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Trey and Matt String Together 'Team America'   |   23 August 2004

Inside a huge empty warehouse, Trey Parker is speaking into a microphone and looking at two puppets in a mini-spaceship in front of him. Nearby, they're blowing up a rocket near Mount Rushmore.

"Pull your vehicle over, this is the world police," Parker says over and over again for the puppet who looks suspiciously like Michael York. Finally, he turns to Zap2it.com and says, "I fucking hate this, it's so slow."

His curly-haired partner-in-creation, Matt Stone, is a few feet away bouncing back and forth from the tiny set to the camera's view, adding, "Y'know, our summer's been shot."

It's hard to tell if the creative team behind "South Park" is frustrated for real or just fooling. They said after doing the big screen version of their Comedy Central cartoon "South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut" (and getting an Oscar nomination for best song) they vowed never to do another movie because it was such a hassle.

But, now they're spending their summer doing a $32 million movie for Paramount Pictures, "Team America: World Police," set to come out Oct. 15 and Stone says, "We're not sure how it's going to end."

Parker and Stone stumbled across the campy 1960s "Thunderbirds" British TV series, which is now on DVD and is performed completely using marionettes. The series depends on big explosions and rocket ships manned by a father and five brothers. Parker and Stone inquired about the rights to the series and found out Universal Studios was doing a "Thunderbirds" movie directed by "Star Trek: Generations" star Jonathan Frakes.

"We said, 'What? Jonathan Frakes is directing puppets?' and then we found out it was a live action version, and we were disappointed," says Parker, who hasn't seen the $55 million Universal film, which crashed at the box office and made only $6.7 million. "Does it look like I have time to go see a movie?"

Spending 14 hours a day setting up and destroying sets since May 23, Parker and Stone lead a crew of about 200 who handle the marionettes, which sometimes require four people at a time to manipulate. They're blowing up the Louvre Museum, for which they had to have a dozen mini-Mona Lisa paintings. They're flooding the Panama Canal, beheading the Sphinx, taking out the Eiffel Tower and basing their heroic team beneath Mount Rushmore.

The story is about an international police force which learns about a dictator who is brokering weapons of mass destruction to terrorists. Team America then recruits a rising star on Broadway to go undercover. The film is directed by Parker, produced by Scott Rudin ("The Village," "Manchurian Candidate") and includes music by Marc Shaiman, who co-wrote the Oscar-nominated musical score of the "South Park" movie.

"We've had to rewrite the whole thing as we're going along because we didn't realize how limited we were," says Parker, demonstrating the limitations of his puppets. "We write something like, 'He takes a drink of Scotch' and five f---ing hours later we've finally been able to film the puppet taking a drink of Scotch. We made it too hard."

The difficulty is up to puppetmaster Frank Langley, who says during a visit to the set that Parker has written scenes where the puppets ride in limos, race on camels and climb pyramids.

"We have some with rods inside, and others with animatronic heads that move so they can do smiles and frowns," says Langley, showing some of the puppets with realistic-feeling foam skin. "We always have to keep them from getting tangled up, if someone drops one, it's a big mess."

The 270 puppet characters are created by the Chiodo Brothers, a company that has designed puppets for films such as "Elf," "Screamers," "Dinosaur" and "Ernest Scared Stupid." Ed Chiodo was on the set when Zap2it visited recently and explained how some of the 95 puppet bodies and heads are re-used whenever new characters are needed.

"We've set a few on fire, we've knocked a few around," Chiodo says. "They go underwater, in helicopters and we try to get them to do everything the guys want."

Look closely and you'll see Cheerios cereal used in the design of the Bedouin tent with mini hookahs, jewels and a camel crossing sign. Look at the streets of France and they're made of croissants. The Any Town, USA has a McDonalds, Exxon, 7-11, KFC and naturally, a Jack-in-the-Box.

Costumers Heidi Higgenbottom and Jo Kay are responsible for making sure that the costumes remain in cohesive order, and look realistic. They've dressed up 1,200 full outfits including the Sultan of Brunei, King of Malaysia, Fidel Castro, Idi Amin, Moammar Ghadafi, Robert Mugabe and many others.

"We have to be so careful, it's a trick," Higgenbottom says.

"That's right, one sneeze and it's gone, we lose an important piece of clothing," adds Kay.

Not only do they dress up world leaders, but also celebrities who don't necessarily know they're in the film. "Fahrenheit 9/11" director Michael Moore is leading a protest outside Mount Rushmore, and in the wings are dolls for Ethan Hawke, Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins, Matt Damon, Liv Tyler, Sam Jackson, Sean Penn and George Clooney, who helped give Parker and Stone their start in show business. They poke a lot of fun at liberal Hollywood as well as the conservative Republicans so much that people won't know what side they're on.

Their story focuses on North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il trying to sell nuclear arms, and Alec Baldwin, Sam Jackson and Danny Glover end up joining his cause. Baldwin found out his likeness was going to be in the movie and asked if he could voice himself, but the director wouldn't let him, joking, "We had someone else play his voice and do it even better."

Helping the "South Park" guys is "Hairspray" road show designer David Rockwell, "Spider-Man 2" and "Matrix" cameraman Bill Pope and "Royal Tenenbaums" and "School of Rock" costume designer Karen Patch.

For Parker, though, they're not sure if they're having fun yet. He does plan to have fun pushing even the "puppet" limits with the MPAA ratings board by throwing in a graphic puppet sex scene.

"Ultimately, it's just another lame-ass puppet movie," Parker sighs. "We swore we'd never do another movie again, but I'll assure you we'll NEVER do another PUPPET movie again!"

[ source: ZAP2IT ]


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