Matt Zoller Seitz, author of The Wes Anderson Collection sat down for an interview with us on the new series he’s been working on. “Space Rabbit” is currently raising funding on Indiegogo for a pilot episode, hoping a production company will fund the rest of the season once they see the eccentric cast of characters come to life.
Among the perks of the Indiegogo Matt’s team has set up are a book from Matt’s library along with a personal note from the Pulitzer Prize nominated author, a review by him on any movie or television program, and actual puppets from the show. If you’re short of ideas but not cash, we wouldn’t mind seeing him review Leprechaun 3, or perhaps the universally acclaimed Dirty Grandpa.
Could you sum up the premise of the series in a few sentences?
Space Rabbit is an anti-fascist fable that’s basically Animal Farm by way of Looney Tunes, with a happy ending. It’s set on the far side of the galaxy, on an all-animal planet called Planimus, which has been governed for generations by a republic called the Democratic Republic of Animal Territories, or D.R.A.T. Then this fascist squirrel rises to power and becomes a dictator, and all the animals who believe in the ideals of democracy have to band together and take their planet back. There’s a swashbuckling cat, a cat senator, an alcoholic lion, a praying mantis who’s the only honest reporter on the planet, and an old turtle who has incredible fighting skills and can use his shell as a shield. A lot of the characters play jazz to unwind.
Which films or TV shows would you say influenced this one? With actors moving the puppets instead of stop motion, the Muppets seems an obvious comparison to make. What’s similar and what’s different?
The Muppets are obviously a huge, huge influence. I co-wrote it with my old friend Steven Santos, who also edited the footage. The creatures in this thing are mainly Muppet-type characters, although we also have rod puppets, marionettes, and special fighting puppets for the scene where they have karate fights, sword fights, gunfights and stuff. The Coen brothers, Steven Spielberg and Billy Wilder are also really important in terms of tone, because they are able to move freely between very broad comedy and intense drama and back again and it doesn’t feel like you’re getting emotional whiplash. Fargo, the show on FX based on the Coens, is also very good at that. It’ll be really silly one minute, and then it’ll break your heart.
And also maybe Game of Thrones or House of Cards, too, because a lot of the action is about people in government and the military forming alliances and then selling each other out and stabbing each other in the back, sometimes literally. Except instead of Kevin Spacey doing it, it’s a squirrel.
My old friend Wes Anderson is also an influence. It was by studying the way he puts a movie together while writing The Wes Anderson Collection and the Grand Budapest Hotel book that I realized I could do this myself, relatively cheaply. I’ve directed stuff with actors but always in real-world locations, available locations. I never did live action fantasy because I figured it was beyond my reach, budget-wise. Well, Wes makes his films very economically and they look a lot bigger than they are, so I took a close look at how he does it and I learned a lot. Wes basically pre-directs his movies using animatics, which are basically storyboards strung together to make a facsimile of the finished movie.
I did this with my storyboards for Space Rabbit and it allowed me to figure out exactly how long a shot would be, almost down to the second, and then I could have the crew build sets that were exactly to the size and shape of what the camera is seeing, so that we don’t waste time or money building anything the audience will never actually see. There’s a lot less on screen than you think, it’s a lot of smoke and mirrors. The sets are all plywood and cardboard that’s been painted to look like concrete or steel, that kind of thing. We bought nearly everything we needed at a hardware store.
We have a direct shout-out to Wes in our first clip. The alcoholic lion gets arrested and made a fall guy for assassinating the president of the planet, who’s an old goat, and when they put the lion in jail, he’s wearing Owen Wilson’s yellow jumpsuit from the end of Bottle Rocket.
A sci-fi movie with puppets is certainly an original idea, how did you come up with it?
I’ve been playing with puppets and stuffed animals ever since I was a little kid. I started out creating characters for my little brother from the stuffed animals in his menagerie, then I did the same thing as a grownup when I had kids. These were never cute, harmless characters, though. They were always kind of neurotic and complicated. That’s the Jim Henson influence. Miss Piggy, Fozzie and Kermit are interesting but they’re not always happy-go-lucky, you know what I mean? They have dark nights of the soul, they get jealous, they make mistakes.
Who’s the intended audience? Is this a show for kids, is it just for adults?
Ideally this is the sort of project that parents tell very young children they can’t see, not because of any specific content—there is slapstick violence but no profanity or sex—but because of the political satire aspect, which is very much informed by what’s happening in the country right now. And then they’ll sneak over to some other kid’s house and watch it anyway.
If you want to help Matt make his series, you can support the project on Indiegogo for another month. We don’t yet know the exact release date, but it’ll be exciting to see if Wes beats Matt to the next big animation, or the reverse.