CS Interview: Co-creator Megan Ganz on Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet
For this year’s virtual SeriesFest, ComingSoon.net got the opportunity to chat with Megan Ganz, co-creator of Apple’s hit video game workplace comedy Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet, to discuss the acclaimed first season, the masterful quarantine episode and her excitement about getting back to shooting the second season!
Warning: Some Spoilers Lie Ahead for Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet Season 1 and Quarantine Episode
Ganz looked back at the inception of the series as co-creator and star Rob McElhenney being approached by video game publisher Ubisoft to craft a comedy series that delves into its industry, namely in a workplace setting, and notes how when many studios and producers find out you’re a comedy TV writer, they often come to writers with a specific pitch.
“As a comedy writer you get a lot of people coming up to you and saying, ‘Oh my work place would make a great show,’ and the reality is that Ubisoft was correct in that, they came to Rob and said, ‘Hey we think that there’s a comedy in the world of gaming that hasn’t been explored yet’ and they invited him to go up to Montreal to go and see their studio and he went up there,” Ganz explained. “Basically when he came back from that trip, he spoke with Charlie and then after that me and basically said, ‘I really think that there’s a show to do here’ and so that’s how the concept got started.'”
After finding their angle and running with it, the duo, alongside co-creator and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia star and executive producer Charlie Day, began developing a series that would receive acclaim from critics and audiences alike for its honest and hilarious exploration of many of the problems with the gaming community, alongside many of its better qualities, and despite having plenty of the former, they found no pushback from Ubisoft in penning their scripts.
“They were very much encouraging of us to tackle these different things that the industry is wracking with, be it problems with women in the workplace or crunch, which is basically overworking the staff, and union issues and all sorts of things that we had heard about in our research and wanted to explore and they were very, very supportive of that,” Ganz noted. “Which was awesome, but they were behind the concept of the show, which is we wanted it to be very different than Sunny, which is a satire through and through, the characters aren’t real people, they are like prisms through which we satirize western culture. This show, we wanted them to feel like real people, and in order to do that we needed the world they live in to also feel real, so it would’ve felt disingenuous to not touch on those things, but thankfully Ubisoft has always been behind us exploring those subjects where there’s room to grow.”
Ganz is a former associate editor of satirical news organization The Onion and writer on a number of network series, but had yet to find herself working with a streaming platform coming into Mythic Quest and though she found a difference between the two, she thought it “was really great” working with Apple and found it very akin to working for a cable network, as she did on Sunny.
“I had been on a ten-episode season, which I really prefer the shorter seasons because it allows you to write the entire season first and then shoot it, which is really great,” Ganz opined. “In the first season, for example, we found things later on in the season that we were then able to go in and inject earlier on in order to make the arcs more impactful. For instance, once we came up with the ‘Dark Quiet Death’ episode, we then realized thematically how nicely that aligned with what Poppy and Ian are struggling with and we were able to sort of lay that theme throughout the season a little bit more. On a network show, you’re always being chased by production, so you’re trying to get episodes out before you have to shoot them and it doesn’t allow for that much conceiving of the entire season at once, so that was a major change. Also, the fact that the show airs in over 100 countries on the same day is pretty crazy, to see feedback on Twitter and whatnot in Germany of people watching the show in many different languages and that they like it, that’s a huge advantage. As far as creative partners, it was pretty equivalent in the sense that Apple, they’d give us notes, but if we felt very strongly about something, they would back off and respect our vision for the show and so it was really delightful. There was quite a big gap between when we wrote and filmed the first season and when it aired, because they were launching the service and everything and we were looking forward to that not being the case with the second season, but now that will very much be the case because we were one week into shooting when we had to shut down for quarantine.”
One of the many notable stops in her career highway came in the form of NBC’s Community, on which she was a staff writer and executive producer for three years and began her working relationship with star Danny Pudi, who starred in the Dan Harmon-created series as lovable nerd Abed and stars in Ganz’s series as the sociopathic head of monetization Brad. Though she says she and the rest of her creators didn’t have the 41-year-old comedian in mind to play the role while developing him, she knew when reaching out to him “he had the chops” to bring this borderline unlikeable character to life.
“I knew Danny would be able to do something like this because during Community, I was blown away, I think if you just watch that show, you’re not aware of how good of an actor he is, because you don’t see what Danny is like when he’s not playing Abed, which is the sweetest, most affectionate, most upbeat, he’s not at all that character,” Ganz warmly recalled. “So once you meet him, you realize, ‘Oh my god, you’re a really good actor,’ because his character felt so real and like it was a part of him. I didn’t know how interested he was in playing a character like this, I know that actors typically like going against type of whatever they were playing before, just to show their range, so I thought it might interest him. When we started talking about Brad as a character, we were talking about him as he was the one everybody hates but there’s always that thing where you don’t want the audience to hate him, it’s fine for everyone in the show to not like the monetization guy, but obviously you want the audience at home to. Once I started thinking, ‘Who’s a person I think could play a jerk but still be very, very likable,’ Danny popped into my head and then basically sent him a text and said ‘Would you be willing to read this script and check out this character?’ Thankfully we had a really good working relationship on Community and so he agreed and came in and that was it. He came in and read once and we were like, ‘Great’. It’s been a real delight to work on this project with him, when I first met Danny I was a staff writer, I was like 25 years old or something like that, now it’s ten years later and, I keep coming back to this, on Community, I remember we were shooting an episode and he had to leave set because his wife went into labor and now his kids are like ten years old and I see them and it’s just so crazy that we’re working together again. Danny’s just a true delight and he’s always game for figuring out the character together, and we have some really exciting things for Brad in season 2. Season 2 is always kind of where you flesh out the ensemble and we’ve got some really cool things for him that I’m really excited to see Danny do.”
The quarantine episode took many fans by surprise, as not only was it the first series across streaming and cable platforms to actually tackle the current issue and a retooled version of the season finale, but it also saw a much more serious character development than most of its previous episodes had tackled, namely in Charlotte Nicdao’s Poppy finding herself emotionally struggling in isolation after having completed the only work needed to be completed. Though this felt different than many previous episodes, Ganz found that the first season had actually set themselves up to “have that muscle” in which they can balance a tone that will veer “into serious places” while also delivering plenty of “very silly comedy,” while also pointing out that Poppy wasn’t the only character expressing some kind of struggle in the episode.
“You want to represent it accurately, and the accurate representation of quarantine is not that it’s sad all the time or that people are struggling constantly, it’s that there are these moments of hardship and then there are intense moments of levity and kinship and people supporting each other,” Ganz described. “So we definitely wanted to show both sides of that and a lot of that just came from us talking about our personal experiences of what we were going through in the quarantine and how different the various struggles are, what forms they take. I definitely sympathize more with Poppy’s struggle of once work’s gone away just withdrawing from people and I really enjoy my work and I would say that most of my friendships have been work-based or surrounding work and so when that went away it was really hard and I found myself struggling to continue to make contact with people, whereas Rob was very much the opposite. He almost went into overdrive and started making new projects and having all these meetings, but we wanted to represent both of those sides in Poppy and Ian because it’s not that Ian isn’t struggling, it’s that his struggle takes a more active form and so maybe in watching it, people didn’t notice as much the way it was affecting him as much as it was Poppy, but I think it was important to us that both characters needed that hug when it came for different reasons. But we also knew that we wanted to end on a moment of triumph because ultimately that’s what we feel coming out of this quarantine is people being alone but also together and they are supporting each other and that great things can come out of this time period. One of those things for me was the quarantine episode, so we had the feeling at the end of making the quarantine episode, like the characters did when they got their Rube Goldberg going and successful, it seems like such a silly thing, but they’re not celebrating because the ball made it all the way to the chip bag and that Dana ate a chip, they’re celebrating the fact that they’re all together and despite the obstacles that they manage to accomplish something. So I think balancing those two stories was really the key and making sure that we ended on a real triumphant note, because these people are ultimately there for each other and always will be.”
After Ashly Burch’s Rachel, Imani Hakim’s Dana and Craig Mazin’s Lou reluctantly team up to improve on the two testers’ passing of items across screens to one another, they bring the idea of crafting a virtual Rube Goldberg to the rest of the group, resulting in, as Ganz called it, a “triumphant” ending to the episode. Though she was unable to recall just how exactly her, McElhenney and co-writer and star David Hornsby came to the conclusion to make the Rube Goldberg be the finale, the 36-year-old screenwriter described how much of it came from looking at the visual format they would be utilizing in the episode.
“Rob and David and I met on Zoom a lot and we were just playing around, we kept looking at that format knowing we were going to be using that visual style of the gallery view where you can see all three of us on the screen at the same time,” Ganz illustrated. “I think that we were just joking around and doing something about poking each other and doing stuff through our screens and I think it just spoke to that feeling you have on these video conferencing systems where it’s like people, but it’s not people, it’s the approximation of social encounters without actually being it. I think when playing with that, we started with just the idea of Rachel and Dana flirting by passing this chip back and forth and thinking, ‘Oh, of course the young people find a cute way to use the technology to be adorable and they figured out how to make this look funny and cute’ and from there it just escalated into, ‘How could we make this even more interesting?’ I personally always just love Rube Goldbergs, I watch videos of them all the time, I just think that they’re so fun to watch, once we got going and thinking about that, then it was just off to the races of having our VFX department and our set dec build all these various machines so that the ball would move through a 4X3 grid in a very pleasing way. It was easier to conceive of the idea than it was to execute it [laughs].”
With only having completed one week of shooting prior to being shut down due to the global pandemic, Ganz and the rest of the creators and writer’s room have been utilizing the downtime to tweak and polish the scripts for the next season, only having to make minor changes in some places, though having to drastically change the one episode they were able to shoot.
“We have to make some pretty significant changes in some places because the one episode we did shoot, the plot of that episode was that the characters went to E3, which didn’t happen this year,” Ganz revealed. “There are some things as big as that, there are some as small as you can’t have a character say to another character, ‘What have you been doing for the last six months?’ Because everybody knows what everybody’s been doing for the last six months, so we definitely have been going through the scripts and have been updating them, not so that they’re all about the quarantine, because obviously that’s why we made a quarantine episode was to touch on that, but they have to be set in a world that did go through the quarantine for us to still feel that the characters are grounded. We’ve been using this time to our advantage to go back through and make the scripts even better and make them more relevant to the current state of the world.”
In looking at what fans can expect from the next season, Ganz describes it as “a really great time” both from an audience perspective as well as a writer’s perspective as they have the opportunity to “explore the ensemble a lot more” and branch out from the first season’s story that “definitely focused on Poppy and Ian’s story,” given their “central relationship” to the series as a whole.
“Season two, we definitely brought up the ensemble in the mix where we have really interesting character development stuff, we’re definitely going to mix up the characters in really fun and interesting ways, have pairings that you didn’t see last season,” Ganz excitedly explained. “Part of the cool thing about our show is that in being very reflective of what the current video game industry is going through and what the demographics are currently, but we tried to do it in a way that was realistic to the current situation. For instance, Poppy is the lead designer, but people talk about it like she’s an exception, not the rule, so she’s a woman who is very high up in the company, but we treat her like that’s a special thing and not the norm. The other women in the show, other than Carole who’s in HR and Sue who’s the community manager, the other women that work on the tech side are in the low-ranking positions, it’s the testers who have no power and Jo who is an assistant, and I think moving forward with the show, we definitely want to try to have those women go through the experience of trying to work their way up within the industry and all the challenges that they’ll face in trying to do that. So we’re trying not to paint too rosy of a picture, but also still have characters that we still get to watch succeed and try and fail and put passion and creativity into what they do. There’s lots of exciting things, I can not wait to get shooting again, because we have ten scripts just waiting for these actors to bring them to life.”
Co-created by McElhenney, Day, and Ganz, Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet follows a team of video game developers as they navigate the challenges of running a popular video game. The first season is now streaming globally on Apple TV+ and has already been picked up for a second season.
Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet is executive produced by McElhenney and Day under their RCG banner; Michael Rotenberg and Nicholas Frenkel on behalf of 3Arts; and Jason Altman, Danielle Kreinik and Gérard Guillemot for Ubisoft Film & Television. Hornsby (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) and Ganz (Modern Family, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) also executive produce. The series is produced by Lionsgate and 3Arts Entertainment and Ubisoft.
(Photo by VALERIE MACON/AFP via Getty Images)