I grew up on the shows of Sid & Marty Krofft, especially Land of the Lost and Sigmund and the Sea Monsters. Their weird, cheap and yet expansively imaginative shows really made an impact on me and the way that I grew up to appreciate ambition over technical prowess. I think Sid and Marty got me ready to be a punk in my teens.
While visiting the set of the big screen version of Land of the Lost on the Universal lot last summer (click here for the set visit report), I had the chance to do a roundtable interview with these brothers who had so much impact on my life. This interview took place in a small tent outside the soundstage where filming was happening; at one point early in the interview Marty left to take a mysterious meeting with Jerry Bruckheimer.
As you can tell from reading the interview below the chemistry between these aged brothers is incredible. Sitting there was like watching a Borscht Belt comedy team in action. I loved it.
This film is playing much of the concepts straight but adding a lot of humor. Your show didn’t really have that humor.
Marty: Well it didn’t happen that way, the studio only got the results of what we created. So we recreated Land of the Lost, we created it and then we got all the people, Brad [Silbering] and Bo [Welch] – everybody, and then we pitched it to all five studios. They all wanted it; we developed Land of the Lost in the 90s at Disney, and then we developed with Sony and Paramount, all dramatic. But the bottom line was it was like another episode. And the scripts didn’t happen. So it was our idea… Julie Darmody is the head of management for Mosaic, Jimmy Miller who’s a producer with us, who has all the talent, so we figured that the best place to be was to have somebody with all the talent because we had all the properties. So I always say that Jimmy Miller is our Alfred Hitchcock. He likes it. So anyway, we’ve always had Will Ferrell eyed, we finally decided we were going to marry comedy with jeopardy, but the big secret is, the big unknown is, how do you get a great script? So that’s what we got.
So we had Will Ferrell attached for like the last three years, so when we went out to pitch it, we already had the concept, and our script is great and it’s funny. And the jeopardy is great and marrying those two together is a little unusual; we’ve kept the integrity of the original show, and they’ve really honored it. Brad Silberling is unbelievably great, I don’t see anybody else doing it. Initially Adam McKay was attached because he’s Will Ferrell’s partner So ultimately it’s at Universal. Now the one reason for us that it’s at Universal, Ron Myer was the head of Universal, we were his first clients at CAA, so I had my agent here at Universal. So whenever I need something, I can go to him, and he goes “Stop coming to me to go against my own company.” So it’s all good. And they let us do a major picture here, this is a picture that goes to a hundred places.
Sid: Every three of four minutes you’re going to be in another location. The dinosaurs [in the original show], usually you see them in a jungle or through foliage. Well, in our movie you’re going to see them in the dunes, wide open places.
I grew up on Land of the Lost and as a kid, people fighting Dinosaurs would have blown my mind enough, but it’s the Sleestaks and the mythology and the science fiction element that really made it special. How did that come in?
Sid: Well, as you know, we’ve done many, many shows, and this was our fifth show. All three networks used to wait every year to see what our next show was. We never, ever did a pilot. What we would do was a beautiful, huge colored book with all the characters; it would tell the whole story. I’d go in with Marty, all the executives in the different studios or networks would just sit around and I’d put the book on the floor and tell the whole story. Now, when it came to show five, when I was eleven years old, my dad took me to see One Million B.C. with Victor Mature. It scared the hell out of me, because we never, ever saw a dinosaur moving. Yeah, in old King Kong or whatever some of those, you know, way back in the 30s, but nothing like One Million B.C. It made such an impression on me that every year when we came up with a new show I always thought “Dinosaurs, wow, wouldn’t that blow everybody away?” Especially kids are so in love with them. And so what it was was the Swiss Family Robinson, cause every single show has a family, or a little boy or a little girl that is lost in this world and like the Wizard of Oz, and you just, at home root for them because you love them and you can relate to them and you can’t understand why they can’t get home. You know, that’s very disturbing. So I knew about that element, and every one of our shows had that element. And so now we started opening it up. Okay, I had a father, a son, and a daughter, which was perfect, because little girls, little boys, and everybody loves their dad, so that gave me a good beginning.
Then we originally thought of a Tarzan type of a character, and I didn’t like that because it wasn’t original. That’s where Chaka came from, the Pakunis. See, it just started unfolding. Now the Sleestaks, they were sleazy and they were very tall, that’s where the name came from, and the Sleestaks came from the dinosaur, because they were living. So man came from ape, you know, and that’s how all that came about. Now, for some reason, every one of our shows, if you look at our credits, we sucked in the top people in the business because they were so fascinated by everything that we did, we didn’t have the money to pay them, but everybody wanted to work for us. And as you know, all of our writers were from Star Trek and they loved the idea, the dinosaur idea. And so that’s how that all evolved.
Now, like Marty said, when Paramount and Disney and Sony, they just wanted to do another episode, but that’s not what we wanted, and one day, I said, “Do you know what this is? It’s Bud Abbot and Lou Costello meets Frankenstein.” And the writers went “We got it.” Frankenstein’s the dinosaur. Nobody’s every approached a dinosaur that way. Bud Abbot and Lou Costello, they didn’t disturb Frankenstein, they kept that character and he was still scary. Now Will Ferrell, the reason we love him is he’s not like Jim Carey, over the top. You really believe him, you want to have a drink with him, a beer. And then, our other two actors, Danny McBride, oh my God, he’s just – that is somebody that you definitely relate to, and you’re going to believe him because he’s not a huge star yet. If Jack Black did this part, because the part was written for him, it would have been Jack Black. I love Jack Black.
But we lucked out, everybody on the crew, everyone, you know, grew up with it. So the respect, and even forget the respect for the property, the name of the game is the script, and you guys all know that, and if the script sucks, you’ve got a bad movie. And the script was sensational. And the fans, they’re going to be so happy, I know they are. I’ve been in this business a long time, the other day I spent four hours just looking at the dailies, by myself, again, and whoa. If it goes together, you don’t know until you put it together, but trust me, I know.
What about the movie going audience that never got to see the original show, what will attract them to the movie?
Sid: The Sleestaks and the dinosaurs. The dinosaurs, you know, Jurassic Park. I mean, every time you say to a kid….dinosaurs. But here’s one real important factor, the second batch of Star Wars, kids didn’t know Star Wars. Their dads, and their moms, and their big brothers said “Oh my god this is what I grew up with, wait until you see this!” Cause you guys know, TV Guide told us we’ve got thirty million fans today for Land of the Lost. And now you’ve got kids, you’re going to take them, you don’t know if they movie’s good or bad yet, you know, until you see it, but you’re going to take them, you’re going to go see it. I saw The Hulk the other night; I don’t know why it’s getting bad reviews, I loved it. I really loved it. I mean, I had a good time, and that’s what I go to the movies for. And the audience, six times they applauded and cheered. And I had a great, great time. It’s like a James Bond movie, to me it had the action, and you had a good time.
So when you were developing, when did you guys decide to not have the family, when did you decide to have it be three adults in the Land of the Lost?
Sid: Well because it was like repeating, and then it was going to be a G movie. Hey, I’m really doing it for you guys first. And I’m being very careful because I don’t want [the fans] to be pissed off at us, and they were when they heard that we were doing a comedy. We took this property that so many people loved, and grew up with. And it’s amazing to me that you’ve taken it with you all these years, I mean, Marshall, Will, and Holly. I mean when Will Ferrell learned how to play a Banjo, and in one scene he starts singing them this song, and the whole crew, it brought tears to my eyes, the whole crew just freaked out hearing that song.
Were you aware that he’d played a character named Marshall Willenholly in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back?
Sid: I was never aware. God, I’ve never, because I’m saying… I haven’t told anybody yet, but I thought, just a poster, a [teaser] poster would go up and say “Marshall, Will, and Holly.” Just that, all over town, and then the actual poster later. That’s the way I see it, because everybody knows Marshall, Will, and Holly, but now you screwed it up.
We know Chaka had his own language, and actually had it developed for the original show.
Sid: Yeah, at UCLA.
So is this going to be the same language?
Sid: Oh yeah! And the guy playing Chaka, he’s just, he’s unbelievable. And he learned the language and he spent week’s studying chimps in the zoo.
How developed is the language?
Marty: Who was studying chimps in the zoo?
Sid: Jorma [Taccone].
Marty: He is a chimp.
Sid: You answer that.
Marty: I don’t know the question.
How developed is Chaka’s language?
Marty: Well we had this lady, Gloria Frompkin, who created the Pakuni language; she was a professor at UCLA, and I think she really believed that she created it. At the time we created the language NBC came to us and said, “You’ve got to have some social value in [the show].” So we said okay how about this language? Oh, that’s educational, so we got four points for that. But the reasons that the Sleestaks are slow, I remember, is because the network said don’t make them fast, and they did us a favor because it works.
That works in this film too, that’s part the comedic aspect, they’re not fast.
Marty: Well I don’t think it’s funny.
Sid: It’s very scary.
Marty: No, let me tell you it ain’t funny, all these guys are telling me that they were scared shitless of these guys, okay, when they grew up.
Sid: You know, the reason that they move, slow like that, the original reason is that when we all have a dream and something is chasing us and it almost paralyzes us, and everything moves in slow motion. So that’s where really, that came from, and not only that, the sound stage that we were on was probably as big as this tent, where the hell where they going to run?
I wonder if you guys could talk about specifics where you pay honor to the original show?
Sid: All the locations are there, and the Sleestaks and Chaka and the skeleton is there, of what you grew up with.
Marty: So I don’t know what Sid said while I was gone, but the Sleestaks, it goes back to how we honored the series, we made sure that we didn’t change the names and the look, like we upgraded the Sleestaks, because if we had changed the way they look and would have come up on the screen, I think the audience would have booed. Now they may cheer, I don’t know.
Sid: Did you see pictures of them?
Yeah the costumes are great.
Sid: Oh yeah. Oh no, they were incredible. And on stage with all thirty-two, it’s awesome.
Marty: So did everybody get to ask a question while I was gone?
I am assuming that it’s going to do well, because I think it’s going to do well, are their anymore Sid and Marty Krofft properties that will be coming to theaters.
Both at once: Yes.
Marty: Well, we’re working on it, we’re close on HR Pufnstuf and Sigmund and the Sea Monsters.
You have this big catalog of properties. Once Land of the Lost got greenlit did you start getting more meetings about these other properties?
Marty: All of a sudden we went from hero to zero back to hero, so you can never count anybody out. As a matter of fact, I don’t remember whether or not I told you, this thing about giving up that we learned from our father, “Never, ever give up.” If someone tells you to give up, get rid of them, because if you give up on Tuesday, there is no Wednesday. So I never gave up. If I had listened to other people, my family, outside of my family, we wouldn’t be there today; we would have sold the company for a dollar ninety-eight. So we’re not interested in selling our company, we’re the only really independent left that has a library. Paramount or DiC may have a big library with a thousand titles, but of our 12 titles, I would say 10 of them are movies, and/or television series. We’re developing The Bugaloos for kids right now. I mean we’re working on a number of . . .some new things, developing another new country show. We did country for the whole country, we wrote country music to America, for the whole country, it was very segmented. So we’ve got something now coming, and that again I think, we’re working with some great people, so that will be. . . . You know we don’t talk about . . . it’s easy to hype, but hype gets you nowhere other then trouble.
How do you know, with some of the properties that you guys were talking about doing. How do you know if you want to do it as a film? Are there certain properties that you are like “Wow, that would be good as a TV show again.” How do you know what you want to do for each property?
Marty: I think right now we are focusing mostly on film, where we think it’d work on film. I mean, look, how many things do we need to do? We didn’t wait for this to open to do something else. I think there are a number of titles that are conducive to film. Like Lidsville, Electra Woman and Dyna Girl, I know that there is a big star that wants to be Electra Woman. While were doing Land of the Lost, we sold three other shows at the same time. So I went to Sid, and I said “Sid—“ he wanted me to do another one and I said “Sid, if we do one more show then we’re be bankrupt.” Because we funded everything, that’s why we own everything. I mean, I just left the girl from CSI and Jerry Bruckheimer, now he makes lot of money, but he don’t own nothing, but he’s probably better off them I am. And I asked him, “Are you happy?” And he said yes.
Do you have a favorite show or favorite character, both of you?
Marty: It’s Barney! No. . .
Sid: For me, you know, it’s your first child, Pufnstuf was our first child, so for me it’s Pufnstuf, and then…
Marty: You get one show, one show.
Sid: No….and then of course Land of the Lost.
Marty: I love them all. Pufnstuf, we’re working with Pufnstuf, something great is possibly happening with Punstuf.
I’m curious about Punstuf, because after its initial run it got adopted by a different audience, who maybe watched it under different circumstances. I’m curious would the film….
Sid: After…. Marty will tell you about the Beatles, the Beatles were ordering…
Marty: Well first of all, Pufnstuf, I thought you were going in another direction, we are not talking about drugs. If we did as many drugs as you think we did we’d be dead. The fans did drugs, but let me tell you were it’s at. Where it was at and where it is today. Were it was at, we did seventeen episodes so we lost our tail, we lost a million dollars doing it. Fortunately we were at Six Flags with shows, and we were creating rides for them, so we were able to take from Peter to pay Paul. But Pufnstuf in this country, with the seventeen episodes, they ran in the first five years, they ran at least twenty times, each episode, so people talk to me now and they think it was a hundred episodes. But there wasn’t.
Now that was the big thing, as far as the adults watching it, right now our main audience is 30-45, but under 30 there is a selective amount of them as our audience, that are coming. Now what we did to help that, we just made a partnership with MySpace where… if you just have a website forget about it, nobody finds it, but part of the deal, a partnership deal, a sharing deal, will be coming up this month. And we’re guaranteed 2 billion impressions on the front page, at least. Now that brings them to the front page where it says 80 million people a day. It costs 700 thousand dollars for that front page, how long do you think they’d have it, lets see, 700 thousand, let say one advertisement for Harry Potter, how long do people have. So we go from there, the first week they will probably be on 3 times, 4 times, to our site then to the store where we build up the merchandising.
Sid: Explain what’s going to be on MySpace?
Marty: I’m not through yet.
Sid: Well we’ve got four more minutes.
Marty: My brother. You’re seeing what everybody’s seen in 35 years. So we’ve created this thing called trademark. Sony has many shows and we have Krofft Kwikies, four minutes episodes of Pufnstuf, Land of the Lost, Sigmund. We’re going to premiere with three episodes of each for the first month, you know, of the Krofft Kwikies. So the new kids will go from the front page to that, hopefully see it all through their drugs and for to the store.
Is there any chance that you are going to redo the TV show? If this does really well?
Marty: Well I think once the studio makes the film, they have most of the rights, I mean we’re included in everything. If the movie does really well, there’s always a sequel, because they’ve run out of ideas, that’s why there’s sequels.
Sid: And it’s written for that.
Marty: But let me tell you, Pufnstuf is no piece of cake, Pufnstuf is tough. We’ve developed that three times, and it didn’t work. The last time it really didn’t work with Sony, but that’s another story. But it is not…it is very difficult to do Pufnstuf.
Sid: And just for the record, Pufnstuf, the name Pufnstuf, the big song was Puff the Magic Dragon that year, and that’s where that came from. H. R., he was the mayor, and we didn’t want to call him Mayor Pufnstuf, so he was the Royal Highness and we took R. H. and turned it around, it’s not “hand rolled.”
Marty: Nobody believes us. They did a survey on the internet, they asked a thousand people was the H. R. is, nine hundred ninety-nine people said “hand rolled” and then one. . . yeah.
Sid: Tell them about the Beatles.
Marty: Before he gets off of this, the network thought it was a sissy title.
Sid: Powder puff they thought.
Marty: They didn’t know that a drug dealer named it for us.
Sid: They thought it meant Powder Puff, they said it was a girl’s title.
What about the Beatles?
Marty: The Beatles? Well I got a call from Brian Epstein while [HR Pufnstuf was]just on the air in London, he said ‘The guys want to see, can you send the guys a film every week?’ So they saw it every week. And we know for sure, because Ringo moved next door to my brother until he burned the house down. So anyway, so it was nice, we gave you a lot, and that’s it!