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Meeting the Muppets
An Interview with Kami Asgar and Rocco Fonzarelli, 424 Post

By Kevin Williams
November 11, 2011

Rocco Fonzarelli and Kami Asgar of 424 Post, a sound production company who produced most of the audio for “The Muppets.”

Well, fellow Muppet Central family members, I’ve been given an opportunity to visit with some folks important to our fandom and the upcoming movie we’ve all be anxiously awaiting, “The Muppets.” I was invited to ask the hard-hitting questions like “Will Kermit run in the next presidential electoral race?” or “Will Miss Piggy run in the next Queen of Earth electoral race?” or even “Paper or plastic?”

Our friends are Kami Asgar and Rocco Fonzarelli of 424 Post, a sound production company who (as you may have guessed by now) worked on the upcoming film “The Muppets.” Kami also worked on “Muppets From Space.” That said, the following interview was held over coffee and donuts (or maybe not, it was all done by e-mail so I’m not sure what those guys were doing, but I enjoyed my coffee and donuts). So, have fun!

Please introduce yourself, and tell us what your job is on the film.

KAMI: My Name is Kami Asgar. I am the supervising sound editor along with Sean McCormack. We are in charge of all sound aspects of the film including all dialog, sound effects/design, backgrounds, Foley, and ADR (Automated Dialogue Replacement), but excluding the music and the mix.

ROCCO: Rocco Fonzarelli, "Gentleman's Monkey". My job duties include but are not limited to: making waffles, slowing down production by bothering the director with my shenanigans and pants ironing.

Grown-up Muppet fan (aka "Gentleman's Monkey") Rocco Fonzarelli takes a break with Kermit and Bobo.

We all like monkeys! What did you do before you worked in the field you’re in now?

KAMI: I managed an off-road racing team and was a graphic designer.

ROCCO: I prayed every day that I could work in the field I am in now.

What has it been like to work with director James Bobin?

Director James Bobin hard at work on "The Muppets".

ROCCO: The first day I met James, I walked into his assistant Kacie's office (she has a brief cameo in the film, by the way). I was so excited, I asked her if I could take a picture with her not knowing that James was working hard at his desk behind me. Kami, happened to be following me around just taking pictures, so it's funny that we have all this photographic proof.

I literally tripped backwards into James office, turned around to see that I was clearly bothering him, my heart sunk to my knees, and I did the only thing I know how to do. I threw my arms up in the air and said "Hey, James! It's me, Rocco." He looked at me without missing a beat. Put down his pencil, and I kid you not, threw his arms in the air and said, "Hey, nice to meet you," and gave me a side hug and took a picture with me.

Besides how nice he is, to watch him work professionally was phenomenal. I mean “Flight of the Conchords” was and is one of the greatest shows of all time. This guy knows comedy. But besides comedy, he knows how to tug at your heart strings as well. This movie has a lot of heart. An instant classic, but it definitely explores territory where no Muppet has ever gone.

KAMI: Bobin is fantastic to work with. He likes collaboration from everyone involved. He let's professionals do their jobs and be creative; but at the same time, he has his vision and sets the direction for everyone to go. He gave us the parameters and left us to create the sound scape for the movie.

Did you get time to work with Jason Segal or Amy Adams?

KAMI: Jason Segal has to be the nicest guy in the business, and he loves the Muppets. I think he brings the heart to the movie. I didn't personally work with Ms. Adams, but she is such a pure talent. I would love to work with her sometime soon.

Halloween was just a few weeks ago. With that in mind, what has been one of the scariest moments for you during the production of “The Muppets”?

Johnny Fiama is in the house! Watch the joy on Rocco's face as he hears a personalized message from Johnny Fiama (Bill Baretta) for the first time. He is also presented with his own customized Muppet Whatnot Puppet from director James Bobin.

KAMI: Meeting Rocco…

ROCCO: The scariest thing for me has been knowing it's going to wrap. We just had a premiere and then the film is out at Thanksgiving. So, I'm bummed that it's over.

If you want to help me get over this emotionally traumatic experience, I need everybody to go out and see the movie opening day and two more times over Thanksgiving weekend so we can get the green light and start working on the next Muppet project! It's only fair, right?

What was the most bizarre moment during the production of “The Muppets”?

KAMI: Meeting Gonzo and talking to him like he was an old friend, and not noticing that Dave Goelz was even there.

ROCCO: For me, the surreal-ness of it all. Just going to the stage and getting a full film education by watching James direct, seeing James Thomas (picture editor who never gets enough credit as far as I'm concerned) shape the story into something that really flows so beautifully.

Watching Bret rock out to this giant orchestrated masterpiece, knowing he knows what he is feeling is about to be unleashed on the world. Knowing that my bosses Kami Asgar, Sean McCormack, and Jill Brietzman are sitting in the back of the room smiling like proud parents realizing they have a smash hit film on their hands that is really going to impact the culture.

So, to answer your question, the bizzarro moment for me was getting to watch this every day and wondering how I got so lucky.

What does it take to be successful in audio production?

ROCCO: LOL, let's see, providential pre-destination? I hate to upset and make the fans jealous but I literally woke up one morning and was working on “The Muppets” somehow. I still have no idea how it happened. All I can say is to be successful in any career say yes sir, yes ma’am, act like you know what you’re doing, and smile a lot, which was not hard to do on this film.

KAMI: Respect the job and your crew.

Rocco, Kermit and Muppeteer Steve Whitmire (Kermit, Rizzo, Beaker).

Are there any behind-the-scenes secrets to making your job easier?

KAMI: I have two great partners that share the responsibilities with me, Sean McCormack and Tim Tuchrello. The secrets to our success have been working with most talented crew in our business.

ROCCO: Yes; but, I can’t tell you (because it's a secret).

What memory did you take with you from your work on this movie?

KAMI: The great time, hanging with James Bobin, James Thomas, and Rocco of course.

ROCCO: Every day was a new memory. The one thing I can tell you is I feel like the luckiest fan. I got to see the film in every edit and every version without trailers or teasers or on-line scene leaks. So if you want to experience the same joy I felt the first time I saw the movie don’t watch anything and be the first in line on November 23. And then go back and watch it 17 more times.

What’s the next project for you?

ROCCO: There is always something; but, nothing will be as fun as working with the Muppets. When I moved to L.A. and started meeting people in the industry that I admired, I was usually disappointed and started getting that "you shouldn't meet your idols" kind of attitude after a while. With the Muppets, that fear was there, and completely vanquished with the first moments of being onset. I mean everyone in every department was truly the best crew ever! It’s very rare. I think it's because everyone has such a huge respect for the Muppets as legends and icons. Everyone was willing to do whatever it takes to make this movie shine.

KAMI: Hopefully another Muppet movie will happen, real soon.

What audience do you hope to reach with “The Muppets”?

KAMI: The Muppets really have a broad audience from young children to older audiences. The humor, the songs and the character are endearing to all.

ROCCO: This is one of those ‘everybody needs to see this’ kind of movies. You know how right around the summertime certain franchises give you a lot of CG, a lot of explosions, and a lot of special effects; but when it comes down to storyline, it gets pretty thin. Then you leave the theater thinking, man I wish I had the last 2 hours and my ten bucks back. In “The Muppets” you’re getting to see true artists, the greatest of their kind, in every aspect of this film. They are always giving their absolute best and that's the fourth greatest gift in the world.

Music has always been an important component to what makes the Muppets are who they are. Working with them, working with the music—what do you feel has been rewarding in that area and what has been challenging about it?

Pre-order "The Muppets" Original Motion Picture Soundtrack.

ROCCO: The most rewarding for me has been to watch Bret McKenzie air guitar to his compositions. Seriously, this guy wrote some incredible Muppetational songs. We were doing a playback and in a playback the sound is really cranked. If you have seen pictures or video, our room is huge. Bret is standing in the middle air guitaring to a song he has composed and you can tell it's really getting him off, ya know? Meanwhile, I'm standing there in awe of his talent. It was surreal.

What you are about to witness on Thanksgiving is the combination of a comedic and musical genius with which the world has never seen. I don't want to undersell this. This is a historical moment in film history and I can't believe I got to be a part of it.

KAMI: This movie is truly a musical at heart, but unlike most musicals this movie has great humor that is current and has a “Flight of the Conchords” feel to it. You can't help but sing along to all the songs.

What will bring back those awesome “The Muppet Show” feelings to the retro-crowd?

Rocco Fonzarelli: Man or Muppet?

ROCCO: To me, the Muppets are timeless and I think that is what this movie creates is a sense of timelessness. As far back as I can remember there were Muppets, and as far as I can see forward there will be Muppets.

KAMI: First must be the songs. The original Muppet Show and movie had fantastic song-writing. The songs in this movie, with the incredible song-writing of Bret McKenzie, really tip a hat to the originals but with a fresh take.

Next has to be the humor. Bobin really relies on the original cast (Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzie, Animal and so on) to be central in the comedy. At the same time we have some new additions that you have to meet.

What were your feelings and expectations about working with the Muppets?

ROCCO: I'm definitely a huge fan. Back in 2001 I met everybody at the Muppet convention, except Piggy. Whatever my expectations were, working with the Muppets exceeded my expectations. Every day was a joy. Our crew at 424 Post productions is the best in the business because we are a family and now I think we all feel like were a part of a bigger Muppet family.

The fans didn't think we'd ever see characters like Thog, Uncle Deadly and others again. What do you think about being in a production where you get to bring back the life of characters that have been gone for nearly 30 years?

KAMI: That's what I love, these guys were around when I was a kid and they needed to be the main cast. I love some of the lesser or more recent guys but the originals still have the most depth.

ROCCO: Yeah, it's really great to see Lew Zealand and Crazy Harry back in action. It's great that all the classic Muppets are working and are back together again. For a while you know Behemoth was a security guard at Fox Hills mall, Uncle Deadly’s Pancake and Mortuary House restaurant chain has been struggling in this economy, and Beautiful Day Monster was doing those embarrassing cash call commercials, so it's great to see everybody doing what they were designed by their creator to do.

Rocco Fonzarelli meets the Muppeteers: Eric Jacobson , left (Miss Piggy, Fozzie, Animal), Matt Vogel (Floyd, Uncle Deadly, Crazy Harry) and Bill Barretta (Rowlf, Dr. Teeth, Pepe).

Growing up what was your first experience with the Muppets? What has made them most memorable to you?

ROCCO: I grew up on the Street man. (The Sesame Street)

KAMI: I grew up in England in the mid-seventies, and really the only show I remember was once a week watching the Muppets with my family. It really made my parents happy that I got to work on one of their favorite shows. Showing the Muppets to my kids and seeing how much it delights them, as it did when I was their age.

According to the print media, this film represents the Muppets big comeback. When we read things like this, we sometimes wonder what are they coming back from and where are they going?

KAMI: Wow, Big question. I think there was a need for a fresh take. Everyone loves the Muppets, but the right group of people came together and resurrected the Muppets with respect paid to how people perceive them. This is truly a Muppet movie, and lays groundwork for the Muppets to continue for this generation.

ROCCO: I think both the fans and the Muppets know that they actually never went away. The last few years they have had huge success on Youtube. I know Johnny and Sal did the Jerry Lewis telethon. Kermit and Fozzie were out on the road promoting Season 3 of The Muppet Show, Miss Piggy's on The View all the time. So my question would be more like, where have you been?

Which is easiest, supervising sound or Muppets?

KAMI: Well, since my day job is supervising sound, it comes naturally. Muppets on the other hand are very unpredictable.

Rocco and Miss Piggy eye-to-eye, pork to flesh.

Which Muppet character were you most excited to meet?

ROCCO: Hands down, Miss Piggy. I had already met a lot of the guys at the Muppet convention in 2001, but Miss Piggy was breathtaking. I couldn't speak when I met her. My supervisor Jill and I went on set where the gang was filming commercials for Thanksgiving promotions and I ran into Miss Piggy backstage. I was speechless. I have worked with some pretty big and well known stars in my career, she is the biggest. For the record Johnny Fiama and Sal are my favorite guys, but Piggy is stunning.

KAMI: I loved meeting Bobo.

How do you define “being Muppety?”

ROCCO: Just in general having a “Hi-ho” attitude. And, for the record, I wore a different Muppet shirt to work every day for the past three months. I had to make a few shirts so I wouldn't start getting stinky. But when I did get stinky, I just blamed Sweetums or Steve Schatz.

KAMI: Being a little bit different, innocent, and have a big heart.

What do you think folks will take home with them after seeing “The Muppets”?

ROCCO: This movie has it all. There is definitely something for everyone.

KAMI: They will be singing the tunes and want to see more of the Muppets. I hope you enjoy the movie as much as we did working on it.

Thank you for the interview.

(I then had a few more moments to ask questions to Rocco, so check out this fun tidbit.)

The fans can imagine that working one-on-one with a Muppet might be pretty easy; but, when you had to work with several at once, how do you keep control?

ROCCO: You don't! It’s absolute chaos and mayhem. You just make sure you draw the lines on the ground where Animal’s choke chain runs out, and put out a cheese plate for Rizzo. Actually, between Rizzo, Bobo, and a certain couple of Pigs who will remain nameless, the Craft Services budget surpassed the production budget by 17% The reason the movie got pushed up from Christmas to Thanksgiving was that they couldn't afford to feed everyone untill then.

Truth be told, is Miss Piggy hard to work with?

ROCCO: I was really excited to meet the cast, and Miss Piggy! Miss Piggy is a A-list, different kind of star. I was completely mesmerized by her presence. At some point Jill, our supervisor had to shake me because I thought I was dreaming. All I can say is, if only I wasn't a lowly gentleman's monkey. For the record, there were definitely some sparks, but she has not returned my phone calls or emails, and now this whole Mickey Rourke thing.

Rowlf the Dog is busy taking calls at 424 Post.

Gonzo is a weirdo, as we all know. Did he ever rub-off on you and you found yourself in a cannon, or trying to balance an anvil on your own nose?

ROCCO: Gonzo did rub off on me, as well as rub on me. All I can say is he is a monster at ping pong!

How cautious were you when time came to work with Animal?

ROCCO: When the director yells cut, one of my jobs was to take Animal for walks between takes. Everything was fine when we were at Disney Studios, it's very calm there. The birds are singing Zippity Doo Da, lots of open space.

When I had to walk him at the Universal stage he started chasing the Universal studios tour guide trams, and then everyone starts taking pictures, and the flash freaks him out, so it's usually a long day for both of us. He usually tuckers himself out pretty quick and sleeps it off. Animal and I are a lot alike actually. We saw Courtney Cox Arquette on the Universal lot and we both started jumping up and down yelling "WOMAN, WOMAN, WOMAN" then we looked at each other and realized we had shared a moment.

But did you share a bunny? Anyway, is it true that the Medical Care was provided by Muppet Labs?

ROCCO: I went in for a tetanus shot (walking Animal has its downside), and I came out missing a kidney. I'm told it's being used for a secret government project to ...I've said too much. You tend to lose track of time during your stay, the clocks are all wacky.

Thank you James Bobin and everyone at 424 Post. "The Muppets" film sounds great because of your dedication and hard work. We applaud you!

"The Muppets" premieres Wednesday November 23 in theaters nationwide. After you watch the movie be sure to stop by our discussion forum and talk about the show with Muppet fans from around the world.

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