[4 June 2009]
McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)
It takes about two minutes of talking to Sid and Marty Krofft to figure out the pecking order.
Marty, 72, is the deep-voiced cutup who seizes control of a conversation. Older brother Sid, 79, has to elbow his way in just to contribute a comment.
Sometimes Marty lets Sid speak a few words before jumping in again and grabbing the reins of discourse.
You have to wonder what a family vacation was like with these two in the back seat.
“Hey, our relationship has lasted longer than 90 percent of relationships in the country,” Marty said in a conference call with his brother. “And we’ve never had an argument.
“No, that’s not the truth. But no matter what goes on at work, we go home at night, forget and start all over again in the morning. You can’t be creative if you’re P.O.‘d 24/7.”
“Plus,” Sid interjected, “you can’t divorce your brother. Although if you find a lawyer who can handle it, I’m listening.”
Whatever the system, it obviously works for the Brothers Krofft. They began as puppeteers and in the late ‘60s began producing TV shows. They were major forces in children’s television with shows like “H.R. Pufnstuf” and “The Land of the Lost” (the new movie version opens Friday) and “Pryor’s Place” (starring the usually blue comic Richard Pryor and various puppets).
But they also had huge successes with variety shows like “Donny and Marie” and “Barbara Mandrell and the Mandrell Sisters.”
Fans of the ‘70s Saturday morning show “Land of the Lost” no doubt already know that the new Will Ferrell movie version plays fast and loose with the TV series, which over the years has achieved cult status.
The basic premise is the same. It’s about three people — in the original a scientist and his two children — who are transported through some kind of time/space doorway into an alternate dimension populated by dinosaurs, hairy caveman types called Pakuni and creepy lizard-men called Sleestaks.
But in the movie we have Ferrell as a bumbling science guy and grown-ups Danny McBride and Anna Friel as his sidekicks. The TV show wasn’t particularly funny, but the movie leans hard on slapstick and f/x-generated silliness.
The idea to redo “Land” with laughs and attitude was all theirs, the Kroffts said.
“This has been in development for at least 15 years,” Marty said. “We worked on it for Disney, and later for Sony. For a long time we tried to make it just like another episode of the TV show.
“Then we woke up and said, ‘Why not make this thing comedic?’ We went to our management, Mosaic, which also represents Jim Carrey and Will Ferrell and lots of other funny people. We went in intending to put Jim or Will in the movie. We knew we were going to take things in another direction without disturbing the basic premise.”
“We’d worn out the father-and-kids thing,” Sid said. “For the TV series the family image made a good impression on kids. But we didn’t want to duplicate those three characters. The children would already be in their 40s, and we didn’t want to cast other actors in those roles. So we had to rethink the whole thing.”
The Kroffts are among the film’s producers and were on the set every day. Marty said he got up at 6:30 a.m. daily to join the cast and crew for breakfast.
And speaking of sets ... while the big tyrannosaurus rex chasing Ferrell is computer-generated, just about everything else was done the old-fashioned way. The Sleestaks are once again played by actors in rubbery suits.
“Listen, if we would have changed the Sleestaks into something else, the fans would boo us off the screen,” Marty said.
“There were days when I’d be on set with Will on one of our five sound stages,” Sid said, “and he’d ask, ‘Will the audience know this is all real?’ I was like, ‘Yeah, audiences are so hip right now that they can spot what’s CGI and what’s not. They’ll know how real it is.”
Under the direction of Brad Silberling (“Casper,” “Lemony Snicket”), the five-month shoot was one of their happiest work experiences ever, the brothers said.
“We created the original series, yeah, but Brad is re-creating it as a movie,” Marty said. “We’re there to make comments and suggestions along the way, and he accepts them or he doesn’t. You have to trust him or you’ve hired the wrong guy.”
And what about a big star like Ferrell. Any problems?
“He was nothing but trouble,” Marty snorted. “Nah, he was zero trouble. Unbelievably zero.”
“Not one day, one hour, one moment did we have any kind of problem,” Sid said. “Everybody was so on board with this movie.”
Marty: “There was nobody working on this movie who didn’t grow up on the TV show. From the director down through the entire crew, they all were fans. We had such love going on. Brad was the perfect guy to handle this — he loved the original, but he’s completely up on today’s movie technology.”
Sid: “And Will Ferrell is the nicest man on the planet.”
Marty: “Usually when filming goes on for five months the crew can’t wait to get out. With this one they were depressed that it was ending. We’re having a cast and crew screening, and we had to find a bigger theater because everybody involved wanted to be there. We have 500 more RSVPs than seats.”
Though they’ve both been eligible for Social Security benefits for years, the Kroffts say they have no intention of retiring. In fact, they’re developing film versions for their TV shows “H.R. Pufnstuf” and “Sigmund and the Sea Monsters.”
“I can’t believe we get paid for doing what we do,” Sid said. “We love the work. Very few people can say that.
“And the biggest payback is our audience. I don’t care where I go — Topeka or Lincoln, Nebraska — and I hand somebody my credit card, and it’s scary how many people recognize the name.
“They talk about how much the shows meant to them. And then they start singing the theme songs.”