Photo by Todd Wawrychuk
Alex Hirsch is the creator/executive producer/star of “Gravity Falls”. The show is currently airing its first season on Disney Channel and has already developed a huge fanbase since it started airing. Alex and his creative team recently took a trip to Oregon to gain inspiration and to discover new hidden treasures including a few fun “tourist traps” for upcoming episodes of the show. Media Mikes had a chance to chat with Alex and ask him his top five discoveries/hidden gems from his trip and how he may incorporate them in the show.
Mike Gencarelli: Let’s chat about why you took a recent trip to Oregon with your crew of “Gravity Falls”?
Alex Hirsch: Our art director, Ian (Worrel), is having a baby and I am keeping my fingers crossed for a second season, which is sort of like having a baby. So we both realized that our lives are basically going to be over soon and that we should do a fun trip with the crew while we still have the time. So we booked a big ‘ole van and got twelve of our “Gravity Falls” artists to pile in. We even went to Party City to get glow sticks, disco lights and did the whole thing up right. We basically went up US Route 101 and spent four days visiting this stretch of road between California and Oregon that is known for having some of the craziest tourist traps on this coast. We just went up to the Southern tip of Oregon and back down hitting every single one of those. We were staying in weird hotels, eating at “Twin Peaks” style diners, taking photos for reference and basically goofing off as much as possible!
MG: Tell us about your top five discoveries/hidden gems from the trip?
AH: I would have to say that the most amazing thing we saw on this trip was called Trees of Mystery in Klamath, CA. Everyone knows this due to the lumberjack and the big Babe the Blue Ox on the road. It is huge and can be seen from a mile away and most people think that that is all it is. But in fact, it is just a facade for this great and incredible redwood forest. It looks like the kind of thing that would dwarf even some dinosaurs. It is beautiful, strange and filled with lumberjack lore. There are these bizarre wooden sculptures with the faces of famous lumberjacks carved into them. It sounds like I am promoting it but literally, I want to have my wedding here. It was beautiful. That was probably my absolute favorite place that we visited.
We also visited two tourists traps, so this would be two and three: The Oregon Vortex, at the Southern tip of Oregon and Confusion Hill, at the tip of California. Both of them are of the Mystery Shack mold. Basically they show you a weird slanted shack where a ball will roll uphill and people look like they are growing or shrinking based on where they stand in the shack. Depending who the tour guide is they will tell you it is an unbelievable dimensional spot in the universe where the laws of gravity don’t work…or they say “Yeah, it’s an optical illusion…buy a keychain!” There are different takes on it. I would say that “The Oregon Vortex” is more for people that are hardcore into this stuff and want to believe. Confusion Hill is more for people with a sense of humor and more of Grunkle Stan-type scenario.
The fourth one is It’s a Burl, in Northern California. It was almost like a mirage. I almost don’t believe that it existed. There was this little old dude that wore a newsy baseball cap and drove a golf cart. It was this enormous campus of treehouses and wood carvings that him and his hippie commune had built themselves. It can’t really be described. It can really only been seen. I actually bought, and this is my favorite souvenir, this phone made out of wood. It is a trunk of tree cut in half with buttons coming out of it. It is something that a gnome king would use to wage war on another gnome king. It is sitting on my desk. I haven’t figured out how to use it but it is pretty amazing.
The fifth thing is that we stayed at this place called the Benbow Inn. It is this spooky hotel that looks like it is from “The Shining”. It is out in the middle of the woods. It is huge, very fancy and ornate. It also is said to have a lot of ghost legends. I asked the waiter where we were having dinner to talk to me about the ghosts and he sort of went white and said “You really don’t want to know”. But we had a lot of fun running around taking photos of ourselves re-enacting scenes from “The Shining” in that hotel.
MG: Are you able to tell us how these items from your trip will be incorporated into the show?
AH: I’ll say that it is highly likely that a very large inanimate lumberjack could come to life in the series. After visiting that attraction, it has sort of been haunting my dreams and the things in my nightmares usually make their way into the series. So that is entirely possible. One thing that surprised me greatly was that when we visited Confusion Hill was how many things that we didn’t know have already been put into the show. There were a lot of strange parallels. Grunkle Stan is sort of this old guy that is into Grandpa humor, like the kind of plaques and T-shirts you find at a bait and tackle store. There was this episode, [speaking in Grunkle Stan’s voice] “I’ve got the complaint department here” and he holds up a trash can. Sure enough at Confusion Hill, there was something that said “Press this button” and it was a mouse trap. There was also an episode where he says [speaking in Grunkle Stan’s voice] “Look behind this curtain to see the most terrifying monsters” and it was a mirror. They had they exact attraction at Confusion Hill. I was shocked at how well we managed to psychically pick up on this corny tourist trap humor that really exists. Just being up in those trees and seeing nature, I feel that it really reinvigorated our artists. We got a chance to see how beautiful the Pacific Northwest really is. We will probably explore the woods more as well in future episodes, since we were really inspired by them.
MG: You not only work as creator/executive producer but also voice Grunkle Stan, Soos, Old Man McGucke and various others. What is your biggest challenge?
AH: I would say the top five most challenging and important tasks for me on the show is writing, writing, writing, writing and writing. Then everything else sort of falls underneath that. My primary role is to make sure that the stories and the characters feel like they are from the same voice and each episode has something for the characters and also a piece of magic that we haven’t seen before. Beyond that there are so many things from working with the artists on the design to doing the voices to final mix and directing the actors. It is a huge responsible and a ridiculously difficult job. So it was nice to get to spend four days doing absolutely nothing on this trip. Our crew is really a big group of friends and we all have this great bond. It was just very fun to spend time with friends and we really bonded well. It is sort of this amazing culture that we have created at Disney of young talent like-minded weirdo crazy artists that like to have fun and then work really really hard on something.
MG: Are you surprised with the success and following of this show after only a few episodes into the first season?
AH: That blew me away. I had very humble expectations about what would happen with the series. It is an unusual kind of show and there really isn’t a model for it. Just the fact that it is a half-hour animated comedy in the kids show genre. I mean those do not exist. These kids shows are 11-minutes like “Adventure Time”, “Spongebob” and…you name it. Those are short formed shows. Doing a longer show and one with some continuity, each episode has a little bit left over with a broader story to be told, all those things are huge experiments. I tried them because they were hard and I wasn’t sure if I could do them. But I wanted to try and pull them off because that made it interesting. I have worked on other 11-minute shows and I respect those. But I have seen them already so I wanted to try something new. I have been really just humbled and grateful from the fan response to this show. I get fan letters everyday and I feel like Santa Claus when I come to my office and there is a stack of letters. I have been doing my best to write back to each physical letter that comes to my desk that someone has taken out the time to write. I just got one recently from Japan. People also send me some amazing stuff. I got a few sewed gnomes that someone made by hand. A kid built an actual Mystery Shack and it is the size of a TV. The kid and his father actually drove to the studio and left it for me. I was on vacation at the time and I returned to my desk to see an actual Mystery Shack on my desk. Our fans are just amazing. My theory was that if you fill the show with secrets and hidden stuff and gave people a reason to pay close attention, then they would. My theory turned out to be more right than I had ever imagined. I am very grateful for it.
MG: Well, the first season is amazing and I can’t wait to see what you guys come up with next.
AH: I appreciate that. I will say that there are four episodes left in this first season. I would say that this series has some mystery, continuity and there is this broader underlying story. They found this mysterious journal…who wrote it? Grunkle Stan has secrets of his own. Gideon is up to something. A lot of those big questions, those series mysteries, will finally be addressed in the final episodes leading to the end of the first season. I think fans are going to be pretty excited to see the answers to those questions and also some of the new questions that arise out of those. So keep watching!