Brian Henson talks about Syfy’s “Jim Henson’s Creature Shop Challenge” and the Sequel to “Dark Crystal”

Brian Henson is the son of Jim Henson, creator of “The Muppets” and the current chairman of The Jim Henson Company. For years Brian has been working with his family in the company as a puppeteer in roles like Jack Pumpkinhead in “Return to Oz” and directing//producing “The Muppet Christmas Carol” and “Muppet Treasure Island”. He was also behind the TV series “Farscape” as the Executive Producer. His latest venture is in reality TV on Syfy with the series “Jim Henson’s Creature Shop Challenge”, which is similar to other Syfy shows like “Face/Off”. Media Mikes had a chance to chat with Brian about the TV show and also get the scoop on upcoming projects like “The Power of the Dark Crystal” and “Fraggle Rock: The Movie”.

Mike Gencarelli: How did the idea come about to do this show, Jim Henson’s Creature Shop Challenge?
Brian Henson: We were trying to think if there is a show that would make sense for The Jim Henson Company in the reality side of television programming. There aren’t many…because we are The Jim Henson Company. Almost everything we do has an element of fantasy or science-fiction in it. In many ways we are the opposite of reality. We make things that reflect on reality and allow you to objectively compare it to what we are presenting. But we decided that one area that is particularly exciting of our company is in the creature designing area. These artists, who are designing, conceiving and then building these creatures, really are like magic. They are extraordinary artists. We thought that doing a show around that aspect would be the most interesting area to the general audience. It is sort of like this secret world. There are no Academy Awards for creature designers. There are some creature designers who have won Academy Awards for costuming, make-up or special effects. Joe FREID, one of the Executive Producers, really shared the same enthusiasm in that area of our company and also has a strong background in reality TV programming. We went out to pitch it and Syfy loved it. We made it pretty close to the “Face/Off” format or even the “Project Runway” format. But what is different about it is that it is going into an area and a type of artist that is much different than anyone has ever seen. It is taking place in the Jim Henson’s Creature Shop and the prize really is a job with us.

MG: How do you come up with the challenges for the show like the first episode’s undersea creature?
BH: We basically kept making lists of creatures that we thought would be interesting. For season one, we said that none of the creatures should be allowed to use any compositing, puppeteer removal or some of the techniques that we would normally use in television or feature films. So that closed us up a little bit and kept us focused for season one. Then we had about 15-20 good ideas on the board and we basically produced what we thought was a good wide range of creatures. One thing that is great about creature making, which perhaps is not true of some of the cousins to our TV show, is they are very different depending on what kind of creature you are looking for and what kind of screen test you presenting at the end of the episode. It means that every episode is able to stand alone and be unique from the one before it, which is a lot of fun. You should also expect the challenges to be more and more ambitious as we go forward, which I think is pretty great.

MG: What are you feelings on CGI versus practical effects like puppet work?
BH: My take on it reflects my background and where I come from and where my dad came from, we are a performance oriented company. So what excites me is performing creatures and puppets. We do some CGI but we call it digital puppetry. The way we do CGI, is that we real-time animate 3D creatures using performers. So if it comes from performance and creating a real moment for the characters then that is what excites me and our company. So in that sense, I prefer the animatronic creatures to the CGI creatures. But that is also due to my background. If someone comes from key frame animation, they may prefer CGI to stop-action animation. But I think there is wonderful space for every technique. There is clearly a sacrifice you make when you decide to go CGI with a creature is that you are not actually creating a real moment that you then photograph. With most of our stuff besides the digital puppetry that we do, what you see has really been created and has been photographed and is now in the movie or TV show. It really happened and was really there. You can’t underestimate the value of that. It may mean that things are not quite as slick or accurate as CGI but it really happened and there is something really delicious and exciting about that. Certainly we have been seeing a big move towards CGI creatures but I think with films like “Where the Wild Things Are”, we are starting to see a movement back towards practical effects. But like I said there is definitely a space for both.

MG: I feel that this show actually brings this type of work back into the spotlight…
BH: Yeah, it’s been like a secret world. Nobody knows how these creatures are built and created. Nobody has done a show like this and it is really interesting watching them work.
MG: Yeah, one thing I would love to learn more about myself is the actual mechanics behind-the-scenes with these creatures.
BH: Well as you watch more of the series you will be more of that as well.

MG: Tell us about choosing your co-judges including Kurt Thatcher and Beth Hathaway?
BH: Initially we weren’t sure if we wanted to go with an all internal panel. Kurt is really an inside guy. Most of the work he has done in his career has been with our company. We wanted it to be as credible as possible because like I said the prize really is a job in the Jim Henson’s Creature Shop. Kurt is the type of person who would do the hiring along with me who would also be making those judgment calls. At a certain point, we realized it was just too much Henson. So we reached out to Beth Hathaway, who is also a very experienced creature builder but her background is along the lines of Stan Winston and Rick Baker. It was actually really fun bringing her in since she is kind of an outsider but we just love her. It was good having her point of views and opinions on the judging panel.

MG: What do you see that the future has planned for this type of practical effects and for Jim Henson’s Creature Shop?
BH: I think there is a lot of opportunity for us to do more creature work. I think we are coming out of a time where the industry has been in a flux. I think people are now starting to stabilize and spend more money for cool fantasy/science-fiction characters. I think you will start to see more practical effects…but probably mixed in with some CGI, which is like what “Where the Wild Things Are” was. I think the best creatures yet to come are going to be a little bit of everything used to bring that creature to life.

MG: Do you have any update on The Power of Dark Crystal and Fraggle Rock movie?
BH: The truth is that it took me five years to get “Farscape” on the air. These things take time. Some of that time feels like you are just waiting around. There is a lot of things that need to come together in order to make these projects work. You need to have the right talent, financing and distribution partners. But I can tell you that these both in active development currently within our company. We are determined to get them made. It is big though and a lot of elements need to come together to get a movie made.

Photos courtesy of Syfy

Julie Adams reflects back on her role in “Creature from the Black Lagoon”

Julie Adams is known best as the bathing beauty Kay Lawrence in 1954’s “Creature from the Black Lagoon”. She also appeared in the musical comedy “Tickle Me” along side Elvis Presley in 1965. Recently, Adams has authored a book on her life and career called “The Lucky Southern Star: Reflections From The Black Lagoon”, which was published in 2011 and is currently available via her website. Media Mikes had a chance to chat with Julie about her role in “Creature from the Black Lagoon” and discuss her outstanding career.

Mike Gencarelli: Why do you think that Creature has resonated with fans for all these years?
Julie Adams: I think it’s a good movie. The script was well-written by Harry Essex and Arthur A. Ross. Jack Arnold was a fine director; he did a beautiful job directing the film. Our ensemble cast helped to make a fantastic story believable. The Creature suit was unique and original, and still captures audiences’ imaginations today with how immaculately it was designed and realized on film. The music also accentuates the suspense and enhances the scary moments. Creature enthusiasts from back in the 1950s watched the movie with their children in the 1970s. Today, people who grew up in the 70s run the film with their kids, so we now have three generations of fans — it is truly remarkable to be a part of this kind of phenomenon.

MG: What was your initial reaction when you first saw the Gill Man costume? Was it on Ben Chapman or Ricou Browning?
JA: I was startled the first time I saw the Gill Man fully realized. I’ll never forget how believable the costume looked. I did the majority of my work in the film with Ben Chapman. Ricou primarily worked with my double, Ginger Stanley, in the underwater sequences that were shot in Wakulla Springs, Florida.

MG: Did shooting the film in 3D cause any issues during production?
JA: Have you seen the new 3D Bluray? Shooting in 3D had very little impact on me throughout the course of the production. That aspect of the filmmaking was left up to our fine camera crew and director. I have seen the new 3D Bluray. In fact, we screened it in Jacksonville, Florida in March at Sun-Ray Cinema with a sold out audience. The entire film has been digitally restored. It’s almost like a new movie. Like a crystal clear window into the past. It is absolutely spectacular!

MG: What was it like swimming knowing that “the creature” was underneath you?
JA: In actuality, it was all an illusion. Because I only did the swimming on the surface at Universal Studios in Hollywood, the Creature was never beneath me at the studio. That was the magic of editing. The stunning underwater photography in Florida was seamlessly cut together with the shots of me on the surface on the studio backlot, creating the effect for the audience that the Creature and I were actually in the Black Lagoon together. I’m still astonished at how well the underwater ballet with Kay and the Gill Man still captivates viewers to this day!

MG: Any interesting stories from shooting in the water?
JA: Probably the most intriguing was from a scene near the end of the picture when I am being carried by Ben Chapman in the Creature’s underwater lair. Someone at the studio had forgotten to heat the tank that day. It was a chilly autumn morning, and the water was quite cold. So when Ben emerged with me in his arms I was trying desperately not to shiver. The goggles on Ben’s Creature mask fogged up and he couldn’t see very well. The cave set was made up of paper mache’ rocks that had a few jagged edges. While carrying me unconscious in his arms, Ben accidentally bumped my head against one of the rocks and my eyes suddenly opened and I raised my head. The director yelled “Cut,” and production was delayed momentarily while a small scrape on my forehead was tended to by a nurse. Of course, the studio made a publicity stunt out of it and pictures were taken of the mishap. I still love seeing the photo of Ben in his Creature suit looking over me solicitously as the nurse tends to my forehead. In the end, it was a very minor incident and production resumed about fifteen minutes later.

MG: Tell why did you decided to write your memoir “The Lucky Southern Star: Reflections From The Black Lagoon”?
JA: It was really the fans’ idea. Over the years a lot of folks who enjoy my work in movies and television asked me about writing a memoir. Finally in 2009, my son Mitch and I decided it was time to sit down and write one! It took us more than two years to complete. We have been delighted with the response to it, movie enthusiasts from all over world have read it, some have even sent nice notes telling me how much they have enjoyed it. There is an entire chapter about the making of Creature from the Black Lagoon, the book is also filled with numerous behind-the-scenes photos form Creature and other films and television shows that I appeared in through the years. It is available exclusively through my website at www.julieadams.biz.

MG: Any plans to release as audio book expanding the original small run?
JA: Due to the popularity of the print book, we released the audio book near the end of 2012. I read the entire story for the production, which was a lot of fun and brought back so many memories. I think my fans have enjoyed hearing me read the story on the audio book. Some even own both the print and audio book, which is wonderful!

MG: What was it like working with Elvis Presley?
JA: It was a dream. I’m from the South and Elvis was a true Southern gentleman. One example of this was how he sent all of the actresses in Tickle Me flowers on their first day on the set. I also marveled at how well he performed his singing numbers in the movie, lip-syncing them perfectly. Elvis was a phenomenon, and I cherished my time working with him!

MG: Looking back on your amazing career what were some of your favorite roles?
JA: Naturally, I loved the role of Kay Lawrence in Creature. It was nice playing an educated scientist who goes off on an adventure up the Amazon in search of the origin of a mysterious claw. I also enjoyed portraying Laura Baile in Bend of the River, opposite James Stewart, whom I consider to be one of the silver screen’s finest actors. Later in my career I had great fun as Eve Simpson, the realtor in Cabot Cove on Murder, She Wrote. She was an eccentric character who provided some funny moments on the show. And of course it was a great experience to play comedy with someone as skilled as Angela Lansbury. I also loved performing in the theatre. One of my favorite roles was as Mary Tyrone in Eugene O’Neill’s masterwork Long Day’s Journey into Night. I’ve been fortunate to play a lot of interesting women over the years, and feel blessed to have had so many opportunities in film, television, and on the stage to entertain audiences.

DVD Review “Creature”

Directed by: Fred M. Andrews
Starring: Sid Haig, Mehcad Brooks, Serinda Swan, Amanda Fuller
Distributed by: Arc Entertainment
MPAA Rating: R
Release date: March 6, 2012
Running time: 93 minutes

Film: 3 out of 5 stars
Extras: 2.5 out of 5 stars

This is one of those movies, that get better with each viewing. When I originally saw the film “Hatchet”, I wasn’t proclaiming it to be my new favorite horror film but now I absolutely love it after many viewings. This film reminds me of that. It has fun performances by Mehcad Brooks (Eggs from “True Blood”), Serinda Swan (TRON: Legacy). Fun fact, they are real life husband and wife. Of course, horror legend Sig Haig has a fun role as well, almost channeling his Capt. Spaulding from “House of 1000 Corpses”. Overall the film has problem but I still enjoyed it second time around. I am just shocked that Arc Entertainment did not release this on HD Blu-ray.

The story follows six friends who take a road trip and end up stopping at a hillbilly gas station, owned by Chopper (Sid Haig). They read about the legend of Grimley, who went mad after his sister/wife was killed by an alligator. During his madness he is said to have transformed and lurked the swamps. The group decided (without their best judgement, obviously) to visit Grimley old house. Of course that’s where things go terrible wrong.

This film was given a semi-wide theatrical release but did not catch on with audiences. I really thought that the film had a terrible poster to start with. The DVD cover of this release is much better and definitely makes you want to watch it just from that alone. It also channels the cult classic “Feast”, which I also really enjoyed. The special effects are cheesy but I believe that adds to the charm of the film. You shouldn’t be expecting much and if you feel that way you will enjoy this. The special features are lacking with three featurettes about the film’s production. The first is called “Making the Monster”, which is self-explanatory. The second is “On the Bayou”, focusing shooting on location.  The last is about “The Filmmakers”.  They are worth checking out if you enjoyed the film but run a little short overall.

Film Review “Creature”

Directed by: Fred M. Andrews
Starring: Sid Haig, Mehcad Brooks, Serinda Swan
Studio: The Bubble Factory
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Running time: 93 minutes

Our Score: 3 out of 5 stars

Alright so if you have seen the trailers then you probably get an idea of what to expect from “Creature”. It is going to be over the top and have a lot of gore and nudity. You pretty much get that for the most part and no really extra surprises. This recently opened up in theaters to one pf the worst ever opening weekends in history but it is not the worst movie by a long shot. There is some good comedy and the kills are decent. The film reminds me of a mix of “Hatchet” with “Cabin Fever”…but they are much funnier and with better gore and kill scenes.

The story follows an ex-Navy seal (Mehcad Brooks), his girlfriend (Serinda Swan) and their friends as they make their way to New Orleans on a road trip. When the group stop at the local convenience store, they meet Chopper (Sid Haig), who tells them about Lockjaw, a creature who is half-man/half-alligator. The group of friends decide to go visit the house of this creature and go figure things go to hell.

The creature is a little bit stiff overall and doesn’t really steal the show, probably due to the budget but overall looks pretty cool. The cast is fun including horror genre favorite Sig Haig. When I originally saw he was in this I figured he was a cameo but he has a nice decent role. It was nice to see Sid on the big screen again since “The Devil Rejects”. Serinda Swan known best for her role as a siren in “TRON: Legacy” was able to finally show off her acting skills. Since this is a campy horror she can’t do much with it but she definitely shows promise. Is it the best movie ever…no, but it is worth a watch for horror fans.