The Untold Tale…Told!

 In Articles, film, Writing

For the past few weeks, I have dedicated some time to researching screenplays and films for my thesis. These materials have ranged from the popular to the unknown, but one obscure piece that has inspired me most is the unproduced screenplay, Tale of Sand by Jim Henson and Jerry Juhl. Yes, this is the same Jim Henson of the Muppets, Sesame Street, The Dark Crystal, Fraggle Rock, and Labyrinth, starring David Bowie and his uncomfortably tight pants. This screenplay is not filled with puppets or strange creatures like his other work, but it instead is an avant-garde marvel that has unfortunately never seen the big screen.

Written between 1967 and 1974, the screenplay was a part of Henson’s experimental phase. After gaining national stardom with his Muppets on Sam and Friends and The Jimmy Dean Show, Henson wanted to expand his resume beyond puppets made of felt. One of his most successful pieces from this era was the 1965 short film Time Piece, which earned Henson an Academy Award nomination for Best Short. Time Piece is not something you’d expect from the cheery man who played Kermit the Frog. Set to a jazz drum beat, the short film follows an unnamed man (played by Henson) as he goes through a normal day of mundane life, while also including dressing as a caveman, going to a strip club, having a Western standoff with the Mona Lisa, escaping prison, and painting a live elephant pink. I highly suggest this short film to anyone who enjoys experimental pieces (might also help with a certain [E]motion project *cough cough*).

Back to Tale of Sand. High off the success of Time Piece, Henson set off to write a feature-length film with his long time creative partner, Jerry Juhl. Together the two wrote three drafts of a screenplay that follows a man simply known as Mac as he races across the desert as he attempts to outrun a mysterious and dangerous man in black, known only as Patch. Along the way, Mac runs into even more obstacles, including a lion jumping out of a passing car, a team of Arabs and football players chasing him down, and Smokey the Bear ruining his attempt to light his cigarette. As you can probably tell, this screenplay is very much in the same vein as Time Piece. However, by 1974, Henson had become extremely busy performing on Sesame Street and trying to start up a little television program called The Muppet Show.  With that, Tale of Sand went unfinished and was left to die on the drawing board…

… JUMP CUT TO: In 2010, the graphic novel company Archaia approached the Jim Henson Company, run now by Henson’s children, to adapt Henson and Juhl’s lost screenplay. After some negotiation, Tale of Sand, illustrated by Ramon K. Perez, was released in 2014. At the same time, Archaia released the final written screenplay by Henson and Juhl. I currently own both the graphic novel and the screenplay, both of which have served as an inspiration to me with my thesis screenplay. Henson’s nonsensical whimsy and creativity are extremely apparent in this story, the same sort of feeling I wish to capture in my own screenplay. What’s even more amazing, though, is that despite this screenplay never reaching its final goal, its story was still able to be shared around the world. That leaves me with a certain assurance. Sure, maybe this screenplay I’m writing won’t ever see the lens of a movie camera, it’s still a story that I believe needs to be told. So if you have a screenplay or a story or even a small idea of something in mind, write it down; you never know where it can lead you.

Sidenote: As far as an update on my thesis, I’m currently working on my beat sheet. I will hopefully have a plot structure soon and can begin the actual writing by the end of the month. Save the Cat by Blake Snyder has been a really helpful guide, I suggest it to anyone interested in writing a screenplay.


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Showing 2 comments
  • Shari Austin

    Oh wow! Can you believe that I have never taken it upon myself to know who was behind the masterpiece that is The Muppets? It is honestly kind of embarrassing, but thank you for informing me about Jim Henson and his works. I will definitely check out Tale of Sand and Time Piece, they sound really interesting and unique! Also, it is nice to see that you are clearly very driven and passionate, I am sure your thesis will reflect that and will come out amazing!

  • David Rubio

    Loved Time Piece, I look to it often for inspiration. Great to find someone else that loves this short.

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