Spying on the Muppet Movie

Published: January 24, 2011
Categories: Feature, Reports

The following was written by ToughPigs’ own Wilson Swain:

setgangLiving in Los Angeles as a Muppet fan these past couple of months has been somewhat frustrating. To know that filming for the next Muppet movie is taking place within driving distance, and yet not knowing when or where the next Fozzie sighting might be can cause troublesome fret lines and the need for extra Xanax in your triple soy latte. My additional yoga classes can now be re-scheduled as I happily happened across major crowd scenes at the El Capitan Theatre on Hollywood Blvd in Hollywood, Ca: USA! Real Muppets have been spotted and we can all breathe a giant sigh of relief! Except Disney. Spoilers ahead.

On January 18, around 12:20 in the morning I read an email from a friend about his drive home from work. ” I saw that the Marquee on the El Capitan had the Muppet Show logo up on it. I bet you they’re filming there.” Though I was dressed for bed and feeling a bit nappy, I threw on a coat and some jeans and trudged out hoping to see a Muppet movie set LIVE in my lifetime. Much to my delight, filming was taking place! I caught the tail end of a scene with Bunsen and Beaker moving toward the inside of the El Capitan. After that, I witnessed a small silhouette of Statler and Waldorf being critical from the top tier of a tour bus. Good times. Happiness! But the best was yet to come.

Miss Piggy and Kermit were about to dance alongside Amy Adams and Jason Segel. Take after take from various angles revealed deftness of form and careful choreography. Piggy, the closest Muppet to me, was beautiful, and between takes much care was expressed in making sure her hair and costume did not become disorderly. She needed much more attention than any other actor or puppet. A true diva. Love.

setwalterThe dexterity of the puppeteers was impressive for each take. And though the evening became colder and the extras became more restless, the stars of the picture kept their energies high and cordial. Eric Jacobson’s puppeteering skills are enviable even to non-performers. That man can make a pig move!

Being on set means a lot of waiting around. It was a long night for the people working, I could tell. If Amy Adams had made any of the passing comments some of the extras did regarding listlessness, much would have been said of it. Instead, she genuinely seemed happy and excited in each take, and Segel seemed ecstatic. At one point another one of the stragglers standing outside the barrier gates with me tittered as a scene began to shoot. Segel was slightly flummoxed and called out, confused, “What?!” “Happy Birthday!” the Indian woman next to me shouted. “Aw, how did you know?” he answered back, relieved. And the crowd of extras, numbering at least 200, laughed at the broken tension. For a moment, levity brightened the routine. It’s hard for me to imagine that the moment needed levity, seeing as how I was watching my childhood dreams come true, but the rest of the crowd seemed brighter after that. Art.

setcapitan2Pictures have surfaced online, and not from me, I assure you. I wasn’t going to risk the ire of a production assistant in case my intended return for the following night be trounced. The setting of the El Capitan was enhanced with a marquee gracing Kermit’s mug, and a quick Google search will reveal photos to any reader. What might not have been noticed was a banner gracing one of the adjacent lamp posts. This year the Hollywood Walk of Fame is celebrating its 50th anniversary, and different stars are featured in signage along the Boulevard. Coincidence or no, one of Jim Henson’s banners is hung right next to the El Capitan. These were not made for the movie–I’ve seen them on the street for several months now. I don’t know if any major shots will highlight his face, even briefly, but I sure hope so. It was nice looking up occasionally and seeing the reminder. Peace.

Extras were dismissed around 5:30 am and I drove home, heart bursting. I knew from talk amongst the crowd that a second night was scheduled. I arrived early.

setchickensHollywood Boulevard is shut down with some frequency. Throughout the year award shows, premieres and special events stop the flow of traffic. But I do believe a movie set is an infrequent reason for barricades. Disney has some pull– especially with their ownership of a major theater in the district. By 7 o’clock, the south sidewalk and all four lanes of traffic had been closed off. I viewed from the north–first from the sidewalk, and later from the rooftop of Hollywood and Highland. Unlike the second half of the first night, most action seemed to be taking place near the theater, all the way across the street. Viewing through the sea of crew members was a challenge. My aerial perspective, though further away, was far more interesting. Scenes with the classic Muppets- Piggy, Kermit, Gonzo, Scooter, Rowlf and Fozzie were shot with Chris Cooper while concurrently a second unit photographed sectioned off coverage of crowd scenes with different puppet groupings. Some of those included chickens, penguins, Thog and the Electric Mayhem.

Thog is something of a masterpiece. Viewing him live and up close was a true highlight. His ears raise, or his eyes widen and it’s hard not to smile. I was smiling anyway, but even the extras joined in–without getting paid more for it! I don’t know if you’ve ever seen unoccupied walk-around Muppet lying in a flat fluffy pool in the middle of Hollywood Boulevard, but watching this pile of blue flesh come alive before your eyes is my new personal-preferred brand of magic. Joy!

setthogThe crowds that gather along the boulevard are an interesting cross section of humanity. Many are foreign tourists or business people–good souls who are curious, if misguided, about the history of Muppets. I heard it explained that one of Jim Henson’s children is now the voice of Kermit the Frog AND Mickey Mouse. (It also pains me to say it, but Uncle Deadly fits right in alongside the likes of mangy Mary Poppins, hefty Michael Jackson, and thick-eared Batman. That’s not to say he looked bad. Uncle Deadly was gorgeous. But he was also right at home.) Anyway, good as these people are, the hours pass into the early morning and the sanity scale shifts toward the crazy, the drunk and the prostitution-inclined. As a proud representative of the underemployed and obsessed, I happily ruined the curve. The beleaguered extras, of course, counted me amongst the crazy.

The sunrise was approaching and even from the sidelines it was apparent that night time was valuable. A frantic pace, shown more in behind-the scenes attitude than in performance, kept new lighting setups mounting. To watch Jane Gootnick bring the Muppets in place, and then to have Dave Goelz and David Rudman, amongst others, bring the Electric Mayhem to life for the cameras was, to me, something of a miracle. Gratitude. Filming ended quickly around 6:30 am.

Let me add a few final thoughts here before I accidently wreck the movie for anyone reading. I misled when I said I’d add a lot of spoilers. Most of this is information that already has been leaked. I fear the mouse’s wrath as much as I fear production assistants and packs of raving, drunk homeless teenagers chugging whiskey. Everyone came to see the famous Muppets this past Tuesday evening and for me it was a dream come true. Tie me to a chair or whack me on the head with a mallet, but I wouldn’t trade the experience for most anything–even more xanax. Happiness, love, peace, joy, art and gratitude. I look forward to shelling out money for tickets, then dvds, and, God-willing, a few handfuls of well-crafted plastic. Then I’ll stand up and holler for more. (More!)setdeadly2

Click here to sneak onto the set of the ToughPigs forum!

by Wilson Swain

You May Also Like…

Written by Guest Blogger

Read More by Guest Blogger

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This