‘Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk,’ laughs Greg Van Riel and Atul Rao when asked about their latest project The Three Stooges. Van Riel, one of the three partners in The Membrains, says ‘Now we can justify slapping each other silly!’ Slapstick aside, The Membrains, a group of Canadian comedy writers/producers based in Hollywood, are getting noticed for their kid-tuned sense of humor.
The Three Stooges, a pilot for Santa Monica’s George Paige & Associates and Glendale-based Comedy 3 Productions, is being animated with stop-motion silicon models by the Chiodo Bros. Studio located in Burbank. ‘The Three Stooges is going to be faithful to the original Howard, Fine and Howard comedies, yet set within the madness of modern life,’ says Rao. The half-hour series is expected to cost approximately US$800,000 per episode.
The Membrains Entertainment Conspiracy, with offices in L.A. and Toronto, consists of Van Riel, Rao and Kim Saltarski, all of whom have previous kid experience. Rao wrote on Nelvana series like The Care Bears and Babar and teamed with Saltarski at YTV on Brain Wash, a daily comedy show. Van Riel’s credits include creating the hip-hop group TBTBT and directing the NFB feature A 20th Century Chocolate Cake.
Since hooking up in 1997, Nelvana, Film Roman, Nickelodeon and Fox Family Channel have all tapped The Membrains for expert insanity. For Fox Family, the trio created the wacky wrap-around Basement, Morning Scramble and Weekend Chill segments that encased the programming for the network’s inaugural year. At Nickelodeon, the group wrote the script for a zany revival of Terrytoon characters Mighty Mouse, Heckle & Jeckle and Deputy Dawg (recently completed, but unscheduled for telecast).
In addition to the current Stooges project, The Membrains are story-editing Mona The Vampire for Montreal’s Cinar; developing Roy Rogers for Kids’ WB!; and creating Brain Asylum, an animated series for The Disney Channel. The trio is joined by collaborator/animator Guy Vasilovich on the latter two projects. Though all three series are aimed at the eight to 12 demographic, the range of the material is wide. Roy Rogers is a contemporary cowboy comedy/adventure, while Brain Asylum, about a class full of paranormal children, is science-fiction/fantasy.
The group is also emerging on the Internet in an arrangement with Spunkytown.com to unleash its brand of offbeat comedy for tweens on-line. Rudy Bega (about a rutabaga who thinks outside the box) and G. Pig and Headcase (the wacky adventures of two Internet bug exterminators) debut in September.
Meanwhile, Rao has teamed up with Emmy Award-winning animation director Mike Milo (Pinky & The Brain) to develop a pilot for a Cartoon Network series for eight- to 12-year-olds called Swaroop (translated as ‘truth’). The show stars a 12-year-old boy with the same name who views life in America from a Native American Indian point of view.
Also, Saltarski’s family film Druidstone has been optioned by Toronto-based Knightscove Entertainment. A contemporary action-adventure pic, the live-action Druidstone centers on an American boy’s journey to an English town inhabited by ancestors of the Knights of the Round Table.
How do they juggle all the work? ‘With three people, you can get a lot more done if you assign a `point-brain’ to each project,’ says Van Riel. ‘But it’s still one vision with three brains behind it.’ Quips Van Riel: ‘It doesn’t stop until our heads explode.’