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: Actually.

Friend: Asshole.

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.)

47 thoughts on “Me and “Love, Death and Robots”

  1. could (or has) the opposite occur: someone from Blur or another production company reach out to you and say “could you come up with a short story about a Duck, a blind robot and some lasers, you fill in the rest?

    I imagine if they are paying, you and everyone else would gladly hammer something out.

  2. Not yet watched but sounds great. Any chance of ‘Three Robots’ being made available as a e-book?

  3. I just binged the whole series yesterday and it is so great that three of those stories were yours. And ‘yogurt’ story was particularly funny and kind of excitingly weird. And i loved the ending of three robots. Looking forward to see some more of your work on the screens. Cheers.

  4. “Three Robots” was a favorite of the series at our house. Be careful looking for reviews, I saw at least one that spoils it along with the first episode.

    The animation of ‘1996’ during “Alternate Histories” got the biggest laugh from me.

  5. Icarus:

    I’m sure they would have takers, yes.

    Susan5660:

    It’s available in the “Robots Vs. Fairies” anthology, which is in eBook as well as print and audio.

  6. I was tickled that Yogurt got an adaptation. I was a little startled by seeing an cooked baby though. I guess we all have our own irrational too-fars and it seems that’s mine. Seemed a bit much on an otherwise fluffy piece, though it’s so clearly silly of me to twitch at that and not the self inflicted headshot.

  7. I’ve seen two of your three episodes so far (Robots and Yogurt) and enjoyed them immensely, along with all the other episodes I’ve seen. “Three Robots” is definitely one of my favorites. I expect to finish the series today, and look forward to “Alternate Histories”!
    I’m watching Netflix in Mexico, and curiously, the episode order is different from the order in the USA. Here, “Three Robots” is episode 2, “Yogurt” is episode 10, and “Alternate History” is episode 18. In the USA, they are 2, 6, and 17 (respectively).

  8. I would say I am about halfway through all 18 stories. Of the 9 I have watched so far, “Yogurt” and “Three Robots” are two of my favorite.

    Of course, “Beyond the Aquila Rift” scared the c… out of me, as it was the last thing I watched before I went to bed. Good for Alastair Reynolds for that one.

    Have not seen “Alternate Histories” yet. I am not quite sure what algorithm Netflix is using to serve this up, but it’s definitely NOT in order of episode number…. Like the first one I saw was “Good Hunting” but that wasn’t episode 1. Who knows.

    Anyway, here’s hoping that there are more of these, AND that your are involved again (I’d say 3 out of 18 is pretty damn good).

  9. Add me to the three robots TV series is a good idea list lol. The one about the sapient yogurt, not so much. Haven’t as of writing this comment reached your third contribution as yet

  10. Nonny:

    Inasmuch as Netflix’s profit model requires subscriptions to work, no, not legally.

    (Also, in someone takes it in their head to link to unauthorized versions of the series/episodes here: Come on, dude, don’t make me delete your comment and yell at you. Netflix paid me actual money, I’m gonna support them recouping the cost.)

  11. Binged it, loved it. “Holy crap what did I just watch and how soon can I have more of it?!?” pretty much sums up my reaction. This series evoked exactly the same kind of mind-blown buzz that I used to get from Heavy Metal Magazine in the 1970’s. Have you met Michael Swanwick? Is he still in the writing game? As for the male gaze point, could you suggest to your friends in television an all-female team for the next set?

  12. John – I wasn’t looking for an illegal way to watch or to not have to pay. I just didn’t know if Netflix allows something like pay-per-view, so I wouldn’t have to pay for a full subscription. I’m a firm believer in content creators getting paid for what they produce.

  13. I thought “Yogurt” was fantastic – voice over was excellent, and animation was the perfect medium. I did wish that the series didn’t feel so heavily BEWBIES – just because you *can* do a NSFW animated series doesn’t mean that you *have* to make it NSFW to bludgeon the point. It’s been the first Netflix only thing where the stories and the medium have really clicked together so perfectly for me. Congratulations!

  14. Stayed up until 2 a.m. Friday night/Saturday morning binging all the episodes and liked pretty much all of them. I will say, on Three Robots, as the owner/servant of multiple cats ourselves, my wife and I have, for years, talked about how screwed we’d be if they ever got opposable thumbs. Nice to see others share our paranoia.

  15. Binge watched the series last Friday was a delight. I enjoy all the episodes, but “Three Robots” was my favorite. I must add that one I read some of the stories were adapted from your short stories, I played a game to guess which one was written by you (I didn’t read the short stories yet).

  16. Watched the first three episodes last night.

    Even if I hadn’t known that “Three Robots” was one of the Scalzi episodes (and even if I hadn’t known that there would even be “Scalzi episodes”), I would have guessed it within 90 seconds of the start. It was delightful!

  17. In an interview Miller said that his greatest hope was that the series would encourage more people to read SFF. Which makes me wonder why they didn’t publish a tie-in anthology containing the original stories. Was that ever discussed during the development process?

  18. Nonny:

    Oh, to be clear, I was not suggesting you were anything otherwise. I just know some people like to “help.”

    Barney:

    There was some discussion that I know about but nothing has come of it. For my purposes, all three stories are in available books (my Miniatures collection and the Robots Vs. Fairies anthology) so it wasn’t a priority for me.

  19. Wow! How cool! I saw this on my Netflix homepage and was curious about it. Now I’m going to watch it with my husband ASAP. I also picked up Miniatures the other day. I saw it was in a Bookbub deal and snagged it!

  20. You know I wondered, when I saw the billboard for the series, if there wasn’t going to be some Scalzi in it. Delighted that there is. Wish I could see it (don’t subscribe to Netflix). Some day!

  21. I enjoyed your stories on Love, Death and Robots. Your stories are suitable for young adults, but maybe not children (hookers, etc.). The Netflix series is a bit rough for even young adults, but I suppose it depends on the kid. Some of the violence and sex is a bit graphic.

  22. I’m the loving the irony that the yogurt story made it to tv before old mans war. Reminds me of another quick story you wrote for the blog but cannot remember the title or find the link. If memory serves me correctly it was Will Weaton and a cat dragon thing based on the most ridiculous opener to a fantasy novel you (or was it a winning comment?) and you got a picture painted afterwards.

  23. Thanks for the pointer to “Miniatures” – got my copy, and “Alien Animal Encounters” put me in mind of Captain Marvel, which I’d enjoyed a week ago. In particular, your glyph and her flerken appear to share DNA… and your story pre-dated the original appearance of a flerken by half a decade, according to the Marvel Fandom Wiki. Call the lawyers!

  24. Reading the whole post on the Unicorn Pegasus Kitten brought back good memories of that time (Rock Band!) That weekend was definitely one of the high points of my years working on Phoenix Comicon. John and Wil were a blast to work with.

  25. So excited for these! Re-reading (well, listening to audiobook version) Miniatures first, but did want to clarify something so I don’t go crazy wondering why I can’t find it: the anthology that has the story “3 Robots” is based on is “Robots Vs Fairies” not “Robots Vs Aliens” (per your first comment reply), right? And I can’t find an audio version anywhere–is there really one out yet, and if so, is it under another title? Thanks!!
    Love both lengths of work you’re drawn to (from the intro to Miniatures), but I definitely get a kick out of your short stuff in a special way. Hope we continue to get more of it.

  26. LaMarche also memorably did a straight-up Orson Welles impersonation for both Tim Burton’s ED WOOD (body by Vincent D’onofrio for a suprisingly convincing Welles), and for THE CRITIC. His parody ad for Rosebud…Frozen Peas still cracks me up…! (“What Luck! There’s a french fry stuck in my beard!”)

  27. Spouse is an avid television/movie-watcher and I despise both, so he generally watches his television shows muted with closed-caption in order that we can co-exist in the living room.

    For your three pieces in this series, however, I asked him to un-mute the sound. And I watched and listened and guffawed right along with him.

    Not that you’re looking for resume-boosters, of course, but if you were, you could add “Able to transform a rabidly non-television-watcher into a huge fan of at least three short animated pieces on Net-Flicks.”

    Nice work, sir. And although the mute is back on the television again, I could definitely be persuaded to ask Spouse to un-mute it again, if perchance there was more Scalzi to watch. Just sayin’.

  28. Lee Whiteside: Thank you. that was what was I looking for. I find it amazing that from my conflated memory and bad description you managed to find both stories. :)

  29. @nonny: My personal take on Netflix, Hulu, CBS All Access, etc. is that as far as I know, you can sign up for a month with them after all the episodes have come out (assuming they’re not all available on the same day), and you can binge watch all of the shows from that site that you’ve been meaning to catch up on, and then cancel it at the end of the month. It’s probably much cheaper to do that than to pay to watch just one show, unless there really is only one show on Netflix that you’d be willing to watch in the next month. I’m not currently subscribing to any of them, but if i were, I’d be cycling through the streaming services one per month, and not worry about getting to watch everything on the day it comes out.

  30. I dream with a series about the Interdependency done with the same technology that they use to do “Beyond The Aquila Rift”

  31. Nonny:

    I don’t think Netflix does “pay per view”, but you can go a month at a time. Just remember to cancel before the end of the month (don’t recall whether they go by calendar months or months since the start date).

  32. I am a young adult human recently turned on to the idea of science fiction. When I went searching for recommendations my friends gave back “classic” books like Dune. That was great and all but now, with the knowledge that creations like “Yogurt” exist, I am elated at the idea of finding more of your work. THIS is up my alley. In the last two days I have told anyone that will make eye contact with me (a lot of people) to get on Netflix and watch that specific episode because it spoke to me so deeply. How do I follow your work? Do you have an Instagram account? Where have you published your short stories? I recognize that my questions are googleable, what I’m really trying to say is great work!

  33. Congratulations on getting your work to a new medium where it looks really good. So: how many of your “something neat is going on, but I can’t talk about it” posts over the last couple of years referred to this, and how many were something else you still can’t talk about which we still have to look forward to?

  34. I’m just one more to add to the growing pile of “I watched it, I loved it, I wish for more of this”

  35. Well John, thanks to the comments section of this post, I have purchased not only your Miniatures book but the “Robots VS. Fairies” book. Some dollars (or pennies as the case may be) will be sent to you from my purchase via your publisher(s)..

    Last night I binged about 8 episodes of the show which means I’ve seen the three robots and the Yogurt episodes but not the alternate history one yet. At the end of the yogurt one I was asking “What happens next?” “Where are (is?) the Yogurt going?” More! More! I want a sequel. I found the exploding kittens reference funny.

    Keep up the good work.

  36. I’m enjoying it so far, but definitely “male-gazey” as you say. I’m a few episodes in, and it’s reminding me of my early-80’s youth reading Heavy Metal magazine. Both “Three Robots” and “Yogurt” made me laugh out loud.

  37. Given the important role of cats, I found myself wondering if “Sucker of Souls” was one of yours. Then “When the yogurt took over” started, and it all became clear.

  38. Loved the Exploding Kittens shout-out!

    Also, next time you’re cruising from Fort Lauderdale, give us a shout and we’ll give you a nice kayak tour or something. It was neat looking down on waters I’ve paddled hundreds of times from that viewpoint.

Comments are closed.