10 Things You Might Not Know About American Vandal

Tyler Golden, Netflix
Tyler Golden, Netflix

Just as disaster movies begat Airplane and horror films spawned Scary Movie, the recent onslaught of true-crime docudramas inevitably led to American Vandal. The Netflix spoof series, which premiered in September 2017, followed fictitious filmmakers Peter Maldonado (Tyler Alvarez) and Sam Ecklund (Griffin Gluck) as they pursued the anonymous, genitalia-drawing vandal haunting an otherwise unremarkable California high school. Superficially a vehicle for sophomoric jokes, the series was actually a clever deconstruction of both the reality genre and the increasing influence of social media.

Critically and commercially successful, American Vandal got a quick season-two renewal. Set to premiere September 14—just a couple of weeks after it will compete for this year's Emmy for Outstanding Writing for a Limited Series, Movie or a Dramatic Special—Peter and Sam are set to investigate a phantom pooper terrorizing a Catholic high school. In the meantime, check out some facts about American Vandal’s origins, its approach to fake true crime, and why series co-creator Dan Perrault aimed for something more than “a four-hour d*ck joke.”

1. THE CREATORS GOT THEIR START LAMPOONING MICHAEL JORDAN.

Before breaking out with American Vandal, co-creators Perrault and Tony Yacenda garnered some attention for a 2013 parody of ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentary series. The two produced a five-minute “documentary” covering the climactic basketball game in 1996’s Space Jam that featured actual NBA analysts discussing Michael Jordan’s pivotal performance alongside Bugs Bunny. In 2015, they released a similar retrospective for the climactic fight of 1985's Rocky IV between Rocky Balboa and Ivan Drago.

2. THERE WAS A PROBLEM WITH THE PEE HOLE.

A scene from 'American Vandal'
Netflix

With produced footage under their belt, Perrault and Yacenda began to shop their idea for a documentary satire about spray-painted penises to several different outlets in early 2016. While a few cable networks were interested, Perrault told Vanity Fair that at least one executive expressed concern about how they would depict the phallic graffiti. “I don’t know if we could have done penises the same way,” he said. “I’m not going to name the cable network—but we were told that, like, the pee hole, for example, is an issue on cable.” Netflix had no such reservations.

3. IT WAS INSPIRED BY A TRUE STORY. (REALLY.)

While the premise of American Vandal is fictional, it did have some unintentional echoes in real life. Showrunner Dan Lagana, who was brought onboard to help Perrault and Yacenda flesh out the show’s episodic format, told Vulture that his stepson was once accused of a similar, penis-related crime.

“I have a 17-year-old stepson, and when he was a freshman in high school he was accused of vandalizing an art project at school with a large phallic image,” Lagana said. “He didn’t do it but he got suspended for it. I remember sitting in the principal’s office, just boiling with fury over the injustice of it, and there was no way to prove his innocence. I told the creators that story and from that day forward we were a three-headed monster, which I was very, very excited about.”

4. NOT ALL OF IT WAS SCRIPTED.

While American Vandal has the visceral feel of a documentary series, it’s comprised of actors delivering scripted lines in a way that sounds spontaneous. But for scenes involving Peter Maldonado, the interrogator-slash-filmmaker, director Yacenda had actor Tyler Alvarez conduct free-flowing interviews with cast mates and reference his own in-character notes. That layer of realism helped the series “feel like this was a real case and we were working with real people,” according to Perrault.

5. IT’S NOT JUST SPOOFING SERIAL AND MAKING A MURDERER.

Perrault and Yacenda are often linked to the true-crime podcast Serial and Netflix’s Making a Murderer as the inspirations for American Vandal. But their documentary tastes run deeper. According to an Entertainment Weekly interview with the pair, the show also drew from the HBO series The Jinx—about the wealthy, potentially very murderous Robert Durst—as well as Errol Morris’s acclaimed 1988 feature documentary The Thin Blue Line and The Central Park Five.

6. “DYLAN” FELT BAD ABOUT FARTING ON BABIES.

The star of American Vandal’s first season is undoubtedly Jimmy Tatro, a YouTube content star who received glowing reviews for his portrayal of slack-jawed delinquent Dylan. (It’s Dylan who is accused, perhaps wrongfully, of drawing penises on 27 school faculty members' cars.) For one scene, Tatro mimed farting in the direction of small children to demonstrate Dylan’s web series on “baby farting,” a prank spree that sets him up as a viable suspect. “I didn’t actually fart on the kids,” Tatro told GQ. “But they just had no context for what was going on. Like, I don’t know what they knew about what they were shooting, but I would imagine it wasn’t enough for them to understand what was happening. So it was just like, mom and kid walking, and I just ran up and stuck my butt in the kid’s face and ran off, and the kid was probably extremely confused.”

7. NANA’S PARTY WAS ALSO A REAL THING.

Jessica Juarez, Tyler Alvarez, Jimmy Tatro, and Lou Wilson in 'American Vandal'
Netflix

To create a sequence full of social media footage that eventually pays off for Peter and Sam, the series' producers orchestrated a faux-high school party at “Nana’s,” the host’s grandmother’s house. The idea stemmed from staff writer Seth Cohen, who once attended a party in a “Nana” residence circa 1999. Cohen had videotape of the party, which he showed to the entire writing staff.

8. IT WAS THE MOST BINGED NETFLIX SHOW OF 2017.

Hooking people on its mystery was apparently not a problem for American Vandal. In December 2017, Netflix released a top 10 list of the most-binged programs on the streaming service, which they defined as series that were viewed for more than two hours a day. American Vandal topped the list, beating other shows like 13 Reasons Why, Riverdale, and The Keepers.

9. IT’S OFFICIALLY AN ANTHOLOGY SERIES.

When the show caught on and Perrault and Yacenda agreed to a second season, their initial idea was to explore Dylan’s ongoing story of being labeled a penis-painter. Instead, Peter and Sam will be investigating a totally new case involving feces. In the context of American Vandal, they’re now celebrated true-crime documentarians, and the two will likely become the only recurring characters on the series.

10. IT WON A PEABODY AWARD.

Tyler Alvarez in 'American Vandal'
Netflix

Never in the history of the Peabody Awards—which celebrate achievement in television and other mass media—has an honor gone to a show about badly-drawn penises. In April 2018, the prestigious prize was given to American Vandal, with members acknowledging the show’s deeper ambitions to explore adolescence, social constructions, and technology. “The show’s careful realism and straight-faced performances are part of its comedy,” the organization wrote, “but they are also the foundation for a climax that finds the tragedy in Dylan’s infamy and the injustices behind the crime itself, foregrounding our complicity in the series’ unexpectedly profound lesson of what is unearthed when a quest for the truth loses its way.”

10 Timeless Facts About The Land Before Time

Universal Pictures Home Entertainment
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

Five years before Jurassic Park roared into theaters, a gentler, more meditative dinosaur film endeared itself to audiences of all ages. Initially met with mixed reviews, The Land Before Time is now regarded as an animated classic. Here are 10 things you might not have known about the Steven Spielberg-produced film, which arrived in theaters 30 years ago.

1. IT WAS CONCEIVED AS A DIALOGUE-FREE MOVIE.

Gabriel Damon and Candace Hutson in The Land Before Time (1988)
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

In the mid-1980s, executive producer Steven Spielberg began toying with the idea of a Bambi-esque dinosaur film. “Basically,” he later said, “I wanted to do a soft picture … about five little dinosaurs and how they grow up and work together as a group.” Inspiration came from the “Rite of Spring” sequence from Disney’s Fantasia (1940)—a scene in which prehistoric beasts wordlessly go about their business. At first, Spielberg wanted his own dinosaur characters to follow suit and remain mum. Ultimately, however, it was feared that a non-verbal approach might bore or confuse the film’s intended audience. As such, the animals were given lines.

2. DIRECTOR DON BLUTH WAS AN EX-DISNEY EMPLOYEE.

Don Bluth grew up idolizing Disney’s work, and began working for the studio in 1955. Over the next two decades, he did various odd jobs until he was brought on as a full-time animator in 1971. Once on the inside, Bluth got to peek behind the magician’s curtain—and disliked what he found there. “I think [Walt Disney] would’ve seen that the pictures were losing their luster,” Bluth said. Frustrated by the studio’s cost-cutting measures, he resigned in 1979. Joining him were fellow animators Gary Goldman and John Pomeroy. Together the trio launched their own company, Sullivan Bluth Studios, and began working on The Land Before Time in 1986.

3. OVER 600 BACKGROUND PAINTINGS WERE MADE FOR THE FILM.

Most of these depicted beautiful but barren wastelands, which presented a real challenge for the creative team. As one studio press release put it, “The artists had to create a believable environment in which there was almost no foliage.” Whenever possible, Bluth’s illustrators emphasized vibrant colors. This kept their backdrops from looking too drab or monotonous—despite the desolate setting.

4. LITTLEFOOT’S ORIGINAL NAME WAS “THUNDERFOOT.”

This was changed when the filmmakers learned that there was a triceratops in a popular children’s book called Thunderfoot. Speaking of three-horned dinosaurs: Cera evolved from a pugnacious male character called Bambo.

5. THE FILMMAKERS HAD TO CUT ABOUT 10 MINUTES OF FOOTAGE.

“We compromised a lot with The Land Before Time,” Goldman admitted. Nowhere was this fact more apparent than on the cutting room floor. Spielberg and his fellow executive producer George Lucas deemed 19 individual scenes “too scary.” “We’ll have kids crying in the lobby, and angry parents,” Spielberg warned. “You don’t want that.”

6. “ROOTER” WAS INTRODUCED AT THE URGING OF CHILD PSYCHOLOGISTS.

In Bambi, the title character’s mom dies off-screen. The same cannot be said for Littlefoot’s mother, whose slow demise goes on for several agonizing minutes. Naturally, there was some concern about how children would react to this. “A lot of research went into the mother dying sequence,” Pomeroy said. “Psychologists were approached and shown the film. They gave their professional opinions of how the sequence could be depicted.” Thus, Rooter was born.

One scene after Littlefoot’s mom passes, the wise reptile consoles him, saying “You’ll always miss her, but she’ll always be with you as long as you remember the things she taught you.” Sharp-eared fans might recognize Rooter’s voice as that of Pat Hingle, who also narrates the movie.

7. JAMES HORNER DID THE SOUNDTRACK.

The late, Oscar-winning composer behind Braveheart (1995), Titanic (1997), and Avatar (2009) put together a soaring score. Along with lyricist Will Jennings, he also penned the original song “If We Hold On Together,” which Diana Ross sings as the end credits roll.

8. THE ACTRESS BEHIND DUCKY PASSED AWAY BEFORE THE MOVIE’S RELEASE.

Judith Barsi’s career was off to a great start. By age 10, this daughter of Hungarian immigrants had already appeared in 70 commercials and voiced the leading lady in Don Bluth’s All Dogs Go to Heaven (1989). For The Land Before Time, Barsi voiced the ever-optimistic Ducky, which was reportedly her favorite role. Then tragedy struck: In July of 1988, Barsi’s father József murdered both her and her mother before taking his own life.

9. IT HAD A RECORD-SETTING OPENING WEEKEND.

From the get-go, The Land Before Time had some stiff competition. Universal released it on November 18, 1988—the same day that Disney’s Oliver & Company hit theaters. Yet, for a solid month, Bluth gave Oliver a box office beating. The Land Before Time enjoyed the highest-grossing opening weekend that any animated film had ever seen, pulling in $7.5 million to Oliver & Company’s $4 million. Since then, of course, The Land Before Time has long been dethroned; today, Incredibles 2 (2018) holds this coveted distinction with a $182.7 million first-weekend showing.

10. THERE ONCE WAS TALK OF A LAND BEFORE TIME STAGE MUSICAL.

“The time has come for dinosaurs on Broadway,” the late theatrical producer Irving Welzer told The New York Times in 1997. Emboldened by the recent cinematic success of Spielberg’s The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1996), Welzer expressed an interest helping Littlefoot, Cera, Ducky, and the rest of the gang make their Big Apple debut. Soon, however, the idea faded.

Billie Lourd Shares What (Very Little) She Can About Star Wars: Episode IX

Frazer Harrison, Getty Images
Frazer Harrison, Getty Images

​Nearly nothing is known about the final film in the latest Star Wars series, except that J.J. Abrams, who helmed The Force Awakens, will be returning as director, and many of the cast members from both Abrams's earlier effort and The Last Jedi will be reprising their roles. Even the late Carrie Fisher, who sadly passed away on December 27, 2016, will be included in Episode IX, through unused footage from the previous two films.

Though all the stars of the upcoming film are sworn to secrecy about it, Fisher's daughter, Billie Lourd, is spilling what she can. Lourd, who played the minor role of Lieutenant Connix in the last two films, teased what it was like being back on set.

"I gotta watch myself because the Star Wars PD is going to come get me, but it is incredible. I’ve read the script and I’ve been on set," Lourd told ​Entertainment Tonight. "I was on set for, like, three weeks back in September, and it is going to be magical. I can’t say much more, but I’m so excited about it and so grateful to be a part of it. Star Wars is my heart. I love it."

A lot of things are riding on Episode IX, especially considering how divided fans were over The Last Jedi. Though with Abrams back in the director's chair, it seems likely that the new film will be a return to form. The as-yet-untitled film hits theaters on December 20, 2019.

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