‘Muppets’ Screenwriter Nicholas Stoller Talks Art of Montage Writing & Abandoned Plotlines
The Muppets hits theaters on Wednesday November 23, so Celebuzz was thrilled when we sat down with Stoller, who directed 2008’s hysterical Forgetting Sarah Marshall and co-penned The Muppets with Segel.
We chatted with Nick about everything from their writing process to a possible sequel, and much more!
Tell us a little bit about the process of how this film came to be.
As we were filming Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Jason called me and said that he had a meeting at Disney. Just a general meeting with Kristen Burns, an executive there. She said what properties are you interested in and he asked ‘Are you guys doing The Muppets?’ and she said ‘I don’t know.’ And so he called me and asked ‘Do you want to write a Muppet movie?’ and I said yes (Laughs). That’s like the call you never think about. And on that phone call, we kind of riffed out most of the plot of the movie. It’s kind of interesting like most of the big moves of the movie, we figured out in that phone call.
What’s one of the more elaborate scenes that you thought would not make it into the movie?
From the beginning Disney, I hadn’t worked at Disney before, but they were so cool with their notes that they were just interested in being true to Jim Henson’s legacy and they weren’t interested in anything else, and that’s a testament to Kristen. There wasn’t really anything that I thought wasn’t going to make it because it was too weird or too out there. They were kind of on board for all of our weird humor and jokes because that’s what The Muppets are. They’re pretty out there, you know. So there’s wasn’t really anything that comes to mind. There were some things that we wrote in that ended up being cut because they would be impossible to shoot, but that’s different.
Well I’m actually glad the way it turned out the way it did. We had this idea early on that there should be a shot of all the Muppets (in a full body shot) running from Gonzo’s factory and then exploding in slow motion. That would’ve obviously caused so much problems. So the fix we thought was to have them running (not full body) and then to have them talk about how expensive it looks. So that was kind of an evolution. But then they went for the car coming out of the water scene. Originally we had it as a convertible Rolls Royce and they said that if you get the Muppets wet that cost like $50,000 to replace them. So we had it the way it is now.
There’s some great montages in the film. How does one master the art of writing a montage?
You just need to make sure that you have a lot of visual jokes. You can’t tell too many jokes verbally. James did an amazing job with those. We built the city as his idea and our version we just wrote a bunch of jokes and different things that The Muppets could be doing. But then he built it around that song which makes that montage fly. I think the right song certainly makes the montage work. Those two things and cool camera work, too.
Jason has mentioned that he is a little superstitious about talking about a sequel. Are you the same way?
Yeah, I am a little. Obviously, it would be awesome to get to work on another one, but we have to wait to see how it does.
What was one of your initial reactions when you finally got to see the movie in full?
I was just so excited. I thought James did an amazing job with it and I’m just thrilled. I’m thrilled with the way it turned out.
Oh yeah, a lot. We changed a lot. The funniest one was Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) in our original version, he was a oil baron who wants the studio. But we did a Willy Wonka-style plot where it’s revealed that it’s actually Kermit in a human suit pretending to be Tex Richman and he used Richman to get all the Muppets back together. Disney was like “kids aren’t going to understand this” (Laughs). We had this whole joke about him unzipping a human suit. That was kind of an early plot that people were like no one’s going to get this.
This is your third time working with Jason Segel. Do you guys have anything else in the works?
I’m in post-editorial on a movie called The Five Year Engagement with Jason and Emily Blunt. That we’re working on now, we just tested and it tested really well so we’re very excited.
What did your kids think of the movie?
My daughter saw they original Muppet Movie when she was a little bit too young, around two-and-a-half. The original movies are a little slow. They’re so awesome but they’re not paced so much quicker. But she loves Kermit and Miss Piggy. She hasn’t see the movie yet, but I’m excited for her to see it.
What was the writing process like writing this film?
We worked on it for so many years, but having said that it was really fun and exciting. The only challenge was the number of characters you have to service. In a normal movie, you have about five characters. This one there’s like 30 characters and there’s scenes were there’s 20 people or Muppets. So that was a little hard because the script had already quickly 130 pages. But in terms of writing it, it was a real delight. Each time we had to rewrite, it was fun to try new stuff and it’s kind of like writing animation where anything can happen.
Was there every a time where you just thought it was too much pressure?
Oh yeah. I remember when I sat down to write the first Kermit line and I like “this is a huge responsibility I’m taking on.” And I couldn’t think about it and I just went on (writing). So I decided to just put that out of mind and hope it worked.
Don’t forget to kick off your Holiday season by checking out The Muppets, in theaters Wednesday!