- Getty/Greg Fiume
In “Kulipari,” two-time Super Bowl champion Trevor Pryce’s new animated series for Netflix, frogs defend their homeland against nefarious scorpions who want to take it over.
It’s a classic battle of good versus evil, and while “Kulipari” is aimed at kids, it’s not a lighthearted romp. Pryce says the series can get a bit dark – something that initially scared off Hollywood dealmakers.
Getting “Kulipari” onto the small screen was a struggle, but the uniqueness of the tale, which initially took the form of an ongoing illustrated novel series (three so far), eventually prevailed.
“I made a very deliberate decision,” Pryce told Business Insider about pitching “Kulipari.” “You are going to hear something from me you’ve never heard.”
He didn’t want to pitch the same retread schlock Hollywood hears four to five times a week, even if it meant a lot of “no”s up front.
Pryce ended up having to make the series on his own dime before eventually scoring a distribution deal with Netflix, a rising children’s programming powerhouse.
Here’s Pryce’s story:
Pryce’s inspiration for “Kulipari” came from an unlikely source: waiting for cable to be installed.
“When I decided I would take writing creatively seriously, I became a product of my environment,” Pryce said. “With three kids, all my TVs had cartoons on all the time.”
But one day Pryce was between homes, and his 65-inch TV hadn’t had a cable box installed yet.
“I had one DVD: ‘Planet Earth.’ And watching ‘Planet Earth’ over and over again, I kept going back to a particular scene about the Amazon,” Pryce said. “They had these tree frogs that were jumping from tree to tree. When you slow it down, [the frog] looked like a spear.”
That image stuck, and when he watched “300,” another image floated up: the Persian army as scorpions. His heroes and villains came together in his head.
After that, developing the story was easy, Pryce says. He plucked elements of aboriginal Australian mythology and wrote the pilot in just three days.
This wasn’t Pryce’s first brush with creating a story for Hollywood.
In 2008, he sold a story idea to Sony Pictures after pitching the CEO on it for 20 minutes – a man gets hit by lightning and his mind is filled with an insane amount of knowledge. At a point during his pitch, Sony’s CEO asked him, “So what happens next?”
Pryce didn’t know. “I thought you would tell me,” Pryce told the CEO.
“I was thinking, ‘You’re Sony Pictures,'” Pryce said with a laugh when recounting it.
But selling “Kulipari” wasn’t so easy.
When Pryce’s agent began shopping the “Kulipari” script, Pryce couldn’t get anyone in Hollywood to bite.
“This is a cool idea, but it’s a little dark,” is what Pryce heard a lot. He was frustrated.
“‘Hunger Games’ just came out and kids were killing kids!” he said. “I was just killing frogs and scorpions. But ‘Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs’ had just come out and was a big hit.”
And Hollywood, in Pryce’s experience, always wants a replica of what’s popular in the moment.
“Whatever is hot on screen is what someone else’s boss wants,” he said. And more specifically: “Hey, do you have ‘Cloudy With a Chance of Subway Sandwiches’?”
But eventually Kulipari found a home with Cartoon Network, which fell in love with the show. The only problem was it wanted to turn it into a comedy.
“‘Thundercats’ had failed miserably, and ‘Kulipari’ was bought on to pair with ‘Thundercats,'” Pryce said. “But ‘Adventure Time’ and those kind of shows were doing incredible.”
Cartoon Network wanted to know whether there was an “Adventure Time” version of “Kulipari” – something more lighthearted.
“It became very obvious very quickly that this wasn’t going to work,” Pryce said.
So Pryce bought “Kulipari” back from the network. And when Pryce thought about the path forward for “Kulipari,” he knew he need to finance it himself.
“I gave myself the green light,” he says.
Pryce says he never thought of bankrolling “Kulipari” as a risk, and that it took him about 10 seconds to make the decision. Some of his ideas Pryce thought might have been better for someone else to throw their money into, but not “Kulipari.” Pryce says he knew where the floor was with “Kulipari,” and that it was already pretty high.
He wasn’t worried.
Midway through production, Pryce approached three companies to distribute “Kulipari.”
“I wanted streaming because the serialized nature of it,” he said. “The series is not 13 random episodes. It is one consecutive, continuous story.” He also wanted to control the narrative pace.
Netflix immediately blew him away, he says – and not because of the money.
“The reason I went with Netflix wasn’t because they were big and powerful and cool,” he says. “It was because the executives read the book.”
Pryce considers it a success that people around the world, in countries like Russia and Germany, will get to watch his show in their native language. He’s not worried about the money as much, though he’s lined up a deal with Under Armour and is finalizing one with a toy company.
After Pryce was drafted, he said his goal after the NFL was to run a record label by the time he was 35. That never materialized, but he started his own record label and scored an indie movie.
Pryce is hyperactive, and his mind is always going from one creative thing to another.
But for now, he’s focused on “Kulipari” and a new drama script he’s finished. But he’s only working on projects he really believes in.
“I had a project in development at HBO, and I remember being on a call with like 10 executives,” he said. “I just hung up in the middle of the call. I thought, ‘This is a waste of my time.’
“But this is the one: ‘Kulipari.’ The rest of it is nonsense. The rest of it doesn’t move the needle.”