Creator Dane Boedigheimer speaks out creating his awesome Cartoon Network series The High-Fructose Adventures of the Annoying Orange.
While growing up, pretty much all kids have been lectured to not to play with their food. Well, Dane Boedigheimer might have something to say about that. He’s the creator of Annoying Orange (annoyingorange.com), a character that made its debut in 2009 for what was supposed to be a one-off YouTube short about the titular piece of obnoxious produce. But that single short led to a dedicated YouTube channel with more than 2.3 million subscribers and over one billion channel views, not to mention an ongoing Cartoon Network series and a plethora of branded merchandise.
While Boedigheimer’s creativity and imagination have certainly paid off, they were tools of necessity during his childhood years in Harwood, North Dakota. “When I was younger, we didn’t have a lot of money,” he says. “I didn’t have a ton of toys or anything like that, so I spent a lot of time playing with things and pretending they were other things; like rocks were Transformers. I loved imagining bringing inanimate objects to life.”
Boedigheimer’s passion led him to pursue a career in entertainment and, after graduating from Minnesota State University Moorhead in 2003, he landed a job as a production assistant on MTV’s Pimp My Ride: “I met a lot of awesome people and had a lot of great experiences working that job, but I saw how long it took to get into an even semi-creative position, and I knew that wasn’t the way I could go. It was just too tough for me not to try to be creative all the time.”
With the support of his then-girlfriend, now-wife, Boedigheimer eschewed a more traditional entertainment career path in favor of pursuing online creative endeavors by founding his own company, Gagfilms, in 2005. Hundreds of videos and several years later, he brought life to Annoying Orange, which bowed on YouTube in October of 2009 and featured the juicy character annoying the hell out of an apple.
The ironically abrasive character quickly took hold, with fans immediately demanding more episodes. Boedigheimer was happy to oblige but didn’t jump right into the business and franchise potential of the character: “After four episodes I knew there was something big there. I started its own YouTube channel and dedicated myself to delivering a new episode every Friday. The business aspect evolved from there… Pretty much all I did was Annoying Orange.”
Hedging all bets on an anthropomorphized piece of fruit was risky, to be sure, but the bet paid off — in spades.
Not surprisingly, the sudden success left Boedigheimer with a bit of a spinning head. “I got all kinds of offers from businesses everywhere and I didn’t know how to handle it. I found a great management company, The Collective, and they helped manage the business side of things and let me stay in a creative mode.” While Boedigheimer remains grateful for the help, he acknowledges that amongst the massive list of Annoying Orange merchandise, one in particular gave him pause. “There are these things called morph suits… that the merchandise guys sent over, and my instant thought was ‘there’s no way…This thing is going to end up in weird S&M scenario.’ But they came back to me and showed it was a proven thing so I said okay, but I still think they’re kind of creepy.”
A major point of discussion focused on transitioning the character from YouTube to television, with Boedigheimer adamant it was either going to be done right and remain under his control or it wasn’t going to be done at all. “A lot of the people we pitched to wanted ultimate control over the YouTube channel to do whatever they wanted, but… you have this online presence with millions of followers — you don’t want to mess that up.” Boedigheimer was able to find kindred spirits in the execs at Cartoon Network.
That partnership led to the 2012 debut of The High Fructose Adventures of Annoying Orange, an ongoing series that runs concurrently with Boedigheimer’s YouTube series. While the overall style of the series remains true to its Web roots, the inherent higher profile nature of a network show opened the door for a veritable geek dream list of celebrity guest voices, including Tim Curry, Mark Hamill, William Shatner, Alice Cooper, Tony Hawk, Eddie Izzard and Felicia Day. As great as everyone has been, Boedigheimer cites having song parody king Weird Al Yankovic on the show as one of his best experiences. “I grew up idolizing that guy. A couple of years ago I was at a JibJab.com party and he was there. I ran over to him and was like, ‘Oh, man, I am such a huge fan! Can I please have your picture? I think you’re awesome!’ And then cut to two years later, he comes in to do one of the voices [and says], ‘Hey man, can I have your picture? I think you’re awesome!’”
With a second season about to air, Boedigheimer continues to give thought to potential future guest voices, but one in particular stands out. “I would love to have Nathan Fillion on. In fact, I would love to do a Firefly spoof episode. It’s one of my favorite shows of all time so I would love to do some sort of reunion episode.”
While Boedigheimer hopes to launch some new IPs in the coming months, he’s not concerned about being typecast: “Some people create something like this and they don’t want to be known for it… but it has brought me a lot of opportunities and I think it would be silly not to embrace it. The big hope is for other people who want to do this kind of thing, that it opens doors so that they can.”