Elmo, the furry red puppet from Sesame Street, is one of the world’s most recognizable and lovable characters. But if you saw Kevin Clash walking down the street you would never know he was the man behind the puppet. Constance Marks’ heartfelt documentary, Being Elmo, breaks down that wall and tells Kevin’s amazing story while showing how important Elmo has become to so many people because of him.
With the release of Being Elmo on Netflix Canada, Criticize This! spoke with Marks about the film and how it all came to be. Read our Q&A below.
What led you to tell Kevin’s story?
Constance Marks: My husband is a cameraman at Sesame Street and he came home one day with a recorded greeting for our baby daughter. It was Elmo talking to camera and looking at pictures of her as a baby and I was blown away by the magnanimous nature of this gift. I inquired to my husband who made this for us, who was the person behind Elmo. I had always admired the puppeteering and thought there was so much nuanced extraordinary gestures that belied character in that puppet. So when this all happened I was very curious to know who was behind Elmo. The next time my husband was on the set I got him to get Kevin’s information, we made a lunch date and we were off and running.
Was Kevin into the idea right away?
CM: He knew my husband so there was already a familiarity. He asked to see some of our other work and I think he was very interested providing he could trust us. We were very lucky to be able to tell his story and win his trust that way.
What was the biggest surprise for you during the production?
CM: The biggest surprise was watching Kevin and seeing how there was nothing that came his way that was too big or too small an undertaking. If there was a problem on set where someone would slip on some sawdust, he’d stop shooting, get a broom, clean it up, put the puppet back on and get going again. On the other hand, there were stories that if there was a dying child, he would get tickets right away to go be with that child at the family’s request. You get the drift that the generosity of this man was very enlightening and overwhelming to watch it in person. It was really very touching.
How long did you work on the film?
CM: It took six and a half years from the first day of talking to Kevin to taking it to Sundance.
What do you hope the audience takes away from the film?
CM: When people ask me that question I never know how to answer because it doesn’t really matter what I want them to take away. What they have been taking away has been awesome. It’s been the feeling that you have a dream and you stick with it. You get bullied and you put it out of your mind. You set your goal and your sights and you go for it. You surround yourself with supportive people and shoot for the stars. That’s been the take away I’ve been observing people have had with the film and I think that’s great.
Do you have a subject for your next film yet?
I do. But I haven’t nailed it yet. I’m very close to getting their approval. Again, it’s all about access and trust. I’m hoping it will come in the next few weeks.
Being Elmo is now available to stream on Netflix Canada.