The Life & Times Of Tim Creator: Steve Dildarian Interview
For every South Park and Family Guy, there’s a Monkey Dust or Stressed Eric gathering dust on the animated shop floor. But with a unique hand-drawn style, HBO-backing (them of America’s greatest shows The Sopranos, Six Feet Under and…. erm…. Sex and the City), and influences that include Curb Your Enthusiasm and The Office, The Life & Times of Tim has noticeable ‘brilliance’ potential.
But how did its Creator and Executive Producer shift from a career in advertising (he was the man/genius/annoying mastermind behind the Budweiser ‘Lizards’ campaign) to crafting a cult comedy that revels in the squirming, laugh-out-loud situations beloved by that most zeitgeist-y of comedy audiences?
You were originally in advertising, right? How and why did you make the transition to comedy?
Since high school I wanted to write TV shows and somehow got detoured into advertising. While I loved and enjoyed it, it was only a matter of time until it came full circle and a lot of my Budweiser commercials helped that to happen. So as soon as I started getting opportunities I actively tried to get back into doing it.
Yeah, I think that even in the commercials you did originally, you can feel that sense of humour coming through?
I was lucky in my advertising career that it was always entertainment and character driven and not so much of the marketing and advertising side of it. I had a strange advertising career… or a lucky one depending on how you look at it.
I understand the show was initially at FOX before moving to HBO. What prompted that move?
We initially received attention because the short film did well at the Aspen Short Film Festival. Warner Bros became our studio, and while I was convinced it was right for cable or the smaller networks, they were adamant it was right for FOX and FOX agreed. They bought it. It seemed like a long shot to me, but who am I to turn FOX down?
So we spent a year making it and in the end they didn’t put it on. They said the tone and the execution wasn’t quite right so they didn’t buy it. So immediately after that HBO and Comedy Central were very interested and made some offers.
They make a lot of things and actually put on very few of them. I think that’s par for the course. I don’t know if they thought they were going to smooth it out or make it better, but it’s a very crude kind of animation, a very crude kind of humour.
It’s a very contemporary kind of comedy, so I think it’s better suited to HBO anyway. How do you think humour in mainstream American shows is changing?
Well it certainly is, in that the classic sitcom format isn’t necessarily dead but it’s no longer the dominant comedy format. A lot of the more reality based stuff, like single camera comedies without the laugh track is. I don’t know if you’d describe it as a British influence – like the The Office – but it’s probably a little more sophisticated. I think the audience is a little more self aware now.
You mentioned about The Office, and I think I also saw a Curb Your Enthusiam influence in there too. What kind of shows or films have influenced you? Which have you been inspired by?
It’s a pretty short list. The main one is Curb Your Enthusiasm, I’m not going to lie. That show just made something click in my head, in so far as taking a point of view on life that any writer might have and spewing it out every week, without overthinking the premise or construct of the TV show. That made it very easy for me to write. Something in my head clicked, like ‘I can do that. He’s doing my show!’ That sounds like a ridiculous statement, because Larry David is obviously one of the biggest TV stars ever but it gave me a confidence I don’t think I had.
Do you structure any of the scenarios from your own personal experience?
Not necessarily. If you’d met me I don’t think you’d find me an awkward person to be around or someone continually doing strange things. It’s almost an alter ego – it’s fun to imagine if I actually got into that stuff. I don’t draw on experience or look on things in an observational way for material, my approach is more absurdist in a way.
With the animation is it intentionally a little rough a little harsh, or is that due to budget constraints?
That’s interesting, a lot of people ask that. The way this show came to be, well, it was initially done with me drawing the entire first show with nothing but a bic pen. I’d never really drawn much before, so it was really just the best I could do. Then to animate it, it was just me and my girlfriend Lynette using iMovie and Photoshop to string together something workable.
We were never going for something cool – we were trying to make it look amazing! We were doing the best we could to make animation!
Well I have full respect for you, because I wouldn’t know the first place to start..
Yeah man, If you had someone with a gun to your head saying you have to make an animation in 30 days or they’ll kill you, then you’d get a laptop, learn how to use the software and you’d make something. So in doing that we stumbled on a naïve, crude looking style that now we have to subconsciously stick to. We’re happy it turned out that way.
Do you think that like Family Guy and South Park, The Life & Times of Tim has broad international appeal?
From what I’m being told, it’s travelling quite well internationally which doesn’t surprise me. I don’t think there’s anything uniquely American about the humour. The way I write this character is, if anything, with a very broad appeal and a universal relatable humour. I mean, I don’t know for sure but I’d imagine anyone in the world would get the awkwardness of being caught with a hooker. [laughs] So I have a feeling all these things translate pretty well!
Check out our review of the opening side-splitting episode here (it’s really quite good). Or why not head to our run down of the Top Nine Cartoons You’d Never Want Your Kids Watching – full of other childhood scarring ‘toons!