Monday, December 10, 2012

Muppet Show - Jim Henson's Pre-Production Designs

I've recently come across Jim Henson's original Pre-Production sketches, designs and photos for THE MUPPET SHOW.  They provide and amazing insight into the man's thoughts and work methods.  The now-legendary Muppet Show was not an easy sale.  Puppets were for the most part, considered children's entertainment and certainly not primetime fare.

Created by Jim Henson for the first, pilot episode of the ''Muppets'' TV show, this fantastic collection includes Henson's hand-drawn ''Muppets'' illustrations, handwritten story ideas, and the very first introduction of several new characters, including ''Piggy Lee,'' who would make her cinematic debut as ''Miss Piggy'' in the episode -- which aired on 13 October 1974 as the ''Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass.'' These nine illustrations were sent to ATV in London, to be used at a pitch meeting for the show.

The collection includes: 

(1) ''The Pigs'', with two Polaroids of them, described by Henson as ''Life size -- Piggy Lee and Hamilton Pigg. She is delicate and lovely. He is cigar smoking -- epitome of grossness.'' Piggy Lee would of course become Miss Piggy, who appeared for the first time on this special. The Polaroids that Henson includes of Miss Piggy are an exact likeness of her, although she is perhaps depicted here as a little more demure.

 (2) ''Puppet Comedy Piece / 'Give Me Five Minutes More''' shows a Polaroid of Gonzo, who made his first television appearance outside of a cigar box in this special. Henson handwrites, ''In which a big ugly female monster pursues a meek little guy trying to hug & kiss him, and singing to him, 'Give me five minutes more' etc. At tag - she runs into H. Alpert at band & chases him off. Done against cyc - no set or foreground.''

(3) Henson describes another character ''The Guru [also known as ''Brewster''] / life sized - speaks with slight Indian accent - known to fall asleep while talking.''

(4) A character sketch of ''The Musician / Life size - slightly inebriated - could be part of band'' (Seen here with Muppeteer RICHARD HUNT).

(5-9) Five different sketches, with detailed illustrations by Henson, of ''Muppet Dance Pieces''. In Dance Piece #1, Henson describes, ''Snerf dance - (5 Snerfs) 'In a Little Spanish Town'. Piece starts with one - then 2, 3, 4 & 5 - then Dwight uses technical effect and we get 10 then twenty for big finish.'' Henson continues with staging instructions, ''Can be done on our 6' wall by using risers for puppeteers / puppeteers (5) in black hoods against black background...'' Two Polaroids of Henson with one of the Snerfs are affixed to the story board.

 In Dance Piece #2, Henson writes, ''GAZELLES 'Solace'...Two Gazelles do graceful flirtation - male & female around H. Alpert as he plays solo - do a series of runs and leaps in air...Puppeteers all in black with black hoods / Puppeteers will show - but not very clearly''. Henson sketches the entire scene and also shows himself in 2 photos maneuvering the Gazelle puppets. 

  In Dance Piece #3 called ''Whipped Cream'', Henson draws elaborate color sketches of a ''Cool Cat'' and then ''Cool Cat Freaking Out'', alongside ''Slinky the Vamp'' and a green Groucho looking character called ''Heap''. He writes, ''Three new characters do dance - start with Cool Cat - enter Slinky the Vamp - finally Heap - There is a stand-off between Cool Cat and Heap - Slinky gets them both. Would be done at Muppet 6' wall - actually 6'1'' high. Background could be cyc - any color''. 

 Finally, in Dance Piece #4, starring ''Boss Men'' in ''Love Potion #9'', Henson describes ''Two gigantic feather guys each about 14' tall - work in front of band with H. Alpert. Same kind of set-up as Gazelles - dark background & floor - Puppeteers show, but in silhouette only.'' The two ''gigantic feather guys'' are sketched by Henson, shown towering over the Puppeteers in fuzzy, crazy costumes.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Hey - We Need Your Help!!!

Hey Guys!

Sorry. It's been a while since I last posted.  I've been busy.  In the meantime - I need your help here.
Some good friends (and talented filmmakers) in London are currently busy making their web series 'n00bs'

They recently took part in a 48 hour animation competition (and used it as a chance to see if they could make a n00bs ep in that time) and now there is a chance they could win a nice, shiny award to make their Momma's proud! 

If they get the most online votes, it could tip the judges decision in their favor… It'll take 30 seconds max, please, please vote for it here:

You actually want to see the film? Ha! Well, they called it THE ORIGIN OF DUBSTEP on YouTube and you can watch it here:

Thanks guys!  I promise to post more, shortly!!!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Even MORE From The Mailbag...

Sorry for not posting items for the past few months - I've been busily writing on a new project.  But that doesn't stop the cards and letters from pouring in...

Why, just the other month, I got a very nice note from a reader in Australia...(Text is edited.)

Hi Steve,

I've been following your blog for a while and have to give you a big thanks for the tips you've shared; I think it's played no small part to getting my TV series where it is now. 

(edited... edited... edited...) 

A little background on me: I'm 21 and developed this project while attending AFTRS in Sydney, Australia. 

 (edited... edited... edited...) 

Please keep up the great work on your blog; it is an invaluable source of info for people like myself. Also I LOVED Freaky Stories as a kid; I used to come home from school and watch it on ABC. I still maintain that cartoon shows in the 90s are better than ones we have now.

Have a great day, etc... etc..

Sometimes it's almost worth getting up in the morning.  It's nice to help people get their start in the business.  Best of all, she's promised to send me my very own Kangaroo!    I shall name him George...

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Importance of MUSIC

Music makes up 50% of any film/TV/video production. People tend to not believe this, but it's true. Music sets the tone and atmosphere for a film.

Good music can save a bad production.
Likewise, bad music can sink even the best production. So choose wisely.

But what happens when someone uses GREAT music - but the WRONG great music in their film?

Here's what I'm talking about.

Take a few minutes and watch "ADDRESS IS APPROXIMATE" - a brilliant short film by UK filmmaker Tom Jenkins of Theory Films. I love this movie and I hope that you will, too. Enjoy.

Address Is Approximate from The Theory on Vimeo.

Okay. Here's another film that just popped up on my radar. It's called "We Stopped Dreaming" by Neil deGrasse Tyson. I believe in and agree with every point that he makes in his film. Great stuff. Have a look...

What's that? It's the same frickin' music!

(Music by the wonderfull Cinematic Orchestra ( and the track is Arrival of the Birds - please buy the fantastic album:

By "frickin'" - I'm saying that it's such a wonderful, MEMORABLE track - that you can't use it without inviting comparisons to the other, EARLIER film. And when that EARLIER film has had 2.3 million online views - it's a pretty popular film. The net effect is that the music track took me out of "We Stopped Dreaming" and sent me looking for "Address is Approximate".

So what's the lesson? Find a great music track - but make sure that it's an original music track. Not one that's been heard 2.3 million times.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Three-Act Paradigm in Action

Okay. This as we know, is a diagram of the famous (or infamous, depending on your point of view) Three Act Story Paradigm.

I've taken a story that I wrote, entitled "Rule of Thumb" and indicated using subtitles where the story points appear in the episode. Don't worry. It's only about 4 minutes long.

First, the story follows the paradigm like buzzards following a hearse. The story elements are spot on, in terms of timing and placement.

Second - I wrote and produced this story, long before I'd ever heard of the Three-Act Paradigm. Interesting, huh? The Three Act Paradigm is hard wired into our consciousness.

Story structure is a natural part of the storytelling process. The paradigm is most useful when trying to analyse whats gone wrong with your story. In my experience, if the story isn't working well - it's because I've deviated from the Three Act Paradigm Structure.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012


At the same time that we were producing FREAKY STORIES, the studio was producing a huge budget puppet/CG show, BRATS OF THE LOST NEBULA. How huge was it? It was a co-production between The Hensons and Warner Bros.

It was huge.

To give you an idea of the scale, our FREAKY STORIES puppets cost between $5,000 and $15,000 each to create. The BRATS puppets cost $65,000 each - created by The Henson Creature Shop - and they were gorgeous. It was an amazing set, huge, lavish. They had monsters. They had spaceships...

We had a cockroach, a maggot and a giant toaster. There was no comparison.

There were tons of BRATS scripts lying around the production office, so naturally - I checked them out. That's when I saw a problem. Here it is, in the finished clip:

"Uh... Houston? I think we have a problem..."

The kids' parents get killed in the first act of the first episode.

That's not good. That's a downer. Anyone who has kids - or works with kids - knows that one of their primal fears is being abandoned. Yeah, yeah, yeah - they do it in every Disney flick - but this is TV. As soon as the action stops, the kids at home will realize that the characters onscreen are orphans and...

So I pointed out the problem to the BRATS production staff. I suggested that they have the parents taken prisoners - so the kids are fighting for something positive.... to be reunited with their families....

But no. They shot it as is. They made 13 episodes. Warner Bros. pulled the series from The WB after only 3 episodes had aired. The audience didn't like the show.

The point is - WE as show creators are not our audience. We have to be careful not to alienate the very people that we want watching our shows.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Questions from The Mailbag

A Reader writes...

Hi Steve,

I'm completely new to the idea of pitching TV shows (my background, such as it is, is in kids' lit), but was hoping you might give me your views on a couple of things? I'd be really grateful for your opinions.

1) I'm getting the impression most cartoon shows are, these days, pitched by those in a position to produce the content themselves, rather than by just 'a guy with an idea', would you agree?

2) Do you have strong feelings (as I believe, for example, John Kricfalusi does) that only animators can write/conceptualise effective animated shows?

Thanks, and thank you for the Pitch Bibles blog.

Best wishes,
(name withheld to protect the curious)

Okay - I would have to disagree with the first one. While all studios pitch concepts, broadcasters are always open to (and the smarter ones welcome) CREATOR DRIVEN MATERIAL. It's as simple as that. No one knows great idea is going to come from.

And... I have to disagree with the second one as well. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. I tend to produce strong script-driven stories. I enjoy well written plot, structure, dialogue, etc. Name your favorite movie - live action or animated - someone WROTE IT. It didn't just happen. Writing great dialogue is an art.

On the other hand, there is nothing wrong at all with "animation mayhem" like John K produces. It has a wide audience, but it's not my personal taste.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Suspension of Disbelief

I saw "MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: Ghost Protocol" last week. It was a good movie and I enjoyed myself - with one exception. There were elements of the movie - events happened where I couldn't suspend my disbelief.

The gadgets? Yep. I believe that all of those amazing gizmos could and do exist - and are being used in the Special Ops field today.

Do I believe that Tom Cruise is 6 feet tall - or at least taller than all of the people around him? Sure. Why not? It's a movie. Go with it.

What I don't believe is that someone (Tom Cruise) can take a hard smack in the head and continue to function normally immediately afterwards. I don't know about you, but I got clobbered a couple of times in my misspent youth. I know from first-hand experience that after you've been hit, you're not seeing straight - let alone saving the world. Your only concern is "Which one of the three images in front of me is real?"

Tom Cruise get hit - and I mean CLOBBERED several times in MI:GP. Any one of those hits would have hospitalized a human being for days - yet, he took the licking and kept on ticking. That totally removed me from the story. The "Wait a Second...!" is all it takes to lose your audience.

In the 1988 movie, "U.S. Marshals" actor Joe Pantoliono's character was T-Boned in a car crash. The character was shown woozy throughout the rest of the movie. Not an ideal situation for a lead character - but perfect for a supporting role. It was 100% real and I loved it. Not only that - but it gave consequences to the rest of the action in the movie.

In CG Animation they deal with it, calling it "The Uncanny Valley" - where the animation design moves beyond cartoon style, becoming too realistic. This alienates the viewer - because the people just don't look or move properly - almost like zombies. This was best shown in the Robert Zemeckis film "The Polar Express".

So what's the point? Stylize it. For CG - 100% lifelike motion and design shouldn't be the goal. For live action - there should be consequences to action sequences. If there's a bone crunching accident, acknowledge the crunched bones.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

KidScreen Summit 2012

People have asked if I'll be at the KidScreen Summit in NYC, running February 7th to 10th.

Actually, I won't. While I have a number of projects in play at the moment (and the ultimate WICKED-COOL one that we're about to pitch) - none of my current shows are for... Kids.

Which doesn't mean that I'm not available to help get YOUR pitches and scripts into shape. You've still got a couple of weeks to put the final polish on your work. My clients had a very successful time at KidScreen 2011 with a couple of properties landing development deals.

So, if you're going to KidScreen and want to put the best face on your property, don't hesitate to contact me. And good hunting out there!