About Me

My photo
Joseph Scarbrough launched what he called "The Scarblog" as a way of cataloging his work over the years, as well as going into greater detail of things on his mind (known as "Unfinished Thoughts").

Saturday, May 5, 2018

My Unfinished Thoughts on Sid & Marty Krofft

I often write about Jim Henson and/or his work with the Muppets, or other projects of his from on this blog - but can I help it? The man is my biggest hero; he's one of the reasons I was inspired to become a puppeteer. That isn't to say that he's my only inspirational hero, though. There have been other noteworthy puppeteers whose influence has rubbed off on me - such as ventriloquist Shari Lewis: that's such an amazing skill, and a tough one to master at that. But perhaps the ones who have been a significant amount of inspiration on me are the ones who practically owned Saturday Morning TV in the 70s and 80s with their psychedelic worlds of strangers in strange lands befriending all sorts of wacky foam rubber creatures, while always thwarting off some outlandish villain in heavy make-up.

I am referring, of course, to Sid & Marty Krofft.

Walt Disney always said to put your name on top of what
you produce.
As much as I admire Jim Henson for what he's done with the art of puppetry, I admire the Kroffts for not only that, but also for their consistent and protective business practises as well (well . . . evidently, Marty is the one with a knack for business; Sid, not so much): as independent producers who worked tirelessly to keep their enterprise afloat with meager budgets that didn't even begin to cover the costs for their lavish sets and life-sized foam rubber creatures, the Kroffts are really the poster boys for artistic entrepreneurs. Taking advice from Walt Disney himself, the Kroffts never sold out to bigger conglomerate corporations (lookin' at you, Jim Henson Company), never sold off their intellectual properties (still lookin' at you, Henson Company), and managed to hold onto everything they ever created over their decades-spanning careers (my eyes haven't left, JHC). This is why the Kroffts are among my biggest heroes: they're savvy enough to make sure that nobody out there takes anything away from them, and remain very protective of what they've created . . . something that Ross Bagdasarian, Jr. and Janice Karman learned the hard way after they sold the Alvin and The Chipmunks franchise to Universal Studios in the 90s. While much of what I've done to craft my puppetry comes from Henson, much of my business sense (or, what little sense I've been able to make of business) most definitely comes from Krofft - whatever I create, I intend to hold onto for dear life.

With dozens of shows, a number of specials, and even an odd number of movies under their belts, the Kroffts were recently honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 45th Daytime Emmy's this year!

If you can believe it, Sid & Marty Krofft are back in action! Just when you think they'd be spending time kicking back, relaxing, and enjoying the fruits of their labor from years past (Marty has said if you retire, and stay home watching daytime television, you'd be dead within a month), the Kroffts have brought in a surge of new projects, from their successful preschool series on Nick Jr. MUTT & STUFF, to digital reboots of SIGMUND AND THE SEAMONSTERS and ELECTRAWOMAN & DYNAGIRL, the Kroffts are certainly beginning to leave a mark on a new generations of fans to enjoy!

Not just ElectraWoman & DynaGirl . . . this is ElectraWoman & DynaGirl -
Granted, I haven't seen much of their new work - aside from seeing a number of episodes of MUTT & STUFF on Nick Jr., their reboots of SIGMUND AND THE SEAMONSTERS and ELECTRAWOMAN & DYNAGIRL are on platforms I don't have access to, so all I've been able to see of these are online clips, trailers, promos, and what have you. From what I've seen, it's absolutely amazing to see what the Kroffts can do when they actually have budgets to work with! If you know your Krofft history like I do, their shows from the 70s were almost always over budgeted . . . I don't think networks realize that puppetry is not an inexpensive art form - and while the networks would budget the Kroffts' shows for a few thousand dollars, it actually took a few million to create their expansive puppets, costumes, sets, props, and everything else. This time, however, that doesn't appear to be the case. In fact, looking at examples of the Kroffts' recent outings, the difference is quite startling: the production values look almost cinematic, and the puppets and suits almost look like something you would except to see from Jim Henson's Creature Shop. It's almost as if the Kroffts broke free from the confines of limitations and stomped them into the ground.

A magical world of flat, cardboard scenery
With that being said however, I'm also sensing a feeling that what the Kroffts are gaining in budgets and advances in technology, they're losing in charm. Both Sid and Marty have joked that back in the day, the networks would see how much they could produce for as little money as possible, and as a result, if there's one thing that their previous shows are known for is their campiness: through all the limitations the Kroffts had to work through, we got show after show after show after show with sets looking like they were made out of painted cardboard; stiff-looking characters with mouths that didn't necessarily hit each syllable properly, or large googly eyes that had no focus; not to mention the primitive, low-quality video tape recording. Nevertheless, the World of Sid & Marty Krofft was something people hadn't ever seen before, so it can definitely be argued that it was those limitations, small budgets, and campiness that gave Krofft shows their charm - because what they lacked in financial stability, they made up for with adventurous stories, engaging plots, unique premises, and wacky, yet lovable characters.

This isn't unlike what I wrote about a few years ago, about how puppets are now being built so perfectly and flawlessly that they're actually becoming cold and artificial in the process.

But to reiterate, one of the main reasons for the Kroffts' campy look of the 70s and even into the 80s was meager budgets handed out by the networks. Now that we're seeing what the Kroffts can do when they have actual budgets to work with, who knows? Perhaps if they had this kind of financial backing way back when, this could be what Krofft shows were meant to look like all along. As I said, there's certainly a very grand, cinematic scope to their current work that was lacking from their older work (with, perhaps, H.R. PUFNSTUF being an exception, considering it was shot on film as opposed to video tape). Clearly, these aren't the Krofft shows of previous generations . . . but again, the Kroffts are garnering all new generations of fans now that they're back in action, and it's wonderful to see they're still going strong after nearly six decades of psychedelic and magical adventures in puppetry and live action; who knows where all this may lead them in years to come?

And again, after those six decades of Krofft magic, they more than deserved their Lifetime Achievement Award!

Friday, March 23, 2018

My Unfinished Thoughts on Film Vs. Digital **UPDATE**

Okay, you know what? I really need to stop with the video-extensive posts - they're really making Scarblog laggy and sluggish. But, the videos are necessary for this write-up, weighing in on a longtime debate among filmmakers and producers: film vs. digital.

Now, granted, I really have no authority to even really weigh in on this subject myself, as I have never actually had the experience of working with motion picture film at all; the only physical media I've ever worked with in the past was videotape. So, I really can't speak from any kind of experience this time around, and my opinions on the matter are strictly and purely observation, so I really can't be taken to task for something I'm not an expert on.

Still, this has become a really interesting debate. Living now in this digital age, advances in technology sure have made things a lot easier for all of us, haven't they? As far as movie making goes, digital has certainly made the whole production process a breeze: imagine, just shoot something with a fancy-dancy camera, import your footage into a computer, do all of your editing and other little post-production technicals with software, export your final product, and boom, you're done! Isn't that just wonderful! Yeah! Well. . . . Sure, that sounds like an ideal production process, but, could this be too good of a thing? After all, filmmaking is certainly an artform unto it's own, but is it possible that these advances in technology may actually be causing the art to suffer? Is something being lost in the switch from physical, 35mm film to digital media?

I think Quentin Tarantino (tidbit trivia: he's from my hometown) can perhaps sum this all up better than I can as he mentions his preference of film in this interview:

As I mentioned above, I really am no authority or expert on this subject as I've never actually worked with 35mm film (or physical analog film in general), but as I said, even I can make observations of my own, and I have to say, even I can certain tell a difference. Sure, the right kind of digital media certainly can give you a wonderful picture with a lot of sharpness and detail - particularly HD - but there's something that digital can't seem to capture as well as film could: tone. Rather than go into a lot of technical mumble-jumble you don't want to read anyway, here's another video I found that notes the comparisons between actual motion picture film and digital very well:

Even with a treatment to make digital look like film, there's still an obvious difference that you can see. Film seems to capture a certain kind of color and contrast better than digital can capture - even if you try to fix it in post. After I left videotape behind and went to digital, my first stint with digital was standard definition (SD), but since I was using an inexpensive commercial digital camera (and I only had Movie Maker to work with for editing), the results were always middling: muted colors (blues and pinks in particular) were always a headache, but everything had to be lit just right because of the camera's poor exposure. Too little light resulted in a dark, fuzzy, out of focus picture; too much light resulted in a washed-out picture reminiscent of nuclear winter.
Too little or too much lighting can make for some rather unsatisfactory results for your overall shot.

That all changed when I got Adobe Premiere and an HD camera. Since my HD camera has the ability to adjust its exposure, that made lighting a shot much easier, not to mention it picks up colors and detail so much better than my previous camera. TECHNICOLOR DREAMS was my first true HD production, and I've been shooting in HD and editing in Adobe Premiere ever since. Still, there was something about the digital look that wasn't entirely satisfying to me, so I began to play around with the effects to try and enhance the footage I was looking at; by adjusting the brightness and contrast, increasing the color saturation, adding just a hint of grain, and rendering at 24 frames per second (digital is 29.97), I'm able to try to, at least, recreate the look of film. But it's still not quite the same.
Editing TECHNICOLOR DREAMS, my first true HD production.

I've often said that older shows that were shot on 35mm film look remarkably better than shows that are shot digitally today. Take a look at this screencap from a 1970 episode of HOGAN'S HEROES on DVD:
The picture is sharp, the colors are rich, and the contrast is strong.

Now, if we really want to talk about bright, rich, vivid colors, we need look no further than H.R. PUFNSTUF:

Unfortunately, afterwards, Sid & Marty Krofft looked for any way to cut costs (at $54,000 an episode budget, it cost upward of $1,000,000 to produce H.R. PUFNSTUF), and film was one of their first casualties - the rest of their shows were shot on videotape (which was still primitive in the 70s), and they suffered as seen here in on THE BUGALOOS.

Much of what you see uploaded to YouTube has been recorded digitally, in some way or form. Depending on the cameras that are used, and how the videos themselves have been edited, processed and even compressed, they can look pretty good, but still lacking. However, other film enthusiasts out there have taken to YouTube to show the world just how remarkable film can still look today, such as this:

This one is a personal favorite of mine, not only does it still look remarkable compressed down to 720p, but some of this guy's shots actually look like something from a real Hollywood movie:
UPDATE August 49, 2016
I happened to stumble onto this wonderful video essay about the film vs. digital debate, as told by filmmaker Toby Kearton, and I have to say, he puts this into such a wonderful and insightful perspective, that I really shouldn't have even bothered writing up this whole post; I could have just as easily linked to the video and said I agree with what he says. Check it out:

UPDATE March 23, 2018 
Looks like in addition to records for music lovers, Kodak is answering the call for a resurgence in analog film for filmmakers, as they're launching a new kind of handycam that can actually shoot on analog film cartridges!

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Fantasy: Niche Puppetry Channel

I certainly would watch, wouldn't you?
Remember the old days of cable, when niche channels catered to a specific demographic? Like how MTV used to be all about music videos and other music programs? When Cartoon Network used to be all about animation? How about when A&E used to show informative and educational programs? Or when TV Land used to be the ultimate home for television classics of yesteryears? Or when Animal Planet used to have programs about animals? Heck, even the Weather Channel used to be about weather!

No matter what the interest, demographic, or community, there used to be (and in some cases, still are) niche channels catering to those specifics, but if there's one thing that never really got to experience that was puppetry. I suppose, in a sense, having such a channel might seem senseless: not only is puppetry an underrated art form that most people tend to overlook, but a majority of puppet shows on TV have been preschool shows, and there's been niche preschool channels throughout the years (Noggin, Sprout, PBS Kids, etc.). But a lot of people tend to forget there's been puppet shows for other audiences and demographics out there, and not only that, there's been a lot of puppet shows that are all but forgotten in this day and age.

I doubt we would ever see such a niche channel for puppetry, but it's something nice to think about. I can even figure out what a decent schedule would be like:

- Early Morning (6am - 10am): Sid & Marty Krofft shows. These guys dominated Saturday Morning back in the 70s and 80s, so it seems only fitting that this slot in the schedule be home to such fare as H.R. PUFNSTUF, THE BUGALOOS, LIDSVILLE, SIGMUND AND THE SEA MONSTERS, LAND OF THE LOST, THE LOST SAUCER, FAR OUT SPACE NUTS, and their latest contribution: MUTT & STUFF.

- Daytime (10am - 5pm): Those "preschool" shows I was talking about. Any of those shows you can imagine, they could fall into this slot. SESAME STREET, BARNEY & FRIENDS, TELETUBBIES, WIMZIE'S HOUSE, BETWEEN THE LIONS, MUPPET BABIES, ALLEGRA'S WINDOW, JACK'S BIG MUSIC SHOW, BEAR IN THE BIG BLUE HOUSE, THEODORE TUGBOAT, LAMB CHOP'S PLAY-ALONG, THE CHARLIE HORSE MUSIC PIZZA, JOHNNY AND THE SPRITES, ANIMAL JAM, and those are just to name a few.

- Evening (5pm - 8pm): Family shows. These are the shows that have broad audience appeal, such as THE MUPPET SHOW, MUPPETS TONIGHT!, FRAGGLE ROCK, THE GREAT SPACE COASTER, COUSIN SKEETER, and again, just to name a few.

- Primetime (8pm - 11pm): One thing about niche channels is they always brought us original programming that you couldn't find anywhere else - Nickelodeon gave us Nicktoons, Cartoon Network gave us Cartoon Cartoons. This slot would be perfect for all-new original programming: just imagine if Tim Kelly's Zook and Max had their own half-hour show, or if Kevin L. Williams's Muley the Mule and his cohorts had their own show, or if relatively newer acts such as A Company of Fools or The Creatures of Yes had their own shows. This would be perfect for them.

- Latenight (11pm - 2am): The adult shows. CRANK YANKERS would probably fit at home here, but so could televised broadcast of puppet improv showcases, such as the Jim Henson Company's PUPPET UP!, and other similar fare.

- Dear Air (2am - 6am): I could easily see this being reserved for obscurities. Probably a lot of these syndicated Christian puppet shows you used to see on local channels. But certainly, rarities that time has forgotten, such as that Mr. Potato Head show from Fox Kids, and perhaps this slot could conclude with some of the Kroffts' lesser-known shows like PRYOR'S PLACE and D.C. FOLLIES.

And that would be the Monday through Friday weekday schedule . . . I could see the weekend schedule showcasing Muppet movies, individual standalone specials from any of the above mentioned shows, short independent films, and the like.

Now that would be some good TV.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

10 Years on YouTube

Hard to believe it, but it would seem I have finally reached my ten-year mark on YouTube. In a way, it doesn't even really feel like it's been that long, and a lot of my work feels like it was done just yesterday, but here it is, ten years later.

In a way, I'm surprised I've even lasted this long, especially with how YouTube has been doing so much to stunt the growth of smaller channels and sweep the little guy under the rug more and more since about 2009 or so, but nevertheless, it's a milestone, so I guess I should take the time to look over my catalog of work over the past ten years in a retrospective, so here it is:

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Offensive Coffee Cups

Okay . . . maybe I'll do one more of these, and take it however you want to. Either way, it'd be nice if we could go one year without people getting offended over holiday coffee cup designs.