Jared Stern is the creator, producer, and one of the writers for the new Netflix animated series Green Eggs and Ham. The plot centers around Sam (Adam Devine) and Guy (Michael Douglas) trying to return a rare Chickeraffe to its habitat. On their journey Sam also tries to get Guy to lighten up especially by having his favorite meal green eggs and ham. Through their journey they also interact with Michellee (Diane Keaton, a single mother, and her daughter EB (Ilana Glazer). We discussed his work on Green Eggs and Ham as well as history with animation and Dr. Seuss.
Awards Daily: Were you worried to take on such a beloved property? Considering there’s been a lot of mixed response from taking Dr. Seuss books and changing them into another medium?
Jared Stern: I was concerned not because of anything to do with other material but because I love Dr. Seuss so much. This was my favorite book when I was a kid and I learned to read reading it, so it’s a lot of weight to take this on. But it’s also exciting because I loved it so much I want to try and do it justice. So to create the essence of Dr. Seuss, particularly this book, and bring it to life and expand it to a whole other thing hopefully stay true to what was there to begin with.
AD: So you’re basically taking a book about trying something new and then dealing with some heavier issues like right and wrong, friendship, relationships. How did you go about expanding beyond the original concept of the book?
JS: When I was first presented with the notion of doing something with Green Eggs and Ham and it’s so perfect as it is I was hesitant, but I loved it. So I just read through the book and felt like a kid again and while reading it I realized it’s an odd couple story. There’s a grumpy closed-off guy and a big open guy who really wants him to try green eggs and ham so maybe there’s a friendship starting here by the end. He (Guy) thanks him (Sam) appreciating what he (Sam) did for him (Guy).
And it’s a road trip because he (Sam) follows him (Guy) here and there and in a car and a boat and a train. So it’s like Planes, Trains and Automobiles and Midnight Run and I love buddy road trip movies and those are two of my favorites. So my mind just started working, hopefully it stays true to the essence of what’s there but expands upon it.
Thematically, the lesson is still relevant today. Kids should try new foods before deciding they don’t like it. You can take that to judging anything ahead of time, don’t judge a book by its cover, don’t decide things based on its color, try new things, don’t close yourself off. Even if you tried new things before and it didn’t give you the result you wanted doesn’t mean you should stop trying.
AD: So continuing on that thought, you had a two-person story and you created a lot more characters. so how did you go about adding new characters to this story?
JS: Well the two characters in the book are men and I wanted this to be a story for everybody. I wanted strong female characters, and I was raised by a single mom and I wanted there to be a kid character so from there we got Michellee and EB, the overprotective mom and the overprotected daughter. They are on their own adventure, but it starts to crisscross with what Guy and Sam are doing. Over the course of the season they find what each other needs.
I also wanted some good bad guys chasing them and a main bad guy behind it all. And with a road trip you need a reason for getting from point A to point B and that is where the Chickeraffe came from, and it’s always fun to have a whimsical creature, which is great for kids and adults love that too. Now all these characters started colliding into place, informing one another and just sorta grew. Plus it’s Dr. Seuss so you have to have a Fox and a Mouse.
AD: So one of the parts I really liked was the relationship between Guy and Michellee, you’re taking the two steady, some may say boring characters, and giving them a believable romance in very little time. Was that planned and do you plan on expanding on it?
JS: I don’t like being beholden to an age limit. You know I’m telling a fun, whimsical Dr. Seuss buddy road trip story, and I love romantic comedy. And we did a romantic comedy between Michael Douglas and Diane Keaton! I love that we got away with putting that in and it fit. It’s kind of an adult story but kids can understand it, about people who have become closed off in their life for one reason or another. Be it their career or their old relationships, and they find each other and they are hesitant about opening back up again to love, like not trying Green Eggs and Ham but hopefully by the end of the season they’re open to it. And yes, I think it can go further than where it left off and hopefully we can do that in season two and explore where their relationship goes from there.
AD: So, you mentioned Michael Douglas and Diane Keaton, some really big names, so how did you go about getting your voice talent?
JS: So it really helps having Ellen Degeneres as a producer on your show. It’s really important in animation how you can get blinded by how amazing a big-name talent someone is. We may even think they are perfect for the role but we try to compare their voices from interviews or clips from other movies or television shows they’ve done. So we watch those scenes with images of the characters we have to see who matches with that character. If they do we just push really hard and hope that they do it. And if Ellen knows them, have her reach out. Then we show them the artwork and the script and hope that they see that there’s something there. And it’s tough, we had to sign them up four years ago, and some of them have never done television, some have never done animation. And to have faith that this is going to be something. And I really appreciate them taking a chance and seeing something in this way back then.
AD: Wow, I had no idea that it was so many years in advance. I had a theory that Michael Douglas was involved because of his deal with Netflix’s Kominsky Method but it sounds like that had nothing to do with it.
JS: No, in fact he was already working on Green Eggs and Ham when he told us (about Komiskey Method) and asked how’s it like working for Netflix, and we were like it’s the best, do it! So animation takes a long time, especially when you’re trying to do it as what they call feature quality animation. An animated film can take up to three or four years and that’s usually just an hour and a half long. And we are trying to do five and a half hours of content of that quality. So it took about four years but I think it was worth it.
AD: So your background has been in comedy and animation, has that always been your major interest?
JS: You know I was very lucky, one of my very first jobs I got hired for a week at Disney feature animation to punch up a script on a movie and I never left. I ended up staying for about five years. I was like an in-house writer under the old studio system and I was twenty five years old and it was like getting paid to go to storytelling grad school. I had amazing professors like Ron Clements and John Musker who did Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Moana. Then there was Chris Williams who did Bolt and Big Hero Six. Then I worked with Pixar for a while as well. So it was great and that’s how I got into the animation world.
But I’m not an artist. I love animation. I loved it always growing up but I can’t draw. And in modern-day film making, particularly comedy film making, and some of the best comedy right now is animated. I love The Lego Movie and I was fortunate to work on them in different capacities. Some of the best storytelling right now comes from Pixar, Disney, Gordon Miller, Warner Brothers, that’s how I got into animation and I love it.
I also love that it’s a collaborative process where I would work with story artists where I show them a script and they’d come back with a drawing and say what if this happens. Then I would rewrite based on that, then we go back and forth, back and forth, then it gets closer together as it gets animated. That’s the other great thing about animation; it’s like cheating for a writer, there are people making your stuff better and better over the years.
AD: Sounds like a very rewarding process. Do you have advice for people interested in getting into animation?
JS: I think being a decent person. I find the people that work in my animation are the nicest, most sensitive, caring, thoughtful, wanting something good for people. So the biggest advice is be a decent person so you’re good to work with, then find a place to get in on the ground floor. Because the other nice thing about animation in all the places I’ve worked at is we care about what everyone thinks on the project. And we want to get their opinions no matter what level they are at on it. When we used to screen things at Disney and Pixar you would get notes from everyone who worked in the building. Notes from people who worked at the coffee cart were equally valid to the head of the studio.
AD: So do you know if you’re green lit for a second season?
JS: I don’t know that but I’m very hopeful that is a thing.
AD: If you are given a green light, do you have a plan of keeping up with these core characters? Will you expand on that? Is there something in particular you want to deal with?
JS: I don’t want to give away too much for people who might be reading this and haven’t seen the end. But the jumping off point for where we leave it at the end of season one was definitely intentional. In the hopes that we would have a season two and go on another journey and expand on the world even further. We went across this country from Glurfsburg to Meepville, so what happens when we go further beyond that in terms of the world. In terms of the story hard to say without spoiling, but where it leaves off at the end of season one it would be fun to explore that dynamic in season two.
AD: Well, that is all the questions on my end. Is there anything you want to leave our readers with?
JS: I think the last thing I would say, I appreciate you did an interview with me, but three hundred artists or more worked on this for four years and I just like to always reiterate that what’s on the screen for this show is due to them. People give a hard time to executives but I got great notes from executives, producers, everyone who worked on it. And obviously amazing contributions from every artist who worked on this around the world. I am very thankful for them. And lastly, if anyone is saying this sounds like it is terrible idea, “Why did you take this perfect idea and expand on it,” I would just say, remember the lesson of the book and give it a try.
Green Eggs and Ham is now streaming on Netflix.