Trey Parker and Matt Stone Trey Parker and Matt Stone

“6 Days to Air” Reveals “South Park”‘s Insane Production Schedule

I’ve always known that South Park is produced on an uncommonly fast production schedule, but I never realized how brutal that schedule is until I watched The Making of South Park: 6 Days to Air. The 42-minute documentary, which debuted last fall on Comedy Central, is currently available to view on Netflix streaming, which is where I saw it.

The bulk of the behind-the-scenes footage was filmed over the course of a week in April 2011 as Trey Parker and Matt Stone worked on the season 15 premiere episode “HumancentiPad.” Directed by Arthur Bradford, the film is filtered through the experiences of Parker and Stone, who lead the writing and production team through the show’s insane six-day production schedule, in which an entire half-hour episode is written, recorded, and animated entirely in Los Angeles. To put that into perpsective, most other animated TV shows have production cycles that last anywhere between 3 to 10 months, and are animated in far-flung studios halfway around the world. It’s understandable why South Park seasons are broken down into seven-week cycles because it’s hard to imagine them maintaining that pressure cooker environment for fourteen weeks in a row.

The production schedule, however, also plays a role in the show’s ability to remain timely and relevant in a way that few other animated shows could ever hope to be. In many ways, the pace of production–and resulting comedy–resembles live-action productions like Saturday Night Live, The Daily Show, and other late-night talkshows. Parker, who is the show’s primary writer, discussed how the discipline of a tight schedule prevented him from overthinking ideas:

“I always feel like, ‘Wow I wish I had another day with this show.’ That’s the reason that there’s so many episodes of South Park we’re able to get done because there just is a deadline and you can’t keep going. Because there’d be so many shows that I’m like, ‘No no it’s not ready yet, not ready,’ and I would have spent four weeks on one show. All you do is start second guessing yourself and rewriting stuff and it’s get overthought and it would have been 5 percent better.”

Also surprising was how creatively involved Parker and Stone remain in their creation. After sixteen seasons, they are still calling the shots, and they don’t appear to have surrendered their creativity to the big Hollywood machine. Compare that to a show like The Simpsons, which is run by a gaggle of writers and producers, and would probably roll along fine even if its creator Matt Groening ceased his involvement.

The documentary left me with some questions, too. For example, I had always considered Trey Parker and Matt Stone to be equal creative partners, but Bradford’s film portrays Parker as the captain of the ship. In fact, it’s never made implicity clear what Stone does while Parker is working on the script. Clearly, their collaboration works, but I would have liked to see their unique partnership explored further.

  • Mac

    Very cool contextualizing the way its written. They had that episode where they characterized Family Guy writing as mad libs by manatees, and now the manatee part makes a lot more sense.

  • I remember seeing this when it first came out. Yeah, it’s an eye-opener.

    I believe Matt Stone is more of a producer nowadays, although he’s creatively involved, too. And, of course, he and Trey does a ton of voices (Matt does Kyle, Kenny, and other characters)

  • Tyler

    I think Stone used to have a lot bigger role in the creative side of things, but now he just manages the studio business-wise.

  • hotdogface

    It’s a fascinating documentary, although I wish it were longer.

    It’s always seemed like Parker does more of the work, and both seem comfortable with that. Stone contributes ideas in the writers’ room, and does some voices, but other than that it almost seems like his (and all the other writers) main function is to be a security blanket so that Parker can have a comfortable environment full of friends to spin his madness within.

    Obviously the production staff of animators and artists works incredibly hard at following through on all of Parker’s writing.

    I’ve also read in interviews that Stone is better at PR and dealing with execs while Parker has a tendency to alienate others by deliberately being weird. Or maybe that was just when they were younger.

    Remember that this is all just speculation.

  • Farmer Alfalfa

    I disagree with your point that The Simpsons would be the same if Matt Groening ever left. His imprint is on every aspect of that show and it wouldn’t be the same without him. Let’s just hope that he never leaves.

    • I don’t know if its just a coincidence, but it always seemed to me The SImpsons went downhill soon after Brad Bird left.

      • Spencer

        Whatever happened to The Simpsons after the Angry Dad episode. I remember that being the last day that I ever had a really good laugh at a Simpsons episode. Since then, it’s never been the authentic Simpsons it used to be. The characters are regurgitating their 90’s selves and compensating with apologetic references to today’s pop culture and fumbling for excuses to continue their existence.

        The Simpsons kinda’ depresses me.

    • Richie

      Matt is rarely involved with the show these days. There’s even a DVD commentary where he participates yet he says it’s his first time watching that episode (which one exactly escapes me).

      This is akin to believe Walt Disney was actively involved in every single one of the studio’s short subjects.

      • Funkybat

        I just hope Matt G. is still more involved than that with the new Futurama episodes. I would hate to see that show get as calcified and middling as the Simpsons did in the ’00s.

  • Rezz

    The only thing the documentary had more interviews with the people who do the grunt work.

    I know a few artist that went through that ringer and everyone is always happy to be out.

    • axolotl

      Heh…Yeah, I interviewed for a storyboarding job there, I think I would have learned a lot and it would have been a formative experience, but I’m kinda glad I didn’t get it. (I only would have been able to talk to my husband at lunchtime, for one thing.=p)
      Every so often, though, I perversely wish that I had gotten the job. SP is a lot funnier and more interesting than most TV.

  • James Madison

    Thanks for posting. I look forward to seeing the documentary.

  • Crystal

    (When I saw this post I thought Amid was gonna slam Trey and Matt)

    I always knew Trey seemed to slightly have more control than Matt (TV Tropes refers to him as the “Garfunkel” of the two–when in a duo or a band, someone seems to have more creative control/involvement than the other). Trey is credited as the director of the movie and Team America, even though producer and writing credits are usually shared by them.

    Kinda funny of how much we see of Bill Hader (who I think is very funny) on it. I remember he joined as a producer a few years ago–is he still producing? (Especially with SNL being in New York and South Park being in LA)

    I’ve seen part of this documentary on TV, I have Netflix so I should probably finish it, even though the Human CentiPad episode is a bit much for me.

    • Nic

      For what it’s worth, you get a few images from the episode, but it’s not so much about the episode itself as it is the process and the craziness behind it. It also has a few hilarious scenes with their very strained PR lady running defense against the FCC.

      It’s really worth a watch.

  • Dan Kyder

    I love these guys, they are really committed to doing everything in exactly the way they think works best, and not just sticking to traditional schedules and methods.

    Their flagship show may fluctuate a bit, but I don’t think I’ve ever been left completely appalled at how bad an episode was, like I often am with Simpsons and Family Guy. So despite the insane production timeframe, there’s some quality products still coming out.

    I hope they commit to another animated movie soon though, TV shows aside. Those were fantastic and genius.

    • Kevin Martinez

      I’ve been. Remember that Towelie episode with Oprah? What were they thinking?

  • I just watched it and I thought it was a pretty great documentary. I had a friend of mine who worked as a storyboard artist on SP back in ’04 and this is pretty much what she described to me when she was working on the show, especially the waiting around in the early hours of the morning Wed. for Trey to finish the ending of the episode. She was also there when they put in Saddam’s capture in an episode the day after the real Saddam Hussain was captured.

  • Geo

    Last time I checked, South Park artists are contracted to work 72-hour weeks with no paid overtime during a six week production cycle. They are then laid off for 4-6 weeks with no income until the next 6 week crunch hits.

    It’s a fun show to watch, not so fun to make.

    • Chris Sobieniak

      I’m sure it isn’t. I’m more amused to think the youngest audiences today watching it weren’t even born when it started!

  • Jen

    I read an article once (Vanity Fair?) that basically said that Matt and Trey share a brain – Trey has the right side (creative) and Matt has the left (logical). This is why their partnership works – they each bring unique skills to the table that do not overlap. Trey does handle creative – he always has. That’s where he excels – he’s more talented in that respect. He leads the writing, acting, and directing roles. Matt has his own talents, which involve running the business that is “Matt and Trey”. Matt’s role is less sexy, but he handles things like dealings with the network or studio, press, legal related issues, etc. – good old fashioned producing crap. Based on articles I have read on the pair, he’s more organized than Trey and keeps them on track for their deadlines (and talks Trey off of the “ledge” when he’s stressing out). And as mentioned in the doc, he also takes on any role that involves a fight. Several articles on the duo have stated that Trey does not handle conflict well, while Matt seems to get off on it. An example – when Isaac Hayes went to them to demand removal of the Scientology ep – who did he met with? Matt. Trey blew it off. It’s a good balance and it really does help keep their partnership strong – they need each other because neither is equipped with all the skills necessary to do this alone.