Beginning on Nov. 19 SpongeBob Squarepants will be on the big screen. Director, creator and the voice of SpongeBob, Steven Hillenburg, joined college newspapers around the country on Nov. 4 for a phone conference to speak about the movie. Hillenburg worked on the show "Rocko's Modern Life," and has a degree in natural resource planning and interpretation with an emphasis in marine resources (very similar to a degree in marine biology). Hillenburg's education gives him a unique perspective of the cartoon world, as does his odd sense of humor.
Q: Which aspects of the show were difficult and which were easy to translate into the full-length film version?
Steven Hillenburg: It was really hard. It is hard I think to write a movie and keep people interested and that was the biggest challenge. We were used to goofing off for 11 minutes where you could do a simple little story and you could try a lot of different things, but this one you had to bank everything on one story and it had to keep people interested for 75 minutes. I think you have to feel like the story is meaningful and we have something to say, that the characters go through some kind of emotional change.
Q: I heard that David Hasselhoff would be in the movie. Was it hard getting him to appear?
SH: We basically wrote him into the story without asking him, which is a really dangerous thing to do when you are under a tight deadline like we are. We found this spot where we wanted a human and we needed a person that we associated with the ocean like Jacques Cousteau or something and David Hasselhoff became the person to represent basically the quintessential lifeguard and media. I called him … and he was, thank goodness, he was 100 percent behind it, 110 percent. He said, "I would love to do it." He didn't even think about it.
Q: Are these characters based on friends of yours or people you have known?
SH: Definitely. The characters are based on either people that I know, or days where I feel a certain way. When you feel like, say, a curmudgeon one day you feel like Squidward and angry one day like Plankton, but you are frustrated another day. Maybe you are elated and naive and just happy to be drinking an ice cream soda.
Q: There are a lot of mature concepts in the show. How do you manage to make those so funny to kids?
SH: We write for ourselves. I have a team of very talented, very imaginative writers that also draw and we usually try to make ourselves laugh. I mean it is really just that. We are just trying to be funny.
Q: You studied natural resource planning, marine biology, as well as experimenting with animation techniques. How did all these things combine in SpongeBob?
SH: It dawned on me that – If I were to do an animal show there is all this stuff that I am interested in that really no one has ever animated, things like plankton and just an entire undersea world, so it just kind of collided at a certain point in my head. I never really thought that they had anything to do with each other, although they do and fortunately all that sort of came together into one thing, which is SpongeBob.
Q: Is the outstanding success of SpongeBob surprising?
SH: To give a short answer to that – you have to imagine you write a show about a sponge and you think that maybe a few people will think it is funny, some college students, but it takes off. It is truly shocking. Yes, I mean, it is to the point where it is bizarre.