Mike Luciano and Phil Matarese on ‘Animals… by Uinterview

Phil Matarese and Mike Luciano, the creators of HBO’s new hit animated series, Animals., are as free as the birds they do voice overs for.

While working together in an ad agency, Matarese and Luciano looked out the window to find two pigeons resting on the ledge. Presumably bored with their jobs, and certainly with a greater destiny ahead of them, they began to give voices to the two New York City birds.

Finding the idea of two riffing pigeons funny – as many others have over the past year – Matarese and Luciano turned it into a web series and a 12-minute short. After brothers, Mark and Jay Duplass – who created the production compony behind films like Safety Not Guaranteed and Blue Jay – offered their support, Animals. became a full-fledged series, aired at Sundance Film Festival, and was then picked up by HBO.

“And now we are here and its 20 episodes later,” Matarese told uInterview exclusively.

“And Mike and I are inching our way towards death. It’s a march but I’m happy to be leading the charge.”

In the mean time, Matarese and Luciano have found great partners in both HBO and the Duplass Brothers.

“We’re huge fans of [the Duplass Brothers], first and foremost, which is what attracted us to them. They are also very attractive so we were automatically attracted,” said Luciano.

“We got to have total creative control and I think they were just great at getting us to keep following our own voice.”

While with HBO, Matarese and Luciano have found that their show has retained the same voice they created years prior, how ever explicit.

“We barely got any notes while making the show and the ones we did were just constructive and never censoring in any way,” Matarese said when discussing HBO’s input into their show.

“We’ve done some weird shit for sure that they haven’t really batted an eye at,” he added.

But while HBO has never asked them to tone it down, the network has brought a sense of professionalism that, at times, baffles the show’s creators.

“There is a joke in an upcoming episode when a bee shows his stinger and its a full on dick,” Matarese beings his story. “Our character designers are like, ‘no, it needs to be bigger and it needs to be more veiny,’ like [we’re] having circumcised or uncircumcised conversations about a bee’s penis and that’s when your sort of like, ‘ok, what is this, what is my job exactly right now?'”

At the same time, they don’t ever feel guilty for a little crass.

“We just try to make the show as funny as possible and if its a little blue sometimes than so be it.”


Q: How did you come up with the idea for the show? -

Phil Matarese - "It started as a web series. We worked in New York City at the time and we worked at this ad agency and we looked out the window, we saw these two pigeons there and we just started riffing as their voices. We thought that was funny so we threw it against some animation. So, the web series and then we did a 12 minute version of it, won this thing called New York Television Festival which got it in front of the Duplass brothers eyeballs and then they basically laid it out to us that we could make it independently, with them, with some financing they'd whip us out to California, have some of their friends do voices and we said 'yeah!' Then we moved out to California for like a year we worked on it completely independently of each other, then we screened two completed episodes at Sundance Film Festival, and then we sold it to HBO. And now we are here and its 20 episodes later, and Mike and I are inching our way towards death. It's a march but I'm happy to be leading the charge."

Q: What was it like to work with the Duplass Brothers? -

Mike Luciano - "It was really great, I mean we're huge fans of them, first and foremost, which is what attracted us to them and, they are also very attractive so we were automatically attracted. And I think that their DIY way of doing projects was very much in line with how we were doing the web series at the time. It was Phil and myself in our bedrooms, our supply closet of the job where we worked, making this thing around the clock and making it work by using the resources we had. And I think their whole idea was, lets keep that going and that's what we did. And it was nice because it demystified the process a lot and it lead to a lot of work, it took a long time but with that we got to have total creative control and I think they were just great at putting us to keep following our own voice, and that just became what the show was – just our way of doing it and that's the whole feel of it, so they helped establish that.
Phil - [holds up vitamins] "Just some slippery elm bark, you can use that for whatever you want, I swear by the stuff"
Mike - "Are you serious, are you getting money for this? I see whats happening."
Phil - "Let me finish. I'm not sponsored by Natures Way Slippery Elm Bark, I just wanted people to know the environment in which we created. Sometimes, we are performance-ly enhanced."
Mike - [holding up an Emergen-C packet] "I really resent that. I really resent that. It makes me sick almost. I'm going to suggest Emergen-C for something like that. You see, its really just tasty and when you're feeling a little low."
Phil - [holds up Theraflu] "And when you are feeling even lower – Theraflu. And this is Adderall that I bought from a girl that I wont show because all her doctors stuff is still on that, so. That's just between us."

Q: Have you or HBO ever had to censor an episode for TV? -

Phil - "No, I mean, HBO, they practice what they preach where they bring on filmmakers and people who make stuff and let them really say what they want to say. We didn't get any, we barely got any notes while making the show and the ones we did were just constructive and never censoring in any way. It was just more of story based stuff. If something needed clarification or anything like that. But I think that Mike and I, when we are writing, have a good internal barometer for what feels too crass, like being crass for crassness' sake. That's not really funny to us. If it serves the story if its funny, we go with it and you know, we've done some weird shit for sure that they haven't really batted an eye at. It's the weirdest when we have to draw it because you have to do so many different steps. Like there's a joke in an upcoming episode when a bee shows his stinger and its a full on dick. Going through all those steps of, like, line work, our character designers are like, 'no, it needs to be bigger and it needs to be more veiny, and it needs to be, like literally being circumcised or uncircumcised conversation about a bees penis and then it has to be colored and then, its just, that's when you're sort of like, 'ok, what is this, what is my job exactly right now?' But you know, we like to tell stories that, we just try to make the show as funny as possible and if its a little blue sometimes then so be it."

Q: Who were your favorite guest actors on the show? -

Mike - "Well, you know, as I was reminded this week, Usher was so great to have. His voice is truly an instrument and he was so funny. We had a lot of music people this season that pleasantly surprised us just how immediately they took to the - the show is improvised off of an outline we write and a lot of times you're not sure what you are going to get with some people and some of these musicians were so funny. Big Sean was really great. We have an episode later when Phil and I are two ends of the same worm and we go on a worm date with a female version with two ends and one is our friend Mary Holland who is creative improvisor and Ke$ha is the other side. And Ke$ha is funny it. And that is the thing that we always mention, she was just, like, immediately hysterical and its cool having people like that paired with those improvisers. It creates a cool atmosphere.
Phil - "We have a really sweet squirrels episode where Mike is trying to write a song the whole episode and Ty Segall is playing the wedding, garage rock superhero Ty Segall and it is just the cutest little moment in the episode where he just says 'believe in yourself, Mikey, and he's just got a great V.O. voice that I really thought was sweet. We have Bill Callahan as a narrator for an episode. Just more music people, more eclectic mixtures of artists throughout the year. We tried to make this season more of a grab-bag of people we really dug. Pauly Shore was really great as well. I love that dude.

Q: Have you ever had a bad guest on the show? -

Phil - "Honestly, you know what, I wish we did, I really do. It would be fun to have a good anecdote of a clunker or someone who was rude to us but honestly, maybe its just that the people we are picking are more comedy focused or comedy inclined and wouldn't have that big of an ego but, I don't know, no one really. I mean we had Jessica Chastain on and she was the sweetest person on earth when she should be stepping on me like the bug I am, but no, every one is super cool."

Q: What is your writing process? -

Phil - "Our writing process is really Mike and I locking ourselves in a writers room for two months, about, and just seeing what comes out. We know its gotta be a New York City based animal so sometimes that will spring a story or if its a genre send up we wanted to do. We wanted to do a disaster movie this year so we think about different scenarios and, you know, 'it would be funny if its an extermination' and we'd have roaches trying to escape from an apartment. So we write from the shell of an idea, inward and kind of find the animals, pick and choose, and then other than that its just whatever we're feeling, what kind of relationship we want to explore between the Phil and Mike characters, just tonally what feels good for that episode. And its good thinking about the ten episode package, which is kind of how we write too, where you know, 'that was a little too serious, ok, now lets do completely wacky squirrels at a wedding they don't want their mom to get married' let's have fun. So thats another big way, is looking at the global picture of the whole season."

Q: Do you have pets and who would play their voices? -

Mike - "Shit, that's funny"
Phil - "This is going to be such a clunker because neither of us have pets. But our parents do, I guess, alright. My mom has a fucking gang of dogs. She's up to four tiny dogs now. It's this crazy little mixture of The DuckTales kids, plus one, I guess. But who would I want to play them, probably every member of N'Sync. And just have them like, you know, the weird one with the dreadlocks, then their is Justin, who is clearly the leader, and Lance is still in the closet which will be fun, that's a fun thing to toy around with. And the other guy is also there. But, I love them all equally. I know Justin popped but for me, he's N'Sync which means, literally, in tune with one another and there's no difference between... we're going to Sirius later today, we should see if Lance is there."
Mike - "That would be fun, is he a Sirius man?"
Phil - "Yeah, I think he is a Sirius man."
Mike - "My family's dog is a little Tibetan Spaniel and its just so funny to me, thinking of his little dog brain and what little dog thoughts would pop out and for some reason I just imagine Daniel Stern, like, his voice over from The Wonder Years, just a really thoughtful, introspective narration voice for my little, arguably dumb dog, who I love a lot but something about Daniel Stern's voice feels right
Phil - "It takes a brave man to admit that he's got a dumb dog."
Mike - "Look. I got a dumb dog"
Phil - "I'd like to see a scale on that. The braver you are...no, this is a... I'd bring it to the Apple store, but they don't have it for dogs."