There’s no escaping the allure of influencers — not even in death. That’s the premise of Death Hacks, an early product of Snap’s push into original animation. The darkly comic ten-episode series stars two ghosts, Adam and Molly, who run a lifestyle show for the afterlife. Ever wanted to know what it’s like to date Benjamin Franklin? These ghouls have you covered.
Death Hacks is embedded in the social media culture it lampoons: the three-minute episodes land on Snapchat (which is owned by Snap), where they can be streamed by the app’s 239 million users. Watch the first episode (on Youtube) below:
The show was created and directed by Aaron Augenblick at his Brooklyn-based Augenblick Studios, a respected indie production company founded in 1999 (which makes it more than twice as old as Snapchat). The studio has produced tv series like Adult Swim’s The Jellies!, Netflix’s Losers, and Comedy Central’s Ugly Americans.
Although well versed in edgy, frenetic adult animation, Augenblick and his team met new challenges in creating a show to Snap’s specific requirements. Everything from perspective to comic timing was shaped by the format. Augenblick walks us through the process below:
Aaron Augenblick: Making Death Hacks specifically for the Snapchat platform broke all the boundaries for us. Snap encouraged us to not just cram the widescreen into the vertical, but to try new things we wouldn’t typically do. I love to experiment with format, so this was an absolute thrill for me.
First of all, the 9:16 format forced me to reimagine the way we compose shots, direct the eye, and perform comedy in general. What was at first an obstacle became a source of inspiration. Bells and whistles like see-say text, split screen, and mixed media were all fun to play with. We found that abstract perspective (similar to UPA) worked beautifully in vertical so we leaned into that for the entire show.
We also discovered that the pacing had to be lightning-fast. For every three-minute short, the scripts were running 8–10 pages! We’re known for our fast paced, intense comedy, but nothing prepared us for the speed of Snapchat. Something about watching content on a phone makes you impatient! There are virtually no pauses or air. Things that felt fast-paced on an edit screen felt super slow when we would test it on a phone. The ADD speed became part of the joke.
At times it felt like we were making a brand-new kind of cartoon, making use of the latest technology while still rooted in the DNA of classic cartoon comedy. What would Tex Avery do with an Iphone?
Snapchat is looking for shows that speak to their audience — to the typical Snapchatter, who is very young — and would only work on the Snapchat platform. The goal is to attract both mainstream animation fans and Snapchatters that may not even watch tv. They don’t want Netflix shows converted to vertical.
I had the idea for Death Hacks as a parody of influencer culture using the tropes of horror. It worked perfectly for Snap, because social media was baked into the concept. The direct-address format of the show is closer to Youtube or Snapchat than a sitcom.
The development team at Snapchat are largely from network tv, so the process was fairly standard (albeit way faster) than with more traditional networks or streamers. They focused on the characters, their motivations, and their world. Death Hacks is a very existential show, so the first thing we had to do was define the rules of their universe. Adam and Molly are two dead teens trapped in the afterlife. They can’t speak to the living, but they can visit heaven and hell like tourists. Things like that.
In addition to that, much of the direction from Snap was to make sure the show felt modern. Since we are parodying social media, it has to be timely. We had a lot of fun exploring the Snapchat world: slang, trends, memes, and influencer culture. Everything felt very “now.” It was important for us to have fun with modern culture and never get judgy or sardonic. There is an optimism and excitement to Adam and Molly: they want to be the most popular influencers in the afterlife.