James Bobin is so passionate about The Muppets and he has such creative ideas and the two of those together really made a great Muppet Movie. I’ve sat down with him a few times and on this most recent time I was left still feeling that his heart is really in making great movies with The Muppets. One thing I would suggest about The Muppets is to get the sound track, James Bobin gave his vision of each song to the songwriter Bret McKenzie and the songs are hilarious. He’s really great at giving ideas and inspiring greatness. Here is our blogger interview with James Bobin.
JAMES BOBIN: Who wants to start? Any questions? Everyone seen the movie?
QUESTION: It’s nice to meet you, James, thanks for meeting with us today. So who is the most difficult Muppet to work with?
JAMES BOBIN: And you. Pleasure. [LAUGHS] I’ll let you guess who the most difficult Muppet is who I work with. None of them, they’re all a total joy to work with. I’m a huge fan, I grew up watching the Muppets as a kid, so working with them for me is like working with my heroes.
QUESTION: So what is the difference between shooting the first movie and then the second movie?
JAMES BOBIN: Oh, for me obviously it was the first movie I’d never worked puppets before, so it was a very big experiential learning curve of how to frame shots, how to make this world feel realistic, that these puppets were alive, breathing people who are interacting with humans and the world’s just, the world we live in, the recognizable world we live in happened to have puppets in it. That idea I love, and that’s a very important part of it.
The training of the first movie was just getting to that level for me was an achievement. I could make a movie that like worked on that level. So, for this one I just wanted to push that a bit further because the last movie is kinda set in the theater for a lot of the final act. So, I thought this time, well, we should just get out and about a bit more and just do some slightly more adventurous, bigger stuff.Obviously, the fact that the movie’s kind of a caper movie with some criminal stuff in it, feels like you can do bigger action sequences.
You never want to put the words “puppet” and “action sequences” in the same sentence [LAUGHS] as a director, ’cause that is very hard, but I like the idea of trying difficult stuff. It’s ambition about the movie I really like. It feels like a very different film to me and the way I love both movies equally, but this film I feel like has slightly more ambition which I love about it and I think that’s when you’re doing a sequel there’s all sorts of things you have to deal with. One of them is you want to try and make a different movie. You don’t want to make the same movie twice, and that’s very important.
QUESTION: When writing The Muppets did you take any inspiration from your funny show Flight Of The Conchords? And then do you think that adult humor and children’s’ humor are closer than we think?
JAMES BOBIN: [LAUGHS] Good questions. I’ll do them in the reverse order. Adult humor and child humor, yeah they are kind of different, but they can be the same. I mean, we’re all big kids, really, I am, I know for sure. So often I find things like, things falling over, I will find that funny forever. Like Tom and Jerry makes me laugh as much as my kids might laugh. It’s always gonna be the way, but sometimes it’s useful to have a thing that works on two levels, that they like it for some, a reason, and we like it for a different reason.
Often that’s because we’re putting clever words into the mouths of puppets and so they see a blue thing with a funny nose and white hair, which is funny, but we hear them say smart words. I love it, that idea works for both adults and children. Oh from Conchord’s, yeah, yeah of course, yeah I think whenever you make anything you can’t help but put an imprint of yourself in it to a degree. So when you do like a show like Conchords and move into Muppets you can’t help but bring a bit of that, your personality, with you.
Especially when you have half of the Conchords working on the movie with you, of course, because Brett writes the songs and so Brett and I worked together for a good, you know, years now. So be it set out on the streets of New York and Conchords or set on the streets of London and Muppets, there’s some of it’s Brett in many ways. And then, you know, in many ways the Conchords Muppets aren’t that different, they’re both quite innocent.
QUESTION: Hi. This film had, obviously, a very international flavor. Is there any thought ever to stopping in Sweden for the Swedish Chef?
JAMES BOBIN: [LAUGHS] No because then you’d tell he’s not Swedish. [LAUGHS] What he speaks is not Swedish it’s some weird amalgam of Jim’s kind of rubbishy Swedish, like made-up Swedish so obviously they had him talking real Swedish, and then someone actually speaking real Swedish, they’d go, “Hang on a minute that’s not the same thing,” so no we’re very particular to avoid Sweden. The locations were largely chosen because I’m a fan of those kind of old-style caper movies and they’re always in a place like Monte Carlo and Berlin and Madrid, it’s a very international feel. And so those places had felt to me like of interest and, you know, I like the idea of Muppets going global. That to me is interesting, that it’s not just about U.S. and the U.K. But they have a global interest. And that’s really, a fun thing to me.
QUESTION: How much filming do you actually do?
JAMES BOBIN: A lot, I mean, it’s, the principal photography, which is a good money 95 percent of the film was in London. We shot on the stages at Pinewood, which is just about a half an hour outside London, and then even places like Berlin and Madrid are also shot in or around London. Because going to Berlin with the entire Muppet cast and crew would’ve been a very expensive endeavor in doing it. And London is, as you know, a very ancient historical city, and therefore has lots of different architectural styles in it.
So you can kind of get a rough idea, “this looks a bit like Madrid,” ” this looks a bit like Berlin,” and certainly enough with some, you know, added set dressing and stuff, you could really feel like you’re there. And so most of the movie was shot in London, and in or around London. Which is kinda nice because the Muppet show back in the ’70s was made in London and not many people know that, you know. I mean, it feels like a thing that just, well it felt very much like a homecoming for Muppets.
They actually ended up hiring, uh, a lady called [SOUNDS LIKE :] Louise Gold, who is the only female puppeteer and who back in the ’70s worked on The Muppet Show is still puppeteering but, and being back in London now I could hire her again to do the characters that she did in the show in the ’70s. So she–– she reappears in this movie as Annie Sue Pig, which the Muppet fans amongst you will know as Miss Piggy’s great rival from Series 4 and 5 Muppet Show, has this kind of blonde afro. And she’s back in the movie, ’cause Louise Gold was available. That’s a really fun thing.
QUESTION:Do you approach celebrities to do cameos, or do they come to you and say, “I want to appear in the movie?”
JAMES BOBIN: Generally we write them in for the right specific idea in mind, then we have a person, or a type of person in mind, quite often it’s the actual person who we write in. Like, you know, the Usher is gonna be played by Usher, that’s a good, that’s that joke, you know? Sometimes there are roles which are just like “a guy who’s delivering something,” or “a waiter” or something where by it could really be anybody. Then we start finding out just subtly who are Muppet fans. People who we know, and we hear about who like the Muppets.
And then, for example, of course Christoph Waltz I knew, we heard liked the Muppets, and I thought, “Well if here’s a Muppet show today, obviously what you do with him, his name is Waltz, you are going to do a Waltz with him somewhere, [LAUGHS] and somehow that came about that way. So it’s kind of, it’s mostly us writing people in, but sometimes we hear about people that want to be in the show too, and so…
QUESTION: What was the inspiration for Josh Groban in the Box?
JAMES BOBIN: [LAUGHS] Josh grabbing the box is because I love the idea that he had a, he has a very identifiable voice, and so I thought it’d be funny if he thought, “that voice is very familiar, who is that? It can’t be Josh Groban, there’s no way it’s gonna be Josh Groban,” then again, you see him again and again and again. At the end, it is Josh Groban, and I thought it’d be a funny, That’s a funny reveal at the end that he comes out of the box, and, you know, Josh Groban’s a very innocent guy, he’s the last guy you’d expect to play at a top place, so it was a funny idea. But he did it, he is great, and he–– he really sings very well.
The final number’s called “Together Again, Again,” and he, of all the people who had to sing the song, all the cameos sang that song, he really was just the, as you would expect, just the most incredible rendition of it, it was really fantastic. That was a very cold day, uh, just as this used air base in London, so for us to hear that. [
QUESTION: On the last film you were just the director, on this film you’re the writer and director. How does that transition feel to this…?
JAMES BOBIN: Yes, yes two hats. It’s fine, what you find about it, though, is often your writing brain is writing checks your writing brain can’t cash. In this sense then often as a writer you have like the sky’s the limit, you can do anything. And you really want to try and, you know, be as ambitious as you possibly can. And then your directing head’s going, "Wait a minute, this is gonna be really difficult, and take a longer time and be very expensive."
So you have to be, you know, on both, generally the writing head always wins because you want to try to make the movie the best as you possibly can. At the same time for me it feels slightly more of a personal one because obviously you can’t help but be, you know, when you write it’s really you. So for me this felt slightly more, I guess well it’s more of a comedy so it felt more personal to me ’cause I want a comedy. To be fair, on the last one as a director you also often help out with just a bits of writing here and there.
So I did a bit of writing on the last one. It wasn’t a completely new experience. Also, I have been writing for a long time so it’s not my first go, wasn’t the first movie, this is something I’ve been working on for a while and I knew Nick really well, and he’s our good friend outside of work. He’s just my friend. That’s one of the most important things about writing partnerships is having just a friendship. Because, you know, it’s like your friends, you just get on and you laugh together and we just write stuff down, and that’s the movie.
That really helped a lot. It does make it slightly more personal this time, but it was kind of, it always feels like when you’re directing something you’re kind of very raw anyway so it feels personal.
QUESTION: Do you have a favorite scene?
JAMES BOBIN: Favorite scene? Wow, that’s a good question. I really like Piggy’s song about Constantine and Kermit, that thing "Something’s So Right" song, with Celine. I really felt that that’s gonna, ’cause it’s like, Piggy’s wanted this thing all of her life, and she’s finally got it and it’s not gonna feel the way she thought it would feel, and I think that’s a very common thing to all of us. That’s something we’ve all experienced. And so to sing about that and say, "Why aren’t I feeling the way I would," and "why aren’t I happy that I am about getting married" is really sweet I think.
Also at the same time it’s kind of funny ’cause it’s got [LAUGHS] Celine Dion in it, and it’s like, it’s weird projection of the future and whatever, weird kids sitting there, the pink frog and the green pig, and that sort of stuff. It’s just really fun. So all my favorite scenes tend to have an element of humor to them and emotion, they’re both kinda working at the same time, and that’s pretty much my aim for the whole movie. You should feel emotionally engaged but laugh, be laughing at the same time. That’s a very difficult part of the trip. But that sequence I feel works very successfully like that. [LAUGHS] Yes.
Director James Bobin
QUESTION: Have you started on the next Muppet movie?
JAMES BOBIN: [LAUGHS] No, too tired, sorry, no no no, no no no, I’m exhausted. Ask me again in another year’s time, but no no on, they’re sadly not, but, I mean, maybe, who knows. I love working with these guys, and as you know they’re my heroes, so I really loved it. So I don’t know when in what capacity it would be, I don’t know, but I would love to do more ’cause this is really fun. I mean, I’m incredibly lucky to have this job, it’s like my dream so, you know, I’m so pleased. Really.
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