Inside an Animated TV Pilot: Interview with Carl King

Carl King is the mind behind The Oracle of Outer Space, and is starting his new series, That Monster Show. I spoke with him about the creative process behind his animated shows.

(The video above includes an audio performance of this full article by me and King, with a score by King.)

Chris Higgins: Tell me a little about That Monster Show. What is it? Why would somebody watch it? What are you asking for right now?

Carl King: That Monster Show is an animated show pilot — a pilot being the first episode that establishes the story and central characters. It’s when everything changes permanently for them and sets them off on an adventure. Do they have a place to go, or a problem to solve? Did they pee on his f#@!ing rug?

I always thought it was somehow bad to make things that were more accessible — that I needed to be clever and complicated and obscure, and the more underground and confusing the better. No more of that! -Carl King

I go to several comic book/sci-fi/fantasy conventions in Los Angeles. My favorite is Monsterpalooza (and Son of Monsterpalooza). It’s a convention full of sculptors, painters, makeup artists, special effects in the “Monster” genre. It’s a celebration of everything from the original black & white Dracula to more modern stuff like Jurassic World.

Carl King, in his spooky lair.

I’ve been going to the Monsterpalooza shows for a few years now (and exhibiting at them), and I love the people there. It’s a bunch of goth/creative collector types, which I always identified with. I thought, wouldn’t it be great if there was an animated show about this stuff? The era I am most interested in is the 60s, because I grew up watching reruns of TV shows like Twilight Zone, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Munsters. We had a local horror TV host named Dr. Paul Bearer on WTOG 44 that is burned in my memory. People have seriously told me I look like him.

I’m running a Kickstarter campaign to fund a 3-minute version — a self-contained short version of the first episode. $5,000 for the short, and $15,000 for the full episode.

The pitch for “That Monster Show.”

Higgins: What did you learn on your first animated show, The Oracle of Outer Space, that informs what you’re doing with That Monster Show? Give me some specific things you are going to do very differently this time around.

King: Whooee! Oracle was a huge learning experience! There are a couple of specific things.

Poster for “That Monster Show.”

Number One is CLARITY. I spent a couple of years at conventions with a huge poster of The Oracle of Outer Space. And most of the time, people would look at it and not understand what it was. They’d know it has something to do with a cartoon in outer space. After finally asking random people at the 4th or 5th convention, “Do you ever listen to A.M. Radio?” I found out the answer is: “What’s that?” So I’d have to explain what A.M. Radio was!

Needing to explain your poster is a major disadvantage at a convention full of magnificent visuals in every direction. So: there must be clarity in the name of the show, the design of the poster, the logo, the writing, the dialogue, the character design…everything!

Number Two is SERVE THE MANY. This is a bit of a cliché in business philosophy, but it’s true. I spent most of my life making weird stuff full of inside jokes that made me laugh, but failed to connect with a larger audience.

I don’t need to appeal to and please everyone, but having only a few hundred scattered fans is not sustainable.

I always thought it was somehow bad to make things that were more accessible — that I needed to be clever and complicated and obscure, and the more underground and confusing the better. No more of that!

First episode of “The Oracle of Outer Space.”

Higgins: Why are you using crowdfunding to get this thing done?

King: There are two main paths to make an animated project like this.

There’s Path Number One, which is the standard “Industry” path: you write a script, then you go looking for a manager. Try to get an agent, get a meeting or meetings, pitch it, try to get more meetings, go to parties, network, get notes, sell it to a network or streaming service, change it, rewrite it, go to more meetings, start over. This process can take YEARS.

This works well for many people, and I know a few who do this for a living. “Hey, I sold another show.” The scary thing is, most of the time, these shows never make it to broadcast. Or even get a pilot made. Sometimes the scripts are bought up and put on hold. “Development Hell” they call it, I believe. Executives change jobs, and your project can just disappear. It’s a long, collaborative process with many gatekeepers. You have to have a lot of patience and people skills.

Carl King, Joanie Brosas, and Jon Schnepp promoting “The Oracle of Outer Space.” (Brosas and Schnepp were both voice actors on the show.)

Maybe it’s because I grew up playing in punk bands and putting out my own records, but I don’t listen to anyone who tells me I can’t make a cartoon. And that’s mostly what you hear if you try to go the “Industry” path. Suddenly everyone’s an expert. But as William Goldman said, “Nobody knows anything.” I get my work in front of an audience, learn, and improve. I’ve always had the audacity to just go out and make things.

Maybe it’s because I grew up playing in punk bands and putting out my own records, but I don’t listen to anyone who tells me I can’t make a cartoon…. I’ve always had the audacity to just go out and make things. -Carl King

If I’m going to produce it myself, I can either just pay out of my pocket, or I can include the community. While it’s a hell of a lot of work to promote a Kickstarter for 30 days, it’s more fun!

Higgins: You worked with a bunch of voice artists, musicians, actors, animators, etc. on Oracle. That seems like a lot of moving parts. Is the new team for That Monster Show bigger? Smaller? I’m trying to get at how many people it really takes to make animation happen on this scale.

King: Right now, the new team is smaller.

LeeAnna Vamp in a voice acting studio.

At the moment, it’s me, Lance Myers (animator), and two voice actors: LeeAnna Vamp and Joanie Brosas. Mark Borchardt (Coven, The Dundee Project) says he’ll do a bit part. I’ll be casting a few more voice actors in the next couple of weeks. I definitely want a smaller team this time. It was very difficult to coordinate everyone’s schedules on Oracle. On Oracle I think I had something like 10 voice actors, and an additional six voice actors from Kickstarter.

We did a bunch of re-edits and I rewrote a couple of scenes, and it was a problem to get all of those people in front of microphones again. Because of this, I’m going to be more cautious about casting for That Monster Show. Everyone did an amazing job on Oracle, but it was too complicated.

Growing up in Florida was like growing up in a David Lynch movie. In Blue Velvet there was that beautiful green lawn, but the camera zooms in and it’s swarms of nightmarish insects crawling on each other. -Carl King

Higgins: As a fellow former Floridian, I notice that you’ve put your Monster Show cast in Florida. I think your average non-Florida person has some ideas about what Florida might be like (you know, “Florida man wrestles python while selling meth on stolen houseboat; arrested for tax fraud in tanning salon franchise scam”). Can you tell me a little about Florida as a setting, and why you’re using it here?

King: Florida can mean different things, depending on what part you’re in.

Still from “That Monster Show” preview.

Sarasota (an artsy and wealthy coastal city) is a lot different from Arcadia (a redneck town with a rodeo and drug problems), which is different from Miami.

Overall, you have rich white retirees, rednecks, and lots of off-the-grid crazy people like you mention, who are isolated from the rest of then world and out of their minds. The Florida I’m using is basically 1960s Orlando, around the time Disney World might be founded. To the east, there’s NASA, space-age technology. To the west, there’s Lakeland — which is known for having lots of churches!

The version of Florida I’m using is not historically accurate, but it’s a fun mix of tension and adversaries. And what worse place could a bunch of Goth monsters end up, than surrounded by golf courses, churches, and beaches?