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Webseries Q&A: My Superhero Has Some Issues

Screenwriter Matt Oates and actor Josh Cooke were concerned about the mental health of superheroes -- so they wrote a live-action and animation combination webseries about it. Issues debuts on Sony's Crackle this month.
Co-creator Josh Cooke gives advice in "Issues"

Co-creator Josh Cooke gives advice in "Issues"

What if you had the power to save the world when no one else could? Seems like being a superhero would be the ideal way to live, unless of course you have to cope with the pressure of all that responsibility.

Having the weight of the world on your shoulders could lead to headaches, depression, and maybe even impotence, especially if you have no one to talk to. Screenwriter Matt Oates (Wasted) and actor Josh Cooke (Better With You, I Love You, Man) were tired of the superhero films that never addressed the issues of how hard it is to keep peace in the city when no one knows what you’re going through.

Issues, a new animation/live-action hybrid, debuting on Crackle this month, features the voices of Seth Green and Ron Livingston, among others. Script sat down with the co-creators to find out how much time on the couch it takes to keep a superhero saving lives.

SCRIPT: Where did you get the idea for Issues?
For me, the idea started back in college when I took a psychology course, and they talked about how it’s very commonplace for child psychologist to use comic book psychology to help educate their patients when dealing with conditions. So, I wrote down “psychology and superheroes.” And that was it. The idea of Superman’s anxiety being discussed in a therapy session always inspired me. I brought it to Josh, and he went bonkers for it, and we started writing right away.
JOSH COOKE: We were both, at the time, out of work, and there was so much stuff going on, and I said do you have any ideas that we could go out and shoot? I saw this as an opportunity. I think we wrote two or three episodes within that first day. Then, I went to my agent at the time, and I said, “I have this idea,” and she went to her office and immediately called someone at Sony.
MATT OATES: We were in negotiations within 48 hours.

SCRIPT: How did you get started writing?
MATT OATES: I think, initially, Josh and I both wrote about four episodes but only one evolved into something. We spent more time just figuring out where the comedy would go. We wanted to parallel the story of these characters to places where the comic book mythology might go.
JOSH COOKE: That first day was just about making each other laugh. Actually, I believe that the two or three episodes that we spat out that first day included characters that are in the current show.

SCRIPT: What are some of your favorite episodes?
MATT OATES: My favorite is the one episode that people don’t get, but it’s the closest to what we started with. It’s “The Dark Kodiak,” which is our take on Batman. But to me, it’s the purest of the idea. It’s a character in a therapy session with a therapist, going over his psychology problems, drawing from Batman mythology. To me, that’s definitely a fanboy episode. The other episodes are a little broader and more accessible.
JOSH COOKE: I still like the best, “Incredible Flame,” which is our take on The Human Torch. He’s a character who’s just absolutely depressed. We initially described him as Steven Wright on fire. It seemed like such a funny idea. Absolutely not paying attention to anything the doctor is saying, he’s not interested in being cured in any way, he’s just there to talk and talk, and the doctor is going insane. That’s another one that’s not as flashy as the others. There’s no real action in that one; it’s just the situation.

SCRIPT: How do you keep the characters fresh?
JOSH COOKE: We have our Captain Magnificent, which is sort of our Superman. We knew we had to do a Superman, because you know, you have to do that. The most typical place to go in any Superman parody is that Superman can’t get it up. So, we wanted to stay away from that, as much as we could. The problem he’s having is much more bizarre.
MATT OATES: I think we always tried to take our first idea and throw it away. Explore our second or third. When you’re dealing with well known characters, who are icons, like Batman, usually your first or second idea is too obvious. Captain Magnificent is fun, and he’s voiced by Rob Riggle (The Daily Show with Jon Stewart). We also have Seth Green (Family Guy), Eric Stonestreet (Modern Family), and Greg Grunberg (Heroes).

SCRIPT: How do you work as a team?
JOSH COOKE: Because of our schedules, we try to work over the phone, but it really works best if I drive the thousands of miles from Hollywood down to Marina del Ray where he lives and just sit in the room for a number of hours. Really, we pitch it until we start laughing. Usually one of us starts it there, and the other will edit.
MATT OATES: One of us usually clings to one character more than another. And then that person will take over that episode and it’ll get revisited by the other until something emerges that we’re both happy with.

SCRIPT: What are some of the challenges of working within a webseries budget?
MATT OATES: Our budget was pretty small considering other Crackle shows.
JOSH COOKE: Considering what we had to do with the animation, it eats up more than three fourths of the budget or a half right off the bat.
MATT OATES: They were amazing at Titmouse Studios. They were fantastic. The animation was about half the budget, but on their end, I know they were working for cost, so shout out to them.

SCRIPT: Josh, what was production like, specifically acting against animated clients?
JOSH COOKE: It wasn’t that bad for me, but I think because we had both written them, I kind of understood what all of it was and what we envisioned. So, I knew every moment and every beat, so we pretty much played through what we had. We only had two days to shoot all six episodes.

SCRIPT: Do those constraints affect the writing?
MATT OATES: We really let our imaginations fly in the drafts, but when we got closer to production, and learning what our budget would be, reality set in and we had to change things.
JOSH COOKE: Our initial concept of this whole show isn’t necessarily representative of what we ended up shooting, due to budgetary constraints. The initial pitch of the whole show was that every superhero show or movie was about that superhero, for example, Superman, Batman, Hulk -- but they’re never about what is it like living in a city or a world where those kinds of antics and that kind of destruction is commonplace. Like, what if you’re trying to get to work, and you’re late and your boss is screaming at you, but you’re saying, “I’m sorry, the Joker derailed a train” and the boss is like, “I don’t care, I’m here. I don’t care what the Joker is doing.” But because of the budget constraints we had, we scaled it down to the meat of the bit, being the direct contact between a hero and a doctor. But we’re hoping, in some other way, we could work out a comic book deal.
MATT OATES: We’re hoping we work out a deal for a comic book.