Jay Edwards is currently editor and producer of the television series “Aqua Teen Hunger Force” on Adult Swim. Jay also served as supervising editor and producer on the feature film “Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film For Theaters.” Outside of Adult Swim, Jay also wrote, produced, directed and edited “Stomp! Shout! Scream!” a beach party rock and roll monster movie. Media Mikes had a chance to chat with Jay about working on “Aqua Teen” and also his live-action work.
Mike Gencarelli: How did you get involved with “Aqua Teen” and Adult Swim?
Jay Edwards: I went to college at Auburn University. I majored in Public Relations because I wasn’t really a “business” guy and I wasn’t really an “engineering” guy, which is really all that’s there at Auburn! And I went in one Sunday morning and I took an editing class. That first day I edited for twelve hours straight. I forgot to eat. I forgot to pee. Time just disappeared. So the next day I changed my major to communications and decided I should be an editor for a living. And I’ve been doing it ever since. When I graduated in 1991 I came to Atlanta and got a job with a small post-production house. I was the gopher. I picked up a lot of lunches. I made a lot of dubs. And while I was there I trained on the first non-linear editor that was becoming the standard in post production. So I learned that system and became sort of the “night manager” guy. I would load the footage into the computer overnight for the next days editing sessions. And after doing that…doing a little bit of everything…for three and a half years I got a job at Turner Broadcasting. They had two editing suites but they really didn’t know how to manage them. So I came in and got them cleaned up and organized and started editing full time. And within about a year “Space Ghost From Coast to Coast” was in production and they were looking for editors. I thought I was getting on the bandwagon really late but I ended up editing episode seventeen or eighteen with Carrot Top, which was pretty early in the run. That was the first episode I edited. It was a really difficult show to edit. Number one, you’re trying to tell this really weird, timed, broad comedy. Technically it’s a really difficult show to put together. They do the interview first and someone pretends to be Space Ghost. Then they transcribe the interview and intentionally rewrite all of the questions for comedic effect. You’re trying to edit based on the voice over by George Lowe, who’s the voice of Space Ghost and this kind of finite interview. You’re trying to make it sound like a natural conversation and there’s nothing natural about it. You have to have comedic timing but it’s also very complicated. The background of “Space Ghost” are composites on top of one another. So we animate Space Ghost by using a series of two frame edits…back to back to back to back. Technically it’s very complicated but for some reason I was able to do it and I stuck around. We burned through a lot of editors that tried and didn’t want to do it…it was too hard of work for them…or they weren’t right. But I stuck around and over the next four or five years I edited over thirty “Space Ghost” episodes. Then in 2000, when Adult Swim was just an idea, Dave Willis and Matt Maiellaro were creating a new show…kind of a spin off based on an unused “Space Ghost” script. At the time it was called “Master Shake.” But we ended up changing the title because the Cartoon Network had a show called “Master Flake,” a show about the world of cereal mascots. So “Master Shake” became “Aqua Teen Hunger Force.” I left my staff job at Turner and started editing the pilot for “Aqua Teen.” That was the summer of 2000. Nobody thought it was a good idea. “You’re leaving this really cushy good job to go do WHAT?” (laughs) But it worked out. I went free lance haven’t looked back. I’ve been full time free lance for nearly eleven years now. I do work in different departments. I edit and produce “Aqua Teen” but I also produce extra content for the DVDs. I stay free lance so I can do as much work as I can. If I was on staff I wouldn’t be able to do that. And we’re still going. The show is entering season eleven and a DVD, volume eight, comes out in the fall. It’s a two disc set. One disc is “Aqua Teen Hunger Force” – Final Season and the other disc is “Aqua Unit Patrol Squad” – Season One.
MG: Is there a different feeling working on this season with the new title or do things feel the same?
JE: It’s exactly the same. The only thing that’s different are the opening credits. The credits are different but the show itself is written and produced exactly the same.
MG: I spoke with Dave Willis and he told me you guys were thinking of possibly changing the credits again?
JE: I wouldn’t be surprised. (laughed) Yes, we’re been green-lit for another ten-twelve episodes for 2012. And please note this: “I AM JAY EDWARDS…FREE LANCER. I AM NOT SPEAKING FOR CARTOON NETWORK IN ANY WAY, SHAPE OR FORM.” It’s not that it’s off the record, I’m just not speaking as a representative for Cartoon Network or Time Warner. (laughs)
MG: Your primary focus on the show has been producing and editing. Do you find one more difficult then the other?
JE: That’s interesting. I get a producer credit but I mainly just edit the show. But the show has been going on for so long. And Dave and Matt trusted me in the beginning. They write the scripts and do the voice overs. Writing the script is the hardest part in the whole process. I don’t want to belittle that but I’m not involved so I can’t talk about what is involved. But that is usually the hardest part and I want to give them all of the credit in the world. But after they write the scripts, all of the voice characters are recorded separately. So I might get eight or ten or fifteen reads of every line in the script. Plus they take a lot of different detours between what they come up with in the script because they also do a lot of the voices themselves. Then they had it to me and I go to work for two weeks. Two weeks later they come back and want to see something put together. So they hired me and they use me because I think they’re funny and I get what they’re going for. The scripts are pretty loose. They might read: INTERIOR – AQUA TEEN HOUSE and then have three pages of dialogue. Not a lot of scene descriptions. So I either have to give them some busy work or pull out of the dialogue and ad-libs what the action is that they’re doing and try to come up with a visual that isn’t too complicated and can be done on our limited budget and time but also isn’t so static that it’s visually boring. So that’s my job…to take the first path to directing the show essentially. Dave and Matt actually direct it…they give notes and it becomes their vision of what the show should be. But I get first crack at it. So that’s really where I get my producer credit. I keep the machine moving.
MG: You also worked on the “Aqua Teen” feature film. Was that a different experience for you?
JE: During that process we had to go from Standard Definition to High Definition to get it on to film and make it look good. So we essentially had to recreate all of the elements. Getting all of the backgrounds redrawn…characters essentially redrawn and re-scanned to an HD resolution. Just doing that was it’s own process. Then we had to figure out how to get it from inside a computer to film that could be distributed to theatres. We basically made an HD master and then transferred that to film. There are all kinds of variables about what kind of film stock you can use based on what kind of look you want. It gets really, really complicated. Showing a film in a theatre is really a part of 100 year old technology. It’s all chemical and analog as opposed to digital. That was complicated. There was also the storytelling…telling a story that was much longer then twelve minutes. I actually worked on the “Aqua Teen” movie pretty much full time, if not overtime, for two and a half years. And at the same time, currently, I produced and directed “Stomp! Shout! Scream!” and it premiered. Personally, I got divorced. It was a really stressful period of my life. My body fell apart. I’m super proud. I think that this past season of “Aqua Teen” was awesome. But I think the “Aqua Teen” movie was one of the best things I’ve ever done.
MG: Do you think you guys will do another “Aqua Teen” feature?
JE: I don’t think they would ever let us do another one (laughs). We would do another movie in a heartbeat! We think it’s a no brainer money maker to do another one! But it was pretty clear going through that painful process…we didn’t know how to distribute it to movie theatres…we didn’t know anything about that. We were all on a very steep learning curve. As soon as it was in theatres it was decided that we are a television company not a movie company. We know how to make television shows. I think it was a good experience for everybody to go through. The movie made money. Not a lot but it was definitely in the black. Especially when you consider DVD sales. I think the “Venture Brothers” has a long format project in the works as part of their next season but I don’t know if it’s going to be more then a T V special and a DVD. They may have some select screenings. Who knows how they’ll market it? I don’t think they’ll try to distribute it in theatres.
MG: With the success of “Stomp! Shout! Scream!” do you have any plans to direct in the future?
JE: Of course! That’s what I’ve been working towards ever since I finished “Stomp! Shout! Scream!” It premiered five or six years ago and I’ve been very actively taking it to film festivals…trying to market it and get it seen…trying to get a distribution deal. But that’s like a whole ‘nother full time job. Even after your film premieres you’re only really half way done. It’s been a ton of work. It’s not something that I made because I thought I could make a ton of money off it. It’s something I had to do. I was able to make the movie I wanted to make based upon my abilities of the time. I’m very proud of it. I know it’s proud but I’m really proud of it. The film did get a distribution deal about two and half years ago by a group called Indican Pictures. Because it was an older title they re-branded it and gave it a new title. It’s available on Netflix and, supposedly, big box stores as “Monster Beach Party A Go-Go.” Indican didn’t do a whole lot to market it, and I was so out of energy that I didn’t do much either. I’m hoping to move on to my next screenplay that I’ve been working on for a while. It’s set in the early 1960s. It’s about a late night horror host. You get to see a lot of his on air bits as well as bits and pieces of the movies that he shows. But instead of licensing old clips I wrote original movie titles and the scenes that the audience will see I’ve actually started production on the film this year. I went out and shot all of those “B” movie scenes. It was super fun. I spent five days in the studio and shot fifteen scenes from fifteen different movies. In five days. I had miniatures. Sets. Night exteriors Ed Wood style…we literally had three lights and seventeen potted plants. It was a lot of fun. A producer friend of mine helped me put it together. The crew I had was incredible. I’m really excited about putting that stuff together. The script needs one more revision. That was going to be my summer but I’m a little behind on that. So I’m putting the script together with those “B” movie horror scenes. The late night horror host is kind of an endearing ass hole. Everybody loves him. Because back in the 60s shows like that were super rebellious. They would talk honestly. It was like Adult Swim. It talks plainly and honestly to their viewers, which was very rebellious at the time. I’ve already cast Dana Snyder, the voice of Master Shake, as the host. Because nobody mines the comedy of the ass hole more then Dana. In real life he’s one of my best friends. One of the nicest guys I know. The movie’s title is “The VanderGhoul Twist.” It’s got its own pop song, which is a version of “The Twist” but you dance with knives. The song is called “The VanderGhoul Chop!” My plan is to shoot Dana Snyder as VanderGhoul and put it together with the “B” movie stuff and try to raise money to get the script made. Hopefully that will happen this year.