In what may be the biggest acquisition deal overall to come out of the Sundance Film Festival, HBO has picked up two seasons of animated series Animals, produced by Duplass Brothers Television for a 2016 debut on the pay cable network and its streaming platforms.
That includes the first season, produced by Duplass Brothers TV, which is currently in post-production. The completed first two episodes of the series were screened in the Special Events section of the Sundance Film Festival in January, drawing solid critical response. In addition to acquiring the first season, HBO has ordered a second season and picked up worldwide rights to the show. As usual, the network is not providing a number of episodes but the producers originally envisioned 10-episode seasons for the project, created by Phil Matarese & Mike Luciano. The animated show broke ground with its debut at the indie film festival, which included a conversation with Matarese, Luciano and executive producer Mark Duplass.
The pitching of Animals started just before its Sundance premiere, with a trailer (you can watch it above) sent to networks and garnering initial interest. The deal with HBO extends the network’s relationship with the Duplass brothers and their company, whose HBO comedy series Togetherness was recently renewed for a second season. It also marks HBO’s return to animated comedy three years after the end of The Life & Times Of Tim.
“Jay and I have been excited about bringing the principles of indie film to the TV space, and to have our first real experiment land at a place like HBO for two seasons is beyond what we could have imagined,” Mark Duplass said.
Animals revolves around the downtrodden creatures native to Earth’s least habitable environment: New York City. Whether it’s lovelorn rats, gender-questioning pigeons or aging bedbugs in the midst of a midlife crisis, the awkward small talk, moral ambiguity and existential woes of non-human urbanites prove startlingly similar to our own.
The project bypassed the traditional development and was financed with private equity money. The creators were able to make the show exactly how they wanted on a timetable that suited them. No one received significant upfront payments but in case of a sale, which just happened, its auspices and backers stood to do better financially than the benefits offered by the traditional model.
Matarese and Luciano are writing and directing Animals, in addition to voicing many of the characters. Mark Duplass also has done voiceover work, along with Katie Aselton, Nick Kroll and Rob Corddry. Matarese was the animator, while Luciano edited the audio recording sessions. The animation for Animals was created with Starburns Industries (Rick & Morty).
Matarese and Luciano met while working together at a New York City advertising production company, where they discovered a pair of pigeons across from their office and began speaking from their point of view. Matarese, an illustrator in his free time, proposed animating a scene based off their pigeon-riffing to screen at Luciano’s live variety show. The result was “Pigeons…” the first in a series of animated shorts that they dubbed “Animals.” It quickly became a full-time passion project, which they screened at venues throughout New York City, leading to appearances at South by Southwest and Palm Springs International ShortFest. Their quarter-hour installment – a revamped “Pigeons” – won Best Comedy honors at the 2013 New York Television Festival.
“Going from having made Animals in the supply closet at our day job to making ANIMALS in a supply closet at HBO headquarters is an unfathomable dream come true,” Matarese and Luciano said. “HBO has so many supplies, you have no idea! Great for drawing stuff.”
ICM Partners, which reps the Duplass brothers, Matarese and Luciano, handled the sale. Duplass Bros. are also with Sloane Offer; Matarese & Luciano with Mosaic and Morris Yorn.