Imagine spending every day locked in a soundproof room with your brother, ideating, planning, and creating content. For some, that may sound like a dream and for others, it might be a nightmare, but for Adam and Craig Malamut, it’s their reality.
The Malamuts are the creators of Bleacher Report’s hit show Game of Zones, an animated series that merges NBA storylines with the popular HBO show Game of Thrones. The show, which kicks off a new, eight-episode season today, has proven to be a huge success for Bleacher Report. After premiering in 2014, the show saw 2.2 million views in its first week. Since then, its popularity has only grown, with the series garnering over 70 million views to date.
The unexpected combination of basketball and the medieval world has been a hit with fans – and was timed perfectly with the culturally relevant fanaticism around Game of Thrones.
At first, the brothers considered the idea of centering the show around the NFL, but ultimately decided the NBA had a better synergy and fan appeal.
“In the NBA you have 10 guys on the court, 12 people on the team, and there’s just so much more drama. They all know each other, they’re all friends, they all practice together and the NBA plays out kind of like a soap opera so it just matches well to the drama of Game of Thrones,” explained Craig.
Adam agreed, adding, “There’s a culture around the NBA, it’s a little more gossipy…the way people talk about it, it’s a lot more like a TV show they like as opposed to a sport they are analyzing.”
Over the course of its existence, the cartoon has evolved and transformed. While the Malamuts started by matching NBA storylines to stories from the show, they quickly found out this wasn’t a viable formula.
“As we were asked to make more episodes the metaphor sort of broke down because things happen in Game of Thrones that don’t happen in the NBA, so we had to start rethinking the show a little bit. Especially when we expanded into the eight episodes show last year,” said Craig.
Last year, the Malamuts focused on telling the whole story of the NBA season starting in the summer and working their way up until it converged with the present. This year they are taking a different approach, focusing on random vignettes from the 2017-2018 season.
“We can’t really compete with the people who are super topical about stuff on the internet so we pick the stuff that is super interesting to us and write about what we like,” said Adam.
Game of Zones takes pride in telling quirky stories and highlighting lesser talked about teams, generally deviating from the superstars and big moments that capture everyone’s attention.
“The most important thing is that we have an idea that we’re excited about because everyone else covers all the big things. We like to do stuff about the Suns and the Kings and the random teams. What makes our thing special is our weird little voice we apply to things rather than covering the big things,” said Adam.
That being said, don’t be surprised to see some big moments featured in the new season, including the Rockets’ alleged break in to the Clippers’ locker room.
As it has developed, the animation and complexity has transformed as well. Starting off as self-taught freelance animators, the Malamuts were a two man show and thus somewhat limited in what they could do creatively.
“We would come up with a concept and then we’d write it, then we’d voice it and come up with a sound design and edit all the audio, then we’d make a storyboard, sometimes we’d get some help with that, then we’d do character design, then we’d animate it,” explained Adam.
With Game of Zones’ growth, this method proved to be unsustainable. Bleacher Report supported them by bringing in a team of animators, graphic designers, writers and project managers to help catapult the series to the next level.
This investment freed up time for Adam and Craig to focus on bigger ideas and write more abstract storylines, leaving the animation work to a team of professionals who were able to create more detailed and complicated content that included previously impossible scenes with horses, which, according to the Malamuts, are incredibly difficult to animate.
The brothers work in close quarters out of a soundproof studio in Bleacher Report’s New York office. Working together all the time has tested their relationship but, ultimately, it has brought them closer.
Both admitted experiencing some egos issues when starting Game of Zones. Adam, who is six years older, had been working in Los Angeles doing animation before joining Bleacher Report. Craig, on the other hand, was right out of college when the two started working together and had a more limited animation background.
“For Craig it was about proving himself, and for me it was about giving up control,” admitted Adam. “One thing that was also challenging was I started to know what my limitations were because I did everything. Craig didn’t know what he wasn’t good at because he hadn’t tried things yet so he wanted to try everything.”
Despite that, Adam always knew the two shared the same talent and sensibilities and over time, they built a mutual trust. Now, the two are in sync – almost like a double brain, according to Adam, though they haven’t lost their brotherly banter.
There has been growing pains – some comical like the time the two fought over who would sing Drake’s bard song in the show’s fourth episode, which resulted in a vote in the Bleacher Report office (it was a 3-3 tie), and others more dramatic that have led to shouting matches behind their soundproof door.
But ultimately, they are family.
“As we worked together more, we really learned it doesn’t matter who does what. All that matters is that what we put out is good,” said Adam.