Jon Colton Barry is a talented writer, storyboarder and songwriter of "Phineas and Ferb". He created many interesting show characters like Meap, Ducky Momo, Monty Monogram and more. I started corresponding with him in October 2011. Now I would like to show you my interview with this talented writer.
1. You've been a member of "Phineas and Ferb" crew since the beginning of the show. How did your adventure with "Phineas and Ferb" start?
Yes, my actual “start date” on Phineas was September 4th, 2006, though I’ve actually known Dan Povenmire for almost 25 years. He was great friends with a woman I dated for most of my twenties (in fact, he married her sister!). Dan and I were both musicians and songwriters in bands when we met, as well as writers. He was also just starting his animation career at that time. We both were fans of each others’ work and had always wanted to join forces creatively if the right project ever came up. When he sold “Phineas” to Disney in 2006, he gave me a call and asked if I was interested. I had been writing for the stage at that point and had just had a big hit show called “Play Things,” which Dan saw and thought was very funny. He knew I could draw, as well as write songs, so he thought I would be a good fit for his new show, which required a multi-creative disciplined crew. Now, if anyone has worked in 99 seat theater, they’ll know that you don’t really do it for the money, so an actual paying job that allowed me to do what I did was an amazing gift. Disney wasn’t really thrilled with the idea of hiring a completely unknown on to their new show, but they trusted Dan (always wise) and gave me a shot. Thankfully, it’s worked out really well.
2. Working in animation seems to be a very interesting job. What does the process of making an episode looks like?
Well, they like to say it’s like a pregnancy. It takes about 9 months from conception of an episode idea through to where it airs. First the staff writers come up with a story idea and write a 4-5 page outline, which is given to a storyboard/writer team (we have about 6 teams usually). I am both a staff writer as well as a storyboard/writer, so I’ve been on both sides of that. The story board team then draws the actual storyboard while writing the dialogue and script for the episode. The storyboard is then pitched a number of times to Dan, Swampy and the writers until everyone is happy with it. It is next edited into an animatic, which is still images from the storyboard edited in sequence with the recording of the voice actors laid over it, so you get a feel for what the episode will be like. Dan and the directors spend about a week tightening the episode and making changes and then it’s sent overseas to be animated. It comes back and is tweaked a bit more until it is ready to air. During all that there is a bunch of other stuff happening: prop and character designs, “timing,” where someone actually writes down the exact second where every action, every blink of eyes or movement occurs within the episode, etc. Songs are written and recorded, etc. Then it appears on air and Emmy awards are announced. The it starts all over. There’s always about 6 episodes at various stages going on at one time.
3. You are the creator of the most popular one-episode characters like Meap, Captain Bob Webber or Baloony. Every new character brings some changes to the show. Are all your ideas for new characters accepted by Mr. Povenmire and Mr. Marsh? Were there any characters that you wanted to be in the show, but the creators didn't accept them?
I’ve been very lucky in that regard. Most of the new characters I’ve come up with have made it into the show and have become popular for some reason. Meap, Baloony, Ducky Mo Mo, Bob Webber, Klimpaloon, as well, as Suzy (Jeremy’s sister) and I also brought Carl to life as a character deciding what he looked and acted like have all made numerous returns to the show in various episodes and sequels. Basically, I think it’s because Dan and Swampy cannot resist impossibly silly concepts, so when you suggest something like “Klimpaloon: the magical, old-timey bathing suit,” they tend to say, “Yes. Yes, let’s do that.” I’m always trying to push the boundries of the absurd in the show and I’m thrilled that Dan and Swampy appreciate that.
4. The brand new episode "Minor Monogram" introduced a new member of "Phineas and Ferb" family - Monty Monogram. This episode was unusual in many ways. Is the process of making unusual episodes different somehow than the process of making an ordinary episode? Will the plot of Monty and Vanessa be extended in upcoming episodes?
I’ve wanted to bring in a son for Monogram for a couple years now exactly for that reason – to have a long story-arc for he and Vanessa over a season. I just thought that treating the characters like a sop opera and allow them to grow and change is something you never see in these tween-related animated shows. I constantly push to evolve the characters (like getting Jeremy and Candace together) to keep the show fresh and to keep the audience on their toes. “Minor Monogram” was done by myself along with Kyle Menke, who is a brilliant animator and artists an he and I tried to approach it a new way, which was to almost animate the entire thing ourselves to push the acting in the characters to a new, more natural, comedic place – like old, Spencer/Tracy films or something. We were going for big, broad comedic acting but a bit more subtle than you usually see on the show. I’d say it worked about 60% as well as we wanted, but we tried. Trying to push it and trying to find something new is a great challenge going into a fourth season of an animated show that’s technically for “kids.” People don’t usually care as much about their audience, thinking they’re just kids, but Dan and Swampy’s idea from the start was that we’re making this show to amuse ourselves and aiming for parents as well as kids. We NEVER talk down to our audience. To answer the question fully, yes, we will see more of Vanessa and Monty. A fuse has been lit and I can’t wait to watch it explode!
5. There are some upcoming episodes written by you like "Meapless in Seattle" or "Where's Perry" (previously named "World Without the Platypus"). I don't want you to give us too much spoilers, but what can we expect from these episodes?
Well, obviously I can’t say much, but I can tell you that I and we care very much about the expectations of our audience and want to make sure they LOVE the Meap sequel and LOVE every special episode we make. I wrote the Meap sequel (which has aired by now, I think) and I am pleased to see that everyone is very happy with it. Personally, I’d love to see a Meap spin-off show. Write in to Disney and ask for one!
6. You are not only the writer and storyboarder of the show, but also a songwriter. The show's music is amazing. What does the process of making a song look like? Is it difficult to write a catchy song?
Well, I’m very lucky to come from a songwriting family, so it’s really in the blood. I also started out as a songwriter/musician before I was a writer of TV and movies. I always thought comedy writing and songwriting were very similar in terms of it being rhythm, lyrics and melody. For “Phineas” we normally decide what would be a good song for a certain episode and then there’s a group of us (which is getting larger) that sits down and jams and comes up with the songs. I tend to like to come up with basic ideas by myself and then bring them in to the group because we write very quickly and I always like to make sure everything is the highest quality it can be. That’s not to say writing fast lowers the quality, it’s just that if you only have an hour to write a song, whatever you end up with after that hour has to be good enough (and it usually is with these guys – we have some VERY talented songwriters on the show, including Dan, Swampy and Martin Olson). I would say it’s pretty hard coming up with a good song, like it’s hard to come up with a good ANYTHING. The more practice you put into it, the easier it is and the more you learn to trust your instincts. They’ve posted a bunch of my “Phineas” song demos on the “Soundcloud” website so anyone can see how the songs develop from how I first write them to how they end up in the show. I also have a bunch of regular, non-Phineas songs there, which is funny, because you can see the kind of songwriter I am and how it’s not really the same kind of stuff we do on the show. I had to learn to be much “poppier” as a songwriter than I am naturally. I come more from the singer/songwriter Tom Waits, Elvis Costello, Nick Cave, Bob Dylan, Pixies school of songwriting so it’s been fun putting on different hats for the show.
7. In 2010 you and Mr. Olson published some unused songs from Phineas and Ferb' episodes. Can you give us some titles of these songs? Why were they deleted?
Yeah, as I said, Martin and I put some of our “Phineas” demos on our Soundcloud pages, but Disney asked us to remove them because they own them and they can use them however they see fit. I can totally understand where they’re coming from, but I would hope they plan on doing something with them in the future. A box set or something that includes the original demos or unused songs because there is a bunch of great material there. A lot of it was put on You Tube before we removed it, however, so you can still find a bunch of demos there.
8. "Phineas and Ferb" is still one of the most popular animated TV shows worldwide. The season 4 and the second movie just started. How does the future of the show look? Is it true that there will be a spin-off of the show?
Yes, the show is doing VERY well, thankfully. As of this writing, Dan Povenmire was just nominated for an Emmy for doing the Doofenshmirtz voice, which he should win hands down in a true, fair world. He is brilliant as Doof and he’s my favorite character to write because Dan does it exactly as I hear it in my head when I’m writing it, if not better. I know that Dan and Swampy are currently working on some spin-off ideas right now and hopefully we’ll hear more about that soon. The future of the show looks very bright and Disney keeps finding unique ways of playing with it.
9. You told me that you had an idea for Candace to become a singer when you were making "Ladies and Gentlemen, Meet Max Modem!" episode. Are there any P&F episodes from season 1 and 2 that were storyboarded, but they were never aired?
I think most of the ideas we had have been done by now. I know we used to joke about doing a “Loch Ness Monster” episode as being a bad idea, unitl I did it with Piero Piluso as the “Lake Nose Monster” episode as a challenge to see if we can make a good one. I know I still have a few cool idea floating around my head that have yet to see the light of day. Fortunately, as the show evolves, it keeps getting better and there’s more freedom to do things we never imagined we could or would do in the first or even second seasons.
10. The first episode of P&F that you storyboared was "Lawn Gnome Beach Party of Terror". It was also the first episode with Doofenshmirtz's backstory (the most famous one about being a lawn gnome). Is it your idea for giving Doof the tragical backstories?
You know, I can actually honestly take credit for inventing the “Doofenshmirtz Tragic Back Story” running idea on Phineas. It sounds crazy, but it wasn’t a part of the show until I came up with this whole sad story of him having to be his family’s Lawn Gnome. The dialogue in the scene, itself, was written by the brilliant Chris Headrick, and was such a hit that Disney decreed a tragic backstory for Doof in every episode. The second tragic story was his birthday where no one showed up in “Raging Bully.” That scene was also written by me and added to the episode later. After that, it became part of the show’s “formula.” I’m very proud to have destroyed this poor character’s young life.
11. There are some characters that appear in Season 1, that don't appear in season 2 or 3, for example Django Brown or Mindy. Are there any plans to bring they back in Season 4?
I think we’ll see Django, but I’m not sure about the others. We do try and keep track of that stuff and call back characters when we can. Who knows, though? Stay tuned. Always.
12. You wrote many P&F episodes since the beginning of the show. What are the episodes that you were the most proud of?
I would say the “Christmas Special” is the one I’m most proud of because I fought so hard to make sure we really had a timeless, well-made Christmas special that could mean something to our audience the way the Charlie Brown Christmas Special or the Grinch meant to my generation growing up. I did that episode with Piero Piluso and it was a great challenge to come up with a new idea for a Christmas story. I thought the concept of “thanking Santa” felt fresh and new – and also like a nice thing to do. I’m also proud of the Meap episodes, of course, as well as the first Time Machine episode where I came up with the “love/hate triangle” between Perry, Doof and Peter the Panda. That felt like a fresh idea at the time and really helped evolve and push the characters, dimensionalizing them in a way you don’t normally see. I guess I’m proud of most of them, for different reasons. Of course, the TV Movie, Across the Second Dimension was really fun, too. I’m really proud of that, as well.
13. There are many Phinbella and Ferbnessa shippers. Are there any chance for the episode about Isabella and Phineas' and Vanessa and Ferb' relationship?
I think those relationships are always paid attention to in someway. The “bigger” episodes and specials will deal with that kind of stuff more than the regular ones. For instance, here’s some behind the scenes info for you: originally, Candace and Jeremy were first officially made a couple and kissed in the “Baljeatles” episode I wrote with Piero Piluso. Dan decided it was too big of an issue for a regular episode and took it out. He later put it into the “Summer Belongs To You” special, which was the smart thing to do. The Baljeatles episode worked to further their relationship along just a little more so when they DID kiss in the special, it didn’t come out of nowhere.
14. My friends from Polish P&F Wiki found out that there was a novel by Anthony Trollope from 1869 named "Phineas Finn", Was it an inspiration for Phineas Flynn's name?
I’ve never heard anything about that before, so my guess would be “no.” The name “Phineas Flynn” was obviously taken from Nietszche’s Beyond Good and Evil” (say them both fast).
15. You me told that the creators of "Phineas and Ferb" are using P&F Wiki during the process of making new episodes. Are you also using our Wiki when you're thinking about the upcoming episodes?
We all use the Phineas Wiki whenever there is some detail we need to know. I just recently used it to find an image of Buford’s house for the a new special episode I’m writing.