Awards Daily talks to Family Guy casting directors Christine Terry and Jackie Sollitto, composer Walter Murphy, and director John Holmquist about Season 19 of the animated series.
It takes a lot to put on an animated series, but an animated series during COVID? That’s a whole other challenge.
A director, composer, and two casting directors from Family Guy talk the challenges and the triumphs of Season 19 of the FOX show.
Music Composer: Walter Murphy
As “one of the founders” of Family Guy (including the theme song), Walter Murphy has worked on the show since its inception in 1999. And since Seth MacFarlane always likes to compose music with a live orchestra, that presented challenges to Murphy, who ended up taking musicians’ individual audio files and combining them together into a musical product.
“Subsequently,” says Murphy, “I got some sleep. It was a tough time.”
The season finale—a musical extravaganza that follows Cleveland, Quagmire, and Peter in different sports’ scenarios—saw Murphy getting to play with different time periods and styles of music, like when Cleveland looks back on playing baseball in Cuba.
“Seth and I decided early on that the musical score would take everything seriously, as ridiculous as the events are.”
Casting: Christine Terry and Jackie Sollitto
Family Guy has been on FOX for nearly 20 seasons now, with a core cast that doesn’t have to change because, well, they’re animated. So where does a huge chunk of the casting come from?
“Look, it’s cutaways,” says Family Guy casting director Christine Terry with a laugh.
And any Family Guy fan knows that of course it would be, with the cutaways a hallmark of the series, when Peter or any of the Griffins set up a joke that cuts to a different scene that might involve a celebrity in a weird situation or an animal talking.
“Half the time [celebrities] are fully written in and it’s a specific reference to somebody for a different reason, and we approach them,” says casting director Jackie Sollitto.
In Season 19, a cutaway involving adult contemporary singer Richard Marx was something that Marx was very game for, and according to Sollitto and Terry, most celebrities they approach say, “Family Guy? Of course I will do this!”
“Richard is really good friends with Richard Appel, one of our showrunners. And [Marx] knew that Richard has been dying to put him in here. He has an incredible sense of humor.”
With so many people working on the show, they are often able to reach the right celebrity just through connections and friendships, as was the case with Mr. Marx. However, voice acting is not for every actor.
“You would be surprised by how many on-camera actors can’t translate to animated television,” says Terry. “Even comedy actors, they’re missing something. A lot of actors can’t do this. It doesn’t translate for whatever reason.”
From a casting perspective, the part of the job that gets Sollitto and Terry really excited is creating an environment where actors feel comfortable playing.
“When we’re reaching out to people, we say, you know what this is, so come on in and have some fun,” says Sollitto. “And they really respond to that, which is nice.”
But there are some things they prefer about casting for a live-action show.
“The one difference we really noticed,” says Terry, “that we do miss a lot, is actually being in the room with actors and helping them mold their performance and really working with them.”
Director: John Holmquist
Never a show to shy away from farce, the episode “La Famiglia Guy,” directed by John Holmquist, finds the Griffins parodying the Corleones and the Sopranos when Peter becomes godfather to Susie Swanson.
“‘La Famiglia Guy’ was a fun episode to work on,” says Holmquist, “because I got to re-watch all of the Godfather movies as well as Goodfellas and some Sopranos episodes as research for quite a few parody sequences that we animated for that episode. The funniest scenes to me were the ones where Brian is eliminated by several members of the Griffin family as well as Quagmire in classic Godfather fashion.”
Just as Sollitto and Terry like being in the same room when it comes to casting for live-action shows, Holmquist misses the personal touch in animation that COVID took away.
“Although our crew missed the one-on-one human interaction of being under one studio roof together, I think we proved that work from home can work. We were very fortunate on Family Guy to have an efficient digital process in place years before COVID hit. Through that process we were able to continue to do our work, take Zoom meetings, review designs, take notes and ultimately edit and produce animatics which are our blueprints for the animation that is ultimately seen on television. It was a very challenging time, but I think we’ve come through it with some new tools and practices that should make the animation process more flexible moving forward.”
Megan McLachlan is a freelance writer that lives in Pittsburgh, PA. Her work has appeared in Buzzfeed, Cosmopolitan, The Cut, Paste, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Thrillist, and The Washington Post. Follow her on Twitter at @heydudemeg.