Buck Off Magazine is proud to continue our Artist Interview series with Jason Lee Weight, Director and creator of wildly popular sci-fi comedy show “Sam Sweetmilk.” With two episodes available on YouTube, the show focuses on Captain Sam Sweetmilk, a lovable idiot who lost his memory; Ghostworth, his robotic companion who’s too smart for these adventures; and Vela, the woman filled with secrets.
BOM: What inspired the idea of Sam Sweetmilk?
Weight: I was in a funk, writing a glam rock odyssey in a rented single-bedroom in south London. I spent nearly 2 years in that room. The film (‘Spandex’) had a decent opening, if I do say so, but it slowed by a degree every minute after that. No momentum. I wrote the first iteration of Sam Sweetmilk to remind myself writing was fun, because it is, and because a reckless explorer rampaging through the cosmos was the most fun thing I could think of. It was a long time coming: I’ve been obsessed with making cartoons since I was a little kid.
Funnily enough, a lot of the show’s inspirations crept in without me knowing. My ex-girlfriend had cancer and we were still close, and looking back I realized Vela was an attempt to frantically pickle her personality. Sam being suddenly, bewilderingly magicked into a grand cosmic narrative was almost certainly a reflection on adulthood. There’s not a lot of ‘writing what you know’ in a sci-fi with no Earth, but it finds its way in.
BOM: How much of the series have you written/plotted out?
Weight: Six episodes written, a little over a season synopsised, and two further seasons theorized and roughly planned. As you’d guess, a speed of one episode per year is frustrating. It’s hard to keep myself from writing new bits. Honestly, I should just be writing new episodes, but I haven’t stopped producing this cartoon since 2012. There’s not a lot of time.
BOM: The first time you tried crowdfunding through Kickstarter, you weren’t able to reach the goal. What was the process after not being funded?
Weight: The process after not being funded was repeatedly not being funded. We told fans we wouldn’t drag out some Sisyphean struggle of continuously applying for funding, but I didn’t realize how badly I wanted it, so that’s exactly what happened. We failed twice before we raised $11,000 for Episode 2.
After the first failure I blamed myself, left London, and lived with my family in the East Midlands for maybe six months. Felt sorry for myself all day, served drinks and waited tables in the evenings. I came to hate the show, and turned that hate into a side project, which is actually a full animatic of its own now (I’m waiting til we finish the latest episode to produce it). After that subsided, we tried a third Indiegogo.
BOM: You’ve been funded for Episode 3. Can you talk about what it’s like using crowd sourcing as a way of being funded?
Weight: HUGELY frustrating. However, we got funded twice, so I don’t know what I’m complaining about.
Crowdfunding’s sort of sad, isn’t it? It’s heartbreaking to see creative people get into it, pouring all this effort and money and time into a Kickstarter/Indiegogo, and not realizing that you need to be either a) appealing to a huge existing subculture, b) very, very talented/experienced, or c) famous to succeed with an artistic project. We didn’t have any of that, so we killed ourselves raising over $33,000 on Kickstarter and losing it all for missing our target.
That said, if you need/want to sidestep a creative industry in the production of something (and, like us, don’t fit any public funding), there’s really no other way. Artists need to be paid.
BOM: What’s the next step now that you know there’s a demand for Episode 3?
Weight: Episode 3 is Episode 0, predating Episodes 1 and 2, so we’ll be pitching it to networks and saying ‘Hey also here’s two more animations to work from’ like it sweetens the deal. In truth, networks like to have a lot of say in making a show, and producing three existing episodes cuts them out of that. We’re gonna need to really wow them.
BOM: What are your hopes for the show? Both in terms of impact with audience and pitching to animation studios?
Weight: I mean, what does any writer want of their show? I want to do a good job, more than anything. I want people to laugh, identify with the characters, care what happens next. What I hope for the show is whatever follows from that.
I need to compensate everyones who’s given free or reduced-pay time to the project, so ideally “whatever follows from that” is “a ton of money”.
BOM: In the past, you’ve said the reason you voice the main character is due to budget concerns. If money wasn’t a concern for future episodes, would you still voice Sam?
Weight: I actually really enjoy voicing Sam! I’d totally keep doing it. I know exactly how I want a line delivered when I write it, so this stops me from insulting voice actors by rejecting their every interpretation.
BOM: Sam is your first time voice acting. How was that experience?
Weight: It’s painful to hear yourself deliver a line wrong a hundred times, and some of my notes for retakes are just the word “act” in capital letters, but I hope I get to continue. Delivering a line just as you imagined it is indescribable. Honestly, since voicing Sam I’ve become more confident, happier in general. I think acting was missing from my life. Some people might balk at an uneducated actor leading a show, but Justin Roiland from Rick and Morty never trained, and he’s one of the best VA’s out there, in my opinion. As Director, I have the luxury of delivering a line a hundred times on three separate occasions until it sounds right. That number’s gone down with each episode. I’m at about thirty now.
BOM: Actors for the show included Kevin McNally (“Pirates of the Caribbean”) and Tricia Pierce (“Bleach”). What is it like working with them?
Weight: Intimidating. They’re both very good actors, and get their lines right with so little extra motivation. Hearing them find a new joke in the delivery is thrilling — it happened on Monday with Kevin, and I laughed so much we had to stop recording.
BOM: The jokes are hilarious! What’s your creative process?
Weight: Thank you! It’s weird where jokes come from. Mishearing something, spinning a really mundane experience into something else, awkwardly noting down something you’ve said in company. But in a cartoon with no Earth — no cultural references, no everyday objects, and no common life experiences that can’t occur in space —most of my joke ideas don’t fit the show. As such, many of the gags surface either in-script or in-storyboard. My scripting method is a “find a parachute on the way to the ground” technique: I start with an opening scene idea (I love opening scenes, oh man) and let the thing find its own way. It’s easier to surprise people, I think, when you don’t know what happens next, and surprise is comedy.
BOM: You’ve been working on Sam Sweetmilk since 2009. How do you keep your faith in the show and how have your thoughts on the show changed?
Weight: Really, there’s been so much support from the people who work on and helped found the show, and from the fans, so keeping faith has been easy. Everyone worked so hard. I should mention Toby Clayton here, who designed the characters and drew the animatics, because he worked crazy, crazy hard.
Whenever I’ve gotten disillusioned in the past, like after the first Kickstarter, I’ve founded a side project to keep my spirits up. Everything in the creative process is creative, I think, especially failure.
To address your second question, it’s not so much my thoughts on the show that have changed but my approach — I’m so eager to get really deep into the lore, the journey, and the character progression that I’ve kind of forgotten we haven’t introduced anyone yet. I dug up a sheaf of old notes on Sam, including little scenarios to write in that would reinforce his character, and it reminded me that I’m outreaching my grasp a bit. Gotta dial it back.
BOM: What other projects have you done?
Weight: “Not much” is the answer, truth be told. I’m pretty late to the game with all this. I was a roadie for seven years and only started producing stuff when I was 25, so I have a bit of catching up to do. There’s the screenplay I mentioned, there’s an animated cop farce called “Problem Officer” with three episodes ready to produce (Episode 1 is an animatic, Episode 2 is in storyboard, and Episode 3 is a script), and this Bojack Horseman-ish thing about a person with a hand for a head that’s just a very long rambling document right now.
BOM: What advice would you give to your younger self?
Weight: Stop fucking around.
BOM: When do you think Episode 3 will be available?
Weight: We’re looking to finish it this Winter, as we’re in production this Summer and post-prod in Autumn, and then we’ll be pitching it!