This is my interview with Brian Dalton in its entirety. I hope that you enjoy it, and please feel free to comment below!
Chris: Mr. Deity is a unique show as far as I can tell, there isn't anything else quite like it. Can you tell us a little about how you came up with the idea to make a comedy/satire show about 'God’?
Brian: The initial idea was simply a script I’d written for myself — a musing after the Asian tsunami which wiped out some 250,000 people. As a former theist, I couldn’t any longer imagine a justification for the kind of suffering caused by this “Act of God.” Clearly, there was already enough gratuitous suffering in the world without earthquakes, floods, tsunamis, etc… This is problematic for the believer in an all-good, all-knowing, all-powerful being. So, I wrote what is now known as “Mr. Deity and the Evil (though it wasn’t called that at the time) and passed it around to a few close friends who loved it and thought I should do something with it. After nearly two years of trying to get someone else to play the title role, I finally was convinced by Jimbo (Larry, on the show) to do it myself.
Chris: You have had some tremendous guest-stars come on the show including Michael Shermer and P. Z. Myers. When you began creating Mr. Deity, did you ever think you would have the opportunity to work with these guys, or that you would be invited to speak at the AAI conference?
Brian: No. I thought we would be much bigger. I’m kidding (slightly). We’re thrilled to have these people on the show. They always have something interesting to add, and they’re genuinely fun and interesting people to work with. Michael is a personal hero of mine who got me into the Skeptic movement when I left religion. We’ve become friends of sorts over the years and I’m thrilled about my association with him and the Skeptic Society/Skeptic Magazine. P.Z. was great because everyone thinks of him as this rather caustic fellow, always on the attack, but he’s just the biggest, sweetest teddy bear. I’m really grateful that they decided to come on.
Chris: The character of Timmy (played by Jarrett Kaufman) is the only recurring guest-star so far. Are there plans to bring back some of the other guests on future episodes?
Brian: We have no plans at this point, but I’d love to have everyone back again.
Chris: You have mentioned in several of the bonus segments that Mr. Deity is your full-time job. Can you talk a little bit about your film background and some of the work that goes into creating an episode?
Brian: I made my first (and so far, only) feature-length motion picture back in 2002, and it did really well. The success of that movie (Killing The Dream, a comedy) gave me to confidence to continue. Since then, I’ve worked quite a bit in video production — much of it with Jimbo.
As for the work that goes into Mr. Deity, it’s quite consuming. Most of my time goes into writing the show, which is quite a task. What I’ve discovered is that most writers are always writing in one way or another. Writing is really just thinking, and I almost never stop, which can make sleep a problem.
Then, I have to set-up and light the Mr. Deity set. I know it doesn’t seem like there would be a lot to do, but there’s so much more than you’d imagine — C-Stands, light stands, lights, bulbs, flags, scrims, monitors, cameras, cables, mics, mixers, and just the simple act of moving all the furniture around in our living room (yep, that’s where we shoot it). It’s quite a chore. Then, we’ll generally rehearse the episode for hours before we actually start the cameras rolling. It takes us a solid day of shooting to get it right.
Once the shooting starts we have to deal with media management and ingesting the footage (which I try to do while everyone is still on set, so I can know that I’ve got the shots I need). Then, I spend two to three days editing the show, which also includes color-correcting, audio mixing, titling, etc… Next, I write and perform the begging segment and edit it into the show, after which I have to break down the set and put all the equipment away (my least favorite part). Then I compress the show and upload it to YouTube and our server for Jimbo to post on iTunes.
Finally, I like to stay connected with my audience. So, I follow the YouTube comments, putting in my two cents every now and then, and write to everyone who writes to me directly. All this, along with sending out the DVDs of season three, keeps me pretty busy.
Chris: The question that so many of my friends have asked: Any plans for mainstream television?
Brian: We’d love to do that, but I don’t think mainstream television is ready for an openly Atheist show — especially one featuring God Himself.
Chris: You have talked before about some of the changes/additions that occur during filming of the show, such as cutting the last line of "Mr. Deity and the Promised Land". How much of the show is pre-written and how much is 'ad-libbed' by you or your co-stars?
Brian: About 95% of the show is written. If one of us comes up with a great line while we’re shooting, it’s integrated. But you really can’t ad-lib this kind of show. Jimbo and Sean don’t have the religious background that I do. So, often, I’m explaining the background of the episode to them and telling them about the relevant scriptural passages. Perhaps if the show were just about our lives or things that happen here in this world we could "wing it." But Mr. Deity is particularly focused on a very specific objective which is all about my view of religion which draws almost exclusively from my religious background.
Chris: I've noticed that you like to plug books by Atheists/Skeptics/Scientists and whatnot in some of the episodes - are these just personal favorites or is this more of a 'consciousness-raising' effort?
Brian: Both. I like to throw things in that are relevant. For instance, in “Mr. Deity and the Magic”, I had Lucy reading “The God Delusion.” I did that because the episode was largely inspired by a section in the book and I wanted to send out a little homage to Richard (I can call him that because we’re buddies). But that’s not always the case. I recently had Deity reading Carl Sagan’s “The Demon-Haunted World’, not because the episode had anything to do with that, but because the chapter titled “Science and Hope” is one of my all-time favorite pieces of skeptical literature.
Chris: Skepticism and Atheism seem to be growing ideas, and YouTube is one of the main vehicles for freethought these days. Do you see a growing trend through sites like YouTube and the internet in general, and do you think that this has had an effect on the success of Mr. Deity?
Brian: The power of the internet cannot be understated. As I write this, I’m watching Egypt (hopefully peacefully) transition to democracy. And many people believe that sites like Twitter and Facebook are a large part of that. We have not seen an explosion of freedom and information like this since the invention of the printing press. It’s a revolution like no one has seen before. When I left Mormonism back in 1993, the information which compelled me to leave was very hard to come by. Now, whenever I go out to speak, I find other people who have left Mormonism because they were able to access that same information easily on the internet.
Likewise, Atheists, Skeptics, and Humanists are finally being heard because they have equal access to a popular medium which is followed closely by young people who are interested in finding things out.
Mr. Deity would not have been possible without the internet. Where would we have been able to get seen and establish the following we have now? It just wouldn’t have been possible.
Chris: Semi-joke: Which of the 'Four Horsemen' is your personal favorite?
Brian: This is a really tough question. I love them all. I relate most to Sam Harris. We’re roughly the same age and we have very similar concerns — particularly the need to wrest questions of morality from religion (which has done such a profoundly poor job with right and wrong). Dennett’s “Breaking the Spell” is an enormously enlightening work which does a tremendous job of explaining (sympathetically) the religious impulse. And Dawkins' courage is a huge draw for me. When I introduced him recently at CalTech I said that he is a man with the most valuable type of courage — the courage to inspire courage in others. That’s about the highest compliment I can imagine.
But, if push came to shove, I’d have to go with Hitchens — probably because of his ability and willingness to debate. It’s in debate that you see him in all his glory — his eloquence, the blinding speed of his wit, his vast knowledge and life experience, his ability to say things in a way that is so blunt and devastating that you can’t help but see his point — even if you disagree. I’m also blown away by his writing. To read Hitchens is to be absorbed by the ideas of a man whose love of language is extremely satisfying. His ability to craft a sentence, a paragraph, a chapter, a book, is unmatched — and that’s really saying something considering the company of the other three who are likewise gifted.
Chris: Could you tell us a little about how you became involved with the other cast members Jimbo, Sean, and Amy?
Brian: I’ve known Amy for nearly 23 years. She used to be married to my best friend. So we go back a long way. She’s been involved in every single thing I’ve done having to do with making movies or short films (Mr. Deity included, obviously).
Sean was the lead hunk in my first film, Killing The Dream. He was so good and such a stand-up guy that I couldn’t see doing anything without him. He’s a tremendous actor and now a good friend.
I met Jimbo at the film festival where Killing The Dream won the Grand Jury award. I instantly had street cred with him. He and I started working together shooting video for other people and in a very short time became best friends. Jimbo is one of my all-time favorite people and just seeing his face makes me happy.
Chris: What has the overall response been, both from the religious and Atheist/Skeptic communities? Have you gotten any particularly surprising emails or comments?
Brian: A lot of people thought that I would get hate mail from the religious community. But having been extremely religious myself, I knew the vast majority of religious folks had a good sense of humor and would be able to laugh at this stuff so long as we didn’t cross the line and become offensive for no good reason. That belief has proved true. I’d say about 40% of our audience is religious — based on the emails I get.
I guess the most surprising thing to me is how much my skeptical audience dislikes the episodes that are just pure humor without any real commentary on biblical/religious matters. That doesn’t play well to the core audience, and that sometimes disappoints me.
Chris: Thanks again for taking the time to answer some questions for Advocating Reality. Keep up the excellent work on the show, and I eagerly await the next episode so that I can get my 'fix' :)