LUNCH WITH JAY EDWARDS: GIRLS, SKIRTS, GARAGE ROCK AND MONSTER MOVIES

If you have watched Cartoon Network in recent years, then you have seen Jay Edwards’ editing skills. While there were no fries, meatballs, or milkshakes present when I met up with “Aqua Teen Hunger Force” editor and producer over lunch, there were a couple of tacos and a tuna dish. In the middle of a tapas restaurant, sitting next to a fountain, Jay and I gabbed about his involvement with “Aqua Teen,” his first feature film Stomp! Shout! Scream! and his thoughts on Atlanta.

What has and continues to motivate your cinematic endeavors?
I’ve always wanted to keep my day job and what I like to do for fun separate. I never want to do what I really love to pay my bills. Very few people have that opportunity and aren’t handed those kinds of jobs very often. Working for somebody else as an editor is a great way to pay the bills, and that’s what I do with “Aqua Teen.” It’s a Dave (Willis) and Matt (Maeillaro) show, and I work for them. As creative as I want to be, in the end it’s their show. I make films so that I have something to edit that’s all my own. I’m kind of a producer-writer-director just so I can get to the editing part. In addition to editing all day, I can edit all night, all weekend. But those nights and weekends…it’s stuff that I have the final answer to; that’s really fun, and that’s why I do all the other filmmaking things, so I can edit. Filmmaking is hard work. It’s way too hard unless you really love it, but I do, I love it. If I don’t have a project to obsess over, I kinda go crazy. I’m not the kind of person that can watch TV and go to sleep every night. If I don’t have something to work on, I just… get all out of sorts.

If Meatwad was put on a grill, what would happen? Death or transformation?
I think he just falls asleep. Early on we were trying to figure where the Aqua Teen slept. Frylock has a room and a bed because he’s the least crazy of the bunch. Meatwad would sleep on a grill on top of a fire; we went through a couple of different designs. It hasn’t been in any of the recent episodes but yeah, in Meatwad’s room there’s a little fire pit and a grill that he sleeps on.

So he doesn’t have to be afraid of being turned into something?
I don’t think so. It’s funny because there are three main editors that work on the show. Dave and Matt write it, supervise all the VO (voice-over), do all the hard work, and then they hand everything over to us, and we kind of put everything together. And the editors that work on the show—me, Ed Hastings, and John Brestan—we understand the universe that they think in, and so when they say “Meatwad sleeps on the grill,” it just makes sense to us.

How did you come to produce “Aqua Teen Hunger Force”?
Long story or short story? Medium story. I went to college, took an editing class and decided I wanted to be an editor. I moved to Atlanta in `91 and got a job as an assistant editor/gopher for a post-house here. After doing that for three years, I got a job with Turner Studios managing their non-linear editing equipment. They had two Avids at the time; they brought me in to kind of manage them, and I started editing. About `95 to 96, I started editing “Space Ghost Coast to Coast” shows, and I became one of their staple editors. Over the five years I worked at Turner Studios, I edited close to thirty episodes—a big chunk of them for Dave Willis and Matt Maeillaro, who were staff writers on the show at the time. When they started “Aqua Teen,” they had a year to do the pilot and brought me in after six months to be the editor. I left Turner Studios and went freelance to work on “Aqua Teen.” Since then I’ve pretty much been doing “Aqua Teen” full time. “Space Ghost” and “Aqua Teen” are both very editor-relied-upon because Dave and Matt are so busy that they need someone to take what they’ve started and run with it. I edit for them, they get the final say, but I get a producer credit because I add a lot of it. I keep things organized and I keep the process moving along. We also edit and produce “Aqua Teen” in a way that really no other television show has done. We use traditional animation which is then turned into QuickTime movies. In Final Cut Pro, I do a very detailed moving storyboard, and then I hand it off to After Effects editors, who do the final compositing. This was a big part of my producer credit: figuring out how to do a show cheap and fast. It still takes about twelve weeks to do a twelve minute-show, but that’s with only five or six people working on it at any one time. Sometimes it’s just me working on it, so it’s about one-fifth the cost of a fully animated show. My producer job came from creating a process that we now work on still to this day. It’s become pretty good because we can crank out shows pretty fast—and that’s not because of my process, it’s because Dave and Matt are brilliant writers—I’m just a cog in their machine.

According to IMDB, there’s going to be an “Aqua Teen” movie?
That’s correct. That’s what I’m working on now. We’re doing it with the same production as we do with the show, but we’re having to do everything at a much higher resolution. The plan is to get this into theatres. I’m just editing it. As much as everyone would want to have some influence on how it gets seen and how it gets marketed, it’s in someone else’s hands. I don’t know where it’ll be seen or how it will be marketed, but I know we’re doing it. I know we have to get it done by the end of the year. I know it’ll be really funny; it’s a great script.

Are there going to be action figures? Are there action figures?
There are action figures. Palisades*, I think is the company that puts them out. They were released some time around Comic-con in San Diego, which was mid-June. They are available in comic book shops. It’s a double pack that’s out; it’s Master Shake and Moth Monster Man. He’s one of the villains from the first season.

Tell me about Monster Trilogy.
From about `99 to 2001, each summer I would take friends out and over weekends would shoot a silly monster movie. We did this three summers in a row. Each one was twelve to twenty minutes. “Mountain of Terror Day of Dread” was the first one; the second one was “Project: Tiki Puka Puka;” and the third one was “Esta Noche We Ride!”. They were a mini-film school for me; I could edit it in my spare time, and it could be all my own. It was an exercise in putting picture and audio together and having a bunch of fun while we doing it. The shorts were essentially only loosely scripted. My friends and I would get together. I would supply the pizza, we’d watch old movies, pick out the parts we liked and incorporate them into these films. The characters people played were based on costumes we could either find at thrift stores or that we already had. In “Mountain of Terror Day of Dread,” Jon Dilling—who’s an editor on “Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law”—was a shepherd because we had a shepherd’s cook. We made him wear a John 3:16 shirt because he claimed he could quote the Bible and all of his lines in the film would be bastardized Bible quotes. The better costume and the better character you came up with, the longer you survived in the movie; and if you didn’t come to the beer-drinking and movie-watching, you got assigned names and parts that got killed off earlier. One guy that didn’t show up often enough had to be the Chinaman named Tee. Actually, he survived because he was willing to put on a bunch of make-up. He spoke all in fortune cookies. Jon Dilling always survived because he always came up with the best costumes. For “Project: Tiki Puka Puka,” he volunteered to shave his head and paint himself silver to be a robot. Of course he’s going to survive if he’s willing to go that far. And, I met the eventual producer of “Stomp! Shout! Scream!”…Arma Benoit. She’s a big-budget, commercial and music video producer in Atlanta.

What inspired “Stomp! Shout! Scream!”? It’s a monster beach movie?
(Nods). That’s it. The next summer I did a documentary short, took that to show at a couple of film festivals, and the next summer—this was 2003—I was looking for another project to do. I felt I learned all I could from making short films. I convinced myself it was time to take the leap and try to write a feature film, try to raise money, try to shoot it with actors on film so I could learn that whole process. It took me about nine months to write a script, about another nine months to raise the money. We shot it in October 2004. Now, it’s August 2005 and I’m trying to get the mix done. It’s almost three years worth of every Saturday I would spend writing or working on the film. Why did I do a beach party, rock `n roll monster movie? I really love 50s and 60s monster movies. Doing those movies seems like the most fun. Plus, it gives you an excuse. If you’re an inexperienced filmmaker, and you make a 50s-styled monster movie and it turns out bad, you can just say that it’s all just part of the genre. I had done a bunch of monster movies, and I was trying to do some sort of beach party movie, so I watched all the Frankie and Annette movies. I was also listening to all the garage rock I could find. A local Atlanta band Catfight has this amazing, lonesome lament song that’s also strikingly hilarious. I married up Catfight’s song with the moment in every beach party movie where Annette Funicello gets mad at Frankie, walks the beach, and sings a lonesome lament. I decided that it was a moment to write towards. This lonesome lament not only gave me a great movie moment, but it also gave what became the lead character an entire back story. The movie ended up being about an all-girl garage rock band whose van breaks down in a small, southern town at the same time the Florida Skunk Ape is washed ashore by a hurricane. The Florida Skunk Ape is the Everglades’ version of Bigfoot, but over the last year or two there’s been a bunch of sightings; and it’s always referred to as the Skunk Ape because you can smell him way before you can see him. I grew up in Florida, so I incorporated that and all my favorite things: girls, skirts, garage rock, and monster movies. Once I wrote the script, I approached Catfight to write some original songs for the movie. They recorded two original songs, a re-record of this old, lonesome lament, and a cover of the song “Go Go Gorilla,” which is an old 60s song. Those four songs are performed by the band in the movie, which is played by local Atlanta actresses.

Where was the film shot?
We shot on 35 mm film. Five days in Atlanta and drove to Florida to my hometown, Bradenton, and shot there for six days. We had two more half-day pickup shoots to fill out the rest of the film, so it was essentially shot in twelve days.

You’ve been in Atlanta for over a decade. Since you’ve been involved in the film scene, how has it changed?
Especially working in television in Atlanta, you realize what a small town it is. You run into the same people everywhere you go—that’s kind of nice. Until I met Evan Lieberman, I didn’t know that many people that strictly worked in the film industry. I knew television editors and television producers, and a few film festival people. I kept waiting for the Atlanta movie to hit big, you know, to get distribution and be known as “the Atlanta movie,” but I don’t know that it’s gonna happen. I don’t know that it’s really necessary. Just over the last two or three years, there’s been a bunch of features made. I keep waiting for the really good one to be made. I don’t think it’s my movie, but someday there’ll be a really good one made here. All the tools are here, all the crew is here, and all the resources are here. Someone just needs to write a good enough script.

When you were a child, what did you say you wanted to be when you grew up? How does it compare to what you are doing now?
That’s a good question. One of the things I like about being a filmmaker and working on “Aqua Teen,” or in television, is that a lot of people think that doing what I do is totally unattainable. It’s never really offered up in middle school or high school as an option for a career. Even when I was in college at Auburn in Alabama, careers in television were always considered not a good idea. I had one college professor say that a job in television is maybe a good second job. If you really want to earn a living, you should not work in television—which is completely retarded. There are lots of really good jobs in television, and you can make a great living in television. It’s just not the kind of thing that’s a straight line like being an accountant or being a lawyer. If you’re going to work in television, people want folks with college degrees, but that’s really just a maturity thing. They want people with that level of maturity to have gotten to that point. Most of what you’ll learn to work in television, especially in post-production, you’ll learn on the job. Just like film crewing. You learn everything on the job. You’re not going to go to school to learn to be a grip. You just need to hang around, listen to people talk, see what they do and learn it. Growing up, I didn’t know what I wanted to be. There’s always the eight year-old that wants to be a marine biologist but you don’t know what that means. You don’t really realize there’s a lot of math classes that you have to take. It wasn’t until I took that editing course in college that I ever said, “This is what I’m gonna do.” It was an editing class where I went in on a VHS to VHS, cuts only Panasonic editing system, and I worked for twelve hours in a row, didn’t really feel tired or notice the time pass. I didn’t get up from my chair for twelve hours and didn’t mind. That’s when I figured I should probably do that for a living, and I got lucky. I found what I wanted—and I still like it. I still love editing.

* “Aqua Teen Hunger Force” action figures can be found online at PalisadesToys.com




Posted on November 29, 2005 in Interviews by

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