The thing about a once in a lifetime opportunity is that it only comes around once and you have to take it. This past September I had such an opportunity. Disney/DreamWorks Event invited me to attend The Muppets Press Junket. As you probably already know by now I am a huge Muppets fan so I relish this opportunity even more. I was positively giddy as we crossed the gates of the Jim Henson Studio to interview the people behind The Muppets!!
I am so excited to share with your our interview with the director of The Muppets, James Bobin! James Bobin is a British director, producer, and one of the most inventive comedic writers in television. He created, wrote, and was executive producer for the hit series Flight of the Conchords.
What was the difference between directing Muppets and humans?
None. I say none because you are directing them to act in a certain way and humans deal with their emotional things with their face and the puppeteers use their hands. But the direction you give is the same. It’s how they interpret those notes in terms of their physicality that makes the difference. You’re doing the same job. And also you know, Muppets, the performers themselves are the same guys and the voices doing the mouth, so it’s like working with anyone. So no difference.
Do you have children? Do they love The Muppets?
Yes I do. They are very good experiments because my daughter’s four and my son’s two. So, uh, they are the perfect target age. My daughter came on set and, you know, she met Kermit, Steve was operating him, she looks at Kermit and she never once looked at Steve, ever. Ever, ever, ever. She just thinks Kermit is this frog that walks around and lives in Steve’s arms. It’s amazing! And it’s so lovely to see that. It’s a great testament to the character of Steve’s work that she just buys it. And for me, that is what the movie is about that. The idea that this world exists where puppets and humans co-exit very happily and it’s, you know, what I love that about it.
What was it like working with Jason Segel who was a writer and an actor in the film. Did you have different views?
No, no, no. ‘Cause obviously, no, it’s easy because obviously when I came on we were still working together and working on the script. And so when you do a job you do it ’cause you like the script. He’s a very affable guy, as I’m sure you know. So we got on very well.
We talked, chatted about, you know, we both are Muppet fans, we’re coming from the same place. And it was very clear, very quickly we wanted to make the same movie. We had the same idea about what it should be, what should happen in the movie. And, you know, he, he’s basically, you know, a six foot three Muppet, so it’s a delight to have him on set because he’s a very useful, you know, he’s a burst of great energy all the time. And he, you know, and he’s really funny and he gets it and he knew, you know, he was very pleased and proud of what we’re doing and all that stuff is great, you know. And he has a real emotional investment in the project.
I mean, you can’t ask for more than that because I mean he really cares about it and so really always gives extra a hundred and ten percent which is fantastic. So as a director I couldn’t ask for more.
Are there many cameos in the film?
Yes. We have a lot, I mean, you know, twenty or so, I think. A lot of people. A lot of people. And it’s really fun watching them just be in the movie. And some people play themselves and some of them play characters.
It’s very much like the old movies where you have some guys, you know, Bob Hope as an ice cream man but, you know what I mean, some people will just play themselves, like, you know, Orson Welles, kind of playing himself. So we did both things and for me, I really like the idea people come to watch the movie and see them for the first time and enjoy it like that. It’s kind of fun. So.
What was your first encounter with The Muppets?
I met them when they weren’t being puppeteered. So they were just in boxes and it was still really amazing ’cause they just feel like they were sleeping. Like they’re friends of yours, and they’re asleep. And it was really amazing to see them so alive and yet so static. It was just amazing. But that was interesting because you get a real sense of their size. You don’t really, Muppets are so, when you shoot it they always look roughly the same size. But in the real world they’re all different sizes. Like, you know, Kermit’s probably this big and Fozzie’s about this big, they’re completely different sizes. So for me as a director it was very important to get a sense of their relative sizes for shots and stuff straight away. That was my first job.
But then we had a read through with puppeteers and the puppeteers gracefully performed them at the same time and now it’s pretty amazing. Now it’s really like wow. Segel was actually crying I think. He really was. It’s true though. It’s true. I think that Kermit was saying some words that he had written and I know as a writer myself that would be a pretty amazing moment. So I’m sure. It’s amazing. It’s great and you can’t believe it. It was really fun and I’m just really pleased at how it turned out because they did such a great job.
If you were a Muppet, which one would you be?
Well, I have to be Kermit don’t I because I’m the one in charge. I have to like keep all the plates spinning all the time, you know, while chaos ensues all around me. And I’m the one who kind of helps everyone get through the morale boosting they need to get through.
THE MUPPETS opens in theaters everywhere on November 23rd!
Disclosure: Disney/DreamWorks provided me with an all-expense paid trip to Los Angeles for the press junket for The Muppets. All thoughts expressed are my own.