Q: First, how did the idea for PUPHEDZ come about?
JURGEN: The idea for PUPHEDZ came by accident. Ryan Vaniski and I were building props for a different project, and, as was our habit while working, we were listening to tapes of old-time radio shows like Escape and Inner Sanctum. On this particular afternoon were running an episode of The Weird Circle program, which happened to be an overly dramatic adaptation of Edgar Allen Poe's The Tell-Tale Heart. Because it's a kind of morality play and because of its tone, you can easily see how its performance can be dated and stiff - which the radio performance certainly was. The material, although it's as good as it could possibly be, is, in many ways, too familiar. Nevertheless, the thought came to me that this would make for an interesting puppet show. The simple notion of throwing puppets into the mix allowed us to approach the material in different ways. The rest of the PUPHEDZ concept came quickly. Very much in the structure of the radio show, each PUPHEDZ episode would be a different tale. The only constant factor would be the puppets themselves. They would, essentially, be a group of puppet actors, performing these tales of terror. And, of course, since they are puppets, the stories would be told in the ridiculous way puppets would tell it. After all, you can't take puppets too seriously - at least, not our puppets. The only thing left was to come up with a name for the show. We went through a number of different titles - stuff like Sap n' Sawdust and That Bloody Puppet Show - but we finally settled on PUPHEDZ. It's sort of derived from "puppets with big heads." The PUP, obviously, from "puppet," and HEDZ from "heads." We put the Z on the end to be stupidly cool. We've found that some people accidentally say "pufedz," which we think is pretty funny. We poked fun at ourselves on the PUPHEDZ website for creating that "ph" dilemma.
Q: It's interesting that there's a combination of stop-motion animation (intro), puppetry and computer digital effects. Why mix the different effects?
JURGEN: The show (The Tattle-Tale Heart) actually has no stop motion animation. The title sequence has a few shots which are similar to traditional cell animation. That's the way they were constructed, in any case. The actual sequencing of images was done on the computer. In addition to this and the puppetry, there is a computer animated dream sequence. We've used all these techniques because, visually speaking, they've allowed us to achieve what we planned. I embrace the technology and have no problem utilizing any of these effects within a PUPHEDZ show. They just have to be used in an appropriate manner. For example, we used CG for the dream because it is a dream. It is one step removed from the rest of the show, and I wanted it to have a different feel and look. I couldn't see, however, using a CG representation of a puppet in a piece of live action footage with a real puppet, unless, of course, the CG version looked and moved exactly like a real puppet. And, as fantastically real as some CG creations have been, you can still tell when something is CG. And the puppets, although they have their limitations as well, are the stars of the show. It's a puppet show, after all, not a CG show.
Q: Tell us a bit about yourself and the other people involved?
JURGEN: For the past several years I've been working as a mechanical designer and puppeteer. I've worked on films like MIB (1 and 2), How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Mighty Joe Young (the new one), The Nutty Professor (also the new one), Matinee, Arachnophobia, Gremlins 2, and a bunch of other ones. That's what I do for a living, but in my heart I'm a frustrated filmmaker. So now I've made a film with a bunch of frustrated puppets. It's only fitting.
Somehow or other, I managed to sucker a small group of loonies into helping me with the show. Ryan Vaniski is my right-hand man. Like I mentioned earlier, he was actually helping me with another project and segued into the PUPHEDZ with me. He has more of a theater background and has worked with puppets before. He could also do a perfectly annoying Woodrow Larchbottom (one of the PUPHEDZ characters) voice. It's a nightmare to record, because he's so shrill, but it's just right. Mark Leins is our director of photography. I've known him for many years - since the old film school days. He's got an excellent eye for lighting and composition. Jim Kundig is a fellow effects man I met while working on Honey I Shrunk the Kids. He's a talented writer and puppeteer. Terry Mann - our Mann in Amsterdam - provides the music. Although he doesn't like it to get around, he was a contender for Ace Frehley's spot when KISS was forming. Jorge Falconi, our executive producer and P.R. man, found me shortly before the show began production while he was working for Stuart Gordon. Here's a bit of PUPHEDZ trivia - Stuart Gordon directed the first movie I worked on, which was Robot Jox, and the miniature work for that movie was shot on the same location as the opening shot of the PUPHEDZ show. Jorge rounds out the key PUPHEDZ group. Several other folks I know from Rick Baker's shop, Steve Johnston's XFX, and the Henson Creature Shop have been helping us on the production. Nick Esposto is one of our key puppeteers. Clayton Martinez plays "the cart puller" and helps puppeteer. Eddie Yang put together the CG dream. Mark Killingsworth is one of our main painters. Paul and Kristina Francis have helped with models. Matt Rose and Beate Eisele helped with costuming. There are several others, who I hope will forgive me not mentioning them here. Everyone is listed on www.puphedz.com.
Q: The first segment, THE TATTLE-TALE HEART is based on an Edgar Allen Poe Story. Why that story?
JURGEN: Part of what I hope to do with the PUPHEDZ is introduce young people to classic genre tales. Many people I've spoken with during the production of the show have no idea what "The Tell-Tale Heart" is, and, I don't know how it was for you, but I don't recall ever being taught Poe in any significant way during my old school days. I think we read "The Raven," and that was it. It's ridiculous, but instead of teaching imaginative and thought provoking material from authors like Poe, Stevenson, Wells, Bradbury, and Carroll, students have to survive endlessly somber and weepy passages of lost loves from the likes of D.H. Lawrence. Well, with any luck, a PUPHEDZ episode based on something like "The Tell-Tale Heart" might just spark some interest in the viewer to actually read the original work. That's our high-minded reason for doing Poe. Our more practical reason for doing Poe, and for doing "The Tell-Tale Heart" specifically, was that it was within our means. We were working with an extremely limited budget and equally limited resources. "The Tell-Tale Heart" has only a handful of characters and sets, and it's nice and short. It was perfect, and, of course, we loved the radio show version.
Q: Are other segments going to be based on Poe stories as well?
JURGEN: As a matter of fact, our second episode will be based on a Poe story as well. We're working up a number of ideas centered around "The Cask of Amontillado." Naturally, we don't always intend to turn to Mr. Poe. We have a list of future episodes which include Robert Louis Stevenson's "The Bottle Imp," Mary Shelly's "Frankenstein," Franz Kafka's "The Metamorphosis," and a variety of others. These are all rather grand plans for a small operation like ours, but we do hope to achieve them.
Q: PUPHEDZ is unique... ..I haven't seen anything else quite like it. Did you intentionally want to be as different as possible from other shows that utilized puppets?
JURGEN: Absolutely. It seems ever since Sesame Street hit the airwaves, every show staring or utilizing puppets has gone with the Henson model - that is to say, a hand puppet made of felt or fur with ping-pong ball eyes. And why not? It's a durable and economical kind of puppet to make. But I didn't want the PUPHEDZ puppets to be soft and fuzzy. They weren't going to be telling warm and cuddly stories, so they weren't going to look warm and cuddly. I wanted a wooden puppet. I knew this was going to be considerable harder to create, but I felt it was required for the tone of the show. This kind of puppet was also going to pose a different kind of puppeteering challenge. Since it wasn't a hand puppet, it would need to be operated solely through rod and wire manipulation. Eye movements being the only functions that were radio controlled. I see the puppets created for episode one as our first generation puppet. I have plans for improvements, which I hope to implement with episode two.
You'll also notice, with "The Tattle-Tale Heart" episode, that we have several different sets. Because of our small budget, we tried not to go too crazy, but we certainly didn't want to limit ourselves to just a couple of sets. The next time around, on episode two, we'll start with completely new sets. We have to. It'll be a different story. I think it would also be interesting to play with the art direction from show to show. The "Tattle-Tale Heart" episode looks a great deal like the artwork I have been creating over the past several years. I guess it's a kind of cross between Dali, "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari," and graffiti art. But it would be a great challenge, with future PUPHEDZ episodes, to tackle impressionism, cubism, abstract art, pop art, etc. Anything and everything is fair game. We'll see how it goes.
Q: What does the future hold for the PUPHEDZ?
JURGEN: It's hard to say what the future of PUPHEDZ will be. Since we are a small operation, we have to take things one step at a time. Our immediate plans are to find an avenue of release for "The Tattle-Tale Heart." We can release it ourselves from the PUPHEDZ website - a definite option we are exploring - but we'd like to have a more effective and wide-reaching method of distribution. We are also looking into broadcast and cable television opportunities. But the first little PUPHEDZ appearance will be at this year's Comic-Con in San Diego (August 1-4). We will have a small booth at the event, and I believe they are planning to screen the show that Saturday evening. At the booth we will be selling DVDs of the show, as well as other collectables. One of the puppets will also be making a live appearance. After the Comic-Con, we will try to enter a number of festivals, and... last but not least... we will start pre-production for episode 2. We already know we're going to be doing Poe's "Cask of Amontillado" and we have a few ideas percolating. In the grand scheme, I'd like to see the PUPHEDZ show continue through a good many more performances. I would like to increase the size of the cast with each production, and I would like to make each show bigger and better than the last. Another idea I've been toying around with is a PUPHEDZ sci-fi show. It would have a cast of metal puppets telling, naturally, classic science fiction tales. The gang and I have also discussed an idea for a PUPHEDZ movie, but we're keeping that quiet for now. "Dream on!" you say. Well, just you wait. Of course, you may need to wait for quite some time, but you just wait.
Q: Anything you want to add?
JURGEN: In parting, I'd like to thank you for giving us the time and the opportunity to conduct this interview. Just last month we were given some coverage in CINEFANTASTIQUE magazine, and I imagine a number of readers were wondering what the heck we were doing there. So many movie magazines and websites seem to dedicate themselves to mainstream products, and that's what their readers expect. I applaud you for giving some attention to a little project. You never know, we may be a big project one of these days. We all have to start somewhere.
Q: Website info, et cetera.
JURGEN: People can find the PUPHEDZ at www.puphedz.com. We are planning to change the site around and make it a kind of interactive, but this takes time. Bear with us, we'll get there. We have to survive Comic-Con first.