“When I said yes to directing, I had no idea how we were going to do the plant,” says Frank Oz to the Hollywood Reporter. The directing gig was for a big-screen adaptation of “Little Shop of Horrors,” a musical comedy of terrors that began as a 1960 Roger Corman picture, then an off-off-Broadway musical before producer David Geffen got his hands on the rights to a new big-screen version. The plant was sentient, grew rapidly, and craved blood for its Venus flytrap-like mouth. The mayhem that ensues when wimpy florist Seymour Krelborn (Rick Moranis) discovers it makes up the runtime of the charming production.
For the 1986 adaptation, Oz would choreograph fourteen catchy musical numbers from the off-Broadway show’s music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Howard Ashman, including the hopeful fantasy ballad “Somewhere That’s Green” (sung by Ellen Greene, reprising the role of Audrey from the stage production). It was a successful expansion of the little rock show that once premiered at the Orpheum Theatre in the East Village, but some of its songs necessitated that the man-eating plant sing, which would be a challenge.
Oz had little difficulty with his lead Rick Moranis – indeed, this movie would further prove the “Muppets Take Manhattan” abilities directing live actors, and the next effort would be the puppet-free “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” in 1988. The plant was another story. Designed by frequent Henson collaborator Lyle Conway, several iterations of Audrey II were used on the film, often without the use of blue screen. For the climactic number “Mean Green Mother From Outerspace,” Audrey II (that is, Four Tops vocalist Levi Stubbs, who voiced the carnivorous plant) would have to sing at a high tempo, with a lot of hard consonants that the puppet (and its 20+ operators) would have to lip-sync at regular speed. Navigating the challenge would involve counter-intuitive singing and a whole lot of takes.
You Don’t Know What You’re Messin’ With/ But I’m Gonna Tell You Now…
For the big showstopping number “Mean Green Mother From Outer Space,” Oz continues that he wanted “…absolute perfect lip-sync, no mistakes at all.” It’s an assertive song, with the insatiable Audrey II plant growing to an unmanageable size and knowing that they (the plant is asexual, though often voiced by men) are more powerful than a florist could handle. Seymour tries to put his foot down after the alien plant tries to eat his girlfriend (and he’s fed Audrey’s abusive ex to the maw already); he further realizes that propagating and breeding little Audrey II saplings would surely bring about an apocalypse. But Audrey is having none of it, sneering, “We’re gonna do things my way/Or we won’t do things at all.” Looking back on the number, Oz recalls the process of fine-tuning the puppetry to THR:
“Lyle Conway was so brilliant in making the plant. But we did not know how to make it work for fast songs. That is, until we realized while watching a tape rewind at a faster speed that we could shoot slower and it would look normal on playback. So Levi sang the song normal in prerecording. Then I would shoot the plant at 12 frames per second when the usual is 24. I would shoot Rick separately at 24 frames per second. And then I would shoot Rick and the plant together at 18 frames per second. On playback, it looked normal. So Rick had to sing and move in slow motion. We averaged about 25 to 30 takes every time to get it perfect.”
See the end product here:
Sometimes acting in slow-motion is meant to be noticeable in playback (the dreamy ending of “Carrie” immediately comes to mind). But the result here is a seamless, breathtaking masterwork of puppetry and animatronics, without the convenient use of CGI to sync things up.
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/Film – ‘Slash Film: Rick Moranis Had To Sing In Slow Motion For Little Shop Of Horrors’
Author: Anya Stanley
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November 21, 2022