Interview: Rob Schrab Pt. 2 [of 4]

Categories:  Interviews


“It’s about a robot that kills people for money,” Rob Schrab begins, explaining the fate of the Scud movie. “So, in order to make that story, you have to change a lot about it. If you’re going to set it in the surrealistic future, where there are monsters, there’s a certain price tag, if you’re going to do it live action. That means that you’ve got to get George Clooney and we’ve got to see his face.”

George Clooney as Scud? Probably not. And that’s seemingly a big part of the reason that, in spite of having optioned the book to Oliver Stone’s people, shortly after the success of Natural Born Killers, the Scud movie was, more or less, dead on arrival.

Schrab and writing partner Dan Harmon moved to Los Angeles soon after Stone’s people purchased the rights to their comic. And the duo learned a lot about the inner-works of Hollywood in a relatively short amount of time.

[Part One]

Getting back to that standup comedy analogy, at what point did you realize that you weren’t just playing to an empty room?

Probably many years after I put Scud on the shelves, to be honest. I would go to conventions, and there would be the same faces coming up, every once in a while. But you’ve got to remember, back in the early 90s—I drew the first Scud book back in 1993, and it hit shelves in early ’94. And I did it until ’97. I remember, around ’97 is when I got my first e-mail address. I was sharing it with a bunch of other people at Fireman Press.

Websites were a new thing, dot coms and such. It was all a very new thing. The only feedback we would get was snail mail—letters. Or the occasional phone call from some crazy person. It was pretty much a smaller version of what you get now under the comments section of any YouTube video you put up. You put something up on Youtube, whether you’re promoting yourself or just fucking around, you get people who say, “this is great, this is hilarious,” but mostly you get, “this is stupid, this is dumb. What a bunch of bullshit. Get a life.”

Only I would get that by mail.

So they had to put some thought into that.

Yeah. You know, I still don’t understand it to this day. So you searched for my video, and you took the time to log-in and took the time to log-in to say that you don’t like this. There’s a certain personality that feels like they have to say something. I’m not that kind of person, and it sounds like you’re not that kind of person. If I don’t like something, I don’t say anything about it. But there is a small, but very vocal, group of people that have to let you know that they don’t approve of what you do.

So, back in the 90s, one letter to me would be such a huge thing. To me, it was like somebody had to get out a piece of paper—or type it—and write this thing that explained to me why my book wasn’t funny or drawn well, or how I blew it in the last issue and how I need to go back to the way Scud used to be and make more references to other movies and how my drawings are confusing. Then they had to fold that up, find my address, write it down, put a stamp on it, and walk to the mail box and mail it.

For someone to put forth that much effort, I must not be doing a great job. But now, looking back and being so familiar with that YouTube or Ain’t it Cool message board, there’s a small but very vocal group of people who have to let you know that you did it wrong. I just mark it up to jealousy or loneliness. They just want to start a fight.

They’re trolls. There were trolls back then, and I didn’t know that. So, when I was doing the book, I thought that we were kind of a failure. We made just enough money to keep the book alive, and people seem to like it, when we went to conventions. But it never really broke through.

Around ’97, that’s around when we signed a deal with Oliver Stone’s company to make a movie. And then, at the same time, we signed a deal with Segasoft to make a game out of it. So I was like, “holy shit. This is it. I’m about go Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I’m about to have a move and a video game. I’m going to finally be able to live off of that.”

I was working my ass off for free, doing 12 hours a day, plus having a part-time job just to pay rent, just to keep this moving, in hopes that one day I could make a living off of it and hopefully make a really good living off of it. that was the goal. But in the back of my head, I always wanted to make movies. I wanted to write and be a part of comedy and sci-fi and horror.

Definitely correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems like, given what I’ve read in interviews and the like, that you saw comics as a stepping stone of sorts.

Well, yeah. Some people say, “you just used this as a way to get into Hollywood.” Well, yeah man, of course. I like to draw and I can draw. And I like to tell stories. If I would have had the technology then that I have now, I probably wouldn’t have done—well, that’s not true. I probably would have done a short or a series of shorts featuring Scud—I take that back, because I do love to draw.

I like going to comic book shops and being inspired by art, but I never really followed Spider-man or whatever. When people start talking about Steve Ditko or start naming names, I’m like, “brother, I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

Comic conventions must have been awful for you.

Um, not really. I just felt like a nerd among nerds.

Just a different kind of nerd.

Yeah. People would stand in line at other booths, and I would go, “who’s that?” “Oh, that’s so-and-so.” I didn’t know who it was. I never really got those lines that Shi or Bone or Tony Millionaire would get. I remember, back in the day, when I was doing a convention in LA—it might have been Comic Con, back when Comic Con wasn’t gigantic, when you could actually see the other end of it. it was a couple of years before I hung it up.

I remember sitting there at my small, pathetic little table, selling my shitty screenprinted Scud shirts, talking to the occasional Scud fan, who would be incredibly nice and flattering, and then looking across the way and seeing a long line for Tony Millionaire for Drinky Crow and seeing people like Dana Gould and Brian Posehn and all of these Mr. Show people, and just going, “man, I want that to be me one day.”And now I work with those guys. So it’s kind of funny. And I’ve hung out with Tony Millionaire. It’s funny how that just kind of happens.

I like going to Comic Con, but I would always be trying to hunt down something from 60s Japanese television. I was into films and movies. I was always looking for something that I’ve never seen before, usually on videotape or DVD or whatever. And occasionally I would see a cool comic book and be like, “oh, this is fun.” I love great art and I love design.

There’s nothing more inspiring than going to Meltdown, here in Los Angeles, or going to Golden Apple and picking up a new book like Ben Templesmith’s Wormwood: Gentleman Corpse, and you go, holy shit, this is genius. This art makes me want to draw again. Or you look at someone like Doug TenNaple, who keeps cranking out these giant novels, and each one gets sold to make into a movie. And Jim Mahfood.

It’s great. I love art, I love drawing. I love how things are colored. I think it’s really, really fun, and I use all of the things that I learned in comics in films and TV shows that I’ve done. I think it helps immensely. I’ve always said that comics were my film school and Scud was my reel, before I was actually able to buy a camera.

And I think that when people say, “you just used comics as a stepping stone,” I would argue that it wasn’t a stepping stone. It’s all part of the same thing. It’s one big umbrella of entertainment. Comic books and movies and television are slowly all becoming the same thing. You have a comic book being made into a movie and then when the movie is done and out, the comic book keeps the franchise alive until the next movie comes out. And then the animated series comes along, and then the toys.

All of that stuff is one big glob of awesome coolness. I don’t know what else to call it. I don’t necessarily think of it as a stepping stone. I think of it as a tool to get my ideas out there. Sometimes it’s easier to do a short film. It’s quicker. You can shoot something in a week and edit it in a couple of days. Whereas the comic book, it can take quite a bit of time.

Time is very valuable for me, right now, but I always wish that I could do it all. Right now, I’ll pitch around an idea that I think is the coolest idea in the world. It would make a really cool movie or TV show. And people go, “I can’t see it. I can’t see what it could be.” And then you do a comic book of it, and they go, “oh my god, I get it. I’ll buy it.”

So, on that note, what happened with the Scud film?

The thing about it is, deals get made every single day, every single hour, every single second. And every comic book—there are production studios that go to comic cons, just to see what hasn’t gotten picked up yet. People just want to option stuff. That’s what it is. When people option stuff, it’s them going, “I want to give you a bunch of money to just see if it’s possible.” Making a movie and TV show is really, really difficult to push through.

Harmon and I wrote a bunch of screenplays that will maybe never see the light of day. Monster House was our very first script. We wrote it back in ’98. And that was what got us into the business. And it sat on the shelf for almost 10 years, before they came along and said, “hey, instead of doing live action, what if we did it animated.” And that was that.

With that, we got really, really lucky. We worked really, really hard. And even then, I wanted to direct it. And the guy they got to direct it, Gil [Kenan], is a fine guy. He did great. It’s hard to have sour grapes when you’re sitting in a theater full of people loving what you did so much, being probably the most successful thing you’ve ever done.

Scud, back in the day, I had no idea how the business was run. I was drawing it on my kitchen table, back in Milwaukee. I was lucky enough to get hooked up with the right people who got me a meeting with a bunch of people in town, one of which was Oliver Stone’s executives. We pitched it to them, and they thought it was fun.

We wanted to do an animated movie. It happened right after Natural Born Killers, and I was saying, “this could be a followup to Natural Born Killers, because it’s violent, and all of that animation that you saw that was really stylized and fun—why not do an entire movie like that?” Back then, I didn’t realize that the reason movies feel the way they do isn’t necessarily because the writer, the director, or the production team can’t think of big, crazy, cool ideas—it’s just, can they afford to do it?

So, when you think of these huge, huge, huge ideas, they might be great, but they can also be very expensive. And when something becomes expensive, it has to appeal to a broader audience. The more expensive a movie is, sometimes the dumber it is. So when you see a movie that’s $200 million, it’s got to have a big name in it, and it’s got to do this and that.

Scud never really had a chance to be that. It’s about a robot that kills people for money. So, in order to make that story, you have to change a lot about it. If you’re going to se it in the surrealistic future, where there are monsters, there’s a certain price tag, if you’re going to do it live action. That means that you’ve got to get George Clooney and we’ve got to see his face.

[Continued in Part Three]

–Brian Heater