Literally, while I was at NYCC I am walking to this interview with my partner-in-crime Cybertron, and I am explaining what this show is. I said its like Life and Times of Time in space. So, how stoked was I when I meet Ben Friedberg of whom is the executive producer of Astro-Cons a new independent animated web series on Youtube who describes to me the premise of this show. The answer is spot on, along with the rest of the interview which you should check out after the jump.
John Blabber: So for anybody who hasn’t heard of Astro-Cons, what is it about? Tell the guy that’s never heard anything about it before, you’re on an elevator with him.
Ben Friedberg: First of all, hello. Astro-Cons a workplace comedy based around the misadventures of a make-believe space agency called The Department of Space. And we lampoon the federal government.
It’s interesting. It’s like you guys almost came up with a political comedy too in a sense. There’s very political undertones. Was that something that from the beginning you guys were looking to do?
Well look, I think that happens; it comes out. No, we weren’t looking to make a political statement. But both Leon and myself really feel that politics in a three-ring circus. And we’re not trying to govern to make it better for the populous. That we’re governing to make money, or – and that’s not really what it’s about. Governance should be about what the greater good is. And so I’m not gonna stand on a soapbox, because that’s not what Astro-Cons is about.
We have enough people doing that.
But like me, Ben Friedberg, what I believe is that politics has become a three-ring circus. And then we’re not about taking care of people. It’s about taking care of ourselves. That’s the politicians, that’s the corporations…
That’s everybody. So how did the concept come about? Did you just say, “Hey, I want to do a show in space?’.
Leon Doell, is the writer, creator of Astro-Cons. He and I worked together when I was running customer service for another company. We connected over popular culture and just started talking and he sent me a script when he heard that I’d started a production company. I started a film and television production company. **** Content Production. He sent an Astro-Cons script which had been on the shelf for like five years. I read it; I loved it. I said, “We need to develop this and make it happen.” The first idea was the pitch it to the nets as a serialized 22 minute standard kind of work place Com.
We thought about it and said for that level of spin, it’s gonna cost a bundle to do that. Storyboards, teaser, air flights. Just knocking on doors is expensive. So we decided to take out money and put it towards making the series. Why wait for somebody to green light you when in this world you can green light yourself. So we don’t have a major network platform, but we’ve got YouTube. We’ve got Vimeo and we’ve got our homepage and social media. So it’s really a grassroots DIY effort from Leon to me, to our great cast. Very popular animator. It’s totally punk rock. And Leon’s a punk rocker, so I’m feeling the punk rock vibe right now.
So it’s funny because you say it’s on YouTube, it’s grassroots. But there’s definitely been a really cool emerging market place there for cartoons. Is that also part of it? Saying, hey you know what, there’s already cartoons here.
I think we were inspired by people who came before us, like The Guild. Not necessarily an animated show. Right? I mean, it doesn’t have to be that. There’s another show The Apartment that recently got picked up and they’re now networked and they’ve got a deal. So for us that’s – we believe that if we put it out there, we find the fan base, that no matter where you put it out as long as you have a channel to distribute to people and you connect with an audience it’s great. The guys at The Guild and the guys at Felicia Day ultimately created this with her team and I just…
I just got done talking to Brad Neely, and it’s interesting because three years ago on Super Deluxe – his old school shit like – a lot of people are asking more questions about his old school, grassroots times. Obviously you’ve got his show China, IL which is on Adult Swim and he’s got a big staff now. But goddamn, a lot of people still ask him about grassroots, you know?
Because you’re free to do what you like and I think that’s one of the nice things about this. We talk about – it just opens it up for you. You don’t have somebody sitting over your shoulder saying, “Don’t do that. That’s a little scary for us.” What we did was try and craft the best show that we thought we could. We work on it. We put a lot of effort into it. Its not just grassroots do it yourself; just throw it against the wall and see. It’s like let’s develop this product, let’s find a good partner to animate. Let’s go out there and we did in Bahrcode Productions; Brian Bahr is our animator. He’s done a great job. One of our stars, Jeff Ronan’s wandering by.
Hi Jeff, how are you doing?
Jeff Ronan: Hi.
Ben Friedberg: Jeff is Director Spivack and also Deputy Director Lifshitz. So he’s doing dual time. It’s just an amazing cast.
I like that. You guys are like really like – it’s kinda like you – you guys almost build like a small army here. It’s us against the world type thing.
Look, I think it’s us against ourselves. I don’t want to pit ourselves against – ‘cause really we want to partner with them. Do I think that it would be great to have somebody come to us and say, “We’d love to put you on our network”? Yeah, of course. You know? But what I’m saying is that if you wait for that to happen you do yourself a disservice. You know? Because you never know. It’s such a difficult business to break in to. There’s so few slots. It’s supply and demand. So it’s not really NBC’s fault or CBS’s fault or whatever, TNT. You know? It’s the fact that they have X number of slots and they don’t know us.
So talk about the casting process for Astro-Cons.
Absolutely. So I knew a number of the cast members from other projects that we’d done. Jeff and Amanda Van Nostrand had been amazing for us. Mario Bueno had done some amazing stuff for us before in other projects. So we called a bunch of people in to read. It took about a month to cast the show. We developed the scripts to the place that we wanted them, felt comfortable sending them out. We had some casting conflicts as you would in a show. So we ended up having to recast one or two characters, which caused us to rethink characters and we rewrote parts of the show. And then we went out and found some great guest stars in Abby Holland and Sandy Danto. And rounding out our existing cast is Will Hessler and Taylor Marsh.
So we’ve got this great little – it’s exactly right. We spent two days together filming Kick Starter material and stuff to help us fund season two. We were just all like this is nice; it’s not work. It’s a family. It’s a tight knit group that really cares about the project and wants to move it forward.
Makes sense really. So what are some of your inspirations for the show? Were there other animated shows or live shows that you guys were fans of that helped kind of almost give you the DNA of what Astro-Cons is?
Absolutely. Speaking for Leon, the Life and Times of Tim(Ed. Note See??) was one of the big influences for him. I think…
We’ve interviewed Steve Dildarian.
Yeah, it’s amazing to see where he started and where he’s taken that. It’s really a great thing to see. I think that for me, I like South Park; I like the Simpsons. You know? I grew up on Hanna-Barbera. Those are the things I grew up on. That’s why I think the animation that we bring is most assuredly modern, but it’s modern because it mixes 2D animation with 3D backgrounds. So for us that’s the innovation that we bring. And I think that the Life and Times of Tim innovated and that was one of the first ones to get out there.
That’s insane ‘cause I just told my co-writer, I was just like, “I’m gonna go talk to Astro-Cons.” He’s like, “Oh, who are they?” I was like, “They’re kind of like Life and Times of Tim in space.” That’s exactly what I told him.
I think that’s a fair description and I think we aspire to be like Archer. Like you take Archer and Parks and Rec and you kind of mash us together and that’s what you got. But that’s the elevator pitch.
Right. Makes sense. So what else are you guys working on to – talk a little bit more about your Kick Starter. Some of the projects you guys have been doing and setting up. All that good stuff.
So they’ll be everything from a bit part in the show. So you’ll be able to act with the cast as a guest. We’ll animate you for that roll. We also have in our animation process we’ve got portraits on the wall in most of our rooms and we’ll put somebody on the wall or we’ll take their artwork and put their artwork on one of those portraits and feature it. We also have a roll where we’ll let a musician craft a song for the show…
I love the art. You guys are definitely like if you’re someone who draws we’d like to talk to you. If you’re someone who does music, we’d like to talk to you. That sort of thing
For us, it’s about giving people a look into our world and joining in and collaborating. I think film, television, web-based content, it’s a collaboration. You can’t do it without the actors. You can’t do it without the people who write it. Can’t do it without the people who film it or record it. So truly a collaborative workplace, and so it’s nice to bring more people in to that.
Absolutely. All right, well thank you so much. It was a real honor talking to you guys. Really looking forward to Astro-Cons. Last thing to say to any of our readers?
We just really appreciate any support you could give us. You can find us at www.Astro-Cons.com. We’re also at Twitter with \Astro-Cons. Facebook \Astro-Cons. Basically anywhere on the web \Astro-Cons you can find us. We got a JDate profile. It’s amazing.
Jeff Ronan: A JDate Profile.
Good. ‘Cause you know I am lonely today.
If you’re lonely, check out the Astro-Cons JDate profile. We’ll hook ya up!
That’s great! All right, thanks a lot.
Check out the latest episode of Astro-Cons below!