By Luke Harper
What happens on the set of an educational show once the cameras stop rolling? Trust us, it’s not pretty…. but it is pretty hilarious. And here’s a life lesson for you: When someone calls you to check whether or not you want to work on a puppet show with adult themes, there’s only one answer: let’s ride!
Fitz’s Funporium is the creation of E.B. Grzesiak, a veteran team writer for countless crime procedurals and, of all things, children’s television and theater. She is also an astrophysicist, which is, well, sorta neat.
E.B. has long had a thing for puppets and the urge to create a vehicle for crude and hilarious puppets that could be targeted to adults. Imagine a cross between 30 Rock and The Muppets with a touch of Fraggle Rock on a rubber-cement-sniffing bender.
The puppets themselves were designed by Ed Baker, and are beautiful, like Fritz who is pictured up top.
Mike Severson and Peter Perkins were our field audio crew, and a better crew would be hard to ask for. They’re both seasoned vets with amazing gear. The challenges of working with puppets were a bit new to both of them, but they rose to the occasion nicely.
There are some perks with puppeteers. For instance, you never see them, so you can put lavs really anywhere you want. Typically the actors were on their backs on specialized dollies that allowed them to move about the scenery, making it look like the puppets could walk around freely. Lectrosonics lavs were taped to their foreheads and sounded amazing. The majority of recording and mixing in the field was performed by the Sound Devices 302 and 722. Being mostly inside, rustle was at a minimum as well, although there is the occasional puppet fabric noise. When we went outside we used the classic boom/lav combo to cover our bases.
We were shooting to Canon 5D Mark iii DSLRs, as our intrepid director, Barry Anderson, (he really actually is intrepid) literally wrote the book on filmmaking via DSLR.
The look of this show is really soft and beautiful as a result. Milo Durben was our key grip, and he and Barry have worked together long enough to have that weird, unspoken way about them that gets the shots done extremely efficiently. This show does NOT look like your average sitcom.
ON THE WEB
The show is classified as “Web-driven,” and is going to be marketed as such. Orange is the New Black is a superb example of the idea, starting as a 13-episode, straight-to-Web series by Netflix and Lionsgate. It should be noted that Netflix has just stated that it intends to double its output for 2014. They are going to raise $400 million in additional debt to do so, for a total of $3 billion in spent over the year.
Once principal photography is done on the Funporium pilot, there is going to be a Kickstarter Campaign to fund post production, and potentially new episodes. This is a great example of how independent new TV can be made and sold!
There were three songs in the pilot, written by Lindsay Clark and sung by both puppets and the human cast. We rolled over to Waterbury Studios (http://www.waterburystudios.net) with a choir, some child actor/vocalists and a ton of talent for a two-day recordastravaganza.
Vocals were done on either C12 diaphragmed 414s or a Telefunken 251, running through Grace and API pres. All compression to Pro Tools was via LA2A reissues by UA. Even though they have a lovely SSL 4000G, mixing was all done in the box using a mixture of McDSP, Waves and DMG Audio plug-ins. All picture editing for the Telethon Song and pilot were done with Adobe Premiere, by the scintillatingly talented Sean Corcoran of Unanimous Creative (http://unanimouscreative.com).
Our lead human is Sally Rosen, as played by Tara Strong, who is the voice of Twilight Sparkle, Timmy Turner, Batgirl, and Harley Quinn. Her IMDB has over 300 entries. You have heard this woman’s voice, and she is exceptional with it. We also have Gusset, played by Rizwan Manji, of Outsourced and The Wolf of Wall Street fame.
Our puppeteers are some of the best in the biz, because for some reason Minneapolis attracts them. Maybe it’s the cold and having warm fuzzy things on your hands? I dunno. Anyway, we have Charles Hubbell, Gordon Smuder, Bonni Allen and Jeff Neppl at the rods, and the results really are hilarious. There’s outtakes on the Kickstarter page (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/455453518/funporium-a-web-driven-comedy-pilot-for-the-deeply) if you have the urge. It’s such a specific kind of comedy that takes place when innocent puppets are put to use in adult situations.
So there you have it. A dream, a script, a hideous puppet and a beautiful lady combine with a fantastic crew and cast to make something unique and hilarious. The technical challenges were interesting and sorted as we went, with nothing being too hard to overcome in the end. Except maybe lighting the fake cat on fire. That was tough.
Luke Harper, audio post guy/person, works on whatever seems appealing. He owns a photo/video studio (www.514studios.com) and an audio post company (AudioAltimeter.com). He also teaches our best and brightest at Minneapolis Media Institute. If you have something odd to work on, please call him.