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Rob DeBorde Online Interview

    Beginning with Season #7, Alton began to dole out some of the script writing to Rob DeBorde. Rob and his cohort are the creators of Tako the Octopus, an animated chef who teaches others how to cook with humor, panache and pizzazz while usually losing a limb in the process.
    This step away from writing is a significant one in my opinion. It's the first time that Good Eats isn't totally AB's. Although he is completely involved in the editing of the script, it is the first time he's showed signs of relinquishing control of his "baby." I mention credit of Mr. DeBorde's work with each episode's information.
    What follows are some e-mails Mr. DeBorde shared with me to give me some insight into the process of how AB and he hooked up and how they collaborated on the writing. Nothing fancy, just some historical archival of the ever changing face of Good Eats.


Rob DeBorde Self-Portrait

From: "Rob DeBorde" <rob@8legged.com>
To: "Michael Menninger"
Subject: Re: Crustacean Nation 3
Date: Thu, 3 Jul 2003 11:06:22 -0700

Hey Mike,

So, DFL! is going along smoothly. I'm between GE scripts ... so I guess I've got a few minutes. I'll just run through some thoughts, and then if you want to follow up with more questions that's cool. Use however you like.

The beginning ...  Alton first contacted us via email. Sent a "fan" letter, more or less. Said he liked the show and asked if he could send a resume. A joke, I believe. Well, I was suspicious at first ... was this really AB? After trading a few emails it turns out it was the real deal. Funny thing was, we'd sent him a DFL! package a few weeks prior, but that's not what prompted him to check out the site. He dug through his mail, found the package, and after a few more emails we made plans to meet when he visited the Bay Area last October.

Cut to Los Gatos, CA: Alton enjoys a lovely breakfast with Dave O'Neal and Rob DeBorde, creators of Deep Fried, Live! with Tako the Octopus. It was cool. We hit it off pretty quickly. I think Alton was pleased we showed up in jeans and t-shirts and not suits. We tossed a bunch of ideas around about how he might help us with DFL! and what we might be able to do together. Eventually, he got around to asking if I'd like to take a stab a writing an episode of GE. He thought given the style of our own show, we might be able to do it. Since DFL! was very much GE-inspired, that made a lot of sense. Two months later I was working on story concepts for 4 GE episodes.

I assumed I'd start simply, maybe do one script and see how it went. Nope. Alton gave me four shows from the first group of season 7 and off I went. A challenge, to be sure. GE scripts are a bit more complicated than most half hour programs, be they cooking shows, comedies, or cartoons. Lots of detail, lots or info, lots of demonstration. Oh, and they need to be engaging ... and funny ... and smart. Yes, definitely a challenge. Since AB was very busy, I was left more or less on my own in the beginning. That's both good and bad. Good because you get a lot done. Bad because you end up rewriting a lot. It took me a few scripts just to get into "AB" writing mode ... by that I mean, writing, more or less, like Alton does. Not exactly, but within reason. Once I got that down, the rewriting process became more about getting the details right, making things fit and flow better, and generally making AB (and the network) happy. Does he rewrite my stuff? Absolutely. First couple times you see your work taken apart, it's a bit harsh, but I fortunately I've had the experience before. And with AB, the scripts always end up better ... more or less. And he lets me do an edit pass on his scripts as well, so if I'm feeling especially miffed by something he did to one of my scripts ... well, that's what they make red ink for, my friend.

So ... 7.1 went well. 7.2 was a bear, a lot of writing in a very short time. I enjoyed it, but don't relish the thought of trying to write 4 scripts in 5 weeks again any time soon. 7.3 is coming soon. What are the biggest challenges? Bringing all the info together into a sturdy, cohesive whole that's both informative and entertaining. The humor? That's easy ... at least compared to the rest of the details. And a lot of that is found during the shoot, anyway. You can write: "The crab looks at AB, sneers, then leaps on his face. AB screams in horror," but during the shoot, do really think the crab is going to follow directions? (AB is a good screamer, though). Undoubtedly, something humorous will come about. Always does.

Being in the kitchen while the show was being filmed was a great experience, and will certainly be a big help. It's always good to see how it's really done. Writing sometimes puts you in a weird, magical place, where anything can happen. Being in the kitchen with the camera and the lights and the crew...well, that puts everything in perspective. There's only so much you can do - and Alton certainly does a lot, but there still are limitations. (Live King Crab, for instance. Not gonna happen.)

Oh, yeah, I forgot to mention my secret recipe for "How to prepare to write a Good Eats script."

bulletStep 1: Watch GE semi-regularly for several years so that by the time you get your chance to write you've seen about ... 35-40 episodes.
bulletStep 2: borrow your partner's video tape collection of the series, which includes EVERY episode (at the time about 80 shows).
bulletStep 3: Spend the thanksgiving holiday on the couch watching GE. The remote in one hand, a turkey leg in the other. I watched over 50 episodes in 6 days. And I took notes.
bulletStep 4: Seek professional help.

Cheers,
Rob

From: "Michael Menninger"
To: "Rob DeBorde" <rob@8legged.com>
Sent: Thursday, July 03, 2003 1:06 PM
Subject: Re: Crustacean Nation 3

Fantastic. Can you tell us what scripts you wrote a) so far aired or already published and b) which ones are coming up? Not the titles, just the them, e.x. BBQ, crabs, etc. I know you did the crab show, of course. Is that what you meant by 7.1, 7.2, etc.?

I really appreciate this.

Mikemenn

From: "Rob DeBorde" <rob@8legged.com>
To: "Michael Menninger"
Subject: Re: Crustacean Nation 3
Date: Thu, 3 Jul 2003 14:22:37 -0700

Let's see ... the crab show was mine, as is the upcoming muffin show. Don't know if they're announced yet, but also for 7.1 (the show is broken into three groups of shows, as in 7.1, 7.2 & 7.3 ... I would have called each show a number, but hey whatever AB wants ... ) I wrote the Sweet Potato show (which AB says came out great) and a wheat show. For the next group I wrote episodes on candy, pouch cookery, holiday cookies, & sausage making.

If you want to turn what I wrote into a mock interview or something like that feel free. Maybe just a topic list or something. Then it won't seem so rough. If you want to try this, let me see it before you put it up and maybe I'll have something I can add to it.

Rob

From: "Michael Menninger"
To: "Rob DeBorde" <rob@8legged.com>
Sent: Friday, July 04, 2003 5:18 PM
Subject: Here's a few questions from Jon Grimes
  1. Can you tell us more about the writing process? Does AB provide an outline (basic theme of the show, certain scenes he wants done, recipes, or just the food)?
  2. I would think AB provides you some of his research, but do you have to do more on your own, or can you just pick up what AB sends and write a script?
  3. Once you got the hang of writing, more or less, like Alton does how long does it take to write a script?

Mikemenn

From: "Rob DeBorde" <rob@8legged.com>
To: "Michael Menninger"
Subject: Re: Here's a few questions from Jon Grimes 
Date: Mon, 7 Jul 2003 09:31:07 -0700 
  1. Ah, the writing process ... starts with a topic, provided by AB, which we talk about a little bit - sometimes AB has an idea about what he wants, sometimes he wants to see what's buried in the research. It certainly helps when I know where exactly he wants to go with a topic, but sometimes you just have to write. It's actually easier with the story-heavy shows, because
    they tend to write themselves once you've got the info digested. By that I mean I find it easier to write fiction since that's what I've been doing for years. All the non-fiction info? That's trickier, especially when you're trying to slip it into a story, but sometimes the limitations imposed by the story make it easier to pick and choose what info makes the cut. You can't
    squeeze everything in there ... the shows with less of a story are often times harder to cut and paste.
         And yes, sometimes AB has a pretty solid idea about what he wants, which is helpful ... although when said idea is revealed to me after I've written a draft or two? Not as helpful. (wink wink, nudge nudge)
  2. AB has a few folks dedicated to researching each topic who put together most of the information needed to write the shows, at least from a technical stand point. It's mostly reference materials - history, science - that sort of thing. Most of the practical info comes from experimentation in the kitchen (AB's, not mine, although I do like to play with the recipes when I get them). For a couple of the shows, I was already fairly well versed on
    the topic (crab, for instance), but the research still helps. And sometimes I want more info on a given topic and will do a little searching of my own.
  3. A first draft, from idea to research to outline to script usually takes about two weeks. I've written them in less time, but that's a fairly honest timeline. I can actually write a show in a few days, but that's because I've just spent a week or more studying the research and putting together notes and idea and such. Of course, that's just a first draft. These things usually go through 4 or 5 drafts before the go to the network and then countless other minor revisions before (and during) the shoot. It's a pretty fluid process. And I've learned that trying to fine tune any particular bit of dialogue is a waste of time. It should be good, but going through and
    adjusting every last little thing ... well, that's just silly.

Rob

From: "Michael Menninger"
To: "Rob DeBorde" <rob@8legged.com>
Sent: Monday, July 07, 2003 6:32 PM
Subject: Question from Electrowolf

Question: Will there be an animated seafood version of Alton? (Perhaps as a "spiky-haired trout?")

Long live Tako!

From: "Rob DeBorde" <rob@8legged.com>
To: "Michael Menninger"
Subject: Re: Question from Electrowolf 
Date: Tue, 8 Jul 2003 09:00:22 -0700

Animated AB? Maybe ... just maybe. I don't want to give away too much, but Alton and I have had discussions on the subject and let's just say he's keen on cartoons. My guess would be that an animated version of Mr. Brown will show up on somebody's show, sooner or later. (Hopefully sooner!)

Rob

Update from Rob on August 1, 2006

From: "Rob DeBorde" <rob@8legged.com>
To: "Michael Menninger"
Subject: Writing for GE: Part II
Date: Tue, 1 Aug 2006 15:25:03 -0700

Hey Mike,

So ... here I am 4 seasons into writing for Good Eats. Is it the same? Different? Still fun? Still torture? Yes; yes; mostly; sometimes. To date I've written 35 episodes, with another 7 or so due by the end of the [2006] year. Seems AB's schedule has gotten a wee bit busier since I started writing, thus my workload has increased. He's such a busy guy, you know ... barely has time to film the shows, let alone write them. It's all that "Feasting" and "Ironing" and "Appearing in Wired Magazine" that bogs him down.

Yes, I kid. I'm more than happy to pick up the slack, and very pleased that AB has the confidence in my writing to let me tackle so many of the shows. Yes, he still does a bit of rewriting, but usually after I've rewritten it several times first. He tells me what he likes, doesn't like, and what needs to change because they can't afford a crane shot over the Grand Canyon. (What a rip.) Ultimately, the shows still go through plenty of revision, right on up to the moment they're shot and then again in the editing room. If half of what I wrote ends up on the screen, I feel pretty good. Again, they are his shows and they need to be in his voice. I'm just writer boy putting in the commas and such.

Why wasn't I mentioned on the "Behind the Eats" show? Remember when AB talked about his writing process? Staring blankly into nothing for 12 hours. I think my work happens somewhere in that 12 hour period. Mind meld or something like that. Ah, well. At least he said nice things about my book.

Oh, yeah, I wrote a book. That was fun. Probably wouldn't have happened had it not been for Good Eats. And it certainly wouldn't have been as good without my experience of writing for the show. I owe AB and Tamie a great deal of thanks for showing me how to write about food. And the cooking part, yes, that helped, too (thanks Tamie).

[Here's the book Rob wrote and a link to Amazon.com]

Fish on a First-Name Basis
How Fish is Caught, Bought, Cleaned, Cooked an Eaten

QUICK HITS:

FAVORITE EPISODE I WROTE THAT YOU'RE NEVER GOING TO SEE: Back in Season 7 there was a cookie show [The Trick to Treats]. Remember the one with Elton dressed in a Halloween costume? Yeah, that was AB's last minute rewrite. It was supposed to be a Ghostbusters-esque show with a "Great Grandma Ghost" haunting AB as he tries to recreate her cookies. The network didn't get it or something. Too scary. Whatever. It was great.

FAVORITE EPISODE I WROTE THAT YOU DID SEE: The crab show [Crustacean Nation III: Feeling Crabby]. Silly fun. Also very fond of the script for the upcoming Squid 2 show. But I don't know what will end up on the screen. Keep your tentacles crossed. (Yes, I finally got to write a Tako-esque show. Heh.)

EPISODE I LEARNED THE MOST FROM WRITING: Sweet Potatoes [Potato, My Sweet]. Used to hate 'em. Love 'em now.

EPISODE THAT WAS HARDEST TO WRITE: Cobbler [Cobbled Together]. Many, many drafts. Peppercorns took the longest. In fact, it's still not "officially" done five months after I started it.

EASIEST TO WRITE: Flatfish [Flat is Beautiful III: Flounder]. I'd just finished writing a book about fish. Hardly even needed to look at the research. AB still changed a bunch of stuff. Meanie.

HAVE I EVER BEEN ON THE SHOW? Yes, my hands. I was THING in the Salt show [Eat This Rock!]. My left hand came out from under the sink and my right out from under the stove. My hands are famous. Me, not so much. (By the way, I am married, but Thing is not. So, for the under-the-sink-shot I slipped the ring over to my right ring finger. That's the only time in almost 10 years of marriage the ring has been anywhere other than my left ring finger. Shocking, I know.)

WHEN IS TAKO GOING TO BE ON THE SHOW? Heh, someday ... maybe. I'll see what I can do about slipping him into one of them fancy animated sequences. No, I didn't think to put him in the squid show. I'm a dummy.

Well, anyway, there's an update for you. Four seasons in, still going strong. Sometime later this year I'll write my 1000th script page for Good Eats. (That means AB has written 3000-4000 pages, by the way. Probably more when you count rewrites and all the extra bits and shorts and such. 5000? Yikes!)

Cheers,
Rob DeBorde

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Last Edited on 08/27/2010