After a working relationship with the Jim Henson Company that goes back well over 20 years, we recently established Baker Coogan Productions with two objectives: first, to develop and produce original projects; and, second, to provide production services to third parties both locally and internationally.
Our latest project for Disney started with a call from Nancy Kanter, senior vice-president at Playhouse Disney, in the autumn of 2006. It marked the start of our Bunnytown journey. Nancy was keen to pursue a London-based production of a project created by Spiffy Pictures. Coincidentally, Spiffy’s David Rudman, apart from being a long-term key Sesame Street puppeteer, was also well known to us from our time at Henson.
The idea behind Bunnytown - Disney’s first large-scale international production - was to produce a laugh-packed variety show for pre-schoolers featuring eight-inch-high rod-puppet bunnies. The bunnies inhabit Bunnytown but journey into Peopletown, where they secretly observe their highly entertaining human neighbours.
Each half-hour episode combines a series of short puppet and live-action segments with a wide range of original music. Bunnytown aims to develop humour in young children and introduce them to a wide range of musical genres.
Once Playhouse Disney ordered 26 x 24-minute episodes of Bunnytown in London, an intensive period of development and pre-production started which was one of the most collaborative and exciting projects we’ve ever been involved with.
In producing Bunnytown, we’ve been able to draw on a network of talented, creative and passionate individuals and have assembled the world-class team of performers, technicians and craftspeople needed to realise the creative challenge and vision of Bunnytown.
Our first key hire was production designer Ash Wilkinson, who we’ve had the good fortune to have known and worked with for nearly 20 years. It was his initial concept designs, many drawn during his first interview with David Rudman and ourselves, that resulted in 90% of the design concept of the show being in place by the end of that interview. He literally illustrated Bunnytown as the interview progressed - a stunning interview technique and great leverage when we came to hire him.
With Ash on board the look of the show was quickly established. We then set about assembling other key members of the production team. At the same time we started auditioning actors who would become series regulars in the location segments.
We have been very fortunate to attract the creme de la creme of puppeteers from both sides of the Atlantic - including David Rudman, Eric Jacobson, Mak Wilson, Nigel Plaskitt, Alice Dinnean-Vernon, Mark Jefferis and Victoria Willing. Between them they have brought to life the real stars of the show, who are of course our irreverent group of Bunnytown inhabitants.
These include regulars such as Little Bad Bunny, Space Bunny, King Bunny, Norbert, Cave Bunnies, Bunny Town Band (billed as Earth, Wind and Fire meets Sly and the Family Stone!), Inventor Bunny and a whole town full of diverse, energetic and colourful bunnies.
Bunnytown hopped into life on Stage 6 at Elstree Film Studios with production commencing in spring 2007 and completion of 26 episodes at the end of September. We are currently well into post-production and knee-deep in carrots until the end of this year!
From the start the technical standard required of Bunnytown was of the highest quality. Shot in HD in a filmic style using a single Sony 900R HD camera at 1080P, it has been edited in Final Cut Pro and sound post-produced with a 5.1 surround sound mix.
Today there is much discussion about the re-emergence of variety television and we feel it is most definitely alive, well and residing in splendour in Bunnytown. At the same time the production content adheres to the educational criteria required for any pre-school series these days.
We hope this production promotes the fact that education can be fun, a vision the team at Playhouse Disney clearly shared. The show has quickly found its creative rhythm, grounded in rich humour and diverse music that will appeal to children and adults alike.
Bunnytown is a Baker Coogan production for Disney. It airs on Playhouse Disney on 3 November at 9am
Baker and Coogan: Our tricks of the trade
Catering - this should be the first-line item in any budget. Having great catering and ensuring that one and all are well fed and watered is page one in any producer’s handbook.
Respect - we have always valued and appreciated everyone who is involved with our productions, from the office runner to the artists and director. We want everyone to feel that their opinions will be heard, that they can have a contribution to make and that an environment will exist that allows them to do their jobs and have great pride in their work.
Sense of humour - we can’t stress it too much; being able to see the funny side of difficult situations keeps everything in perspective. We are lucky to work in such an exhilarating but pressurised industry and feel that a good helping of laughter, lubricating the workflow, definitely makes the best productions!