About a year ago, I was asked if I might be willing to help build a spaceship. Since I spend my days looking at a screen and typing at a keyboard, I was a bit hesitant, especially as the weekends spent in the garage with my dad building a Bugatti (a VW kit car), which eventually we drove (though without proper brakes), were several lifetimes ago. Could I remember the difference between crimper stripper and water pump pliers? Would I need to? But this request came from dear friends—Kevin Bertazzon and Lori Stone—people who’s creativity keeps me inspired, learning, and laughing. And thinking it might be healthy to disengage from the computer for a while, I replied yes, what, when, and where.
The “what” was building a set for the live action element of Kevin Bertazzon’s short. The “when” turned out to be much more than a bunch of hours a day over several days, but rather two weeks and up to 20 hour days—and I couldn’t get enough. The building crew was exhausted, but it was an experience not to be missed.
Now, a year later, Kevin’s project is “in the can” and has been released upon the world. He was kind enough to answer some questions…
HP: For Hometown Pasadena readers who are unfamiliar with this project, would you explain exactly what is TUGGER the ship?
KB: What the hell, Kat, you helped build the ship! And you probably won’t print this…but, you are awesome! I’m whisper-typing this…..I love you…..you are awesome! Thank you so much for putting me in your magazine! So, pretending you don’t know, TUGGER the ship is this silly sci-fi comedy pilot/short I did with (you!…ssshhhh), my wife Lori, my friend Chris Capel, and a cast of overpaid actors about a crew being chased through the galaxy by alternate versions of themselves in a space faring tow truck designed by a nine-year-old girl. A concept that is not convoluted at all.
HP: You were interviewed by and TUGGER received a great review on OptimalHumanModulation. In the article, you state that Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Arrested Development were two influences as you wrote and styled TUGGER the ship. What about that story and that show interested you, inspired you, and made you want to “blatantly rip them off” when you were creating your own show?
KB: Steven Sumner was being really cool posting TUGGER on OpHuMod (he took my interview virginity). I’ve been criticized for having too many concepts going at the same time, but what I like about Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Arrested Development is that they are really dense.
Arrested Development is cut like a commercial and I really got into that. It didn’t wait for you or spell things out. If you didn’t catch it, fine. Plus, the narration literally ‘told’ it like a story. I’m not usually into narration but there was something casual and fun about it. HGG, the radio play, did that as well which I fell in love with. I had read that Gene Rodenberry did the same thing with the “Captain’s Log” in Star Trek. It’s a great storytelling devise but it also zips the story along, and cut costs.
By saying something like “Spock’s down on the planet mackin’ on this blonde chick cause he got sprayed by a flower; he flew down on a Nimbus 2000 and a bucket of Ectoplasm,” you don’t have to show it (ergo pay for the FX), but you can start showing the repercussions of the idea during the narration. With TUGGER, we could throw a bunch of images in at the same time conveying more than one idea simultaneously. Some people find that confusing. I find it to be like a tickle on my subconscious. Or running your hands through a nice shag rug while smelling pizza. Woah. That one was weird. You’re going to edit this, right?
HP: You mentioned a number of inspirations in your interview with OpHuMod, but qualified that they were “The relevant ones.” Were there others that you didn’t mention?
Well, of course my heroes are David Chase, Matthew Weiner, and Vince Gilligan. But most definitely the biggest influence on how I think would be my friend Matthew Sloly (which isn’t necessarily a compliment to him or me.) He was almost my guru in my twenties. Fine artist, technological innovator—total genius. It’s kind of sickening. Once I start feeling good about myself and thinking I might know a thing or two, I talk to him and remember I’m not always the sharpest knife in the drawer. (And now he’s going to read this and become completely insufferable. Good luck to me ever winning a debate ever again.)
HP: What about the design element in regard to TUGGER, the actual spaceship—how did you come up with his design?
When we were getting started into the design process I called my friend, George Todorovski, up in Toronto, and asked him if he could design me a ship. When he asked what I had in mind I went into the description of wanting it to be kind of industrial, not completely sci-fi, kinda clumsy but kinda cute, while still looking like it packed a lot of tork. While I was talking I heard an ‘mmmmmmmmmm….’ noise. Then when I was finished, I heard him zipping up his jacket and saying “My ride’s here. Check your e~mail. I just did a sketch and scanned it and sent it to you.” That doodle he did (straight in ink) set the template for the look of the show and is very close to the final design we used for TUGGER.
He farted out a bunch more the next day in about a half an hour and sent those to me as well…
I took both his and my favorite, scaled and skewed it a bit then sent it to my friend Tony Weinstock who I knew from my days at BrainZoo Studios who, while doing all kinds of sci-fi design, also does children’s book illustration. I asked him if he could paint the design in his kid’s book-style and make it pink like a cute little Volkswagen Beetle. Then Kain Suwannaphin did this adorable little model in Maya. She added a real “girly-car” flavor to TUGGER that was just the cherry on top for me. The amalgamation was exactly what I was looking for…and also looked like, shall we say, a “back massager.”
HP: It’s hard for us to choose a favorite character because Dr. Math Math has the most rockin’ all around look and Lori Stone plays her flawlessly…
…but Capt. Piloe makes us laugh every time he’s on screen…
…and each of the supporting characters—O-Mom-E, Wife, Meds, and Barnabus “Buffalo” Bames—have their unique attractions. But how did you snag author and screenwriter Peter Atkins? His voice as Tugger is pitch perfect…
KB: Oh, I got some SERIOUS dirt on Pete. You would not BELIEVE the weird stuff he’s into! (Google “Peter Atkins” and “Barbie.” You’ll know what I mean.)
HP: So, you wrote TUGGER and directed, but you also designed the actual set, the ship’s bridge, correct? How did the build go – according to plan? Was there a “most challenging” moment?
KB: (As you remember)…We couldn’t, for the life of us, cut a circle. We had NO idea how to cut a rounded shape. That’s the first thing. Second, PVC can’t hold up a set. The ceiling was Styrofoam but once we got the structure up, the whole thing collapsed and almost fluttered to the ground and caressed someone. I’m happiest with the set lighting. When Chris and I were at Home Depot, we both agreed it would be worth the extra $70 to get 4 fluorescent lights so he could swing his camera anywhere and we could burn through the shots quicker because we only had four days to shoot. I just wish we had the guts to shoplift. That would have cut costs even more than the narration.
HP: Besides those credits listed in the prior question, you also played Captain Peter Piloe, animated, designed the sound and initial musical track– what else are we missing? Your hands were in just about every aspect of TUGGER, yes? Were some areas easier than others; less challenging, more challenging; more inspiring, more to your tastes, more fun?
KB: In terms of sound, I put in a basic breakdown and design for the score and sound design but virtuoso composer Andrew Spence blew our brains off with his SPECTACULAR score that he did in a very short window of time and savant sound designer Ugo Derouard (you may want to check that spelling, it’s some French name) took my sound design and added to it twenty-fold. I made things sound weird, he made it all sound real, exciting, and bombastic. He’s got a gift (that’s my polite way of saying he’s “special” and by that I mean “French”.) The whole process of hearing them at work was the most fun I had during the project. (Although the sound room started smelling REALLY bad by the end. Okay, that was me. But he kept feeding me croissants! And that’s not another French joke!)
But, I have to tell you—the concept was the easiest part. Years ago a bunch of friends of mine and I were sitting in one of our basements with our clothes on and my friend Chris Hatzopoulos said to me, “Hey, Kev. I got an idea for you—a tow truck driver in space.” And I responded back to him with something only the most pretentious jerk in the world would say, “That was a good first effort, but if you want to be successful I suggest consulting with a good comedy script writer to hone and focus the material.” Then I TOTALLY used it! SUCK IT HATZOPOULOS! I GOT A WHOLE SEVEN VIEWS TODAY! AND ONLY THREE OF THEM WAS ME!!
HP: Along with TUGGER, your animated short Honor, and the illustrated, narrated iPad App and ebook ISMS: A Faery Mobster Story are part of your portfolio. Your storytelling tends to incorporate several concepts in one story—these works appear to be lighthearted but really there are subtexts about violence, honor, and religion (just to name a few) that we imagine could make for very lively dinner party conversation!
KB: I have to give full disclosure; the original director of TUGGER was my very talented friend Greg Powers, who has since passed away. He’s actually the one who wanted me to play the captain (I wanted to play the hot engineer.) As a proud atheist, he wanted to make a sci-fi concept about “how stupid religion is.” With that in mind, I decided I wanted to make one of the themes about how any orthodox zealotry can be silly—religious or secular. Then he went and died to win the argument. But, outta-sight outta-mind! So I printed my script and handed it out to everybody. He’s not going to notice. (I hope.)
HP: What do you want for TUGGER? We’ve read people’s comments on Reddit and YouTube asking when is the next episode and that if TUGGER becomes a series they would watch it – is this you’re aim?
KB: If someone can pay us to do more that’d be AWESOME! (Could you finesse that to sound more sales-pitchy?)
HP: So, let’s get serious. Shouldn’t Kat Ward who plays Saint Dolores The Not Kidding—but is only seen in one still shot—have her own live action moment? Will we see her in any upcoming episodes when TUGGER gets picked up by a cable channel or internet content provider like Netflix or Hulu?
KB: Four words, my friend: “Sister Dolores – Beyond Thunderdome.”
Warning: TUGGER includes lots of cleavage (a sci-fi essential), adult humor and strong language; not for the easily offended.
Kevin Bertazzon bio:
After his expulsion from the George Brown College of Design in Toronto for drawing on the walls, Kevin Bertazzon made a living from alternative comics, freelance illustration, and the odd acting job here and there.
After seeing his artwork on the walls of a comedy club, the biggest computer animation company in Canada at the time offered to train Kevin to recreate his illustrations in 3D imagery on the computer.
Fifteen years later, Kevin has relocated to Los Angeles and worked on such blockbuster films as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Star Trek: Insurrection, and Stuart Little, as well as on Star Wars, Gears of War, and Medal of Honor video games.
In his downtime, Kevin has written and produced a feature length movie, written and performed in his own comedy troupe, written and drawn his own comic books, and all in all noticed a peculiar inclination to tell peculiar stories.
See more of Kevin’s work at LovelyStudios.com.
Watch TUGGER the ship on YouTube.
Lighting and effects by Dan Delapena.