One day you’re hocking beer with talking frogs and the next thing you know you’ve got a hit animated show on HBO. That’s life for Steve Dildarian, creator of the very funny adult comedy series The Life and Times of Tim. Employing crude drawings brought to life with a minimalist animation style, the show chronicles the misadventures of a young man who just can’t seem to catch a break. Tim’s well-meaning intentions are always derailed in disastrous ways, often thorough his own fault and other times by the ne’r-do-wells with whom he chooses to keep company. In many ways, it plays like the animated version of another HBO favorite, Curb Your Enthusiasm. Tim is kind of a young Larry David, only instead of living in Beverly Hills on millions of dollars earned from Seinfeld, he’s shacked up with his all-too-forgiving girlfriend in a crummy apartment in New York City.
Dildarian got his start in advertising and scored big with his ‘Budweiser Frogs’ campaign. He later dabbled in animation, creating a short titled Angry Unpaid Hooker. The comedy piece did well on the festival circuit and served as the basis for The Life and Times of Tim, which is currently in its first season consisting of ten episodes each featuring two stories. We got Steve on the horn and asked a few questions about the show and the unexpected directon his career has taken.
Animation Magazine Online: You’re not an animator, though you’re obviously becoming one with this show. When did you decide you wanted to do an animated series?
Steve Dildarian: I didn’t really plan on doing it. I’d been trying to write pilots off and on, and a lot of the work I’d done in advertising for Budweiser started lending itself to learning this stuff. I started doing some illustration and voiceover work, and before I knew it, I had an animated short film, which wasn’t for me like a big, new endeavor I was embarking on’it was just one of many projects. But people really loved it and before we knew it, we won Best Animated Short at Aspen and things started to happen. So here I am, an animator a couple years later.
AMO: What was the process of making that first short, Angry Unpaid Hooker? Did you have friends to help you out, or did you figure it out on your own?
SD: It was really just me and an art director, Leynete Cariapa. It was basically an experiment to see if we could make some really rudimentary animation. I took a Bic pen and drew some stuff and she colored them in PhotoShop, and then we just made a bunch of flattened jpegs and, in iMovie, strung them together to make it look like the mouths were moving and the people were crossing their arms and legs. It was a pretty bare-bones, flipbook-style thing, which is isn’t terribly different from what we’re doing with the show.
AMO: Are you still doing a lot of the drawing yourself?
SD: Very little. I draw the faces, but beyond that, Leynete has three illustrators and the four of them draw the rest loosely based on my original style from that first short film’the flat, 2D look with sort of jagged body parts.
AMO: What’s your process for coming up with these scenarios Tim finds himself in?
SD: It’s mostly just trying to get Tim into awkward situations and finding some people in the world that any of us would encounter and putting a perverse twist on it. A lot of the time we’re looking to everyday things like parents, employers and religious figures, and kind of asking the question ‘who’s a good person and who’s not?’ That’s the them of a lot of the shorts.
AMO: When do you find out from HBO whether or not they want to continue the show and order another season?
SD: That’s a good question. There’s no rhyme or reason as to when as far as I can tell, but, in general, they seem to be pretty quick with making up their minds. We’re lucky that with them it’s not all about ratings’actually it has little to do with ratings. They just want to know that people are liking it, that it’s critically acclaimed and that they believe in it themselves. They like to give things a chance to find an audience. So far, HBO seems to be a huge supporter of it, so that’s a good thing.
AMO: You’ve listed people like Larry David and Ricky Gervais among your inspirations. What else do you draw inspiration from? What do you like to watch?
SD: In recent times, there’s such a short list of things that I would consider myself a genuine fan of. As far as influences on my work goes, growing up watching reruns of The Honeymooners was a big part of my life. Living in New Jersey I understood the characters and the underdog, me-against-the-world mentality. The reason I keep mentioning Curb Your Enthusiasm is that it’s the first show in years that really made me sit up and take notice. I genuinely consider myself a fan and go out of my way to find the show. There’s something about Larry David that [reflects] my point of view. I think we share a similar take on the world.
AMO: having been through the process, what advice would you give to other people out there who have an idea for an animated show and are trying to get people to look at it?
SD: It’s tricky for me to give advice because I came at it at such a strange angle. The only thing I would say is one way or another just get it done. Make the thing instead of talking about it and having scripts floating around. There’s something about just having the piece of work. If I had Angry Unpaid Hooker as a script and was just talking about it and trying to sell myself as a writer, it would have taken forever. But once you have that little Quicktime you can post, things’at least with this’take on a life of their own real fast. I didn’t have the resources to make it’the money or the ability’I just kind of did it the hard way and thought ‘How tough can it be to do some rudimentary animation.’ I rolled up my sleeves and got into the thing so I could have a story and that kind of changed everything.
AMO: So you’re a testament to the fact that you don’t have to have polished animation or be John Lasseter to get your point across?
SD: What I’m trying to do is all about the story and the dialogue. That’s not everyone’s cup of tea and some people criticize it for the fact that its so crude. But, for me, it’s just not about that. As long as it looks like they’re alive and they’re blinking and moving their mouths, that’s enough animation for me. I want the jokes to work and, to some degree, my show almost works as a radio show.
AMO: A radio show?
SD: Yeah. I used to do a lot of radio commercials with the Budweiser lizards and things like that, and it was about having engaging characters who can paint a picture with what they say. If you can pull it off, it’s a great form of storytelling. When we do these audio tracks, sometimes I’m laughing and loving the episode before I even watch it against picture, and that’s when I know it’s working. It only gets better once you put pictures to it and make those pictures move, but I don’t think either of those are necessary to enjoy the story.
AMO: What are your other aspirations in the entertainment business? Are you looking to do features or some more animation?
SD: I’ve always wanted to write a TV show, so finally I can cross that off my list to dome degree’I’ve got something on the air. That’s all I’ve ever wanted to do. I don’t think I would do another animated show, though I guess it’s possible because once you’ve had some success with something, you never know where that takes you. But I would probably just try to do something different. Before this, I really hadn’t done animation and that’s why I’m enjoying it, it’s a new challenge.
The Life and Times of Tim airs Sundays at 11 p.m. on HBO. You can watch clips of the show at www.hbo.com/tim