Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: You recently launched the independent animation pilot, Kelly and the Kung-Fu Gators, on YouTube. For our readers who may be unfamiliar, what can you tell us about the premise of the pilot, and what inspired you to bring this project to life?
Kristen Gish: Thanks so much for taking interest in the project! Kelly and the Kung Fu Gators is inspired by shows like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but from the perspective of the female sidekick. When I was a kid watching these Saturday morning action cartoons, it bothered me that they had only one girl per show. That girl never seemed to have a social life outside of the male characters. I thought it would be funny to have a female main character who only ever hung out with mutant alligator boys, but who desperately wanted to hang out with other girls.
BD: What were some of your creative influences in creating the world and characters?
KG: There are so many! I love shows like Venture Brothers and Bojack Horseman, because they take these tropes and TV genres that we all grew up with and turn them on their head without just being nostalgia bait. Calling back to these tropes while making something that is fresh and unique is something I really aspire to. I also love that they aren’t afraid to be animated. They take what’s funny and weird about animation and lean into it.
There are also films that I watched as a kid that have basically imprinted on me and really shaped the way I write and direct today. Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Clueless are both huge influences of mine. Clueless in particular was a big influence on KKFG. It’s an unapologetically feminine movie, and it does a great job of lovingly poking fun at the characters without invalidating them.
Another big influence is Ralph Bakshi. I love his films, and although tonally his work isn’t all that similar to KKFG, I’ve always been inspired by his story. He made films during a time when the animation industry was in a downturn, and he did it in a way that was so different and unique from what had come before. There’s a great interview with him at San Diego Comic-Con in 2008. Someone asks how to weather tough times in animation, and he basically said, "I don’t feel sorry for you! The technology is there. What’s stopping you from writing, directing, and animating your own thing?" Sometimes, you just need an animation legend to say, "I don’t feel sorry for you," to get you to finish your indie pilot!
BD: You are no stranger to the field of animation, having written and/or directed for such incredible titles as Star vs. the Forces of Evil, Ducktales, Big City Greens, and Tuca and Bertie. As the pilot’s writer/director, co-producer, and single storyboard artist, what can you share about your experience in balancing these duties in light of your previous experience?
KG: I’m really grateful that I’ve been able to work on a variety of different animated shows with a wide range in styles. My first writing credit was on Star Vs the Forces of Evil. Star was a storyboard-driven show, which meant that the storyboard artists took an outline of the episode, wrote the scripts, and storyboarded them at the same time. I felt that experience gave me a lot of practice with writing visually, and writing with animation in mind.
I stayed at Disney for about 4 years and also storyboarded on Ducktales and Big City Greens. Big City Greens is another board-driven show with a focus on comedy. Ducktales was a very cinematic show with a lot of action sequences, which was really intimidating to take on at first. That experience boarding action came in handy when it came to my own storyboards on KKFG.
During the pandemic, I made the switch to adult animation and worked as an assistant director on Tuca and Bertie. That experience definitely gave me a better look at the whole process of making an episode of animated television. I was part of notes sessions that involved sound editors and animatic editors, and I was able to take that experience into creating an animatic for my own pilot. Right now, I'm storyboarding on The Great North, which is a Fox adult animated show. There's a big emphasis on natural acting on TGN, and being able to use natural acting for some of the more emotional scenes in KKFG has been really useful.
Working on these projects gave me the skills I needed to make an indie pilot, but actually sitting down to make it was harder than I thought.
My biggest advice to anyone who wants to make an indie project is to bring others into the process.
I have to give a huge shout-out to my co producer, Hunter Wentworth. Having someone who understands scheduling and has a plan of action is incredibly important! Even though we were doing this outside of a studio, we still followed a lot of the same steps that a studio would. I shared my work with trusted friends and peers through every step of the process. A lot of the people who gave me feedback were people I met on the shows I’ve worked on. I’m still really shy about reaching out to people and sharing my project, but something I learned by making KKFG is that people want to help! Animation is so collaborative, even in the indie space.
BD: A big part of working on independent projects is getting the word out there about your work! What are your goals with this indie pilot, and what would be of the greatest help to you in with the project at this time?
KG: Great question! I have two main goals with Kelly and the Kung Fu Gators. One is deeply personal, and that’s to prove to myself that I can write and direct my own stories. Releasing a personal project like this can be daunting, but I’m so glad I finished it and I wouldn’t change that experience for the world.
My second goal would be for Kelly and the Kung Fu Gators to find its audience! I’d love to develop the project further and either get it greenlit through a studio, or possibly publish it as a comic. I’m considering crowdfunding and continuing in the indie space, as well. It’s too early to say what the next steps are, but the current goal is to continue promoting it! The best way to support Kelly and the Kung Fu Gators would be to watch it on YouTube and to share the video on social media. The more views it gets, the more likely it’ll continue in the future. Liking, commenting, and subscribing to the channel is a huge help in boosting it for the algorithm. If you’re an artist and love drawing fanart, that’s another great way to support it! Both in the sense that it gets people interested AND in the sense that it brings me so much joy! My favorite part of finishing the project was seeing everyone’s fanart. I spend way too much time on twitter, so if you draw fanart and tag me, I’ll retweet it. Or if you’re not an artist and just want to let me know that you liked the pilot, letting me know in the comments or on twitter makes me so happy. Especially in smaller animation spaces, it makes a huge difference letting the artist know that you love their project!
BD: Are there any other projects on which you are currently working that you would like to share with our readers?
KG: I’ll be sharing my experiences making Kelly and the Kung Fu Gators on twitter, TikTok, and YouTube! I want to share as much as I can with people who are interested in making indie shorts themselves. I’ll be answering Q&As, going through the process, and sharing behind-the-scenes info on the project.
BD: Lastly, what would you like to tell readers and viewers who want to learn more about and support Kelly and the Kung-Fu Gators?
KG: You can support Kelly and the Kung Fu Gators by watching it on YouTube!
You can also learn more by following me on twitter, Tiktok (@gishanimations), and Instagram.
Thanks again for having me on Fanbase Press!