Remember Golden Books? They were childhood staples that were easy to read and packed with charming illustrations. But what if these books were adaptations of adult-oriented films like Pulp Fiction and The Exorcist as opposed to kids stuff like The Pokey Little Puppy? The result would be Movies R Fun!, a hilarious look at young reader versions of books based on films that are packed with language, violence, sex and other stuff geared towards grown ups. Just released by Chronicle Books, Movies R Fun is the brilliant creation of writer/illustrator Josh Cooley. In this interview, Cooley discusses the origins of the book, his favorite illustrations in the work, his day job working for Pixar, and much more!
Tell me a little about how you became inspired to create Movies R Fun!
When my daughter was first born, I had a sudden realization that I was going to be able to share all the films I love with her. It would be like watching them for the first time but through her eyes. I got really excited about that. Then it hit me that a lot of the films I love wouldn’t be appropriate to show her for 17 years! But I had some children’s books from when I was a kid that took movies like E.T. and The Empire Strikes Back and made them readable for children. So I thought, purely as a joke, how funny it would be to see films that were clearly NOT for kids, made into digestable content for their age range. Of course, I never planned on actually showing this to my daughter, it is a joke for adults.
From concept to creation, how long did it take to write and illustrate the book?
I started to do individual illustrations based on this concept back in 2008. I’d show them to friends and they would suggest other movies that would be funny in that format. I never thought of making it into a book until I had drawn almost 20 of them. Making a book was just a natural direction for it. So I made a self-published version on thick cardstock like a children’s board book. (Those kids’ books that are thick enough to chew on.) I sold out of all 1000 copies relatively quickly. Then Chronicle Books expressed interest on putting it out, but with twice as many images. Which is what Movies R Fun! is.
Amongst my friends that I’ve shown the book to, your illustration for Prometheus has gotten the best response (because really, that movie is nonsense). Have you noticed that people seem to gravitate towards specific films from the book? If so, which ones have you found to get the best response? Is there a particular one that you enjoy most?
I’m always fascinated by which ones people gravitate towards. It’s all over the map. There’s obviously a Big Lebowski following, so that’s a favorite. But I was happy that there are so many fans of Leon: The Professional out there. I enjoy the Psycho image the most. It was a fun one to figure out how to draw since there is no image like that in the actual film. The shower scene is made up of 80 or so close up shots so I had to build a single image that encompassed all of them. I have a copy hanging in my bathroom.
One of my favorite things about the book are the background images to the illustrations that represent iconic props or moments from films. How did you settle upon these particular images? Did any movies pose a particular challenge to come up with the background illustrations. And the inclusion of Brad’s pirate hat in your Fast Times at Ridgemont High illustration was inspired.
A lot of the background images are from key moments or props in the film that play a key role. The hope was that the viewer would recognize the main image and what movie it’s from, then put together what those images were.
What got cut from the book, and when can we expect a follow-up? Can you give us a sneak preview of some possible entries?
I cut out the dentist scene from Marathon Man. Can you guess what scene it was? (Answer: “Is it safe?” asked the Nazi dentist.) The reason was because people who saw it didn’t recognize the movie. Not because of my drawing, because they never saw the movie. If you haven’t seen it, go see it now. You will think about it every time you go to the dentist.
Although your book is parody, there have actually been the occasional children’s products based on movies geared towards an older audience (the Kenner 18″ Alien figure and the Dune coloring books come to mind). Were there any real-life products that you took inspiration from? In your estimation, what is this about this specific kind of misguided merchandise that is so appealing?
Growing up I absolutely loved Shel Silverstein’s ABZ book. It made me laugh so hard even as a kid. It was a kid’s book (for adults) that had horrible suggestions in it for kids to do. Take candy from strangers, drink a bottle of ink, bury your siblings in the yard, etc. I guess Movies R Fun! is along that similar vein. In my opinion, the misguided merchandise hits two chords. The adult that can appreciate it, and that innocent inner child who likes brightly colored pictures and toys.
The YouTube trailer for your book went viral extraordinarily quickly. Tell me a little about the creation of this ad, as it perfectly nails the feeling of cheesy “As Seen on TV” infomercial products.
When Chronicle asked if I wanted to make a book trailer I immediately thought YES. I’ve been making short movies (and long ones) my entire life. I looked at old commercials for inspiration, like Sweet Pickles, which was an infomercial in the 80’s that sold books to help kids learn to read. I knew an infomercial would be funny. I called my collaborator and best friend Doug Cox to see if he had time to help out. He’s a professional editor and he cut the trailer as well as helped direct it. Nick Mahar, was kind enough to film it on his RED camera. He films a lot of pro music videos including work for Macklemore. He brought out his crew and we filmed it at my house in a day. The people in the video are all friends of mine. Doug cut it, the magical effects were created by a friend Ivan Miller, and the music was written by Aaron Eckardt. I’m super happy with it. Everyone did a masterful job and it captures the feeling of the book. We even took it a step further with the phone number at the end of the commercial. If you call it, you will hear a message from an actual Movies R Fun! phone operator, where you can leave a message about how much you love the product.
How much of a juggling act was it creating and promoting this book while also working at Pixar? Speaking of which, please tell our readers a bit about your day job.
For my day job, I’m a story supervisor at Pixar Animation. I’ve been there for going on 11 years. So my time working on the book was after hours and into the night. It was a juggling act, but that’s how my brain works. I like to have multiple things juggling that I can bounce back and forth between.
Do you have any parting words for Den of Geek readers?
Can I join the Den? I passed the Kobayashi Maru test WITHOUT cheating.