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The Weird Way That The Simpsons Movie Was Actually Written

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The Weird Way That The Simpsons Movie Was Actually Written

Originally debuting in 1989, “The Simpsons” has spent the last 32 years or so dominating the world of entertainment as an icon of American culture. Its familiar yellow characters, in all their parody of the American lifestyle, have become just as much of a hallmark, spawning their own merchandise, copycats, and yes, a movie. In fact, it was an incredibly successful movie, winning several awards and even netting a Golden Globe nomination upon its release in 2007 (via IMDb).

Surprisingly, however, ideas for a “Simpsons” film had been brewing since the show’s earliest days in the late 1980s, according to an article by film critic Emanuel Levy. And while these early ideas were a far cry from the final story — which featured Homer (Dan Castellaneta) and his family being exiled for poisoning Springfield’s waters with pig feces before returning to save the city from the murder-crazy Environmental Protection Agency — they were still part of the film’s unique writing process. With the task of writing the film without disrupting the show’s TV schedule, “The Simpsons Movie” was actually written in quite a weird way.

They split the Simpsons writing team in half

When proper production on “The Simpsons Movie” began in 2001, the series’ writing team had already expanded greatly, courtesy of series producer James L. Brooks. This proved extremely advantageous in making the movie because its creators always intended for the film to be bigger in every way than the original show.

“What separates the movie from the show is scale,” Brooks said, as quoted by Emanuel Levy. “We have one hundred speaking parts in the movie, and we created scenes we couldn’t begin to draw for the series. Most of all, we wanted a “Simpsons” movie to be a real moviegoing experience for the audience, while staying true to what we do with the show.”

With the expanded writing team, the “Simpsons” crew was able to split itself into two groups. While many of the series’ senior writers moved into their own writing room to work on the film, newer writers could create new episodes of the TV show. Thanks to this process, the staff was able to create a fully-fledged “Simpsons” movie without having to put the show on hiatus.

That entire script was also split up

In addition to breaking up the workload between two different teams of writers, the writing staff for the film also broke the script into sections and divided work that way. However, that process was much more complex than you might expect. As showrunner Al Jean put it (via Emanuel Levy), “‘The Simpsons Movie’ is not three episodes of the show strung together.” Indeed, in a very loose sense, it is more like seven.

While a rough outline of the film was ironed out by the entire team, once all of the writers knew what they were working on they each worked on a different section individually. Jean, along with Mike Scully, David Mirkin, John Swartzwelder, Jon Vitti, Mike Reiss, and George Meyer, all wrote roughly 25 pages worth of content. They then pieced those sections together to make the film’s first complete draft.

The writing team, which also included the likes of series creator Matt Groening, Ian Maxtone-Graham, Matt Selman, and Brooks, then spent the next two years refining that draft into what the movie we know today. It took a lot of rewrites, and not a small amount of recontextualizing what it meant to write “The Simpsons.” In truth, it was nothing like a normal episode in either conception or creation, and the ways in which they developed it are evidence of that fact.

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