How an episode of The Simpsons is made

In 1996, The Simpsons passed The Flintstones as the longest running prime-time animated show. In the 30-year interim, the tenor of adult cartoons had shifted dramatically: The Simpsons was more caustic and puerile than The Flintstones, a shameless Stone Age remake of hit 1950s sitcom The Honeymooners. What had hardly changed was the creative process.

Like The Flintstones, The Simpsons relied on a large Los Angeles-based writer’s room, a coterie of directors, a squad of storyboard and design artists, and dozens of animators. The biggest change in production over three decades was simply geography; by 1996, The Simpsons had begun outsourcing the final stage of animation to a studio in South Korea.

A year after The Simpsons passed The Flintstones, South Park premiered on Comedy Central. If The Simpsons was a middle finger to the establishment, the animation of Trey Parker and Matt Stone was a burning bag of shit. It was cheap and fast to animate with paper cutouts and computer animation, which allowed the show to comment on recent events. Cartoons at the time, requiring months of costly animation, needed to be comparably timeless in their story and humor, but South Park targeted the present.

Thanks to computer animation and the internet, South Park, the shows of Adult Swim, and countless online-only animated shorts, like Homestar Runner, have made animation faster, rougher, and looser. But The Simpsons, to this day, embraces the formula of the past. While an episode of South Park can now be created in a single week by a lean team, The Simpsons has actually added roles and failsafes to its lengthy process. In the world of animated TV, The Simpsons may be the last of its kind, an expensive, high-touch, slow-paced production built on formulas dating back to Walt Disney and Hanna-Barbera.

The Simpsons
is now in its 27th season. This is how an episode of the program is made, a detailed, meticulous look at a process that has its bedrock but builds upon it with the tools and lessons of the future.

It begins with a pitch….

A few weeks before the warm Christmas of Southern California, the writers of The Simpsons — the longest-running sitcom in the US, starring everybody’s favorite family: Homer, Marge, Lisa, Baby Maggie, and their son Bart — take a retreat. The rest of the season, the team breaks scripts in the sterile writers’ rooms of the Fox studio lot, but the creative process always began in a home or the big conference space of a nearby hotel.

Each writer brings a fleshed-out minute or so episode pitch, which they deliver with gusto to a room full of funny people. They laugh, take notes, then co-creator Matt Groening, executive producer James L. Brooks, and showrunner Al Jean — a portion of the braintrust from the earliest days — provide feedback.

In an essay on Splitsider about the writing process of seasons three through eight, former Simpsons writer and producer Bill Oakley described the pleasure of the retreats:

“It was always a huge treat to see. You had no idea what George Meyer (for instance) was going to say, and suddenly it was like this fantastic Simpsons episode pouring out of his mouth that you never dreamed of. And it was like, wow, this is where this stuff comes from.

A lot of times people worked collaboratively, too. We would work with Conan, back and forth, and we’d exchange ideas and help polish them up. And so everybody would usually come with two, sometimes three ideas. You’d take fifteen minutes and you’d say your idea in front of everybody — all the writers, Jim Brooks, Matt Groening, Sam Simon when he was still there, and also the writers assistants who would be there taking notes on all this stuff.”

Writing a draft

After receiving notes and some creative direction, an episode’s writer takes two weeks to pen a first draft. “Almost all of the writing is done here at the Fox [lot] in one of two rewrite rooms,” says Al Jean, who at the time of the interview is deep into production of the show’s upcoming 27th season. “The two rooms was a change that came about around season nine. We split because we had enough writers, and we could get more done.”

Getting more done with more tools and more hands is the throughline of the modern Simpsons production process. There are more people doing more jobs with more failsafes at a higher cost on The Simpsons than the majority of — if not all — animated television shows.

A writer has four to six weeks to complete rewrites. “We’ll continue to rework [the script] six or seven times before the table read,” says Al Jean. “Jim and I will give notes. We rewrite it.”

In those late night television commercials that promise to make everyone a screenwriter, the script is often called the blueprint of our favorite television shows and films, a term that implies an exacting, blessed, top level instruction which the rest of the dozens if not hundreds if not thousands of artists involved obey. That notion — as anyone who has seen a summer blockbuster or network sitcom can tell — is false. The script is vulnerable, malleable, and subject to constant scrutiny. There’s a blueprint for animated shows, but it comes later. The completed draft is like a guide through the woods, ready to be supplemented, revised, or outright redrawn if need be.

(An excerpt from Judd Apatow’s The Simpsons script, The Daily Beast)

The table read

Each Thursday of production, the cast, producers, and writers meet for a table read of the latest script. Some of the cast attends the table read, others phone into the room. Occasionally, voice actor Chris Edgerly, who has handled “additional voices” for the show since 2011, will fill in for one of the leads. “It’s very unusual that they’re all at the table at the same time now,” says Jean. “People’s schedules got busier, people actually moved out of Los Angeles. It’s the normal sort of entropy of life, you know.”

Despite being to hundreds of table reads, Al Jean still can’t get comfortable. He describes a critical setting in which the script is judged on its creative value, but also under the duress of external forces. A cell phone might go off or an actor might be fighting a cold, and the read’s vibe shifts. “Last week,” says Jean, “there was a truck backing up, that came in the middle, and that was distracting people. The table read is my number one unpleasant experience.”

Voice recording

On the Monday following a table read, the cast performs the voice recording, typically at the studio in LA. The actors and actresses record on separate tracks, rather than together — a common method for capturing voice-over. “It’s funny,” says Jean. “I read a review in The AV Club where they said about a certain show there was great interaction between two people, and they never met. They didn’t record in the same place. I’m glad it worked, but there was no physical connection.”


As work transitions from script to animation, the episode is offered to a director, who, if they accept, is given ownership of production and animation responsibilities. “[The role is] sort of akin to a TV director who takes the script of a show and turns it into an episode,” says Jean. “Except our director has to create everything. [… The director] takes the audio track, supervises the design, the motions, and what we call the acting of the animation, and [supervises] the whole visual aspect of [the episode].”

Both Jean, who serves as story liaison throughout production of the series as a whole, and each episode’s director work in tandem to shepherd the script through the animation process…



What lurks beneath

Resultado de imagem para In dreams: a Dalí-designed ‘eye watch’ set in a velvet mask. Photo by Bettmann/Getty

In dreams: a Dalí-designed ‘eye watch’ set in a velvet mask. Photo by Bettmann/Getty

The grand drama of Freud’s ideas have obscured the reality: every school of psychology needs a theory of the unconscious

Antonio Melechi is a visiting fellow at the Humanities Research Institute at the University of York. He is the author of Fugitive Minds (2003) and Servants of the Supernatural (2008).

Towards the end of 1892, ‘Miss Lucy R’, a pale and delicate English governess living in Vienna, made her way to the surgery of a young neurologist on Berggasse 19 for the treatment of a ‘suppurative rhinitis’. Miss Lucy was tired, in low spirits and complained of ‘a muzzy head’. And though she had lost her sense of smell, she was endlessly tormented by the smell of burnt pudding.

Sigmund Freud was 36 years old when he began attending to Miss Lucy. Trained at the Salpêtrière Hospital in Paris by the great neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot, Freud had already published monographs on hypnosis, epilepsy, and cocaine, which he continued to self-administer for ‘vitality and capacity for work’. Now he was applying his able and imaginative mind to the mystery of hysteria – whose bewildering array of symptoms were still considered hereditary ‘stigmata’. Upon examining the 30-year-old governess, he found her physically healthy, save for her nose’s insensitivity to touch. What struck him most about this case was the recurrent smell of burnt pudding.

Freud rejected the possibility of an organic explanation, even though acrid or burning smells are commonly associated with migraines, epilepsy and sinus infections. Instead, he deduced that Miss Lucy’s hallucination was a ‘memory-symbol’, a psychic trace standing in for a forgotten or repressed trauma, possibly related to sexual seduction or abuse. ‘What I suspect,’ he told her bluntly, ‘is that you are in love with your master, the director, perhaps without being aware of it yourself, and that secretly you are nursing the hope that you really will take the place of the mother.’

Studies on Hysteria (1895), co-authored with his physician friend and mentor Josef Breuer, would prove to be Freud’s breakthrough work. The book, based on Miss Lucy and four other cases, led him to two important insights. First, the physical symptoms of hysteria were caused when intolerable ‘ideas’ were evicted from the conscious mind. Second, the most effective antidote to hysteria’s psychic befuddlement, the best way of returning the patient to ‘ordinary unhappiness’, was what Breuer’s patient Anna O dubbed ‘the talking cure’. Forget the hypnotic overtures that Freud had been dabbling with since his time with Charcot at La Salpêtrière – from now on, free association coupled with attentive listening would be the proprietary salve of psychoanalysis.

Freud’s early writings on hysteria garnered little fanfare from his clinical peers. On reading Studies, Richard von Krafft-Ebing, the chair of psychiatry at the University of Vienna, dismissed the so-called theory of hysteria, including Freud’s contention that symptoms often came from childhood molestation or abuse, as ‘a scientific fairy tale’. Similar misgivings were voiced by laboratory psychologists working to place their discipline on empirical foundations. To use a sobriquet coined by the combative psychologist Edward Scripture, founder of the Yale Experimental Psychology Laboratory, Freud was an ‘armchair psychologist’, and his serial ruminations on ‘the unconscious’ – on dreams, on infantile sexuality, on jokes and parapraxes – reflected an equally unscientific ambition: that psychoanalysis would evolve as ‘a profession of lay curers of souls who need not be doctors and should not be priests’.

Four decades after treating Miss Lucy, Freud had permeated Western thought. He’d built a therapeutic empire by identifying the id, ego and superego as the forces of a ‘power struggle’ between instinct and morality ‘going on deep within us’. Yet as Freud’s cultural stock rose, his writings remained testament to an elective blindness, showing imperial disregard for most of his philosophical precursors and peers. In all his major publications on the unconscious, from Studies through to Civilization and its Discontents (1930), Freud barely acknowledged the pioneering Pierre Janet, the French psychiatrist well-known for his theory that traumas caused personality to dissociate into conscious and unconscious parts. There was no mention of Friedrich Nietzsche, who held that the unconscious mind yielded the deepest truths, or of Arthur Schopenhauer, who identified will itself as unconscious. Freud all but ignored the experimental work on unconscious inference that Hermann von Helmholtz had undertaken since the 1840s. And he showed curmudgeonly disdain for the rival theories of his one-time acolytes and ultimate critics Alfred Adler (who put stock in feelings of inferiority) and Carl Jung (a proponent of archetypes inhabiting the unconscious).

In fact, despite Freud’s renown, several approaches to the unconscious had already been established before the advent of psychoanalysis. According to the Canadian psychiatrist and historian Henri Ellenberger, Freud & Co were merely the latest representatives of the ‘mythopoetic’, who sought reality in dreams and fantasies. Earlier theorists had regarded the unconscious as a secret recorder of impressions and sensations that lay beyond the narrow beam of consciousness, an incubator for creative, innovative and inspirational insights, and a gateway to the secondary or submerged personalities linked to somnambulism, hypnotism, hysteria and fugue states…



Cum Again: Why Can’t Men Have Multiple Orgasms?

Here’s what’s happening in your body while you’re “reloading”

The male orgasm is, to use the most clichéd metaphor in the book, a rollercoaster ride. Not because it involves a thrilling series of ups and downs, but because once it’s done, you can’t just stay in your seat for another go — you have to head to the back of the line and wait your turn all over again.

But why? What is so impossible about the male body that it can’t experience multiple orgasms the way some women can?

“It all has to do with the refractory period,” says sexologist Michelle Hope. There are three stages to a male orgasm, she explains: “Phase one is the excitement phase — the part where your nipples will get hard, things like that.” This, she says, is followed by the “plateau phase,” where there’s a sustained level of arousal that ends in ejaculation. Finally, there’s the third stage, the refractory period, which is when men generally become flaccid — and stay flaccid, despite their most frantic efforts to the contrary.

Women, she says, don’t necessarily follow this path, and are able to repeat the second phase again and again in what we generally think of as multiple orgasms. While some younger guys might claim to be able to do the same, Hope says this isn’t the case: “In reality, their refractory period is just shorter.”

So what exactly is your body doing while you’re trying to get hard again? Physically speaking, there are really only two organs holding you up — your penis and your brain.

Your Penis

Despite having seemingly just dispensed their load, your testicles don’t actually need any recovery time to go again: They produce about 1,500 sperm per second, so when it comes to your ejaculate, there’s always more where that came from. Your penis, on the other hand, suffers from a pretty dramatic change during the refractory period.

“Once the ejaculate leaves the body, the penis is telling the brain that it no longer needs that blood supply,” explains Muhammad Mirza, a specialist in male reproductive health. Since the neurotransmitters in your brain don’t register that you’d actually like to keep going, it redistributes the blood that was previously keeping you hard. In order to regenerate, the arousal process needs to start all over again. In younger men, this may be a matter of mere minutes, while further into adulthood, the average is more like 30 minutes. In older people, it can take up to 24 hours, according to Hope.

Your Brain

During arousal, your brain releases dopamine, the hormone responsible for that first big wave of pleasure. Once you’ve ejaculated, though, Hope explains that your desire rapidly dissipates because the brain starts releasing other chemicals that have different effects. First comes serotonin, which is responsible for the lazy-feeling high you experience after sex, followed quickly by oxytocin, the bonding chemical that puts you more in the mood to lie strewn across the bed, still entangled with your panting partner, than to try for a second screw. Combined, the most likely feeling you’ll have is not one of horniness but of wanting to sleep.

So Is There a Way to Keep Going?

“I can tell you for sure that a man can orgasm more than once,” says Rachel Abrams, author of The Multi-Orgasmic Woman and The Multi-Orgasmic Couple, as well as the contributor of one chapter to, you guessed it, The Multi-Orgasmic Man. “Most men have what we call a ‘terminal orgasm,’ where you’ve just blown your load and it’s done, but it doesn’t have to be that way.” In time and with practice, Abrams explains, men can extend that pleasure and learn to orgasm more than once.

The key, she says, is to be able to separate the orgasm from the ejaculation, which as we all know is no small feat. Abrams recommends practicing solo first, to learn your body’s “pleasure scale.” “The trick is to bring yourself very, very close to orgasm, but then back down, then get close again, then back down and keep repeating that,” she explains. “That way, you’ll understand the subtleties of where that high arousal lies.”

Once you learn your pleasure scale more closely, Abrams says, “It’s actually possible for men to orgasm without ejaculating, yet still experience those same waves of pleasure.” It’s a trick we’ve discussed previously, and one that all comes down to pelvic floor control — the ability to hold off from actually ejaculating by tensing the muscles of, essentially, your taint. By combining this with Abrams’ advice, it’s possible — faintly, minutely, you’ll-probably-never-experience-this possible — that you’ll be follow an orgasmic pattern more similar to a woman’s, able to keep repeating the second stage without slipping into the third.

Wait, did we mention that this isn’t very likely yet? Even Abrams cautions that you shouldn’t get your hopes up, since this ability is very rare in men. “This used to be a secret practice in Daoist philosophy, because you’re supposed to be an aficionado at using your energy,” she says. So unless you’re really in command of your chi, you’re just going to have to accept being a one-shot wonder.