What does a song permit, that a naturalistic scene would not allow?
A musical piece is cinema concentrate, a way of reaching a total art, like opera: the raw emotion of music, the thought and poetry contained in words, the choreography and camera movements. A song can express a character’s essence in three minutes: their feelings, dreams, frustrations, fantasies, ambitions, and past. It’s like connecting directly to their brain, by bypassing the usual rules of exposition and characterization. The character becomes ten times more expressive. At the same time, it’s a very exciting artistic form and an exceptionally dramatic tool. Our models on this subject have been Bob Fosse’s films as well as Steven Sondheim’s musicals; our tastes are very eclectic.
What are the challenges specific to a musical?
There are all kinds of challenges, but there is also enormous gratification in the end. First, writing the songs with different lyricists and composers required several months of work, and lengthened the writing of the screenplay just as much. After that, we had to go into a studio with the actors to record the songs before shooting, in order to play them back on set. Singing them live would’ve been too technically difficult.
In addition to this, during the months preceding the shoot, an incomprehensible amount of time was spent on casting the dancers, on dance rehearsals, and on the actors’ choreography and vocal coaching. Finally, the dancing and singing numbers take a special place during the shoot, because they cause a physical fatigue multiplied tenfold. They require warm-ups and rehearsals, intricate takes, etc.
The specific constraints of the musical also explain why there had to be two of us to make the film. When you need to pay attention to the dancing, the song synchrony, the acting, and the camera movements all at the same time, two aren’t too many to share the workload: the crew on one side, the cast on the other.
Why did you choose to work with different lyricists and composers on each song?
We wanted to avoid the score that could become too repetitive and monochrome. Almost every song gives the floor to a different character (or a group in the case of the female workers), and none has the same musical universe as the other. Varying the styles and the authors seemed to us a way of making sure that each character would really have their own identity.
How did you choreograph the dance numbers?
The initial idea behind the film was that social revolt could be sung and choreographed. Choreography was not, therefore, an ornamental or gratuitous element, but it had to be the logical form to express this revolt: a dramatic dance that does not illustrate, but acts. If a character dances, it is because (s)he has a specific reason to do it, a goal.