Find Out What It’s Like On The Set of ABC’s The Muppets

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If you were a child that grew up watching The Muppets on TV – and the movies too, of course – then you were probably a little excited when you heard that ABC was bringing us a new show this year: The Muppets. Sure, things have changed, but I’ve been happy to find that the show still has the essential elements that made me fall in love with it as a child: the Muppets themselves and their silly antics! I was treated to an exclusive Q&A session with Executive Producer and Director Randall Einhorn and Executive Producer and performer Bill Barretta while in LA for The Good Dinosaur red carpet premiere last month and I am so excited to share our conversation with you today!

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Photo Credit: Louise Bishop/Momstart.com

ABC Television’s The Muppets has all of your favorite Muppets: Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, The Great Gonzo, Pepe the King Prawn, Rizzo, Scooter, Rowlf and of course…The Electric Mayhem!!

The Muppets Stage

We had so many questions for Randall Einhorn and Bill Barretta…

We asked:     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 eventually combine or come together at some point. 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. 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.

At the production stage, how are we going to do that, is where Bill and I tend to work together because Bill’s also the Muppet Captain, so in terms of everything that’s gonna happen logistically. He’s logistically out doing it.

Bill Barretta:     But what’s been a really interesting and fun challenge is you know, 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.  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.

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We asked:     Talk about the mechanics of using the Muppet Characters.

Bill Barretta:     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, as well as for example, I’m right handed so if I were operating Fozzie, I don’t do that Character but if I…{at this point, they literally acted out how they would operate Fozzie for the show} OK, so if I were operating Fozzie’s head.  Here’s the head.  I would also most likely do his left hand.  Now if I needed my Perrier, well see this hand is doing a little too much at the moment.  If this were my right hand, someone else would be doing it as Randall, as I would need my Perrier.  I just grab my Perrier and he would grab that and then this hand might open the bottle and then so it’s a whole collaboration between puppeteers and you know, different characters operate in different ways.  There are basically, I mean for the majority of the characters, I don’t want to leave Peter Linz who’s a guy who’s been around the Muppets and and being doing this for years and created Walter who is in one of the movies.

Aside from Peter, most of the characters are performed by 6 people.  Not leaving out Julianne.  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 a Swedish Chef are in the same scene, I’ll need to have one like Peter Linz 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 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 and you know, let’s say Miss Piggy and Fozzie are in the same scene.  Well that’s 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 Einhorn:    I got to operate right hand once and they let me in, and I operated right hand 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.  II was hunched down.  I was trying to get about that big.

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

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Photo Credit: ABC Television

We asked:     What is your production technique like?

Randall Einhorn :    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.  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 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, depending on what the action is in the scene and what we’re doing.  Um, sSo 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 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 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, you know, in five 12 hour days, is 60 hours, doesn’t leave a lot so we got to move.

We asked:     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’re still learning, you know.  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, you know, the relationships between the Muppets are really, come from a lot of the relationships beneath the Puppets.

We asked:     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, I should just, you know.

Bill Barretta:     But we’re not.  I mean, we don’t know because, you know, sometimes we want to hold onto something that we believe is true – 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, yeah.

We asked:     Where is Walter?

Bill Barretta:     Well, Walter, you know, 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, you know, I guess didn’t have a place yet in this arena.

Tune in TONIGHT December 1 8:00-8:30 p.m., EST on the ABC Television Network and watch as The Great Gonzo Returns to peform a high-flying stunt! Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl guest star…I got to see a sneak peek of the episode and it’s a great one!!

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Photo Credit: ABC Television

“Going, Going, Gonzo“– After a show-stopping duet with Miss Piggy on “Up Late with Miss Piggy,” Joseph Gordon-Levitt joins Scooter, Pepe and the gang for poker night; The Great Gonzo gears up to perform his dream stunt; and Dave Grohl challenges Animal to a drum-off, on “The Muppets,” TUESDAY, DECEMBER 1 (8:00-8:30 p.m., ET) on the ABC Television Network.

“Going, Going, Gonzo” story was written by Shane Kosakowski and Franklin Hardy, and the teleplay was written by Jordan Reddout and Gus Hickey. The episode was directed by Randall Einhorn.

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Photo Credit: ABC Television

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Comments

  1. says

    Great interview, I just wanted to clarify a couple things. The character you named “Pet Bay” is actually Pepe, and Walter appeared in the last two Muppet feature films not just one.

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