How South Park ships new stuff in 5 days
Each episode of South Park is made from scratch in 5 days. That’s it. It’s written, recorded, and animated in less than a week. 30 times faster than the average show. Way faster than most cartoons.
So, how is it possible to create so much so fast when everyone else has to take so long? South Park’s rules for creating an amazing product in less than a week are:
- Eliminate writer’s block by slacking off until the very last second.
When you give yourself 5 days to make a show, there’s literally no time to procrastinate. It doesn’t matter whether you think you have a good idea — you simply have to run with what you have. This is a challenge, of course, but it’s also an opportunity. It means the entire team is forced to rise to the occasion. Animators have to storyboard, character design, and background design all at once — which is unheard of. The rule is simple: if you don’t work fast, you can’t contribute.
- Make your flaws part of your charm.
The main reason they’re able to accomplish so much so fast is that their animation style is crude. Most shows would scoff at it, yet South Park believes it adds something unique to the show. “We developed this look because we couldn’t draw. Instead we used paper cutouts. Now some of the comedy comes from how the show looks.”
- Don’t let feeling shitty about what you release stop you.
When South Park finishes an episode, they know it’s not perfect. In fact, there’s been times they’ve felt so bad about a show’s quality that they try to pull the plug on it — just hours before it goes live. “We realized that’s stupid. You can always spend more time making something better, but really it wouldn’t make much of a difference. The show would be maybe 5% better if we took 4 times as long on it.”
- Base decisions about your product on real life.
The South Park universe takes inspiration from the real world and life of it’s creators. Characters are based on real people, locations are based on real places, and the concept of the show is to show how kids really talk in private. No matter what product you’re making, cut the fluff and base it on what’s real.
- Handle the stress by eating McDonalds.
When you create so fast, you’re going to stress out. Trey finds that the most stressful part of the entire process is the final stage: editing scripts. That’s why he’s developed a coping mechanism that delivers 5 minutes of happiness on-demand. Chicken nuggets, a big mac, and french fries. Yes, he’ll order McDonald’s for a little bit of sunshine in a dark time. Find your own McDonalds you can call on in dark times.
- Play with legos when you need to change your perspective.
Another way that Trey likes to get out of a rut is to play with Legos. He says it helps him look at things differently. Instead of him telling people what to do (as he’s done all day) he gets to just sit there and follow instructions. Doing things step-by-step exactly as he’s told changes how his brain works — and clears his mind to attack a problem from a different angle. Mix up your perspectives to get out of a rut.
- Don’t be threatened by Eddie Van Halen.
South Park’s quarterback is Trey. Everyone knows it. Trey can decide he wants to do an elaborate homage to Heavy Metal at the last second, and the team has to jump into action. This heavy-handed leadership style provides a big advantage: one source of truth. Even though the creator’s of the show are a partnership, the stories are expressed through one person. One person has the final say. Matt, the other partner, doesn’t let this bother him. “It’s like with Van Halen. You can sit there and think ‘it’s all Eddie Van Halen’, but as soon as David Lee Roth leaves you’re like ‘fuck this band’.”