Friday, March 9, 2012

Creating South Park

by Amy K. Bredemeyer

With South Park coming back next week, I thought we'd take a look at a documentary special that aired last fall about the show, which is about to enter its sixteenth season. I thought that it was very informative and pretty interesting, though I would have made it longer - there's so much more that they could have talked about and looked at! For regular viewers of the show, it can be pretty funny to see just how fast they can air an episode that focuses on the latest and greatest in popular culture. It's not always the best thing ever, but certainly nobody else is bringing it up this quickly. (Unless you want to count late-night television, which I don't.) Regular watchers also know that Matt Stone and Trey Parker are responsible for EVERY episode that airs - what other show on television has 200+ episodes that can be attributed to the same two folks?? Yes, the show can be pretty crude at times, and is certainly not for the younger demographic, but it's still pretty impressive. If you didn't know why, keep reading.

The Making of South Park: 6 Days to Air:
The opening includes the following wording, "The animated series South Park has one of the most ambitious schedules in broadcast television... each episode is written, recorded, animated and delivered in just six days." [can you imagine? I mean, seriously. That's a pretty tough schedule to keep for two months straight, twice a year!] Because this special will focus on the week before the "Human Centipad" episode airs, we get some info on what Matt Stone and Trey Parker have been up to. Well (in footage from March 2011 in New York City), our South Park writers were at Book of Mormon, their Broadway musical, as it was about to open. [and, while I haven't seen it, the soundtrack is amazing!!] There's only a two week window before South Park cranks up again, so it's a rough time!

We learn some general facts, too, like how most studios have a storyboard department, a background design, a character design, etc., but everyone here does all of that in 1/10 the time... so instead of 8-10 months, they do it in 6 days. [impressed yet?] Then, some background on the guys - before South Park, they were sharing a studio apartment and sleeping on dirty clothes. [sounds like everyone trying to make it in show business, right?!?] When they created Spirit of Christmas, the video Christmas card that introduced that South Park kids, they didn't put their names on it, so all kinds of other people were claiming to be behind it... and were getting directing and commercial jobs because of it. [I wonder how
photo by: Michael Yarish
those guys are doing now!] So, because the video seemed to be a success to a certain degree, they decided to pitch the kids as a show to FOX, making big construction paper heads and whatnot... but "kids" didn't sell, they were told that "families" sell. [I guess. FOX still kinda has that mentality, I think.] So, they went to Comedy Central. It took 2-3 hours to do the lip syncing for a single shot for the pilot... in the end, it ate up an entire summer. [OMG. I guess you just suck it and say you've got nothing to lose??] We get some more background about how the style comes from Trey's love of Monty Python and the comedy comes from the crudeness of animation. As technology got better and better, they have been able to do shows quicker - they got to two weeks, then ten days, then seven. In the beginning, they utilized $30,000 specialized software, but now they have off-the-shelf stuff (they draw with Corel, for instance). And, along the way, they've had plenty of adventures. In 2000, Parker was nominated for an Academy Award while Stone was not... so Stone went as Parker's date. They did sugar cubes of LSD on the way there and wore dresses to the event... they wouldn't address their attire and weren't thrilled about sitting through the Oscars, but hey! They were there! [I didn't watch South Park OR care about the Oscars then, so I have no recollection of any of the craziness on-camera, though I bet it's out there on the internet.]

Then, we begin looking at what's involved in the week leading up to the season premiere. When Matt Stone and Trey Parker return to South Park for the beginning of the sixteenth season, they gather with others in the writer's room to begin brainstorming on what they'll write about for the upcoming seven episodes. They come up with tons of not-so-good ideas, like tsunami stuff and movie trailers that make you feel stupid. [made me laugh anyway!]
5 days to air: They try to come up with a schedule to come up with something. [seriously.] They talk about how they have to agree to iTunes updates all the time, and come up with a joke regarding how everyone reads it except Kyle. Throw in a parody of Human Centipede and they're drawing a three-person hook-up of sorts on a whiteboard.

3 days, 12 hours to air: They think about using a celebrity Oscar nominee as the third person in the human centipede.
2 days, 10 hours to air
: They tend to have too many ingredients for the first show of a batch, so they're really focusing on filling in the blanks. They're already at 28 pages and there's still 5 scenes to write, and each is about a minute long. Since this look like it'll hit 40 pages, they know there will need to be some re-writes in order to make things happen faster. Basically, you change your "ands" to "buts" or "therefores," like making "this happens and this happens and this happens" into "this happens but this happens therefore this happens." They give Standards and Practices an idea of the story, what'll be shown, and what'll be said, including words like pu$$y, f*ck!ng, etc. Sometimes they're told to change things, but it's amazing what you can get away with now... "Human Centipad" never would have made it to air back in season 2. 
2 days to air: They eat McDonald's, build Star Wars toys, and talk about how the writing part is so lonely and sad... it's hated and everyone waits on it. [funny, though anyone in any type of writing/publishing arena knows how this can be!]
36 hours to air: They're a only minute short and have 4 scenes to write, so there have to be some serious cuts. It's a bummer to have to cut funny stuff! Matt feels down on Sunday or Monday, and Trey "gets it" on Tuesday.
12 hours to air: They always feel like they wish they could have had more time. They would spend 4 weeks on a show if they second-guessed themselves an episode that would be about 5% better. They finish at 7:29am... sometimes they finish at 5am, sometimes 9 or 10am. Trey will feel like it's the worst episode they've ever done, and will see it as twisted later.[weird, huh? kind of like all of the last-minute essays you wrote in college?]
5 hours to air: Final Output. 
4 hours to air: Satellite Delivery to Comedy Central in NYC. [done! and about to do it again...]
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