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DreamWorks revs up Netflix slate with “Turbo: F.A.S.T.”

DreamWorks revs up Netflix slate with "Turbo: F.A.S.T."

After racing into theaters last July, Turbo is ready to headline DreamWorks’ first original series for Netflix, Turbo: F.A.S.T. Some might call it ironic that DreamWorks’ initial project for a company priding itself on instant gratification for a fast-paced society involves a snail. Nonetheless, the studio is placing its bets on the tiny titular character to deliver solid results when Turbo: F.A.S.T. premieres this week.

Turbo: F.A.S.T. is one of the first projects to arrive out of a deal between DreamWorks and Netflix that covers 300 hours of programming throughout five years. DreamWorks is no stranger to turning its popular movies into TV series, with features Madagascar and Kung Fu Panda receiving spin-offs on Nickelodeon and How to Train Your Dragon getting its own show on Cartoon Network. Unlike those cases, however, the Netflix deal allows DreamWorks to maintain creative control of its series.

“Typically, if you are working on a show like this, you might get two sets of notes: one from DreamWorks and one from the network,” says executive producer Chris Prynoski. “But we don’t get notes from Netflix, which is cool. It allows us to move faster, and we can make the shows, hopefully, the way we want them.”

Prynoski’s involvement with Turbo: F.A.S.T. extends back to when DreamWorks was eyeing the show as a standalone special rather than a series. Peter Gal, DreamWorks’ head of television development, contacted Prynoski and his wife Shannon to inquire if their studio, Titmouse, Inc., would be interested in animating the special. Gal had been impressed by their racing visuals for the Disney XD series Motorcity and desired a similarly engaging style for the Turbo spin-off. While the movie Turbo was computer animated, its series would utilize Flash animation.

Prynoski signed on to helm the Turbo special, unaware he would soon take on a considerably larger role. “As we started working on the special, they were like, ‘Well, what if it were a series?'” he recalls. With the studio’s new game plan for Turbo: F.A.S.T., Prynoski was directing its first episodes when he received the offer to be the show’s EP. “I was like, ‘Yeah, this is fun! Let’s do it!'”

Production for Turbo: F.A.S.T. began in the summer of 2012, which presented a challenge for Prynoski since the movie had yet to be completed. He and his creative team were shown a work-in-progress version of the feature, with numerous storyboard panels subbing for unfinished animation. “That was another reason why we had to develop our own style – the movie wasn’t finished yet,” says Prynoski. “We were like, ‘Okay, well, we kind of see where the movie is headed, so we’ll respect that, but we’ll kind of do our own thing.” We were inspired by the movie, but we weren’t held to match the movie.” Prynoski adds that viewers should expect the show to be less about racing and more about stunts and recurring villains, each story lasting about 11 minutes.

The movie Turbo boasted a cast that included Ryan Reynolds as the lead character, as well as Paul Giamatti and Samuel L. Jackson. For the series, Reid Scott takes over as Turbo, among voiceover veterans Eric Bauza, John Eric Bentley, Mike Bell, Grey DeLisle and Mark Hamill. Ken Jeong reprises his role as Kim Ly from the film. “It’s a combination of people we know and have worked with,” says Prynoski. “Andrea Romano is our casting and voice director. She heavily weighed in on who she thought could bring these voices to life. They are amazing. They are really, really nailing it.”

When the movie Turbo finally hit theaters last July, it opened third against the horror flick The Conjuring and the animated blockbuster Despicable Me 2, collecting $21.3 million. By the end of its run, the film had grossed a disappointing $83 million domestically, although it performed somewhat better overseas with $199.5 million. Analysts wondered if audiences would be interested in the already-announced Turbo: F.A.S.T. But according to Prynoski, plans for the series remained unchanged.

“DreamWorks has been really supportive all across the board,” he says. “They didn’t present any expectation, one way or the other, of changing the way we operated, based on the movie.” Prynoski adds that the studio was encouraged by positive early reviews from focus groups for Turbo: F.A.S.T.

If overseeing the first show in DreamWorks’ ambitious slate for Netflix is intimidating, Prynoski does not show it. “Creatively, it’s been really great to work with DreamWorks. They’ve been really supportive,” he says, before joking, “The pressure is probably more on Jen Ray, our producer, who makes sure that we deliver all these episodes on time, because there are certainly a lot of them coming.”

Netflix will roll out the first five episodes of Turbo: F.A.S.T. tomorrow, Dec. 24. Twenty-one more episodes will follow in 2014, released in batches of 5 to 6 episodes to coincide with student breaks.

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