Blitz had a chance to sit down and chat with Rooster Teeth’s talented Miles Luna, one of the head writers for both Red vs Blue and RWBY.
Rooster teeth recently turned 5! How did you go from finishing high school to where you are now?
If we’re going back to high school….My high school had a video technology course you could only take when you’re an upper classman. I was 16 when I could take it and I immediately fell in love with it. I found all of the software like Photoshop, Acid Music Maker, Final Cut, Premier Pro, so fascinating. I would ask my teacher if I could stay during lunch to work instead of going out to eat. During my senior year, I actually started a comedy news show for our school. Once every 3 months we would broadcast to the whole school, about what was going on and happening in the school. We took a Daily Show approach to it, and its high school, you shouldn’t take high school that seriously.
I was fortunate enough to get into the University of Texas in Austin, I didn’t get into the RTF, the Radio, Television and Film course as it was very competitive. I entered as a liberal arts major, and had to write to the Dean of the School of Communications to convince him I was worthy of getting into the school. I actually scheduled a meeting with the Dean in person, which most people don’t do. I was like ‘Yo, my name is Miles, these are my hopes and aspirations, here’s how I hope to achieve that, what can I do to better my chances’. The Dean said that taking this initiative put me a step above everyone else.
“So, take that extra step and show initiative and don’t ever pass up any opportunity that’s given to you.”
He essentially told me to get my grades here, try take an extra-curricular and that we’ll talk again at the end of semester. At the end of the semester, he told me he’d been looking at what I was doing and I was in. I didn’t even have to do the written entry.
After that, I started volunteering at Texas Student Television (TSTV), which was a completely volunteer student run organisation at the University of Texas. Everybody in film class wants to be the next Speilberg, the next Scorsese. Everybody is very much thinking of themselves. Which is not a bad thing by any means, but a lot of these people had their own self-interest in mind, like I said it was very competitive.
What was brilliant about TSTV was that everyone’s stuff went onto the same channel. Which meant if your show is great, awesome. If someone else’s show was bad, that brought everybody down. So then there was now this atmosphere of co-operation where you said, ‘hey I see what you’re trying to do, let me show you a better way to do that so that, now we all look better’. That was a huge, huge, huge thing for me. I learnt from other people, I taught other people. I got my hands on camera equipment way earlier than I could have at school. That’s how I met Brandon Farmahini, the Texas Student Television station manager. I was the only one to show up on day one with a resume, and a portfolio of my work. I remember he thought it was really funny, because it was just a volunteer thing. After working with him for a year, he went on to work at Rooster Teeth. When Rooster teeth needed some production assistance, I volunteered. Because Brandon knew me, he let me come, he knew I wouldn’t f**k it up that badly.
I did that for quite some time and then finally, I took a broadcast management course, and one of the requirements for that course was to interview someone who you deem to be successful in their craft. It didn’t have to be related to broadcast or RTF or anything. We had to interview them, 5 minutes of their time, and write up what they said, what you think blah blah blah. I reached out to Burnie [Burns] because I had been on set with him a few times. He was kind enough to agree, and invited me to the 363 office the first weekend they were there. He let me hang out for a barbeque and that’s where I met Kerry [Shawcross] and a bunch of the guys. I was so awkward and scared.
After that, the last step was when Rooster Teeth needed an intern. I submitted an application. Brandon and Burnie vouched for m and I got my foot in the door. From then I was painting the green screen, organising props and wardrobe, transferring files off of hard drives, but the number one thing that I think helped me a lot was my willingness to do anything. I would always ask ‘what else can I do?’ Every time I finished something I would ask ‘what else can I do to help’.
We were lucky because we had a contract with Microsoft at the time. We would produce a ‘x’ of episodes for the Halo: Waypoint service every ‘this many’ months and it was that time we needed to write a mini-series. It was then that everybody was busy and I was like ‘Hey, can I try to write one’ and they went ‘Yeah suuure’. That mini-series was called ‘Where there’s a Will, there’s a Wall’. It was the first piece of fiction I had written for Red vs Blue, and because of that, I am now a writer as opposed to a machinimator, an audio editor and all that stuff.
What was it like writing for Red vs Blue, and then later on spearheading it? Did you feel any pressures of continuing in the same way, or did they let you just run with it?
There was absolutely pressure. I was a huge fan or Red vs Bue, and at the time it was the flagship series of the company. Being given the keys to that car was horrifying. People around the world love this show, and I was expected to keep up the quality, so that alone was a lot of pressure. Combine that with the fact that we had just finished Season 10, which had Elijah f**king Wood in it, and was pretty much the biggest thing the company had ever done. I had no idea what I was going to do, how to follow that.
However, it was nice that because the show had 10 years of history, I had 10 years of character to work with. There is such a thing as too much freedom. Freedom can freeze you, because you have so many options, you don’t know which one to take. It was nice that I knew what Griff sounds like, I knew what Sarge would do in this situations, I knew how Tucker would react to Caboose in these circumstances. So there was this brilliantly strong, 10 year foundation of character to work with and to me, character is the most important thing in any situation.
“I was essentially given a car that works really well, as opposed to being made to build a car from scratch.”
So it was nice in that I wasn’t starting from scratch, but it was very scary taking this show with so much love around it, as I was hoping I wasn’t going to ruin it.
When and how did RWBY start for you?
So Kerry and Monty [Oum] worked very closely together back in those days. Literally, proximity wise, they were super close to each other. They both loved anime, they would talk all the time. I was up on the second story with Machinima and one day Monty came in at 3am said ‘I had a dream, Red, White, Black and Yellow, its 4 girls’. Kerry responded ‘Ok, you should get back to sleep Monty’. Some time passed and he came to Kerry and was like ‘We should make an anime’ and Kerry eventually replied ‘Yes we should, what are you getting at here’. He told him the idea, Kerry was keen, ‘this was f***king cool’. They bounced ideas around for a while and at some point- I had been writing for Red vs Blue for a little bit and Monty and Kerry explained what they had up to that point and asked if I was interested, and was like ‘hell yeah, I’m interested’.
From there it was late nights at IHOP. I would be working on Red vs Blue machinima, they would be working on animation. We would take a dinner break at like 2 in the morning, go to IHOP and just talk shop.
The origin story of the world, which we revealed in Volume 4 was my first big contribution to this show. That was a truncated version that we saw in the recent episode. But I remember I went home and I was trying to sleep, and then as I dozed off, I had this idea about two brothers. It was weird, but I wrote it down. I was really excited to share it with them, so excited I couldn’t go to sleep. I drove back to the office and talked to them. Monty though it was cool, we made some changes and messed with it some more, and that was like my first real big contribution. We’ve told everybody, we’ve got this show planned out for years, providing we’ll be fortunate enough to go that long. Like the end of Volume 3, one of the reasons why Kerry and I think we were able to take Pyrrha’s death a little easier was because we’ve known that was coming for 3 years. We had plenty of time to brace ourselves for it and get ready for it. When it happened, it was so hard to see it actually animated on screen, but I remember, just how much that rocked the fan base, and even though we had 3 years to prep for this, it was brutal.
Your onscreen friendship with Kerry is something fans love you two for, but working with your friends can often be dangerous. Do you think working with you friend Kerry on RvB and RWBY has been a positive or a negative for the success?
It’s definitely both. Kerry is such a cool dude, and I don’t think I’ve met a harder working person in my life. Monty and Kerry are the two hardest working people I have ever met. There are times the friendship is great because you can just joke around. So much writing with RWBY is trying to make the other person laugh, it feels like you’re hanging out and trying to tell a story with your friend. Of course it can be hard, and this is with any person in a creative industry, when you have to give critical feedback. You have a disagreement at work, you can’t always just leave that at work, even if you want to. You can’t just park this at the door. We all try to, but yeah it can absolutely be difficult. Rooster Teeth is cool because whether or not we planned it, we’ve all become friends.
“That’s what I love most about my job I get to go work with my friends. It can make things tricky, for sure, that’s for damn sure. But, I love it, trickiness and all.”
In my opinion RWBY has only gotten better and better with each season, and finally came into its own this season. I know you may have to limit yourself with what you say, but where do you see yourself going to keep on improving the quality of RWBY?
In terms of improving, we will never make the perfect show. Lord knows it hard for Kerry and I to go back and watch Volume 1 because all we see is everything that’s wrong with it. From a production standpoint we were incredibly limited, from a writing stand point we were incredibly inexperienced. But the fact that people say it does get better every year is a good thing, obviously. It’s not great when you’re trying to get a friend to watch it. It’s hard saying ‘you know once it hits season 3 then it’s really good’. If someone was to tell me that about any other show I probably wouldn’t watch it. But we’re very, very fortunate we have an incredible community, incredible fan base that will overlook flaws and see we’re doing our best.
Every year, technically speaking, we’re able to improve because we have more people, we’re given a bigger budget, knew software, technology. We made the jump from Poser to Maya which opened up a tonne of new doors in regards to software plugins like Pencil.
From a writing standpoint, every year we look back at things that could have been better about the previous season. We also look at how fans are feeling about certain things, what they liked and disliked. We always want to write the story we want to write. We want to write the shows that we wanna watch. We have a roadmap that we’ve had since before Volume 1. There will be slight deviations, slight changes due to unforeseen circumstances, but in general we try to stick to it.
There are still times where, we have a really big note from the fans that we should consider doing something with that. I think the biggest way you can always improve is always understanding that you can improve, and knowing that you can be better and then figuring out how. What could have been better about what you just did? How can we make that better and then just doing that forever and until you’re dead.
What’s it like taking over the reins of a show like RvB compared to starting on a show from the ground up like RWBY.
In RvB, the base, the foundation already existed for the characters. RWBY started from scratch. There have been times when Monty and I say ‘well we’ve decided to do this with these characters or this with that plot point, now we kinda see there’s a slight problem with it, well, here we are, there’s nothing we can do’. You have no one to blame but yourself, where as in RvB, it’s like ‘well these are the rules I have to play with’. But when you’re the one making the rules, there’s this extra layer of ‘F***k’.
I’m much more critical of RWBY than Red vs Blue because we’re the ones that came up with everything. Monty, Kerry and I, this is the world we’ve made, and if there’s something we don’t like about it, at this point in our lives, we only have ourselves to blame. Both shows have been flagship Rooster Teeth productions, and the pressure is very scary. It’s wonderful, obviously, but we are a small animated studio, that is getting attention and love as if it were a giant, Cartoon Network level production. That’s great, but there’s that thing that culture has a tendency to be counter-culture. Counter-culture has kind of become a mainstream thing. Where people like to shit on a popular thing, especially if you don’t understand why it’s popular. There are definitely people out there who watch badass anime coming out of Japan, and people lose their mind of RWBY. A person that doesn’t like it will go ‘I hate this, because it’s this popular and I don’t feel it deserves to be that popular’. That’s so much stress. RWBY is very stressful because we never in our wildest dreams assumed it would be as popular as it was, we just kind of wanted to do a show for fun with our friends, and now all eyes are on RWBY, and it’s incredibly important as a brand to the company.
“It’s nerve racking. It pushes us to try do the best job that we can.”
The biggest difference between RWBY and Red vs Blue when I first started was, early on both shows have comedy. They have very different flavour of comedy. RWBY’s comedy is very genuine and very sincere. Red vs Blue comedy is very sarcastic and mean spirited. But it’s fun. But I think I would go crazy if I had to work on the same thing forever. We recently announced Red vs Blue 15 will have a new writer-director, and working with that person has been great so far. But I mean one of the reasons was, you know, I’ve told all that I can with Red vs Blue, I personally don’t think I could do more with that franchise, without feeling like I was beating a dead horse. We needed someone else to come in and breathe some life into it. I’m super excited to keep working with that person.
With RvB, RWBY, Camp Camp, RT Shorts all under your belt, is there anything else you feel like you would like to do at Rooster Teeth?
Doing more and doing everything better. Honestly, the number 1 thing is also the boring answer, that we need to hire more writers. Right now, there’s 4 people generating all the content for the animated department. It’s myself, Jordan [Cwierz], Kerry and Gray [Haddock]. We write on everything, and it’s great, but we have reached the point where we realistically can’t do anymore. So we need to meet new writers. That was what was so brilliant about RvB 14 was that we met new writers, people we can work with. I started getting used to working with new writers as opposed to saying ‘here’s how I want to approach as script’ it’s working with a writer and going ‘how can I make what this person wants to do, better?’ It’s a very interesting exercise and very important. Finding more people we want to work with, making more shows, and continuing to improve every year, and hopefully having fun doing it.
Favourite Red vs Blue Season
Favourite RWBY moment
Oh shit. RWBY saying ‘Leave her alone’ to the giant Nevermore
Biggest animated inspiration?
Favourite thing about writing?
Seeing people react to it when it’s on screen.