Me and “Love, Death and Robots”
The Netflix animated-but-really-not-for-kids series Love, Death & Robots came out last Friday, and three of the eighteen episodes were based on short stories of mine: “When the Yogurt Took Over,” “Alternate Histories” and “Three Robots.” So naturally folks are wondering how I got involved with the series and how these particular stories were chosen, as well as my thoughts on the whole experience of seeing my stories turned into these animated shorts. I’m happy to report that in fact the entire process was quite pleasant, and honestly kind of a best-case scenario in how working with film and television folks can go.
The initial contact happened in January of 2017, when someone from Blur (the production company that made the series for Netflix, run by Tim Miller, who is best known as the director of Deadpool), got in touch with my film/TV agent about optioning two stories from my Miniatures collection, “Yogurt” and “Alternate Histories,” for a potential animated series. I was deeply amused by the possibility of “Yogurt” in particular being turned into an animated film — I had written the piece in about an hour a few years previous, mostly as a goofy thing for this very blog — and after some research into Blur and the usual back and forth with terms, we gave the company the option on the stories.
When that happened I did one of my patented “Well, this was a good day,” mysterious tweets, which lead to this DM exchange with one of my friends:
Friend (jokingly): Basically, everything you’ve ever written has been optioned for television? Except for the yogurt thing.
Me: No, seriously.
Friend: The yogurt thing has been optioned?
Me: (sends image of the opening graph of the Yogurt option)
Friend: Oh my fucking god.
Which of course I found entirely delightful.
Not long after I signed the option I was in Los Angeles on other business entirely and I stopped by Blur to meet Tim Miller. We got along famously, and some time later I sent him a short piece I had written for the Robots vs Fairies anthology, not to pitch it to him but just because I thought he’d enjoy it. He wanted it anyway, and that’s how “Three Robots” was bought for the series before it was even published.
Working with Tim and the Blur team has been a highly positive experience. They kept lines of communication open, and checked in with me during production. They also asked for my thoughts and notes, which I gave and which they took seriously, incorporating many into further iterations of the shorts they were developing from my stories. The screenwriters for my episodes (Philip Gelatt for “Three Robots” and “Alternate Histories,” and Janis Robertson for “Yogurt”) did a fine job in adapting my original story concepts to something that could work on screen; most of what I wrote in my stories made it to the scripts, but what was different and/or added made the stories better as animated shorts. I count those as good collaborations. Likewise with Victor Maldonado and Alfredo Torres, who co-directed all of my episodes. They got me and my work. Additionally, Blow Studios did the design and animation for “Three Robots” and “Yogurt” and Sun Creature Studio did the honors for “Alternate Histories.” Both studios did their work fabulously.
(Also, let me geek out for a moment about the voice acting on my episodes! Rebecca Reidy and Dieter Jansen are fabulous in “Alternate Histories” and Josh Brenner and Gary Anthony Williams make their two of the “Three Robots” come alive — plus it tickles me to have Chris Parnell cameo in that episode. And as a lover of both The Brain from Pinky and the Brain, and of Father from Kids Next Door, the fact that Maurice LaMarche narrates “When the Yogurt Took Over” fills my brain with unfathomable squee.)
The biggest problem, if you want to call it that, was simply keeping quiet about the series until the last couple of months. Obviously when one sells an option for one’s work, one wants to announce it, as loudly as possible, not only for ego gratification (although, come on, that’s a big part of it) but because it helps sell options for other work. But Netflix and Blur wanted to play this one close to the vest, as it were. They had done well by me in every other respect, so keeping quiet in public was something I was happy to do. In any event, now it’s out in the world, and I can talk about my participation in it.
All three of my episodes were part of the early preview that Netflix showed to pro reviewers, and I was happy and relieved to see that the reviews of those segments were almost uniformly positive. Reviewers seemed to enjoy the humor and bought into the ridiculousness of the episodes and their stories. These episodes are the first things of mine ever to make it to TV (although The Verge adapted and animated one of my short stories earlier this year on their Web site), so it’s nice to have the first things of mine that people watch in their living rooms be things that they really seem to like. The episodes are even already generating fan art, including one robot in particular:
So that’s nice. Folks have been saying to me that there should be a “Three Robots” TV series, which, well, sure. If Blur and Netflix want it, I’ll be happy to talk to them about it. In the meantime, I’m enjoying what we have now.
I’m also pleased that a number of my friends also had work adapted in LD&R, including Marko Kloos, Peter F. Hamilton, Ken Liu, Joe Lansdale and Alistair Reynolds among others, and that by and large the general response to the series has been good, both from reviewers and from people watching. There have been substantive criticisms as well, mostly about the series skewing heavily toward the male gaze, which I think is a fair assessment. It’s something for everyone involved in a series to consider for a season two, if there is a season two, which I hope there is, whether I’m involved or not (although to be clear I would be thrilled to be involved again. And no, I know nothing else about a potential second season other than what I have just now written).
For now, however, I am enjoying following the responses to the show by viewers on social media, most of which can see summed up as “Holy crap what did I just watch and how soon can I have more of it?!?” This is what you like to see as a creator. I’m glad people like Love, Death & Robots, and my contributions to it. And I’m glad that for me, at least, the path to its production was so painless and, in fact, genuinely enjoyable and fun. Thank you, Tim Miller, and Blur, and everyone else involved. I’ll happily work with you again, and that’s a very big compliment.
(PS: the eBook of Miniatures, the short story collection that features the stories “Yogurt” and “Alternate History” are based on, is on sale for the next couple of days for $2.99. You can get it from Subterranean Press directly, or from your favorite online retailer.)