As we zeroed in on how Frederator Films would approach animated feature filmmaking (D’oh! Put the talent first, the same way we did in TV!) I started hanging with the best talent we knew. And, at the head of the list was Genndy Tartakovsky.
That was a pretty easy decision. I was president of Hanna-Barbera when Genndy came to the studio as a key member of Donovan Cook’s 2 Stupid Dogs team. I greenlit his first Dexter’s Laboratory short, and he delivered one of the great cartoons in recent history. Then there was the DL series, also one of the greats. Samurai Jack and Clone Wars were after my time, but I watched Genndy grow as a filmmaker from afar, and I remembered Genndy as one of the best people I’d worked with in my entire career. Talented, smart, dedicated, relentless, amazing leader, moral, and fun. What a rare guy.
I set up the lunch with no expectations. After all, Genndy had just come out of a multi-year relationship with George Lucas, and had set up The Orphanage Animation Studios to develop his own feature films; what could Frederator offer him at this point? But, on the way I realized there was an opportunity. I immediately called Jim Samples, then-President of Cartoon Network, and right away he agreed to a first in the network’s history, granting of rights to an independent production company. They would grant Frederator Studios the animated movie rights to the hit TV series Samurai Jack, as long as we agreed that Genndy would be intimately involved. Agree?!!! How else could we be interested?
Genndy was thrilled when I delivered the news. He’d been disappointed that CN and New Line Cinema had abandoned the project (both animated and live action films) and felt he’d let his fans down. Here was the chance to finish what he’d started, and reclaim a special set of characters he’d created.
Without going into all the details, the deals took forever (forever!) to close (in fact, some of them still have dangling participles) and by the time we announced the formation of Frederator Films in June 2007 surprise was awaiting all of us. J.J. Abrams, a huge Jack fan, had agreed to be my co-producer on the picture through his company Bad Robot Productions at Paramount Pictures. We knew that with JJ and his producing partner Bryan Burk we’d be in more than good hands and improve our chances tremendously of actually seeing the movie on the big screens.
After lunch with Genndy, and the success of starting our company with Samurai Jack, our talent approach to animated movies had a prayer. The unanswered question was “what next?”. In fact, that was really about 1000 questions.
(More to come…)