Hello, Spongey here.
It’s safe to say that as of 2016, I’ve done a lot of things I thought I’d never do. I created a review blog that has received decent views, I’ve had various actual professional people view some of my work and I’ve done actual work for semi- professional video reviewers.
I’ve actually done a lot of things I’ve only dreamed of doing, but obviously a few things remain on my dream list. After I saw my internet friend, Ryan (the one behind the Oogiloves review), interview Aliki Theofilopoulos, it’s become a bit of a dream of mine to interview a real professional person from an industry in which I’m interested in working.
The only problem with many of these interviews I’ve read, though, is, due to time constraints, they can never ask all the questions I would have always wanted to ask. I wanted to be in a situation where I can just ask EVEYRTHING instead of just being bound to the same old small, superficial stuff. My dream was to go DEEP. Wear the hat of a professional journalist and ALSO a huge fan. But that could never happen, could it?
Wait, you read the title, so you know where this is going.
For the last few years, through instant messaging, web forum comments and then emails, I’ve developed a friendly relationship with one of the top writers in television animation. I posed my quandary to him and, being the busy guy he is, generously agreed to sit down with me and let the questions fly. So, now, without further ado, my interview subject:
Ladies and gentlemen, Jon Colton Barry!
That’s right, Jon Colton Barry, one of the main writers (and one of my favorites) on Disney’s “Phineas and Ferb,” and, most recently, the head writer/story editor on Warner Brothers’ “Be Cool, Scooby-Doo!,” the latest animated televised entry in the 46 year-old franchise, which was divisive until th internet moved on to hating Pixels or whatever,.
Either way, it’s alrighrt, give it a shot, maybe.
Our relationship actually began when, as luck would have it, he left a comment on a few of my posts, most notably on my review for the “Phineas and Ferb: Across the 2nd Dimension” movie (which he wrote along with “Phineas” creators Dan Povenmire and Swampy Marsh). He was pleased with what I had to say about his work, and I thought I would take the chance and ask him to do a little something with me. And holy crap, he agreed. So, as Phineas would say, “I know what we’re gonna do today: interview Jon Colton Barry!”
So..Hi, Jon! Thanks so much for doing this!
Hi, Spongey! It’s an absolute pleasure to be here. Sorry Ryan got Aliki before you were able to and you got stuck with me. I am a quarter Greek, however. That has to count for something.
Now, you may be skeptical and wonder if this is actually him. Well, I’m not quite sure how to prove it, so I just asked him to send in some pictures. So here is one, and the emails it came in with some of the detail blacked out for security reasons.
Oh, I conveniently found an area where the actual email is not given, so I did not to black out things. Nice. If that’s not good enough, you can always check his actual twitter where he will no doubt be mentioning this.
With that said, let’s finally begin.
This, is An Interview with Jon Colton Barry
(My questions shall be bold, and Jon will be normal. Let us begin!
Hi, Jon! Thanks so much for doing this. You ready?
Not at all! What’s going on? Where am I? No, seriously, you’re really concerned that people won’t believe you actually got an interview with “Jon Colton Barry”? You need to prove it? Who would make something like that up? Jimmy Kimmel isn’t exactly banging down my door (I had a key made for him).
Haha. Well, it’s a big deal to me. Plus, I’m not exactly known as being “trusworthy”, as the kids say. Your work has meant a lot to a lot of people. It’s really an honor to have an actual professional person from something I love here. Just so you know, by the way, my goal here is to go into as much detail as possible. Leave no stone unturned. I am very much interested in the process. Are you okay with that?
It depends on the question, I guess. If the topic moves into ornithology, I’ll be fairly useless, detail-wise.
Shoot. There goes questions 4 through 16! Oh well. Might as well start with the obvious one: How did you get your start?
Well, I started working as a professional commercial artist in 6th grade and went on to major in fine art at UCLA. I never particularly enjoyed art as much as writing and music, though, and I spent most of my 20’s as a singer/songwriter fronting bands, as well as working freelance as a writer, screenwriter, story editor, ghostwriter and script doctor.
I also spent a lot of time honing my comedic voice writing and directing for the stage, which I would highly recommend to any writer. Around this time, my old friend Dan Povenmire had seen a comedy stage show I wrote called “Play Things” and thought I would be a good fit for a new animated show he had sold to Disney called “Phineas and Ferb.”
Fortunately, my years of working in different creative mediums like art, songwriting, screenwriting and sketch comedy all came in handy on a show like “Phineas.” I was very lucky to get on a hit show and to work for Dan and Swampy. Career-wise, they gave me my real “start.”
Another obvious question: When you were young, did you imagine yourself being where you are now?
I still don’t imagine myself being where I am now.
Apparently you are son of famed Rock & Roll Hall of Fame songwriter Jeff Barry. Now that’s cool. Got any interesting stories or insights related to growing up with a famous, successful songwriting father?
I have a great relationship with my father. He’s untouchable when it comes to writing commercial pop songs. I’ve learned so much about the craft of songwriting from him, although our tastes in music are very different. The main insight I’ve learned is that comedy writing and songwriting are the same. It’s all rhythm, melody and lyrics. He is actually extremely creatively talented in many mediums apart from just songwriting. We talk about ideas for television shows, movies, stage shows, musicals, everything. He’s also an inventor! He studied engineering in college. We share a very balanced left brain/right brain kind of approach to creativity.
You were a writer on the Phineas and Ferb TV Movie, “Across the 2nd Dimension.” How did you end up being the main writer on that as opposed to the other people that could have been picked to help write it?
Well, all of the writers and storyboard/writers on “Phineas and Ferb” has a hand in writing “P&F:AT2D.” I was asked to write a detailed outline of the main story first, and then we divided the outline up and the board teams each took a section and wrote and boarded it as they would any regular episode. We put everything together and then did a few passes on it to keep it cohesive and make sure all the story and character arcs were tracking.
I’m not sure why they chose me to do it (you’d have to ask them), but it could be because, at that time, Dan and Swampy liked some of the longer episodes I had written, like “Meap” and the Christmas Vacation Special, and wanted to make sure the whole movie held together with a particular, coherent sensibility and attitude.
Honestly, the writing should have been credited up front to the entire writing and storyboarding staff. We all wrote that movie together, which is why it’s so good.
It’s no secret that “Nerds of a Feather” happens to be my favorite Phineas and Ferb episode. Got any stories about the production of that episode, and what it was like to parody fan wars and the like?
JCB: Thank you! You have wonderful taste in television – plus you’re a snappy dresser and you smell like flowers. I wrote that with my main writing/storyboarding partner for years on “Phineas”- the great Piero Piluso. We had written a bunch of episodes of which I’m really proud and Dan and Swampy pretty much left us alone to just do our thing, which was incredible. Piero and I had a LOT of creative freedom.
In terms of parodying that particular subject matter, there was great love and affection in it. We’re all fanboys and fangirls of SOMETHING. Everybody is. We wanted to show how strong and real the feelings of childhood are in terms of our connections to these kinds of things, movies, music, etc – they become part of our identity – our tribe. I believe it stays with you, stays a part of who you are and who you become.
Here’s THE story connected with “Nerds” at which Piero and I still marvel: Piero and I started working on the episode from a rough outline I wrote. We decided we didn’t like the Doof story, so we changed it, but didn’t tell anyone, which is a pretty big risk, especially since what we decided to do instead was so radical.
Normally, there are 2 or 3 pitches of an episode as a work in progress so Dan and Swampy and the directors can give notes and make adjustments, but they didn’t actually see ANYTHING until we finished the whole episode.
I remember Piero and pitching the storyboard up on the wall and getting to the Doof and Perry part (“Doof n Puss”) and, out of nowhere, it turns into this strange 80’s buddy cop show.
Dan and Swampy had no idea where this was going and were laughing, “WTF is this?” We were like, “Just go with us here…” So we get through the whole thing and they see pretty much exactly what you know as the episode for the first time, all at once, completed.
When we finished they looked at each other and got up and went into Swampy’s office to talk for about a minute by themselves and then came out and said something a hired creative person never hears in their entire career. They said, “DON’T CHANGE ANYTHING.” We didn’t get ONE note on that episode. We were stunned. That was the first and last time I’ve had that pleasure.
We’ve just come out of the holiday season, so let’s discuss the “Phineas” Christmas special you wrote. How were you able to help juggle all the plots and themes in that episode?
JCB: It was hard. But, again, that was how Piero and I approached what we did: we felt it was only worth doing if we could create a modern day Christmas classic that was totally original and could stand up with Grinch and Charlie Brown and be something this generation would watch every year for the rest of their lives.
I mean, that’s what we shot for, at least. I think we got pretty close to accomplishing much of that and you CAN’T accomplish anything even close to that if you take the easy way out. We knuckled down and did the work.
Disney actually wanted a 22-minute Christmas episode and we turned in an hour long special because we felt it was RIGHT. They kinda freaked out, but Dan and Swampy generously backed us up on it and Disney finally agreed to compromise with 45 minutes.
When Disney finally saw the completed version they said, “Wow, that’s GREAT! Can we make it an hour?” We were like, “NO!” It’s too late now!”
So, there’s actually another 15 minutes Piero and I created for that episode that no one’s ever seen. Honestly, I think if we’d been able to have the full hour episode, it would have been perfect. It’s better than it should be for having to cut 15 minutes, however.
Any hints as what those missing 15 minutes contain?
JCB: Haha. I don’t actually remember everything that was there, but there was a scene at the mall where we discover the North Pole has hidden cameras listening in to what all the kids tell the department store Santas they want.
There’s also the “What Does He Want?” song from Candace that was cut. We had to sew up some holes made by the edits, so, story-wise, all the ideas are still there. Mostly, there were just a lot of fun dialogue lines that were heartbreaking to let go. There was much more of Doof complaining about his “burning indifference” to Christmas that I was sad to lose, in particular.
What do you think you bring to the show that other writers may not?
The only thing I bring to any show that other writers don’t is my particular sensibility as a writer. But that’s what all writers hopefully bring to everything they do.
What are some of your favorite P&F Episodes, including ones you didn’t work on?
I like “Christmas Vacation” and “Across the Second Dimension” for things that came out better than expected.
As for episodes I didn’t work on, it’s more moments and scenes I respond to. Anything Aliki, Mathot, Kim, Kaz, Mike Roth or Diederich work on will have stuff in them that puts me on the floor. “Phineas” had such a brilliant creative team.
What are some of your favorite Phineas and Ferb songs, once again including ones you didn’t write?
I actually prefer a few of my original demos to the finished song versions like “Aglet” and “Evil Love Song” – but I still love the final versions.
When Dan and I met we were both in bands and have slightly different tastes in music. He has a more commercial, blues-based sense of songs and I prefer songs that challenge the ear a little more – a little more “alternative.”
The creative friction and the collaboration between Dan and I created some extraordinary work that neither of us would have come up with on our own.
He gave me remarkable freedom, so I do not begrudge him the few times he stepped in and said he’d prefer something a different way – usually more commercial sounding.
Usually it’s never a case of “better” or “worse” – just different. Either way, you can rarely go wrong trusting Dan Povenmire’s instincts. In terms of songs I didn’t write, there are a bunch that are great. I love “Summer Belongs To You” and the Phineas Theme song.
Are there any episodes that you felt could have been better in any way?
JCB: Well, all of them, of course.
Well, I was really asking if you don’t care for any episodes you had a hand in, or thought you made some mistakes and the like.
Not really. I’m pretty happy with my work on the show and the episodes I was involved with.
In terms of “mistakes” in general, as I mentioned, I think the Christmas special should have been made in its hour-length form.
Piero and I had a HUGE story for the aglet epsidoe that Dan and Swampy thought was just too much. I think “Tip of the Day” came out great, so I can’t say they were wrong, but I would have loved to have seen the “DaVinci Code” kind of story Piero and I wanted to originally do.
I also think the Across The Second Dimension movie should have been a theatrical release and not a TV movie. Other things are just nit-picky things that writers all feel when something is changed from how THEY saw it.
Until it’s MY show and I’m making all the final choices, I have no right to say anyone else made a “mistake.” It’s all subjective.
How did you get to work on “Be Cool, Scooby-Doo!”?
Zac Moncrief, who was a director on “Phineas,” was hired to run the new Scooby series for Warners. Zac hired me to head up the writing. He and I collaborated really well on “Phineas” and felt strongly about the same things, so it seemed like a good idea.
Did you make the decision to make it more comedic, or was that just a studio thing?
No, WB had already decided they wanted the show to be funny after the last Scooby series, which was pretty heavy and scary. The only decision I made was HOW it would be funny, reimagining and developing the characters and comedic tone.
What’s it like to contribute to such a big long running franchise, especially one that’s already done a lot of different things?
It’s a little tricky because EVERYBODY has their own idea what “defines” Scooby Doo, so it’s impossible to please everybody. The good news is that frees you up to just please yourself and make a show you like. That’s all you can do. Trust your gut and create with as much integrity as you’re allowed.
And as an extension, how you deal with reactions from long time fans that may not agree with the concepts in this newest version?
JCB: The biggest issue people seem to have is with the look of the show, which I had nothing to do with. It’s a funny, good show. People who are giving it a chance are really loving it. That’s how I deal with it – ask people to give it a chance. If you liked my stuff on “Phineas,” you’ll like the new Scooby.
What’s your favorite part of working on both “Phineas and Ferb” and “Be Cool, Scooby-Doo!”?
JCB: I like the fact that I was hired by people who literally have only asked me to write like I write and trust my gut. I can take risks and find fun, new things with confidence knowing I have the trust of those in charge. I’ve spent the last ten years writing in my own comedic voice, which is rare.
Who is your favorite Scooby Doo Character, and whose personality on BCSB is the most fun to play with?
I like the new Daphne we’ve created. She’s fun to write and there’s still so much more to explore with her. I think Fred has become my favorite character though. It’s strange because in the past, Fred and Daphne were the most cardboard, one-dimensional characters, but it’s the opposite on our show. Fred and Daphne are real people (to me) now. They have flaws and quirks and I know what they would do in any situation, so it’s really fun to come up with situations for them that bring out the most in their characters and comedy.
Have any Phineas and Ferb references snuck into Be Cool? I swear I’ve noticed at least one or two so far…
Not really. I mentioned the “Angry Corn People” in one episode. Disney owns all the Phineas stuff, so it’s never wise to sneak in anything that would get us in legal trouble. That said, it’s me writing it, so I might put the occasional Easter Egg in a loose way. But saying what they are takes all the fun out of it.
What are some of your favorite Be Cool Episodes so far, and do you have any hints as what to look forward to from that show in the near future?
JThe first season was difficult in terms of just finding the show and transposing my/our comedic voice over such an established property.
I’m really into the character stories, so I enjoyed “Party Like It’s 1889” for the character stuff. I think “Game of Chicken” has a great, silly energy to it. Again, for me, it’s usually more about moments or scenes than episodes.
My favorite episodes are still coming up. We really found the show and how to execute it properly, so it gets better and better and we go. A couple titles to look forward to are “El Bandito,” “The People vs. Fred Jones,” and “Some Fred Time”. Those are my favorites at the moment. I’m deep into writing second season and things start to get pretty fun and insane (in a good way). I can’t wait for people to see what’s coming up.
Have any other shows or movies inspired your writing?
So many. In terms of comedy, I’d say the biggest are Monty Python, Woody Allen and The Marx Brothers. Music is also a big inspiration.
Have any real life experiences leaked into the things you’ve written?
In small ways. Sometimes I drop little things in that are inside jokes or symbolic of things happening around me just to get them out of my system, but rarely in an exclusionary way that wouldn’t be relatable to most people.
I believe you should know what your theme is, what you’re trying to say, when you write. That has to come from somewhere and ,many times, it’s your life, your thoughts, your opinions and experiences. It’s only natural.
That said, many of those things are just starting points or tangents.
You can’t let them derail the point of what you’re doing, which is to tell a good story based on your characters. Personal agendas rarely are well serviced if you’re doing your real job correctly. Particularly in animated shows aimed at younger audiences. I’m not a fan of “wink wink” inside jokes to your friends.
You are also a songwriter on your shows. What’s that like?
For me, songwriting is the most satisfying creative medium. On “Phineas,” I was lucky enough to be able to write songs by myself with a lot of freedom, but the collaborative songwriting was the most fun. It’s been harder to write songs for “Be Cool, Scooby-Doo!” because I’m too busy as the story editor, but I’ve gotten half a dozen or so in there so far. I plan to write more, though. Everything I do has music in it in some way.
P&F songs tend to parody a lot of music styles. Of the ones you helped with, which style was the most fun to work with, and which one was the hardest?
Because my father is one of the best pop song writers of all time, the most fun challenge for me was to write songs like “Queen of Mars,” which are supposed to feel like commercial pop songs. My own taste is more like Tom Waits and Elvis Costello, so it’s always fun to branch into genres I’m not as immersed in.
I think the going to war song in “Nerds of a Feather” was one of the most challenging. I really tried to write a dramatic war chant of a song that felt really heavy, but also was funny. Getting that balance was tricky, but it’s one of my favorites and a great scene.
“Lawn Gnome Beach Party of Terror” features the first real Doofenshmirtz backstory. I seem to recall you saying somewhere giving Doofenshmirtz tragic backstories to motivate his evil schemes was your idea. Is that so, and how that idea come about?
JWell, that was actually my first “Phineas” episode. I wrote it with the brilliant Chris Headrick. We had come up with this silly idea of Doof stealing lawn gnomes and I thought we should give it this overly dramatic backstory in contrast to such a silly evil plan – just something way over the top.
I came up with this absurd backstory scene with Doof having to stand in when his family’s lawn gnome was repossessed. Chris Headrick actually boarded the scene, itself– brilliantly. Dan and Swampy (and Disney) liked it so much they decided that every Doof plan should include a tragic childhood backstory from that point on. I wrote the Gunthar Goatcheese backstory next to add to the “Raging Bully” episode once they decided to go that way.
Are there any other famous Phineas and Ferb concepts you came up with, that we should know about?
None that you should know about, no. Haha. Actually, for good or ill, I was the one who fought to finally get Candace and Jeremy together as a couple because it was getting so boring having them circle each other. Candace was such a crazy character that it seemed much more interesting to explore what she would do IN a relationship and also we could better explore Jeremy, as well.
NOBODY else on the crew seemed to like the idea of getting them together. It was actually supposed to happen in “The Baljeatles,” where they first kiss, but Dan decided to pull it out and out it in the Summer Belongs To You special, which was a good idea.
You’re writing partner was Piero Piluso. What’s he like, and what does he add to your episodes?
Piero Piluso is an absolute genius. It was a great honor to work with him and I don’t think we did any bad work together. He worked harder than anyone I’ve ever seen to make whatever he worked on the BEST it could possibly be.
He never takes the easy way out. He pushed me to raise my game and keep up with him. He drew virtually every frame of every storyboard for our episodes. He’s also a great, great writer.
We broke all our stories together and paced around for hours just to solve one little story problem – just to get it right.
For 2-3 years he was literally never more than 10 feet away from me. I was with him much, MUCH more than my wife. There are simply not enough good things I can say about Piero Piluso. I’m proud of everything we did together and I’d work with him again in a heartbeat. In fact, we’ve been playing around with a few new ideas that are REALLY exciting. There, you just got an exclusive!
Who is your favorite character on Phineas and Ferb?
Piero Piluso. No, seriously, Doofenshmirtz – by a wide margin. I loved writing his dialogue and I loved hearing Dan performing the dialogue. I really think Dan Povenmire’s Doofenshmirtz is one of the great comedic performances of all time and writing for him was one of the most satisfying creative experiences I’ve ever had. The perfect union of writer with actor.
You introduce/created Monty Monogram. Was it hard to make him work both as a character and as a love interest for Vanessa?
No, because he was created TO BE a romantic interest for Vanessa. That was something I wanted to do for a long time.
The idea was to light a fuse with the daughter of Doof and the son of Monogram secretly dating and putting Perry in the middle. It felt like a fun thing to watch explode in slow motion.
Now THAT is interesting, because the episode is written in such a way that I couldn’t tell he was written as a love interest first, since both characters got development before just being put together. Impressive, I must say.
Thank you! Did I mention you smell like flowers and are a fantastic dancer (I assume)? That whole “Minor Monogram” episode was an experiment. This was after Piero left the show, so my partner on it was the brilliant madman, Kyle Menke (I’ve gotta say, I was really lucky with partners on “Phineas”). We were trying many different things at once there. One was to attempt a very different kind of acting and humor than we’d normally see – something more sit-com like and crisp, fast-paced dialogue.
The whole thing was built to land on Vanessa deciding to try “a good guy,” and Perry’s reaction when he realizes what’s going on – so, yes, it was all VERY planned out and engineered to work that way. It was a lot of fun to do that episode.
The Monty/Vanessa thing you helped start never got a resolution. Do you know why, and do you think it would have been resolved if you stayed on?
I’m not sure why they didn’t play out the Monty/Vanessa relationship to its fullest potential because the foundation was set for it. I guess since I was the one who thought of it and saw clearly how it should work, it lost its main proponent and, therefore, its steam. It really was more about the Doof/Mono relationship and the moment when they find out their children are dating.
These could have and should have been HUGE episodes. I felt strongly that “Phineas” could be different from other tween-aimed series in that we could push on the characters and give them more development than other “reset button” animated shows. I wanted to get Candace and Jeremy together – and then break them up again! Dan and Swampy created great characters and, for me, the writers’ job was to flesh them out as we went along.
That was my main goal on the show – on any show I work on – to make the characters more dimensional and push and pull on them. I suppose it’s possible when I left they became less interested in taking those sort of longer-arc storytelling risks. It’s difficult to do and requires a lot of people all being on the same page, communicating. Or maybe the rest of the writers just didn’t see the value in it that I did.
You helped write the famous Meap Episodes, but I want to talk more about the sequel. What was it like doing that one, especially given all the stuff from the joke trailer you had to include?
Well, as you know now, that original trailer was just a joke I came up with and we had no plans to actually make the sequel. At the same time, the way Piero and I work, we actually sat down and came up with the titles to about 60 or 70 different “Chronocles of Meap” episodes, placing the first one in context (like “A New Hope”). We knew “Meapless In Seattle” was next.
When we finally decided to go ahead and make it, we knew we had a challenge in fitting in all those little moments from the fake trailer. I made the sequel with the great Kyle Menke and we decided to add an extra layer of satire/parody by trying to make each one of the trailer moments show up in the episode in a context totally different from what the moment implied in the trailer.
We didn’t want to let the trailer really restrict the story we wanted to tell. I was just trying to tell a fun story expanding on the characters from the first Meap episode.
I knew I wanted them to go back to Meap’s homeworld, bring Mitch back and explore the themes of objectivity and subjectivity. I think the episode turned out well, but I prefer the original.
I did not write or conceive of the trailer at the end of “Meapless” and I would have done something very different if it had been up to me. It felt like we’d been there, done that and the expectation becomes, “Oh, now how will they contextualize THOSE moments?” and the joke gets old. If, for whatever reason, I ever had to write another one, I’d do something totally unexpected with those trailer scenes.
I must know: Who came up with Balloony’s Death. Who I can blame for making me cry?
Yeah, that was me. Sorry. That’s what’s so great about “Phineas,” though. By dimensionalizing the characters the way we did – adding Doof’s backstories, developing his relationship with Perry, like what I did with the original Peter the Panda story arc in “It’s About Time,” cumulatively, you really get to know the characters as people, as friends, and you can achieve these very real, tragic moments – even when the context is so silly. I’m glad it worked for you. It WAS sad.
I know you might be getting sick of the specific episode questions, but I think Phineas and Ferb Get Busted deserves discussion. How much did you contribute to that, and how did you all decide to do the dream ending, even you likely knew it might not go over well?
That was my first episode with Piero Piluso and we discovered pretty quickly that we liked working together. Piero was new to the show, so I was trying to teach him the characters and the tone and style, but he caught on almost immediately.
We saw things the same way and laughed at all the same things – but, more importantly, we both took our creative jobs SO seriously in terms of quality. As I remember, we were given an outline, which we rewrote almost completely in a mad creative rush fuelled by discovering how much we immediately enjoyed working together.
In fact, one of the staff writers stormed out of the first pitch in disgust because we changed the story so much. That was actually common for the storyboard/writers to do with the outlines, though, but not out of disrespect – it’s just that you get in a flow and find the story you feel compelled to explore and it will occasionally go off the rails in terms of your assigned outline.
Dan and Swampy were always there to put you back on track if they felt your direction wasn’t working.
We all knew the “it was just a dream” thing was a cheat, but there was really no other way out of it. The key was to really make a story that felt real up to that point. To tell THE story of what would happen if they got busted – and give the audience enough credit to understand that’s what they are seeing.
Here’s what would happen. Now, since we can’t actually DO that and end the show, for real, we starting playing with the dream imagery as late in the game as possible and play it for laughs – after we had given the audience a satisfying “What If..?” story.
I think it was Dan’s idea to actually make it Perry’s dream within a dream to undercut the cliché even more. It was the episode’s saving grace, of course. In the end, I don’t think people really cared that much. It was a fun, touching, exciting episode that delivered everything it promised to deliver and then subverted the cliché to hit the reset button.
You can’t ask for more effort than that.
You wrote The Lake Nose Monster, which seems to have a slight hint of an environmental message to it, with them trying to protect Nosey. What was it like doing all of that, and was it your goal to do a environmental message and do you think you did the best your could with? (Also, i applaud whoever came up with the Nosebud joke near the end)
JCThat was an interesting episode to work on from a creative standpoint. You want details, here are some serious details: Piero and I decided to apply rigid three-act structure to a 22 minute animated show as an experiment just for that particular episode (that was considered “fun” for us. We’re strange).
Plot points and act breaks all had to fall at specific times (to the second, to the panel) and breaking it down, mathematically was tricky, but rewarding. It actually worked really well and was helpful, although I don’t think we felt a need to work that way again.
I don’t know if we were so concerned about the environmental message as much as creating satisfying character arcs for everyone. We were trying to think about a “mythical” creature like the Loch Ness monster or Bigfoot from the perspective of what they would really be thinking and feeling about people always trying to find them and take their picture.
“Phineas” is a show kinda like “Seinfeld” in that the different storylines all intersect at the end. That was always the fun and difficult part – bringing them all together – and “Lake Nose” did it pretty well.
It was also the first “Phineas” episode that had real drama and fear in it. The mid-point, when Nosey attacks their ship was played for real and I thought it was effective and the whole, “No, he found US…” thing was cool. We discovered we could push on the show and characters in different ways than we had previously imagined and the tonal palette widened from that point on.
I’m glad you liked the Nosebud bit. That kind of stuff is very fun to plan out and watch come together. There were a LOT of tiny elements that I had to plant carefully and organically throughout the episode to have the joke land correctly so you didn’t see it coming. l always love that kind of detailed work.
While you were just one of many writers on Where’s Perry, do you still think you could give us stories about that, and how they decided to resolve the cliffhanger, and have Perry just be in Africa?
Wow, that episode was trouble. Haha. I had been away for the show for a while working on the feature and when I returned there was an outline for a big cliffhanger special that originally took place in Australia already in place and out to the board writers.
Frankly, I didn’t think the outline worked and discovered, from talking to the other board writers, that no one really thought the outline was working very well. I was, like, “Then why are we moving forward with it?”
I talked to Dan and Swampy about it and suggested moving the story to a more interesting location, like Africa, and focusing (and changing) the character stories. They liked the direction I was suggesting and okayed reworking the outline.
I always greatly admired the work of Kim Roberson on the show, and knowing I was facing resistance, I asked her to help me lead the creative charge on reworking the episode because there was a lot at stake and the creative ideas had to be as strong as possible.
Kim is remarkably smart and funny and we came up with some great ideas to get us started and then led a really fun meeting where all the board teams and writers sat around and pitched ideas and worked out what we should do. That’s where that episode really came together. It was a group effort.
About the “Perry is in Africa” thing, yeah, I don’t know if that really lived up to the hype. It was no “Who shot JR?” or even “Who shot Mr. Burns?” That element of Perry being where the boys were was pretty much built into the story from the beginning and we just tried to make it work as well as we could. I think the saving grace was that it had heart and was sincere, which compensated for it being a little anti-climactic and muddy.
Now that I’m thinking about it, I remember that Kim and I came up with this idea that after Candace thinks Jeremy has broken up with her, she actually kisses another boy. When Dan and Swampy returned they immediately nixed the idea and that boy character was taken out of the episode. I still think it would have been an amazing moment, but we may have come up with the story of Candace going native when that was changed, which I also love and think worked really well.
Either way, there was a lot of friction on that episode and it got pretty heated at times, but I also know the episode is MUCH better than it originally would have been. I’ve never had a problem sticking my neck out if I truly believed in what I was doing. That said, it’s easier to stick your neck out when you’ve got talented people like Kim Roberson and Kyle Menke working with you.
Since you also wrote on Out of Toon, i know a friend of mine who would love to know the story behind Pinhead Pierre.
I did that episode with Mike Diederich. He is an incredible artist and his stuff always makes me laugh really hard. He comes at things from such strange angles. I always loved working with him. Mike and I wrote and boarded the “Monster of Phineastein” episode together which won “Phineas” its first Emmy nomination.
Honestly, I have no idea where Pinhead Pierre came from. It was just one of those things that popped into my head – like Klimpaloon. Mike and I developed the character and liked the idea of this children’s show host who had a tiny, little head that was actually a burden for him. Children mocked him. People stared in horror. He lives a tragic life. It’s pretty warped, I know, but Mike and I just laughed and laughed.
Speaking of that episode, that episode certainly has a lot of satire about cartoon making. What was it like doing that, and is every single thing mentioned in that episode 100 percent accurate?
That was one of the great pitches when Mike and I showed that to the crew for the first time. Mike did that whole section where the boys explain the animation process to Candace and it just KILLED. Everybody was crying, laughing. Dan came up with the Candace/Mom scene at the end, which I love: “It got up and danced away…” Everybody was firing on all cylinders on that episode. It was so much fun to do and about as silly as anything I’ve ever worked on. And, yes, it’s 100% accurate.
What is your personal favorite part of writing for P&F and BCSD?
I love rooting around in the character’s minds and exploring them, dimensionalizing them. My really favorite part is when I start a scene and the characters start talking to each other on the page. I never know what they’re going to say until they say it. It’s that sweet, magic spot where the characters are in as much control as you are. That’s when I always find the good stuff that surprises me too.
You actually wrote P&F Book My Funny Valentine. Most shows writers don’t actually have a hand in Expanded Universe materiel like this, so how did this come about?
Oh, yeah, I did do that. Actually, a bunch of the writers wrote books. Personally, I only did the one because I didn’t find it to be a great creative experience in the end.
The original book I wrote was so strange and fun and broke every rule – exactly the way the show broke every rule. I felt it’s for the same audience, so it should be approached the same. Disney publishing didn’t agree and watered it down. It’s a shame. They were just doing their job, though. That said, you should all run out and buy 40 million copies of it.
Your IMDB has you as a writer on a show called “Second City this week”. I personally have never heard of it, nor am I sure if it’s true, but if so, got anything interesting to say about it?
My wife, Hep Jamieson, is one of the greatest comedic actors I’ve ever seen. She’s a graduate of Second City, IO West, UCB, Nerdist, Groundlings (she just made Sunday Company, which is HUGE). At the time, she was in a Second City news sketch show called “Second City This Week” and I wrote some material for them. It was great fun and a chance for me to get back into writing some comedy for the stage, which, again, I’d recommend to any comedy writer (or any kind of writer, for that matter) looking to discover/refine/hone/explore their voice as a writer. I think some of that stuff may be up on YouTube.
What are some of your favorite currently airing TV Shows, both animated and live action?
JCB: I don’t really watch a lot of animated shows, but right now I’m enjoying the Scandinavian version of “The Bridge” and a French cop drama called “Spiral.” I’m looking forward to the new “Sherlock” season, as well. My favorite tv show is probably Mystery Science Theater 3000/
What are some of your favorite movies?
I would love to throw out some obscure Russian art film from 1965, but, honestly, I love “Star Wars” and “Raiders of The Lost Ark.” I’m of that generation. I’m a huge fan of Woody Allen’s films up through the 1980’s, as well as Monty Python and the Marx Brothers’ first 5-6 films. I’m also a huge John Carpenter fan. No one does the anti-hero better than Carpenter.
You left the show after Season 3. What do you think would have been different in Season 4 if you had been there for it?
JCB: It’s impossible to say. I had certain ideas I was toying with that would have been really cool, but I shouldn’t mention them here. You never know what the future might bring.
How do you respond to criticism in general? I personally feel it’s important to be open to it and be able to tell what’s constructive and what’s just mindless whining. How about you?
JCB: Virtually all criticism I’ve ever gotten, I understand where it’s coming from. Most of the time it validates something you already knew. The problem with television, and animated television, in particular, is that you’re moving so fast that you can’t expect perfection. There will be compromises – and with that comes criticism – especially from yourself.
For me, the key to any criticism or note I get (from someone whom I must obey) while I’m working on something is to take that note and challenge myself to make what I’m working on even better TO ME by following it – even if I don’t agree with the note or criticism when I get it.
Occasionally things get so destroyed from what you’d envisioned that you can’t watch the episode again, but, at the same time, sometimes things come out much better than you thought it would, so it cuts both ways. No one will be harder on my stuff than me, so, no, criticism doesn’t really bother me. Great, enthusiastic praise is nice, too, though.
Are there any great episode ideas you have had to scrap for various reasons?
Not too many. As I mentioned, the original version of the aglet episode for “Phineas” was MUCH more complex and interesting (to me). Piero and I came up with an almost Da Vinci Code-like story about a secret society sworn to keep the word “aglet” from becoming common knowledge because it would mean the end of civilization as we know it.
We worked hard on it and pitched it to Dan and Swampy as a 22-minute episode. We pretty much got the opposite reaction to “Nerds of a Feather.” They said, “No.” and we had to redo the whole thing. Win some, reboard some.
Do you have any other projects in the works that you could possibly hint at for us?
I have a few things, but nothing I can really discuss. I’ve been working with Dan and Swampy on an idea that’s been gestating for years. I think it’s revolutionary and really funny. No one’s ever done anything like it before and I’m really excited about it. As I hinted at, Piero and I have begun toying with a really exciting idea. There’s also some movie and live-action television projects I’m developing that are very cool. And music. Always music.
Here’s the most cliché question of all: What advice do you have for inspiring writers and creators?
Here’s the most cliché answer of all: write and create.
(Now I am normal and JCB is bold, for the rest of the post), I think that’s a pretty good place to stop. We have more than enough to chew on here, and I think I got every single question I had in. If you guys somehow have others I missed….Jon Colton Barry is on Twitter and the like, so there you go. Thank you for indulging me by going into so much detail on everything!
Oh, it’s my pleasure. Believe me, those who have worked with me know I have no problem spilling out words. My nickname on “Phineas” was “wordy”. Or, at least, that was the nickname they felt comfortable telling me. I’m sure there were less flattering ones, too.
Once again, it is just an amazing honor to have you on here. I learned quite a bit from all of this, and it really made further appreciate the fantastic work you do, as well as all the people on these various projects.
I’m very much grateful I got this chance.
: Thank you, Spongey! It was fun! I’ve never actually been interviewed like this. It’s almost kind of like a therapy session, but you only charged me half as much. And everyone please watch “Be Cool, Scooby-Doo!” on Cartoon Network and/or Boomerang! Set those DVR’s! I’m really proud of the show and I know Phineas fans will love it (as many have told me so already).
Well there you go! I got to do something crazy I never thought I would do. Will I ever get a similar chance again? You never know, but I have no plans at the moment. Either way, I once again thank Jon Colton Barry for being able to do so. it means a lot.
I’ll just say thanks for reading the craziest post I’ll ever do.