beyond our local entertainment scene today, I ventured forth to do an
interview with Rooster Teeth Productions, the creators behind the
popular internet machinima series Red vs. Blue!
Using the gaming engine of the incredibly successful Halo video game series, Rooster Teeth has managed to take both film making and fan appreciation to new levels. All while doing nothing more than making jokes over a shoot-em-up. The company has done several series, commercials, become integrated in gaming culture, and even paid a visit to Sundance back in 2005 for a machinima panel. Not to mention bringing back Red vs. Blue for a brand new series this past May. Because of their busy schedules (and location factoring in just a bit), we had to do the whole interview via email. And after a heavy drinking contest over the holiday weekend, Jason Saldana (the first to pass out) was “chosen” to chat with me. Why he did it wearing a saddle on his back is a question I decided to pass on. Or as Tucker would say, “It looked like they rode him pretty hard. Bow Chicka Ow-Wow!”
Gavin: Hey Jason, thanks for chatting with me. First off, tell everyone who you are a little about yourself.
Jason: My name is Jason Saldana and I'm one of the producers of Red vs. Blue, as well as the voice of the character Tucker.
Gavin: To start things off, for people who don't know, tell us about Rooster Teeth.
Jason: We are a small video production company in Austin, TX. We accidentally started the company 5 years ago in a spare bedroom, and now I'm typing this from the cockpit of my very own Boeing 737.
Gavin: Before Rooster Teeth even began, Matt and Burnie and Joel were all independent filmmakers and even made a film to take around to festivals. What got them started into doing that, and what would you say were the highs and lows during that time.
Jason: I speak for all three of them when I say there were only lows. The few "high" moments would have come from actually getting high. You should try to watch their movie The Schedule. You'd have to smoke something to get through that.
Gavin: A couple of them went to Los Angeles after that. What was that experience like trying to break into acting and film making professionally?
Jason: The fact that they both moved back to Austin to work in a spare bedroom should speak volumes about their Hollywood experiences. I'm half joking. Matt did visual effects for a bunch of blockbusters such as Driven and Scooby Doo, and Joel almost won an Emmy for his work as a body double on Angel.
Gavin: I read Bernie stayed behind and became a part of the old DrunkGamers website. How did that come about and what was some of the material he wrote for the site?
Jason: Geoff and Gus started Drunkgamers after their prior web venture, UglyInternet, had them deluged with death threats. Geoff and Gus are both hilarious, but they write like children and that's where Burnie comes into the picture. My favorite Burnie-scribed article is the "interview" with his wife, but his most popular contribution had to have been the Apple Switch Parody.
Gavin: What lead to the website's demise?
Jason: Stubbornness and immaturity.
Gavin: Fair enough. So, there's not really a lot written about how Rooster Teeth started, other than an extensive description behind the meaning of the name. When did you decide to start a production company and what was the process like to getting it up and running?
Jason: When Burnie came up with the idea to make the first Red vs. Blue videos, he needed help and enlisted a few of us. We would go over to his house on Wednesday and Thursday nights after work and stay up until five in the morning. When it got to the point where we were doing this full-time, Burnie's wife kicked us out of the house and that's when we started operating like a more traditional company.
Gavin: Was it easy considering the films you intended to make, or was it difficult since it didn't fall under the standard idea of a production company?
Jason: I think it would have been much more difficult without the internet - if we were relying on someone else for distribution. Since we produce, release and sell it all ourselves, there's not really a facet of our business model that is out of our control.
Gavin: What was it like in the early days of writing and production for Red vs. Blue?
Jason: It was kind of like summer vacation. Late nights. Lots of soda, pizza and candy. Fart jokes.
Gavin: When it was finally out, what was the initial reception (both good and bad) from early fans of it, and what were your thoughts on the final product during Season 1?
Jason: We were shocked by how quickly people saw it. It was linked on Fark and Slashdot, and that was a huge boost. The reaction was almost entirely positive, which definitely helped convince us to keep working those late nights. We were a little scared of Microsoft and Bungie seeing it, but they've both been really great since day one. I think we were all really excited about the final product at the end of Season 1. It was a good feeling to get that first DVD back from the manufacturer and hold the physical evidence in our hands. It was an even better feeling when people started buying it.
Gavin: Was the reasoning behind having all of you do the voices because you all wanted in on it, or because you didn't want to go through the process of hiring voice actors?
Jason: A little of both. Any filmmaker on a budget will tell you that you have to use whets accessible to you, and that's what we did.
Gavin: Did the decision to bring others in for more characters come out of necessity for story, or because you had more people you wanted to include?
Jason: Mostly out of necessity for the story, but there are a few small roles that we filled with friends just for fun.
Gavin: When RVB finally came to an end (or at least the end of that series), did you feel like it had run its course at that point, or were you simply looking for a decent way to have it come to an end?
Jason: It was approaching 11 hours in length, and Episode 100 seemed like a nice number for a stopping point.
Gavin: Around the beginning of Season 3 you started The Strangerhood. Where did the idea for that series come from?
Jason: Electronic Arts asked us if we'd be interested in making a show using The Sims and it seemed like a good idea. We came up with a bunch of storylines, and picked the one that best lent itself to the game.
Gavin: Was it harder or easier for you to adapt The Sims engine compared to what you did with the Halo series?
Jason: The Sims was much more challenging to use. With Halo, you have absolute control of the characters. In The Sims, you have to tell the characters what to do and hope they do it. Sometimes if you make them do the same task over and over, they will actually go crazy and just go sit in the corner. You'd have to kill them, remake them, and then move them back into the house.
Gavin: That one only went seventeen episodes over a period of eighteen months. Why the long pauses between episodes, and why such an abrupt end?
Jason: We were still making Red vs. Blue episodes the entire time, so the challenges with the engine and limited resources put us at about an episode a month. Our plan was always just to do one season.
Gavin: Do you ever wish you could go back and do more with Strangerhood, or are you good with the way it ended?
Jason: I'm good with the way it ended. The Sims is a really fun game to play, but it’s fairly hard to use for machinima - at least at the pace we like to work at.
Gavin: Some fans have complained that short series like P.A.N.I.C.S. and 1-800-MAGIC are great concepts that still have some life in them. Were they simply meant to be short-live shows, or was it more that you had a good idea at the time but didn't have enough material to keep it going?
Jason: Both of them were commissioned pieces and were always meant to be short-lived.
Gavin: Would you ever consider going back and doing more with either one, or do you feel it's best to leave them as they are?
Jason: We are all big fans of P.A.N.I.C.S. and 1-800-MAGIC, but I'm not sure that either of them will ever come back.
Gavin: Going back to RVB, you started up a new series for it called Reconstruction. Was there a formal decision to come back and do a new series, or was it based out of fan pressure asking for more?
Jason: It was a very formal decision, but that doesn't mean the fan pressure didn't exist. Some of these kids have gotten really attached to the show over the past five years and were very adamant about its return.
Gavin: You almost start from scratch with all the characters separated, and the Recovery One spinoff brought into the mix. Do you feel like you might alienate newer fans who aren't aware of all the back story, or do you think they'll be able to enjoy it on their own without seeing any of the previous work?
Jason: One of our goals with this series is to make it accessible to new fans. So far we've had a pretty good response.
Gavin: The storyline seems more planned out and focused than the original. Was that a conscientious choice, or did the time off give you more opportunity to put planning into it?
Jason: It’s pretty deliberate and intentional.
Gavin: Do you intend to make this a long-running series like RVB was before; is this a one-time season, or do you just not know yet?
Jason: I think the plan right now is just to keep it at one season, but I almost don't want to say that. The Blood Gulch Chronicles was supposed to be six episodes, and it went 100.
Gavin: So what's your opinion on machinima as an art form and how it's grown to what it is today?
Jason: I am a fan of any tool that allows you to work quickly and with a small group of people.
Gavin: Anything about it you don't like or wish would change?
Jason: Having more camera tools built into the game would be the biggest help.
Gavin: What do you feel could be done to make machinima as a whole bigger or better than what it is now?
Jason: Explosions, fireworks, chase scenes and nudity.
Gavin: In your opinion if you had to pick (besides your own work), what's some of the best machinima series out there right now?
Jason: My favorite thing recently has to be the Portal machinima, A Day in the Life of a Turret, by Smooth Few Films -- the guys who make Leet World, which is also really good.
Gavin: Now that you've become a success with all these series and have built that reputation for putting out a good product, have you ever thought of getting into traditional film making or acting, or do you prefer sticking with machinima because it's brought you so far?
Jason: We don't have any plans to abandon machinima, but we do have a few ideas for some live action pieces that I think we'll attempt to produce in the near future.
Gavin: Just offhand, have you thought about doing any other commercials, or did the Madden 07' experience ruin that idea for you?
Jason: We did a whole slew of commercials for EA's '07 and '08 sports titles, and just last week we wrapped up two Gamestop spots. The commercial work is pretty fun, and we don't have any plans to stop.
Gavin: Are there any new projects on the way from Rooster Teeth, or is the main focus Reconstruction right now?
Jason: Reconstruction is definitely the main focus right now. There are a few new things in the works, but nothing I can speak too specifically about right now.
Gavin: Is there anything you'd like to plug?
Jason: Yes. Christmas in July. Its all the rage right now. The Red vs. Blue box set just happens to make the perfect gift.