Today we have the pleasure of welcoming the first member of The Muppets production team to stop by The Muppet Mindset for an interview! We’ll have a few more interviews with Muppet people in the coming weeks, so be on the lookout! But for now… read on!!
Interview with The Muppets Sound Team Member – Rocco Fonzarelli
Conducted by Ryan Dosier
RYAN: Today on The Muppet Mindset we’re thrilled to welcome one of the integral behind the scenes members of the team that worked on The Muppets. Rocco Fonzarelli had the incredible opportunity of being on the sound team that worked on the film and is awesome enough to sit and talk to us about it. Welcome, Rocco! Tell us a little bit about your job on the film. What is your official job title and what duties did it entail?
ROCCO: My official job title is Gentlemens Monkey for the post production company 424 Post. My duties include making really bad cappuccinos, getting in everyone’s way, holding the door for Muppets Supervisor Jill Breitzman, and pants ironing.
RYAN: You got to work with some of the great Muppet performers including Dave Goelz and Bill Barretta when they came into the recording studio. What was that like?
ROCCO: UNREAL! Our sound supervisor Kami Asgar (who also worked on Muppets From Space) had to introduce me to Dave Goelz and Bill Barretta because I was too shy to even say hello. Dave came into to do ADR (automated dialogue replacement) and loop some lines for Gonzo. I wish I could tell you the line, because it’s great. Ask me after Thanksgiving so I can be free to speak. So… Dave says, “Nice to meet you.” My response was something along the lines of, “Oh, I met you before in 2003 at the Muppet convention. You signed my coloring book.” The sound crew erupted in laughter and everybody realized they had a fanboy on the set. To most of the sound crew, it is not as exciting as it is for me. Our mixer worked on Empire Strikes Back, so he was used to working with icons. Bill came in to loop some lines for Chef. I mentioned Johnny Fiama–my favorite Muppet–within my first breath of meeting Bill. After three takes someone says, “Okay Bill, let’s do one more for safety,” to which Johnny replied, “Whoa, whoa, whoa. Johnny Fiama does not do more than three takes. Rocco knows, right Rocco?” I was like, “Please tell me we got that on tape.” Sadly, we did not. I hate to use the word surreal so much, but it’s nuts. As I am typing this to you now, Brett McKenzie is in front of me air guitaring to the music he has written and beautifully orchestrated as we do playback fixes, with James Bobin to my left.
Also, this week, I got another INCREDIBLE surprise from our Post Production Supervisor Jill. She basically says, “You, get in the car, were going to do promotions.” I get in, and we wind up at the studio where the whole gang is filming some promotional commercials. As I said before, I went to the 2003 Muppet convention in Santa Monica where I met Gonzo, Floyd, Sweetums, Pepe, Johnny, Sal, Kermit, etc. But I ran into Miss Piggy for the first time backstage at the commercial taping that day… and she is breathtaking, literally breathtaking. Our conversation went something like…
PIGGY: Are you going to be okay? (to Jill) Is he going to be okay? Breathe, breathe, in, out.
ME: I’m sorry Miss Piggy, I just never thought I would get a chance to see you in person.
PIGGY: I know, I know, it’s okay.
I can’t tell you how our conversation ended. It was too much for me to take in. Talking to Kermit was a little easier because we had met at the convention… I was talking to Sal about his short stint as a boneologist and he decided to grab Kermit and recreate that moment so that was really awesome. But Piggy… I can’t even tell you what we talked about, I was absolutely starstruck.
RYAN: You also received an incredible gift from Bill Barretta and one of his closest friends which came with a little help from director James Bobin. Can you talk us through this moment and how it felt to get such an incredible present? (I’m only slightly jealous.) (And by slightly, I mean entirely.)
ROCCO: My boss, Princess Jill Breitzman, realized early on that I was a HUGE Muppet fan. Back up to last Thanksgiving… I was layed off from my job due to the MGM Studios going bankrupt. Then I found out I had to have heart surgery again. Long story short, I had a really rough year and Muppets Supervisor Jill and the sound team decided to do something really nice for me… they had Johnny Fiama come in and sing. While Jill was in New York doing a preview, she had a Rocco–I mean Rokko Muppet made for me at the Whatnot Workshop. They kept the secret really well for like a month until I got a call one Friday morning by boss Sean McCormick (gentlemens monkeys have a lot of bosses) to come to the stage immediately. So I came in and sat down and that’s where the video takes over. I have watched it about 100 times and I still can’t believe it.
ROCCO: Well, as you can tell from the leather Jacket, he is definitely a Moopet. Where as you and I have more of a Hi-ho attitude, he has more of a cynical world view. Like the other day, my boss Tim texted me and Rokko grabbed my phone and texted him back things a Muppet would never say. He gets away with a lot.
RYAN: Is he in the new film?
ROCCO: No, he tried out but… his screen test was with Amy Adams, and let’s just say, it didn’t go well. Now he has to stay at least 400 yards away from Ms. Adams at all times–at least that’s what his restraining order says. He has been in the industry for a while. He was a production assistant on Americas Top Model, and had a bit part on That 70’s Show as a bartender, so he has had an interesting career to say the least.
RYAN: Is Rokko dating anyone?
RYAN: Just to aggravate the jealousy of Muppet fans even further… tell us how many times you’ve gotten to see the movie.
ROCCO: I have seen the movie at least 20 times. In every stage and every edit. It is FANTASTIC.
ROCCO: The coolest thing was watching the story develop into what it is, and what you are about to see. They had a great story from the beginning but as the weeks and months passed, just watching how James Thomas (picture editor) shaped the story line, and gave the film such a natural flow was incredible.
ROCCO: Well, without giving anything away, Walter, the new Muppet, represents us, the true Muppet fans. So, without sounding cliché, the character that shines is you. You are Walter. I am Walter. We are all Walter.
RYAN: We’ve figured out, and you’ve mentioned a couple times to me, that this movie was made for Muppet fans. How do you expect Muppet fans, and non-hardcore fans, to react to the film?
ROCCO: Everyone is going to love this movie. After going to several previews with people from all walks of life, it really touches people across the board. It’s got it all.
RYAN: As part of the sound team, did you get to work on the music for the film at all? If so, how do the songs measure up to previous Muppet classics? No, Brett McKenzie (1/2 of Flight of the Conchords) wrote all the songs and they are fantastic. I am a musician, so I really appreciate the songs. They are all instant classics. So funny, heart warming, and arranged and orchestrated to perfection.
RYAN: What is your favorite part of your job?
ROCCO: Talking to you man.
RYAN: If you had to compare the “feel” of The Muppets to any of the other Muppet movies, which one would it be?
ROCCO: There are elements of all the previous films in this movie. That is part of the genius that Jason and Nick captured so well.
ROCCO: Be patient, it’s worth the wait. AND DON’T WATCH THE PREVIEWS! To me, watching the previews is like opening your presents before Christmas–or in this case Thanksgiving.
RYAN: In your opinion, what should Muppet fans be most excited about?
ROCCO: That we have a movie made by us for us. The crew of this film is filled with people who are Muppet fans and that shows on screen. And if it does well, because traditionally Muppet movies don’t do big numbers at the box office, there will be more to come! So get out there and see it on opening day! And maybe a couple more times over Thanksgiving weekend!
ROCCO: You will not believe your eyes and ears. An instant classic!
RYAN: One last question for you, Rocco… Is it November 23rd yet?
Thanks so much to Rocco for doing this interview with me. He really are living the dream! I’m sure I can speak for the whole Muppet fan community when I wish the entire team of The Muppets the best of luck and in saying that we can’t wait to dump our praises on you.
The Muppet Mindset by Ryan Dosier, firstname.lastname@example.org