Brian Henson on His Father’s Legacy

Jim Henson knew the value of letting people make mistakes.
  • Transcript


Question: How does your leadership style compare to your dad’s? 

Brian Henson:  Boy, that’s one of those questions you almost have to ask somebody else. I guess I learned a couple of good lessons from my dad. One was when you’re creating something, what you want when you’re working with a team of other artists, is everybody to work with some creative freedom, so that you really get the best out of everybody.  People would say to him, “When you finish a movie, did it come out as good as you thought it was going to?”  Or, “Did it come out the way you intended it to come out?”  And my dad’s answer would be usually something to the affect of, a.) it came out better than he imagined, but also, he said, “No, it would be impossible for me to imagine the way it will come out.”  He said, “Yes, I story-boarded it, I had a plan, but then I work with an army of great artists and I want all of them to create inside that creation.”  And so as a director, as a leader, and myself as a director and a leader, I kind of try to make sure that we hold onto the vision and kind of corral it, but by the time you finish whatever the project is, a TV show, a series, a movie, a stage show, it should be a product of what all those people can do, and therefore, it can never be what you imagined it would be in the beginning.  And it should be something that only that group of people could’ve made with everybody invested. 

So in that sense, I try to emulate his approach of really get the most out of people by allowing them to experiment and certainly allowing people to make mistakes.  I think in a creative effort, in any creative effort, you need to, people need to be able to be taking risks and if it turns out to be a mistake—if it turns out not to have been the right choice—that should be applauded, you know, by everybody, and it will come up with another plan.  But if everybody’s trying to stay safe, then you never really create something new and different and surprising.

And so I try to operate like him in that sense.  My dad was a very, very gentle soul, I’m probably not quite as gentle, maybe, as him.  But I certainly try to respect people and create an environment where people can flourish.

Recorded on April 8, 2010