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My Version of Behind the Scenes of "The Muppet Movie"

Discussion in 'Classic Muppets' started by Tim, Apr 14, 2006.

  1. travellingpat

    travellingpat Well-Known Member

    Thats awesome! Thanks!
  2. minor muppetz

    minor muppetz Well-Known Member

    Who's to say that somebody else was originally planned to be there? I think the screening room scenes featured a good mix of main, secondary, and minor characters. These scenes also have every major Muppet from the movie, with the obvious exception (untill the end) of Sweetums (I keep thinking that he should have caught up with the cast before the story ended, instead of jumping through the screen... either that, or he should have made more random cameos, like when he ran out of the tent).

    However, I do keep thinking it's strange that there weren't more fairly major characters in the screening room, such as The Newsman, Dr. Strangepork, Annie Sue, Gladys, and Beauregard, as well as Thog, Droop, and Louis Kazagger. Since the first draft of the script was most likely written before the thrid season began, there probably wasn't much time to include characters who were introduced in season three, and I have a feeling that Lew Zeland's lines were written in one of the last drafts, possibly because of his sudden, unexpected popularity (he was originally meant to be a one-shot character).
  3. Tim

    Tim Well-Known Member

    I don't know what the thinking was behind that scene, or how much pre-planning went into "casting" that shot, but I can tell you this. I got a look at Jim's personal production notebook, (a 3-ring binder with that full-color close-up photo of Gonzo and the balloons we've all seen on the cover) and there was a layout for that scene. In one of the sheet protector pages was a photo-copied sketch of the screening room set looking down at the floor layout, puppeteer pits and all. The little chairs were represented by what looked like capital letter "D"s and the names of which characters that were supposed to be sitting where hand-written inside each. The sketch matched the scene as it was set up, so nothing was left to last minute chance or on-set change.
  4. minor muppetz

    minor muppetz Well-Known Member

    That sounds cool. I wonder how often that kind of stuff is done for crowd scenes like that. I guess it was probably done for The Muppet Show opening and the wedding finale of The Muppets Take Manhattan, and I suppose there probably wasn't much planning like this for The Muppet Movie finale (maybe there were arrangements regarding what types of characters went where, but probably not any specific order of where each character was supposed to be).
  5. Tim

    Tim Well-Known Member

    The sketch in "Muppets & Men" shows a similar solution with characters indicated in which archway.

    When we first blocked the Rainbow Finale (durning a break of the Mel Brooks scene) Jim called me over along with every available crew member to an open area on stage and had us stand close together with our hands in the air. (one of the big Teamsters right next to me said to his friend "What is this-a hold up?"). Jim and Frank stood on a piece of equipment trying to visualize the scene, and how many people and puppets it would take. Jim estimated a high number of characters (naturally) but Frank reminded him about "bulky puppets".

    The day of the shot Jim Frawley expalined the scene to us, he showed some beautiful full-color drawings of what the final shot was to look like (never saw that again), but all we had to work with was a large whiteboard with a huge oval drawn on it with black marker representing the hole in the stage for the puppeteers to stand. Inside of that were circles indicating which group of puppets went where ("Sesame Street", "Emmett Otter", etc.), and an oval practice grid painted on the floor of the stage next to the screening room set. Once puppets wer assigned, and groups assembled on the grid we were to remember which number (or rather what part of the squared-off numbers) we were standing on.

    With our puppet characters on our hands and the "Big Guys" following us(quite a sight for anyone on lot that day) we trooped along in broad daylight to the other stage where the Rainbow set was up. All we had to do was crawl under the false floor to the open area, find our spot on the grid pained here, and remember who we stood next to.

    Not to sophisticated, but it worked.
  6. Erine81981

    Erine81981 Well-Known Member

    I love it. Great story Tim. I'm enjoying all the questions and answers to your questions. Did you get to try on Grover and Herry Monster anytime you were there?
  7. minor muppetz

    minor muppetz Well-Known Member

    That sounds cool. It's too bad that neither of the Muppet Movie DVDs have concept sketches or promotional art for the movie. Those would make great special features.

    I think it's interesting that the performers had to remember who they were standing next to. The whole scene was one long take. There weren't any alternate shots of different angles during the scene. It makes sense that certain characters were grouped together, and it makes sense that character duos were next to each other, but odd that the puppets had to be in a consistent order in the scene.
  8. Tim

    Tim Well-Known Member

    I remeber trying Herry and figuring out how his eyebrows worked (just like Bert's but surprisignly tricky to do), but I don't remeber getting to know Grover (darn it!)
  9. Tim

    Tim Well-Known Member

    Yeah, I was SO dissappointed with the so-called "50th" Edition of TMM since it had less extras than the regular one. In 2004 the film turned 25 years old, and it would have been so cool had they done a big 2-disk set with conceptual art, new and vintage interviews and "The Muppets Go Hollywood" special (the director of which, Stan Harris also directed me in my televison pilot a few year later). Thanks, Brian.

    I think all that grid business was just to save time and make things easier. It certainly wouldn't have mattered at all if someone changed places, just Muppet groups-most "duos" were performed by the same person anyway. I wasn't going to give up my spot since even though I got the least screen time, it wound up being one of the most visible, especially in books and production shots!
  10. David French

    David French Well-Known Member

    Out of interest Tim, were the scenes set in the projector room the last to do of the whole film or were there still bits to do? The reason I ask is because I wondered if you got to watch the film like the Muppets do in that scene.

    Also, were all the scenes set in the projector room done on the same day or on different days? Were you involved in the final projector scene (the one while the end credits roll)? If so, was any of it scripted or was it all ad-lib?
  11. minor muppetz

    minor muppetz Well-Known Member

    Of course, as most of us already know, Earl "Was Once Ernie" Kress only performed Ernie, and he said that the person performing Bert only performed Bert, and he mentioned that Richard Hunt performed both Statler and Janice, so somebody else performed Waldorf (I am surprised by this, and also surprised that Hunt didn't perform Scooter in this scene).

    I guess there weren't any monitors in the scene, right (there would have had to have been hundreds of monitors for everybody)?
  12. Was Once Ernie

    Was Once Ernie Well-Known Member

    There were monitors... in the front of the pit. Only the people up there could see them, including Jim and Frank, of course. But from where Jerry Nelson or Richard Hunt were, I don't even know if they could see them.

    Jim and Frank kept watching playbacks on the monitor between takes.

  13. Tim

    Tim Well-Known Member

    Most films are usually shot roughly in order, with location or outdoor backlot shooting generally the first to be done for any number of reasons. Kermit's swamp scene was pretty much the first to be shot, and we finished up with the Rainbow bit kind of at the end. Since the screening room was the first scene was the first interior scenen in the movie it was done about halfway through the schedule. Not knowing for sure, (since I was only there for the first day they used it-the shots of the camera moving over the whole group and then when Kermit enters) I would guess that would have taken 3-4 days to do since the entire set had to be shot from two opposite angles. That would of course require completely repositioning cameras and lighting, tearing at least part of the back wall out and adding the movie screen wall. It's possible, they might have used any downtime while they rebuilt the set to shoot smaller stuff, but I never saw anything but much of that one day. The film within the film was of course an optical effect dropped in after principal photography was done, so the screen would have been blank anyway.

    The early draft of the script I have suggests the characters talk over the end credit roll, and has suggested lines, but I'm sure a lot of that was partly ad-libbed, or worked out right before filming (Sweetums eating the fish, for example).
  14. Was Once Ernie

    Was Once Ernie Well-Known Member

    They actually shot the "Magic Store" song and the scene that comes before the big finale after we shot the rainbow scene. I know this because I was there two days later. That was how I got to go to dailies and see the "Magic Store" scenes, plus the all-Muppet finale.

    So, even though in the big finale the wreckage of the set is strewn about the stage, it actually hadn't happened yet.

  15. Tim

    Tim Well-Known Member

    Makes sense..why wreck the scenery before you have to!

    Anyway, that scene had to be done last. Time or People magazine (can't remember which offhand) making the point of how busy Jim was during that period writing something to the effect of "sweeping up the rainbow and heading back to England for the new season of TMS", and I know he pretty much said the same thing in an interview. It was October and I would think he had a week or two at most to be back in Europe.

    BTW I know Jim stayed at The Sportsmen's Lodge on Ventura Blvd. during his stay out here. Anyone know where the others bunked in for the duration?
  16. travellingpat

    travellingpat Well-Known Member

    Hmm no idea! how many hotels are in that area...must have taken a lot of rooms to fit all the puppeteers.

    How many were there? Does anyone know for sure? -not sure if this has been asked earlier but i dont want to go all the way back
  17. minor muppetz

    minor muppetz Well-Known Member

    I have noticed that in the first screening room scene, just as the lights go off and the film is about to start, Fletcherbird and Mean Mama get out of their seats (it looks like Fletcherbird just stands up, but Mean Mama definately leaves the room). Do you happen to know if there was any meaning to this? I don't know how often background actions are written into the scripts, but could the people inside of them have been told to leave, or could the costumed actors have felt like standing up? Doglion remained seating, though.
  18. Tim

    Tim Well-Known Member

    Generally speaking NOTHING happens on camera that is not supposed to, and that includes signifigant background action.

    I don't remeber the shot itself off hand, and I'd have to look at it again to guess why they moved, but it could be anything from prepairing a camera move, to the timing of a scene (an upcoming cut the director was planning on doing) to simply putting more action into the room at that moment. Since most of the rest of the puppets were locked into their chairs maybe they just wanted to create the illusion that the characters were all so excited about the film starting that they were looking for the best seats by moving one or two of the largest figures.

    At any rate I think we can rule out puppeteers needing a potty break while fim was rolling!
  19. minor muppetz

    minor muppetz Well-Known Member

    I'm trying to figure out what you mean. I don't see how nothing that is not supposed to happen on-camera happens on-camera. I know of times when things that weren't supposed to happen on-camera happened on-camera (call it improv).
  20. Tim

    Tim Well-Known Member

    Well, except for "bloopers" that are left in a film and improvising scenes, major things like figures moving about are not done on the spot. Certainly no one would have been allowed to just get up and walk out beacause they would have gotten tired. I've done a few bits where I've had noting to do but hold up a character in the background and was directed as if I was carying the scene.

    The rainbow scene was a good example. I remember Mr. Frawley concerned about how "the big guys" at the back of the group were to look up at the rainbow in time to the camera move as well as Jim and Frank telling everyone not to shake the heads as they held the last note of the song-like anyone would really notice on the Koozbanian babies.

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