This trip was sponsored by Disney. All opinions are my own.
Have you gone to see Beauty and the Beast yet? What did you think? I hope that you have had a chance to read through all of the amazing interviews we have shared so far. Read our Beauty and the Beast review here and you can also get a behind the scenes scoop from the interviews we shared with Emma Watson and Dan Stevens, Luke Evans and Josh Gad, and Audra McDonald and Gugu Mbatha-Raw. You can also download these free Beauty and the Beast activity sheets and the awesomeBeauty and the Beast coloring pages for your kids. These are such great and touching articles. I hope you enjoy them as much as we do. Today we are sharing the last of our Beauty and the Beast interviews with Director Bill Condon, and Alan Menken who did the music.
What drew you to this story?
Bill: I was drawn to the story by Disney. I mean it was basically Howard Ashman and I were working Little Mermaid, it hadn’t been released yet but people were very happy with it and they said how about Beauty and the Beast. We’re interested in doing that next. As far as what drew me to it beyond that I mean I gotta go back and credit Howard. When you look at the initial story and how you’re gonna turn it into an animated musical then it was a matter of inventing the enchanted objects and inventing this huge ego for Gaston and his posse of nitwits who praise him. So simply because for the structure we needed to put in production numbers and comedy numbers and so it was all those brilliant ideas and I gotta say Howard was so instrumental in that.
Alan: So I come in, there’s this movie, this classic, perfect movie that already exists and for me more than anything it was the score. The chance to really roll around in that music and to restage it, do a kind of new version of it in a live action format to specially those songs. It just felt to me like a once in a lifetime opportunity. When I heard that Bill was directing it I didn’t know you. I knew the work you had done but Richard said Bill is a major fan of musical theater. He loves it so this was oh, he knows the craft. He knows musicals and so that was huge.
Are the ‘new songs’ brand new?
Alan: They’re brand new. No, Days in the Sun, before Bill was on as a director, this goes back to about 2008. There was discussions about a movie version of Beauty and actually went as far as early script and when I was in London working on Sister Act. Tim was there and I said let’s try working on a couple of songs. The Days in the Sun, the genesis of that actually began back there as sort of a lullaby moment but once Bill came aboard then that really got reworked to be a vehicle of so much back story and we’re threading a lot of story to it. And the other songs I would say they were the songs we decide at the beginning. Some moments we followed through on. The actual conception of the songs was yes, here they are. The actual execution was two years of here are these songs black and blue and we’re gonna reprise it here and we’re gonna put it, so a little bit of How Does a Moment Last Forever into the middle of Days in the Sun. We’re gonna take Days in the Sun theme and we’re gonna put it at the top as the Aria and you have these threads and you begin to weave with them. By the way, I never pull from a trunk, ever.
How did you work together throughout the process?
Bill: I was intimidated at our first meeting because here I am and I’m sort of talking about the first possible new song and this is a legendary composer. It’s a property that as we keep saying is perfect on its own. I think of Alan as a man of the theater, somebody who craves the dialogue and the collaboration. That became clear very, very soon. We just started a conversation and it went on for a couple of years, right?
Alan: We’re both professionals. We both have done a lot of work. We know what’s necessary in order to collaborate and there are people who are new to musicals and will try to reinvent the wheel in one direction or another but we both have been through so much. When you’re a pro you basically arrived at the same place kind of because you know what’s important and you know what needs to get done. You also know the necessity of process and I know that for me to go back to Beauty and the Beast on my own, no way I could do it. I had done it. It’s all about other people coming in and collaborating. For me, the director is the boss and so it takes such a burden off of me. Now I’m able to be a catalyst which is what I wanna be more than somebody driving the ship. Bill had the burden of actually driving the ship.
What was the hardest decision to make when you were filming the movie of taking the music out or keeping it in?
Bill: Well we didn’t take anything out, that’s the thing. You look at the animated film and there’s absolutely nothing missing.
They did such a great job integrating the old animated movie into this new enchanting live action film. The songs, the score, the theme and story of the movie all stayed the same, and they wove new magic, back story and added more depth that I had ever hoped for.
Talk about the challenges of preserving the timeless classic with integrating new things?
Bill: I think it was always about revealing more. It wasn’t about reinventing. So you bring it into the real world and you start to ask questions that didn’t matter in the animated film. How did Belle and Maurice wind up in this village? What happened to her mother? How did the Prince become such a dissolute figure that he was worthy of being cursed? And, it’s interesting you start asking those questions and you start to bat around what the possible answers are. Then you’re making something different but I think for me I could ever really rely on my own kind of reverence for the original film in knowing when you’re changing something or going too far. You know, I hope never to cross that line.
How did you know that Emma was your Belle?
Bill: Well I suspected it just seeing her in Harry Potter. It seemed like that was a perfect kind of connection to a 21st century Belle. Then we met. I was shooting a movie called Mr. Holmes. We met for an hour and the thing that I loved was how much she loved the original movie and how much she wanted to play the part and she came with a whole pile of books. I was late because I was shooting and she was in the middle of reading. There she was, and then the only question really became she’s never sung professionally before. She needed to answer that question for herself too. She wanted to go off. It was Christmas holiday and she said you go out and get a script together you can send me. We made a handshake deal and Emma’s gonna go off and make a tape and explore her voice. That was the thing, that scary moment. To me, it’s more intimate than taking your clothes off when you first hear somebody sing even in a karaoke session. It’s like, that’s the sound that comes out of you? We’ve seen that a few time in movies too but for her, her voice is so much a continuation of who she is and how she speaks and there was clearly this kind of sweetness to it and clarity to it that made it seem like it was gonna be a different Belle but it was gonna be a really satisfying one.
Alan: She was a little terrified. We made sure she had her vocal coach. I had Michael Kosarin, my musical director. Bill was actually at the sessions. It was so helpful because she was, I think, really intimidated by me. I don’t know why. Possibly because of me being the composer? I don’t think she wanted to be that vulnerable in front of me so I really hung back in the control room. We also had a guy named Matt Sullivan who is a music supervisor and had to give Emma the space to just find her voice and work on it and work on it and she did and Dan was similar. It was new for both of them.
Adopting musical to film takes a fine balance. Here you also have the animated film. How did you manage to incorporate all of those and how is it different from working straight off of a musical without an animated film?
Bill: It had been conceived as a movie first, so there are certain principles like you can’t just stop a movie for a ballad for three minutes. The story’s gotta be told during the course of a movie number. You can’t do things you can do on stage. So that had already been figured out by Alan and Howard and the creations of the originals so that was a useful thing to build on, you know, and I think for me in terms of making it different you take the number of Belle. People look at that and say, well, it’s just the way it was in the animated but actually in the course of that we’re telling some other new stories. We’re showing the fact that this is a village where only boys go to school or girls do their laundry and where the village lasses who are so into Gaston resent Belle because their mother has always doted more on Belle than her. Little glimpses of the characters who then turn out to play bigger roles. One of them turns out to be Mr. Potts. One of them turns out to be somebody else’s spouse. It was fun to be able to pack as much story into the songs because that’s when movie songs really work.
Alan: What Bill was doing you could compare it a high wire act. In a sense, every choice he makes is one that has to be weighed against the next choice he makes and then also what was there and people’s expectations. I always say we have two brains. We have this brain and we have this brain and a lot of time it’s this brain. The gut brain that goes yeah, my gut tells me I need something there. My gut tells me it doesn’t make sense. That’s something wrong with that.
I often liken what I do to being an architect. We take a story and we create structures that can be musicalized and write these songs and we create that structure. I’m not gonna live it. The actors are gonna live it. The director is gonna be like the contractor. It can be lived in so many different ways and I love that. I love when a song or a musical of mine is reconceived as long as you don’t take our numbers and throw a hand grenade to it. A structure is a structure but then it’s great when it gets reinvented and that’s been so well done with this movie.
You’ve been in this career for so long. What would you tell your old self, knowing what you know now?
Alan: Stuff I’ve learned. One of the most important things I learned in my career was it’s not about me. It’s about the characters and the story and don’t ever fall in love with your own material. Let other people fall in love with it if they want and if you have a note, the best way to address a note is to go okay, and just do it because you’re part of a thing that’s larger than you and that’s what’s great about musical theater also.
The more that you’re recognizing that you’re part is bigger than you and you are a part of that and just stay in the process that you can survive. I mean the most tragic thing is people who go I wrote this wonderful music. I don’t know why it wasn’t a hit. I gotta try. I gotta keep working. I don’t understand why they didn’t like it. It’s just tragic. Don’t try it out. Push it aside and go on to something else. Write another musical and another and another. Just move on and don’t get stuck, you know, being the nurse mate to your own material.
So is hearing stories of how your music has impacted other people, impacted you?
Alan: It’s unreal. Frankly, it gives me more of a sense of what we think of a collective consciousness, that we’re all a part of a collective consciousness. We as artists are conduits for emotion and for things, they really come through us. I just feel very blessed honestly, blessed that I’m a vehicle for that. That’s amazing and wonderful. I was a kid who liked to practice the piano and I was a nervous kid with an ulcer and I just was a dreamer and then somehow I found that writing songs and composing was where my brain would settle and I just did it and did it and did it and now it has an impact on people like that. I’m just living my life and it’s had that effect and wow.
Listening to Alan and Bill talk about the Beauty and the Beast movie really opened my eyes a little more. It made me pay that much more attention the next time I saw the film to see all of these little things that they are talking about. Go see the movie! It is incredible. Open your mind, sit back relax and just take it all in. It is truly a magical tale of love and redemption.
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