Catching Up With Venture Bros. Creators Jackson Publick and Doc Hammer

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Season four of The Venture Bros. ended in November of 2010, and while the writing/producing/directing duo Jackson Publick (Christopher McCulloch) and Doc Hammer (Eric Hammer) have released two specials of the show to tide fans over, the anticipation for the show’s real return has been huge. We spoke to the pair about what caused the hiatus, where their Shallow Gravy special came from, and how Brock Samson ended up as a character in Telltale Games’ Poker Night 2.

Paste: Three years is an awfully long time between television seasons. How did that end up happening?
Jackson Publick: It wasn’t three years! This gets longer every time we talk to somebody. It started as two, then it was two and a half, now people are saying it’s three as if there aren’t five months between June and November.
Doc Hammer: As if we’d never made a Shallow Gravy special and a Halloween special, also. Those things exist.
Publick: It’s been about two and a half years since a season proper, certainly. But I don’t know, we had a lot of shit to figure out in between. We had to recover, we had to find a new studio, we had to basically build a whole new production and new contracts and everything else. And then it takes something like a year and two or three months to actually make the season, which has been done for a few months already.

Paste: So you two never had much of a break, then, it was just the difficulty of setting up shop with a new studio?
Publick: Yeah, a lot of it was that, and you know we did make that Shallow Gravy thing in between. But we kind of did that while we were working out other details. You know, for about six months we were dicking around with all of that stuff, then we started writing for real and then we started production about a year after.

Paste: Why did you have to move to a new studio in the first place?
Publick: The old one is no longer in business.
Hammer: We were the last production they had.
Publick: So they couldn’t really survive the hiatus

Paste: You always had plans in place with Adult Swim to return, though, right?
Hammer: Do we have a season six? We have a season six.

Paste: That’s not really what I meant, but I’m happy to hear it. So then how did the specials come about, given all the difficulty you had to go through changing studios?
Publick: With the Shallow Gravy thing we—
Hammer: We wrote a hit record!
Publick: We wanted to make a music video and we just thought it was a goofy idea. Some of our best ideas start as these last-minute inspirations, and somebody said yes. In this case, the condition of the yes was that we make it a long enough thing that they could put it on TV, which meant taking a music video and making an 11-minute special out of it. The quickest way we could do that actually was to make it in-house at Titmouse, who we had just started partnering with. So we said sure, it would be fun to do an in-house thing again while we plan for the next season.

Paste: Although this hiatus was longer than normal, Venture has always such a long production cycle. Would you two be interested in working on something that can be made in, say, less than a year for a short season?
Hammer: I don’t know anything that doesn’t require at least a year of production. Jackson’s had looks at doing movies and such, but that’s like three years of production. So everything we would like to do takes a little bit of time, and if it doesn’t, we do it.
Publick: Yeah, I’m slightly envious of things like Saturday Night Live or just journalism or wherever where you can just make something and enjoy it or perform it or whatever in a week. South Park has certainly figured out a crazy way to make their show, but I don’t know that I’d be any good at those things.
Hammer: Yeah we don’t mind crafting.
Publick: It can be grating sometimes, but every part of the process is kind of interesting and is in service of the greater goal of making this thing that can stand the test of time.

Paste: Do you ever feel restricted by working in the same Venture universe for so long?
Hammer: No. The idea of writing for just Hank and Dean has never occurred to us. It’s this giant vast universe with so many different things that the idea of feeling bored or tied down is absurd. In fact, we actually miss the idea of doing something closer, with less characters, rather than using this giant expanded universe we have. That’s one reason why we’ve been on the air for so long, we’ve made something that will accept almost any flight of fancy we’ve had.

Paste: It doesn’t feel like there’s a lot of baggage having so much continuity built into the show?
Hammer: …sometimes? I never feel a sense of baggage, but it’s a big universe to write for, and I think most of my problems come from not being able to touch every aspect of it. It’s the opposite of baggage; it’s having packed everything you love and then needing enough time to unpack specific things, while in the bag are wonderful things that you want to unpack. Good luggage!

Paste: Have you ever had trouble keeping the details straight? Have you needed to re-watch old episodes for research?
Hammer: Spend a year and a half making something and you’ll remember most of the details.
Publick: Also, I don’t know, if something doesn’t stick in our minds, if something isn’t memorable, then it’s probably not a ball we will pick up again. Every now and then I’ll skim through an old script to get like an exact date, or something like that, if we’re dealing with something that involves continuity, but I can’t watch these things again. Doc, you just watched like all of them didn’t you?
Hammer: I did that because I was doing that retrospective thing where 21 tells VentureLore. I sat back and watched all of the episodes and… it’s really excruciating. In one respect you forget how good some of them are, but in another respect you’re focusing on animation and timing and stuff like that and you can’t enjoy it.
Publick: Yeah it’s harder for the director in me to enjoy them than the writer. The writer in me goes, “Oh that’s a pretty funny joke” or, “Oh I don’t even remember making that.” But the director goes, “Oh this timing is awful.”

Paste: Given the change in studios, have you two changed the way Venture gets made?
Hammer: Since we went to Titmouse we’ve restructured how we actually make the show. We’ve brought in new ideas that are a service to us and got rid of old ideas that were a disservice. But as far as writing goes, it’s very similar to the way we first started.
Publick: Yeah that’s all pretty much the same. We maybe communicate more than we used to. We got a big board and we plan ahead a little more than we used to. But other than that, everything’s pretty much the same, just things improved on the production side as we figured out the right amount of people for the staff on certain jobs, getting the right people for those jobs, getting the money in one place and not wasting it in another, using different software, and me just going, “Hey we’ve gotta get a guy to do X, because it’s killing me to stay up all night and do X.”

Paste: What’s your relationship with Adult Swim like?
Jackson Publick: We send them all our scripts, you know. We haven’t really gotten critical or executive notes in a long time. Sometimes we get something that’s kind of like, “Hey, we think you guys are going in one direction…” or “I’m a little worried about this thing, but I know you’ll work it out in the finished animation.” They’ve given us a long leash and they’ve trusted us and that’s great, and I think it’s worked out for everybody.

Paste: Considering how proprietary you two seem to be about your material, I was surprised to see Brock Samson appear as one of the players in Poker Night 2. How did that happen?
Hammer: It just did, didn’t it?
Publick: Haha, yeah. They contacted Adult Swim and said, “We want to do this thing.” And it doesn’t step on our toes, it just kind of… it’s almost like fan fiction, it’s kind of their way of saying we love your character, we want him to hang out with these other characters. It’s not like we let them write an episode or make a movie or something like that, it’s just Brock being Brock. They got Patrick Warburton to play him, and they ran the script of everything he had to say by us, so it was all fine. I was happy to see how well they embraced his voice, and I also knew that Warburton would tune it correctly.

Paste: You two have written every episode of the show, aside contributions by The Tick creator Ben Edlund in seasons one and two. Is season five just you?
Hammer: Yeah.
Publick: Yeah. Ben remains our friend and confidant, so I’ll still bounce ideas off of him once in a while, but it’s just been the two of us for 99.9 percent of this one.
Hammer: You don’t mess with magic, my friend.