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Director / CrewI'm Frank Oz, film director and performer: Ask Me Anything

Jan 4th 2018 by MGT_Team • 32 Questions • 4317 Points

Hello Reddit! Frank Oz here. I’ve performed characters for SESAME STREET, THE MUPPET SHOW, STAR WARS, SNL, DARK CRYSTAL, etc. And I’ve directed a bunch of feature films. Looking forward to your questions. Also, when you ask your question, I'd love to know where everyone is -- so please tell me where you live. Okay -- Ask Me Anything.

By the way, you can sign up at www.FrankOz.com if my experiences in performing and directing movies are of interest to you.

Proof: https://twitter.com/TheFrankOzJam/status/946441242333741056

Everybody, there's a whole lot more questions but I think I've got to wrap this up now. I wish I could answer everybody. You guys have been great. I hope I shined some light on things you wanted to know. Thanks so much. You can go about your lives now.

Q:

Do you recall where "Wocka Wocka" came from? As far as we at the Muppet Wiki can tell, Fozzie said it for the first time in The Muppet Movie. I'm in Ottawa, Ontario.

A:

Hey Ottawa! Hey Muppet Wiki! I remember exactly when Fozzie said "Whaka Whaka" first. In The Muppet Movie script, Fozzie was doing a comedy act on stage where Kermit first saw him, but there was no comedy act written, so I just made one up -- and what you see on screen is what I showed Jim in an empty sound stage about a week before. And he loved it, so I kept it. And it really is a steal from old fashioned burlesque comedians.


Q:

Hi Frank, i'm from Vancouver, BC. Just wondering what it was like to come back to the Star Wars franchise after all this time and perform with Mark, and also who came up with the page turner line? That was perfect!

A:

Hey Vancouver, Thanks for writing in. It was a joy and a challenge to come back to perform Yoda. As for Mark, I'll say it over and over if it wasn't for Mark, and his belief in the character, Yoda would not be the Yoda we know. I think Mark did a fantastic job in THE LAST JEDI. As for the pager-turner line, that was Rian, the director and writer. All the dialogue came from him. He is annoyingly talented.


Q:

Hi Frank - I'm posting from Madrid.

Loved your shot selections and staging in Little Shop of Horrors (the transition from the end of Somewhere That's Green to the next song on the rooftop in one shot - so good).

What were your movie musical inspirations for the staging of the musical numbers? Any chance you might direct another musical someday?

A:

Hey Madrid, Great that you're onboard here. Actually that shot from Audrey's window going all the way up to the top of the rooftop, was not my idea. It was the only shot sequence that Howard Ashman had written in so followed that. It was a very difficult sequence because we didn't have a crane high enough so we had a luma cane put on top of a titan crane. That's how we got the shot. As far as movie musicals go, I remember loving Brigadoon all the way up to the to Rocky Horror show. I am sure I was influenced to some degree but that must be unconscious because I just did what I did. Love to do a future musical; again it all depend on if the quality of the writing is as high as Howard's, and if the songs are as amazing as Howard and Alan's.


Q:

What is the most emotional character you've ever performed?

A:

Yoda. Because he runs so deep and there is so much gravitas in him.


Q:

Hi Frank! Thanks so much for doing this AMA.

I've heard some of the backstories about your characters that help you figure out who they are offscreen. (I've heard the stories about Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Animal, and Marvin Suggs.) Do you have similar backstories for your Sesame Street characters like Grover, Cookie Monster, or Bert? Or some of your lesser-known characters like George the Janitor or Lefty the Salesman?

A:

Hey there. The answer is that I create backstories for my characters when I don't have time to let them develop organically. So Bert developed over many months, even a year, because I had time on SS to do that. But for instance, I didn't have that time with Yoda, I didn't have that much time with Piggy, so I worked on getting specific about their story so that it could become a part of me.


Q:

You directed Derek Delgaudio’s incredible stage show “In and of Itself” show both in its LA run at the Geffen and also for its current off-broadway run. As a storyteller, how is directing a magic show different than a movie? What did you learn working with Derek?

A:

Adam Savage. First of all, I told you never to call me at home. But, since you're saying such nice things about our show, In & Of Itself, I'm going to be nice to you. It's a great question. The show comes from Derek's experiences and mind and heart. But there was no script. So we workshopped it for several months in order to make it a whole entity and subverting the magic to support the story which itself is an internal journey for Derek. To give a quick answer, movies usually have scripts that I work with. With Derek I learned to be open and explore ambiguities when in the past I've always liked making things clear. But now I see that there's a tremendous value in ambiguity.


Q:

Has there been any work that was particularly emotional for you, or really changed you as a person?

A:

I think the answer to your question is that it wasn't a particular piece of work, but it was the years of working with Jim Henson that changed me. His was an open, trusting, collaborative and supportive way of life, and that affected me deeply.


Q:

Hi! I'm Andreas from Sweden.

I love the chemistry between Kermit and Fozzie and I like to think they are great avatars for you and Jim Henson to embody that also reflect your real-life friendship. Is there any particular moment between the two characters that you both shared as a favorite? I am personally very fond of Kermit shouting "Is there no end to this running gag?!?!!" as Fozzie continuously answers the phone with bad puns coming out.

A:

Hi Sweden, I guess it's fair to say that in every character that Jim did was a bit of Jim. And every character that I did was a bit of me. So there was indeed a part of the Fozzie/Kermit relationship that was Jim and me. But the character relationships were magnified, exaggerated, through our professional filters and made funny. Jim and I weren't that funny in a room. You know I gotta throw something in here. Go to MuppetGuysTalking.com, will you? Because all of these questions you have, there's going to be more answers there, building up to he release on March 16 to the release of our documentary "Muppet Guys Talking." I know that was a shameless plug, but I have no shame.


Q:

You were reportedly developing The Cheapest Muppet Movie Ever Made around the same time Jason Segel was developing his Muppet movie. What are the chances we'll ever see yours see the light of day?

A:

Very few people know about The Cheapest Muppet Movie. It was something that Jerry Juhl and Jim originally wrote about 40 years ago. When Dick Cook was head of Disney, he asked me to get involved with a Muppet movie, so because the previous script was dated from being written 40 years ago, I did rewrite it with the help of Jim Lewis. And personally, I love it. And I wish it could be made. But maybe it's time now is gone because it feels like Disney would like to go their own way.


Q:

Hi Frank!

I'm in San Francisco.

What is your favorite dessert?

A:

Hey San Francisco, Favorite dessert? You got a lot of time? I LOVE desserts and I have to watch it. But if we're talking priorities, probably like a hot fudge sundae with everything. Also, put a few cookies in there. Chocolate sprinkles...make sure there is whipped cream, a big dish underneath to catch the spills....I'd better stop now; you get the idea.


Q:

Hi Frank! Scott from New England here.

An old interview with Ken Plume on IGN claims that your full name was/is Richard Frank Oznowicz. The shortening of your name to Oz is pretty well-documented, but I've never seen the "Richard" part corroborated elsewhere. As an administrator for Muppet Wiki, I'd like to be able to make sure we're being factual. Is it true; is Richard your birth/legal first name?

Thanks so much for everything!

A:

Hi New England & Muppet Wiki! Yeah that's weird. I've heard that before. Have no idea where that came from. My legal name is Frank Richard Oznowicz. I asked my parents why they gave me the middle name of Richard thinking it was probably from an uncle they loved very much. They said, "It just sounded nice."


Q:

Hi there Mr. Oz. 19 year old life long fan living in Sherwood Park, Alberta. First I wanted to take this opportunity to thank you. My best friend tragically passed at the age of 18 in 2016. His favourite film was The Indian in the Cupboard. That hour and a half of escape he was able to get each time he watched that film really meant a lot to him as he had a tough childhood. Thank you for that. What’s funny is that my best friend and I were just like Bert (my best friend) and Ernie (me). I can watch Bert and Ernie and see exchanges that were exactly word for word like my friend and I could have had.

My first question is that IMDb credits you as playing Miss Piggy in 2007 for the Children In Need fundraising special. You had already retired from The Muppets by then. Did you do Miss Piggy as a one time thing for that special? Or is IMDb giving you a false credit?

Did you do any on set preforming at all for Muppet Treasure Island and Muppets From Space? Thanks again Mr. Oz!

A:

Hi Alberta, Thanks for writing in, and I'm very touched by what you said about Indian in the Cupboard. Regarding the 2007 Piggy appearance that was not me, and regarding Treasure Island I came in for a few days and all that stuff that Piggy did was me. Which is weird for a 6'2" guy to say. As for Muppets From Space, I was just there for 2 days and I did Piggy there.


Q:

Hi Frank! Washington Post here, currently freezing in D.C. Thanks for doing this.

Here's a softball snowball question. In your opinion: Practical effects puppet Yoda or digitized acrobatic flippy floppy Yoda, and why?

A:

Hey Post, It all depends on story. In George's story in one of the movies the writer wrote that Yoda would have a huge fight. There was no other choice but to do CG at that point because it couldn't be done any other way. And we're all slaves to the story. So it all depends on story, which type of character is used, CG or real.


Q:

Hi. What was it like working with Alan Tudyk on Death at a Funeral? I love his performance in that film.

A:

Alan Tudyk. Alan Tudyk. Alan Tudyk. What can I say about Alan Tudyk because I have so much to say? So let's just say this. He's absolutely brilliant and I love him.


Q:

Hi Frank! Lifelong fan from NJ here! What do you think was the hardest project you've ever worked on, performing or directing?

A:

Hi NJ, The hardest project that I worked on was the project that I actually both performed and directed, and that was DARK CRYSTAL. And as I said before, I helped Jim direct his vision of DARK CRYSTAL. Besides working in that capacity, I also performed Aughra and the Chamberlain and, like Jim, who also performed, it was hard, sweaty heavy work and at the same time having an eye out as one of the directors to see how the scene was going.


Q:

Hi mr. Oz, greetings from the Netherlands!

I am a great fan of the movie Dark Crystal.

Do you maybe have an amusing or interesting anecdote to share from working on it?

A:

Hi Netherlands, My dad was Dutch and born in Amsterdam, so I feel very comfortable talking with you. The Dark Crystal was such a huge project that along with Jim, I was so focused every day trying to make the day and because I have a lousy memory, I can't think of anything. But I will say this...it was Jim's vision. I just helped Jim direct his movie.


Q:

Hi Frank! I'm in Portland (the Oregon one, slightly less frozen here).

Whether it's part of performing or not, what's a small/simple thing that gives you joy?

A:

Hi Portland. What gives me joy in the large picture is making things come alive -- that could be puppets, that could be scenes, that could be moments, that could be when talking to someone in real life. And the more down to earth answer is being with my wife, spending time with my wife and knowing that my kids are healthy and can manage their lives.


Q:

I'd really like to know something about the genesis of What About Bob?. It's one of my own all-time favorite comedies, though not "universally loved". Did it seem risky to make a film that's going to contain at least one very unlikable lead character, knowing it will depend on the the viewer as to which character it is?

A:

Hi. Well I'm glad you liked What About Bob?. It was an amazing experience to shoot. I never worry about people being likable. Sometimes unlikeable characters have tremendous value. With What About Bob? I feel it worked not because one was likable and one was not, but rather one character was very rigid and uptight and the other character was very loosey-goosey; and that may not allow a good friendship, but it sure allowed for a lot of comedy.


Q:

The performances at Jim Henson's funeral were so touching, your talk and Big Bird's song in particular. Can you describe that day? It is remarkable everyone kept their composure, let alone delivered such great performances.

A:

I'm unable to talk about it. Sorry.


Q:

Was Miss Piggy’s voice hard on your vocal cords? Specifically, the singing? I'm from Denmark.

A:

Hey Denmark again, Piggy's voice wasn't that hard. For some reason I had this very high range I was able to do. I have no idea how that happened. But I could reach very high and there were no problems. The voice that was hard on me was Cookie Monster. That was one that can rip your throat out if you're not careful. But I've been careful.


Q:

Hi Mr. Oz! I'm from Denmark. So, I’m a very shy person and I’m currently trying to get into the animation industry. I wanna do creative work, but I’m afraid that my introversions and insecurities will limit my opportunities. I heard that you used to be a shy person, when you were younger, yet you still got up and performed (brilliantly I might add). How did you overcome shyness?

A:

Hey Denmark, Thanks for writing. I overcame the shyness when I was a kid by hiding behind the puppets. I'm still shy when it comes to large crowds or even people that I don't know. And you're right, I was not only shy, but I also had very low self esteem for many years. I was lucky to have a mentor in Jim Henson who gave me opportunities and supported me. That's the real answer. But there're are not that many Jim Hensons around. And lastly, if you really are really shy, fake it. There's an old adage which i used earlier on performing to combat my shyness which is if you can't be good, be loud. I don't know how that translates to animation, but introversion can be a gift sometimes. Don't run away from it. I'm sure if you keep on doing it something is going to happen.


Q:

Ryan From Wheeling, WV here - First off, I just want to say I read a number of interviews with you prior to this (I didn't want to ask the same questions you've been asked before). Just to let everyone know - DONT ASK HIM TO DO ANY VOICES! (It probably wouldn't translate in written format anyhow) buuuuuut have you ever done it to make someone laugh? Or impress a girl? Or surprise a kid?

A:

Hi Wheeling, WV, by the way I want to say to everyone this is so great you are writing in. Thanks! The answer is no, I never do voices for anyone. But here's a sad story, in my 20's I was performing Cookie Monster in the second or third year of SS, and I was very lonely because I was very shy with girls. And then a friend of mine said what he did was go into singles bars and do Cookie's voice to impress the girls. And I'm thinking, "something's wrong here."


Q:

Hello Frank! What job would Grover be the best at? I'm from Texas.

A:

Hey Texas, I think Grover would be best if there was a job for hugging.


Q:

Hi. I'm in Scotland. What are some of your favourite films/tv shows and why?

A:

Hi Scotland, Great to have you on board here. You ask a wide-ranging question. I was speaking to a director once and he was saying "what are your favorite 10 films?" and nobody could answer because people kept adding more and more films. And that's kind of how I feel I love so many films and such great tv shows. I'd have to start with Citizen Kane and Touch of Evil. Orson Welles is my favorite director.


Q:

Hi Frank! From Virginia.

If you had to pull off a heist using a team of only Muppet performers who would you choose and why?

A:

Hey Virginia, I think you have a very odd idea of who we are. I wouldn't choose a team of Muppet performers to cook hot dogs. You don't know these people.


Q:

Phoenician here. How was it working at SNL their first season?

A:

Hi Phoenician. Are you saying there's a place called Phoenicia? I better let that ride. Ok. It was so exciting being in the first year of Saturday Night Live and to get to know all the original performers and work in an atmosphere of electricity that happens when you're doing a live show. So that part was an absolute privilege and joy. But as the show went on, it was clear that our style of comedy which was punchy and energetic did not fit the Not Ready For Primetime Players. Their comedy was more a Second City kind of laid back comedy. So it was difficult for the SNL writers to write for a type of comedy that didn't fit the show. But personally, we are friends with everybody and after SNL's first year, we got The Muppet Show, so everything turned out fine.


Q:

Hey Frank

I'm from Houston, TX. I would like to ask you about Labyrinth. It's been two years since we've lost the Thin White Duke. What were your fondest memories about working on that film and with the late great David Bowie as the Goblin King?

A:

Hi Houston, I wish I could answer that. But I never met the brilliant Bowie. I really didn't work on Labyrinth.


Q:

Where do you stand on the firing of Steve Whitmire?

A:

I'm just very sad about what happened with Steve. I'm not privy to the reasons. I'm not part of Disney. As I understand it, the reasons had nothing to do with performing. When Steve was on the set he was always a joy to work with. So it saddens me that something outside of performing caused this to happen. It just saddens me, that's all.


Q:

A question from Florida, Like Mark Hamill, did you agree/disagree with the way your character was used in The Last Jedi?

A:

Hi Florida, For me it was not a matter of agreeing or disagreeing, it was a matter of did I feel that the writing was true for Yoda.


Q:

Hi Frank, from Dunedin, New Zealand. Thank you for so much brilliant entertainment over the years. 2 questions, from me and my family: How do you balance individual vision with the teamwork? What's your favourite Miss Piggy Song? (Ours is 'Never Before' :) )

A:

Hey New Zealand, this is so great that I'm getting questions from way outside the US. I love it. The vision and teamwork question is wonderful, but the answer would be long, having to do with subtleties and nuances and instinct. And such so just the short version is that I hire a team and that team is there to support my vision. And I could never fulfill my vision without that team. Regarding the favorite Miss Piggy song, it's difficult for me to judge when she's such a lousy singer. But I will tell you something that not many people know. "Never Before and Never Again" Jim first asked Johnny Mathis to record it. And he did. And it was beautiful. But it wasn't funny. So it was a rare time where this guy who can't sing his way out of a paper bag took over from Johnny Mathis. Bizarre.


Q:

You've recently joined Twitter, what do you think?

A:

Twitter. Yes I did recently join. Please help me. I am spending far too much time. How do people do this? I've got to pull back, although it makes me feel bad if I do because I like answering people's questions so maybe I'll just pull back a little bit...but I didn't realize that the joy of Twitter for me would be having a way to express myself personally to fans. I love that part.


Q:

Hi Frank!

Do you ever find yourself applying the wisdom of Master Yoda to your own life?

"We are what they grow beyond, that is the true burden of all masters," really struck me when I heard it. Even though I'm not a parent nor have I ever been a mentor, I couldn't help but think back on growing up and understanding that it's okay to separate oneself from the teachings and practices of one's family. To take what I have learned and not be afraid of becoming my own independent self and find my own meaning in life. Anyways, thanks for all the work you do and may the force be with you! (I'm from Florida.)

A:

Hi Florida, Thanks for chiming in. I'm very lucky that I have amazing writers from George and Larry all the way to Rian. They write those amazing words. And "We are what they grow beyond" -- I knew when I first read it was a rich thought. I don't associate myself with Yoda's wisdom. My life experiences have created different wisdom in me. But I love what Yoda says.