Rooster Teeth’s Red vs. Blue is one of the early pioneers of the machinima genre and has the distinction of being the longest running web series to date. While online video game media has shifted away from scripted content towards more spontaneous live streaming experiences, Red vs. Blue remains a massively popular and beloved web series. Following a massive cliffhanger at the end of season 13, this latest season follows the steps of a reporter seeking the truth about what happened to the Reds and Blues to cause their apparent turn to villainy.
Austin based filmmaker Joe Nicolosi was brought on to write and direct the 15th season of Red vs. Blue. Nicolosi is best known for popular YouTube comedy videos such as HELL NO – The Sensible Horror Film, The Matrix Retold by Mom, CSI Legoland, and The Mushroom Kingdom, which was screened at South by South West. He also worked on an episode of Red vs. Blue during season 14, an anthology of stories unrelated to season 13’s finale.
Season 15 kicked off this past month and CFG Games had an opportunity to chat with Mr. Nicolosi about the new season, his inspirations, and more. Season 15 is available now on the Red vs. Blue YouTube channel and for Rooster Teeth First members.
Can you introduce yourself and your background in the entertainment industry?
My name is Joseph Nicolosi. I’m a writer and director based out of Austin Texas. For the last few years I’ve been directing short films for the internet and TV commercials. Now I’m writing and directing season 15 of Red vs. Blue.
You’ve created a wide variety of short films using different mediums like stop motion, CG, and live action. Do you have a personal preference?
I personally love jumping around. I really like doing a short film that’s animated in After Effects and doing something live action. I also like doing things in VR. I’m motivated by challenges and learning things. I think “Oooh how am I going to do a short film that combines stop motion with live locations.” That’s as important to me sometimes as the actual story itself. Figuring something out and becoming an expert in something I don’t know anything about. So to answer your question, I like jumping around, like that song, Jump Around.
Is there a particular medium that you find most challenging?
Well the most challenging thing now is that I’ve never directed anything that had so much computer generated scenes. I am now here working on Red vs. Blue, learning about how to put together an action scene beginning to end. Action, fight choreography, mocap, and all the things that go into that. So for me that’s really, really exciting because to a degree I’m learning how to make a 3D animated movie, which is something I’ve never done before. I’ve sort of worked in other forms of animation but nothing like this, so it’s really freaking awesome. Then of course making movies using Halo 5 in itself is its own unique thing.
So does this season mostly use Halo 5 graphics or in house visual effects?
It is a balance for the last several seasons of Red vs. Blue. I’ll go ahead and say half, about 7 or 8 seasons, there’s always been a mix of Halo graphics and completely original 3D material peppered in. Sometime there’ll be a character flipping a middle finger and sometimes it’s the entire scene. Red vs. Blue has always been a mix and this season is no exception to that.
How did you get involved with Red vs. Blue?
I’ve been working in Austin Texas for about 10 years making short films and comedy videos. There’s been a company in town doing sort of the same stuff with an overlapping audience to a certain extent. So I started talking to Burnie [Burns, founder of Rooster Teeth] years ago back when I was getting my start in this town. We met and talked about the future of the internet, YouTube, and all the fun, exciting projects we were working on. Since then, I’ve worked on a number of Rooster Teeth short films and projects in a directing or writing and directing capacity, but never as a full-time employee. It’s always like on the outside helping from time to time. Then there was an opportunity to get involved on a deeper level and I absolutely jumped on it because all the people here are amazing. I was excited at the chance to not be the lonely Han Solo freelancer anymore. I really liked the idea of joining the bigger organization.
Was that a difficult transition for you from working alone to working with a big team?
Yes and no. I was accustomed to a certain lifestyle of sleeping in and never wearing my pants. My work would always be going and then not be going on. Here I have to get up in the morning and put on pants. Then I go to work and work…and then go home and not work, which is definitely really weird for me. I’m used to a more jellyfish lifestyle where I have no bones, where I’m kind of always working and never working. All the ways it’s been an adjustment has been positive. I definitely feel like a more fulfilled human being now that I’m not just working in my pajamas from my bedroom floor because I was too lazy to get up.
You’ve mentioned that your college professor introduced you to the series. Did Red vs. Blue have a big influence on you back then?
Yes, absolutely. I first saw Red vs. Blue when I was a young, impressionable film maker in my first animation class. The thing that was very eye opening for me was that it was a bunch of people who were making their own sci-fi comedy series and doing it in a way that didn’t cost a lot of money. Also, doing it in a way that didn’t have the permission of some giant corporation, well at least at first, anyways…it was very punk rock. It was like hearing the Ramones play and never hearing punk music before. That was a huge influence for me and I was like “That’s what I want to do, I want to make my own stuff.” and not get permission from anybody, not spend a lot of money, and tell the stories that I think are funny. So absolutely a huge influence on who I was as a filmmaker and who I’ve become as a filmmaker.
Who are some of your favorite characters in the series?
I’m a big softy for Grif. I feel like if I were in the world of Red vs. Blue I would make the kinds of decision he makes. I don’t see myself as the kind of person to volunteer to fight ever, but I would be the person to volunteer to take a second lunch or take an additional nap. I really like Sarge because in terms of writing for a character he’s the most fun to write for. A lot of Sarge’s lines starts with him saying something, then he keeps talking, and by the end of his really long line he contradicts himself twice. Obviously those are really, really fun to write. Of course, fan favorites like Caboose are always awesome. I think to a certain extent I’ve gotten to the point where these characters live in my head, like they’ve all rented rooms in the hotel of my brain. They just say things now, I don’t have to write for them anymore. I just put them in a situation and they’re going to tell me what happens.
So they’re like a part of you now?
Yeah, yeah, for better or worse, they’re definitely a lot more sarcastic than I am. [laughs] So I tend to say things in social situations that I really wouldn’t say before. I’m more anti-conflict than say Church would be.
How does this season tie into the dramatic finale of season 13?
The events of season 15 take place about 10 months after season 13. This season chronically happens after Chorus and everything that happened at the end of Chorus influences the characters and where they are right now in their lives. In terms of a direct sequel to the conflict, situation, and all that, Chorus has been resolved and this is the next step in the characters’ lives. I would say that it has a big influence on who and where they are right now, but not necessarily what they’ll be doing next.
Why did you decide to have the new season follow the perspective of a journalist?
Actually I don’t think that idea originated with me. I think that was an idea from the early days before the season. I had a lot of meetings with Miles [Luna, Head Writer of Animation] where we talked about where things were going to go. At some point he mentioned there was a cut storyline about a journalist coming to Blood Gulch. That gave him the idea that maybe a character in this season could be a journalist. I sort of loved that I idea because it would give me a chance to have a few episodes that would ramp up to the real story of the season. That was sort of what the function of these first episodes have been. It’s a way to reintroduce certain things, getting certain exposition out of the way, and creating a long runway for what’s about to happen. I’m probably saying too much, but whatever!
A lot of the early writing for this season happened in September, October. After the election in November, journalism, journalists, truths and facts are suddenly words that more weight than they did when the story was first brainstormed. I don’t want this season to come off as some kind of political statement or agenda. The only reason why it might feel that way to some people is because those words have a certain mass now that they didn’t when the season originated. That being said, I’m not completely blind to what’s happening in the outside world and I’m sure it has some small influence on the way certain things are worded or how certain characters talk, but it’s definitely not my agenda to have a big movie about journalism right now.
Without giving too much away, the early episodes have a few throwbacks and cameos for long time fans. Will there be more in the coming episodes?
Yes, there will be. I’m not going to say who or where, but there will be a few more of those. When I was thinking about the season and what the story was going to be, I sort of looked at every character that appeared on the show and thought about what part they may play. So yes, we may see more soon.
You’re credited with writing and directing Season 15; was it a challenge going from writing one episode in season 14 to producing an entire season?
Sort of. I’ve written a lot of screenplays before for indie films, so it was basically taking what I learned about writing a feature and adapting it to these characters. I think this season is a mix between a movie and TV season, so I’ve had experience in both. Writing something long is a challenge but also super fun.
As someone who writes comedy, are there writers and comedians you admire?
Absolutely, I think Dan Harmon is brilliant. I’m a huge fan of everything he’s done since he made Laser Fart in 2001. Laser Fart and Red vs. Blue were the two bottom parts of my influence pyramid. I’m a big movie guy. I like going to film festival and watching weird foreign films. So I have a few influences that are a little more random. I’m a big fan of this movie called Stingray Sam that came out a couple of years ago. It’s sort of a sci-fi musical comedy web series. Also, a Town Called Panic. I also love a New Kids Nitro, a Belgium sketch comedy movie that’s sort of like trailer park boys meet Hot Fuzz.
Who are your favorite directors?
From currently working directors who hold that throne, there’s no one higher than Edgar Wright. He’s pretty much the most fascinating director working today from the perspective of who can combine comedy with spectacle in a way that nobody has before. He can tell a joke and the joke could be an explosion or the joke could be Nick Frost shooting a finger pistol out of his cop car window. I also like Adam Wingard, I think what he did with You’re Next is awesome.
In terms of personal projects, are you working on anything else right now?
I would say this is keeping me pretty busy. I had a couple of projects I was working on before I started here that I’m trying to keep on life support just so they’re not totally dead. There’s that feature film that’s kind of like Superbad that takes place at Hogwarts, a fantasy high school comedy. Then a couple of other projects with friends that I’ve been developing, but nothing that you’ll see anytime soon.
Do you play Halo? If so, which one is your favorite?
I wonder if I’m contractually obligated to answer this question in a certain way…I don’t think I am! [laughs] I don’t play Halo! I think I played Halo 1 and 2 back in college. Now, I don’t actually play a whole lot of console games. I play a lot of Kerbal Space Program, Civ 5, and The Witcher 3, but not a lot of shooters. I can say I play Gears of War because that’s Microsoft, right? I love Gears of War.
So now we’re at season 15. Any signs that the series is coming to a close? Or do you think the series will go on for a while?
I don’t know, I’m not sure. I kind of don’t think the series is ever going to end. I think it’s like the X-Men, you know? X-Men has been going on since the 60s. Sometimes it gets rebooted, sometimes there’s spin-offs. The X-Men core team has been together for a really long and sometimes those team members change and evolve. There’s something about the formula of these idiot space marines having adventures out there in the big wide galaxy that gives you an nearly infinite playing field.
So…any word on Season 16? [laughs]
[laughs] What’s that? I can’t hear you, you’re breaking up.
Sorry, had to ask!
Aww man you actually want me to answer that question? I have no idea. [laughs] We’ll see how this one goes. The guys took a big risk on a new guy for this season so we’ll see how everything goes. If I don’t fuck it up too bad maybe you’ll see me again, who knows?