Tuesday, April 3, 2012

'Being Elmo' Film Arrives at PBS

Who doesn't love Elmo? The adorable, fuzzy red creature is one of CC's favorite characters, and I can understand why. He's loving, cuddly and encourages kids to be happy with who they are.

That's why I'm excited to share the news that documentary film "Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey," about "Sesame Street" Elmo puppeteer Kevin Clash by filmmaker Constance Marks, will be airing on PBS Thursday, April 5 at 9 p.m. (check local listings) and again on Monday, April 9 at 9 p.m. (check local listings).

Not only that, but the DVD of the film also hit shelves today. According to Marks, there's a lot of fun behind-the-scenes bonus material that's also included.

The film explores how Clash created the character, as well as the obstacles he faced as a kid who wanted more than anything to be a puppeteer -- a goal that wasn't exactly encouraged by other kids his own age.

CC and I missed the doc when it made the festival rounds in Los Angeles last year. In addition to scheduling conflicts, I was also worried that seeing Elmo operated by an actual human being might take away some of the mystery for CC.

I had the chance to speak with director Constance Marks about the film -- and this very concern -- this week, in addition to her husband, James Miller, who served as director of photography and a producer on the film, and she assured me that while the doc was originally geared toward adults, young children have fallen in love with it as well. 

L.A. Story: What brought you to the film? 

Constance Marks: My husband used to be a cameraman at "Sesame," and he came home one day -- and this is all explained in the bonus material -- with a recorded message of Elmo saying hi to our then-infant daughter, and I was just so blown away. It was so sweet, and it was just an extraordinary gesture. And I said to James, 'Who is this man who did this? Tell me about him.' That's how it got started. He told me a little bit about Kevin, and the next thing I knew I had Kevin's phone number and we made a lunch date. 

L.A. Story: What would you like for audiences to take away from the movie? 

Constance Marks:  I can tell you right now, if you do a search on Twitter and put in 'Being Elmo,' what I'm consistently seeing -- and it's so heartwarming -- is that people feel incredibly inspired and moved by Kevin's story, and really inspired to follow what it is that you feel you want to do despite the fact that it might not be the most popular thing.

When he was a kid, when he started doing this, he was given a hard time by other kids. He rose to the top. He's the gran fromaggio. He's the puppet master. It's just a very uplifting story, and as a filmmaker that makes me so happy that people are getting a little break from the news and from the kind of films I usually make, which are much darker films. They get to have a break and feel happy. 

L.A. Story: Was there anything that surprised you during the actual filming or research? 

Constance Marks: When I went into it, I didn't really understand how profoundly loved Elmo is and how popular he is. ... Until the film was finished and we started getting out there, I had no idea of the overwhelming popularity of this show and this character, and that was always a surprise.

L.A. Story: Was your husband surprised by anything during filming?

James Miller (who was in the kitchen nearby while I was interviewing Marks): I think what surprised me is all the doors that opened for us. We were able to show so many things that, in the past, there were so many rules to shooting the muppets at 'Sesame Street,' but they opened up to us and allowed such an amazing point of view that I'm not sure will be seen again.

L.A. Story: When "Being Elmo" screened in L.A., I worried that some of the mystery might be lost if my daughter saw the puppeteer, Kevin Clash, operating Elmo. Could you speak to that?

Constance Marks:  We didn't make the film for the Elmo set; it's really a film for adults. But what we're finding is that kids about 8 and above are completely mesmerized by it. The people at "Sesame (Street)" are the most protective of that kind of thing, and they're not worried about it at all because they really know that the kids don't know who Kevin is, so their eyes don't go to Kevin, their eyes go straight to Elmo. And as Kevin likes to say, 'They see me as the person who's carrying around their friend.'"

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