Up Late with Miss Piggy Set Visit & Interview with “The Muppets” Executive Producer & Director Randall Einhorn, along with Executive Producer & performer Bill Barretta.
Walking onto the set of Up Late with Miss Piggy was a bit surreal in the fact that we were on the set where they filmed “The Muppets” and we all grew up with “The Muppets” shows.
I think Beaker was, and still is my favorite character. Although, I really like Animal because he’s awesome. In that regards, seeing the set for The Electric Mayhem Band was amazing! Who doesn’t love the Electric Mayhem?
[Tweet “Tune in tonight to see Dave Grohl on #TheMuppets. 8|7c on ABC. #ABCTVEvent”]
In sitting down with both Randall Einhorn and Bill Barretta, we knew that they would be a wealth of information as there is so much talent between those two men.
We discussed a lot of important things, but we started with what exactly an Executive Producer does and what their jobs were.
My Mom asked me that. What does an Executive Producer do? It’s interesting because even though we’re both Executive Producers, we have similar but different things that eventually come together at some point. I suppose the top is that obviously the stories and what the stories are gonna be and Bill more so than I because he’s been a Performer forever. It’s keeping track of what the Characters are doing and advising us whether we’re keeping them who they are because this has been going on for a long time and obviously, most people writing for the stories are relatively new to this so there’s a lot of it, at the script stage.
And then at the Production stage is where Bill and I tend to work together cause Bill’s the Muppet Captain so in terms of everything that’s gonna happen to his logistically he’s out doing it. – Randall
But what’s been a really interesting and fun challenge is Randall brings obviously to the table, aside from just being a great Director and great guy to work with, is the Documentary style of all of this, that the Muppets are not used to. We’ve always been used to working to a frame that we kind of help create composition with the Characters and where they are in the frame. We tend to play more presentational with the Muppets in most things that we’ve done, just about everything.
In this case, it was trusting and learning from Randall how to let the camera find the Characters. It’s a very different approach to how we do things. It’s similar logistically because of what was explained briefly about the floors and how we need to prove and do all this stuff. But it’s Randall who has the raw vision as a Director of how these pieces are ultimately all gonna come together. -Bill
Both Randall and Bill talked about the mechanics of using the Muppet Characters.
There’s different types of puppets. Kermit for example, is a puppet that you can almost see if you really look. You can almost see the knuckles of Steve Whitmire’s hand and they create those facial manipulations. He’s a very malleable Puppet. HAnd he also has arm rods that go into his wrists so he’s what we call a Rod Puppet. A character like Fozzie is usually operated by two people. It’s one person that’s doing the head and the behavior and the body of the Character and another to operate the hands. So it’s a whole collaboration between Puppeteers and different Characters operate in different ways.
Aside from Peter Lintz, most of the Characters are performed by 6 people. There’s also peripheral Characters that are becoming more involved but the ones who do the core kind of Muppets, there’s 6 guys and so if for example, I’m doing this scene where Pepe and Swedish Chef are in the same scene, I’ll need to have one like Peter Lintz who’s very familiar with the Characters, understands the rhythms and the timing of these Characters. They’ll perform the Character, one that maybe isn’t driving the scene so much. And then I’ll go in and I’ll do the dialogue later with the voice of the Character. -Bill
Or we often have to just turn it around and do the other half. -Randall
Which is a time consuming, which is again something that Randall takes into consideration, when we need to stop and let’s say Miss Piggy and Fozzie are in the same scene. Well both of those Characters are formed by the same Puppeteer. So to really get great performances from both that feel authentic and true to those Characters, Randall needs to take into consideration the time and how to shoot this so that Eric can start with Miss Piggy while we have somebody standing in for Fozzie. And then we come around like you said, and we shoot the other side and have Eric get out of Miss Piggy and go into Fozzie. So it’s a bit of a dance scene to make that happen. -Bill
I got to operate right hand once and all I had to do was just go like this [moved his hand] or something. And it was something really. And I was sweating! And I tried so hard. I never try hard. I was hunched down. I was trying to get about that big [shows us hunched down smaller]. -Randall
What is your production technique like?
Well for a Director’s standpoint, we prep an episode for 5 days, and then we shoot for 6 days. We’re trying to do four 10 hour days and two twelve hour days or two 14 hour days depending on if we go on location. A lot of that is just because of the time it takes in order for us to do the simplest thing, we need monitors and monitors and monitors, and floor removed. -Randall
That’s something we didn’t mention, is that we use television monitors so that we can see what the camera sees. That’s the only way that we’re able to see the Characters is to see what the camera sees. So the monitors are placed in very specific places depending on what the action is in the scene and what we’re doing. So that’s a whole other level of logistics and where we are and how we find the space to do this. -Bill
I would say that like for me, in directing any TV Show, be it a Comedy or be it a Drama, it takes 15 minutes at least to rehearse a scene and talk about it and block it. It takes 45 minutes to light that scene and do camera rehearsals for that scene. So if I have a scene like last week, this episode had like 28 scenes which means 28 hours in normal conditions of not shooting, like Fargo, I think I had 56 scenes which is 56 hours of not shooting.
This takes double, takes 2 hours to get your first shot off in a proper scene. So we have 28 scenes. That’s 56 hours of not shooting. That’s just to getting to the place where you’re shooting in five 12 hour days, is 60 hours, doesn’t leave a lot so we’ve got to move. -Randall
In a normal situation, the rehearsal time is the rehearsal time. The Actors are there, the cameras that you’re rehearsing. With us, a good bit of our rehearsal is while we’re shooting because we’re kind of learning for the first time exactly where these Characters are in the frame, what they need to do, how they need to pick something up. We’re constantly rehearsing because these dopey little Puppets that are in the way. -Bill
It’s the simplest thing, like eye line, am I looking at you or they don’t know until you see it on the monitor and they’re looking at the opposite, which is really weird so I can’t even wrap my head around it but everything’s reversed for them and it’s amazing that they’ll do it. -Randall
Did you guys look back at old episodes for inspiration?
Bill said that the “writers took it upon themselves to do as much research as they could, but actually the other performers and myself created a Character Bible that we hoped would at least give people who really don’t have a sense of who the characters are, some background, some history, possibly some places where the Characters could go in the future, some suggestions.”
They were trying to give the newer Puppeters a sense of directions for the Characters. He says the characters have evolved, for example that Gonzo isn’t the same guy he was 30 years ago.
He’s evolved and I think that’s because we as Performers and people evolve and our relationships. The relationships between the Muppets really come from a lot of other relationships beneath the Puppets. So we’re always finding new things and new ways of dealing with each other, and they don’t get along either. -Bill
How much input do you have with the Writers?
I would say a fair amount. While we’re shooting at least, I think a lot comes up. -Bill
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had somebody say to me, I don’t think my Characters would do that and this would be the first time that I actually say, OK. You’re probably right, being as you’ve played that Character for 25 years. -Randall
Sometimes we want to hold onto something that we believe is true but that doesn’t mean it can’t be funny or explored to go further to see what happens. -Bill
You can push but I think everybody here has the right to say, I don’t think I would do that in and if you’re smart, you listen. -Randall
Why a late night Talk Show?
That’s the idea that our Writing Staff came up with for the idea that this band, they’ve all banded together and to give Kermit some normal life, where he’s got a real job and he’s got a Mortgage, and he’s got, banking to do, and all that type of thing. I suppose it could have been any number of shows but I think a Talk Show places them in the real world where Piggy plays a Celebrity who has a Talk Show, kind of like Ellen. -Randall
And I think they like the idea of having a Female Late Night Talk Show host and it gave Piggy a place to be a Diva, to make everything about her and the Show is all about her and I think something that they liked and felt it would be fun to kind of explore and see what we do. -Bill
How do you cast the Guest Stars?
We just call them. -Randall
There’s a lot of calling friends. -Bill
Literally Mindy Kaling is on an episode coming up and I was like Mindy, could you, would you? We would love you to. A lot of it is people that we’ve worked with and also the people who love the Muppets, like Dave Grohl, He wanted to do it which is awesome. -Randall
Yeah, there are people who obviously want to come do it and then sometimes the script dictates who we need or type of person or we’ll write specifically for certain people. Sometimes they’re not available so we try to find who’s gonna be great in this kind of specific scenario or story line. -Bill
Reese Witherspoon wanted to do it from the get go. -Randall
Kristin Chenoweth was amazing but there was a problem with scheduling for the original person cast and we weren’t able to have that person but, I can’t imagine anybody else. -Bill
No she killed it. -Randall
Is there a dream Cameo list?
I have one. Well there’s people that I’ve always admired, would love to have come play. I mean over the years, honestly, I’ve worked with a lot of people so there are actually some repeat people that I would love to have come and play like Jeffrey Tambor or maybe Ringo. -Randall
Pepe would love to work with Sophia Vergara. -Bill
Yes he would. So would Randall, just as a friend, you know, a friendship. I think it’s a long list. There’s a lot of really cool people that would be fun. -Randall
Jimmy Stewart. -Bill
Jimmy Stewart would be great. He’s busy though. -Randall
We were talking about what it’s like watching The Muppets now versus watching as children and Randall was talking about how some viewers have said that The Muppets now is too adult. I remember watching The Muppets with my parents and that there were parts that I didn’t understand or that were over my head, so to speak, but we watched it as a family because there was something for everyone.
I was taught by the guys who came before me that The Muppets have always been about making ourselves laugh. It was never geared towards any one group in particular. Sesame Street was a very clear focus, but The Muppet Show and things that came after that was always meant to arc generations so that little kids could enjoy the characters and the colors and the fabrics and the fur and the silliness and the stories and the jokes could be another generation of people, and then you have more nostalgic levels.
You get into the grandparents who remember even further back like Ralph on the Jimmy Dean Show. Our goal is to do a similar thing where not all little kids are gonna get all the jokes because those are for us to enjoy and hopefully years later, when they grow up, they’ll go ‘Oh, my gosh, I didn’t know that’s what they meant. – Randall
I remember watching old Warner Bros. Cartoons and not realizing until years later the stuff they were doing was crazy. So I hope we’re doing that. -Bill
Tune in to Tonight’s Episode
THE GREAT GONZO RETURNS TO PERFORM A HIGH-FLYING STUNT, ON ABC’S “THE MUPPETS”
JOSEPH GORDON-LEVITT AND FOO FIGHTERS’ DAVE GROHL GUEST STAR
“Going, Going, Gonzo“– After a show-stopping duet with Miss Piggy on “Up Late with Miss Piggy,” Joseph Gordon-Levitt joins Scooter, Pepe and the gang for poker night; The Great Gonzo gears up to perform his dream stunt; and Dave Grohl challenges Animal to a drum-off, on “The Muppets,” TUESDAY, DECEMBER 1 (8:00-8:30 p.m., ET) on the ABC Television Network.
“The Muppets” stars Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, The Great Gonzo, Pepe the King Prawn, Rizzo, Scooter, Rowlf and The Electric Mayhem.
Guest starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt as himself and Dave Grohl as himself.
“Going, Going, Gonzo” story was written by Shane Kosakowski and Franklin Hardy, and the teleplay was written by Jordan Reddout and Gus Hickey. The episode was directed by Randall Einhorn.
“The Muppets” is co-created and executive-produced by Bill Prady (“The Big Bang Theory”) and Bob Kushell (“3rd Rock From the Sun”). Kristin Newman (“Galavant”), Randall Einhorn (“The Office”), Bill Barretta (“Muppets Most Wanted”), Debbie McClellan (The Muppets Studio) and Kyle Laughlin (The Muppets Studio) are also executive producers. “The Muppets” is produced by ABC Studios and The Muppets Studio.
The Muppets airs Tuedays at 8|7c on ABC