Ian Vertovec is Supervising Colorist at Light Iron, which he co-founded, a Panavision company specialized in dailies, digital intermediate, archival, and data services for projects originated on file-based motion cameras.
With Love, Death + Robots now streaming on Netflix, a few days ago at SXSW I got to sit down with Tim Miller to talk about the NSFW anthology of animated stories he made with David Fincher. If you haven’t seen the trailers, the very cool series features 18 shorts that run between 5-15 minutes in length, are aimed at adults, were done by different teams of filmmakers from around the world, and showcase a variety of styles from traditional 2D to photo-real CGI. In addition, all of the stories are wildly different. You’ve got cyborg bounty hunters, alien spiders, sentient dairy products, werewolf soldiers, robots gone wild, and blood-thirsty demons from hell — to just name a few.
I caught six of the shorts before doing the interview and absolutely loved what I saw. If you’re into cool stories and incredible animation, you absolutely want to check the series out. Love, Death + Robots is now streaming on Netflix.
During the interview, Tim Miller talked about how the series was made, how they’ve been working on it since before Deadpool was released in theaters, how he became friends with David Fincher and why they did this project, and what it was like collaborating with Netflix. Plus, if he has a suggested order for people to watch the series, if he’s ready to tell more stories in some of these worlds, the possibility of a second season, how the budgets were dictated by length and animation style, and so much more.
David Fincher, Jennifer Miller & Tim Miller, Executive Producers
SXSW Film Festival. Austin, TX
(Daniel Boczarski / Getty Images, Zimbio)
Tim Miller and David Fincher aim to scramble and rearrange the face of TV animation with their ambitious Netflix series Love, Death & Robots, which features short, adult tales told in a variety of styles. At SXSW this week, they debuted six of the 18 shorts that went live on Netflix today. These risque shorts ran the gamut of comedy, thriller, crime, sci-fi horror and everything in-between.
This isn’t the first time Fincher has teamed up with Tim Miller. Before Miller achieved fame as director of Deadpool, he owned the Blur animation and VFX studio, and worked as Fincher’s guy for opening title sequences. The two even tried to get an animated adaptation of Eric Powell‘s The Goon off the ground 10 years ago.
In this chat with Tim Miller and his producer and wife Jennifer Miller, we talk about the process of bringing Love, Death & Robots to life, how that could potentially help make their Goon adaptation a reality, as well, and what it was like juggling dozens of directors and production outfits.
I don’t think you and I talked around the time, but I did talk with both David Fincher and Eric Powell when you all were trying to get The Goon off the ground about ten years ago…
Tim: We have not given up. It will happen.
Watching those episodes from Love, Death & Robots last night I couldn’t help but hope that it does well enough for Netflix that maybe they’ll go ahead and finally make Goon a reality. I’d love for this to pave the way to The Goon actually happening.
Tim: I think it will only help, but we haven’t given up on The Goon. Never have, never will. And I think you’ll be happy. Soon. I’m excited about it and I do think all of this helps. It can take a while. I don’t think I’m talking out of school, but the last hiccup was Eric had some older business that needed to be cleared out for lawyers to be happy and stuff. I feel it keenly, like if I was a fan and I would go, “These f***ers took my money and what did they do with it?” We did exactly what we said. We have a whole reel. We spent that money and more of our own besides. We have a full reel for the movie. It’s going to be great. It’s just any movie is a push up hill. For (Love, Death & Robots) David and I tried for 10 years.
Since you tried to get The Goon off the ground you’ve made one of the most successful superhero movies of all time…
Tim: Which also took five years to do as well, but we never gave up. David never gave up. On this show, literally the weekend Deadpool came out, David called and said, “Okay, you’re going to get a little juice off of this and we’re going to use that to combine it with my power and we’re going to push this forward.” The thing that was nice about Deadpool, which David saw, was it was something that everybody said won’t work and then they see it not only works but it works well and there’s a hunger for this kind of material out there. That was the same door we were pushing against with this R-rated animated anthology. So you can see the corollaries, and I think the same thing will be for The Goon. Why not?
That source material is so fun It’s a tragedy that it hasn’t happened yet, but I love that you guys are still pushing forward on it.
Tim: David never gives up and I don’t either. It’s not like I can’t give up because I have so much time invested. I just never stopped liking it. I didn’t get bored with it. Sometimes you just can’t get it done. You hit a wall and you have to find another way around.
Jennifer: I think it’s one of the things that makes you successful. You will walk through a wall to get to that project. I’ve seen you do it. You hang on for years and years. That tenacity is great. You need it, in this business especially.
You’re producing all these different shorts and you also directed one of your own. Did you find that there was much a difference when you were directing versus when you’re producing the other projects? Did you find yourself in any kind of different mindset?
Tim: I don’t think directors make the best producers because it’s hard for you not to go, “Well, how would I do this?” or “I would never do that.” But I do think from running a studio for years, Blur is almost 25. We have a lot of directors doing projects and I’m used to helping them or, I hate this word, but mentoring some of them or just chiming in and with an opinion when I’m asked. I’ve never felt like I had to control everything. I’m not that type of guy. And David is definitely not. I mean, we did the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo opening and David was like, “Tell me I’m the best f***ing client you’ve ever had.” I mean it was his vision for what it was, but as far as like saying “No, do this,” or “Cut out five frames early,” he never said any of that.
In fact, the last review was him saying, “I want to stop by and see it.” And I said, “Oh, why?” He’s like “’cause it’s cool. I just want to come by and see it and I’m in the neighborhood.” That’s the way he was for the whole project. And I try and be that way. On the other hand, Netflix expects us, Blur, as the hub of this whole enterprise to make something great. If we don’t deliver, first David will go, “Dude, what the f***? This sucks.” And then secondly, Netflix will go, “Uhhh…” So we feel a sense of responsibility to make sure it hits a certain level of quality, but I think you can do that without being heavy-handed. Maybe you should ask the other directors. (laughs) We only made two or three people cry during the production.
Jennifer: One of your superpowers is finding excellent talent. You would scour through the Internet and find all these great artists to come work at Blur and now you’re scouring the Internet to find these fantastic new directors. You gave them a lot of latitude and you set them up for success with fantastic stories and it worked. I think that very excellent hiring of talent really just set you up to be able to let go as a director and let them do their job.
Tim: Timing-wise, it worked pretty well for us. When Netflix said go we had a chunk of time before I had to leave and do The Terminator. We got through the entire story selection process. We got through the entire selection of the directors and studios that were doing the work. We got through the initial presentations of here’s what we’d like it to look like and here are our storyboards, and, in some cases, even animatics before I had to say, “See you later!” Terminator was a seven days a week, 24 hours a day enterprise. Jennifer and the production team are involved in all of that as well, so I don’t have to worry about that. Blur can do that without any input from me. It was a really great teamwork approach to the whole thing.
David Fincher & Tim Miller, Executive Producers
SXSW Film Festival. Austin, TX
(Daniel Boczarski / Getty Images, Zimbio)
Steven Spielberg may or may not be marshaling forces against Netflix. The Academy may or may not have awarded Green Book Best Picture as a slight to the streamer’s unanimously praised Roma. A handful of power players in Hollywood still dismiss direct-to-consumer platforms as secondary hubs of entertainment. But they’ll be on the wrong side of history.
Some of cinema’s greatest filmmakers are flocking to the world of streaming, tempted by its deep pockets and creative freedom (hello, Martin Scorsese). Roma didn’t need to win Best Picture for Netflix to make a powerful point about its place in the industry—with an increasingly ambitious library of original shows and films, the service has already become arguably the No. 1 destination for entertainment. Adding directors David Fincher and Tim Miller’s new animated anthology series Love, Death and Robots to the mix just further underlines that fact.
The creative duo, who boast three Academy Award nominations between them, originally viewed the series—a collection of animated short stories that spans various genres including science fiction, fantasy, horror and comedy—as a film. But up against Hollywood’s risk-averse studios, they could never get a firm green light. Enter Netflix, which has emerged as a home for the kind of daring, left-field storytelling we rarely see in mainstream cinema.
“We got a ‘yes’ [from film studios] for a while here, a ‘yes’ for a while there, and then everybody starts on the whole ‘Yeah, but anthology, yeah, but anthology,’ and, you know, ‘Is it going to be confusing?’ And it’s like, why would a buffet be confusing?” Fincher told Observer at SXSW. “Why would it be confusing that you can have fruit or pancakes? Really, streaming services are kind of the perfect place to do something like this, because, you know, these [shorts] are distractions. But they’re really detailed in their execution, and a lot of love and care went into it.”
Netflix offered Fincher and Miller the opportunity—and a ton of freedom—to breathe life into their vision, so it’s easy to see why they ultimately landed there. The partnership helped Love, Death and Robots truly take shape.
David Fincher. SXSW Film Festival. Austin, TX
(Daniel Boczarski / Getty Images, Zimbio)
David Fincher (Patrick Lewis/Starpix for Netflix/REX/Shutterstock, IndieWire)
SXSW: Fincher and Tim Miller talk about their decade-long journey to making the new Netflix animation anthology “Death, Love and Robots.”
The concept of an anthology animated short series, made by different artists from around the world, was a near-impossible pitch for executive producers David Fincher and Tim Miller to sell. Following the SXSW premiere of six of their 18 shorts — which will air on Netflix under the “Love, Death and Robots” banner — the duo revealed they had received countless rejections (though one unnamed studio said yes, before, as Miller described it, “they chickened out”) until the show eventually landed at Netflix.
“It was a very difficult thing to pitch a movie studio because it’s not often we’ll see it with all the credits in the middle,” said Fincher, referring to the fact that the 90-minute program the SXSW audience had just watched included end credits following each of the six shorts. “You want to move on to the next. For a streaming service it’s perfect.”
The idea that the shorts could be different lengths and have no narrative connective tissue was perfect for the on-demand nature of a subscription streaming service. According to Fincher, dating back to “House of Cards” and “Mindhunter,” his conversations with Netflix, including Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos, have been centered around the need to break free of the half-hour and hour-long format.
“We have to get rid of the 22-minute [length of a half-hour show with commercials] and 48-minute [length of an hour-long show with commercials] because there’s this Pavlovian response to this segmentation that to me seems anathema to storytelling,” said Fincher. “You want the story to be as long as it needs to be to be at maximum impact or entertainment value proposition.”
Jesse C. Boyd has graced our screens playing roles such as Frank Janderman in David Fincher’s Mindhunter, the lead role of Jake in Day 5, a Queen’s Ranger in TURN and a wolf in The Walking Dead. We had an in-depth, and really fun conversation, about his childhood in rural North Carolina, his career and roles, upcoming projects, music, his love of hot sauce and lots more besides.
JCB: For Mindhunter I auditioned for it for, I think, a year – it was really long time. I remember I did my first tape when I was at a film festival in Idaho and, I think, while I was there I found out that I got Day 5. Then when I was filming Day 5 season 1 I got my second audition and they added another 8 pages to it. That was just ongoing and ongoing over time until, finally (and I think I was wondering whether it was actually happening) they were like, ‘They want you to come in to the office and do another read.’ I went in for another read. I think that Laray Mayfield (who does the casting) she actually does prefer self-tapes because she wants to weed through and see what she gets. They did just such an incredible job with that casting. When I saw it myself I just thought, ‘Wow! This is just so authentic and good!’ Laray is so talented too. Getting finally into the room you’re like, ‘Don’t screw this up!’
DB: When you were in the room was it just one or two run-throughs, or did she tweak how she wanted you to play it?
JCB: She did tweak. I know she did a version where she wanted it really fast. You’ve got to realise we’ve been doing these auditions over a year and the names are changing and the dialogue changes so you are consistently reframing what you’ve already learned. And then you’re finally going into the room and they’re like, ‘Can you do a fast version?’ (I think they want to see how [actors] can be on their feet, because of the way they filmed that show. When I ended up filming it they had so many different versions that we did of dialogue, I think they wanted to see whether you could handle these quick switches). There was one take that was super-fast and one that was more slowed down.
DB: How did you prep for that role? For who Frank Janderman actually is.
JCB: First of all I [had] spent a lot of time in Pittsburgh which was great (I did work and lots of things there), so that Pittsburghian accent was all around me. Then I just saw Frank as just like so many people that I feel that I already kind of know in life. This ‘nobody-fucking-asked-you’ kind of guy, but also he believes he’s a hotshot. He was accessible to me through so many other people I had met in my life that I know, that I think are really so much about the façade of not showing who they really, truly are – some of that, broken-downness in them.
DB: There’s a long interrogation scene and then a shorter one: how many takes did they do?
JCB: Oh my God! I wish I could tell you! Can I say a million takes? They did that big interrogation scene – we had three cameras running at all times – I think we filmed it for 12 hours the first day (it’s a 9-and-a-half page scene) three cameras, so you’re getting every angle on either side, and you’re doing it over, and over, and over, and over, and over… and just when you’re done, you’re doing it over, and over, and over again. Then I think the next day we went back and did another 6 hours. So it was a really long time of doing which is, I think, what makes it so great. First of all you’re breaking down a lot; you’re coming back; you’re refreshing with new things; you’re constantly finding new things to play with; and also you have so much coverage that when he [David Fincher] chooses what he’s going to put together he really has every colour of the box to paint his picture with.
Jesse C. Boyd (Janet Adamson / JA Images)
Read the other Absolute Music Chat conversations with the Cast of Mindhunter (more to come): Jonathan Groff, Holt McCallany, Cameron Britton, Cotter Smith, Jack Erdie, Adam Zastrow, Alex Morf, Tobias Segal, Thomas Francis Murphy, Chris Dettone.