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You mentioned earlier how long ago you wrote Nerdland. How did the script evolve over the years? 

When I wrote it, it was written to be live-action. For a while, David Fincher was attached to direct it, which I would’ve obviously loved to have happened. He went off on a bunch of different amazing projects and I just realized it likely wasn’t going to come together. He was super great. I mean, it would’ve been incredible for it to be him.

Then, a little bit further down the line, once it was just kind of back in my hands and I was rewriting it, trying to tighten the script up, we, my producing partner, Gavin Polone, and I, we went around with it as a animated concept for a TV show, like a half-hour show. You’ve seen it. It’s pretty episodic. It could’ve lent itself very well to a television show.

We went to the usual places that you would think something like that would be cool, like MTV and a couple other places. Nobody was interested. It was a completely different animation company at the time, WildBrain, that was attached. They were great and it was cool to go around and try and do it as a TV show. It didn’t happen.

Then I made it into little, tiny, bite-size segments, like five minutes long. We were about to try and do it with someone for the Internet. I asked, “Okay, I know we’re not going to make money on this and it’s just a labor of love, but can I get some of the ancillary rights, like a piece of bumper stickers or t-shirts or whatever if it ever becomes super popular?” They said, “No.”

I was like, “Okay. I could pretty much pay for the five-minute version of this,” so I regrouped. I took a deep breath. I let some time pass. I took a deep breath. I rewrote it again and I put the pieces back together from all the different fractionalized version of it. I tightened it up.

It kind of began with me going, “I’m just going to somehow get this to Jonah Hill. I love Jonah Hill. That’s how it’s going to happen.” I think I just wrote on it “Jonah Hill draft.” Obviously, that didn’t happen, but I was an obsessive fan of Metalocalypse and some of the other Adult Swim shows, like Superjail! I would always see the little blue titmouse at the end of Metalocalypse. I’d just be like, “Who are these lunatics that do this?”

I felt so removed from any worthiness to kind of approach them about anything, but I got over that enough for Gavin and I to say, “Let’s take the Jonah Hill draft of Nerdland and take it to … Let’s forget about doing it live action, let’s forget about doing it as a TV show, animated. Let’s just try and do it as an animated feature.” We went to Titmouse and that’s where I met Chris Prynoski, the director, and his wife, Shannon [Prynoski], who were the founders of Titmouse. They created Titmouse, Inc.

The fact that they said “yes” after years and years and years of so many different variations of “no,” was just like, the clouds parting and a shaft of sunlight shining down on my head for the first time in a long time. Their involvement, in my opinion, just elevated the material beyond the pale. This is a very low budget movie that we did entirely independently. This really, truly was a labor of love.

Gavin and I actually paid for it. Titmouse put in a ton of sweat equity. The actors all were kind of … Especially Patton and Paul, were partners. I forget what the question was, but that’s how it ended up being that we did it with Titmouse and how it went from at first being conceived as live action, which would’ve been interesting and a whole different thing. The other thing I was just going to say was, for the budget that we had we wouldn’t have been able to do it live action. It’s not something that we likely would be able to do. The Herculean effort that was put in by Titmouse isn’t something we could turn right around and do again in another movie. There was so much of their love, sweat, blood, tears poured into this. It’s just so much more beautiful and artistically wonderful in my opinion because of Titmouse and all the incredibly insane creativity that they funneled into this project.

I mean, you’ve seen the movie. The character designs, I think, are incredible. All the characters are so amazingly rendered. All the backgrounds and everything, I think, are so cool. You definitely know you’re not watching like, $100 million, $200 million animated movie. It just is beautiful in a different way.

When you first wrote Nerdland and started showing it to people, what sort of feedback did you receive? 

I think that when Fincher was involved … He was really the first one I showed it to and he was involved from the very beginning. When Fincher was involved, we probably were thinking of doing independent. There were a lot of actors who came in and read for parts. They were all great. Some of whom hadn’t been in that many things but were incredible. I remember Zach Galifianakis came in and read. I think the only thing that I had seen that he had done was this ski kind of comedy movie. I forget what it was called [Out Cold].

Then, like I say, then Fincher went on to do other things. Then one other thing that I will say is that we did do a read through where Bob Odenkirk and John Ennis and some other great people came in and did this reading with us for Fincher. Look, I adore Bob Odenkirk. That was a real pinnacle in my life to be sitting there and having Bob Odenkirk participating. I just think he’s the greatest. It’s amazing that John Ennis was in doing that read through. He ended up being in the movie. All the guys from Mr. Show and W/ Bob & David are heroes.

I do want to say, because I really can’t sing the praises of Titmouse enough, but that said, I’m just going to say one of the most embarrassing things for me was how much I would sit there listening to the actors performing it and recording their voices for it, how I’d be just laughing at all this.

It’s embarrassing to be laughing at your own material, but from top to bottom, the cast was insanely great. They were just delivering it and bringing so much more to it than was on the page that it was just a joy to see. Patton was really the first one who committed to it. That’s what made it. That really helped to legitimize it when it came to going to other actors, obviously.

The beauty of animation is you’re not asking for the actor to give you 3 months, or even a month of their time. They can come and do their part with script in hand and do it in a really, really timely fashion.

That’s what also made it possible for Titmouse to get Hannibal Buress and Kate Micucci and Riki Lindhome. Those two, Kate and Riki, took stuff that was so thankless, the female parts, and made it so wonderful and imbued it with so much kind of energy and life. Made it much more interesting than I ever thought their two parts could be because they’re kind of in service a lot of times to the story and to the two imbeciles who are at the center of it.

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You and David Fincher have worked together a few times. What makes that collaboration work?

I’ve worked with him on obviously Se7en — which it’s interesting to think how different my life would be if I hadn’t crossed paths with him — The Game and Fight Club; I’ve done rewrites on The Girl Who Played With Fire and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea; and I did a version of The Reincarnation of Peter Proud, which was a movie from the 70s that we wanted to remake, that I wrote for him.

Just an amazing, inclusive collaboration. He’s just incredibly inclusive. He’s incredibly specific. He’s incredibly smart obviously, but he’ll listen to you and make you part of the process rather than just be using you kind of as a device to reach a goal. You actually get to participate. That happens in other instances for other people, but it’s been somewhat rare for me. It’s just the way it is with Fincher. He’s incredibly smart and he thinks about everything from all different facets of it.

That is I feel like my job as a screenwriter to be presenting people with something that’s whatever, 90, 100 pages, 120 pages long, that I’ve really, really invested a great deal of thought and effort into making it function structurally, making it function tonally, etc. etc. I think that even when you fail at that, he’s appreciative of that. He uses the building blocks that may still exist, even flawed though they may be when it comes to scripts.

It was nice when Se7en turned 20 years old recently and seeing all these pieces online celebrating the film. When it turned 20, did any fond memories come to mind? 

Not necessarily. Like I said, it certainly doesn’t seem that long ago. I’m incredibly appreciative that people even remember the movie. I really do attribute that to Fincher. I really feel like that’s material that likewise was incredibly elevated by his involvement, by the involvement of all those amazing actors, and the producers who kind of fought for the ending as opposed to the people who were fighting against it.

I think that that’s partly why it’s remembered, and I think well-regarded, to this day. No, I mean, that was just a time when you couldn’t really ruin my day for like, two years, because this movie was getting made. It was getting made by this incredibly amazing filmmaker, and then when we’d done shooting I was watching because Fincher let me be there. I was watching. It wasn’t like I was standing there looking over their shoulder, but I would see cuts of the movie. I’d say, “Oh my god. Look at the posters they’re doing.”

Then you’re waiting for the movie to get released and you’re thinking, “What if it’s a huge flop?” Then it did come out and it did incredibly well financially. It was just there was a two year period of it’s coming to fruition and then being released to the public and doing well that was just … I was just kind of walking on air. It was all just kind of a dream come true.

It’s just it’s very rare to get a movie made but it’s also really rare to get a movie made that you’re incredibly proud of. That’s actually why I’m so grateful for the experience on Nerdland because it’s very different thing. It’s definitely a straight ahead, R-rated, goofy comedy, but I’m proud of it. I think it is because of Titmouse’s involvement. Beautifully artistically rendered in my opinion, and also because of the actors.

My clichéd thing is … Clichéd in that I say this many times, and it’s true, there are plenty of screenwriters who will have incredibly successful careers where they make a fine living and never get anything produced. There are plenty of other screenwriters who will make a fine living getting a lot of stuff produced and never have a single one of them that ends up … That they were proud of the final result.

It just so frequently happens that you get rewritten as part of the process or reinterpreted by whomever, etc. So often you have a big list of credits that almost bear no resemblance to your first or second or third drafts of things.

Se7en will always be the one that can never be taken away from me. There have been plenty [of dissapointments] throughout the years, and I’ve talked openly about that. I’ve never seen 8MM. I never saw Wolfman. There are varying degrees of disappointment at times that keep you away from a movie that may have your name on it that you just don’t necessarily want to “own.”

That’s what nice about Nerdland, that I really am proud of it. I really hope people will discover it. I think that it hopefully will find its audience. There’s that cool thing, the Fathom event, is very cool and I’m hoping that people show up for it.

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You can purchase tickets to see Nerdland here at Fathom Events.

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