Josh O’Keefe Interview: Doomlands | Screen Rant

Josh O’Keefe’s Doomlands first found life as a university project before the creator took to creating a Kickstarter for a show pilot that would later be picked up for a full series. The adult animated comedy centers on Danny Doom and Lhandi as they travel a barren, apocalyptic wasteland in their mobile pub, The Oasis, encountering ruthless desert gangs, memory-stealing creeps and mean bathroom graffiti.

In time for the show’s premiere, Screen Rant exclusively spoke with Josh O’Keefe to discuss Doomlands, the show’s unique journey to the screen, having to make the jump from Quibi to Roku and the creator’s main influences for the series.

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Screen Rant: Doomlands is an absolute blast, it’s quite the unique ride and has had such a cool journey from university project to full-blown series. Can give me some insight into that journey?

Josh O’Keefe: Yeah, I can give you the broad strokes of the journey and I’m glad you’ve seen it, have you seen every episode?

I did, I finished episode 10 a couple hours ago.

Josh O’Keefe: That’s exciting, awesome, I’m glad you enjoyed it. So it started off as my uni assignment, I studied film and television and I just decided to make an animation. I started with a black-and-white animatic, obviously, and that was enough to pass with flying colors. We eventually moved on to, « Hey, we’re gonna make this now, » so we got a Kickstarter started. I was so blessed that I was able to summon enough friends to chip in some money and get that going. Then it took a couple of years to really finish that first iteration of Doomlands, the Australian version, and I had plenty of distractions, I was caught up in a punk band and I was doing my own other little projects and stuff. Eventually, with the help of a couple buddies, we pulled it together and and we decided, « Okay, well, now we have to screen this 13-minute pilot. »

So we decided the best place to do that was in a pub called The Tote, which is featured in episode two in the background. We got five of my friends’ bands to play and we sold the pub out, which was like a massive deal, because unless you’re like a big-time punk band, you’re not selling out The Tope. But we only sold it out with a cartoon and that was enough noise to really get the attention of a few different articles and then I eventually ended up on national radio talking about this cartoon, Doomlands, that didn’t exist yet. I think Australians back then, we didn’t have too many cartoons on the world stage, so it was a pretty exciting prospect. That was enough for the project to pop up on my future producer’s radar over in Canada, he sent me an email and I obviously really wanted to keep the magic going of Doomlands.

So we developed it further over 12 months until we were ready to pitch it in LA, and that alone was just nuts as well, because, like, I’m still working on my university assignment here. Now I’m pitching in LA, in Hollywood, and of course I was very nervous. There was one pitch that, because the show is about beer, I decided it might be a good idea to bring a six-pack of beer into the pitch.

So I just brought six beers in, slid it across the table, they didn’t end up going with the cartoon, but it was some guy’s birthday, so at least he had a beer on his birthday. [Laughs] But yeah, fast forward, we keep developing it with with Look Mom! Productions and Colin over at Quibi, he [would later] jump on board The Roku Channel and Doomlands came with it and so blessed to be on The Roku Channel now.

That sounds like quite the awesome journey for where it all started. The concept of this show is both simple but fun and unique at the same time, how did it come to you?

Josh O’Keefe: It’s really some of my influences with specifically Ozploitation cinema. Mad Max is the pinnacle of that, obviously, but there’s like a bigger list than we know of these Ozploitation classics. Back in the ’70s and ’80s, we didn’t really have any film laws, so people were driving cars through trucks and all this crazy stuff. The first episode, Razorball, is inspired by the exploitation film Razorback, which includes a giant pig running around. The Cars That Ate Paris is another good one that’s very in line with Mad Max.

There’s a massive list of them and I love them all, every week during production, we would be watching another Ozploitation film together over Zoom as well just to keep motivations high and pinpoint any other extra ideas we can slot into the show. But yeah, that’s pretty much the thing that stayed constant. Danny Doom has always been Danny Doom, Lhandi has been Lhandi and Doomlands has always been a crazy Ozploitation smoothie, big smoothie of dust, beer and blood. [Chuckles]

It’s quite the fun one and I can certainly feel those those influences in the world. This world is interesting in that it feels like it’s on Earth, but then you have things like the two suns and some of the creatures where it feels like it could be an alien planet. Did you have like a set of rules in the writers room for when you were building out this world?

Josh O’Keefe: Yeah, we did have a set of rules. It wasn’t written on paper anywhere, it was just generally a feeling for what works and what didn’t. It was fun to play dungeon master in the writers room, as well, because sometimes writers would turn to me like, « Does this work, » and it was like, « Yeah, yeah it does. » [Laughs] As you said, there’s like a bit of ambiguity in terms of setting, where this exists and how it exists but that’s part of the fun, right? I love just living with that ambiguity, especially from this first season. I, for sure, know what’s going on and I’m not gonna give too much away.

Well the most important part is that the creator and co-showrunner knows what’s what’s up. So then what was it like finding the right look and animation style of the show?

Josh O’Keefe: The look we landed on is definitely an evolution of my own drawing style. I have been animating since I was 13 years old, in my small country town in Bacchus Marsh, I was lucky enough to have some pretty crucial mentors at a young age helping inspire me. The characters themselves are definitely an evolution of my 13-year-old doodles, as well. But, of course, I’m not the only one drawing these characters now and there’s a big evolution of the look of it all. But the look of season 1 is very much still in line with the original iteration that we showed at the pub back in 2017, still very much my university assignment and I really wanted to make sure of that as well.

I love all the cartoons that have a very familiar aesthetic and look, especially to the characters, but one thing I really wanted to make sure with the art style with Doomlands is really trying to keep a punk, ignorant feel to it. There was times that would be experimenting with different compositing passes, like adding way too many glows at times and different approaches to the backgrounds, but it didn’t feel Doomlands.

So I really wanted to create these rules with the aesthetics, especially just flat colors, one thickness outline, just not too many bells and whistles. I think if you kind of create those parameters or those rules, it’s gonna only inspire creativity and I think all the artists were able to kind of find some fun creative solutions knowing that those rules were in place. People may not necessarily pick up on that straight away, but it will be a general feeling of the Aussie style, for sure.

With having the set of rules, what would you say were some of the more challenging sequences to sort of come up with while keeping in tune with that style?

Josh O’Keefe: I think exploring other environments or biomes, if you will, of Doomlands. There’s the default red dirt, green sky, yellow-cloud look to Doomlands that we’ve seen every episode and then the question is, « What if it’s nighttime? What does that look like? And how do we make it uniquely Doomlands? What does the swamp look like? » It’s finding those particular color keys and everything. I definitely hope that we get an opportunity to do future seasons as well, because I’ve got ideas for years, especially with really leaning into the Ozploitation and the Mad Max inspirations with wild car chases, on top of the ones that are featured in season 1. Big moments that I hope we get the opportunity to create.

So you bring me to a question I had for later, was the idea of future seasons. You mention the Ozploitation and the Mad Max influences you want to bring in, but as far as stories and character arcs, can you give me any sort of insight as to what we may expect from future seasons?

Josh O’Keefe: I can’t really give any thing away too much on what to expect other than perhaps I think the character Lhandi is going to be really a big part of the Oasis’ future, for sure.

I think that’s great, especially given how season 1 concludes, that’s going to be a good future arc for her.

Josh O’Keefe: You have to forgive me, I don’t want to give too much away, but we do have ideas to use. [Chuckles]

No, all good, I’m glad you do have ideas for years. That makes that makes me excited. So, you mentioned it earlier, this did start at Quibi, before moving to Roku. When news broke about Quibi’s shut down, what was that like for you hearing that as it was going on?

Josh O’Keefe: It didn’t really faze me too much. We were halfway through working on Doomlands and we already knew we were making a really great thing. It’s a shame what happened to Quibi, but I’m so stoked that we’re on The Roku Channel, that is just an absolute bonus. We also get to work with the same executive as well, Colin Davis, he jumped over to The Roku Channel. He changed all misconceptions I had about executives, as well, I think as a film student, you grow up thinking executives are like the money man, they just want this and that, but Colin loves Doomlands and he had so many ideas for us. I felt like sometimes he was part of the writers room. [Laughs] I think Doomlands and The Roku Channel, it very much heavily aligned together creatively, as well.

So what was it like looking for the cast for this show, because I think Mark and Kayla do a phenomenal job as Danny and Lhandi? What was it like getting them and then having them in the writers room as much as in the voice booth?

Josh O’Keefe: They were big parts early on for the writing of it. We went through a big process of finding the right voices for these characters, but they were there right from the start with the writing. They had plenty of experience working together before, as well as the voice of Jep, Roger Bainbridge, who was the lead writer for Doomlands as well. It came very naturally with those guys and then myself included, like the way that ideas flowed, the way that we jam things out in the writers room and in the voice booth, it felt like I was back in that band in Melbourne.

We’d land on things, would be excited and move on and it was that same energy that we had going. The one moment when we knew that Kayla Lorette was going to be Lhandi was the first episode, « Razorball. » There’s a moment where she’s knocking on the door and she’s pretending to be the custodian and that was not scripted, that was just improvised. From that, she had to be Lhandi, that was Lhandi, so that was a very exciting moment. That was just the first of many improvised moments in Doomlands. I’m pretty sure all our best jokes weren’t scripted, just made up there on the day with that band energy that was going on.

I was curious about the improv as well, did you have multiple takes for every scene or did you sometimes just hear the improv and go, « No, that’s the, one let’s move on »?

Josh O’Keefe: We had multiple takes as part of the process, but there was some times where it’s like, « Okay, we got it, that’s fine. » Working with Look Mom! Productions, as well, with Lee Porter and Josh Bowen, the producers there, they were aware of the potential of Mark, Roger, Kayla and their improv abilities, so they were really always pushing for room for games in the script as well. I’m so glad that we were able to foster these environments so we can have fun and not be so dependent on the script, because that’s the benefit of making an animation as well. You’re not tied too much to footage and continuity to manage because you just draw it, right? [Laughs]

So then with that, did you guys have a lot of animation prepared ahead of the recording or was it mostly concept art and sketches?

Josh O’Keefe: During the recording, sometimes we had an idea for how the character would look. One of the first steps is to get the voices, get the radio play going, and that generally inspires the rest, you know, the storyboards for the character designs. I feel like the main villains or main characters that we come across each episode, we pretty much worked them out in the writers room and it was pretty clear what they need to kind of look like or feel like.

This is also going to be Roku’s first adult animated show and this comes at a time in which adult animation is really sort of booming with Rick and Morty, Big Mouth, F is for Family and so on. How does that feel for you getting to sort of help launch another streamer’s adult animation field?

Josh O’Keefe: It’s 100% an absolute privilege, it’s very exciting. But it’s also exciting for, obviously, the people that have been around me for the last eight years that have also really believed in not just me, but the idea itself. I feel like anyone could have come up with this idea of Doomlands, I’m very privileged to be the vessel of it. A great lecturerer once told me the idea doesn’t care who has it, it just makes itself, it just creates itself you know, so yeah, I feel just very privileged and super excited that that we’re being compared to those names that you just listed as well. I see that you’ve got a Rick and Morty T-shirt on, we’ll have to get you a Doomlands T-shirt at some point.

If you have it, I will take it and wear it proudly because this is a show I’d love to boost.

Josh O’Keefe: That was the thing, right? We had a Kickstarter and our number one reward was these Doomlands T-shirts and now I think there’s probably about 300 of those Doomlands T-shirts floating around Melbourne alone and something similar here in Toronto and it’s just that collective belief that really pushed me every step of the way. Whenever I was driving down the street and saw one of my mates wearing a Doomlands T-shirt, that was just another kick in the pants to keep animating.

That’s awesome, I’m glad that it’s had that journey and gets to have this new word of mouth. For my final question, you mentioned that you’re working on a few other projects as well, I’m sure you can’t give me exact details, but are they similar in comedy to Doomlands or are they something a little different in genre?

Josh O’Keefe: Yeah, all my aspirations are really leaning towards Season 2 of Doomlands, for sure. I’m currently directing another show at the moment, I can’t give anything away with that, but I’m definitely keeping busy preparing a few pitches as well. I’ve got plenty of ideas, I actually can’t give anything away right now what I’m working on. [Laughs] But largely, I’m just really inspired by new frontiers, just that idea of exploration, that’s why sci-fi and space really excites me. Coming from Australia being the newest frontier on this planet kind of thing, that was part of Doomlands. But there’s so much more exciting things that you can explore with new frontiers in a non-colonial kind of way, the colonial side of things doesn’t really excite me, but just new worlds to explore, for sure.

Doomlands is now streaming for free on The Roku Channel.

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