HYPE surrounding the long-awaited The Simpsons Movie is almost as big as Homer's appetite. So far, the events of the film have been kept as tightly under-wraps as Mr Burns' wallet and at the press screening just 10 minutes of footage was shown.

The Simpsons creators Matt Groening and Al Jean are still willing to talk about it though and did so at a Q&A session after the screening, chaired by Danny Baker.

Danny Baker: Welcome, gentlemen. It's been a long day, I know you have been doing a lot of promotion for this. On behalf on fans and press alike, the idea of The Simpsons Movie has been around since series two or three.

What was the tipping point, Matt, when you had a meeting and said OK, it's now.' Do you remember the moment you committed to say yeah, we'll make the movie'? Matt Groening: Well, we have been talking about doing a movie since about 1992?

Al Jean: Yep.

MG: And we have always been working on the show. We don't take vacations, we work on the show all year round.

We do 24 episodes a year and it takes six to eight months to do a single episode, you can add that up, it's a lot of work.

We don't have time, we don't have a team waiting in the wings ready to do a movie. And finally, finally we said we are coming up to our twentieth year of existence with The Simpsons since 1987 and our four hundredth episode, we should have a movie out.

DB: If you'll forgive me, arrivistes like South Park and Family Guy have had a movie out, but I take it your threshold was something you wanted to look at.

AJ: I was gonna say, South Park's penis was bigger than our penis sohah.

MG: We pay tribute to South Park with the title of our movie.

DB: Was there any intimidation at all because in pop culture terms The Simpsons Movie almost puts as much pressure on you as a Beatles reunion and that's not going to happen. A Simpsons movie has a lot riding on it and I am sure you are aware of it and have effortlessly pulled it off. Was there a lot of intimidation thinking why do we need to do this?' AJ: There was a tremendous amount of effort making it look effortless. We argued in a constructive way over every minute of the film trying to make sure things were right on story, they were funny and they were in character. It really was something we couldn't have felt more pressure on just because of the love people around the world have had for the show over the years.

DB: It can't just be a long episode, plainly. You can even sense a difference in pace. People are allowed to walk a few steps before a joke or whatever. Was it a learning process. Did you know much about movies before you started this?

AJ: It was a staff which was very experienced in The Simpsons but other than Jim Brooks and David Silverman, not so experienced in movies. What I wanted in TV, as Matt says we do a number of episodes a year, we are always learning to let go, but with this film we were learning to hold on (laughs) and honestly, it was finished about two weeks ago, before we came to Europe.

DB: There are certain plot lines developing there, but what was never going to be in it? What were the parameters, the things you thought Well, it's not going to be that'? Did you make those decisions first?

MG: No. We thought about what we wanted to put in the movie which we couldn't show on television like Bart naked (laughter).

And also by the way, we argued over jokes, every single scene in the movie received an incredible amount of attention and because we didn't have a strict deadline to begin with, it took a long time to write the script. For instance, the scene with Homer on the roof with Bart, it was my contention if you put Homer on the roof, by the end of the scene he must fall off the roof. He just had to do that. And I think everybody expected that in the way it happened, going through the roof was a surprise. That's the kind of stupid, slight gag we are very proud of.

AJ: You might ask why did it take four years to think that up?' DB: Buster Keaton said, "Let the audience think it then double-cross them," and I think there are a couple of examples in there. So what is the film about?

AJ: I'd say in one sentence it's that a man should listen to his wife.

MG: And it's a romantic movie.

DB: Is it?

MG: Yes, Homer falls in love with a pig!

DB: Were previous writers summoned up or consulted? Did you get on the phone and say have you got anything you want to suggest?' Did you call Conan? Was it just the gang who are currently on it or did you canvas far and wide?

MG: It was a Simpsons all-star team. It was some of the best writers who have ever written for the show all together in a very small room, at a table just slightly bigger than this, all sitting round eating cold pizza until the wee hours and coming up with ideas. One of the writers, John Swartzwelder, has written more episodes than anyone else, he has written forty-nine, and Al and a bunch of the other veteran writers. Al, by the way, continued to be a show runner for The Simpsons the whole time. He had to run back and forth between the show and the movie while the rest of us just worked on the movie.

AJ: And while we were doing that, two of the writers in the show who had pitched a joke weren't aware of what was in the film and I go, we can't do it' and they go, but it's really funny' and I'd say, you can't do it, you'll understand why July 27.' DB: There was no cherry-picking from them, there was no robbing Peter to pay Paul was there?

AJ: There actually was actually, by the end we had a team of specialists who were great. Many of the writers on the show wound up contributing to the film.

Chair: Did Fox say to you we want as wide as possible an audience here? Is there an element of you don't need to know the TV series to enjoy this as a movie?

AJ: Absolutely. Our mission was if you had never heard of The Simpsons you could enjoy the film. I hope we achieved that.

It's important to us that it's viewed as a separate entity, it's not something where then you have to see the show to find out the end of the movie. If you pay your money, you should be satisfied.

MG: Al is absolutely right. But I would like to say for a theatre full of die hard fans, many of them, many of you, we have a lot of inside stuff too. And if you don't get it, you don't know the references, it's ok, it's cute. But if you do know them, there is something extra there for you.

DB: That's always been the story of The Simpsons since the first episode. You never set out to do something that was going to please everyone. You must have been completely surprised how global The Simpsons is because everyone likes to think these are jokes only they understand.

I remember the first time you got a rock reference or some old movie reference and you think, that's for me' and yet the planet's in on it. And yet you continue to put in tiny little jokes in and around.

MG: We found that stupidity and the love of stupidity is universal.

DB: Apart from insufferable toffs, bad teeth and boot blacks from the Victorian age, is there anything for the UK in the movie? It seems to be the way we are portrayed. Is there a UK angle to this?

AJ: I don't know if people here like to laugh at bumbling Americans.

DB: Oh, not over here they don't, certainly don't! Not to be downbeat in any way, does this signal the ending of the TV show in any way?

AJ: No. No, emphatically because there is another season of the show which appears after the film, in September in the US and shortly thereafter here.

We actually wanted to help the franchise, to bring more people in and make it as cool as possible.

DB: In your time, looking at the Bible joke there's no answers in this, a terrific joke but can you recall how many people have come after The Simpsons - it's irreligious, it's bad for this?

MG: Well, I don't know how it is over here but in America there is someone who is willing to pretend to be offended by everything.

We annoy people and that's part of the appeal, it's to entertain people and to annoy a certain segment of the audience as well.

DB: But you seem completely free. You've seen the Fox joke and it always struck me as an odd outlet for The Simpsons in the first place, Fox. It was a very small channel, it had a reputation with Rupert Murdoch but you seem to be completely alone.

AJ: Ironically it was the only outlet I think because when The Simpsons debuted, no one else would take a chance and spend that much on an animated series.

MG: And Rupert Murdoch has played himself on the show. We wrote him a line: "I'm the evil, billionaire tyrant, Rupert Murdoch," and he performed it with relish.

DB: Is there any nation where The Simpsons was pulled? Anywhere it has not worked?

AJ: Well, I think it has been successful all over the world. It's been a little harder in Japan because they have their own animation style and we are not their animation style.

Chair: Without getting technical again, I don't think enough respect is paid to the sound effects, the timing and the music. When the house pulled away from the street there, it's the old Warner Bros editing and the animators get a lot of credit, but how closely did you watch that?

MG: Well for me, that's my favourite part of the entire process. The very end of the animation is done and we are just mixing sound effects and music and you can really make a joke hit if you can get the right sound effect. And yes, there is definitely a tribute to the great Warner Brothers cartoons in there and there is in the movie a part you didn't see, a good send up of Disney-style animation.

One of the great bits of fun we have in the show and in the movie is there is no style of comedy we can't tackle. We can do very sophisticated word play and smart dialogue and we can also do the hammer in the eye joke, that's our homage to Un Chien Andalou.

Wow. I didn't know that joke would work. This is a smart audience! That would not have worked in Los Angeles.

DB: What do you think is the biggest myth or misconception about The Simpsons you'd like to put right? AJ: People say, "What character do you write for?"

MG: Yeah!

AJ: and the answer is all of them! If I just wrote for Comic Book Guy I'd have a pretty easy job.

Question: So, 400 episodes and now this is the first movie. South Park did an episode recently called The Simpsons Did It.

Do you have trouble coming up with new ideas for storylines and how does that work? Do you ever have an idea and then realise you'd done it 13 years ago?

MG: After 400 episodes - as Homer would say, one for every day of the year - it is harder to come up with new ideas but we have a staff of writers, some of whom are so young they grew up watching the show and other than Al, who is some kind of weird mystical genius.

Al has a really good memory but these younger writers really have memorised every episode and will say we did that in season five.

Q: Now that you've finished the film and you watch it back, is there anything you'd change at all or is it perfect in your eyes?

MG: Just watching that ten minutes, I think yeah, we could have tweaked that door slam.' What I do like about the movie is that it is imperfect. It's about the art of the hand-drawn gesture. It's not a CGI movie with 1,000 perfect penguins dancing in unison. We have one penguin...

AJ: ...And something very bad happens to him.

MG: In a way, the movie is obviously a thrill for us because we get to listen to an audience in a theatre laughing. That doesn't happen at home with our families.

The other thing is it's also a way of honouring the people that work on the movie. The great actors Dan Castellaneta, Julie Kavner, Nancy Cartwright, Yeardley Smith, Hank Azaria, Harry Shearer and all the rest. They're all fantastic and this basically features all these characters and in the credits you actually get to see which characters they play. The other thing is it's a way of honouring the animators.

This really is a tribute to the art of hand-drawn animation, which is basically disappearing. All the animated movies these days are computer generated and this is the old-fashioned, hand-drawn, erase it, you don't do it right?

DB: Not many can say no to the great Simpsons call though, can they?

AJ: We've had an amazing array of guest stars including, as you see, Green Day in the film. There is a very special super secret guest star who I'm not going to reveal. I can only tell you they're a very popular person.

Chair: Other than that, who do you want to be on it?

AJ: We've tried to get every ex-president in the show and they've all said no. Bruce Springsteen we've also pursued and he hasn't done it.

DB: Yet.

Q: As you were just saying you've had many celebrities appear in the series over the years. Who was the hardest celebrity to deal with?

AJ: 99 percent of them have been terrific.

DB: But the one percent?

AJ: Jose Canseco, the baseball player. We want to meet our heroes. Elton John, I got to meet and he was great. Or The Beatles. That's a dream come true.

DB: (To Matt) Your deep love of rock music is very well known. Do you ever just pull string for the hell of it and write an irrelevant part in an episode just to get to meet someone?

MG: Definitely having Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr, not at the same time but over the years was a dream come true for all of us.

DB: Why didn't you get them all at the same time?

MG: We tried, we tried but they didn't show up at the same time.

By the way, I just have to point out something. In the United States in doing a Q&A thing like this, handing it off to people, we would never dare actually hand the microphone to the questioner. They are always standing by in the US to pull it away. So this is a much more civilized country.

DB: Well, it's early yet.

Q: It's difficult to tell much about the film on the basis of ten minutes but you do notice there's something about religion, there's something about the environment? Two very big themes. Did you decide to take two fairly big themes as a way of projecting the story over 90 minutes as opposed to 25?

AJ: They are big themes, especially the environmental theme but we always like to approach it from both sides. Later in the film when Lisa's giving a lecture about pollution, the label of the lecture is An Irritating Truth.

MG: The environment has been a part of the show from the beginning as well as great theological questions. Bart goes to church in one of the very early episodes and asks do robots go to heaven?' And the Sunday school teacher says of course not,' and then Bart asks what about a robot with a human brain?' So that's the kind of deep theological quandary we deal with.

Q: (To Matt) I just wondered because Al's looking a bit worn out over there, how much work do you actually do Matt? Are you very hands on?

MG: (With his feet up on the table) Here's the deal. I created the thing so I can do whatever I want. The truth is, and this is serious. I have actually two shows I work on. I work on The Simpsons and I work on Futurama, my other show. What I do is I can tell the people at Futurama I'm working at The Simpsons and the people at The Simpsons that I'm working on Futurama and then I just go home.

AJ: And then when there was a movie he could tell them he was working on the show Q: Now he's on the big screen, what happens to Hollywood if Homer J Simpson wins an Oscar?

DB: And don't say you haven't thought about it AJ: Oh I've thought about it. But there are many fine animated films this year and we would be honoured to be considered.

MG: It would just be an honour to be nominated.

DB: Do you still sometimes think although we're the funniest show on the planet everyone just thinks of it as goofy animation.' Is there still something to prove in some ways?

MG: What's interesting about the experience of doing the movie is we work on the show with each other and then we go home. So this experience of coming out and meeting the people who love what we do. This is the first time a real audience has seen this excerpt from the movie and the response from sitting back there was very gratifying.

AJ: I completely agree, it's one of the main reasons that we wanted to do the film. Honestly. And we hope it makes a little money.

Q: Is there still an element of still doing it just to make yourselves laugh?

MG: Yes but we did write it for ourselves, but then you can't say no that joke's funny' if people aren't laughing. There are so many jokes that got dropped from this movie. As good as this movie is, let me make a claim for the DVD: it's got extras, stuff that we cut out of the movie that's really good.

Q: Are the Simpsons based on anyone you know?

MG: The characters are named after members of my own family. I do have a father named Homer, my mother is Margaret, Marge for short. I have sisters named Lisa and Maggie. When it came time to name the boy, I thought should I name him Matt?' But I thought I shouldn't do that to myself. But the characters are not like my family except in appearance! No they're nothing like my family exceptIt's so good to bail on your own answers Well my mother when I was a kid actually did have tall hair. Very tall hair. Not quite as tall as Marge's and not blue, but the hairstyle was based on her. A little bit on her, a little bit on the Bride of Frankenstein.

Q I'd really like to know your favourite character and maybe a favourite quote from each character. AJ: Well, I'll give you one character and one quote. This is like a joke Conan O'Brien did, when Sideshow Bob was on trial and it said Die Bart Die' on his chest he said no it's German for The Bart The'.

MG: I like Ralph Wiggum. I think my new favourite line is I like men now'. And it's not really a joke but he said my cat's breath smells like cat food' and I don't know why but that resonates with me!

MG: We've tried to write lines for virtually every character in the show. There's some great some lines that didn't make it in the end. One of my favourite lines that didn't make it to the end of the movie, in fact the whole scene got cut so I can talk about it. I'm going to give this away Al.

AJ: It's OK.

MG: Bart accidentally or inadvertently gets locked away in a mummy sarcophagus while Homer is looking on and Marge says Homer!' and Homer says Marge, he's got to get over his fear of coffins!' And that's a great line, right? And it didn't make it into the movie.

AJ: But it's going on the show. I threw it in.

MG: Did you? Oh come on! (laughter and applause) AJ: Yes. We waste nothing!

Q: I remember a scene in Futurama where the Simpsons come alive. Would you ever do a Simpsons/Futurama special?

MG: Well, Futurama's real, The Simpsons is a cartoon. Well, it's possible, but the skin tones are different. In Futurama we go for the relatively realistic skin colour and the Simpsons have the yellow skin colour. But it's possible, maybe they'll go back in time.

Q: The Simpsons has been such a big part of your life for so long. Do you ever get tired of it?

MG: You know it's true. The Simpsons is so much of a part of my life that at times I just want to take a drink.

No I don't get tired of it. First of all it's a collaborative effort. Al writes some of the best jokes we've ever done in addition to running the show. And I get to experience the show both as a participant and as a fan.

And it's really, really fun just to go there and be a part of the process. And the scripts are really good, we think and then the actors take it to a different level with their adlibs and just the way they interpret the scripts and then the animators try to bring it to another level and we add jokes all the time and as you heard from the coffin joke, some of the best jokes get deleted, and now I find out from Al, actually recycled.

Q: The Archbishop of Canterbury recently held up the Simpsons as a shining example of family values and Christian dignity. And having seen that church scene I wondered if you felt he'd got it right or been tragically misguided in his optimistic view of the Simpsons' religious faith.

AJ: Well, actually that church scene is integral to the plot and we posit the existence of an extremely active God, so I think he wouldn't be disappointed. That scene actually was introduced into the script by Jim Brooks at an early stage because he wanted to say here's where the plot starts'. Even though all the scenes you see are related to the story, it really grabs your attention.

DB: The Simpsons are good people as is most of Springfield. They aren't the worst role models in the world. Do you try and keep a reign on this?

MG: They are very misguided, as you can see Homer strangles his son, but he loves him. You know it's a cartoon, we take an elastic reality and we stretch it and then we pull it back.

DB: What's the limit? What don't you do? What are the no-nos?

MG : Basically the only thing we won't do is actually have a character walk off a cliff and keep walking in the air until he looks down and then falls. We won't do that. We obey the laws of gravity on The Simpsons.

AJ: Homer isn't, this is sort of what you're saying, he's not intentionally mean. He does thoughtless things, but he loves his wife, he loves his family and Marge thinks Homer is the handsomest man that ever lived.

MG: It's a fantasy.

The Simpsons Movie is released July 27