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by Karma Waltonen

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Once upon a time, two girls, Karma Waltonen & Denise Du Vernay, got the attention of some of the people at THE SIMPSONS by writing a book about the show. They were invited down to see the recording of the orchestral score for an episode, and thus, at the start of this year, their fairy tale dream came true.

This is a brief retelling of our story.

Every SIMPSONS episode goes through an amazing process. Years ago, I read that each episode is rewritten about twelve times, with few words and jokes making it through the entire process. We saw the writing and revision rooms. Each room had the new giant Simpsons World Guide in the middle of the table. I think that's a good idea, but the guides can't possibly cover everything—what each room needs is a nerd, someone who knows these episodes inside and out, someone who can say "no; that already happened in 'Lisa's Pony.'" Since the rooms tend to be so heavily male, maybe the nerds should be cute girls. Fox, I know two people who would be just what you need.

When we walked into one writers' room, it was exactly as I expected—a bunch of guys eating distressing looking food and talking and researching/playing on the computer. They welcomed us graciously, showed us a fantastic drawing that Dan Castellenata did of them, and then brought up the youtube video they used when
researching ham-boning for "Papa Don't Leech," after I noted that my son doubted the legitimacy of the musical form.

We would have traded references with the writers all day, but we were there to see music! Chris Ledesma, the music editor, showed us the room where they spot the music—they go through the animated episode to spot where they will insert Alf Clausen's creations. The scripts in that room litter a bookshelf that climb up the wall—only a few lines of dialogue are on each page, with hand-drawn pencil sketches of what will be the visual—these are called keys (it's sort of like a storyboard).

Alf Clausen has about a week to compose the music for each episode; then everyone gathers in the recording studio. It's a full orchestra—the day we were there, there was even a harp! The musicians are seeing the music for the first time when they come into the room.

They were incredibly professional and talented. We were amazed at how quickly everything came together. The episode we saw the recording for was this last week's "Flaming Moe." (Thus, the music was recorded nine days before airing.) At one point, Mr. Burns has a sort of silent-film fantasy. When the pianist first did the music, Chris told him that it sounded too much like a grand (which it was). The next time, it sounded like it was meant to—like a beat
up upright. (I was able to take away a signed copy of the sheet music for that piece.)

The time we spent on the lot was amazing. We were especially thankful to Alf Clausen (composer), Chris Ledesma (music editor), David Silverman (animator and director), and Josh Weinstein (showrunner, writer, producer) for their generosity in time, stories, and affection. However, every single person we met, from writers to producers to office staff, was extremely kind.

It's always frightening to meet a hero. Years ago, I met a certain man who now has a political talk show on HBO. Our encounter was brief, but I was dismayed by overhearing him using a tacky pick up line to some co-eds before his eyes held a conversation with my breasts. I still watch him, and I still think he's a great thinker, writer, and performer, but it's just not the same as it was.

Imagine, then, our trepidation about walking onto the lot where our heroes were—people we'd worshipped since 1987! We were not in any way disappointed. In fact, although I never would have thought it possible, I love the show even more now.

What are some of the things we learned?

Well, we learned a lot about the making of the music on the show.

We learned that Alf Clausen gives some of the best hugs in the world.

We learned that David Silverman does not agree with
Denise's love of JOE VERSUS THE VOLCANO.

We learned that the cafeteria has great salmon.

We learned that Josh Weinstein's affection for his former writing partner is as great as the affection between Denise and me.

We learned that Matt Groening leaves doodles everywhere and has an unassuming office next to the bathroom.

We learned that Richard Sakai gets a lot of Amazon deliveries.

We learned that Chris Ledesma should adopt us (and not just so he can keep telling us more stories about which artist was supposed to be on, but pulled out).

We learned that they didn't see the Banksy intro until right before it aired; they had another couch bag ready to go in case the censors wouldn't let it through.

We learned that Chris Ledesma can take voice, music, and four singers singing on four stages at four times to make the harmony we heard in "Elementary School Musical."

We learned why my heritage makes me qualified for the FBI (you'll get it when next week's episode airs).

We learned that there is a magical land where a couple of girls who laugh too loud and constantly quote SIMPSONS episodes can really feel appreciated.

We learned that many of the staff are gossipy, but since the stories started with "Don't tell anyone this," I won't.

(Further lessons and pictures are available on via Facebook.)

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Jan 19, 2011 1:15 PM
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Very lovely column, Karma!

I still can't believe David Silverman called JOE VS THE VOLCANO a "snoozefest."

Jan 20, 2011 2:13 PM
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Good for you girls! That's awesome. I LOVE "Dream Come True" moments!

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Comedies with Dr. Karma
Every other Wednesday

Dr. Karma discusses all things comic, from the classics to what may become classics. Laugh with, but not at, her, please.

Other Columns
Other columns by Karma Waltonen:

Goodbye -- Dr. Karma

The Dictator and Dark Shadows

Pirates and Whedon Movies: In Theatres Now!

A Touch of Cult

Our Random Favorites

All Columns

Karma Waltonen
Dr. Karma is a silly, nerdy know-it-all, but in a good way. She brings all her overeducation to discuss that which truly matters: comedy. As some famous guy once said: “And if I laugh at any mortal thing, ‘tis that I may not weep.” Or something like that.

If you have a comment, question, or suggestion, you can send a message to Karma Waltonen by clicking here.

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