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Kaz Interview

The following is an interview from SpongeBob Online back in late 2003/early 2004 that was given to us by PCbob since the closing of his fansite. Thank you PCbob!

Kaz was a writer for Spongebob from January to September of 2001, and worked on such hits as Nasty Patty, One Krab's Trash, Wet Painters, and a few episodes that haven't aired yet (including Chocolate with Nuts, Super Friends, Mid-life Crustacean, Safety Freaks, and Pranks A Lot). Sure, it's a small SB lifespan, but his episodes are full of the wacky comedy we all know and love with Spongebob. I managed to catch up with Kaz to ask a few questions. Kaz was friendly, and obliged:

PCbob: Hey, Kaz! First of all, thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk to me! I suppose we should get down to the questions. Here we go:
PCbob: How did you get started on Spongebob?

Kaz: Out of the blue -- I got a call from Spongebob's creative director Derek Drymon asking me if I'd be interested in working on the show as a storyboard director and writer. Apparently, he and Steve Hillenburg had been batting around my name for a little while wondering if I'd at all be interested. They were familiar with my comic strips for Nickelodeon Magazine as well as my weekly strip, Underworld.

Steve and Derek had no way of knowing that I was a huge fan of the show and had been video taping it for close to a year. My cartooning friend, Sam Henderson, had already moved to Los Angeles to work on the show in the same position that I would be working. It felt great to already have a familiar face in the office. The biggest surprise was running into Andrew Overtoom (one of the Spongebob directors). Andrew owned the dilapidated Jersey City house I used to live in. So, Andrew Overtoom was once my SLUM LORD.

PCbob: Well, that's certainly an interesting way to join a writing team. What's a normal day like at the good ol' Spongebob office?

Kaz: Get there around ten. Drink strong coffee to wake up. Read a newspaper. Yap with your writing partner for a while. Do some drawing and writing on the storyboard. Walk around to other people's offices yapping with them. Go to lunch. Take a little nap. Work for a couple of hours on the storyboard. Go home.

Some days you go down to the voice record and watch the actors because it's fun and entertaining.

If it's a pitch day you would be rushing to finish the story before Steve and Derek show up.

For me, it went like this:

I've got two weeks to finish a thumbnail storyboard of an episode. My writing partner and I are given a two page outline of an episode with a two-page breakdown (only in writing) of the plot points of that episode. This episode
has been dreamed up by Steve and the writing staff.

My partner and I take that outline and basically make a comic book out of it.We split the story in two and start working on our halves. We pick the poses, "camera" angles, and write the character dialogue. There are gag and dialogue suggestions in the outline and sometimes we use them. But we are also given the freedom of coming up with stuff if it's funnier and works better. We wind up coming up with a lot of our own material. This is where the writing part happens. We work on post-its stuck to storyboard paper (it's got the boxes to stick the post-its in). My partner and I have one week to get a whole episode (about 300 drawings with dialogue) tacked up on our office walls. We read each other's work and suggest jokes, dialogue and story points to each other. And we argue about these suggestions. In the second week we have a meeting with Steve and Derek where we pitch the episode to them, doing all the voices as we point to the pictures -- like reading a children's book to a kid. Then they tell us their opinions and suggest better ways of doing things. We will do this two more times with Steve and Derek (each time the meetings are longer) until we all feel that the episode is ready to be pitched to the whole crew in the big conference room.

After almost every pitch, my partner and I have a stack of notes about changes in the story. Sometimes we have to throw out huge chunks of what we did and rewrite them. And sometimes we have to stay late and rewrite things that didn't work even after the big final pitch.

It's always spirit breaking when you write and draw something that you think is hilarious and everyone just stares at you, quiet.

Once my partner and I are done with the episode, it's given to the storyboard finishers who redraw the whole storyboard to exactly how the characters and backgrounds are supposed to look like (which wasn't our concern as writer-thumbnail storyboard guys).

The story can change a bit in another stage with gags and ideas being added in the anamatic stage (the storyboards on digital tape with the voices added).

PCbob: So now we know a normal (and hectic) day in the Spongebob office. Did you ever get to guest star? Like as a voice in the show, or maybe an extra in one of the live action specials?

Kaz: Only once. I got to yell something in a crowd scene. But I've taken acting lessons since working on Spongebob so I'm ready for my lines now. Hello? Hello? I'm ready for my lines. Hello? Where is everybody?

PCbob: Well, next time I see a crowd scene, hopefully I'll hear your voice in there somewhere. Which character is the most fun writing for?

Kaz: I loved writing for Mr. Krabs. His character was very sharply defined. And since he was a salty sailor once, we could get more grown-up reactions out of him. Wait till you see the torture Spongebob and Patrick put him through in the mid-life episode.

The interplay between Spongebob and Patrick was always great fun. I felt like I was writing for a classic comedy team, like Abbot and Costello or Laurel and Hardy.

PCbob: Yes, that Mr. Krabs is quite a character. Speaking of which, which character are you most like?

Kaz: I asked that question to my wife and she says Spongebob. Though I'm not innocent and naive like him. I have a dark and cynical sense of humor. But it's mixed with a silly, happy optimism. Though sometimes I sure feel like Patrick...duh.

PCbob: Sounds like a day with you would be interesting. :-p What was your favorite episode to work on?

Kaz: The first one, THE NASTY PATTY, was amazing because it went so smoothly. I was paired up with Spongebob's number one storyboard writer, Paul Tibbitt. We got really big laughs at the pitch. The subject matter was pretty dark for Spongebob (he and Krabs think they killed the health inspector), so it was right up my alley. Paul Tibbitt was incredible. He was pretty quiet and was constantly doodling. We barely talked about the episodes. My drawings looked like the drawings of a retard next to his. It's a good thing I could come up with some jokes. I just tried to catch up and not fart in the room.

I also loved working on CHOCOLATE WITH NUTS because I got to create the two weird old ladies that Spongebob and Patrick sell chocolate to. That was my third and last episode with Paul Tibbitt. After that, I worked with Carl Greenblatt. Carl was the total opposite of Paul. He was chatty, cheerful, and full of wired energy. We discussed almost everything we worked on. And we waited till the last minute to do almost everything. Carl and I would throw out whole sections of the outline and rewrite them. It made the final episodes more of our own. But it also made it harder to convince Steve (since he was really the head writer and helped to come up with the original stories in the first place). I think the two funniest episodes I worked on with Carl are WET PAINTERS and MID-LIFE CRUSTACEAN.

PCbob: Most of us here love Nasty Patty, and I know I can't wait to see all of your other work. In general, what would you say your favorite episode was?

Kaz: my fave episode is the one where Spongebob is stuck waiting at a dark scary bus station. (Rock Bottom)

PCbob: It's pretty dark, isn't it? On a sadder note, how do you feel about Steve ending Spongebob?

Kaz: Sad. Because it means that I won't be working on any more Spongebob episodes. Eight is not enough.

PCbob: I know 60 isn't enough for me. Back to happy thoughts, what were some of your fondest memories working on Spongebob?

Kaz: Meeting everybody on the show. I loved talking to Steve Hillenburg about cartooning and the animation business. Steve was very smart in how he designed the show and the characters and their personalities. I loved watching Steve and Derek go over the storyboards. They had an amazing sense of what makes a good story and when a story is not working and why. I loved being in a room with them and Paul or Carl as we all jammed to hash out gags or story points. I felt like a real comedy writer at those times. They were also just great, warm, friendly guys. We were constantly joking around. The crew would socialize after work too. Bar-b-q's, parties, etc.

I also loved sitting in on the voice records. I got to know Sponebob's voice, Tom Kenny. I was already a fan from his work on HBO's Mr. Show. And was happy to find out that he's a big comics geek who was a fan of my comic strip, Underworld. Tom is always filled with funny stories and wisecracks. He's got a weird way of leaning right into your face when he's talking to you. After a while, you're hypnotized by his big eyeballs and start to see him as a cartoon character. Tom has a way of making me feel instantly happy. It is his power ... it is his curse.

PCbob: What I would do to meet those guys... Anywho, what advice do you have for those who want to get involved in the profession of cartooning/ writing, etc.?

Kaz: My advice is to just sit down and start working. Then take your work and try to get it out there in any way possible. Publish your own comic book. Xerox and staple your work and send it around to everybody. Make your own little film. If your work is good, people will recognize it and ask you to do work for them (or even better -- they'll want to produce your original work).

PCbob: And so I shall. Any closing words to the crazed Spongebob fans out there?

Kaz: I gotta say, what was really wonderful about working on Spongebob was that through my words and pictures I became Spongebob, Patrick, Squidward, and the whole Bikini Bottom gang. I got to think what they were thinking and see what they were seeing (at least for a little while).

I'd like to sincerely thank Kaz for the interview. You can thank him too, by checking out his site KAZ UNDERWORLD. Please note that this site is not for young children. Thanks again for sharing your Spongebob knowlege with the Spongebob fans! It means alot to us! =)