Jarrod Fairclough – On March 16th, Frank Oz’s documentary Muppet Guys Talking will be released, joining the small but growing list of documentaries about the world of Muppets. In 2012 we had Being Elmo, based on Kevin Clash, and then in 2014 Copper Pot Pictures released the gorgeous I Am Big Bird, detailing the career of Caroll Spinney. In his recent AMA, Frank was asked if he’d consider making more documentaries in this same vein, to which he stated:
…Yes there is a possibility of more people from Muppets talking that were not on camera this time, including other puppeteers, writers who worked with Jim and especially the workshop people who made the puppets. I think it’d be great for them to share their stories, too…
So, with that in mind, we’ve thought up ideas for just a few documentaries we’d like to see…
The Great Goelz – The Dave Goelz Story
Dave Goelz has been with The Muppets since 1973, originally hired as a builder, eventually transferring in to performing. With close to 45 years experience, on a multitude of productions including The Muppet Show, Muppet movies, The Dark Crystal, Labyrinth, Fraggle Rock and a brief stint on Sesame Street, Dave continues to be the longest serving Muppet performer in that particular franchise. It would be amazing to hear Dave’s many stories about working with Jim Henson, and how he created and developed the role of The Great Gonzo, arguably his most successful character. Plus, Dave’s been known to have a great tongue-in-cheek sense of humor, which would aid a playful documentary well.
The Wizardry of Oz
If there’s anyone with a more diverse career than Frank Oz, we’re yet to discover them. As a child of puppeteer parents, Frank was introduced to the concept at a young age, eventually becoming the ‘right hand man’ to Jim Henson, who became his best friend and mentor. Frank has created some of the most popular Muppet characters of all time, including Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Animal, Cookie Monster, Grover and Bert, but then gradually pulled away during the 1990’s to direct a slew of highly successful films such as Little Shop of Horrors, In and Out, Bowfinger and Death at a Funeral. For a period Frank seemed unsure of his place in Muppet history, or if he has a place going forward, but one thing has remained constant – Frank continues to think about Jim’s motivations and legacy in his work, which would make for a captivating and inspiring through-line.
Muppet Gals Talking
We’ve spoken before that puppetry seems to be a bit of a boys club, but we shouldn’t forget the tireless work of female puppeteers like Fran Brill (who, albiet is in Muppet Guys Talking), Karen Prell, Kathryn Mullen, and Louise Gold, as well as (relative) newcomers Julianne Buescher, Leslie Carrara-Rudolph, Pam Acerio, Carmen Osbahr, Jennifer Barnhart and Stephanie D’Abruzzo. We’d love to see all of these amazing women talk about how they rose through the ranks to create such full characters in all the various series’ over the years.
Gone, But Not Forgotten
Of the original core Muppet performers, we’ve lost Jim Henson, Richard Hunt and Jerry Nelson. What a way to honour their legacies than have their collegues Frank Oz, Dave Goelz and Steve Whitmire, as well as the current crop of core Muppet performers like Matt Vogel, David Rudman, Peter Linz and Bill Barretta, talk about their work, and how the new guys try to emulate and carry on the characters that these guys left behind when they passed.
That’s The Way The Boss Would Want It
When Jim Henson passed in 1990, an entire company of puppeteers, puppet builders, writers and many others were suddenly without a boss. After a very brief discussion on ending the Muppet franchise, Jim’s family and his fellow performers agreed that the show must go on. It would be interesting to hear from the people who were there how they went about navigating these uncharted waters without their ‘fearless leader’, how Steve Whitmire prepared to take on one of the most famous roles in television history, and how the performers rallied together to pull on what many thought was impossible – The Muppets without Jim Henson.
Though we’ve had brief looks before, this documentary would revolve around the creation and building of Muppet characters, from original ideas and designs, all the way to the final build. More How It’s Made than I Am Big Bird, it would be interesting to see the various techniques the puppet builders use to create simple characters like Kermit the Frog, to more dense characters like Bobo the Bear, all the way to the more realistic Creatures from The Jim Henson Company, as well as brand new characters.