Share & Connect
Although Seth MacFarlane originally conceived of the upcoming movie ‘Ted’ as an animated series, he soon realized the story would lend itself better to a motion picture, especially with enormous advances that have been made in CG imaging and VFX technology over the past several years. He enlisted fellow “Family Guy” writers Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild to help develop the story of the magical stuffed teddy bear and the owner whose development has been officially arrested.
Together, they created Ted the movie a tale of a lonely boy whose 1985 Christmas wish is miraculously granted and whose beloved bear creates a worldwide sensation when he comes to life. Young John’s headline-grabbing teddy is famous across the planet and routinely takes bookings such as “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.” But as the decades pass, a grown-up John finds that his once cherished toy has become his worse-for-the-wear, foul-mouthed, cynical companion. And as much as John loves Ted, John’s starting to feel the effects of spending the majority of his time with him.
MacFarlane walks us through the screenplay’s genesis: “Alec, Wellesley and I have worked together for years. I met them when “Family Guy” got canceled in 2002. They were working on a FOX sitcom called “The Pitts,” and I got hired to consult. We found that our comedic voices were very similar and that we worked well together, so I hired them on “Family Guy” when the show was brought back. They’ve been writing superstars since then and seemed an eminently logical choice. They have a great sense of the blend of story backbone, heart and, of course, jokes. They are two of the best joke writers that I know.”
“Seth had the idea for ‘Ted’ for a long time,” recalls Wild. “I remember him saying that he was waiting for the technology to get to the point where he could make it look like a real teddy bear.” He laughs, “It was Seth’s concept, but he didn’t have time to write it with his 20 shows on television, so he sent us off to write a rough draft. We continued to work with him on weekends, changing it and punching it up.”
“Seth said he wanted it to be a very R-rated comedy,” adds Sulkin. “The bear comes to life with a little child’s wish, and then you cut to almost 30 years later and it’s the roommate who won’t leave. They have a sweet beginning; then Ted becomes this national sensation and ultimately turns into something like a former child star. He’s somebody who was famous, is still alive, but not famous anymore. People continue to recognize Ted when they see him walking around with John, like when the pair is on their way to smoke pot in the park and run into some girl fans who recognize him and want to be photographed with the cuddly guy.”
MacFarlane agrees that he was most interested in the humor that occurs after the boy and bear grow up and Ted is no longer considered to be special. “A big part of the comedy comes from the fact that years after the bear came to life, people have gotten used to it and nobody cares anymore,” the director says, “a point it would naturally get to in real life. So once that big moment has passed, what’s the other 95 percent of your life going to be like? That was part of the comedy in ‘Ted’.”
The project came over to Bluegrass Films and had producer Scott Stuber and executive producer Jonathan Mone laughing within the first several pages of the script. They were not only impressed with how clever and unique the screenplay was, but also that it still contained classic storytelling elements.
Stuber reflects that it was the writers’ ability to blend their voices into a singular one that interested him: “Alec, Wellesley and Seth have a great shorthand and feed off of each other. In comedy, that’s important because not every great joke starts as a great joke. They protect each other and are on each other’s side, so they give each other the creative freedom to try different things and then find the right answer. They do this continually in their work.”
While it was critical to the filmmakers to bring bawdy comedy to the R-rated ‘Ted’, they knew the film would never work without a good deal of honest emotion. Explains Stuber: “Seth’s point is that he tries to offend everyone and not single out any group.
However, he brings heart and comedy and absurdity to this story that’s ultimately about growing up and leaving an icon of your childhood behind. He was able to mix in so many things. There’s some crazy stuff in this movie that makes you drop your jaw in the best of ways and say, ‘I can’t believe they just did that.’ But at the end of the day, he never lost sight of the heart, and the best comedies have that.”
Producer Jason Clark, a motion-capture veteran, was brought on to help oversee the production. “I had done ‘Stuart Little’ and had worked before with a CG character in a live-action world,” he relays. “I’d also done ‘Monster House’, which is one of the first movies to employ the motion capture of a performance. With ‘Ted’, we move to the next level, creating a leading performance in a comedy, which requires great immediacy to capture the humor and repartee between the performers. It was not something that could be recorded in a booth outside of the production experience; it needed to be recorded live on the set. On top of that, we added another level of complexity, since the director is playing that lead character.”
Having compiled a long list of credits over the years creating and overseeing the production of many projects (including three shows currently running on FOX), MacFarlane brings experience and maturity to his debut as a feature-film director. “Seth understands the process and is such an incredible leader,” commends Clark. “He has a way of giving clear indication of what he’s going for and, at the same time, allowing everybody to bring their expertise.”
Adds fellow producer John Jacobs, who has worked with MacFarlane for years: “First-time directors often need 20 different choices for everything and can be indecisive, but because of Seth’s incredible instincts and experience in animation, he’s amazingly tuned in to what he wants and has been able to command three challenging roles: directing, acting and overseeing the VFX work for Ted. As well, his comedic timing, irreverent attitude and keen visual sense are like no one else’s, as “Family Guy” fans know.”
Jacobs credits MacFarlane with “being able to play animated characters in a completely real way. This is as far away as you could get from the Walt Disney style. This bear could just as easily be the guy sitting next to you at a bar or driving down the road with you to a bachelor party. I can guarantee that people have never seen a character like this and they are going to love this bear!”
Image Courtesy of Ted