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On Set Of The Muppets + An Interview With The Executive Producers

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Muppets

Have you checked out The Muppets on ABC? The story is around Miss Piggy’s Late Night Talk show. All of the muppets you know and love are part of the show! I had the opportunity to visit the set and interview “The Muppets” executive producers Randall Einhorn (and director) & Bill Barretta (and performer).

It is always so cool to talk to the people who make the shows to hear the behind the scenes information.

joseph and miss-piggy

Photo Credit: (ABC/Vivian ZInk) JOSEPH GORDON-LEVITT, MISS PIGGY

At the studio, we watched the episode that airs tonight “Going, Going, Gonzo.” The guest stars tonight include Joseph Gordon-Levitt and and Foo-Fighters’ Dave Grohl.  Joseph Gordon-Levitt joins Scooter, Pepe and the gang for poker night, while Dave Grohl challenges Animal to a drum-off! Plus will the Great Gonzo perform his dream stunt?

 

Here are some of my behind the pictures from the set of The Muppets – It was really cool to see the holes on the stage so the puppeteers could move the characters to film the show.

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Q:What does an Executive Producer do?

Randall Einhorn: 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.  It is keeping track of what the Characters are doing and advising us whether we’re keeping them in 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 that at the Production stage, OK how are we going to do that, is where Bill and I tend to work together because Bill is also the Muppet Captain so in terms of everything that’s gonna happen to his logistically.  He’s logistically out doing it.
Bill Barretta: But what’s been a really interesting and fun challenge is that Randall brings obviously to the table the, aside from just being a great Director, great guy to work with, is the Documentary style of all of this, that the Muppets are not used to. We’ve always been used to working to a frame that, and 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 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.

Question:  Talk about the mechanics of using the Muppet Characters.

Bill Barretta: Well there’s different — 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, as well as for example, I’m right handed so if I were operating Fozzie, I don’t do that character.

Aside from Peter, most of the characters are performed by 6 people. There’s also kinds 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 a 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 ADR or the — the dialogue later with the voice of the character.

Randall Einhorn: Or we often have to just turn it around and do the other half.

Bill Barretta: Which is a time consuming, which is again something that Randall takes into consideration, when we need to stop. 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 Fozzie.  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 Einhorn: I got to operate right hand once and they let me in, and I operated right hand 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.

Bill Barretta: He  was really work, it’s interesting, his whole body was so busy to make this hand just kind of do that.  He did good.

Q: What is your production technique like?

Randall Einhorn: From a Director’s standpoint, we prep — prep an episode for 5 days, and then we shoot for 6 days.  We’re trying to do like four 10 hour days and two twelve hour days or two 14 hour days depending on if we go on location. 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 the floor removed.

Bill Barretta: 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’ve able to see the Characters is to see what the camera sees.  So the monitors are placed in very specific places, um, 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 Einhorn:  I would say that 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 2 hours to get your first shot off with 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 which, in five 12 hour days, is 60 hours, doesn’t leave a lot so we got to move.

Bill Barretta: 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, part of our, a good bit of our rehearsal is while we’re shooting because we’re — 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 it’s — it’s these dopey little Puppets that are in the way.

Randall Einhorn: 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.

Q: Did you guys look back at old episodes for inspiration?

Bill Barretta: Well I think the Writers took it upon themselves to probably do as much research as they could as well but actually, coming into this, the other Performers and myself created a Character Bible that we hoped would at least give people who really don’t have a real sense of who the Characters are some background, some history, possibly some places where the Characters could go, you know, in the future, some suggestions.  So we tried to kind of arm them as much as we possibly could with material and books so that they could really get a sense of them.

But that’s the other thing.  We, we’re still learning.  The Characters, Gonzo is not the same guy he was 30 years ago.  He’s evolved and I think that’s because we as Performers and people evolve and our relationships the relationships between the Muppets are really, come from a lot of the relationships beneath the Puppets.  So we’re always finding new things and new — new ways of dealing with each other, and we don’t get along either.

Randall Einhorn:    No they don’t.

Q: How much input do you have with the Writers?

Bill Barretta: I would say a fair amount.  While we’re shooting at least, I think a lot comes up.

Randall Einhorn:  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had somebody say to me, I don’t think my Characters would do that and this would be the first time that I actually say, OK.  You’re probably right, being as you’ve played that Character for 25 years.

Bill Barretta:  But we’re not.  Sometimes we want to hold onto something that we believe is true about. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be funny or explored to go further to see what happens.

Randall Einhorn:  You can push but I think everybody here has the right to say, I don’t think I would do that in and if you’re smart, you listen.

Q:     Where is Walter?

Bill Barretta:  Well Walter… 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 kind of someone that we felt wasn’t, I guess didn’t have a place yet in this arena.

Q: Why a late night Talk Show?

Randall Einhorn: That’s the idea thatour Writing Staff came up with for — 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.  It’s just, 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 Barretta: Yeah, and I think they like the idea of having a Female Late Night Talk that you know, the only person that’s doing a late night Talk Show, I think that was Female Character, 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.

Q:   How do you cast the Guest Stars?

Randall Einhorn: We just call them.

Bill Barretta: Yeah, we’ll call ’em.  There’s a lot of calling friends.

Randall Einhorn: Text, calling.  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 Barretta:  Yeah, there are people who obviously want to come do it and then some — 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 well who’s gonna be great in this kind of specific scenario or storyline.

Randall Einhorn: Reese Witherspoon wanted to do it from the get go.

Bill Barretta:  Kristin Chenoweth was amazing and you know, there was I can’t remember who it was originally but there was a problem with scheduling and we weren’t able to have that person but she, I can’t imagine anybody else.

Randall Einhorn:  No she killed it.

Bill Barretta:   Have done that.

Randall Einhorn:  Super fun so you just never know.

Q :     Is there a dream Cameo list?

Randall Einhorn:    I have one.  Well I mean, there’s people that I just 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.  How about you?

Bill Barretta:  I know who I don’t want to work with again.  Pepe would love to work with Sophia Vergara.

Randall Einhorn: 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 Barretta: Jimmy Stewart.

Randall Einhorn:   Jimmy Stewart would be great.  He’s busy though.

muppets-sign

Disclosure – I received an all expense paid trip to Los Angeles. All opinions are my own.

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