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Robot Chicken Interview: Director Zeb Wells


Director Zeb Wells talks to ToonBarn about Robot Chicken Season 6

In honor of today’s Robot Chicken Season 6 Release on Blu-ray and DVD, ToonBarn’s Head Writer, Marc Morrell, interviewed the Director for all 20 episodes from Season 6, Zeb Wells. The Blu-Ray and DVD are available for the suggested retail price of $39.98 and $29.98, respectively. Check out ToonBarn’s preview of the Home Video Release of Robot Chicken Season 6 here:
http://www.toonbarn.com/robot-chicken-2/home-video-preview-robot-chicken-season-6

As a special treat, here is a video of one of the scenes from Season 6, where the Thor character is dressed exactly like Zeb Wells was when he made his own video, dressed as Thor, several years ago. You can see clips from Zeb’s video in the Robot Chicken Season 6 DVD Featurette, “Who the F___ is Zeb Wells?”:

Marc: Here we are, talking about Robot Chicken, Season 6, with Director, Zeb Wells. You were Director for all 20 episodes of Season 6, correct?

Zeb: Yes.

Marc: On this Blue-Ray for Robot Chicken, we get to see all 20 episodes from Season 6, with Commentary, several behind-the-scenes featurettes, outtakes, deleted scenes, chicken nuggets, deleted animatics, and deleted channel flips. How do you cram so much stuff on these discs, and are you personally involved with what goes on them?

Zeb: Well, on that, I have to give credit to Matt Senreich. He is the DVD Special Feature Fiend. He is hounding us through the entire season to pack as much stuff as possible onto those DVDs. So, he’s the one who’s always making sure a camera is shoved in the talent’s face, if we’re building special feature packages, the entire season, and he’s just really passionate about it. And it seems like a pain while he’s making us do it, but in the end, it’s always fun to see what we have.

Marc: How does it feel to know you’re always on camera?

Zeb: Well, after a while you just forget about it, because everything goes so crazy at some point. Where, you’re trying to get the show in on schedule, and everything just fades into the background.

Marc: You have your own featurette on these special features, “Who the F___ is Zeb?”

Zeb: Yep, (laughing). That’s right.

Marc: How did that come about?

Zeb: Well, I think that is the question a lot of people were asking themselves this season, on the crew. Because I had been a writer, hiding in the writers room, for seasons 3, 4, and 5, and somehow I got the opportunity to direct this season. And, I have also been writing comic books for awhile. So, we had a few interns who were asking people if they knew who Zeb Wells was, as embarrassing as that sounds to say. And so, Trish Gum, who was putting that package together, decided to make an entire thing about it, to find out just who the ‘F’ I was, and who I thought I was.

Marc: Who was the person that said, ‘I think we should get Zeb to direct this season’?

Zeb: When Matt and Seth left ShadowMachine last season, they started their own studio with Harv and Towner (John Harvatine IV and Eric Towner, Executive Producers), which is called Stoopid Buddy Stoodios, the director of Season 5 went off to co-direct the LEGO Movie. They needed a new director, so I kind of forced my way into getting an interview. I don’t think I was on top of the list, but I think I was able to snow them during the interview. Then, for all I know, there was just no one else around, and I was able to get in there. But, it ended up being super exciting for me and ended up being a great year where I learned alot.

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Marc: As the Director, it’s your job to make sure the scenes are authentic, to the littlest details, is that right?

Zeb: Yes, that’s right.

Marc: On one occasion, you had to go to the store and buy an airplane model, because it had to be a certain type of airplane?

Zeb: Yes (laughing). The set department, the amount of stuff that these guys have to build every week, just to keep the exchanges fed, is absolutely insane. So, we had a “Shirt Tails – Red Tails” mashup that we were doing. They had these really crappy die-cut B-1 bombers that they were going to use, but then they also had a big model, but they said we just don’t have the manpower to build this. My mouth just started watering. I had to get my hands on that model. So, I had to take it home over the weekend, build it, which ended up with me becoming the defacto model builder for the set shop now. I take the models home over the weekend and relax, building a model, and help the set shop out a little bit.

Marc: So, you DID build that model yourself, and did not delegate it to somebody else?

Zeb: I did. (laughing) I was flirting with delegating that, but I decided to take the bullet myself. I did not paint it, though. The wizards painted it themselves.

Marc: After finishing Season 6, you must have had a big season wrap party, right?

Zeb: We have a party every week while we’re shooting. Every Friday, we get around and watch “the weeklies”, which is what we call them. It’s all the footage that has been shot. So, I think by the end of the season, everyone was so exhausted that we just kinda limped off to our homes and called it good. We had a big party for the Robot Chicken DC Comics Special and so, by the end of the season, we were all just partied out.

Marc: You’ve been a comic book writer, and Robot Chicken Writer and Director. Are you doing all this at the same time?

Zeb: Yes, which my wife is about ready to kill me for doing. It is not a very fun way to live your life.

Marc: Do you ever see your focus changing?

Zeb: Yeah, I really did enjoy the directing, so I’d like to pursue that as much as I can. It was very fun. The writing is a very solitary experience, where you’re by yourself, pulling your hair out. In directing, there’s a lot of comaraderie because it’s every man against the show, and you have the deadline to try to get it done. Directing is definitely a more vibrant job, so I want to focus on that.

Marc: So, does that include your new baby, Ubermansion?

Zeb: Yeah, that’s right. Right after Robot Chicken Season 6 wrapped, I went into Directing Ubermansion, so it was really good to have that experience under my belt. And then, we went from that, right into Robot Chicken Season 7, so we just started shooting that this last week.

Marc: Wow!

Zeb: Yeah. It really doesn’t feel like we’ve stopped, so we have a good flow going now. I think it’s going to be a great season.

Marc: Now, was Ubermansion the next gig for Bryan Cranston after Breaking Bad?

Zeb: I think it was. Yeah, I think he recorded that dialog for us right before he was going to shoot the last 8 episodes of Breaking Bad. So, he kind of jammed that in the middle. So, if we get picked up, hopefully, that will be his next project.

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Marc: Season 6 had a lot of guest voice artists that were brought on for these 20 episodes. Were you responsible for bringing in these artists, as Director, or does that just come with the territory?

Zeb: Well, Seth Green does a lot of the casting, and Matt, the other co-creator, they like to bring in the most interesting characters they can. So I usually just sit back and watch the people they bring in. You know, we had Sam Elliott this season.

Marc: I was just going to ask you if Sam Elliot was one of your favorite Season 6 guests.

Zeb: Oh, absolutely! He did a great job on that white wine sketch. What I love about Matt and Seth is they always cast him in a completely ridiculous role. Not only do we have Sam Elliott as the announcer, but then he also plays a Sectar, which is an insect. His line was something like, “Where’s Scopes, he wouldn’t go anywhere without his Tarantula.” The fact that Sam Elliott had to say that and he did it with such nerve was pretty amazing.

Marc: You have The First Ladies of Robot Chicken as a Featurette on the Season 6 DVD. How are Rachel and Jessica working out?

Zeb: They’re doing great. Jessica got sniped from us to do an HBO show, so she wasn’t able to write for us this season, but we miss her dearly. She’s welcome back any time. And Rachel is back for many more episodes this season, and she adds her little terrifying brand of crudeness to the show as we speak.

Marc: Do you have to keep a certain number of writers on the staff, or do you say, “This seems like enough”?

Zeb: No, we have 4 regulars, and we have two rotating slots. We like to keep those slots rotating to keep things fresh. If somebody rises to the top, like Rachel did last season, we’ll bring them on for more cycles than just one. We divide the season into 5 cycles of 4 episodes each. So, we have 4 weeks to write 4 episodes, and the next cycle, we’ll bring in another couple writers.

Marc: Ok, so what can we expect from season 7? Will there be more decapitations?

Zeb: We’re shooting the Christmas episode right now. We already have an Elf decapitation. The reindeer themselves were at fault. So, we’ve done a week of shooting, and we’ve already got one decapitation, and I wouldn’t be shocked if we hit a one-a-week quota on decapitations.

Marc: If you had to say something, as the Director of Robot Chicken, about show creators, Seth Green and Matt Senreich, what would you say?

Zeb: You never know what those two are going to throw at you. They never stop having crazy ideas, and they really, really keep you on your toes. It’s never boring.

Marc: Thank you very much for joining us on ToonBarn. Good luck with Season 7!

Zeb: Thank you, Marc. I really appreciate it.

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I am a Big Fan of all types of animation. Like a lot of things, the cream always rises to the top. My favorites have included Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Rebels, anything Pixar, Phineas and Ferb, Voltron Legendary Defender, and the DC/WB Animated Films. I have a lot of Old School favorites as well, such as Star Blazers, Voltron, Looney Toons, Tom & Jerry, and Scooby Doo.

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