he lobbied producer Ant Timpson for the slot, why he poured his own money into his ABCs of Death short, and what he learned from his time editing Adult Swim's Space Ghost Coast To Coast at the start of his career. He also updated us with the latest on Grimm Fairy Tales, his ambitious Heavy Metal-esque animated project. (Interviews with all 26 ABCs of Death filmmakers will be available to read on The ABCs of Death Tumblr page.)
Your name stands out among the two dozen mostly genre filmmakers because you come from a slightly different world. How were you approached to take part in the ABCs of Death?
I actually contacted Ant [Timpson]. I had heard of The ABCs of Death as I was working on Metalocalypse, and I’ve done a bunch of live-action television shows but they’ve mainly been comedy. After I did those I got into the world of animation, and looking for things outside of animation to do, and that one sounded really cool. I just sent a cold email saying, ‘Hey, this is Jon – I direct Metalocalypse…’ He wrote me back pretty quickly saying ‘I love your work, but we’re totally staffed up. We have all the directors. But I’ll keep you in mind for the future.’ Cut to five months later I get an email from him saying, ‘Hey – one of our directors dropped out and you’re at the top of the list. Do you want to do it?’ And I was like, ‘Fuck yeah!’
It’s nice to hear that in this town sometimes it doesn’t hurt to reach out to a stranger.
I strongly advise it! I think if you do it in a cool way and you’re not weird… it comes with a caveat: It doesn’t hurt to ask people, but make sure that you can back that shit up, and also that you’re not crazy.
Just how hard is it to come up with a concept like “W is for WTF” when you’re tasked with creating something with such specific yet wide open guidelines?
I came up with a bunch of ideas that weren’t fully formed, like “W Is For Wake,” or “W Is For War” and as I started to write them I [realized] I wasn’t sold on them myself. I sent a ton of these ideas, the dumbest one I could possibly think of was “W Is For Werewolf.” Then somehow that devolves as people devour this chem trail and everything they’re thinking comes to life.
Is that your actual production staff acting in the short?
No – actually it’s the company I work at. They were cool enough to let me shoot there. And that’s my office and my friend Tommy [Blacha] who I work on Metalocalypse with. Because the budget is so minute. I ended up spending like $9,000, which sucks [each director was given a $5,000 budget], but at the same time was totally worth it because you want it to be awesome.
I guess that’s what happens when you factor in all the decapitations, and eaten faces and eyeball-chewing.
I come from this school of, I pay everyone I work with. I’ve never liked the idea of free anything.
In choosing “WTF” as your letter W theme, you really allow yourself to go just about everywhere at once, no limitations. You’ve got zombie clowns, a laser walrus, something I might describe as a muppet…
Was that really just your way of not having to choose just one concept?
I’m used to working in television where you whittled stuff down. It’s good practice to get to the core of a story – even if your story is about fantasy and mind meltdowns.
The chaos in your short is ADD-optimized, but it really is about something – art and the creative process. This is what I imagine you going through every week working on your shows.
Yeah – definitely the subtext is there. I’m glad you got that. Every single person has weird ideas in their mind. The general idea of it is that there are a lot of ideas for anything. How do you eventually execute them? Maybe you do, maybe you don’t. We all die eventually.
You didn't know many of the other filmmakers beforehand, and you're working on your own with your own budget and crew on your part of the ABCs. What was it like to see "W Is For WTF" with the 25 other shorts when the entire film was put together and polished?
I’ll be honest with you, there are about seven of them that I don’t like, that I just don’t think are good. Then there are a couple I think are in the medium area, but an overwhelming bunch of them I think are incredible. The one that follows mine, "X Is For XXL" [by Xavier Gens] is horrifying and such a gut punch in so many ways. It’s just so disgusting and well done. That is pure horror. And you know what? I’m sure there are people who saw mine and hated it. “Who is this goofball and why is there animation? Why is there a dude with his dog on his face?” You just get used to that, though. At least I’ve got the body armor for that now from doing shows like Metalocalypse. There are people who are going to totally hate on you, which sucks. I used to look at the boards and you can’t defend yourself against AppleCat433, you know? Sizzler315 hates you! It’s like, what are you going to do?
Still, you worked on so many beloved shows over the years. The Venture Bros., Metalocalypse… what did you learn most from working on Space Ghost early in your career?
I learned comic timing. All the editors of Space Ghost are also the directors. The guys who wrote it give you the audio takes and you would cut it together; it was like a live television show so you would already have all the angles, but then you would animate their mouths yourselves, in Avid. It was a real primitive setup. It was literally like four people working on Space Ghost – the two writers, an executive producer, and the editor, and that was it. For four to eight weeks you would edit and make the show, then you would send the edit decision list to the online guys who would take your actual edit and reassemble it. And then they would put their name on it too, which kind of sucked. But whatever. Hollywood has a lot worse injustices in credits and whatnot.
But Space Ghost was a great experience for me because I got to do the weirdest, most fucked up editing and people loved it. I did a loop edit of Harland Williams triggered on some weird word he was saying, and then I put outtakes of George Lowe saying to one of the engineers, like, ‘What’s going on over there?’ And made Space Ghost leave his set, fly over to Moltar and go, ‘Moltar, is there a problem?’ I think it was 1995, I flew out to Atlanta for eight weeks. There was no Adult Swim, none of that – it was a giant aircraft hanger and they were building TBS and TNT and all that. I remember they put me with a bunch of lawyers. Before Aqua Teen Hunger Force was a show, I worked on the pilot and designed the backgrounds, back in 2000. I built Carl’s swimming pool, all that shit – it was fun to work on. We were like, ‘Yeah, we’re doing this weird thing called Aqua Teen Hunger Force.’ I was actually there when they made up ‘Aqua Teen Hunger Force,’ in 1999, when they came up with the show. Originally it was a Space Ghost episode, and I was editing the last episode of Space Ghost of that year, it was called ‘King Dead.’ That’s the one I wrote a bunch of stuff in. I made up House of the Barking Dead which is on the TV Space Ghost is watching. That was one of my contributions. They were like, ‘That’s good. You can animate that!’
You’re also moving on your animated Grimm Fairy Tales. Where’s that project at now?
I just finished the color correction and the sound mix and right now we’re editing all the behind-the-scenes stuff. Our cast is incredible and it was so much fun to do. If you’ve ever seen Heavy Metal, it’s in that vein. I wanted to hire a bunch of kickass artists to do different Grimm fairy tales. I’m trying to turn it into a TV show, that’s why we did the Kickstarter. There’s tons of gore, there’s metal music, there’s nudity… I don’t even know if it will sell. We live in a different world. Everyone I’ve shown this to is like, ‘I can’t wait to see this in a series!’ But I have to get through all these other people sitting in offices who say, ‘It seems to me things that are PG-13 make money.”
THE ABCs OF DEATH is now available on Cable VOD, iTunes, Amazon, Xbox Zune, Playstation Market, VUDU and Google Play; in theaters starting March 8 from Magnet Releasing.
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