A Caro native entered the world created by his idol, Jim Henson — and did it with hand-crafted puppets, no strings attached.
His name is Troy Mullin and he was one of a handful of runners-up in Jim Henson’s Fan Film Competition.
Mullin produced the short film “Secrets” as a prequel to the 1982 film “The Dark Crystal” and entered it in the international competition that consisted of almost 30 entries.
“It was a lot of hard work, and a little bit of magic, but it was all worth it,” said Mullin.
Mullin and the other winners were invited to Hollywood, California to hang out with Jim Henson Co. employees and members of the family including chairman Brian Henson and CEO Lisa Henson.
Mullin saw Henson as an inspiration with an effort to be completely original in all his work, like his idol.
“This competition invited me to explore Jim Henson’s style and imagination,” he said about the icon. “If he were still around today, I might have met him on my trip.”
The competition opened Sept. 24, 2015 and closed March 31, 2016. Mullin said he entered the competition late and had about 20 days to complete the short.
“Secrets” begins with the character Augrah, a one-eyed Mother Nature-like character, walking through the forest before coming across an iconic crystal shard that may (or may not) have played a role in “The Dark Crystal” (sorry, no spoilers).
The film winners were chosen based on several criteria including originality, character design and performance, storytelling and production value appropriate to the world of the film.
If seen around town, it’s hard not to miss the puppeteer “Mister Mullin” — Troy Mullin’s alter ego —with signature orange hat atop his tall stature adorned with matching, bright attire.
Mullin had an interest in performing and art since he was a child. Puppeteering was the perfect balance between the two worlds. He currently has his own brand, Mullin Entertainment that has been creating a collection of unique and whimsical children’s stories and puppets.
As a teen, Mullin was a part of community productions during local festivals and holidays.
A notable one includes “The Jungle in Me” in 2010 performed at Schall Elementary School in Caro about a boy artist that doesn’t fit in his town. His drawings then come to life, take him on a magical adventure and teach him he can believe in himself. Money collected from the show was donated to the Cass River Pet Friendz.
Another was “Doodle’s Big Dream,” in 2010 for Relay for Life of Tuscola County about an ugly creature that scares others away. His handmade friends come to life and encourage him to go outside with a bag on his head — eventually he meets an old blind woman and the two become friends.
“It’s like a story about accepting who you are and what you look like and that you can do great things,” said Mullin. “Believing in yourself is Mullin Entertainment’s core mission — holding onto that little spark of something that makes you unique all the way up through adulthood — it will help you.”
Penny Hogan, who has worked with Mullin in the past on local productions, said even at a young age he had a talent for directing and acting.
“As a high school student he could teach us things about acting — and I was an adult woman with kids,” said Hogan. “(I learned) how to better portray my characters — coming from a small town, he has the vision to do way more.”
Currently, Mullin Entertainment creates productions through other companies approaching him looking for a show for their events. His company comprises himself and others who work with him on a project-by-project basis, such as hiring singers or dancers.
In 2008, his show “Snow: The Musical” for the Schall Elementary Christmas Assembly Skit was a production requested by a teacher when the school had no show that year.
He is currently working on a production that will be performed at Loeb Drama Center at Harvard University.
There were times when the puppeteer wasn’t revered as whimsical. Mullin noted he experienced ostracism from peers for a time, but found many friends in those older than him.
Rose Putnam of Chemical Bank in Caro said she knew Mullin as a young man and attended the same church with him, St. Christopher Parish in Caro (formerly Sacred Heart Catholic Church).
“(Mullin) is an exceptionally great person,” Putnam said. “Just a nice young man. He’s always had really unique characters. He certainly has his own style — it’s been a privilege to know him.”
For the negative experiences, Mullin said it was something that happened but feels his experiences are still worth who he is today.
“If you’re an oddball and you stick out,” he said, “I think you should be proud of who you are.”
For more on the company and to contact Mullin, visit mullinentertainment.com/ and facebook.com/MullinEntertainment/.
“Secrets” can be seen at youtu.be/Hlr2gls6gGw.
Debanina Seaton is a reporter for The Advertiser and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org