Brian Taylor Interview

Just in time for Christmas comes a raunchy, bloody show from one of the creators of Crank. Happy!, based on the comic from Grant Morrison and Darick Robertson, stars Christopher Meloni as Nick Sax, a disgraced cop who has a near death experience that allows him to see “Happy,” a blu-furred, flying horse creature. Voiced by Patton Oswalt, Happy is the imaginary friend of a kidnapped girl and only Sax can help save her.

Brian Taylor wrote and directed the Crank movies, Gamer and Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance with his partner Mark Neveldine before the duo split up for solo projects. Taylor spoke with /Film by phone about Happy! There are some spoilers for episodes one and two in this interview, but many are so crazy you still won’t believe them. Taylor promises there’s so much crazy to come and these are only the beginning. Happy! premieres December 6 on Syfy.

Is Happy! The perfect Christmas show?

Absolutely. It’s a present of love and joy to all the world.

Was the timing always part of it, that if it’s set at Christmas it has to come out in December?

Yeah. The source material was set in Christmas and the villain is a deranged Santa Claus, so it was always built as a Christmas story. We shot the pilot at Christmastime in New York, which was amazing and then when we got picked up for series, we were faced with the challenge of continuing that Christmas story in the summertime in New York, so that added another level of adventure to the production. Christmas and all things Christmas are very much a part of the show as you’ll see as the season goes on.

With people bundled up in the summer, was removing sweat a big issue?

No, I actually like my actors nice and sweaty anyway. If they didn’t have it, I’d spray it on. I just think flesh on film looks so great when it’s wet. It’s something that I strive for so that aspect of it was fine visually. It certainly wasn’t very comfortable. One thing we figured out quickly was, despite all of our best efforts, you could be shooting out on the street and everything looks great. Then halfway through a take, somebody walks by with shorts and a T-shirt in the background. Gotta do it agin. Those are things you can’t predict.

Were any of the surreal things that happen in Sax’s head things that could’ve been in Crank 3?

Absolutely. This is something I didn’t even realize when I first got involved. I was invited to look at the material by Original Film and I was familiar with Grant Morrison. I knew he was a Crank fan because he’d said so in interviews. I met him briefly on a panel one time. We got along great, so we were sort of mutual fans and we always thought we’d work on something, but I didn’t realize until I got in and really started looking at the Happy! comic book how influenced by the Crank movies it really was. There are scenes in the pilot that feel like a scene from Crank. When you’ve got the guy running through the hospital in a blood soaked hospital gown, running from cops and chugging coffee, it’s very Crank-like. That’s actually not something I brought to it. That’s in the source material, but it does feel like the DNA of Crank really ran through the comic book.

I thought the head wound dance was Crank-y.

Yeah, that’s our introduction to the character so we thought it should be a little special.

So that’s all Morrison, not anything from a treatment or screenplay you never got to make?

No, that particular sequence that you’re talking about wasn’t there until very late in development. It was actually one of the last things I added to the script. We just really wanted to put across that this guy is so rock bottom that the day of his own demise would actually be like Christmas morning. It would be the greatest day of his life. It would be a celebration.

Was Jerry Springer in Grant’s comic too?

No, actually for fans of the comic, they will see a lot of the graphic novel. The graphic novel is very contained. It’s a four issue story that takes place over about 48 hours and, spoiler, in the comic book, the main character dies at the end. It’s a very intimate little world that we expanded a great deal to turn it into more of like this sprawling, multi-level Warriors-like journey of evil to fill out a season and then seasons beyond. Fans of the comic book will definitely see stuff from the graphic novel in the pilot and a little bit in episode two. There’s a version of that poker game in episode two that’s in the comic, but past that it really just goes off in its own territory. Most of it is stuff we invented for the show, including Jerry. The idea of episode two was that’s the episode where Sax is in denial that he has a daughter. We’d been half-jokingly referring to it as the Jerry Springer episode because it was the episode where the protagonist is basically saying, “That’s not my kid” which seems like a very Jerry kind of thing. I’m always a big fan of just being completely literal with stuff like that. So if it’s the Jerry Springer episode, let’s actually get Jerry and make it the Jerry Springer episode.

Was Springer game to recreate his talk show as Sax’s internal dialogue?

Actually, we shot that sequence on Jerry’s actual stage with his camera people. We didn’t even bring our own cameras. We showed up and we used their entire crew, their stage so everything is absolutely authentic and Jerry was amazing. He had a great time doing it. Probably the coolest experience of that whole episode was I actually got to stand behind the little sound board that they use on the show, so I could press buttons and make cows mooing and guns cocking and babies crying.

They have sound effects for that?

Yeah, they pipe sound effects in on the actual show. So when characters are going to fight, you hear that ding, ding, ding, ding, the ring sound. That’s actually live in the stage while they’re recording the show. When you see them on the show and you hear those sounds, that’s all me pushing buttons on set on the day. We didn’t add any of that later.

Does Happy look exactly like he does in the comic or did you make modifications to him?

There was a lot of thought that went into how would we animate Happy. My original thought was that we would do it hand drawn, like Chuck Jones style. We explored that a little bit and went down that rabbit hole for a while, or that Roger Rabbit hole for a while. At the end of the day, it just felt to me like there aren’t really artists anymore who can do that kind of thing. They just don’t really exist. It’s sort of like a lost art and it was going to be an uphill battle. Then it felt like, in the comic book, Nick Sax is drawn and Happy is drawn. They both seem to be rendered with the same sort of line work. Just taking straight from Darick Robertson’s artwork, those two characters are rendered with the same artwork, they seem to be living in the same world. It makes more sense for Happy to be a 3D animated photoreal creature, the way that Nick is photoreal because he is real. That made the most logical sense so we pursued it that way.

Were there any versions of Happy that were cuter or less cute?

Getting to the final version of Happy is a long, laborious process with a million notes, a million references, a million “send it back, I want this little tuft of hair a little bit lighter, a little bit darker. I want the horn to look more like candy. What kind of candy? This kind of candy. Let me show you pictures of the kind of candy we want. I want the hoof to look like this and I want the coat to look shiny like a horse’s coat but not too shiny.” Every little detail of character design like that, which is the first time I’ve done something like that on that scale, every little detail of it becomes a topic. You’re always trying to push it and push it to get it just, just right. Then finally you arrive at the final version. So the Happy that you see is exactly the blend of cute and ugly that we were going for.

Does Syfy give you no restrictions on violence?

Oh, they definitely give you restrictions. We were definitely invited to go for it. That was the first note they had for us: don’t censor yourselves, go for it, we really want to change what we’re doing. We want to do things that are more edgy, more unpredictable, less safe. So we were encouraged from the get go to really attack it on that basis. Now at the same time, you understand it’s one thing to say that and it’s another thing to actually see what we intend to throw out there. Of course they’re going to have a reaction but I gotta say, in general they’ve been very supportive of us breaking rules and taking things as far as we want to take them. The goal of the show is not to out-violent every other show. There’s shows that are lots more violent than this show. The goal of the show is just to be as pure a version of itself as it can be and just be something different and something singular. Sometimes that means being a little sillier than another show would be. Sometimes it means being more dramatic than another show would be. Sometimes it means being more violent, but always attacking each element of the show with a very singular point of view.

Are they going to bleep the F words on the air?

I don’t think so. We bleeped them on the Jerry Springer segment because that’s what Jerry would do.

But when Sax says f***.

Yeah, it’s going to televise like that.

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