Inside Neil Patrick Harris' Passion Project 'Neil's Puppet Dreams' (Q&A)
What does Neil Patrick Harris dream of? Puppets.
The How I Met Your Mother star’s latest project, the quirky seven-episode web series Neil’s Puppet Dreams, follows Harris as he escapes into a dream state where interaction with Jim Henson puppets are the norm. For the self-proclaimed Henson fanatic, the chance to work with the puppets was what sealed the deal. “That’s like kryptonite for me,” Harris told The Hollywood Reporter.
In the first episode, “Lullaby,” which debuted earlier this week on Chris Hardwick’s Nerdist channel, Harris finds himself flying in the sky in the dream world when a few puppet friends suddenly appear alongside him. Naturally, they all enter into song.
Harris spoke to THR about the "guerilla"-style production, what other subjects and topics the web series tackles (hint: a To Catch a Predator spoof is an episode) and how he got Joe Manganiello and Nathan Fillion to drop by.
The Hollywood Reporter: What was production like? This had to be a drastically different experience than How I Met Your Mother.
Neil Patrick Harris: Very different. By being on the web, akin to Dr. Horrible before it, you have creative control across the board. The idea of standards and practices or being told we couldn’t do things creatively, that didn’t exist. That was a nice opiate and allowed us to come up with ideas that we found interesting and funny, and execute them without hesitation. We filmed all seven shorts in two and a half days. It was really supposed to be two days but we were worried we weren’t going to make it, so we came and filmed one in our kitchen the day before. It was very guerilla.
THR: Everything was filmed in your house?
Harris: Things were filmed in our house or at the Henson studios. Jim Henson was one of my idols so I’ve always been enamored by the process of filming with puppets, and in creating these seven that we did, we really have gone all over the place stylistically because I was most interested in seeing how it was done. We have ones that look like a documentary; we have one that looks like a music video, a Bollywood music video. For “Lullaby,” my intention for that was to have it be one long continuous shot with puppets coming in and out -- essentially it is with cut-ins and close-ups while they’re singing. Each week, each episode will be very different, and I hope the response will guide us if there are ever future episodes.
THR: So in a way, this was a way for you to tackle different genres and styles of filmmaking.
Harris: It was a carte blanche opportunity to experiment with different styles of shorts with puppets without being told by networks or studios that won’t work and here’s why. We got to be as creative as possible and mostly got yeses.
THR: Some of your friends also appear in the series. How did you manage to get Joe Manganiello (recurred on How I Met Your Mother) and Nathan Fillion (Dr. Horrible co-star) to drop by, and how did you pitch them?
Harris: Joe was flying in from a foreign country; he was filming something elsewhere, and it was just terrific timing. He was about to do a two-episode arc on How I Met Your Mother and was back in our world. He got off the international terminal, went home for half an hour and came to set and filmed for an hour at 11 o’clock at night. Nathan, we just asked him and he said yes. He’s cheap like that.
THR: Were there any unforeseen obstacles during those two and a half days of filming, or even before and after?
Harris: There was a lot of work done prior to it. Filming it all had to happen with as few errors as possible, so we did a lot of work up until then: recording tracks, writing songs, finalizing scripts, dealing with budgets, puppeteers, the wardrobe they wear, who makes that wardrobe. We had a good team that was excited. The good thing about the web stuff is they tend to be passion projects, so everyone involved tends to be doing it because they like the product, not necessarily the commerce of it.
THR: What other subjects and topics are tackled?
Harris: There’s a take on To Catch a Predator, an early Muppets Show-style pun-filled wacky comedy one, an abduction and one where I fall asleep and my dream intersects with a dream [partner] David [Burtka]’s having. We sort of have a dream-off, called "Dream Bump."
THR: How would you describe the ideal viewer for Neil's Puppet Dreams?
Harris: It's not for little children. It's probably for those familiar with the Internets [sic]. I think it angles towards Nerdist, Joss Whedon, Dr. Horrible fans, but hopefully it'll have a wide berth. We didn't want it to make it too nichey with inside jokes that many might not understand. Fingers crossed.
Watch the first episode of Neil's Puppet Dreams below:
New episodes premiere every Tuesday on the Nerdist YouTube channel.