While taping the first season of The Muppet Show, Jim took a weekend between the Sandy Duncan and Candice Bergen episodes to travel to Paris with his children Lisa and Brian. While there, they visited with French puppeteer Philippe Genty whom Jim probably knew through his involvement with UNIMA, the international puppetry organization. Like Jim, Genty took great pains to explore all types of puppetry and, in the 1960s under the auspices of UNESCO, Genty spent four years visiting puppeteers around the world and made a related film. For his efforts, he was awarded the “Prize for Originality” at the International Festival in Bucherest. His group has performed for the last 35 years around the globe. An remarkably inventive puppeteer, Genty uses all types of puppetry, calling it “the theater of animation”. He incorporates mime, dance, live actors, surprising use of fabric and stage sets, and imaginative lighting. While many puppet companies work in this fashion today, Genty was a pioneer in the 1970s.
In the early 1980s, Jim decided to produce a series of six television programs highlighting the work of master puppeteers from around the world. It’s no surprise that Jim would choose Philippe Genty as one of the six, shooting his episode in January 1985. What excited Jim, he said in the program, was “Philippe’s work with abstract shapes. The results are very pure. Very poetic. Because, here, more than ever, the puppets are symbols on which the audience can place their own interpretations.”
Jim and Genty clearly felt a connection and became friends, sharing ideas through the mail. Genty wrote to Jim shortly after the taping, “You mentioned it is important to work with people you like and you feel at ease with. I do hope we have other opportunities for collaboration.” When they were together, they had discussed Genty’s idea for a feature film, and he sent Jim a script called Precipice. Jim shared it with Lisa who not only knew Genty from their 1976 visit but was, by 1985, a director of creative affairs at Warner Bros. The story, a thriller, focused on a puppeteer and his skills at manipulation, and Lisa provided thoughtful commentary which Jim passed on to Genty. The two men continued their correspondence and friendship in the ensuing years.