Sunday, November 1, 2020

How I Joined Bugs, Daffy, Elmer and Porky As A Warner Bros. Animated Character

So what do Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Elmer Fudd, Porky Pig and yours truly all have in common?  Why, we're all animated characters in productions from Warner Bros. Studios.  Now I don't think too many people wonder how Bugs, Daffy, Porky and Elmer made their way to Warner Bros. animation, but there are plenty of blanks to fill in as to how I got to join that distinguished group.  It all happened quite suddenly and I really didn't figure it all out until after the fact.  

Now as a Z-list celebrity I have become used to receiving random requests.  It could be a request to write an article, a request to be interviewed, or it could be a distraught consumer in the rural south who finds their local grocery store no longer sells some gloppy Chinese American sauce and asks me for an alternate source.  (Have you heard of Amazon?)   Anyway one Monday evening I receive an email from the Associate Producer of a "digital show" called Family Style, to the effect that they were doing a segment on Chinese buffets, and could I help them out with expert opinion.  They ask me whether I had time to do a conference call on Wednesday with their group to answer historical questions about Chinese buffets.  Since I would be stuck three hours waiting for my car to be repaired, I told them I had plenty of time.

There were three or four people on the call, which I decided to take while walking on a residential street in Van Nuys to minimize background noise, and right off the bat I could see they were going way off track because they were working off the premise that Chinese buffets had something to do with some ancient Chinese eating tradition.  Silly them.  For the first 100 years of Chinese presence in the United States, it was just us rural Cantonese peasants in America who knew nothing about refined Chinese traditions.  Rather, Chinese buffets were an offshoot of post-WW II Vegas Buffets and 1960s and 1970s Smorgasboards and buffets in Los Angeles and other cities.  Anyway I straightened them out and gave them a brief history of the Chinese in the United States.  They then asked if I could come into their office Friday afternoon to shoot some scenes.

On Thursday they sent me the video schedule on a "call sheet"-- had never seen anything so professional in my life.  Shooting would be in Burbank in an office tower near the Warner Bros. lot, at someplace called Stage 13 and it listed a production crew of 20 people.  Anyway I drove down there and when I got there it looked like regular office space.  I saw a Warner Bros. logo along with a large sign saying Stage 13.  I figured maybe these people were leasing space from Warner Bros., though I was also puzzled as to why these people would need an entire floor of office space.  Anyway, they took me down to a conference room to shoot the video, which took nearly 2 hours.  There were two camera operators, a gal who operated those little blackboards that they say "Scene 1, Take 1", an interviewer who was introduced as the animation director, a producer, and some other woman.  The final sequence was shot outdoors, with me walking along Magnolia Blvd. toting a large canvas bag filled with hundreds take out restaurant menus, which they asked me to bring along as a prop.  One of the conference room scenes had me go through some of the menus and describe the particular restaurant.

Even at this point after leaving the video shoot, the Warner Bros. connection was murky to me, since it was not actually in the studio, there were no other Warner Bros. trappings in the office, and nobody at any point in time had mentioned a relationship between Family Style and Warner Bros.  So when I got home, I decided to go on the computer and sort things out.  I found out that Stage 13 is actually a project of Warner Bros. to create short form unscripted content.  They have 10 different YouTube shows.  That explains the permanent office space, as many of the workers support the entire Stage 13 agenda, not just the show I was working on.  I looked up prior Family Style episodes from Season 1, and found they were built around well known Asian American talent like Daniel Dae Kim, Harry Shum Jr., Jon Chu and Hudson Yang.   As it turns out, they were affiliated with Warner Bros. TV shows and movies and hence available for cross marketing. Even the show's stable of revolving hosts are credited Asian American performers.  And finally the Warner Bros. presence explains why the call sheet included language not to discuss this project on social media.  

A week and a half after the video shoot we went into lockdown.  And with the pandemic raising havoc in the restaurant industry in general, and buffet restaurants most of all, I figured that my episode would never be released.  So it was a surprise almost five months later to receive an email from the Executive Producer of the show saying that they were finishing post production work and asked if I could send scans of a couple of dozen Chinese menus for an animation sequence.  What?  They were going to show Chinese restaurant menus singing and dancing?  Okay.  They were very happy with what I sent them, and said the the episode would be released in the Fall, and would update me when that happened.  And actually, I never got that update.  But I do a daily self-Google, so I picked up on it the day after it was released.  And who knew the animation scene would include me playing multiple roles as Maitre'd, waiter, chef, buffet server and baker, as well as walking through rice and wheat fields?

 If you missed the episode, it's here.