The underdog came out on top for once when the no-budget animated web series It’s Jerry Time became the first video blog to win an Emmy during the 34th Annual Creative Arts & Entertainment Daytime Emmy Awards last month. The deadpan comedy is the brainchild of Orrin and Jerry Zucker, brothers from Buffalo, New York who run Boston-based Ozone Inc., a broadcast design company that mainly creates animation for show opens and promos.
Animation Magazine Online: How did It’s Jerry Time come about?
Jerry Zucker: One of our clients suggested we try our hand at original programming, even though we’d never done anything like that. We were racking our brains and I guess on our way back from lunch I told Orrin a story, which ended up becoming our first episode [‘Who’s That Guy’].
Orrin Zucker: Jerry’s got a ton of these stories and we said, let’s just do it. We can put it on the web.
AMO: How do did you come up with that signature style of animation?
OZ: When we were asked to pitch this idea for a show to Court TV, I started experimenting with a technique that had a three-dimensional environment but wasn’t something horribly difficult for me to do. I wasn’t drawing it and it wasn’t really 3D’it was just more photographic. I just wanted to manipulate photos in 3D space.
AMO: What software do you use for that?
OZ: After Effects, mainly. Jerry’s on a bit of a loop and every once in a while, if there’s a specific emotion he has, I’ll go back in and give him very specific eyes.
JZ: I work cheap, so anytime he wants an expression, he just gives me a call.
AMO: How long does it take to put together one of these episodes?
OZ: Probably about four to six weeks. It’s really just me and Jerry, so it’s pretty much on our spare time. If we see a crack in the schedule, we’ll jump on an episode and, hopefully, by the time ewe finish there will be work piling up.
AMO: How did you first get the episodes out into the world?
OZ: We have a friend named Steve Garfield and he’s really into the whole vlogging world. We called him up and I said, ‘Hey, Steve, I’ve got something here that I think would make a good vlog, help me out.’ He came over and within a half an hour it popped up on our website and we’ve just been adding to it ever since. Our entry into the Emmys was sponsored by MySpace, so after we won they featured us and within a few days there were hundreds of thousands of people looking at it. That was amazing to see.
AMO: You’ve done 13 episodes. Do you have plans to do more or will you move on to something else?
JZ: We’re working on an episode right now and, hopefully, we can get that out in a month or so. My part’s pretty easy. All I have to do is come up with a decent monologue and then, at the very end, record the piano and stick it on there. Orrin has all the hard work. But it is kind of hard work coming up with a story that is animation-worthy.
AMO: Are these stories very true-to-life, or are they embellished a bit for the sake of animation.
JZ: Believe it or not, I tone them down for the sake of animation. Orrin is the one who embellishes things. I try to keep things vanilla and stick to the facts. Sometimes you have to change names and faces so people don’t come back and put an ice pick in you.
AMO: Where do you get the photographic representations of the people in your stories?
OZ: All over. They’re stock photography, friends, my kids’anywhere I can get them. We’re basically trying to do this without any sort of budget at all. It’s all really lost-and-found art. Sometimes we’ll contact a blogger in, say, Toronto and ask him to take some pictures of the city because we have an episode that takes place [there]. We’ll go to Flicker and contact photographers about some shots they’ve taken in Gettysburg or something like that. We try to use the resources of the web to help us out.
AMO: Jerry, when these things were happening to you, did you ever imagine that hundreds of thousands of people would be entertained by them?
JZ: I never thought that, for example, when I was being thrown into jail people would be laughing their asses off at it. There are still some traumatic times. The naked swim has always stuck with me as something that was truly unfair at an institutional level, and I happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong idea, which was not jumping into the water. It was a very painful episode because back in the ’70s we were forced to swim naked in school. It’s so painful when you go through an experience that you block it out purposefully because that’s your best way of protecting yourself from getting bummed out and stuff. In that episode, I had a lot of help from some of my former classmates in junior high school who wrote in with their experiences and I worked them into the story because I had forgotten a lot. I think things bother me more than the average person. Now that it’s a cartoon, it’s a little bit more light-hearted, but at the time it wasn’t that funny to me.
OZ: I think that’s actually part of the humor. The narration is very straight, but the visuals don’t necessarily match what he’s saying in tone. If you really look at them, I can see that they’re done by two different people.
AMO: Have you had people from these stories, like your landlord or former bosses, come forward and say, ‘Hey, that’s me!’?
JZ: The landlord, as far as I know, still doesn’t know about it. It’s the same landlord I have right now. I don’t think anyone who has been portrayed as an adversary knows about it.
OZ: When we launched this, we pretty much said that the character’s based in Buffalo, because that’s where we grew up. I think we disguise it well enough that people might not recognize themselves.
AMO: What has the Emmy win meant for you two?
OZ: We’ve been getting a lot of interest in licensing. We’re working that out right now and tryin to figure out what’s the best way to go. It’s actually very complicated.
AMO: Has it brought more work into Ozone Inc.?
OZ: We’ve had a lot of interest, but on the Internet you tend to get contacted by a lot of people who want something for nothing. I’m working on a series of animations for a client in the [It’s Jerry Time] style. I’ve done it for the Celtics, too. For some reason, sports really likes it.
JZ: I haven’t been recognized at any supermarket or anything. My character’s too much of a mash-up for anyone to say, ‘Hey, aren’t you ‘?’ I have been recognized on the phone, though.
AMO: Anything else going on with you guys?
JZ: We’re working on other little spin-offs and projects that are in various stages. We might be working on other characters as well. It’s just a very fluid situation. We’ll try to keep up the quality. I guess I’m going to have to get some more experiences.
AMO: Do you find yourself welcoming awkward situations just to have a good story to tell with animation?
JZ: I have this bad tendency to just hang in there a little bit longer than I should just to see what happens. I guess I’m doing that a bit more these days.
Watch two episodes of It’s Jerry Time on AniMagTV (www.animag.tv), and see more at www.itsjerrytime.com.