After months of building elaborate sets and puppets, cameras are finally ready to roll at the Calgary Film Centre on a Fraggle Rock reboot.
While specific details about plot and characters are being kept tightly under wraps, filming is set to begin on Monday for the new series, a co-production between The Jim Henson Company, AppleTV+ and New Regency Productions. It will bring back the cave-dwelling characters created by Jim Henson for the popular children’s program that ran for five seasons in the 1980s and spawned several spinoffs.
The new series has been in pre-production since at least early November under the name Raphanus, which is Latin for radish. It will be shot entirely in-studio using all three of the sound stages at the $28.2-million film centre. Filming will continue into the spring.
“One of the challenges of being in the studio is that you have to make everything,” says producer Ritamarie Peruggi, in an interview with Postmedia. “So there is a lot of prep in terms of what the set is going to look like … bringing all the people together to build the set and timing that all to make sure the set build hits the lighting people and they get a chance to light and then going in and walking through the sets and taking a look at everything.”
Meanwhile, a “satellite creature shop” has been set up to build the puppets.
In the spring, The Jim Henson Company and AppleTV+ teamed up for Fraggle Rock: Rock On, a series of digital shorts that were filmed at performer’s homes on iPhones. The Calgary-shot series will be separate from that show, although some of the same talent is involved, Peruggi says.
Peruggi says a “large puppet production” has specific requirements in size and infrastructure, all of which the Calgary Film Centre was able to provide. Beyond that, Jim Henson Company COO Chris Lytton is quoted in a press release as crediting Alberta’s “fantastic rebate structure” and COVID-19 mitigation efforts as helping seal the deal.
“Calgary met all that criteria and they have a really good crew base,” Peruggi says.
That said, the Calgary-based crew have also had a bit of a learning curve since many had never worked with puppets before, she says. “I find you bring in some good people that are open to figuring out how to make things work,” Peruggi says. “We’ve been very fortunate because we’ve been able to use the infrastructure that exists here and blend what we need into what our needs are for the production.”
“The great thing about (Calgarians) learning a new skill set of doing puppets, is that you get even more new ideas on the table of how to do things,” she added. “So you’re constantly able to improve what you’re trying to do.”
While many of the puppeteers working on the series come from outside the city, Peruggi says the production has hired locally as well.
“We weren’t necessarily looking for it, but it was a great discovery that there is a puppeteer community in Calgary,” she says. “So we’re able to augment our shows by bringing in people from Calgary. Typically, when we go into a place we try to hire as local as possible. We have our main performers, many of which have come from the States but also a couple of people who come from Toronto, which has a very big puppeteer base. We had some auditions and brought some people in. We haven’t started yet, but we’re looking forward to working with local puppeteers.”
Peruggi did not have an exact number of how many local workers have been hired for the show but said that, beyond local crews, Calgarians have also been hired to work in the satellite creature shop building puppets and that many of the show’s departments heads are also local.
“From the film commission to the Calgary Film Centre, I really think they went the extra mile,” Peruggi says. “Because we went to a place that we haven’t shot in before, we didn’t even see the place. We were in the middle of COVID. With travel restrictions, you don’t get a chance to do that scouting job that you want to do. From my standpoint, I feel like they really helped shepherd it. We found a local producer here, Leslie Cowan, and she has a wealth of experience in a lot of shows and she really helped bring this all together for us up here so we were able to come in and really feel at home.”