The Judges Series
Project Brief: Four animated shorts, adapting the Book of Judges
My Role: Directed & produced the four pieces. Hired and managed the team.
Developing the Idea & Writing the Script
These GIFs are from the final animated pieces.
I was brought on after the scripts for the four Judges pieces were “95% done.” In other words, they had a lot of work still.
Samson, in particular, is an impossible story to tell in three minutes, which is all we had the budget for.
I worked with Evan Wolkenstein, a high school educator, to make sure that every single line in the final shooting scripts had resonance and parallel to the original text.
Adapting a text in this way was a huge learning experience that I really enjoyed. One major challenge was seeing if we could tell the story in a way that left the viewer asking if Samson was a hero or villain?
For the sake of brevity, I’m going to focus on just the Samson piece here.
While on some projects, I’m proud of being called “Director,” this project is an example of one where I embrace the title of “Producer.” In looking for the right animator, I sorted through thousands of videos, and finally found Samurai Jew.
I knew this was 100% the person I wanted to work with on Samson.
I cold-emailed the director, Nadav, asking if he’d like to do a piece on Samson. I attached our working script.
The Script Rewrite
In less than a day, he wrote back and said he’d love to do Samson, but he had his own script.
For those unfamiliar, this is not common behavior when hiring animators.
I said, “Maybe…could you send me a copy of your script?”
“No. It’s in Hebrew,” he said.
“Well, that doesn’t work for us,” I said.
“I’ll translate it.”
24 hours later I had his script in my inbox. And it was good. It had issues, but it was much better than the one we’d sent him.
“I love this script,” I said, “but it runs six to seven minutes and we only have a budget three.”
“I’m all right with that,” he said, “I’ll do it for the same rate.”
So I was all right with it too.
The Negotiation Stage
From there, I had to convince my boss for us to go with this guy and scrape the script that she’d workshopped for the better part of a year.
But before I did, one more email from him:
“Oh, one more thing,” he said, “If I make this, you have total rights to the animated piece, but I need to retain rights to the characters within the piece.”
I’ll skip the full story here, the fighting for every single change to the script, the bad blood I ended up getting with the original author, the trying to learn the basics of how to negotiate, but suffice it to say, I was very green, and fighting to make this piece happen caused more stress than I have had on any project since.
There was a month period of negotiating where it looked very likely this would never get made and that working with Nadav was a non-starter. Looking back, I couldn’t be prouder for just how much I fought to make this happen.
It’s a much longer story, and what mostly sticks with me looking back, is how great the piece turned out.
Managing the Production
The Full Cast & Crew
Let’s not mince words. So many of the accolades go to Nadav Nachmany for directing this piece.
After I reworked his script, I hired and directed the voice actors, musician, and SFX artist/mixer. Then I worked with them all to get a good final result.
For the actors, I was excited to hire old friends of mine from the improv community. There was a single role that I paid extra money to get a “professional voice actor” to do the lines of. When I edited them all together, Nadav hated that one actor, and I ended up recasting another friend to do that part as well.
Honestly, learning humor timing through years of improv has been as instrumental as any other skill in making these pieces.
Audio on the Cheap
For the music and sound effects, I went to a student open house and found a recently graduated audio engineer who could do it on a budget. While cost effective, it’s not something I’d recommend. I ended up sitting with him, and going through and adjusting nearly every sound effect, one by one, to get to a good final result.
Also, I let every actor record in their own studio, meaning matching their tonal quality was close to impossible. These were all good lessons to learn the hard way.
Redoing the Score
Finally, the entire score had to be redone. When I handed my first version of a score to Nadav, he very succinctly said, “No. This isn’t good enough.” We didn’t exactly have the budget to redo the score (or the voice actor, for that matter) but it was in his rejections that the piece got infinitely better, and I grew. He was setting a standard of quality that I continue to aspire to, regardless of stress, if not regardless of cost.
I ended up hiring a friend’s boyfriend for scoring, Ben Bromfield, and his music elevated everything to a whole other level. He has since gone on to be the key musician on the Netflix series Boss Baby, and I consider myself very lucky for getting to work with him early in his career. Also, he’s an awesome guy who I’m happy to now call a friend.
It’s pretty cool knowing that if you now look for a video on Samson, this is one of the top five results. And frankly, watching through the competition, I’d argue this version wins hands down. It came out so well, and is a perfect example of a collaboration bringing out the best of both sides.