Interview With "Being Elmo" Director Constance Marks

Sometimes I am amazed at the places this blog leads me. Today was one of those days. I picked up the phone and called Constance Marks, director of “Being Elmo” – one of the best films I have seen in a long time. We chatted like we were old friends, talked about the documentary, and her career.


You know how much I care for Jim Henson, for the Muppets, for Sesame Street, for children’s programming – so you know today was a cool day.

“Being Elmo” is the story of Kevin Clash, the man who brought Elmo to life. It didn’t start out that way – Constance said they planned on a “year in the life” style movie. But when they looked at the footage, and after getting to know Kevin – they knew the story was Kevin’s story. It took them six years to do it, but they got it.

I am doubly sentimental about the film because Kevin is from Baltimore; both my husband and I grew up in Maryland. Many of the things from his early childhood were so familiar to me, it was almost like stepping back in time. So while my 9 year old watched the film and was nostalgic – as nostalgic as a 9 year old gets – for the time when he used to carry a rag-tag fuzzy red doll around, I was remembering the same shows Kevin watched from the same vantage points.

BeingElmo_KevinMarks_TauConstance felt similar affection for both Kevin and Elmo. Her daughter is now 13, but when she was little, she was (of course!) a big fan of Elmo. Constance’s Director of Photography (and husband) was a cameraman at Sesame Street at the time. Amazingly, Kevin sent home a thoughtful VHS from Elmo specifically to their daughter – and Constance was hooked. She knew this was her next project. In addition to Kevin’s kindness, Constance wanted to know the man behind the puppet, wanted to share him with us, plus how funny and nuanced his gestures with Elmo are.

It’s true. Watch Elmo now as an adult. It’s nothing short of genius.

Once they decided the path of the film was Kevin’s life, that directed the story. Anything that didn’t move the story forward was left out. Which makes me excited for the DVD (just released today), because it has a bunch of bonus features that didn’t make it into the film. Including Tau (Kevin’s young protegé at the end of the film) performing in the Thanksgiving Day parade.

I asked Constance if it was hard to balance between this larger than life world-famous character and the seemingly more modest real-life Kevin Clash. She said it became easier once they changed the direction of the film to Kevin, because they were telling the story from Kevin’s point of view. “If Elmo was involved in a scene, great! But much of the movie happens before Elmo was even around.” Personally, I think that is part of the charm – we all know what happens next and get to see the magic unfold.

Constance said that is part of the appeal of documentary film-making for her. She worked early on with the Maysles Brothers and developed a taste for the “cinéma vérité” style. We talked about how capturing the action – something I love in photography – is exciting, and almost feels like a “hunt.” Then you come back and look at what you have, and piece it together like a puzzle.

Also – affirming that Kevin Clash truly is a modest, kind man – Constance told me about a time that she ended up shooting him alone, with no other cameramen or crew from their team. Not only did Kevin share the car that was sent to take him to his next event, but he helped load and unload all her equipment. She also commented that he never once asked for anything embarrassing to be removed from the film, but only sent helpful comments that helped make the film better.

And good, the film is. Constance and her team are so thrilled with the enthusiastic response… and are so inspired by how emotionally attached people are to “Being Elmo.”

It’s pretty cool, if you ask me.


PBS’ Independent Lens will be premiering the film on APRIL 5th, with an encore presentation on APRIL 9th. 

Check here to find your local show times.

Note: I am a PBSKids Brand Ambassador, but it is an unpaid relationship. {Clearly I love these guys.} All words and thoughts are mine, except anything that was obviously said by Constance Marks. Many thanks to Constance for taking the time to chat with me!

This article has 18 comments

  1. Everyfann

    Aimee! I loved that movie! How cool is this>>>???

  2. MPPs Mom

    I have a first rate Elmo fan in my house right now. She carries around not one but two little blanket’s with Elmo’s face (made by her grandma). I LOVE where your blog is taking you, and am excited to read about every new thing that crosses your desk!

  3. zipper

    We haven’t seen it yet. Will try to catch it on PBS or Netflix. Thanks!!

  4. Tree

    I am so excited to watch this, with a little behind the scenes peek at what the filmmaker’s thoughts were.

    Thank you so much! Your enthusiasm is viral.

  5. Anonymous

    That is so cool !! I know how much you guys love Elmo so this had to be extra special for you.

  6. Megan

    I loved Being Elmo! And my daughter adores Elmo! Thanks for the tips about it being played and the extra features.

  7. Amy

    I loved this movie. The first time I watched it parts of it made me cry. It is such a great film. I decided to watch it again, and this time my 5 year old son came in. I was a bit worried that seeing puppeteers might take some of the magic out of it for him. It has done the opposite. He has watched it several times since then, and he’s been asking me to make him some puppets. I think I’ll pick up the DVD so we can check out the extras. How awesome that you go to meed the director!

  8. Amy

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  9. Aimee Giese

    Amy – yes! My son finds puppets MORE magical now!!

  10. monstergirlee

    OMGosh how exciting for you! I’ve heard such good things about this movie, and it is definitely on the MUST WATCH list for the 9th.
    How neat. I saw Kevin on Oprah, and he just seems like such a down to earth real guy. So cool.
    Ya know what’s funny? I think I like Elmo better than my kids do. No, that’s not true, Margaret loves him too, Sullivan – not so much.

    Thanks for sharing your talk with us!

  11. I Dream of Diapers

    I’ve been dying to see this movie! I just looked it up and have it set on my DVR. What an awesome piece. Love it!!

  12. Kathleen Marie

    Thank you so much for posting this! I love the Muppets and did not know about this movie/show. I have a reminder set on my iPhone to watch it! 🙂

  13. Anonymous

    WOW! This is so cool. Congrats Aimee – m

  14. Maricris @ SittingAround

    I have always love Elmo ever since, and now, my kids, too! I haven’t seen this movie. I will get a dvd.

  15. JennyMoose

    I met Kevin in Balto and he was every bit as cool as Contstance said. Totally down to earth. He also autographed his book, “My Life as a Furry Red MOnster” for another friend who said the same thing.And he always gives props to his team. Clearly Turner’s Station, Baltimore’s sweetest export.

  16. Mary-Frances Main

    I just saw this recently and it was brilliant – having a kid that’s as focused as Kevin, it inspired me to be a better parent! Great great film!

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