Barry Sonnenfeld on Directing Schmigadoon! With His Own Style - VRGyani News and Media


Friday, August 13, 2021

Barry Sonnenfeld on Directing Schmigadoon! With His Own Style

From executive producer Lorne Michaels and co-creators Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul, who also wrote all of the songs and serves as showrunner, the Apple TV+ original musical comedy series Schmigadoon! follows Melissa (Cicely Strong) and Josh (Keegan-Michael Key), who embark on a backpacking trip meant to help bring the spark back to their relationship. However, their journey takes a rather unusual turn when they find themselves trapped in a magical town in which the residents are living in a 1940s musical and they learn they can’t actually leave until they find true love, whether that ultimately turns out to be with each other or someone else.

During this 1-on-1 interview with Collider, director/executive producer Barry Sonnenfeld talked about what made a non-musical person like him want to do a musical, why he enjoyed having a hand in visually creating this world, the one change he wanted made to the series, having the actors perform the songs live, the importance of a character like Josh, and whether there could be a second season.

Collider: I absolutely love this show, but it also seems so crazy, on so many levels. How was it even described to you?

BARRY SONNENFELD: I was sent the scripts, so I was able to read the scripts. And then, I was sent a couple of very temp versions of a couple of songs. And then, I had a Zoom meeting with Broadway Video and Cinco [Paul], and we all got along. They hired me, and then I had to learn about filming song-and-dance numbers. I had no interest in musical theater at all. I saw Singin’ in the Rain, but I never watched Carousel, or Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, or Brigadoon, or any of those. I thought I would get a chance to learn how to do a new genre.

As a non-musical person, did you ever question how your life ended up, not only directing a musical, but an entire season and a show that happens to have a lot of songs?

SONNENFELD: Yeah. I kept saying to Cinco, “Wouldn’t this show be better, if no one sang or danced?” I was saying it as a joke. And by the end, I truly didn’t believe it because I got a chance to work with such talented people. I knew they could act, but to be able to act and sing and dance, how do you do that? How does anyone have that kind of talent? You look at [Kristin] Chenoweth, Alan Cummings, Aaron Tveit, and all of them, they did such an amazing job, singing and dancing, as well as acting.

Would you say that you feel differently about musicals now? Is this your new path in life, or do you still weary of them?

SONNENFELD: I’m not gonna go seek out any more musical theater, but I will say that I love doing this show. I love the show. We did such a great job casting. The cast was so real and so wonderful and lovely. I’m not sure I’ll go do any more musicals, but I really enjoyed doing this one. I also like creating worlds and this was another chance to create a world.

RELATED: 'Schmigadoon!' Showrunner Cinco Paul on Fusing Musical Theater Sincerity With Modern Self-Awareness

What is the key to finding a visual concept for a project?

SONNENFELD: You end up learning to turn down a lot of movies that are about legal aids and detectives, and you read good scripts that are visual. I’m pretty much hooked on world-creating. That’s my thing. In a way, the musical let me do that, to create that world of Schmigadoon!, where people break into song and dance, and not make it seem like the show stops for a song or dance number. That’s hard to pull off.

When you read this, were there things that you visually saw right away, and were there things that you had to change to make it conducive for whole performance numbers?

SONNENFELD: It’s funny, the stuff I asked Cinco to change was actually more reality-based stuff, early on in the first couple of episodes. The earliest scripts took too long to get to Schmigadoon, and for me, that’s where the show starts. So, I was always encouraging him to drop some scenes early on, so we could get there sooner. That’s eventually what we did. We wrote some new scripts to get there sooner.

How conscious are you of your own personal style, as a director? Is it something that you’ve always been aware of, or did it take you some time to be able to hone it and see it?

SONNENFELD: It was just the way I see it. I’ve always been a wide-angle guy. From the very beginning, from Blood Simple on, as a cinematographer, I’ve always felt it was important. For me, unlike most directors, I think the camera can be used not only as a recording instrument, but as an actual device to help tell the story. A lot of directors just put the camera there and film a scene. I like the camera to be a character within the movie. Often that means using wider lenses. With wide lenses, the audience unconsciously feels they’re in the scene with the actors. So, I have a very specific visual style and it’s hard for me to get out of. One of the reasons I wanted to do Schmigadoon! is because I felt I could both embrace old-time musical filming, which is not a lot of camera movements and very wide, and combine that with my own visual style. I was able to do both and feel very much at home in both worlds – my world and the world of MGM musicals.

What was it like to have the cast sing live on set and do these dance numbers? Why did you feel it was important to do that for this?

SONNENFELD: It was important for us to record the singing live, although we did do pre-records as backups. We really wanted to have the audience embrace the reality of the world, and the more that you feel they’re lip-syncing, and the story has stopped and the canned music comes in, the more it doesn’t let you believe the reality of the world. By them singing live and us using mostly live tracks, it really helps the audience believe the reality of the show.

When you do something like this, that is so theatrical, does it also help to have a character like Josh, who is a skeptic? Does it feel like someone who really reacts to what’s going on the way that he does, helps make it easier for people who will be watching, who might not be interested in musicals?

SONNENFELD: Josh, played by Keegan-Michael Key, is me. He’s the skeptic and the pessimist who doesn’t believe in singing and dancing to express anything. Josh is the audience’s point of view into this show. For those that don’t love musical theater, you’ll still love this show because our music is so much fun to watch and our actors are so good, and you got to have Keegan-Michael Key be your voice going, “Really? Another song? Oh, my God! This is like Glee meets The Walking Dead.” Keegan’s character, especially played by Keegan, who’s brilliant, is our way into the show. He kept me sane when I wanted to go, “Are they singing again?!”

Was the ending that we see always the ending for this? Did you know that it would be left a little ambiguous, as to whether these two had really accomplished their mission or not? Was that something that was talked about a lot?

SONNENFELD: It wasn’t talked about a lot, but it was always gonna end the way it ended. It allows us, in success, to have a version of a Season 2, whatever that would be, and only Cinco knows, or it’s close-ended enough that it satisfies, if there is no Season 2. Either way, we’re fine with it.

Schmigadoon! is available to stream at Apple TV+.

KEEP READING: 'Schmigadoon!' Review: Music Therapy at Its Strangest and Most Splendid

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