Today I am really excited to showcase this interview with my good friend Arianne Gallagher, who I’ve known through online correspondence for many years. Arianne and I met in New York City in October of last year for Jerry Nelson’s memorial tribute. She’s truly a wonderful person. It’s because she is so great that I didn’t mind too much when I found out she would be visiting the set of The Muppets… Again in London! Yes, thanks to the awesomeness of our mutual friend Bill Barretta, Arianne got to go to the set, meet the Muppet performers (and a few Muppets), and enjoy craft services. She was kind enough to answer a few of my questions for the following interview. Enjoy!
ARIANNE: I don’t think the lobster banditos would appreciate the bisque (they’re still holding the Swedish Chef at gunpoint!), but thanks for the offer!
RYAN: Can you start off by telling us a little bit about how exactly you got the opportunity to visit the set of The Muppets… Again in London?
ARIANNE: Sure, to make a long story short, my visit to the set is all thanks to the incredible generosity of Bill Barretta! We met at Jerry Nelson’s memorial in NYC last fall and we continued to keep in touch. I met him again when he and his family were visiting in DC and during that visit, he told me if I was ever in London between January and April of 2013, he would be happy to host me on set for a day. Needless to say I immediately planned a small vacation to London at the end of March that culminated in a visit to Pinewood Studios to hang out on set of The Muppets… Again, an opportunity of a lifetime! I am forever grateful to Bill and I had an amazing time that I will never forget!
RYAN: How much time did you get to spend on set? Who all did you get to meet/hang out with?
ARIANNE: Thankfully I got to spend the entire day on set!! They were filming in two different soundstages at Pinewood Studios, focusing the day’s filming on two different sets. Throughout the day I got to go back and forth between the sound stages and observe the filming on each of the sets.
Bill was a great host and introduced me to several of the Muppeteers including Steve Whitmire, Matt Vogel, and Mak Wilson and re-introduced me to Muppeteers that I have met previously including Dave Goelz and Louise Gold. I also met many members of the crew, including many people who have been working with the Muppets for decades. Ricky Gervais was on set as well. Dave Goelz was a great host on the second soundstage, where he was filming for most of the day. I always knew that it takes a lot of people to make a movie, but my visit really showed me how many moving parts are all going on at the same time and how incredibly complex it is to get great shots for a Muppet movie that may only be seconds of film but involve a lot of technical complexities and lot of time shooting. After my visit I admire all the people, cast and crew who come together to make a Muppet movie, even more than I did previously, which I thought was impossible.
I do want to say that there is A LOT that I wish I can say, but unfortunately I cannot–one of the conditions of my set visit was that I had to sign a non-disclosure agreement, which is basically a contract where I agreed to not reveal information about the film and what I observed that day. It’s not that I don’t want to share, but legally I cannot and being an attorney and knowing what goes into those contracts, I fully intend to comply with that agreement. What I can say is that the filming I was able to observe was fantastic and based on my short visit, I really think that The Muppets… Again is going to be a great movie!!
RYAN: What was your favorite moment from your time on set (that you can share with us)?
ARIANNE: That’s a really tough question, since so many of the moments were just amazing. Looking back, I think my favorite moment would have to be when I was on set with Dave Goelz on the second soundstage. He took me on the actual set and showed me some set pieces and how they were made, describing how the London crew would mold many of the set pieces by hand with amazing detail, to make the set look just right. He also described how they were shooting the scene and what the crew would do for the final cut. I learned a ton of great things about movie-making and his enthusiasm for all of the techniques and technology was infectious. I also loved observing how the Muppeteers interact with one another–you can tell that they have very strong friendships and have great working dynamics with one another, which is one reason why I think the Muppets and their performances are so great. More than anything I love just being there; I really felt like in some small way, I was a part of it all, and it was one of the greatest feelings ever.
RYAN: Can you tell us what Muppets you got to see in-person?
ARIANNE: For the day I was there the Muppets that I saw in person were Gonzo, Kermit, Constantine and Fozzie, which was the coolest thing ever! I was a little disappointed that I didn’t get to see Miss Piggy, because she is my absolute favorite Muppet and role model, someday I really hope to meet her. But, the characters I did see look great and there are so many people who work constantly to make sure they look perfect for each shot. There were many handlers and other crew members they brought from the creature shop that would spend hours making sure the characters looked perfect, down to the very last detail, which was amazing to watch. I think everyone is going to get a great kick out of Constantine and I can’t tell you who performs him but I will say that they were doing a GREAT job with that character; the look and the voice were priceless!
RYAN: Describe how it felt walking on set for the first time and seeing the Muppets and the Muppeteers right before your eyes. I’m sure it was breathtaking, to say the least.
ARIANNE: It felt so surreal–When I got backstage on the set they were tons of people running around working on different things, and all of a sudden I saw the area where they were keeping the characters in between takes and everything just stood still for a moment: seeing characters that you have laughed with and loved for so long, it’s a great moment where you feel this overwhelming sense of joy, like a child at Christmas. Then actually seeing the Muppeteers walk by and watching them perform–it was wonderful. I was watching Steve Whitmire rehearse without Kermit for a bit and just watching how he would take tiny, minute movements of his hand to convey a ton of different emotions and reactions, then watching him perform the same movements with Kermit and seeing what those tiny movements produced–now that was breathtaking! It was amazing to see and made me better understand just how talented the performers are.
RYAN: How much can you share about what you saw being filmed? I’m sure it’s not very much, but you know how Muppet fans are… we’re always itching for details.
ARIANNE: You are right in that there is not a lot that I can share. What I can say is that the scenes I was observing occur near the end of the movie where the emotions are high and included many different technical shots, ones where it took a lot of rehearsal where Muppeteers had to deal with tons of different variables of the scene and still get the action and the emotion just right. They often spent hours shooting moments that would only last seconds on screen but will be great moments for the movie–some of which reference back to classic bits the Muppets have done before. I can also share that when I was talking to the Muppeteers, they all were very positive of how the filming was going and were positive about the overall plot and story of the movie and how the creative team was doing. One of the Muppeteers told me that since the current creative team had a Muppet movie under their belt and that everyone on the cast and crew were more comfortable, the quality and caliber of the work has been great overall with the whole team working well with one another, which is something I was able to see for myself firsthand. I really think that this is a great sign that all of us fans are going to see a great movie come March 2014.
RYAN: How was the tea on the London set?
ARIANNE: The tea and coffee were abundant, there aren’t a lot of days in London left to shoot so you could see that the cast and crew have been at the grindstone for a long time making sure they can get everything on film. I was on set for almost the whole day but everyone was there a least a few hours before I was, and it seemed like many long days were ahead so that they could finish shooting on time. I could also see why Rizzo loves craft services, because they were people constantly walking around offering tons of delicious food trying to keep everyone’s energy up and bellies full.
RYAN: Which Muppeteer is the biggest diva on set? It’s Peter Linz, right? I mean, just look at that hair!
ARIANNE: Ha! Hmm, that’s a tough one, but I do know who was the biggest joker on set, and that by far was Bill Barretta! I watched him perform the right hand of a character and before each take he would do something silly with the hand to indicate the line of movement for the character and it was hilarious–many of us watching were trying very hard to keep from laughing on set after Bill did this take after take. Bill is also the puppet captain for this film and is doing an incredible job working with each performer to make sure everything was going smoothly on and off the set. I heard from others that often Bill is one of the first people on set in the morning and always one of the last people to leave–even though the day was long, Bill did a lot to keep the humor and energy up and it was hilarious to watch!
RYAN: Is it true that Matt Vogel dresses like Traveling Matt?
ARIANNE: Hmm, I guess you could see some similarities in their style… Most of the cast and crew were bundled up because it definitely was cold in London. It was in the 30’s when I was there and many performers told me that this has been some of the coldest conditions that they have filmed in, including many of the outdoor scenes they had to shoot. Many breaks were spent around space heaters on the set. I hope it warms up for them for some of their last weeks filming in London but the weather forecast for London doesn’t look very promising.
RYAN: What was the most meaningful part of your trip?
ARIANNE: You’re definitely great at asking the tough questions! I think the most meaningful part of my trip was getting to spend so much time with the performers and tell them how much I appreciated what they do and how much I loved their work. Getting the opportunity to do that means an awful lot to me and being able to do that for other fans through the Postcard Project was also very meaningful and rewarding. Talking about favorite moments I had from different shows and then hearing some of the back stories behind them was really special. I also was able to have great conversations with them about some of my work, although it’s not as cool as the Muppets, but just having conversations just as people talking about things we cared about. I felt like part of the inner-sanctum for a day, which is something I’ll always treasure!
RYAN: I know you’re doing a full article about it on ToughPigs, but could you talk a little bit about the Muppeteer Postcard Project that you carried out for fans?
ARIANNE: Sure thing. Basically I was incredibly grateful that I was given this amazing opportunity to go on set of a Muppet movie and I wanted to figure out a way that I could share it with other fans like me while also bringing something nice for the Muppeteers to thank them for their work and for my visit. That’s when I came up with the Postcard Project: an opportunity for Muppet fans from anywhere to send Muppet performers postcards from where they were from telling the performers how much they appreciated them as fans. I thought it would be a nice tribute to Traveling Matt’s postcards that would produce a total win-win: the fans would know that the performers got something from them telling them how much they appreciated them and the performers got some nice small keepsakes from their fans. Thanks to you and the folks from ToughPigs and the MuppetCast for spreading the word because the response was fantastic!! Needless to say, when I brought the performers stacks of postcards for them they were thrilled and spent part of their breaks reading through them, which was also great to see. Check with ToughPigs in a few weeks for more details.
RYAN: Anything else you would like to share that we haven’t talked about?
ARIANNE: Just two small things: Overall I had a great vacation in London, partly because before my visit to the set, I took some time to visit some of the famous location shots in The Great Muppet Caper! Through a little research, I was able to figure out where some of these locations are, including the spots where they did the outside shots of the Happiness Hotel and the places in Battersea Park where they filmed the famous bicycle scenes, along with a few other locations. It was great going to these spots where 30 years ago Jim Henson, Frank Oz, Richard Hunt, Jerry Nelson and many others of the original crew shot some of the most famous Muppet scenes ever and then having the chance to go to the Tower of London and Pinewood Studios, where new Muppet history is being made. I told Dave Goelz about my trip to the Happiness Hotel site that morning and he told me about how he, Jim, and Frank had to crowd in the back of the taxi cab and how maybe he was a little bit nervous about the scene where they had to drive through the front doors! Also ironically enough, I love how the place where they shot the famous bicycle scene currently doesn’t permit bicycles, although a few people were going against the grain and riding there anyway. Leave it to Jim and the gang to film one of the most famous bike scenes ever at a place that doesn’t allow bike riding.
To view all of Arianne’s Great Muppet Caper comparison shots, visit The Muppet Mindset on Photobucket!
The second and last thing is that I really want to thank Bill Barretta and the cast and crew of The Muppets… Again for making my visit to the set so incredibly special! Everyone was so very kind and welcoming and I had an absolutely fantastic time observing it all and getting to be a part of it for one day. The Muppets… Again is going to be a great movie and I can’t wait to see it and hopefully once again meet up with all the incredible new friends I have made!
RYAN: Arianne, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us a little bit about your time on the set in London. I am just beyond thrilled that you got to go out and have this experience–and I’m insanely jealous, but you knew that.
ARIANNE: You’re very welcome, Ryan! I’m glad that I can share even just a little part of my experience with other fans! I am so incredibly excited for The Muppets… Again to come out after everything I’ve seen!
Huge thanks to Arianne Gallagher for doing this interview with us!
The Muppet Mindset by Ryan Dosier, firstname.lastname@example.org