The Happytime Murders Trailer

Why did you choose to play the Crab? Of all the characters you could play, why did you choose that one?

I didn’t wanna do any. Truthfully I didn’t wanna do any. I was like, this is a really tough movie to direct. There are an awful lot of moving parts and it’s a really complicated movie. So I wasn’t gonna do any. And then there was this Crab and this Boar in my show Puppet Up I often perform that Crab. And so I guess I think it was Bill, Bill Baretta, I think said to me, hey, why don’t you and I do the Boar and the Crab? And I was like okay. Even though it was one of my hardest days on location and then suddenly I was inside a garbage can trying to direct the movie. And as I was inside the garbage can and we had dressed the garbage can ’cause it was one of our garbage cans, it was a fake garbage can with fake garbage around the top. But clearly, somebody had thrown in a half bottle of beer into it when we were looking the other way. So I climbed in the garbage can, I reach my arm up in and old beer was dripping down my arm. And I was inside a garbage can. I think my instinct for not puppeteering while I was directing was probably bang on. But I did it ’cause it’s a funny, very simple puppet that I like a lot.

Have you had to come up with any other story ideas while you were working on this? Like a puppet cinematic universe kind of thing. Like different stories that intermingle.

Well, not so much while working on it, but before we put this into pre-production, yes. Todd and I have been throwing around ideas of intersecting storylines that can happen in this universe. Exactly what you just said is something we have been thinking about and considering.

When he shot Social Network, David Fincher notoriously did 99 takes on certain sequences. And I’m watching you here, two or three, you move on. Is there something more controlled about having you and Bill, the puppeteer going on? Where you get the nuances quicker and faster?

Well, that’s a toughie. It’s I grew up in the industry in the ’80s in London where often in a day you would shoot six shots. The industry has generally moved to you shoot 20 to 40 shots. And I’m sitting somewhere in the middle. So I’m going at the speed of very high-level television or pretty quick feature. Like David, if David Fincher was directing this, we would be shooting for 10 months and the movie would cost a lot of money. So some of it is I let people bring what they wanna bring and I don’t try really hard to push them into… I think the job of the director is to have a vision and a plan and a pretty specific plan but then fully respect the artist who is coming in, in whatever aspect they’re coming into the film and let them present what they think. And run with it unless it upsets the vision completely.

Do the puppeteers allow that?

Oh, the puppeteers absolutely. I let them bring what they wanna bring and I adjust rather than telling them what to bring. And directors that tend to have very high take counts literally think that, feel like they know where you should blink your eyes, what angle your head should be at and all of that. And I certainly don’t work that way. My Dad used to say, people would say, did your project come out the way you intended? And he said, well certainly not. I had 300 incredible artists who collaborated with me and it’s the result of only what that group of 300 artists could have produced. And certainly not. And I feel much the same with this. It evolves and it adjusts and my job is to have a vision I think and hold it all together. But also flex with all of the great, creative people that are involved.

I’m curious if how much thought was put into the creation of this world? Like the puppets existing alongside humans. I know in like the Muppets that’s never really like addressed like they’re just there. Did you guys come up with rules and such?

A little bit. Not as far as we perhaps could have gone at one point. We were thinking if they went down the street, they would be the small doors and the small stairs for the… And in the end, largely it’s the logistics of making movies, we thought you know what, let’s go with the idea that puppets are have-nots in this world that the best they can do is try to exist in a world that’s been created for human beings. And then complain about it all the time. And so that’s sort of what we’ve run with. We have come up with, there’s prejudice in this world. A lot of prejudice, so don’t ever call a puppet a sock. It’s a really nasty thing. So whenever anybody calls Phil a sock, it gets a really big response. Puppets, when they’re mad at people, call them meat sacks, flesh bags. The puppets a little less, not quite as rude, is to call them a feltie. We’ve done some work more on the social aspect than the actual physicality of the world.

This movie obviously went through a bunch of different iterations. There were actors that have been attached. What is it about Melissa and–?

Well, mostly it was a rumor, rumor, rumor.  So mostly there were lots of rumors over the years. Which was fun. Everybody loved the script so much that as soon as a rumor took off and usually there was some truth to it. But actually, nobody was ever attached until Melissa was attached. And Melissa was actually the first attachment to it.

happytime murders

So then what did Melissa change about it? What did her coming into it bring to it?

Oh, where to start? First of all, Edwards was written as a male character. And the whole idea was and interestingly now, several years back, Todd and I thought we’re trying so hard to differentiate between Phil and Edwards in the writing that one character or the other keeps suffering because of it. And we thought you know what, I think they’re in a testosterone pissing match. They’re both trying to out-tough each other.

They both break the rules. It’s just that one of them got thrown out of the police force and the other one didn’t, but they both probably deserve to be, but they’re also both great at their jobs. And they’ve all both got moral compasses that ultimately are pointing exactly the right direction. But the characters were in the end written quite similar. I guess you could call it a buddy comedy. They come together eventually. But we thought with one of them being a puppet, one being an actor, it really works. It really worked well. And then when Melissa came in, it was remarkably little that we did to shift the character. Melissa’s approaching it as a tough cop who breaks the rules and is a testosterone pissing match with Phil. I mean, she didn’t feminize the character, which was really kind of wonderful.

And then, of course, she brings what Melissa brings, which is this loose, spontaneous style that grows out of a lot of improvising on set. Let’s try it this way. Let’s try it this way. But she really is when it comes to comedy, she can do no wrong, you know. She’s the best there is.

What’s your toughest set piece? What are you asking your puppets to do that’s raising the bar?

Oh, everything.

I mean, like I think they talked about Kermit riding a bicycle years ago. Where are you taking that now?

Oh. No, not so much. I didn’t not so much. ‘Cause it’s the whole thing is tough though. Like every scene what the characters are doing is tough. It’s… I don’t know that I can say specifically what the thing is. I usually learn as I’m in post what I feel like is the… There is a sex scene that is so hilarious and yet not graphic particularly. There’s a lot of wonderful stuff.

A Muppet on Muppet or…?

I can’t talk about it anymore.

I’m just curious but can you ever do water sequences with a puppet or no? Does that have to be–?

Oh yeah, we put a puppet in a Jacuzzi in this one. We played a Jacuzzi scene with a puppet.

How does that deal with–?

They soak up a lot of water. You have to work through the wall of the Jacuzzi through a giant rubber glove. And don’t ever let the rubber glove invert or the entire Jacuzzi will go back into the rubber glove. No, we’ve done it. Yeah, they just get really, really wet. We have a fight scene kind of in the Jacuzzi as well.

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