Pulling the Strings: An Interview with Emily Morus-Jones

Words by Alex Payne
Image from ‘One Kiss by Calvin Harris ft. Dua Lipa”’ music video

Try and think about all the people that go into creating a music video. Performer? That’s the obvious one. You’ll likely manage to remember the director and the camera operator, and at a push you might spare a thought for the bloke with the fluffy stick that handles the sound. What most people forget, however, is that there is a small army that toil tirelessly behind the scene to produce the glitzy performances that accompany our favourite bangers. We sat down (virtually) with Emily Morus-Jones, a Welsh puppeteer and “monster-maker”, who has worked with the likes of Ed Sheeran, Dua Lipa, Calvin Harris and Rag n Bone Man, to find out what it’s like being a puppeteer in the music industry.

You’d be forgiven for forgetting about the puppeteers; it’s likely not a career that you’ve ever even considered. “Most people start with a lifelong love for puppets, but for me, everything just sort of fell into place. I didn’t choose the puppets, the puppets chose me!” she laughed when I addressed this. “I started off building monsters for a circus!” It’s not just the public that overlook puppeteers. Emily fell into her first music video through the art director, but when she turned up “the directors, Calvin Harris and Dua Lipa weren’t expecting puppets at all!” Later, when recalling some of the funniest moments she’s had on set, she said that Calvin Harris was notably startled, exclaiming “what’s that!” as she was piloting one of the puppets that make an appearance throughout the video.

“It was people working together to make puppets happen, and it turned out to be one of the things that people liked most about the music video.”

Is it a coincidence that One Kiss has gone on to be his most successful hit to date? “The song was already a number one. I think that they didn’t expect it to be as successful as it was, because they hadn’t got the video ready” Emily explained. What was her takeaway from the experience? “It was people working together to make puppets happen, and it turned out to be one of the things that people liked most about the music video.” She’s not joking. They were such a success that she was invited to create upscaled versions of them for Calvin Harris and Dua Lipa’s Brit awards performance. “Sadly, the giant puppets didn’t make the final cut for the Brit awards. I think they needed someone to help the director to get them on and off stage, and they didn’t have that support.” Ultimately, as music videos compete to capture our attention, it appears that there’s still a market for practical effects. Since then she’s gone on to work on promo for Ed Sheeran, and her characters featured centerstage in Jam Baxter’s video for Mask, which featured Rag ‘n’ Bone man and OG Rootz. It’s clear that in the latter she had a lot of creative freedom. “They originally wanted me to puppet inside the tripe. I explained that wouldn’t work, so then I had free reign to design and build these monsters”.    

This year’s pandemic has thrown a wrench into the plans of creatives worldwide, but Emily has used the opportunity to create Pop Up Palladium, a virtual show that is both supporting puppeteers, and acting as a brilliant stop-gap for theatre. Featuring a wide cast that includes a Britain’s Got Talent semi-finalist, Drew Colby’s shadow puppets, The Puppet Barge’s marionette puppets and even the original voice of Zippy, the performance debuted earlier this month, and will return Friday the 18th of September. But, as with many Coronavirus success stories, it’s been a double edged sword. “My mum is shielding so we have to be really careful, so for me work might be tricky. If I go into a production, I’ll have to move out of the house”.

Finally, I had to ask: what are her favourite puppets? “I mean, will I get judged if I don’t pick Kermit? I think the best practical effects that we’ve seen were on John Carpenter’s “The Thing” and also on Little Shop of Horrors with Audrey II. Little Shop of Horrors (1986) was directed by a puppeteer and I think that really comes across.” Emily isn’t limited to existing characters however. “I’m creating a new character for Pop Up Palladium, which is like a new challenge for the show, and it’s going to evolve over time. It’s a Welsh dragon called Ddraig, so that’s good too.” 

Check out Pop Up Palladium here.