If you’ve seen The Muppets’ new music video where the Electric Mayhem do a live cover of Paul Simon’s “Kodachrome,” you know that it’s hilarious, awesome, and chock full of incredible cameos (and if you were as confused as we were, the large rat is named Bubba, an obscure character from Muppets from Space). But what you might not know about the video is that Kirk Thatcher, a genuine Muppet legend, helmed it. We got to chat with Thatcher about working with Jim Henson, putting together the insanely popular Web videos (he was also responsible for “Jungle Boogie” and “Bohemian Rhapsody”) and why this video took the form it did.
Thatcher began working with Jim Henson right before The Jim Henson Hour aired in 1989 as a self-described freelance “idea guy;” he described his time on the show as an “amazing experience,” where he would come up with ideas, “goof around” and design characters. (He told us that the original title of the show was Jim Henson’s World of Neat Stuff.) After The Jim Henson Hour wrapped, Thatcher worked for Walt Disney Imagineering, first on a proposed redo of Tomorrowland (he was tasked to work on a revamped Carousel of Progress show built around a crashed UFO that doubled as an alien carnival) and then on a slate of projects involving the Muppets (back when Henson was first going to sell the characters to Disney), including a Muppet version of The Great Movie Ride. After Imagineering, Thatcher worked on the cutting-edge television series Dinosaurs, a project that Henson and Thatcher had discussed before Henson’s death and was later revived by ABC. Thatcher “designed most of the characters” and wrote on the show. Before the show’s final season, Thatcher left to write Muppet Treasure Island with legendary Muppet performer Jerry Juhl, he says, “because Muppet Christmas Carol was so sweet and charming and we wanted to do a crazy adventure movie.”
After Muppet Treasure Island, Thatcher designed characters for ABC sitcom Aliens in the Family, and worked on Muppets Tonight. (He says that in these years he also worked on several unproduced Muppet projects, including a Muppet “haunted house/Halloween special” that he would still love to do.) When Muppets Tonight wrapped, Thatcher started directing: First he lead the second unit on Muppets from Space and then he directed TV specials It’s a Very Merry Muppet Christmas, The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz and A Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa. “A few years later, I started doing all the web videos,” Thatcher said.
“Something that we tend to forget is that the Muppets really lived in short form,” Thatcher explained. “They really became hits in the short form. So it really harkens back to what they do really well – have an idea, play with it, and get out. They really shine in a short form format.” Thatcher loved the freedom of the web videos and says that the experience of producing the videos “and just brainstorming,” felt like his early days with Jim Henson. As to how they chose “Kodachrome” for the new video, Thatcher says that, “We knew Paul Simon was a friend of the Muppets. We had talked about something with Muppets doing selfies and ‘Kodachrome’ is about pictures and about how pictures look better than your memory. We had also talked a long time about doing an Electric Mayhem live concert piece. But there’s no way to wedge it into the movies or the show, so we decided to do the short video like that, with the screens behind them showing the selfies.” While the “Kodachrome” video was shot on the same day as “Jungle Boogie,” it is coming out so much later due to the lengthy post-production process. “It took six hours to shoot and it’s taken six months to edit,” Thatcher said.
Part of what makes the new video work so well is the commitment to authenticity. Years ago Thatcher made music videos with David Fincher and used some of those lessons in making the Electric Mayhem really come alive. Also, he says, “The guy doing Dr. Teeth’s hands is a real piano player. So he might miss a few keys but he’s pretty accurate. And the guy doing Animal’s hands is a real drummer. So he’s drumming the way it would really be done. They’re really meticulous about making it look like they’re really playing the instruments.” He shot and cut the video like a real concert movie. “We thought all of that was enough to make a fun, dynamic video and make you think, Wow, the Electric Mayhem play concerts like real rock bands. They’re not just The Muppet Show house band.”