When there's a "Bob's Burgers" table read, it's an open secret. They aren’t advertised to the industry or the public, but a bright yellow sign ("Bob's Burgers Table Read") at the entrance to Bento Box's Burbank offices is visible from the street.
Created by Loren Bouchard, best known for co-creating “Home Movies” on Adult Swim, “Bob’s Burgers” is equal parts heartfelt and cheeky, a show that tests the limits of an ordinary premise with a cast of exceedingly eccentric characters. However, “Bob’s Burgers” has a secret sauce.
So how do they do it? Here is our unofficial five-step recipe for “Bob’s Burgers,” that we came up with after hanging out at a table read and chatting behind the scenes:
Step 1: Bring together producers and writers that have worked together in the past. It doesn’t hurt if the show that they worked on happened to be massively successful.
Bouchard brought in “King of the Hill” executive producer Jim Dauterive to co-develop “Bob’s Burgers.” Dauterive subsequently brought in a whole roster of talent from “King of the Hill,” including Rich Rinaldi, who had worked on the show as a producers' assistant in its early days. Since his his gig on “King of the Hill,” Rinaldi had built a solid list of both live-action and animated writing credits, including Disney Channel's "Phil of the Future" and "The Emperor's New School," Mitch Hurwitz's Fox series "Sit Down Shut Up" and most recently, MTV's "The Hard Times of RJ Berger." Rinaldi now serves as a co-executive producer on “Bob’s Burgers.”
Step 2: Make sure the entire cast is present for the table read and the initial recording session – distance be damned.
Ensemble recordings are not typical of animated shows. On shows such as “Family Guy” and “Archer,” the actors, depending on availability, go into the studio one at a time to record their lines. “Bob’s Burgers” is an exception.
The table read, which takes place a week prior to the recording session, is a family affair. A standing-room-only audience of roughly 30 to 40 Bento Box employees, writers, FOX executives and friends of the show squeeze into a small conference room. Lined up at the front, facing the audience, are Bouchard, Dauterive, the writer (in this case, Rinaldi) and LA-based cast members John Roberts, Dan Mintz and Kristin Schaal, who provide the voices of Linda, Tina and Louise.
The size of the conference room, however, is deceiving, as it has been fitted with an ISDN line and has longtime sound engineer Matt Beville running a board. The ISDN line allows the rest of the cast to join from New York – namely, H. Jon Benjamin, Eugene Mirman, Larry Murphy and Kevin Kline, who provide the voices of Bob, Gene, Teddy and Mr. Fischoeder. For the recording session a week later, the setup is much the same, only moved into a recording studio.
Step 3: Give your actors the script and let them run with it.
Improvisation is the sole reason behind the “Bob’s Burgers" ensemble work ethic. “This is like a whole day,” Rinaldi commented. “Everyone is in there, improv-ing. We’re getting tons of fresh stuff that we weren’t even expecting. That’s just part of it.”
Step 4: The writer helps with the audio edit.
Once the script has been recorded, says Rinaldi, “the audio becomes the living, breathing episode that you’re working with and you’re tinkering with, moving things around and tweaking, speeding things up, giving little gaps here and there. It’s just, it’s so musical.”
Recording actually places the script back in the writer’s hands – just in a different form. “It’s just this monster to kind of edit down,” Rinaldi continues. “It’s really hard. Eventually you’re just going to be killing babies you love. Certain things, you just have to lose them.”
The collaborative nature of editing audio tracks is the exception rather than the rule. “On other shows,” Rinaldi says, “a lot of times you’ll have your script and it will have a stamp next to each line – like 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 – and during the record you would circle your favorite take and then hand the script off to the audio editor and they build the track.”
Step 5: Draw.
At this point, you’re probably wondering where drawing fits into the equation.
As the audio track gets cut down, the artists get to work on animatics: rough sketches of the shots with blocking. The animatics and the edited audio are then assembled into a rough cut screened for the writers, producers, artists and the network. Bouchard and the network give notes for additional revisions. The new lines and jokes are then recorded on a temp track until the actors can come in to record pickups.
Just like with any production, however, the process is never cut and dry. Rinaldi notes that even when the audio track finally ships to Korea, which is where the animation gets produced, it is still probably a minute longer than it should be.