DreamWorks Animation’s Dawn of the Croods premieres on Netflix Dec. 24 worldwide, showcasing an episodic drama of history’s favorite Neanderthal family. Executive Producer, Long Island native and self-proclaimed geek Brendan Hay – whose writing spans from The Daily Show to Adult Swim’s Robot Chicken to the graphic novel Rascal Raccoon’s Raging Revenge – talked with the Press about the prehistoric comedy as well as his writing roots.
Long Island Press: You grew up on Long Island, but now you reside in sunny Cali. Do you miss Long Island, Brendan? Do you miss the clogged LIE, that annoying cold relentlessly blowing on your face? Maybe just the New York pizza?
Brendan Hay: I do! I grew up in Carle Place. The only thing that can compete with the LIE is the 405 out here, so it’s like I never left! I will say that after experiencing winter out here, that did kind of sway things in L.A.’s favor. But for all the New Yorkers out here in Southern California, it still blows my mind that they have yet to crack how to actually make halfway decent pizza and Italian food in general. It all comes down to food. Anytime going back, I basically just eat as much Italian food and bagels as I can.
LIP: Did growing up on Long Island influence your career path?
BH: My first job was at a comic book store in Williston Park called Grasshoppers Comics. It was from working at a comic shop that I got to meet a whole great art community of Long Island. There was also a backpage columnist – I forget her name now, unfortunately – who used to write about comic books and movies. I read that faithfully every week. It was, like, “People can actually make this stuff and write about this stuff, and this is a career path.” There’s nothing wrong with being an accountant or a lawyer, but there are other options. [Long Island] is also close to the city, so you still have culture, and it was nice seeing that there were other options out there. It opened me up to that.
LIP: What about a favorite writer? Is there anyone you idolize?
BH: Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis were two comic book writers who wrote a run on Justice League back in the ‘80s. Mixing action and comedy and just having fun really opened my eyes to the possibilities of what you can do with stuff, and that comedy can end up anywhere. Growing up, I’ve always been a comic book and animation guy. They were just things I really loved. Simpsons premiered when I was about 10 or 11 years old, which was the perfect age, and I just immediately fell in love with it. From the get-go, it was like, “I want to do something like that.” And now, I’m getting a chance to.
LIP: And now The Simpsons are on your resume!
BH: That part was somewhat surreal. I just hoped to work for something like The Simpsons, and then getting that chance was like, “Ok. This is even better.”
LIP: Are there any new writers who stand out to you?
BH: On the comic book front, I really love Saga by Brian K. Vaughan. I’ll follow him anywhere and check out any book he works on. On the TV and animation side, Bob’s Burgers is my favorite thing I’m watching these days. It just kills me! That whole writing team, voice cast, and everybody involved there; they are just doing such a great job for the animated family. And DreamWork’s All Hail King Julien is absolutely hilarious!
LIP: Now you’re working on DreamWork’s Dawn of the Croods, an animated family show. You have a lot of notable experience with animation – The Mighty B, Robot Chicken, The Simpsons. Does animation come with any limitations to your writing or imagination? How different is writing for animation versus live-action?
BH: It’s a double-edged sword. Theoretically, you actually have control over every aspect. If it can be drawn, it can be done. That part is really freeing. It’s also really easy to get stuck on perfectionism – I must keep twiddling, I must make it the best it can be. That can be a little maddening. You also have budgets and schedules. Any animation writer’s first script is going to be, like, “And this shot has a hundred characters, and it’s amazing, and it’s in the rain!” You learn that if we do something like this, 10 of our artists will probably commit suicide trying to make that happen. It’s just way too much to actually do in the time and on the money that we have. So, you learn how to make it work. That’s kind of what I love about animation: it’s unlimited possibilities, but with just enough limits that it forces you to be more creative. Even just something like Croods.
LIP: You didn’t work on the 2013 feature film of this upcoming show. What was it about our prehistoric roots that attracted you to work on this project?
BH: My agent reached out to me and said, “Hey they’re looking to develop a TV show around The Croods,” and it did happen to be a movie I had seen and actually really liked. I think I was expecting something a little more Flintstones and I liked that it was different. They really stuck to the fact that these are cave people going through all the things on our planet and in a life for the first time. I really liked that.
LIP: It’s been said that the Crood family will deal with modern-day problems but with a primitive twist. Any personal favorites you can share?
BH: We tried to take things that were totally innocuous. We made an episode about the first nap. We also have the invention of shadow puppets and it’s like our time’s version of movies. It’s basically the invention of fiction. We start off that episode with the idea that in the Croods’ world, telling a story means you’re basically telling something that happened to you. The Croods’ son, Thunk, starts by having weird ideas and starts sharing them and everyone is like, “That can’t be a story because that never happened.” He then discovers shadow puppets and starts telling the story that way. He also becomes the first creator to get backlash because he kills off a ‘fan favorite.’
LIP: The Croods feature had a colorful cast – Nicholas Cage, Emma Stone, Ryan Reynolds. Was there a lot of interaction between the voice actors and writers?
BH: We have a really great cast of our own. Our Eep [the film’s lead role] and our Thunk are the sound-alikes from the feature film team who are really amazing comedic actors. [Stephanie Lemelin] and [A.J. LoCascio] are really fun to work with. We also weirdly ended up with a lot of Saturday Night Live alumni. We have Laraine Newman, Chris Parnell, Ana Gasteyer. Both Grey Griffin (Grey DeLisle) and Laraine Newman, even before our show has premiered, have been nominated for Annie Awards during the Animation Industry Awards. For replacing Nicholas Cage, it was actually one of our staff writers! [Dan Milano] had done some voice acting in the past with Robot Chicken and he used to be Greg the Bunny on FOX years ago. He blew everyone away. He joked later that he found that the way to sound like Nicholas Cage is to do Elvis doing Jimmy Stewart. So, that is the equation for a good Nicholas Cage impression.
LIP: So you can’t verify if Nicholas Cage is as crazy as Youtube and Internet memes depict him?
BH: Working with Nicholas Cage, sadly, must remain one of my career goals right now, but I hope to get there someday.
LIP: Who is your favorite character in Dawn of the Croods?
BH: It’s kind of like family members: you love them all differently. I’ll say Thunk, who in the feature you don’t get that much sense of him. To everybody else he’s a weirdo, but he’s also the first creative kid, maybe in history. Art doesn’t exist, so nobody knows what to do with him. It’s like the former, probably-still-current little artsy weirdo kid in my own mind. We also have one of our new original characters. One-Eyed Amber is the boss of all the hunters. She’s voiced by Laraine Newman. She’s the only cave person who talks like that stereotype of a caveman – dropping words out of sentences – but she’s also incredibly smart and soulful and deep. It’s this great contrast of, “Amber think, Amber talk, Amber – ” Anyway, it was fun.
LIP: How about your all-time favorite animation character?
BH: You may have just broke my brain a little! My first instinct was going to be Homer Simpson, but I may have to actually go with The Tick. He was a superhero parody comic book from the ‘80s and then a cartoon series in the ‘90s and, man, I just really love The Tick. Honestly, he influenced the father of the Croods, Grug, a lot in the sense that he is just this beautiful, crazy confident alpha male who is also completely wrong 90 percent of the time, but just bouncing with pure confidence and take charge. He and Homer [Simpson] are kind of the same. I think I just have a soft spot for confident stupidity.
LIP: You described yourself as a self-proclaimed geek. What are your earliest memories of geekdom?
BH: Before I realized I’m not very good at drawing, I was creating my own comic books for as long as I can remember. My parents also found audiotapes of me where I can list off all of the Star Wars characters at, like, two years old.
LIP: Clearly, that knowledge paid off! You worked on Star Wars Detours. Whatever happened to that?
BH: I worked on it for three years – about 2010 through the end of 2012. We have 39 completed episodes. This show is hilarious! [George Lucas] reached out to the Robot Chicken guys. We were trying to create an all-ages version of the Robot Chicken [Star Wars] specials. Then he sold the company and it wasn’t really a project that Lucasfilm wanted to do anymore. It’s on a shelf. Hopefully it’ll get out there someday. I totally get where Lucasfilm was coming from. We should not be somebody’s first introduction to Star Wars, where it looks like Force Awakens will be a great introduction!