Who’s a fan of The Muppets? Are you old enough to remember the original Muppets? I think it’s super fun to get to introduce The Muppets now to my kids. There’s great humor for young and old. The kids aren’t going to get all of the “adult” jokes but that’s ok. Those can go over their heads and yet they’ll still be able to laugh and enjoy the show.
On our recent press trip with Disney, we got to be on the set of The Muppets and do a Q&A with Executive Producers Randall Einhorn who is also the director and Bill Barretta who is also a performer.
Take a look at some of the highlights from our interview.
Have you ever wondered what the Executive Producer does? That was the first question directed at Randall and Bill.
Randall : My Mom asked me that. What does an Executive Producer do? I mean, I don’t know, it’s interesting because even though we’re both Executive Producers, we have similar but different things that actually, eventually combine or come together at some point or quite often around. I suppose the top is that obviously the stories and what the stories are gonna be and Bill more so than I because he’s been a Performer forever. Its keeping track of what the Characters are doing and advising us whether we’re keeping them who they are because this has been going on for a long time and obviously, most people writing for the stories are relatively new to this so there’s a lot of it, at the script stage.
And then at the Production stage is where Bill and I tend to work together cause Bill’s the Muppet Captain so in terms of everything that’s gonna happen to his logistically he’s out doing it.
Bill : But what’s been a really interesting and fun challenge is Randall brings obviously to the table the, aside from just being a great Director and great guy to work with, is the Documentary style of all of this, that the Muppets are not used to. You know,we’ve always been used to working to a frame that we kind of help create composition with the Characters and where they are in the frame. We tend to play more presentational with the Muppets in most things that we’ve done, just about everything.
In this case, it was trusting and learning from Randall how to let the camera find the Characters. So it’s a very different approach to how we do things. It’s similar logistically because of what was explained briefly about the floors and how we need to prove and do all this stuff. But it’s Randall who kind of has the raw vision as a Director of how these pieces are ultimately all gonna come together.
Now what’s facinating about The Muppets is how they actually film this show. There are tunnels underneath the floor that get removed so that the puppeteers can move around. Other areas are built up high so that the puppeteers have room to move around. It’s actually amazing to see.
The next question delved into the mechanics of using the Muppet characters.
Bill : Well there’s different types of puppets. Kermit for example, is a puppet that you can almost see if you really look. You can almost see the knuckles of Steve Whitmire’s hand and they create those facial manipulations. He’s a very malleable Puppet. And he also has arm rods that go into his wrists so he’s what we call a Rod Puppet. A character like Fozzie is usually operated by two people. It’s one person that’s doing the head and the behavior and the body of the Character and another to opperate the hands. So it’s a whole collaboration between Puppeteers and different Characters operate in different ways.
Aside from Peter Lintz, most of the Characters are performed by 6 people. There’s also kind of peripheral Characters that are becoming more involved but the ones who do the core kind of Muppets, there’s 6 guys and so if for example, I’m doing this scene where Pet Bey and Swedish Chef are in the same scene, I’ll need to have one like Peter Lintz who’s very familiar with the Characters, understands the rhythms and the timing of these Characters. They’ll perform the Character, one that maybe isn’t driving the scene so much. And then I’ll go in and I’ll do the dialogue later with the voice of the Character.
Randall : Or we often have to just turn it around and do the other half.
Bill : Which is a time consuming, which is again something that Randall takes into consideration, when we need to stop and let’s say Miss Piggy and Fozzie are in the same scene. Well both of those Characters are formed by the same Puppeteer. So to really get great performances from both that feel authentic and true to those Characters, Randall needs to take into consideration the time and how to shoot this so that Eric can start with Miss Piggy while we have somebody standing in for Foz. And then we come around like you said, and we shoot the other side and have Eric get out of Miss Piggy and go into Fozzie. So it’s a bit of a dance scene to make that happen.
Randall : I got to operate right hand once and all I had to do was just go like this or something. And it was something really. And I was sweating! And I tried so hard. I never try hard. I was hunched down. I was trying to get about that big.
Production in creating The Muppets is crazy! It takes them double the time as it would a regular show. We asked more about their production technique and what that looked like.
Randall : Well for a Director’s standpoint, we prep an episode for 5 days, and then we shoot for 6 days. We’re trying to do four 10 hour days and two twelve hour days or two 14 hour days depending on if we go on location. And a lot of that is just because of the time it takes in order for us to do the simplest thing, we need monitors and monitors and monitors, and floor removed.
Bill : Oh that’s something we didn’t mention, is that we use television monitors so that we can see what the camera sees. That’s the only way that we’re able to see the Characters is to see what the camera sees. So the monitors are placed in very specific places depending on what the action is in the scene and what we’re doing. So that’s a whole other level of logistics and where we are and how we find the space to do this.
Randall : I would say that like for me, in directing any TV Show, be it a Comedy or be it a Drama, it takes 15 minutes at least to rehearse a scene and talk about it and block it. It takes 45 minutes to light that scene and do camera rehearsals for that scene. So if I have a scene like last week, this episode had like 28 scenes which means 28 hours in normal conditions of not shooting, like Fargo, I think I had 56 scenes which is 56 hours of not shooting.
This takes double, takes 2 hours to get your first shot off in a proper scene. So we have 28 scenes. That’s 56 hours of not shooting. That’s just to getting to the place where you’re shooting in five 12 hour days, is 60 hours, doesn’t leave a lot so we’ve got to move.
Bill : And part of our rehearsal, in a normal situation, the rehearsal time is the rehearsal time. The Actors are there, the cameras that you’re rehearsing. With us, a good bit of our rehearsal is while we’re shooting because we’re kind of learning for the first time exactly where these Characters are in the frame, what they need to do, how they need to pick something up. We’re constantly rehearsing because these dopey little Puppets that are in the way.
Randall : It’s the simplest thing, like eye line, like am I looking at you or they don’t know until you see it on the monitor and they’re looking at the opposite, which is really weird so I can’t even wrap my head around it but everything’s reversed for them and it’s amazing that they’ll do it.
They also talked about their input with the writers. It really sounded like a collaborative effort from everyone involved including the puppeteers.
Did you get to see The Muppets movies? Anyone a fan of Walter? If so, you might notice he hasn’t been in this new Muppets show Up Late with Miss Piggy. Why is that?
Bill : Well when we first started the show, I think there were certain ideas about what the show would be about and certain jobs or certain places for certain Characters. I think at the moment this first Season I would say, Walter was just someone that we felt didn’t have a place yet in this arena.
Speaking of “Up Late with Miss Piggy,” the question was asked, why a late night Talk Show?
Randall : That’s the idea that our Writing Staff came up with for the idea that this band, they’ve all banded together and to give Kermit some normal life, where he’s got a real job and he’s got a Mortgage, and he’s got, banking to do, and all that type of thing. I suppose it could have been any number of shows but I think a Talk Show kind of places them in the real world where Piggy plays a Celebrity who has a Talk Show, kind of like Ellen or whatever.
Bill : And I think they like the idea of having a Female Late Night Talk Show host and it gave Piggy a place to be a Diva, to make everything about her and the Show is all about her and I think something that they liked and felt it would be fun to kind of explore and see what we do.
There’s always fun guest starts that appear on The Muppets. I think that’s a favorite part of the show, getting to see the different guest stars. Have you ever wondered how they decide who’s going to appear?
Randall : We just call them.
Bill : There’s a lot of calling friends.
Randall : Literally Mindy Kaling is on an episode coming up and I was like Mindy, could you, would you? We would love you to. A lot of it’s people that we’ve worked with and also the people who love the Muppets, like Dave Grohl, He wanted to do it which is awesome.
Bill : Yeah, there are people who obviously want to come do it and then sometimes the script dictates who we need or type of person or we’ll write specifically for certain people. Sometimes they’re not available so we try to find who’s gonna be great in this kind of specific scenario or storyline.
Randall : Reese Witherspoon wanted to do it from the get go.
Bill : Kristin Chenoweth was amazing but there was a problem with scheduling for the original person cast and we weren’t able to have that person but she, I can’t imagine anybody else.
Randall : No she killed it.
Here’s what Bill and Randall had to say when asked if there is there a dream Cameo list?
Randall : I have one. Well there’s people that I’ve always admired, would love to have come play. I mean over the years, honestly, I’ve worked with a lot of people so there are actually some repeat people that I would love to have come and play like Jeffrey Tambor or maybe Ringo.
Bill : Pepe would love to work with Sophia Vergara.
Randall Yes he would. So would Randall, just as a friend, you know, a friendship. I think it’s a long list. There’s a lot of really cool people that would be fun.
Bill : Jimmy Stewart.
Randall : Jimmy Stewart would be great. He’s busy though.
There was some back and forth discussion over the adult jokes and is The Muppets appropriate for kids. The writers, producers, etc do think about that.
Randall : It’s interesting you know, the whole thing that’s been out there about is it too Adult? Is it the Muppets that we remember and if you really do think about it and you go back, at least as far as I remember and what I was kind of taught by the guys who came before me that I get to work with but that the Muppets have always been about making ourselves laugh. And it was never geared towards any one group in particular. Sesame Street was a very clear focus but the Muppet Show and things that came after that was always meant to arc Generations so that little kids could enjoy the characters and the colors and the fabrics and the fur and the silliness and the stories and the jokes could be another generation of people and then you have the more nostalgic levels.
You get into the Grandparents who remember even further back like Ralph on the Jimmy Dean Show. Our goals is do a similar thing where not all little kids are gonna get all the jokes because those are for us, those are for us to enjoy and hopefully years later, when they grow up, they’ll go Oh My Gosh, I didn’t know that’s what they meant.
Bill : I remember watching old Warner Bros. Cartoons and not realizing until years later the stuff they were doing was crazy. So I hope we’re doing that.
Well there you have it. A quick inside look at what actually goes into making of The Muppets Up Late with Miss Piggy. If you haven’t already started, tune in Tuesdays 8/7 CT on ABC!