Production Starts on “Street Gang” – A Feature Documentary on “Sesame Street” – Animation Scoop

Production Starts on “Street Gang” – A Feature Documentary on “Sesame Street”

Production is just underway on Street Gang, a documentary on the origin of one of the most iconic shows in the history of television Sesame Street. Macrocosm Entertainment and Citizen Skull Productions are producing the feature based, in-part, on the 2008 New York Times best-selling book of the same name by Michael Davis profiling the creation and history of of the show.

Street Gang will be directed by Marilyn Agrelo, director of the award-winning film Mad Hot Ballroom. Agrelo will have access to Sesame Street archives through Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit behind Sesame Street, and The Jim Henson Company. Using new animated sequences, new character and cast interviews, and exclusive archival materials, Street Gang will tell the origin story of the show and how creator Joan Ganz Cooney, director Jon Stone, and visionary Jim Henson came out of the ideals and the societal unrest of the sixties to make something that changed history.

cookie-monster-cel

I asked Executive Producer Trevor Crafts and Director Marilyn Agrelo if they could tell me how they’ll get, how they’ll get to (the start and the heart of) Sesame Street.

Jackson Murphy: You usually don’t think about documentaries being based on books, but this one actually is. What was it about Michael Davis’s 2008 book on the history of “Sesame Street” that really made it worthy of a movie?

Marilyn Agrelo: Everybody knows so many things about “Sesame Street”. We all grew up with it. We know what the episodes were like – who the characters are. But this book really goes into all…that gave impedance to “Sesame Street”: what the world was like when it was founded, the ideas that came out of it, the technology, the animation. It was a revolution in television, and a revolution in educational television for sure. This is the untold story, really.

Trevor Crafts: And Michael’s book is so comprehensive. It really covers so many different aspects of the show and the production. And working with Michael as a co-executive producer on the project – he’s just been a phenomenal resource for us and allowed to really get us into some great conversations with Sesame Workshop in terms of accessing their archives and everything else. So for us, it was a lynchpin in a real great skeleton and foundation to build our foundation on.

JM: In the video on Indiegogo, you guys discuss the never-before-seen footage you will be using. You mentioned all kinds of access into the archives. What kinds of things have you uncovered in the “Sesame Street” vault?

MA: Well, the creators working behind the scenes – how the interactions between the puppeteers and the Muppets looked, not what you see on TV, but what it actually looked like – what the production felt like. And, of course, interviews back in the day with some of the amazing talent that are now gone, such as Jim Henson.

JM: What are some of your earliest or fondest memories of “Sesame Street”?

TC: I watched “Sesame Street” with my folks pretty much every day, so I have hundreds of great memories of that. The fun that I had watching the show was a big part of that for me – the humor and the different types of media they used. It was such a fun show to watch and a great experience sharing that with my parents. I still Grover. He’s my still favorite. Period. End of story. We share a birthday!

JM: I’ve had a tiny stuffed doll of Guy Smiley my whole life, so he’s probably my favorite character.

MA: That’s fantastic. When I was a kid, I used to have Bert and Ernie puppets on either side of my bedpost. Those guys are still fantastic. As a child, [they’re] your first introductions to stand-up comedians, in a way.

JM: Did you ever think, “I’m really going to be involved with Bert and Ernie someday”?

MA: No! Who could foresee such a thing? It’s like a dream!

JM: With your Indiegogo campaign, you met your $100,000 goal. Congratulations!

TC: Thank you. There’s lots of interesting things still: reproduction animation cels and all sorts of fun memorabilia from the show.

street-gang-logo

JM: And you’re doing something really nice with about 15% of the proceeds.

TC: The Sesame Street Yellow Feather Fund is a new outreach for “Sesame Street” that really helps the world’s most vulnerable children grow smarter and stronger and kinder, which is Sesame Workshop’s mission. We all got so much out of “Sesame Street” – it’s just a nice way to be able to give back since they are a non-profit company – just to help out even more.

JM: I’m also very curious about this groundbreaking 3D process you are using. It’s really interesting.

TC: There’s a Russian artist who’s pioneering this, and it’s essentially – taking an archival photo, cutting it up…texture mapping that onto three surfaces, adding new 3D elements in – and it really is an absolutely phenomenal process. It makes it really look like a piece of footage or film from an archive. It’s quite impressive.

JM: And never showcased before in a movie of any kind?

TC: I don’t think so. It’s a pretty new process. As technology changes and our ability to animate things change, you start to see different emerging styles. I think this is going to be one that comes forward pretty quickly. There are certain rules – it doesn’t work well with crowd scenes. It works really well with landscapes and cityscapes.

It’s interesting for us – you have this live television studio environment in a lot of these early stills we found in the archives at Sesame Workshop. We got every single episode that we could possible imagine, but at the same time, there’s not a lot of early behind the scenes footage. The show started in ’69, and there really isn’t a lot of stuff from that timeframe. They were really concerned with making the TV show, they weren’t really concerned with documenting the process of how they did that. As Marilyn gets the storyline fully flushed out through her interviews…there’s a lot of sections and scenes that have no footage and have no photos, so we felt like having animation help to drive the stories in those sections (be it traditional animation or this new 3D conversion process) will really help to bring those elements to life.

superman-sesame-st

MA: And sometimes when someone is relaying a memory – we’re talking to people who are talking about things that happened 50 years ago when they started the show – sometimes there are ways to take a particularly milestone event in the evolution of “Sesame Street” and sort of re-create someone’s memory in a particularly beautiful animation style. So we’re going to employ…different styles of animation – different ways of bringing this magnificent story of life.

JM: It sounds fascinating and complex – and even more so: you’re re-building the Season 1 set. Is that the biggest challenge out of everything?

TC: It’s funny – not even close. Building a set is fun, and it’s wonderful. As the story unfolds, we’re seeing how that fits into our interviews. I think the fun thing about it is that it’s a very evocative image: everybody knows the stoop, everybody knows that set. But I think the challenge of a film like this [is that] this a very big, important story to tell. In 90…or 100 minutes, I think the challenge is: what are the stories that we are going to tell? Come January, for 48 years, “Sesame Street” has been on television. And that’s an incredible amount of stories. I’m so glad that Marilyn is helming the film to accept that challenge because it’s heavy stuff.

JM: The film is focussing on the origin days, but many things have happened since Davis’s book came out in 2008, including the addition of HBO to the “Sesame Street” family. Will you be tackling some of the modern stories in the film?

MA: The focus of the film is the origin through about 1990 – which is when some of the major players drop out, Jim Henson passes away, John Stone – who was one of the big creatives and the first (and main) director of the show. And several things, sort of, shift creatively for “Sesame Street”. This is an immense story, and by honing in on this origin piece of it, which is so surprising and so unknown to so many people, this is the focus of our story. And it’s really a fascinating focus.

JM: What is the timeline, as of right now, for when we can expect this movie to be released?

TC: I think it’s, like, tomorrow. Right, Marilyn? No, I’m kidding. Essentially we’re looking at a 2018 release, and that could come in a couple different ways. We may go the festival route through initial screenings [at places] such as Sundance and TIFF. We may go straight to theatrical distribution and have it air. We’re deep in the throughs of production and continuing development on the film. It’s gonna be a great film, and I think everyone is going to be amazed – and constantly amazed throughout the picture – just to the parallels that are going on in our country and in the world, as so many of those struggles were really pioneered by the creators of “Sesame Street”, and tackled head-on even in those early days.


Jackson Murphy

Jackson Murphy

Jackson Murphy is a movie critic and entertainment columnist. He is the creator of the website Lights-Camera-Jackson.com, and has made numerous appearances on television and radio.
Jackson Murphy
Share
Both comments and pings are currently closed.

Comments are closed.